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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Distinctions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0219  Monday, 28 January 2002

From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 20:27:16 -0000
Subject: 13.0186 Re: Distinctions
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0186 Re: Distinctions

Don Bloom asks,

> can we thus assume that nobody in England even
> thought of using women on stage?

Stephen Orgel concisely summarizes the evidential situation in the
introduction (pages 1 to 9) to his _Impersonations_ (Cambridge UP,
1996). He says that "We know that the famous Moll Frith . . . gave a
solo performance at the Fortune in 1611" (p. 8) but a 'performance'
isn't necessarily acting. The charges against Frith referred to singing
and playing an instrument, not to acting. The epilogue to _Roaring Girl_
says that "The Roaring Girl herself, some few days hence, / Shall on
this stage give larger recompense". Frith's presence on the stage
doesn't indicate that she acted, and in any case the line might refer to
the actor playing Frith appearing in another play.

The case of Vennar's hoax _England's Joy_ at the Swan in 1602 can be
argued either way: the promise of seeing women act might mean it was
possible, or the fact that the whole thing was a confidence trick might
be taken to show that it wasn't.

Coryat's remark that he had "heard that it [women acting] hathe beene
sometimes used in London" doesn't make clear whether he means the
professional theatre. Richard Madox's reference to a trip to the theatre
to see "a scurvie play set out al by one virgin" might refer to a male
or female actor, unless his statement that the actor "proved a fyemarten
without voice, so that we stayed not the matter" is read as indicating
which. Anybody know what a "fyemarten" is? (OED doesn't seem to have it
under any spelling I can find.)

And that, I think, is all the evidence that women acted on the
professional stage. (There's stuff about non-professional work, and
visiting troupes from the continent, but Don's question was about my
assertion that no-one in Shakespeare's company would have thought of
casting a woman, so these aren't relevant.) Against the above is the
mountain of evidence that boys routinely played the female parts. As
discussed previously on this list, David Kathman has enough evidence to
show that adult men didn't play female parts.

Gabriel Egan

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