The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0631 Monday, 10 July 2006
Date: Saturday, 08 Jul 2006 16:33:10 -0400
Subject: Against All-Male Productions
1. For the Elizabethans, it was a convention; for us it's drag. Doing
Shakespeare in drag in the year 2006 does not recreate 16th-century
practice: it generates 21st-century camp.
2. A director mounts an originalist production of Othello. He casts
men as Emilia, Desdemona and Bianca, and he casts a white actor as
Othello who performs the role in blackface. Some spectators are highly
offended by the latter casting. When the director pleads fidelity to
Jacobean practice, they respond by questioning the value of such
fidelity. "Why resurrect the racist conventions of four centuries past
and inflict them upon our 21st-century sensibilities"? A question to be
asked about the sexist conventions that kept women off the stage in the
same remote era.
3. I think Shakespeare wanted to see his female characters played by
real women. I think he chafed under the stupid and repressive laws that
prevented him from witnesing Juliet, Marina, Perdita, Isabella,
Hermione, Constance and, yes, Rosalind, Viola, Imogen and Julia brought
to such vivid and truthful life.
4. When Shakespeare's greatest female character spurns the thought of
viewing "some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness," she is mocking the
idea that she could be adequately incarnated by a male.
5. Women are much better at playing women than men are (to state the
obvious). Compared to a genuine actress, the most skillful female
impersonator is a cheap imitation. Perhaps audiences 400 years ago did
not know this, but we do. Those who go to Shakespeare today in the hope
of seeing the characters convincingly embodied and successfully realized
will not be gratified by all-male productions. Swapping truth and
authenticity for drag and camp is no bargain at all.
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