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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1737  Wednesday, 11 July 2001

[1]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 09:31:27 +1000
        Subj:   Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

[2]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 23:20:42 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 09:31:27 +1000
Subject: 12.1726 Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.1726 Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

> From:           Thomas Larque <
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> I agree with your main point here, and will certainly try to get hold of
> your Monograph - but would your system really mark as few "potential
> intonation breaks" as Joy Leslie Gibson does?

On the contrary, it would mark a great many more; they're only
potential, however--you'd have to be desperately (even pathologically)
short of breath to use them all.

Peter Groves

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 23:20:42 -0600
Subject: 12.1726 Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1726 Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

Thomas Larque wrote:

>>From Dave Kathman:
>
>> 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).
>
>I agree completely and was very much disappointed by the lack of such
>evidence in Joy Leslie Gibson's account.
>
>> >In this quarter's "Shakespeare Bulletin" (Vol. 19, No.2 - Spring 2001)
>> >there is an interesting article by Marvin Rosenberg ... "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?
>
>Impressed by performances by middle-aged male actors in modern
>transvestite roles, such as Mark Rylance as Cleopatra in the
>Shakespeare's Globe's 1999 "Antony and Cleopatra", Rosenberg believes
>that "we had to look for a veteran male actor -- of the kind we see
>acting so entrancingly in the cross-dressing theatres of our own day".
>"In the adult companies", he suggests, "the actors of mature female
>roles had to be as a matter of course trained, experienced, professional
>*men*".

What seems most plausible to us in the 21st century does not always
accord with the historical facts.  Regardless of Rosenberg's belief, no
adult male actor on the pre-Restoration stage is known to have played
any significant female role; conversely, in every case where we know the
name of the actor who played a significant female role, and that actor's
age can be determined, the actor in question was a teenager.  (There are
a couple of apparent instances of an adult male actor playing very minor
female roles, of zero and six lines respectively, but even these are
questionable.)

>Unlike Joy Leslie Gibson, Rosenberg does marshal some concrete evidence
>for his claims of the kind that was seen in the SHAKSPER discussion on
>this subject.  In the Coventry mystery plays a "man" had been specified
>for two female roles.  John Rainolds "Th'overthor of stage-playes"
>refers to "young men ... trained to play women's parts" (I would have
>thought the use of the word "young" would clash with Rosenberg's
>"veteran", but apparently Rosenberg thinks not - he ignores references
>to youth in a couple of his other sources as well).  William Prynne's
>"Histrio-Mastix" refers to "our men-women actors" and "men [who] ...
>adulterate, emasculate, metamorphose and debase their noble sex".

Most of these have been discussed on this list, and will be addressed in
my article.  As I've said numerous times, a teenage boy could (and can)
certainly be referred to as a "young man", and "men" by itself is
ambiguous, especially in an age where the conceptual category "teenager"
did not exist.

>Rosenberg suggests that "boy" used as a verb, as in Cleopatra's line
>about "Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness" is always used in a
>mocking sense, as by Gabriel Harvey, John Fletcher and Henry Moore (all
>cited in the OED).
>
>Rosenberg cites T.W.Baldwin as mentioning two men playing women's parts
>in 1635 who were aged between twenty-four and twenty-six.

Oh, no, no, no.  This claim by Baldwin was based on false factual
premises and a very tenuous chain of reasoning, which was thoroughly
demolished by W. S. Streett in "The Durability of Boy Actors", Notes and
Queries 218 (1973), 461-5.  The actors in question, Ezekiel Fenn and
Theophilus Bird, were in fact both teenagers when they played the only
female roles that can be assigned to them.

>He mentions
>the Cibber comment about a play being delayed because the Queen was
>shaving.

This was discussed on this list back in 1994, and as I pointed out then,
teenage boys have been known to shave.

>He quotes the prologue to the first performance of "Othello"
>with a female actress in which it is commented that "men act, that are
>between / Forty and fifty, Wenches of fifteen ... When you call
>Desdemona, enter Giant".

This is one of the only pieces of actual evidence for Rosenberg's
position, but as I've pointed out, it was written during the
Restoration, and thus may reflect the writer's perception rather than
actual pre-Restoration practice.  I'm willing to admit that adult men
may have sometimes played very minor female roles, but the principal
roles were all played by teenagers, according to all the evidence
available to us.

>He points out that Edward Kynaston was a young
>man when he played female roles in the Restoration period.

Kynaston was born in 1643, and thus was between 17 and 18 when he played
female roles in 1660-61.  By the time he was 19 he was playing male
roles exclusively.

>He finishes
>by approvingly citing Janet Suzman who claimed that Cleopatra must have
>been written "for a man, perhaps a kind of Shakespearean Danny La Rue
>... some kind of *prima donna* in his company playing women's parts.
>[Cleopatra] could never have been acted by a boy."

Suzman's intuitive opinion, like Rosenberg's, does not count for much
against the documentary evidence.

>> 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.
>
>I shall look forward to seeing this article, whenever it finally
>appears, and hope that Dave will be kind enough to let us know via
>SHAKSPER when and where it finally comes out.

I'll do that.

Dave Kathman

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