The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0467 Monday, 7 October 2013
Date: Monday, October 7, 2013
Subject: Women in Men’s Clothing
From The New York Times
October 3, 2013
Not Shrews. Princes and Kings.
By Alexis Soloski
In Shakespeare’s plays, women put on men’s clothes so they can travel where they like, marry whom they like, and speak their minds. Actresses from the 1600s to the present have followed suit — literally — dressing as men in search of better parts and more lines. Here are some of the most famous examples of Shakespearean male drag. Alexis Soloski
CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN When this American actress played Romeo opposite her sister Susan’s Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” at London’s Haymarket in 1845, reviewers swooned. “It is enough to say that the Romeo of Miss Cushman is far superior to any Romeo we have ever had,” wrote The Times of London’s reviewer. Cushman also portrayed Lear, Shylock and Hamlet.
SARAH BERNHARDT This French actress was in her 50s when she played the young prince Hamlet in 1899 at her Paris auditorium, the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt. She commissioned a French adaptation of “Hamlet” because, she said, “No female character has opened up a field so large for the exploration of sensations and human sorrows as that of Hamlet.”
DIANE VENORA The director Joseph Papp encouraged Ms. Venora toward a classical take on Hamlet at the Public Theater in New York in 1982. But Ms. Venora, who began the play in tears, ultimately played Hamlet as a brash teenager, strutting about in a tunic and tight black trousers, choking Ophelia and punching Gertrude.
FIONA SHAW The historical Richard II had a reputation for being effeminate. When Ms. Shaw took on the role at the National Theater in London in 1995, she portrayed that king as an androgynous figure, both comic and ethereal. In Deborah Warner’s production, Ms. Shaw’s casting lent an erotic frisson to the relationship between Richard and his usurper, Bolingbroke.
KATHRYN HUNTER During a brief period in 2003 when Shakespeare’s Globe in London experimented with an all-female company, Ms. Hunter gave an impish, playful shading to Richard III. “Her Richard isn’t a bottled spider or a hunchback toad,” a critic for The Guardian wrote, “more a cheeky monkey with an eye for advancement.” The season also featured an all-female “Taming of the Shrew,” starring a sexy Janet McTeer as a Petruchio.
HELEN MIRREN After seeing a production of “The Tempest” starring Derek Jacobi, Ms. Mirren mused, “A woman could do this and it wouldn’t change a word.” She had her chance in Julie Taymor’s 2010 film, which reinvented the role of Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, as a duchess. She showed a fierce maternal love for Miranda and lent an ardent clarity to the speeches. Vanessa Redgrave and Olympia Dukakis have also played Prospero onstage.