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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Whiteface
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0173  Thursday, 25 January 2001

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 2001 16:28:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0166 Whiteface

[2]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 2001 13:55:22 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0166 Whiteface

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner" <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 2001 17:58:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0166 Whiteface


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 2001 16:28:41 -0500
Subject: 12.0166 Whiteface
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0166 Whiteface

David Schalkwyk writes:

>In her essay, "Othello was a white man", in _Alternative Shakespeare's
>2_, Dympna Callaghan claims that "on stage, whiteface was probably the
>primary way of signifying femininity" (p. 202) in Shakespeare's
>theatre.  This seems to me to be a very strong claim.

Yes, it is a strong claim, and counter-intuitive, too.  I think a
farthingale would get the message to a spectator more clearly.

Of course, women in the Early Modern period did use sun masks and gloves
to keep their complexions white -- well, as white as possible under the
circumstances.  Swift's Gulliver (as I recall) was a bit embarrassed by
his tan.  So perhaps men were equally concerned with remaining "white."

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 2001 13:55:22 -0800
Subject: 12.0166 Whiteface
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0166 Whiteface

>In her essay, "Othello was a white man", in _Alternative Shakespeare's
>2_, Dympna Callaghan claims that "on stage, whiteface was probably the
>primary way of signifying femininity" (p. 202) in Shakespeare's
>theatre.  This seems to me to be a very strong claim.  Does anyone
>perhaps know where or how it could be corroborated?
>
>David Schalkwyk

I find it very puzzling.  The only two genre I know of, both
continental, involving whiteface, are farce (floured face) and commedia
dell'arte.  In the latter, the distinction is not male/female but type
of character; neither the male or female innamorate wear masks (except,
perhaps, the little black eye mask), and they are referred to as
"whiteface" characters.  The tradition of whiteface clowns carries on
today.  If there is a gender thing here, it's that the subset "female
performers" is contained in the set "whiteface," but the reverse is not
true.

MD Aaron

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner" <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 2001 17:58:40 -0500
Subject: 12.0166 Whiteface
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0166 Whiteface

David Schalkwyk asks

> In her essay, "Othello was a white man", in _Alternative Shakespeare's
> 2_, Dympna Callaghan claims that "on stage, whiteface was probably the
> primary way of signifying femininity" (p. 202) in Shakespeare's
> theatre.  This seems to me to be a very strong claim.  Does anyone
> perhaps know where or how it could be corroborated?

I can not help with the Elizabethan stage in particular, but this was
surely the case in much ancient art.  The theory is that the whiteness
of female skin reflected the domestic lives of women which kept them out
of the sun.  Freedom from outdoor chores may have also signified their
social status.

I have no specific sources at hand, as I read this on the wall of the
Metropolitan Museum.

Clifford
 

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