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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Ariel's Gender
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0827  Wednesday, 11 April 2001

[1]     From:   Marcia Eppich <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 12:40:04 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

[2]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 21:28:51 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

[3]     From:   Jan C. Stirm <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 16:06:34 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

[4]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 16:36:42 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 12:40:04 -0500
Subject: 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

The obvious answer is that all members playing on SHAKESPEARE'S stage
were men -- even the women.

I think that Ariel, as a character, was probably without gender since he
was a "spirit" or nymph of sorts.

M. Eppich

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 21:28:51 +0100
Subject: 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

This is an interesting question on a number of levels.

In the play Ariel himself speaks of 'Ariel and all *his* quality'
(1.2.193); the part would almost certainly have been played by a boy,
rather than an adult male actor.  But, as many have pointed out, boys
often played female parts, and Ariel spends quite a lot of time in drag
- as a 'nymph o'the sea', as a Harpy, and, depending on how one takes
his line 'when I presented Ceres', as a goddess.  There is, indeed, a
question about how much of the play Ariel spends in his first costume as
a sea-nymph.  Prospero famously suggests that this costume will render
him 'invisible to every eyeball' except his own (generating lots of
editorial beefing on the apparent redundancy, therefore, of getting him
to dress up at all), and it might be thought that he retains this as his
costume when invisible elsewhere in the play.  I see no reason why this
should be so - the costume of the nymph of the sea is as particular to
his function in bringing Ferdinand from the sea's edge to Prospero's
cave as his later costumes are to their individual moments.

But in general, Dymkowski's observation that 'Shakespeare's treatment of
Ariel seems designed to remove the spirit from the human world, to make
the character a sexless shape-shifter, an 'it' rather than a 'she' or
'he' ' seems just.

It's perhaps worth adding that the diminutives Prospero applies to Ariel
- 'bird' and 'chick'  - blend the animal with the child (and,  just
possibly, in the first case, gender-marked as female).

But, as Orgel and Dymkowski have both demonstrated, it's the later
history of representations of Ariel by male and female (adult) actors
that is perhaps most interesting.

David Lindley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jan C. Stirm <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 16:06:34 -0500
Subject: 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

What a great lesson in editorial intervention this was for me, once
again.  I started to respond to Hardy's query about early modern
gendering of Ariel with a quick, "Of course, he's referred to as male in
stage directions."  But caution got the better of me for once, and I
checked my dog-earred, familiar edition of *The Tempest* with the Hinman
collation, only to find that the first reference to gender is silently
added in my edition.  However, in Act 3, scene 3, Ariell "(like a
Harpey) claps his wings" (TLN 1583) and later in the scene, "He vanishes
in Thunder" (TLN 1616).

I take the parentheses to indicate that Ariel claps his wings, but it
may be that his character "Harpey" claps "his" wings.

Later, my edition shows Ariel entering as Ceres (thought the Hinman
Collation does not).  The question got me thinking about the "rule" I
was taught that actors needed about 100 lines to change costume for
doubling, and wondering if Ariel does indeed play Ceres, given the
relatively short amount of time between appearances as Ariel and as
Ceres.  (And does this differ from wondering if the actor playing Ariel
also played Ceres?)

I usually use the stage directions to redirect my students' tendencies
to assign Ariel a feminine gender, and then ask them to think hard about
what we learn about acting (and enacting gender) by seeing Ariel as an
actor as well as a spirit.  Now I have to think a bit more about it.

Thanks Hardy, for the thought-provoking question!

Best, Jan Stirm

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 16:36:42 -0700
Subject: 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0814 Q: Ariel's Gender

>Students in a colleague's class would like to know if Ariel was gendered
>on Shakespeare's stage. Can anyone help out.

OK.  Ariel is, I think, male, or rather gender neutral, since spirits
aren't sexed (cf. Spenser).  Since there's only one female character in
the play (Miranda) that would leave the possibility that the role was
enacted by a boy or very young man who might otherwise have played
female roles (thus bringing up the thorny issue of "what gender is
that?")  The role was frequently played by women on the 19th century
stage (tights) and now seems to be heading back towards male actors
(unless you've seen it, as I have, with three actors playing Ariel--two
female, one male--representing the elements of water, air and fire,
earth being represented by Caliban).  Hope this helps.

Melissa Aaron

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