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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1722  Monday, 9 July 2001

[1]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Jul 2001 13:41:33 +1000
        Subj:   Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

[2]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jul 2001 00:16:05 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Jul 2001 13:41:33 +1000
Subject: 12.1717 Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.1717 Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

> Since the two examples that I have given are equally biased - Gibson's
> by a desire to prove that adult male speeches have few breaths, mine by
> an intention to show that Gibson is wrong - it seems worthwhile to refer
> to unbiased renditions of the same speech by real actors.  Consequently
> I have tried to note the breathing spaces used in this speech during
> three film versions of "Twelfth Night"

But there may be important differences in performance-style between a
1990s film and 1590s Globe acting.  One way to get some sort of
objective statistical handle on it might be to tot up the points in each
case at which an actor is <permitted> to catch a breath without
violating the syntax; these things are called potential intonation
breaks and are explained and described fully in P. L. Groves, <Strange
Music: The Metre of the English Heroic Line>,  ELS Monograph Series 74
(Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria, 1998).

Peter (pardon the plug) Groves

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jul 2001 00:16:05 -0600
Subject: 12.1717 Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1717 Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

Thomas Larque wrote:

>I have just purchased and read through a copy of Joy Leslie Gibson's
>"Squeaking Cleopatras : The Elizabethan Boy Player" (published 2000).  I
>have to say that I was rather disappointed.  Although Gibson gives a
>very interesting account of the Boy companies that operated in
>Shakespeare's time, her evidence for the use of adolescent "boy" actors
>to play the female parts in adult companies seems rather incomplete and
>unsatisfactory.  I realise that SHAKSPEReans have discussed the likely
>age of the actors of "female" parts in the Renaissance theatre on many
>occasions, but would be interested to hear how SHAKSPEReans react
>specifically to Gibson's arguments.

[snip]

I have not yet had a chance to read Gibson's book, but the second-hand
reports I've received accord well with what you describe: most of the
arguments are based on internal analysis of the plays themselves, which
I've always found to be a very perilous practice.  I prefer to go with
concrete, documentary evidence where it's relevant (as it is here).

>Does anybody think that Gibson's arguments are stronger than I have
>suggested?  Or do most people agree that she offers rather weak support
>for her theories?  I would be particularly interested to hear from
>professional actors about Gibson's suggestions about the differences in
>breath control required for male and female roles.
>
>In this quarter's "Shakespeare Bulletin" (Vol. 19, No.2 - Spring 2001)
>there is an interesting article by Marvin Rosenberg that seems to be
>responding to Joy Leslie Gibson's title, although it never mentions her
>book explicitly.  "The Myth of Shakespeare's Squeaking Boy Actor - Or
>Who Played Cleopatra?".

I have not yet seen this either, but I was very interested when I saw it
in the table of contents here on SHAKSPER.  What, specifically, are
Rosenberg's claims?  Who does he believe played the female roles on the
Shakespearean stage?

>Although I have not really made up my mind about which of the two sides
>is correct about the age of the actors who played female characters in
>Shakespeare's time, I find myself swayed more easily by arguments that
>the "boy" actors were relatively young - in their late teens and early
>twenties at most.  As such I was predisposed to support Gibson's
>argument.  I am rather disappointed, therefore, to have found it so
>unconvincing.  Dave Kathman's postings on the subject on SHAKSPER seem
>to me to have been far more persuasive on this matter.

I had been hoping to write an article on this topic this summer, for
publication next year, but more pressing commitments (with August and
September deadlines) have forced me to postpone it.  We do have a
surprising amount of documentary evidence about the ages of the actors
who played female roles before the Restoration, though it's mostly
scattered in various places, and the most specific evidence is from the
late Jacobean and Caroline eras.  That evidence indicates that the
"boys" who played female roles in the adult companies were teenagers,
typically between 14 and 19 years old.  The boys in the all-boy
companies of St. Paul's and the Blackfriars were younger, around 10-13
years old at the height of those companies' popularity in 1599-1601.
Details will be in the article, and meanwhile those interested can find
my posts on the subject in the SHAKSPER archives.

Dave Kathman

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