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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: July ::
Against All-Male Productions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0687  Friday, 21 July 2006

[1] 	From: 	Elliott Stone <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 15:31:55 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0682 Against All-Male Productions

[2] 	From: 	David Bishop <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 16:07:37 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0682 Against All-Male Productions

[3] 	From: 	Paul Hebron <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 17:05:34 -0500
	Subj: 	Against All Male Productions......

[4] 	From: 	Kristen McDermott <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 18:43:26 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0676

[5] 	From: 	Charles Weinstein <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 19:21:14 -0400
	Subj: 	Against All-Male Productions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Elliott Stone <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 15:31:55 -0400
Subject: 17.0682 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0682 Against All-Male Productions

Why is it that the practice of having boy actors take woman's parts 
continued on in England long after it had been given up in the rest of 
Europe?

I have asked the question on several occasions but have never received a 
reasonable answer.

Best,
Elliott H. Stone

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Bishop <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 16:07:37 -0400
Subject: 17.0682 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0682 Against All-Male Productions

The "boy my greatness" moment seems to me an interesting example of 
breaking, or bending, the fourth wall. Shakespeare draws attention to 
the play as a play with words that are not an aside to the audience but 
simultaneously have force within the story. To take this in, the 
audience must see the actor both as a boy actor and as Cleopatra, if not 
simultaneously then in quick succession, or alternation. It seems to me 
that Shakespeare was so sure of the power of his story that he could 
bend or even briefly break the wall without feeling any danger of 
draining the emotion of the scene. It's quite a trick.

While I generally think, with Charles Weinstein, that it's reasonable to 
believe that Shakespeare would have used women if he could have, this 
line also supports the interpretation that Cleopatra did not want to be 
diminished by being represented on the stage at all, by a boy or a 
woman. Still, a boy would seem an even more obviously inadequate 
representation of her than an actress. Her mockery draws attention to 
her power both as a queen and as a woman.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Paul Hebron <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 17:05:34 -0500
Subject: 	Against All Male Productions......

Despite my best efforts to follow my own advice, that is to stop reading 
this particular thread, I feel compelled to offer one more point.  All 
right, maybe two.

Charles Weinstein comments:

"In which case one must also avoid the standard sentimentalities, viz., 
that Shakespeare was marvelously happy with his acting company, 
including the boys who played his women.'Short of a smoking gun like a 
handwritten letter,' there is no way of knowing whether Shakespeare 
thought those actors were superlative, merely adequate, partly good and 
partly bad or wholly inadequate to his conception."

Well, not exactly.  We do know from how he handled his affairs both in 
London and in Stratford that Shakespeare was an experienced man of 
business.  We also know that, after Will Kemp left the Lord 
Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare chose in his next two plays (Henry V and 
Julius Caesar) not to include a large role for a clown.  While we can 
never know how directly causal the chain of events, his next play is As 
You Like It, and Robert Armin, experienced mimic and clown, is now a 
member of the company......and Touchstone makes his appearance.

Is it not possible then to stretch this point to include James Shapiro's 
persuasive suggestions in 1599: A Year In The Life Of William 
Shakespeare, that the creation of what I would argue is his greatest 
female characterization, Rosalind, is a reflection of the playwright's 
faith in the abilities of the adolescent male who carried the role, and 
therefore the play?  Or put another way, that he never would have 
written AYLI in the way that he did if he lacked faith in that young man 
to bring the character successfully to life.  The same pragmatic 
businessman who worked around the departure of the popular Kemp by 
choosing material to suit the new realities of his company's 
circumstances, and who did so brilliantly, would likely have found 
another balance to the story of Rosalind and Orlando?  Granted this 
evidence is circumstantial, but it is evidence none the less.

Charles Weinstein responds to Hardy Cook's comments on the oft quoted 
"....some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness" thusly:

"I fail to see how that refutes my interpretation, and I have yet to 
hear a plausible different one."

Well, what about this.  If your interpretation is based on your view 
that this line suggests the personal opinion in some way of Shakespeare, 
and that it was in fact his way of making a point about his own feelings 
concerning the restrictions of male (versus female) casting, then I 
assume that any response, like Hardy's, that refers that same line back 
to it's clear function for the character within the life of the play 
will fall short of your demands for refutation.  All right, those are 
the rules of the game.

Is it not possible that this specific comment of Cleopatra's was not, in 
fact, a reference to the general practice of female roles being played 
by adolescent males, and the consequent aesthetic restrictions that such 
a practice might have imposed on Shakespeare, but was rather Shakespeare 
making a point about one of the most significant forms of competition he 
and the Globe shareholders faced at this time; that is the children's 
companies, or the so called "boys' companies".  The late 1590's saw a 
growth again in the popularity of such companies as the Children of 
Paul's, and at the Blackfriars, the Children of the Chapel; they 
continued to perform with varying degrees of success throughout the 
first decade of James I's reign.  Known for their abilities as singers, 
and offering wealthier patrons the increased comforts of indoor 
performances, would it not be more reasonable to see Cleopatra's comment 
as a indirect jibe at these serious competitors, these companies 
composed entirely of "boys"??  Is this not at least as reasonable an 
explanation, once again albeit outside the life of the play, for this 
character's "comment", as it is to draw conclusions about the personal 
preferences of Shakespeare himself on the issue of male versus female 
actors?

Done now.  Thank you for your patience, and best regards to all.

--   Paul Hebron

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kristen McDermott <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 18:43:26 -0400
Subject: 17.0676
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0676

Elizabeth S. Angello writes:

 >"And, not incidentally, Burbage did not perform Othello in blackface.
 >Does this make his performance, too, a travesty?"

Do we know this for a fact? It has always been my understanding that 
when Queen Anna decided to perform in black makeup (and for this we have 
direct evidence) in The Masque of Blackness, shortly after Othello 
(probably) premiered, that she was intrigued by Burbage's blackface. See 
Bernadette Andrea, "Black Skin, The Queen's Masques," ELR 29.2 (1999): 
246-81.

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Charles Weinstein <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Jul 2006 19:21:14 -0400
Subject: 	Against All-Male Productions

Gender aside, some people think that boys could never have done justice 
to characters as complex, imposing and experienced as Lady Macbeth and 
Cleopatra.  The late Marvin Rosenberg felt this so strongly that he 
posited grown men as the original performers.  See The Masks of Anthony 
and Cleopatra (2006) at 21-25.  His position has not found acceptance, 
and David Kathman has refuted it convincingly.

Thus, one can reasonably believe that the roles were played by boys, and 
that the boys were probably inadequate.  Where does that leave 
Shakespeare?  Perhaps he wrote for himself or the future and not for his 
immediate interpreters.  Perhaps he resigned himself to boys while 
hoping for better things to come.  Perhaps he dreamed that the 
characters would eventually be played by women--which is, after all, as 
he imagined them.

--Charles Weinstein

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