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three pairs of lovers with space

Return to the beginning of the thesis





Chapter OneSome representations in history.


This thesis claims that dramatic representations in England may largely have started as demonstrations of religious orthodoxy, but by the time William Shakespeare’s comedies were being staged, their main aim was to attract and entertain a paying public.  Even then, though, all of the stories had moral endings, conflicts were resolved and lovers were finally joined in the sanctity of marriage.  At the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, the very fabric of each comedic play might contain bawdry and cross-dressing and even embody jokes about excessively moral ideas, but after all of the laughter, the lovers were represented as cleaving to one another in faithfulness for ever after.

This chapter specifically will concentrate upon the representation of the female character in the comedies, particularly where the discourse touches upon the lack of women in the original stagings, and where, even though women now take the female parts, reverberations from those past-representations colour every aspect of our present-representations and their varying receptions.

For the moment, a highly personal note.  I came upon a sudden awareness of the gulf between modern and Elizabethan sensibilities as recently as 1990.  This happened while I was an undergraduate and reading Maurice Charney’s observations upon dramatic conventions in the original stagings of Shakespearian plays suddenly made clear that he saw a major problem in the use of boy actors to represent women.  Specifically, this for Charney was a problem posed by the physical presence of a boy actor upon the stage and the adult male actor’s knowledge of this.  The attendant difficulties that he then saw in the performance of the love-scenes jumped out of the pages as something that seemed to be of essential importance to him.  Amazingly, he said that modern editors had supplied “in square brackets all sorts of additional loving gestures that would have been embarrassing to an Elizabethan audience”.[1]   I believed, then, that Charney had got it completely wrong.  He speaks, I thought, as though he were a modern person who appears to have, either forgotten, or to have been completely ignorant of the fact that Elizabethan audiences vastly enjoyed the mixture of bawdry and paradox that made the comedies of that period so funny.

Rather, I should say that I felt that Elizabethan audiences would vastly have enjoyed the bawdry and paradox of such dramatic situations.   I remembered the Shakespeare skits that we performed at my all-boys grammar school in Britain and the ribald fun that we had with the boys chosen to play the girls’ parts, which often, those ‘girls’ played up to in the best of good humour.  Yet serious understanding of the presence of the androgyne figure did not emerge until those undergraduate years. 

Everything that I have read since then—in the plays themselves, in the critical works of many other modern scholars, and in primary-reference accounts from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods—supports my feelings of 1990.  The principle exists especially in the comedies, but even in the histories and tragedies; light moments refer directly to the lack of women to speak the female parts and to represent the corporeal existence of the actor rather than merely the persona alone and without seeing the cross-dressing as a problem.  A signal example is when the travelling players arrive at Elsinore and Hamlet greets them like returning friends as: “You are welcome masters. Welcome, all. I am glad to see thee well”.  After greeting one of the younger men as: “O, old friend, why, thy face is valanced since I saw thee last”, he goes on to tease the company’s boy actor with: “What, my young lady and mistress! By’r lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God your voice, like a piece of undercurrent gold, be not cracked within the ring” (2.2.417-425, Arden Edition).  There are several interpretations to this passage which involve both the coinage and human the human anatomy.  Most importantly, Hamlet implies that if the boy’s voice were to be cracked, his use as a performer of women’s roles had ended.  As always, though, the viewer, hearer, or reader, is left to decide which meaning to construct from this.  As an overall principle, though, the sheer fun associated with the cross-dressed actor is seen to create light moments, even in the darkest of tragedies.    In fact, the lack of women to represent women was simply accepted, then, by everyone.  Then it was turned into an opportunity for both obvious ribaldry and dramatic, yet subtle amusement.

In clear exposition of my ideas, a brief, but extremely important fragment from Antony and Cleopatra is highly appropriate to the argument of this thesis:

                                                            The quick comedians
                        Extemporarily will stage us, and present
                        Our Alexandrian revels: Antony
                        Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
                        Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
                        I’ the posture of a whore.
                                                                                    (5.2. 215-220)                         

This fragment highlights the bitter plight of a dramatic creation who fears, not only the end of her world and her life, but the disgrace and the possible mockery that will live on after her death.  Here, Shakespeare has created a stage persona who is both a boy-playing-a-woman him/herself, a living, speaking, feeling representation who knows that he/she will be played, at some time in the future, by yet another boy.  Perhaps badly!  The character agonizes at the prospect of her essentially adult, regal, womanly pride being dashed and lampooned by a mere child, making the memory of her grandeur absurd, and doing this, probably, in a half-broken voice.

In this we hear the author himself in an open exposition of the stage conventions that constrained him to use a boy to represent the large, powerful female character, Cleopatra.  The humour of the moment would not exist if the persona, Cleopatra, could be sure of the acting ability and the steady voice of the future boy — but in her angry pessimism she sees the worst thing that could happen — an absurd parody of herself.  It does not take too much thought to fathom the idea that the young cross-dressed actor who played characters such as Cleopatra, Rosalind, Lady Macbeth and Desdemona in the Elizabethan era, must have been an exceptional actor.  His memory, his acting ability and his stage-presence must have been extraordinary to carry off such roles.

In this vein, John Wesley Harris aptly confirms the demands placed upon the boy actor in just this context.  In studying a  commentary in play-form of the earlier interlude tradition, he refers to:

The Book of Sir Thomas More, presented in about 1590.  It is a late play, of course, but not written before all memory had passed away of the interlude players [of] about seventy-five years earlier ... a play-within-the-play acted before More and his family on the occasion of a state supper given for the Mayor of London and some aldermen and their wives ... [During which] More questions them: “How many are ye?” — “Four men and a boy, Sir” — “But one boy,” says More, obviously expecting two at least, “Then I see there’s but few women in the play.”  “Three, my Lord,” says the player, “Dame Science, Lady Vanity and Wisdom she herself.” “And one boy plays them all,” declares More, amazed, “By’r Lady, he’s loaden!”.[2]

Gestures from John Bulwer's Chirologia or the Naturall Language of the Hand, 1644

This establishes that, even then, not only were these young people called upon to play several parts in one performance, but that they performed parts which needed widely variant moods and characterizations in the same play.  Even allowing for the relatively declamatory and iconic style that scholars believe was used in those earlier interlude plays, this would still have been very demanding for a boy, and it would have been very much more so in the later Renaissance plays, surrounded as the youngster was by skilful adult actors and with much more complex characterizations to master.  Strongly to support this view, a very useful study of the developing Renaissance style exists in B.L. Joseph’s Elizabethan Acting.  Despite illustrating his discoveries with actual plates from John Bulwer’s 1644 Chirologia and Chironomia—these illustrations appearing to prescribe the gestures that were to be used by an actor in a highly stylized form—the text itself insists that there was to be “nothing stereotyped, stiff or formal about this ‘external action’ ”.  Indeed, Joseph insists that:

John Bulwer gives a detailed account of the ‘natural and familiar motion ... of the hand’ ... not to be copied slavishly by another; each must develop his own individual action ... ‘That which one does without art cannot wholly be delivered by art’ for there is a kind of hidden and ineffable reason, which to know is the head of all art[3]

Youths and boys at universities and grammar schools routinely were then taught that “external action, to be truthful and effective, must spring from inner feeling and desire” and that Bulwer’s plates of “actions”[4] were to “illustrate what was being done rather than to insist what must be done as a rigid convention”.[5]  The entire art of characterization, movement, gesture, facial expression and voice-production could be taught, but only up to a point.  It was fully realized that there was a moment where the actor himself took over and became that personated character.  Following Andrew Gurr, Katherine Kelly distils an extension of these ideas in saying that this new, “preferred acting style” became available “at the end of the sixteenth through to the mid-seventeenth centuries in England and elsewhere”.   This method, Kelly insists, specifically involved “the noun ‘personation’ and its companion verb ‘to personate’ ”, and it must here be pointed out that Kelly’s understanding of the lexis combines with the reference to the evolving lexis-of-representation that was carefully laid out at the very beginning of this work.[6]  

It is important, here, to remind ourselves that the boys who played these very large parts in the comedies were sometimes in their mid-teens.  The concrete historical examples of Theophilus Bird and Ezekial Fenn reveal this, and there are other instances.[7]   On the other hand, many of the parts in the public theatres were indeed taken by the boys who were apprenticed to adult actors in particular companies.  In the choir-troupes, a parallel tradition saw boys rise to popular acclaim when very young.  A signal example of high achievement in this sense was that of Saloman Pavy, a choirboy of the Chapel Royal.[8]  This particular boy was already famous when he died at the age of thirteen.  According to Gerald Eades Bentley, he was:

The subject of this beautiful epitaph acted in Cynthia’s Revels, and in Poetaster, 1600 and 1601, in which year he probably died.  The poet speaks of him with interest and affection, and it cannot be doubted that he was a boy of extraordinary talents.[9]

These choir-troupes, too, saw the development of performative techniques that transformed the entire discourse of the drama of their times.  It is certainly not making too great a conjectural leap to argue that the London audiences of then were well-used to fine performances and that they would not have sought out these boys’ performances had they not been of a very high standard.  Textual evidence reveals that Shakespeare’s own company felt the keen wind of competition from these  boys’ troupes and, though in a back-handed way, the poet I study fully acknowledged their excellence.[10]  Stanley Wells provides the confirmative argument that:

Boy actors underwent rigorous training as apprentices to senior members of the acting companies, and there is no reason to suppose that they lacked expertise ... [in fact, the] boys ... at times constituted serious rivals to the adult companies.  A passage in Hamlet ... alludes to their success.

Specifically, this is where Hamlet asks Rosencrantz for news of “the tragedians of the city” in 2.2.327.  “Do they”, the boys, “hold the same estimation? ... Are they followed?” (2.2.332-333).  Rosencrantz replies that severe competition now threatens their own patronage in the form of:

Ros.                                         an eyrie of children, little eyases, that
                        cry out on the top of the question, and are most tyran-
                        nically clapped for’t.  These are now the fashion, and
                        so berattle the common stages—so they call them—
                        that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills
                        and dare scarce come thither...

Later, Hamlet asks:

Ham.               Do the boys carry it away?                                                 
Ros.                 Ay, that they do, my lord, Hercules and his load too.

Even if we avoid the pointed bawdry in the final line of the above, the atmosphere in which these dramatic evolutions were taking place contained the slowly growing, humanistic drive away from the rather more theocentric sphere of medieval thought.  This would naturally have engendered a corresponding shift in the authorship of the plays as being a new and much larger pasture into which it would be not only good, but necessary to expand.[12]  In a world where, now, humankind could see itself as important and capable of independent thought and action, the individuals thus empowered would glory in their new freedom.  Again, in pure logic, once authorship had begun to be richer in content, the style of acting would be forced to follow.  Grounding this in her research, Ramie Targoff describes V.A. Kolve’s convincing argument that, formerly:

the medieval theater did not aim to suspend the audience’s disbelief about the players actual identity: The player’s relationship to his role was considered to be “emblematic” rather than “existential”.[13]

While it is agreed that this may be seen as an over-simplification, the trend is certainly clear that the above, relative simplicity in representation,  would not have been enough for Renaissance authors, players, or audiences.  As a natural process, there grew up a direct collaboration between players and playwrights.  Jean-Christophe Agnew cogently argues that in Elizabethan and Jacobean productions, the creation of “conventions of performance that deliberately acknowledged the fabricated character of the play world”, became a reality.[14]  This broad idea, in turn, created a dramatic sphere given authority in the portrayal of complex, three-dimensional characters, rather than the simpler conventions of the previous styles in which two-dimensional characters acted in symbolic and declamatory styles.

Of great interest, though, is a kind of play that forms a bridge between these two ages.  Harris describes the emergence of the “humanist interlude” that was “often written by schoolmasters”.  This tradition was a form “particularly apt for universities and schools” and it combined elements of both customs.[15]  The players were still amateur, and the parts were still easily recognizable in their functions, but the plays were “very educational and, being humanist, their virtues are usually Moderation and Reason and their vices Excess and Foolishness”.[16]  What stands out from this tradition is the continued use of aptronymics for names, each character representing a Virtue or a Vice, in name, as well as in dramatic function.[17]

It must also be said that the mystery Plays, as opposed to the morality plays, used characters such as Adam and Eve, who were seen as representing real people from the scriptures, yet who were known by the audience actually to be Tom and his son, from Glebe Farm.  Yet these locally-known people actually represented eternal Virtue and Innocence, or eternal Vice and Knowledge, in their turn.  Also, they were clothed in fifteenth century dress, but what is most important, here, is the principle that things do not remain static and that, in the period upon which this thesis focuses, radical changes were taking place in both religion and philosophy, individual freedom of action being more governed by individual conscience.  Now, humankind could communicate directly with its God, yet it knew of Aristotelian principles and expressed thoughts about actions that men play, and asked questions about what was being represented.  The complexities and subtleties become, in fact, an essential part of the entertainment.

In the earlier tradition, yet clearly in transition, Harris cites John Redford’s Wit and Science of 1539 as a witty, yet strongly moral story of how best to gain a degree at university.[18]  Still rhetorical within a moral code, yet clearly also within the sphere of increasingly sophisticated fun, a median stage had been reached and it foretold the time to come in which, as Johan Huizinga so clearly states in his monumental Homo Ludens:

Play cannot be denied.  You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions, justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God.  You can deny seriousness, but not play[19]

These thoughts being most definitely not allowed to a medieval person, it is of central interest to comment that Huizinga’s study  covers just that period of change, from the Middle Ages to the humanistic Northern Renaissance.[20]  Even so, now, both the player and the play-goer must think about what is actually happening upon the stage.

Clearly, it is in this expansion of what was now possible for a character to perform that the greatest change had taken place.  Now, the players may have inner and outer existences; people portrayed may be partly good and partly bad, rather than simply being walking icons representing Vice, or Virtue.  Now they may dissemble—or be obvious in turn.  This is the basis, then, of early modern representation and would have led to the audience’s expectations accelerating within the compositions themselves, on, arguably, several different levels of comprehension for different audiences. 

Yet, returning to the essentials of female representation: I am even more sure now, than I was in 1990, that Charney’s view of the awkwardness of the all-male display in scenes where lovers are required to demonstrate their love is deeply mistaken.  His problem is based within the deeply-felt unease that many people now would almost certainly feel when seeing men acting out love-scenes with “pre-adolescent boys”—these being his own words with respect to the age of the boys who then took the parts of women, who were in love with men—and the obvious reverse of that.  With respect to the Elizabethan tradition, though, this is definitely a problem of his own making.  I may only guess that his feelings arise within an intrinsically homophobic culture.  He, a modern American, had entirely misjudged the acceptance in Elizabethan audiences of the young androgyne who created such a prominent characteristic of the drama of that time.  Given the prohibition against women, it is logical that the early-modern authors simply made the best of the tools that they had to hand, and that this confining custom, paradoxically, opened up the huge dimension of a mysterious androgyny of which astute playwrights then hastened to take advantage.  It also opened a vast field for the use of bawdry and the ever-present Shakespearian double-meaning.

In fairness, Charney does observe that there are “no ‘dumb blondes’ in Shakespeare and that his women appeal to us chiefly for their wit”.  While I believe that he is right in the overall sense of this, it is very revealing of his mind-set that he uses such an essentially modern American term as dumb blondes in this crudely sexist way.[21]  Consistently, though, Charney separates the female parts as they were written, with spurious and condescending allowances that he then makes for the reality of the boy actor, from the basis of what he thinks they should have been.  On the one hand, he points out that the boy-actor was (sometimes, as we know) a child in all things, including stature, yet on the other hand he allows that the characters created for these children to perform loomed very large in the drama of those days.  Which leads to what this study sees as the most major flaw in Charney’s reasoning.  Beside that brief burst of clear vision, above, he allows that the boy capably, convincingly, portrayed large, complex characters, but he cannot resist drawing attention to the oddness of the representation of “taller and a shorter girls”—again, his own words—in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.[22]  This focus extends his stated view on the awkwardness that he believes is inherent in a grown man exchanging loving gestures, or perhaps even hugs, with a much smaller and much younger person.  In all of this, Charney appears entirely to have forgotten that Elizabethan audiences knew that the actors were all male and made allowances for the characters that they then saw in dramatic performances.  Further, I contend that the previously-stated taste for bawdry and double-meanings would have added, rather than detracted, from, say, a comedy’s performance in an age that was far more relaxed about displays of erotic signs, gestures and words within an all-male display, than ours could now could ever be.  And an age in which boys, specifically, were most definitely not protected from such obviously bawdy meanings, by direct word, or by implication.

As attested by many scholars, neither the word nor the concept, homosexuality, came into use until the nineteenth century.  The word and the classification that it represented, though, is inseparable from the homophobia that the Victorians themselves demonstrated in their horror of the phenomenon.  Distinctions between male and female sexualities were far less clearly defined in Renaissance life and culture than they are now.  Certainly this is true of what was permissible the outward appearance and the manners of those times.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1575

As a cultural feature, men in the first Elizabeth’s reign would openly exhibit homosocial love for a male friend and perhaps—though this would not always have been the case—more quietly take part in homosexual relationships with that same person in private.  This did not set him aside as a pariah in a society in which, as A.L. Rowse records, dandies like the Earl of Oxford and Sir Edward Hobby caused some degree of offence among “the bourgeois Etoile” because they appeared as: “frisés, fraisés, poudrés, parfumés’ ”.[23] These features of outward appearance occur in the actual portraiture of the people who gave patronage and physical protection to the players in this study.  The players last act, therefore, would be to offend such protectors; a factor that almost within itself proposes the creation of a rich field for the praise of such androgynous displays as long, curled hair, jewellery and rich clothing.  Further, the diving-vee-shaped bodices and waistlines in the men that so closely echoed the sovereign’s common female style, joined fashion-with-politics in praise of the physically tiny woman — Elizabeth I —  who paradoxically held such vast power in her times.[24]  If outright flattery is to be accepted as valid, either of or by the aristocrats, or the dread sovereign upon her throne, then let it be straightforward imitation!

It appears, therefore, mightily strange that many relatively modern critics have simply ignored the androgyne display altogether.  Many books and articles on Elizabethan drama do not even mention the Elizabethan all-male custom.  It is as though those critics have wiped this particular element of historical fact from their minds.  An example lies in that single footnote, observed above, in the Arden Edition of Antony and Cleopatra.  M.R. Ridley obviously feels that it is necessary to explain, in considerable detail, the use of the word, “boy” in the previously quoted sequence containing: “Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness…”[25]   The strange truth is that neither the explanation itself, nor the reason for giving it, will seem at all odd to most modern people.  On the other hand, the explanation would seem bizarre to Elizabethans.  Their reaction would be, why explain the obvious?   Even more strange, Ridley explains every other imaginable thing about the play, in the introduction and in the copious footnotes that append to the action, yet he only once mentions the androgyne factor and only then because, clearly, he feels that he must explain what would otherwise be an impossibly cryptic line for modern readers to grasp.  If a critical reader were to study the introductions and explanatory footnotes in the entire span of The Arden Editions of the Works of William Shakespeare, the same ideational ellipsis would be found as the normal state of affairs in the writings of the modern editors in that entire series.

Following this thread, Michael Jamieson’s editorship of Volpone, The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair is very much a case in point.  Only once does he specifically mention boy actors as the agents of androgyny in Ben Jonson’s comedies, and then only in an oddly oblique manner.  Again, the need for the mention itself is only to explain what would otherwise be—in this case—an extremely cryptic gesture.  This is, specifically, the odd behaviour of Puppet Dionysius in Act 5, line 90 of  Bartholomew Fair.  This scene requires that the puritan, Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, is railing against the actor, who is actually a cross-dressed puppet.   Busy shouts “...for the male among you putteth on the apparel of the female, and the female of the male”.  Jonson’s audience knew that the whole process transgressed the strictures in Deuteronomy, Chapter 22, verse 5.  This states “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God”.[26]  Puppet Dionysius cheekily retorts: “...we have neither male nor female amongst us.  And that thou may’st see, if thou wilt, like a malicious purblind zeal as thou art!”.  The adjacent stage direction requires that “THE PUPPET takes up his garment”.[27]

Apart from the irresistible humour in this incident, there are extremely interesting tensions in this interchange that do not merely rely upon either, the angry, or the scornful invective of either character.  Most interestingly, the puppet scotches Busy’s objections by displaying his wooden, completely sexless lower parts, and, incidentally, using the familiar “thou” to lay the mockery on with an even bigger trowel.  This adds force to the ridicule of the absurd Busy, and, being enacted in an age when audiences might contain people who deeply could harm the playwright or the actors, it was a very brave display.

The performer’s words at least, more often than not, were extremely polite to members of the audience, if addressing them directly, but Jonson cunningly places this biting scorn in the once-removed level of the play-within-the-play.  The puppet-sequence allows a castigation of a play-goer in the form of a character in the main part of the play in words of open mockery, yet it still evades scorning the notionally real audience.  Only by once-removed implication does it say that, if you, the real people down there, are in agreement with Busy, then be scorned.  This episode acts as a paradigm of subtlety for the plays of the period.  Though the puppet’s use of the familiar pronoun, “thou”, may also be seen to address both Busy and the Puritans as a body, rather than merely Busy himself, primarily it adds power to the puppet’s wickedly-grinning invective because it uses the familiar-mode personal-pronoun, at a time when the formal, polite-mode, “you” would more likely have been expected.

Returning to the openly-stated awareness of the cross-dressed young male actor in modern editors, the obfuscation may best be traced as an evolution by returning briefly to Antony and Cleopatra.  Whereas M.R. Ridley’s editorial writing in the Arden Shakespeare dates from 1954, David Bevington’s work for The Cambridge Shakespeare series was published in 1990.  The latter’s footnote to the “squeaking Cleopatra boy” assumes in its reader a far greater awareness of Shakespeare’s young male actors than Ridley’s editorial could, yet it still allows for it not existing in some readers by providing copious notes to fill the void.  Bevington’s own awareness of the importance of this essential facet of representation may be entirely due to his own research, but it must also be reported that in 1990, Bevington had access to the highly-focused research of such scholars as Phyllis Rackin, Sigurd Burckhardt and Matthew Proser.  In fact, he gracefully acknowledges these other authors.  Significantly, he expresses as a paradox an effect that the use of boy actors created.  He observes that this effect constituted a valid view of “art’s very limits” in “its role of transforming nature”.[28] 

The fact is that the wholesale obfuscation of the historical fact of play-androgyny in many modern editors in the middle-distance that have been described, may also be seen from a very different angle.   In fact, the practice of ignoring the original form of female representation is perfectly valid—if a completely modern rendering of a Shakespearian play is needed—simply because no other version is possible.  Gary Taylor expands a similar, strongly-related view in saying that:

The beginning of Hamlet is always a rebeginning.  This axiom applies even to Shakespeare.  His Hamlet is a rewriting of someone else’s lost play, just as his King Lear is a rewriting of someone else’s King Leir, later, First Folio Hamlet is a rewriting of Second Quarto Hamlet, First Folio King Lear is a rewriting of Quarto King Lear.  Every writing is a rewriting.[29]

Most importantly, in this vein, we would never see performances of Renaissance plays if there were to be some fanatically prescriptive power that existed to prevent interpretation in staging, lighting, manner of presentation, dress, or editing.  Or, most importantly of all, the gender and age combinations of the players.   In these modern times, we are only going to see performances in which women take the female parts.

Further depth is added to this argument if we realize that there would have been radically variant interpretations of Elizabethan plays in the lifetimes of the authors themselves.  Actors and directors could not be forced faithfully to obey the intentions of the playwrights—if those intentions could be known, in any case—any more then, than now.  Additionally, those who lived by drama were forced to give the people what they wanted.  Fashions, even within a brief span of time, varied.  This is proved by the relatively short time in which the all-boy companies, manned by such groups as the Choristers of St Paul and the Chapel Royal had their greatest days at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, and then faded from the scene.


Finally to remove any doubt that the Renaissance boy could capably have represented the female character in the comedies, the physical appearance, combined with the emotional capacity of the boy actor must now be underlined.  As well, the historical facts of his life must be seen as essential in our view of him as an actor.  An absolutely vital factor that this study has not been addressed by any other critic or scholar with respect to the staging of the plays in question, is that which is revealed in a careful survey of modern medical science where it is involved in the field of child development.  This research has discovered that the average age of puberty, in both sexes respectively, now occurs roughly a year earlier that it did in the 1930s.  Boys have always matured later than girls, so it is possible to argue that a male person of fourteen, fifteen, or even sixteen years of age in Elizabethan times, would have been roughly the same physical size as a twelve or thirteen-year-old person, now.[30]  Yet, most importantly, for reasons other than, either, diet or overall health, it is possible fairly to assume that a twelve-year-old Elizabethan boy would have been mentally as mature as a boy of, say, sixteen, now.

Laurence Olivier, aged 14, as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, 1922

Phillippe Ariès and others have expended great efforts on research into both the concept and the physical state of childhood in former times.[31]  From these sources, and from present-day science, it is possible to deduce that childhood, as we know it now, did not exist in any realistic comparison, in Shakespeare’s era.  The infant mortality rate of those times was savage and death was everywhere as a possibility in every moment.[32]  When children then were old enough to walk and talk they either were sent to school or they were expected to work for their living.  Historical examples of Renaissance educational custom exist in Robert Boyle being sent to Eton at the age of eight.  Francis Bacon and John Donne went up to Cambridge and Oxford respectively, both at the age of twelve.[33]  John Donne received his MA at the age of sixteen, and the Earl of Rochester at fourteen.  There were no special clothes or diets for children.  John Marston’s Antonio and Mellida of 1599 is fairly typical of plays for the period as a measure of what kind of bawdry children were then thought capable of handling without harm.  In this, two characters called Dildo and Catzo—both words being Italian euphemisms for penis—were performed by the Choristers of St. Paul’s.[34] Routinely in this period, characters dressed and acted outrageously in comedic action that made the obvious use of their childish appearances to juxtapose the openly profligate parts that they played.  All of this happened within the precinct of the cathedral, thus proposing a large paradox in the lives of all people—let alone the children of that time.  In the cathedral grounds and even in the basilica itself, shops flourished and prostitutes plied their trade.[35]  Unwanted babies were abandoned there and men died in duels-of-honour in Paul’s Yard.[36]  Reavley Gair records that, on the 3rd of May, 1606, the boys’ play had to compete with the public hanging of one Henry Garnet at the west end of that same yard.[37]  It is definitely not beyond the bounds of possibility that the boys themselves would rather have attended the gruesome hanging than stay to perform their play…  This idea is backed by H.S. Bennett, who draws a very clear picture of Elizabethan street-life and the routine savagery that it contained.  In a 1944 lecture, he said:

a tough fibre was necessary to walk through the streets of London exposed men to sights and scenes from which our modern sensitivities would shrink.  The horrid ceremonial of death, the licensed fury of the crowd around gallows or pillory ... these and a thousand other daily events made men less sensitive to suffering, to physical cruelty, and promoted a general coarsening of feeling which made everyday life the easier to endure.  It is the state of mind well known to the soldier in the field, who rapidly finds his sensibility dulled, and comes to accept things which in a happier world he instinctively turned from.[38]

Speaking at the height of the Second World War, Bennet rightly argues that Mark Antony’s words: “All pity chok’d with custom of fell deeds” actually encapsulate the desensitizing effects of war on soldiers.  This desensitizing effect may justifiably be extended to include Elizabethan children of both sexes.  The essential toughness that children then would achieve, virtually by default, added to the fact of their usefulness as workers in the majority of families, further widens the gap between the sensibilities of those young people from these — our modern children — whom we know so well, and protect so fiercely.

In summary, all of the above factors lead to the inescapable conclusion that young people in the Renaissance grew up, mentally, at least, much more quickly than their equivalents, now.  It is therefore logical to state that, in such a culture, a boy of sixteen years-of-age and having exceptional acting ability could certainly have undertaken the demanding roles of Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, or Cleopatra.  By the same token, the same youngster could have enacted the full meaning in the bawdry of the comedies which are here discussed.  All this, in word, gesture and manner — and in the oblique inferences necessary to the play of subtleties in the representation of both the uninflected woman and the indeterminate, teasingly-uncertain androgyne.  Thus, on the one hand, a Desdemona, or on the other, a Rosalind, could still have been in that stage of physical growth before the voice breaks, or the beard properly appears.  Additionally, a boy of a younger chronological age could have tackled Ophelia, or Juliet, or the quick-silver Maria.

The fact that the comedies in particular were enthusiastically attended by thousands of people annually, and even seen several times in one year by some, demonstrates that the cultural envelope that contained the boy actor was entirely different from our own and notwithstanding the acknowledged more iconic method of medieval acting that had gone before, this maturation-factor alone would deeply have influenced both the earlier tradition, as well as the later Renaissance custom.[39]  These factors also firmly ground the argument within the purview of human sexuality and gender, and the valid concerns that many feminists have voiced about the perceived problem of male appropriation of the perceptually beautiful, female subject.

It might be possible to argue that, in the above case of appropriation, whether the subject is thought male, or female, the gender being represented as indeterminate in both cases, this ensures that the sexuality of the subject is virtually irrelevant in some senses.  Yet does this equivocation turn the feminist concerns back upon themselves and completely nullify them?  No, it will later be shown that there remain far greater subtleties than this to be examined.

The deep-seated cultural aspects of all this, supported by the idea that the plays of the period were written with men, mainly, as spectators in mind, seems irrefutably to support the notion of the spectator as “engaged in a project of collaboration, with the dramatist and actor, in the interest of the performance”.[40]  Without this tacit agreement, this willing compact, as Elaine Aston and George Savona argue: “the robed and painted boy ... the mythicised Cleopatra” could not work at all.  The primary title of Aston’s and Savona’s work being Theatre as a Sign-System is very much to the point, and it proposes this element of co-operation itself as the key to the visual and the ideational codes which we of the modern era must decipher.

Another photo of Laurence Olivier, aged 14, as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, 1922

In this light, T.W. Craik both simplifies and supports Peter Thomson’s assertion that music, in particular, was an important part of Tudor plays, both in the public and the private, but the latter, particularly.  One of the reasons why boys could so easily represent women was the “fact that a boy can not only look like a woman but also sing like one”.[41]  In a focus on the Tudor plays that led towards the era that is in question, Craik examines the use of speech, singing and movement, stating that even the most skilful adult male actor could not possibly be convincing in the same roles that the youngsters undertook.  He argues that a grotesque parody, a visual travesty might be possible, were that desired, but that is all.   Susan Zimmerman’s research, on the other hand, uncovers references to twenty-year-old men being selected for female roles in medieval drama.[42]  These individuals may still have been, in fact, sufficiently beardless to portray women convincingly.  They may also have possessed long flowing hair as an essential feature for a perception of female representation, yet in this, the expansion from the outward appearance of an actor who could hold his place upon the stage, probably in a falsetto voice, is radically compared with the true soprano of the Elizabethan boy’s voice.  Interwoven within these considerations of perceptions as they changed; the more highly-developed nature of the later style seems aptly to establish that the boy, or the youth, would have needed to appear more convincing and sound more convincing, as well as exhibit more varied skill than his medieval predecessor.  Neither a stylized, iconic method, nor a voice “cracked within the ring”, would fit the bill for Shakespeare.[43] 

Of vital importance in this evolution, Craik notes a change in the style of representation as running parallel with an increasing element of bawdry during the Renaissance.  He compares the 1540 Redford play, Wit and Science, with an anonymous play of about thirty years later, The Mariage of Witte and Science.  Where, in Redford’s earlier play, the youthful characters had been relatively decorous and courtly, the succeeding play contains a markedly livelier and bawdier dialogue and action.[44] The later play gives:

Wit an impetuous, energetic young page (the moral point that Will is not Wit’s best counsellor is amusingly developed throughout the play).  A characteristic exchange take place between them on the way to Science’s house, where Wit is to offer his love:

WITTE:    Perhappes we may fynd them at this time in bedde.
WILL:        So much the rather loke you to be sped,
        Care for no more, but once to come within her,
        And when you haue done, then let another win her.
WITTE:    To come within her child, what meanst thou by that.
WILL:        One masse for a penye, you know what is what.
WITTE:    Hard you euer such counsell of such a Jack sprot.
WILL:        Why sir do you thinke to doe any good,
        If ye stande in a corner like Roben hood[45]

The comedy here lies not only in Will’s ribald suggestion, the knowing and anti-romantic grin of the rude boy, which is pointed by Wit’s appeal to the audience when his Jack Sprat gives him this advice; it lies also in the fact that Wit himself is as young as this boy whose precocity shocks him so much.[46]

To which should be added the idea that the social position of Witte is established by his addressing Will in the familiar style, as “thou”, while Will is consistent in his use of the formal “you” to his master, Witte.  Their audience, after all, was reflexively sensitive to such clear social indicators as personal-pronoun usage and this would subliminally have added yet another layer to the comedy created by the word-play between boy-as-master and the boy-as-servant.  The one is, notionally, held responsible for the behaviour of the other, yet each actor being as small and physically immature as the other, constitutes a very large part of the humour.  The reflexive, though joking social-correctitude establishes a clear hierarchy between two children who were representing two adults.  This would have been obvious in the awareness of the original audience, though it is yet another example of subtleties that may well slide past the modern spectator.  For the Elizabethan, the scene piles layer upon layer as the cheekily bawdy servant turns the convention on its head by being—also textually—overly familiar and bossy with his master in suggesting a quick conquest of the lady in question and an equally quick withdrawal.  The formal usage is therefore seen to war with the familiarity of his suggestions, and gives depth to the irony and the paradox of this funny situation.

Further, the use of the double-meaning name, Will, must be seen as deliberate.  C.T. Onions and Eric Partridge focus on different aspects of Shakespeare’s lexis, but both agree that “Will” may be taken to mean what we in modern English also take it to mean, and also meant, variously, “a passionate, or a powerful, sexual desire”, or a “carnal appetite or desire”.[47]  In the above excerpt, the cheeky servant is definitely the aptronym of the bawdy meaning, yet the affrontery of the situation is disarmed by the choice of meanings being left entirely to the audience to decide.  Renaissance representation is therefore seen to exist in a particularly subtle facet of highly personal, socially-based, dramatic interaction.  In this case, those who are not sensitive to Renaissance pronouns-of-address as elements of social standing, may miss one layer of the above subtleties entirely, and those also not versed in Elizabethan double-meanings may miss what the servant so clearly represented to the audiences of those days.  Craik agrees with other scholars who have had full access to the records that some of the boys had exceptional talent and enjoyed a heyday in the plays of such authors as Lyly, Redford and Jonson.  Bruce Smith agrees with Craik in this sense of the exposure of the boy to the bawdry and adds that the ribald gestures of the characters were as important a part of the action as the words themselves.[48]  Finally, it is possible to propose that the two characters, Witte and Will, would clearly have been seen as a contest for supremacy between the good and the bad sides of one person’s nature.  This particular subtlety has been passed down to us in the many internal contests that we have seen in modern plays, films and television productions.          

As has been demonstrated, Shakespeare in his own time saw, and seems partly to be responsible for a move towards a more naturalistic style of acting.  It is also clear, as Michael Shapiro argues, that in performances of works by Dekker, Webster, Middleton and Marston, the dual-consciousness of the audience, that is to say, the reality of the boy and the dichotomy between him and the part that he played, could not have been satisfied in such subtle parts that those authors invented, without a high degree of skill and effort by the youthful participants.[49]  

Cultural production perpetuates itself: what it produces reinforces what it demands.[50]  Shapiro astutely argues that “theatrical constructions of the social constructions that constituted the culture’s notion of femininity” was simply axiomatic in the apprentice-actor’s existence before his burgeoning size, sprouting beard, and deepening voice obliged him to perform only adult roles.[51]  Above all, these young people were what we would now call professional actors, whether they were members of the boys’ troupes, or apprentices in the adult companies.  They had to work hard for a living, and there was no welfare state outside the stage-door to support them if they failed.

Within the period studied, what we would now call infrastructure, increased in the construction of permanent public theatres.  These constructions, in turn, led to a great increase in the number of professional actors at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries.[52]  These actors and their companies largely supplanted the guilds, the colleges, and the school troupes, all of which had contained only amateur actors.  All through this period, though they mostly performed in private theatres, specialist troupes such as the Children of Paul’s and the Chapel Royal were also completely professional in their approach.  William Tydeman, particularly, builds a convincing argument about the quality and range of the acting skill that the young choristers must have needed in such pre-Shakespearian plays as Jake Jugeler, Roister Doister, Gammer Gurton’s Needle and Mother Bombie.[53]  Tydeman argues that scholars have long classed this handful of plays as being “minor Elizabethan”.  Yet, after a close reading of them he demonstrates that a great many of the ideas and much of the style in them was copied—absorbed, if you like—into Marlowe’s, Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s works.  Such features as “Lyly’s patterned plots” and William Stevenson’s “richly characterized community of low-life creations”.  These characters, above all, possess “a vigour which even Ben Jonson rarely emulated”.  Further, “Jenkin Careaway’s traumatic encounter with his doppelgänger in Jake Jugeler” predates Shakepeare’s use of “the same device from the same classical source in The Comedy of Errors”.  Further still, and adding another level of quality:

Roister Doister is a constant delight not because his behaviour vaguely anticipates that of Falstaff or Don Armado, but because he comes to life instantly as a unique and unforgettable dramatic figure.[54]

Throughout the many changes leading up to the end of the sixteenth century, there is a great deal of absorption, modification and growth in subtlety.  Most importantly, there is a constant increase in the notional quality of the plays and the players themselves despite the necessary use of young male actors, who had to learn and perform these colourful and complex parts.  As Tydeman points out, the average age of the university students “would of course have been lower than that of present-day undergraduates” and this fact sits well within the overall theme of the argument that the young participants in these notionally adult plays were ahead of their years in our modern view of such things.  What follows from this is a sense that some modern scholars, in their reflexive disparagement of the very young players where they appear in the Renaissance, simply reflect the modern tendency towards the general disparagement of children and their abilities as a whole in this modern era.  John Russell Brown, in his detailed survey of the youthful players in the first performances of The Duchess of Malfi, in particular, cannot resist a jab at the boys in saying:

In any reconstruction of the first performance of The Duchess the female parts will appear less interesting than the roles played by Lowin and Burbage, about whom so much is known.[55]

This view reflects a thoroughly nineteenth century view.  It follows that, if children, now, are seen as not capable of undertaking sophisticated representations, then the plays that were created specifically for them—those that clearly they did perform alone—must therefore be seen as simpler and less sophisticated plays.  Either that, or the dramatic persona of the boy must be created indirectly, textually and in the speech of the adult actors who surrounded him.  Even in the kindest light, it must be seen that this is a cultural-rebound which may closely be compared with the patriarchal suppression of the selves of the very women whom these boys represented.  This disparagement, most importantly, defies the evidence of William Tydeman, above, and Ann Blake, below.  Though Brown was speaking of the first performances of The Duchess of Malfi by an adult, public troupe, the play had actually first been privately performed by the Boys of Blackfriars.[56]  Separation of the actors by age appears as a reflex in Brown’s attitudes to the representation, though, despite his clear knowledge of the actors as individuals.  Later, oddly, Brown partially vindicates himself by reporting that:

two members of early audiences have testified in their commendatory verses that the impersonal and transient art of a boy actor had made the greatest effect—for Middleton and Rowley, the enactment of the duchess herself was the pathetic and eloquent centre of the play, and proof of Webster’s genius.[57]

In the midst of strong, contemporary praise for what the boy in question most clearly did wring from the “pathetic’ emotion of the part—this emotion just as clearly being echoed by the audience—Brown speaks of “the impersonal and transient art of a boy actor”.  The question remains: is Brown suggesting that because the boy steps across a distinct gender-boundary in his portrayal of the duchess, then he must therefore personally be detached from the persona?  Does he mean from the female body, from the gender, or from the sexuality of the duchess?  He may justifiably use the word transient when referring to the youngster’s performance, in the smaller sphere, or his ageing process, in the larger.  On the other hand, there definitely is no evidence to support the idea that the boy who so impressed Middleton and Rowley by his emotional rendering of the duchess, could have—in this documented performance, or in any other—been impersonal in his representation of this central, this vital persona, the Duchess herself.         

For the moment, and setting aside the boys-only troupes of then: culturally, socially and even legally, there was no choice but to use boys and youths to represent women, and it seems very likely that a great deal of the polemic was created and made equally self-perpetuating because of the fury that those on the anti-theatrical, puritanical side felt necessary to express at every opportunity.  Until the parliamentary troops deposed the king, these ideologically-inspired individuals drew undue attention to what might have seemed not to be that important, or that great an issue to most of the people who saw the plays, then.  The uncritical multitudes were entirely used to seeing the cross-dressed youngster and probably enjoyed the bawdry and the ambiguous sexualities created for them, to a very high degree.  It is possible to theorize that, left alone, the custom might very well have died out in a later age for want of interest, or in some signal change in the direction of fashion.  Yet in historical reality it only ceased when the Civil War gave total power to the “radical protestants”, as Elizabeth Moran coins the descriptive phrase in her paper, “Fashioning Femininity in the Early Modern Period”.[58]   Dr Moran’s main concern will later to be seen as the radicals’ attacks on the sheer display involved in women’s fashions, yet unifying threads from her arguments within that sphere lead off into the discourse of all display during that particular period of significant and constantly evolving change in real life and in drama—in religion, social custom and secular philosophy. 

After the Republic came about, everything changed.  In this discourse, a particular line leaps out of the page in Peter Stallybrass’s 1992 paper, “Transvesticism and the ‘body beneath’ ”.  Stallybrass records Colley Cibber’s joyful comment upon the new régime in which women rose to the stage after the restoration of the monarchy.  It overflows with: “ ‘The additional Objects then of real, beautiful Women, could not but draw a portion of new Admirers to the Theatre’ ”.[59]  This may justifiably be seen as a wonderfully refreshing expression of new thought to replace old thought.  Cibber’s enthusiasm for the fact of this happening in his time is so infectious as to be quite irresistible.[60]

A scholar’s natural caution is needed, though.  In reporting the whole idea, Stallybrass puts a modern observer’s twist on Cibber’s emancipatory prospect by saying that, according Cibber: “the very presence of female actors upon the stage helped to constitute a new audience (or rather new spectators)”.  In this one word, “spectators”, Stallybrass brings his comments into the modern feminist sphere where the perception of male appropriation of the female body is the subject of critical focus.  Stallybrass records:

In the epilogue to Nathaniel Lee’s The Rival Queens (1677), the actors protest that if their male spectators continue to lure female actors away from the stage, they will return to using boy actors:

For we have vow’d to find a sort of Toys
Known to black Fryars, a Tribe of chooping Boys.
If once they come, they’l quickly spoil your sport,
There’s not one Lady will receive your Court:
But for the youth in petticoats run wild,
With oh the archest Wagg, the sweetest Child.
The panting Breasts, white Hands and little Feet
No more shall your pall’d thoughts with pleasure meet.
The Woman in Boys Cloaths, all Boy shall be,
And never raise your thoughts above the Knee.[61]

This very funny piece of metatheatrical verse requires in the reader a recognition that a sea-change of major importance had taken place.  It is as though a very large switch has been thrown and that now the clear vision of a notionally simpler representation suddenly had arrived.  Despite all of the possible plays upon words, and despite all of the double meanings that may be constructed in the earlier lines, particularly, this verse speaks to the heterosexual male alone.  Simply, now, only women have their rightful place upon the stage.  This itself not only allows, but it also creates, the laughing-threat that bringing boys back to the stage will utterly douse the fires of male passion within this Restoration context.

Women themselves, in Shakespeare’s day, were not blind to the interplays of the representation of sexuality and gender.  In both the humorous, and in the serious passages in the plays and the interludes of those days, Lady Mary Wroth, a playwright herself, was acutely aware of the artistry when “a delicate play-boy acte a loving womans part, and knowing him a Boy, lik’d onely his action”.[62]  In studying this awareness, Bruce Smith refers to Michael Shapiro’s analysis of “the theatrical ‘surface’ of boys playing women and the theatrical ‘depth’ of the women that they were portraying”, as a keen insight in this field.  In this, the use of artifice emerges almost as end within itself.  As documented observers of those times record, the audiences were aware “...of both things, of the actor and of the illusion he created”.[63]  Wroth, with other literate, well-travelled observers of the day—namely, Thomas Coryate, George Sandys and Thomas Platter, observed both the mainland European use of women, and the insular use of boys-alone in a fair light, seeing the possibilities of both customs.  It is a simple fact that interpretations of the play-texts must, then, also have then been as wide and varied as now.

As varied, indeed, as the reactions and levels of understanding of the individuals in the audiences of those days.  Bruce Smith, as one reporter, is utterly clear that though the anti-theatricals took a very severe view of androgynous usage, yet:

all the unpolemical witnesses we have from the seventeenth century — John Manningham, Henry Jackson, Simon Forman, Abraham White — register no erotic interest whatsoever in the characters they saw onstage, much less a specifically homoerotic [element] in the boy actors they watched in Twelfth Night, Othello, Macbeth, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and Philaster.  Every one of these informants writes about the fictional female he saw as if those female characters were female persons, persons who engaged delight or pity but not eros.[64]

In the above, appears yet another of those codes: that of the modern association of Eros as the God of Love, represented in Renaissance pictorial art, variously, as a playful youth, a mischievous boy, or a bow-armed putto.[65]  He is not only Love itself, but he represents the essential attraction between people as everything from a gentle swooning love to the strongest of physical desire.

Smith’s Eros, however, goes back to the Greek concept of the erastès, the lover, and his eròmenos, the young beloved.  In the Greek concept—that which was so clearly absorbed by the Elizabethans—the lover is always above, in terms of power and social status, while the beloved is always below, in fact, the minion.[66]  More of this later, but here, it must firmly be established that the performance, the audience and the purposeful critic were (and are) a multi-faceted reality and certainly will remain so in this thesis.  A surface study of modern concepts of androgyny or female representation alone simply will not do.  Further, no single truth may possibly be established by a lifetime of study in this field. The complexities of lexically shifted-meanings and altered human states will be returned to many times in this study, as the various subtleties of sheer context demand.

Of great interest, though, is the considered view produced by Bruce Smith’s wide reading in feminist scholarship.  As this thesis has already insisted, and with the support of many other researchers, Smith proposes the reality of William Shakespeare as a proto-feminist:

Responding, apparently, to the relative powerlessness of women in Elizabethan society, Shakespeare lets his heroines, during the liminal time of the play at least, enjoy a man’s latitude of action.[67]

This principle must be seen to go far beyond having lively, witty, cheeky youngsters upon the stage.  There is no question that many of Shakespeare’s women are powerfully-drawn figures who exhibit courage with decisiveness, passion with intelligence.  The androgyne element takes nothing from the inescapable quality of these figures as being far more than worthy of representation.  Also, the variance in modes of reception of those same figures is likely to have been as wide in nature as it could ever be, now, even allowing sufficient knowledge in the modern audience.  Yet in the end, the reality of the lives of women in those times was that they existed as subordinates to men.  A woman, played by a boy or a beardless youth, came down off the stage at the end of the play and was then a boy, a future patriarch again; but still it is of signal importance in this discourse that Shakespeare did give such power to his female characters, drew them with such clear lines, gave them such wonderful words to speak.  They are in fact, utterly unforgettable.

The Globe Theatre reconstructed in 1997

The events of the 1640s to the 1660s saw the destruction of that extra dimension to the plays, that which the androgyne-usage supplied.  The statement, “We cannot recover a past taste” is highly apposite, here.[68]  Yet though Peter Thomson was speaking of the plays that were performed by companies containing boys alone, it is still possible to state that this simple conclusion applies universally to all of the uses of all-male stage-androgyny before the 1660s.  Having said that, it is timely to report that a close-copy of the original Globe Theatre has indeed been built in Southwark.  One of the driving reasons for doing this was to produce and perform plays exactly as Shakespeare would have intended.[69]  As the first research for this thesis was being done, Stephen Orgel was actually watching The Maid’s Tragedy and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside in just this very re-created theatre.  Yet the performances of which he speaks in Shakespeare Quarterly had female actors in all of the female parts.  This might seem to have made these events unremarkable, but Orgel went on to make some testy and very amusing observations about the uncomfortable authenticity of the seats and the stage’s extremely inconvenient, view-blocking pillars!  He then positively railed against the theatre’s very poor acoustic, then commented that the “boys” who had played the women’s roles in Henry V had “got very good press”.[70]  This event had apparently taken place after the above-named performances of the Beaumont and Fletcher and the Middleton play that he had himself seen.  Set firmly in the discourse of authenticity, though, Orgel commented that these latter “authentic boys” had apparently performed very well, which might seem to turn this discussion’s original ideas about retrieving true authenticity upon their heads!  Yet in truth, it is an unavoidable fact that the female parts are relatively minor in Henry V—the play he mentioned.  There is a world of difference between the commitment and the skill required between these brief, relatively straight performances, and those in the comedies which later will be discussed in detail.  In the beginning of Henry V the appearance of Nell Quickly, though highly comedic, belongs more within the discourse of deliberate travesty than a serious attempt at androgyny.  This part was almost certainly performed by an adult male actor in the original tradition, in any case.  Her part contains much bawdy humour, but this is scarcely subtle.  Later in the play, Queen Isabel of France appears only briefly.  The lady attending Princess Katherine appears only marginally more fully, and Katherine herself appears on the stage for brief periods at the very end of the play.  Yes, as T.W. Craik points out, these three female roles do require the boys to “speak in French”, even if not actually to understand that language.[71]  Yet the demands of these roles may not realistically be compared with the roles within which Rosalind, Viola, or even Maria are brought so vibrantly to life in the comedies.   In the end, the modern boys in this recent Henry V would have needed to be competent, rather than outstanding actors; their parts in the play relying a great deal on the young actors’ good voices and good appearance for their power and attractiveness.[72]

In the early 1660s, the end of the “500-year tradition of boy actors in England” was, as Susan Zimmerman argues, the end of an entire level of meaning and interpretation.[73]  Yet elements in this discourse form bridges across the void.  Ben Jonson, though usually classified as a Jacobean, bridged the transition of gender make-up in staging.  His Bartholomew Fair first trod the boards in 1614 and was regularly performed until 1731.  It was a favourite play of Samuel Pepys in the meantime.[74]  The fact that it was so popular acts as evidence that a good play is a good play whether boys or women take the female parts.  Pepys is known to have been an almost obsessive womanizer and it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the representation of women alone had pleased him mightily in this play.  In direct reference to the play’s performance on the 2nd of August, 1664, Pepys records a visit:

To the King’s playhouse and there saw Bartholomew fayre, which doth still please me and is, as it is acted, the best comedy in the world I believe[75] 

Clearly, this is not just a fleeting fragment of historical minutiæ.  From studying Pepys’s overall style in his diaries, it is obvious that he rarely suffered from prolixity, or habitually gave fulsome praise, even to the things that clearly he loved.  What is of even greater interest, here, is the fact that Pepys just as clearly reveals that he had seen the play before this occasion, and that it “doth still please me [italics mine]”.  This diary entry is in mid-1664, so the possibility exists that he may have seen it before d’Avenant’s patent of 1662, and that, therefore, he might well have experienced an all-male production of the comedy as well as a later, male and female performance of the work.  He makes no specific mention of this and he gives no value-judgement of the two traditions.

Earlier, Pepys’s Diary had revealed that on the 3rd of January, 1661, noting that the following is a significant time-span before d’Avenant’s patent:

after that, I to Theatre, where was acted Beggar’s bush — it being very well done, and here the first time that ever I saw Women come upon the stage.[76]

He makes not the slightest mention of whether this female appearance was a notionally good or bad thing, then quickly passes on to an aunt’s illness and the next day speaks of weighty financial matters and yet another play, The Scornefull Lady, then yet more family worries.  Skipping the 6th—a Sunday—Pepys laconically informs his diary that “there hath been a great stirr in the City this night by the Fanatiques, who have been up and killed six or seven men, but all are fled”.[77]  Then he drops a bombshell:

Edward Kynaston

Tom and I and my wife to the Theatre and there saw The Silent Woman, the first time I ever did see it and it is an excellent play.  Among other things, Kinaston the boy hath the good turn to appear in three shapes: I, as a poor woman in ordinary clothes to please the Morose; then in fine clothes as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the house — and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house.[78]

Again, Pepys passes no opinion in a personal, subjective way, as to whether he thought that women were better at portraying women than male actors were.  On the other hand, in the above quotation there are extremely acute comments that betray in the diarist a metatheatrical over-view of androgyny itself.  This is made more interesting still by being observed on the cusp of the transition between boys and women performing the female roles.  Pepys demonstrates a fine awareness of the shape of characters in the drama.  He is also aware to whom this particular facet of characterisation was addressed, and by whom.  Overall, this record, with many others that Pepys made in that highly transitional period, reveals a keen understanding of the principles of author, audience and the theatrical space in which the discourse exists.

What clearly remains is that he is very impressed by the changeling Kinaston,[79] then a young man.  It is clear that this sensitive, intelligent observer has produced a balanced view of what seemed to him a matter of no great earth-shaking moment.  The play was the thing.  It was played well, or played badly, and that was all that mattered to him.

Fashion is an intrinsic element in culture, but Shakespeare’s plays are still played now and loved as fervently as when he wrote them, but it must be said that they now are loved by an entirely different audience.  What must be stressed is that the plays did not become less when women mounted the stage.  They became, simply, different and despite the elements that this thesis acknowledges in the feminist studies that reveal the marginalization and denigration of women that is clearly remnant in the texts under discussion, it may also quite justifiably be stated that on one level the modern female persona may be seen both to strengthen and to simplify the spectacle.  If the original play-text were to be followed, this may be seen to leave fatherless many of the subtleties that the androgyne-usage of former years would have high-lighted, but it remains an unavoidable fact that many of those subtleties are already lost in the lexis and semantic of obscure words and phrases that are impenetrable to many in our audiences, now.  On the other hand, it is possible to state that most members of our audiences now see a true representation of women. That is to say, most individuals now see it that way since they have little, or no knowledge of the original tradition in any case.  Yet these relatively simplistic interpretations may be seen as a retrospective view for non-scholastic audiences.  They may also now—paradoxically—produce an insight into William Shakespeare’s view of women, as he saw them.



Ann Blake’s paper, “Boy Actors in Women’s Roles” treads an original path.  Drawing attention to much recent research, she asserts that, in:

ingenious arguments, based on fragments of history, or shaped by theoretical and sexual commitments, the boy actors’ capacity to create the illusion of women on stage has been undermined, denied, even declared irrelevant[80]

Blake’s stated purpose, on the other hand, is to “defend the success of boy actors on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage in ‘transforming’ themselves into women”.[81]   Taking into account the issue of the importance of the text now reinstated in “this post-Foucauldian climate” and reminding her reader about the “power of text or performance over the minds and imaginations of reader and audience”, Blake ventures into “this shadowy area” to “redress the balance”.[82]  In what then follows, she seeks to re-assert at least some of what this study sees as a balanced view of the expedience of having only boys, youths and sometimes men to represent women in the main-stream of Renaissance drama in England.

Cutting straight to the kernel of Shakespeare’s own early experience, Blake focuses on the historical fact that, on his arrival in London the poet found the same exclusively male constitution of stage companies which he may have seen with his own eyes when the same companies visited Stratford-upon-Avon in the 1580s.  This would have been, Blake argues, a simple extension of his experience of the all-male constitution of  “the cycle plays nearby, at Coventry” which the young poet may also have seen before their final closure in 1579.  The poet’s early life, simply, saw no women upon the stage, and, more importantly, had no expectation of any in the future, as Blake firmly asserts.  Further, and vitally:

Though he makes his Cleopatra fear ‘some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness…’ the idea that one day a woman might act one of his female roles may never have crossed his mind.[83]

Blake also quotes Thomas Nashe’s claim that propriety was the main inspiration for the insular custom of not using women in women’s roles.  After all, no respectable woman would have thought of becoming an actor.  Alternatively, it was then thought highly inflammatory to use: “ ‘Whores and common courtesans to play women’s parts’ ”.[84]  Discussed elsewhere, Blake also observes that this gave no comfort to the “churchmen and others”.  Strongly, this creates a resonant echo between the English and the Spanish dilemmas.[85]  Blake argues that any display by women, of female figures, was then thought impossibly immoral.

This moralistic view has haunted us until very recently.  A strongly disparaging attitude to female actors was clear in many of the jokes about actresses and bishops that portrayed the actresses, at least, as a generally immoral class of people into the forties and fifties of the last century.  Indeed, a certain looseness in received morals had always then been assumed in the lives of actors overall, but this perception has brought with it a gross unfairness that targeted especially the female actor.  Forming a link between this modern view and Renaissance thought, Elizabeth Moran has argued that perceptions of female display in all of its forms was that about which the “radical protestants” of Elizabeth’s and James’s reigns most fulminated.  Splendidly “fashionable displays” by women in market-places would almost always, then, be seen by these observers as a lowly person posing as “a person she is not—vying with God’s work”.[86]  Even where the fashionable woman was not of lowly social status, the polemics maintained that all of humankind was intrinsically of humble status in God’s eyes and should remain so.  The low-status woman was simply seen as aspiring to join the many upwardly-mobile people of that particular historical period.  The former’s display was, at the least, immodest, the latter’s offended the radicals as both evidence of immodesty and evidence of a person wilfully moving away from that station in life that God had assigned at conception.  Moran further argues that the radicals “confused sensual pleasure with sexual display” in a psychological stance that claimed an “appetizer for an evening meal would inevitably end in an orgy”.  More importantly, perhaps, women seen in that eternal market-place: “vanished as people and were seen as objects alone”.[87]  From this it is definitely possible to argue that when that same psychology and the same anger was applied to the rapidly-changing confusion of actual identity, actual sexuality and actual gender daily displayed upon the stage.  It follows that, in viewing the splendidly cross-dressed boys and youths in the plays, straightforward disapproval moved towards explosion.  Unshifted in apparent gender—as it would have been in most of the plays—display was sinful—shifted, it was even more sinful.

As an historical note about the culture surrounding this period, at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, the antitheatricals had only one aim.  That was, as Ann Blake says: “to ban plays” altogether, “not substitute women”.[88]  Despite this, as we know, boys continued to figure on the androgyne stage until 1642.  The new power in the land then closed the theatres entirely.  Up until that point, parents entered their sons into “informal apprenticeship-like arrangements with actors”, Blake reports.  She adds that this was done with no sense of it being “a morally depraved thing to do”.[89]

Yet it was not actually that simple.  Dympna Callaghan, in her paper, The Castrator’s Song, records the methods of sometimes brutal impressment of young actors in crown-sanctioned entrapment in that same period.[90]   However, this was a cruel custom that was instituted to solve the problem of supply to the choir-school troupes, rather than the public companies, such as Shakespeare’s.

Ultimately, a young actor in a public company, having received a sufficient standard of education to read parts before he began his dramatic training, was then taught to act in a most intensive way by his apprentice-master.  He was daily surrounded by the practiced skill of adult actors.  These actors were paradigms in the drama of their times.  The young male who held his ground in the Southwark theatres was therefore no amateur.  Further, in the mainstream of Renaissance stage-practice, the audiences of then simply accepted the use of boys and this was partly because they had known no other.  In a strikingly different kind of female representation, older female characters in the plays were represented by older men in the cast, sometimes in extremes of grossièreté; in comedic style; but this was the deliberate creation of comic travesty as the main purpose for that kind of act.  The obvious and rather crude humour intrinsic in these particular parts separates them entirely from the main-stream of female representation, whether serious or comedic.   It is a simple fact that in Shakespeare’s time, no middle-aged women were available to act the parts of middle-aged women, so there was no choice but to use men for these roles and the benign result was that memorable performances created a tradition within themselves, one that lives on in the perennial Dame parts in modern pantomime.

Here it is timely to introduce the logic in Michael Shapiro’s observations in this field of female representation.  He cites S.L. Bethell’s research in revealing that the insular audience had no trouble with keeping “a dual consciousness of actors and characters”.  These people being “particularly aware of the disparity between the boy player and the female role”.[91]  This sense of the audience’s full and all-encompassing awareness seems to add to both the content and the context of Thomas Heywood’s plea that the audiences “never forgot they were watching boy actors impersonate women”.[92]  Further, as Heywood insists, they were often aware of, and familiar with, the actual identity of the “youths attired in the habit of women”.  Heywood replied with acerbity to the anti-theatricals, clearly stating that there was certainly no misunderstanding of “what their [the boys’] intents be”.  He is also clear that the actors were often known “by their names” and that their serious undertakings were “to represent such a lady, at such a tyme appointed”.[93]   A job like any other.

One of the clearly emergent ideas from Shapiro’s paper, “Shakespeare and the Actors”, is that the audience of Shakespeare’s day was highly aware of what female representation was and what it had to be.  A sophisticated group of people who grew up, quite literally and theatrically speaking, with the use of more subtle acting-styles that had appeared in the period that is here studied.  Important to note is that this high level of knowledge and notional “detachment”, as Shapiro expresses it, “did not seem to preclude emotional engagement in the dramatic illusion”.[94]  Shapiro reports that “Henry Jackson of Corpus Christi College ... saw the King’s Men perform Othello at Oxford in 1610”.  He was full of praise for the entire company for acting “decoriously and aptly”,[95] and he particularly singled out the young actor who played Desdemona for his ability as:

Desdemona and Othello played by boys of 13 and 18 in Eton's College play of February 1980

Desdemona, killed by her husband, although she always acted the matter very well, in her death moved us still more greatly; when lying in bed she implored the pity of those watching with her countenance alone [emphasis mine].[96]

In this, Shapiro particularly notes the use of Desdemona’s name and the feminine pronoun-of-address in Jackson’s touching account of the play.  He sees this as a spectator’s discerning involvement with the action in which the character’s “emotional situation” and the “actor’s skill in presenting that situation” apparently blend in Jackson’s mind.  Shapiro contrasts this with an approach that:

suggests a more disciplined form of dual consciousness or a type of spectator who could separate his awareness of the actor from his emotional responses to the mimetic illusion in order to observe and savor the performer’s technical proficiency.[97]

In exemplar, he cites the 1621 play, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, in which Lady Mary Wroth proposes the radical metaphor of “a deceitful woman”, mentioned above, who may be described in terms of “a boy actor”.[98]  A close study of this long prose romance resulted in descriptions of two distinct cases of what he calls “metaphoric allusion”, both constituting a new view of “the nature of acting during the Jacobean period”.

In the first instance, Shapiro focuses on the lack of response of a captain to the force of a faithless Queen’s “ ‘passionate ardency’ ” in attempting to woo him.  She had previously persuaded her lover, a servant, to murder her husband, the King.  In the scene that is of such great interest, the servant spies on the Queen with her hoped-for new lover, the captain, and observes that he was constituting another plane of observation and invoking the voyeuristic feelings of the other watchers, that is to say, the audience.  The man was:

vnmoueable, was no further wrought, then if he had seene a delicate play-boy acte a louing womans part, and knowing him a Boy, lik’d onely his action.[99] 

Early in this work, this precise example had been used as a demonstration of Wroth’s relatively simple acceptance of the boy actor’s real existence in drama.  Previously, it  had been used it to separate the unpolemical play-goers of the late Renaissance from the radical antitheatricals, with whose views we are now so familiar.  It is  now seen that what Shapiro so acutely observes brings the focus very specifically onto other aspects of the representation of women that are of great importance in this thesis.  It is now also possible to see that this study had oversimplified the idea of the boy representing the woman.  In the sense that Shapiro argues it, above, it is possible to deduce that the representation of deceitful woman as a category of woman may also be made by a  boy pretending to be a woman, as a category of boy in the accepted thought of the times.  The one equals the other, in deceitfulness, at least.  Where the level of artifice was paramount in the audience’s enjoyment of the action—as had originally been pointed out—this gives the greatest importance to the views of Wroth and her contemporaries.

Before moving on to Shapiro’s second case, Peter Burke’s succinct summary of the idea of representation in the social and historical senses, is of great interest:

It is no new idea that art, literature and even the human mind do not mirror reality but represent it according to unconscious or semi-conscious conventions ... The phrase “collective representations” was a favourite of the French sociologist Émile Durkheim and corresponded with what some historians now call mentalities.[100]

Though it is possible to surmise that Jacobeans had not actually enunciated the idea of collective consciousness, they could probably have accepted the equality, or at least equivalence of “deceiving woman” represented by “deceiving boy”.  Further, they were quite accepting of this as an unexpressed yet powerful guiding principle in this category of representation.  It remains a fact, though, that many of the subtleties from the above passage in The Urania will now fly over the heads of the modern audience as too odd, or too obscure to notice, as in so many examples of the lexis and the semantic of the period that this study has already touched upon.  At the very least, it is agreed that Shapiro’s clear and reasonable demonstration might appear as some kind of bizarre mystery when seen from the point-of-view of our collective consciousness—if such a thing exists—within the commonly accepted rules of our collective representations, now.

Shapiro moves on to say that, while in his first example “the boy actor is used to articulate the reaction of a man who is resisting a woman’s seductive wiles”; the second case creates a metaphorical attempt, on the author’s part, to “present in vivid detail a villainess’s guileful duplicity” more than anything else.[101]  The first case is clearly mimesis, in Plato’s definition.[102]  The second case, as Shapiro defines the variation, results from the author’s use of “an extended character description in the narrative voice”.  It is therefore clearly diegesis.  Yet though these cases seem clear in their differences, the point of greater interest is that these two voices exist within one sphere of female representation.  One might say that they both exist at the very centre of female representation, and may then be seen also to create representation’s corollary, misrepresentation.  Which moves the discourse back into the field of the previously-mentioned concept of the stage as a mirror of a notional reality; that element of narrative which has been such a fascinating concept in recent years.[103]

The unpublished second portion of The Urania that Shapiro cites as the diegetic, second case, appears as;

A woeman dangerous in all kinde, flattering, and insinuating aboundently, winning by matchless intising, and as soon cast of, but wt hasard sufficient to the forsaken, or forsaker, her traines farr exceeding her love, and as full of faulsehood as of vaine and endles expressions, being for her over acting fashion, more like a play boy dressed gaudely up to shew a fond loving woemans part, then a great Lady, soe busy, so full of taulke, and in such a sett formality, wt so many framed lookes, fained smiles, and nods, wt a deceiptfull downe cast looke, instead of purest modesty, and bashfulness, too rich Juells for her rotten Cabbinett to containe, som times a little (and that while painfull) silence as wishing, and with gestures, as longing to be moved to speake againe, and seeming so loath, as supplications be as itt were made to heare her tounge once more ring chimes of faulse beeguilings, and intrapping charmes, witt being overwourne by her far nicer, and more strange, and so much more prised, inchanting inventions, soe as her charming phansies, and her aluring daliings makes true witt a foole in such a scoole, and her base faulsenes, and luxury the Jalours of her house, and unfortunate prisoners.[104]

The sheer complexity of this breathless [almost stream-of-consciousness] passage, seems utterly to rule out any sense that the young male actor’s task was a simple one.  Provisions within the text, as Ann Blake argues, may very well have made the previously-mentioned matrix in which the female characters existed, and by which they were shaped, an easier undertaking for the apprentice actor.  Yet the range of the actor’s abilities as they are drawn above, clearly show that the action required skill of the highest order.  Of signal importance in this overall discourse, Michael Shapiro notes that:

As in the first passage, both the “play boy” and the villainous woman are skilled at creating the illusion of a model of femininity, an illusion completely contrary to the reality of their true natures.[105]

This summary encapsulates the process of representation and misrepresentation and it extends into a concept of deliberate evasion with great accuracy.  The apprentice, here, not only represents a member the opposite sex, but also represents all of the subtle dissemblances that the portrayal of that character demands without essentially losing his male reality in the full knowledge of the audience.  If, also, as Shapiro so positively states, these passages represent a “metaphoric allusion” of great importance—yet still we must ask—to what extent was this aspect of the accepted common-knowledge of the play-goers, the playwrights and the actors of Shakespeare’s, Jonson’s, and Wroth’s times?[106]   Was it the simplest of conventions that Ann Blake describes, or was it a kind of subtle grace-note that only those with acute vision and sensitive perceptions might see, or hear?[107]  Above all, though, these subtly varying ideas support the specific argument—proposed severally, above—that Shakespeare and his fellows wrote for several different levels of awareness and understanding in their audiences.         

Finally, one last lexical-obscurity to round this chapter off.  It is already established that the influences upon our understanding of the bawdry that is present in the comedies, sometimes stems not simply from shifts in the meaning of single words.  Occasionally, whole phrases reverberate with others in a passage of text.  References to trade-skills occur and in one case confusion arises from such a relatively simple thing as a now defunct aspect of husbandry.  As a highly-focused example, many people in modern Britain or Australia have never seen a medlar fruit, so when Mercutio’s quicksilver:

                        If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.                                  
                        Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
                        And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
                        As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.
                        O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
                        An open et cetera, thou a poperin pear![108]
                                                            (Romeo and Juliet, 2.1.33-38)                 

The medlar fruit

The medlar fruit is now hardly ever grown in gardens or in orchards so the openly sexual imagery that stems from this odd, brown, apple-like fruit is  completely lost on most of us.  Even those few who have seen a medlar might not associate the remembered image of it with the argot of Elizabethan bawdry.  In Australia, even fewer people are familiar with the fruit’s appearance—under whose tree Mercutio playfully envisages Romeo sitting—presumably looking upwards.  It might be possible to surmise that a few individuals will gain a sense of faulty marksmanship in line 33, where Mercutio proposes that “blind” love “cannot hit the mark”, but where, in line 38, the “open et cetera” and the “poperin pear” would have appeared as amazingly clear imagery of opposing sexual parts for Elizabethans; it is likely that most in the modern era will not see the possible connection between a sexual euphemism that equates with the modern “you know what” and an ambiguously-shaped fruit.   In this final case, a kind of pear that is now also not grown.  There is also the euphemistic observation in line 36.  In this, the fruit’s appearance is bawdily linked with young women in reference to their solitary sexual relief in the words: “As maids call medlars when they laugh alone”.  This will be utterly opaque to nearly everyone in the modern crowd.  Obscurities are therefore not only lexical and semantic, but they may, at times, be both agricultural and geographical.   In this example, the figure of the much-desired yet bawdily referred-to female is not even present as Mercutio teases a third-person Romeo.  Thus, a demonstration of female representation may contain blatantly homosexual and heterosexual imagery—take your pick—and at the same time be highly oblique in the “female” player’s absence, yet utterly clear in its bawdy meaning and her solitary masturbation.  Yet the text still allows those in the crowd who wished for such, an escape-route from the gad-fly Mercutio’s cruelty and derision.  Yes, in more serious moments in which Shakespeare’s intention clearly was to represent young women without the inflection of sexual ambiguity, the reference may also be oblique.  Even so, where an equivocation as to the actual gender of the actor were to be left to the individual’s idiosyncratic interpretation, the representation would most certainly have been very convincing and highly denigratory of women in the process. 

This passage from Romeo and Juliet should once and for all demonstrate the almost insurmountable difficulty that a modern troupe would have in bringing back a very young male person to play the part of Juliet, or, more particularly, the very large female parts in the comedies in question, let alone the tragedies or the histories.  Ultimately, the commentary specifically surrounding Mercutio’s bawdry might fairly be seen as a summary for this chapter as a whole.  Even so, it should also be seen that in all of the foregoing, the main aspects of the female character discussed, stem from the essential reality of her physical exclusion.  Importantly, it is here established as a fact that the female character’s physical representation by male actors evolved from a relative simplicity to a far greater complexity in the latter part of the sixteenth century.  The next chapter, logically, will deal with the spiritual element of the same female character’s existence in her sometimes ethereal, and, at other times, monstrous appearances upon the Elizabethan stage.

Continue to Chapter 2

[1]Maurice Charney, “Dramatic Conventions” in How to Read Shakespeare (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), pp. 34-37.

[2]John Wesley Harris, Medieval Theatre in Context (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 173.

[3]B.L. Joseph, Elizabethan Acting (London: Oxford University Press, 1964 [Oxford Monographs, 1951]), pp. 6-7, after John Bulwer, Chironomia (1644), pp. 20, 143.

[4]Exemplified by Bulwer’s Chironomia, p. 23.  This specifies clear hand gestures to represent “Arguebit”, “Urgo”, “Indigitat” and “Exprobrabit” to name only a few.

[5]Joseph, pp. 6, 8, 11-12, 17, 21, 22, 46, 49, 51, 57, 67.  See Michael Jamieson in Stanley Wells, ed. Shakespeare: A Bibliographical Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992 [1990].  Jamieson notes the depth of the consensus on this developing, naturalistic style throughout the period that this thesis studies.  Jamieson cites John Russel Brown’s opinion in his edition of the The Revels Plays: The Duchess of Malfi (London: Methuen & Co., 1969 [1964]), p. xi.  Jamieson, after Brown, offers that: “formalism was ‘fast dying out’, and that a new naturalism was ‘a kindling spirit’ ” in this period.  In fact, Brown’s opinion stands clear in Jamieson’s careful survey as being central among a group of similar views from such established scholars as Andrew Gurr, G.E. Bentley and R.A. Foakes.

[6]Katherine Kelly, “The Queen’s Two Bodies: Shakespeare’s Boy Actress in Breeches” in Theatre Journal 42, 1990, p. 82.  This, after Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Stage, 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 98.

[7]Dympna Callaghan, “The Castrator&s Song: Female Impersonation on the Early Modern Stage” in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26, 1996b.  See also P.H. Parry, “The Boyhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” in Shakespeare Survey 42, 1990: 106-107, and n. 28.  Parry cites Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Player in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 113, 249 and 263.  Parry, p. 107, also cites J.B. Streett, “The Durability of Boy Actors” in Notes and Queries 20, 1973: 461-465.  This, in giving the examples of Theophilus Bird and Ezekial Fenn, “…still playing women’s roles when they were twenty-four years old”.  See also John Russell Brown, ed., The Revels Plays: The Duchess of Malfi (London> Methuen & Co., 1969 [1964]), pp. xvii-xxi.  Brown renders a useful and unusually thorough survey of the actual players who represented the women in the play, that is to say, William Ostler, John Rice, Richard Sharp, Richard Robinson, John Thompson and John Underwood.  Where possible he covers their careers and their reputations, but most importantly, he gives clear information that some of the above individuals were still taking female roles in young manhood. 

[8]This young actor’s surname also appears, variously, as Pavy and Pavey; his given-name appears even more variously as Salmon, Salomon, Sollomon and Salathiel, for which, see Gerald Eades Bentley, “A Good Name Lost: Ben Jonson’s Lament for S.P.” in The Times Literary Supplement (London: Times Newspapers, 30th May, 1942).  Bentley thoroughly researches at least ten mentions of the youngster’s name in as many documents and remarks that “Except for Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn, no name among the hundreds of actors of Shakespeare’s time is so familiar as Salathiel Pavy”.  Battling the usual problem of the highly variable spelling of that era and the fact that evidence from play-texts and play-bills, as well as church registers, had often abbreviated the boy’s name, variously, as S.P., Sall. and Sal. Pavy, he nevertheless claims that this actor had then been extremely well-known as “the lad who ‘did act ... old men so duely’ ” and there is much evidence that he took on female roles.  Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), pp. 24, 104, 113, also records that Pavy died at the age of thirteen, in 1603.  Ben Jonson famously eulogized Shakespeare himself, as well as various patrons, close relatives and friends, but he took the time and the trouble to lament the passing of “a child that so did thrive/ In grace and feature”, then “Fates turned cruel” and “the stages’ jewel ... Being so much too good for earth/ Heaven vows to keep him”.  This, in his CXX: Epitaph on S.P., a Child of Q. El. Chapel.  See also Hugh Maclean, ed., Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets (New York> W.W. Norton, 1974), p. 13, n. 8.  Maclean refers to Pavy’s participation in Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels of 1600, when the boy must have been only eleven years old.

[8]Peter Thomson. Shakespeare’s Theatre, 2nd edn. (London and New York> Routledge, 1992 ª1983º), p. 83.

[9]Bentley, 1942.

[10]Stanley Wells, Shakespeare> An Illustrated Dictionary, pp. 21-22.  The passage is full of the expected double-meanings, some of which are clearly sexual in nature and well-calculated to raise a prurient laugh from his extremely tolerant audiences.

[11]My line-references, here, are from the Arden Edition.

[12]See James Saslow, “Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behaviour, Identity, and Artistic Expression” in Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey eds., Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991 [New American Library, 1989]), p. 90.

[13]Ramie Targoff, “The Performance of Prayer: Sincerity and Theatricality in Early Modern England” in Representations 60 (Berkeley: The University of California Press, Fall 1997: 49-60), p. 51.  She cites V.A. Kolve, The Play Called Corpus Christi (Stanford, 1966).

[14]Targoff, pp. 51, n. 9, and 66-67, after Jean-Christophe Agnew, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought, 1550-1750 (Cambridge, 1986).

[15]Harris, p. 165.

[16]Harris, p. 165.

[17]Literally, a label.  A name that indicated calling, originally, as in Tiler (Tyler), or Smith, or Wright.  Later, the individual’s nature was labelled, as in Wisdom and Will.  Later still, function was added to nature, as in Henry Fielding’s Mr Thwackum and Charles Dickens’s Wackford Squeers.  This simple way of telling the audience what to expect of a character, as in Gradgrind and Malaprop, by broadcasting a character’s function, or nature in his or her name, did not die with the Morality Plays.  Spenser, Jonson, Bunyan, Fielding, Dickens and Thackeray were all habitual users of this device and this custom forms bridges in this study of representation, between stage and book; between epic and novel; between the medieval period, the Renaissance, and now.

[18]John Redford, Wit and Science (Oxford: Malone Society, 1951).

[19]Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, trans. R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949 [Haarlem, 1938]), p. 3.

[20]See Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages ( London, 1924 [Herfesttij der middeleeuwen, Groningen, 1919]).  Targoff, p. 51, cites Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Stage, 1574-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 99.  See Thomas Heywood’s An Apology for Actors.  Unavoidable in this is the fact that Shakespeare lived and wrote in an age in which change, on every level of his existence, was happening.  Particularly, as Andrew Gurr argues, in citing Thomas Heywood: “…the emergence of the noun ‘personation’ at the turn of the seventeenth century” made clear that: “ ‘a relatively new art of characterisation had developed”.  By 1600, characterization was the chief requisite of the successful player’ ”.

[21]Charney, p. 36.

[22]This deliberate staging of taller and shorter boy-actors also occurs in As You Like It, 1.2.262. Agnes Latham, ed. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: As You Like It (London and New York: Routledge, 1991 [London> Methuen, 1975]), pp. xxix-xxx, 22, 28, 107-108.  Latham supports Dover Wilson in this and exhibits considerable research into possible editors’ and compositors’ errors in Shakespeare’s and other writers’ works of the period.  The point, here, is that “…it is Rosalind who dresses as a boy because she is ‘more than common tall’ ”, in 1.3.111, while “Celia, as Aliena, is ‘low/ And browner than her brother’ ” in 4.3.87-88.  In this later scene, the androgyne quality of the staging is stated in the most strikingly obvious way in the preceding lines, 85-86: “ ‘The boy is fair,/ Of female favour, and bestows himself/ Like a ripe sister’ ”.  It might also be possible to argue that the need to identify the players in their correct personae is almost as vital an inspiration for the lines as any other, but the creation of the androgyne element is clear and inescapable and by far the most important in this context. Similarly, significant statements in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream refer to the relative heights and colourations of two of Shakespeare’s apprentice-actors and these are still remnant in the actual words that each speaks with the other.  In both of these cases, other characters in the plays verbally imply the smallness and youthfulness of such participants as Rosalind and Celia, Hermia and Helena, but particularly Maria.  Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays with both the acting skill and the physical characteristics of the players that he had to hand at any particular time, uppermost in his mind.

[23]A.L. Rowse, Homosexuals in History: A Study of Ambivalence in Society, Literature and the Arts (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), pp. 34-35.  The phrase used is “ ‘curled, plaited, powdered, perfumed’ ”.

[24]See Graham Holderness and Carol Banks. “Bravehearts: Images of Masculinity in Shakespeare’s History Plays” in Parergon: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 15, 1997: 137-160.  These authors give a clear and thorough survey of these essential elements of style in dress that are sometimes in variance to my own opinion.

[25]M.R. Ridley, ed. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra (London and New York: Methuen, 1965 [1954]), p. 210.

[26]Deuteronomy, 22: 5. “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

[27]Michael Jamieson, ed., Three Comedies of Ben Jonson: Volpone, The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966), pp. 455, 489.  See also William Worthen’s The Idea of the Actor: Drama and the Ethics of Performance (Princeton: The University of Princeton Press, 1984), p. 20.  Worthen quite rightly points out that “Prynne’s antipathy to acting stems from the actor’s falsification of his identity” but entirely fails to mention that the puppet’s scornful display has a direct connection with the woman having been replaced by the cross-dressed boy in the person of a completely sexless puppet.  It is this gesture, this specific act of gender-swapping in laughing repudiation, which so pointedly scorns what Deuteronomy 22: 5 so specifically forbids.  In fact, this is the whole point in this scene.  The principle of the play-within-the-play being the vehicle for what may not be said at the level of the play itself is aptly confirmed by the example in Hamlet.  The hesitant Hamlet, though beginning to be consumed by rage directed at his usurping uncle, must let the villain know that he knows about the phial of poison that had been poured into his father’s ear; but for the moment, it must be done in relatively safe obliquity.  The subtlety of the method, though, has the further effect of sowing the seeds of fearful conscience in Claudius.  Further still, removing the accusation from the form of a direct confrontation, Hamlet causes Claudius far more pain to go with his new vulnerability.  Overall, the play-within-the-play device must be seen as both a powerful yet subtle tool in the representation of both situation and character.

[28]David Bevington, ed. The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 29, 250.  Bevington accesses Phyllis Rackin, “Shakespeare’s boy Cleopatra, the decorum of nature, and the golden world of poetry” in PMLA 87, 1972: 201-211, as well as Sigurd Burckhardt, “The king’s language: Shakespeare’s Drama as social discovery” in AR 21: 369-387, and Matthew Proser, The Heroic Image in Five Shakespearian Tragedies, 1965, pp. 171-235.  Nothing, though, is actually as simple as it seems!  Though an increasingly open awareness of the boy actor has emerged in the last thirty years, M.W. MacCallum, writing in 1910, offers that we “…experience a kind of vertigo” when we observe this striking moment of authorial comment.  Further, “…we cannot distinguish the real from the illusory and yet we are conscious of both in their highest portence”.  Clearly, scholars have always been aware of the boy beneath Cleopatra’s robes, but they have scarcely ever mentioned him.  See Charles and Michelle Martindale, Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 145, 190 and 210.  The Martindales quote MacCallum’s Shakespeare’s Roman Plays and their Background (with a foreword by T.J.B. Spencer, London and Melbourne, Macmillan, 1967 [1910]), n. 1, p. 280.  Most importantly, these authors arrive at their own conclusion that “Shakespeare must have been sure indeed of his boy and of his audience to take such a risk at such a moment”.

[29]Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present (London: The Hogarth Press, 1990), p. 362.

[30]Even a cursory examination of the available charts, as an example, that on page 203 in Richard Lerner and Graham Spanier’s Adolescent Development (New York> McGraw-Hill, 1980) shows a startling trend in the above relationship between chronological age and mean physical size.  Records began to be kept in Norway in about 1842.  A virtually straight-line drop, at approximately 45º exists between x and y co-ordinates that represent calendar year against age-at-menarche.  This shows that the onset of that land-mark in female maturity began at just over seventeen in the 1840s, and, at just over thirteen years in the 1950s.  In Sweden, it was 15.7 years in 1887, and dived at an even steeper angle to fourteen in 1948.  Similar traces taken in Germany, Denmark, the USA, Finland and Britain, show the same dramatic trend.  Given that, if the menarche in girls behaved in this way, and—as the text in explanation of the chart makes clear—the results were directly related to mean body-size at all mean ages, it can be deduced that the onset of puberty in boys would show a similar, if not identical dive in the age of those surveyed. This supports what has been surmised as the difference between the 16th century boy and the modern boy.  There must have been as many variations between individuals then, as there are now, but some mean figure for the growth of a visible beard and the breaking of the voice in those days must have occurred several years later in chronological age than now.  Thus, a boy who survived early-childhood in those days simply had to be a much tougher, a much more mature individual mentally, than a similarly-aged boy of now, though he would have been markedly smaller in physical size.  It is therefore quite clear that a Cleopatra, a Desdemona, or a Rosalind of the early seventeenth century could very well have been, in appearance, a beardless boy, and yet could still have been a very mature actor, at fifteen, sixteen, or even seventeen years of age; yet still beardless and with an unbroken voice.  Please see Peter Laslett’s extremely important Family Life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations; Essays in Historical Sociology (Cambridge> Cambridge University Press, 1977). In this, his essay, “Age at sexual maturity in Europe since the Middle Ages” (pp. 214-232), Laslett shows that the picture is actually more complex than that which appears, above.  Particularly, he relates social existence as it then constituted, in clear strata, as having an effect upon the size of the child.  Barbara Sommer’s Puberty and Adolescence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 17 and 37, confirms the above figures in at least their physical forms.  Out of this it is deduced that the straight-line graph cannot possibly be projected endlessly backward through the ages.  It seems obvious that scientific knowledge of what constitutes a good diet coincides with the beginning of the surveys on child-growth: this resulting in the progressively lower ages of maturation in children, above.

[31]Phillippe Arie's, Centuries of Childhood, trans., Robert Baldick (London: Jonathan Cape, 1973 [Paris: Librairie Plon, 1960]). Also, Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977).  L. Pollock, Forgotten Childhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 1-3.  Vincent van Hasselt and others, The Handbook of Family Violence (New York: Plenum Press, 1988), p. 120.

[32]E.J. Burford, p. 133, quotes Robert Whittington upon the “…harsh realities of Tudor life.  For example ‘Vpon London Brydge I saw iij or iiij mennes heddes stand vpon poles’; ‘Vpon Ludgate ye fore quarter of a man is set vpon a pole’; ‘Vpon the other side hangith ye hawnce of a man with ye legge’ ”.

[33]We now often read about gifted children.  One such case is that of a boy now nine years old and with an IQ of 160.  He has been assessed as having the intellect and abilities of a 14-year-old.  See Kim Macdonald, “Black marks for the gift of learning” in The Sunday Times (Perth: News Limited, 29th August 1999).  The question as to whether the Renaissance also contained such exceptional individuals would be very hard to prove in the negative, history being well-frequented by young people of great intelligence.

[34]Reavley Gair, The Children of Paul’s: the story of a theatre company, 1553-1608 (Cambridge> Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 121.

[35]Gair, p. 31. “Most of the side chapels were let as shops ... the cathedral, then, functioned as an Elizabethan version of an indoor shopping mall”.

[36]Gair, p. 29-30, after J.P. Collier, ed., The Anatomie of Abuses (1870), III, 139: G. Lell, “Ganymede on the Elizabethan Stage: Homosexual Implications in the Use of Boy Actors” in Aegis 1: 5-15.  It was even suspected that the boys themselves would solicit at “the lower ende of the Middle Isle” in the 1580s.

[37]Gair, p. 160.  The young actors’ scenes could be seen as softened by the fact that there was much music and singing in the plays, therefore there were many parts in which the trained-voices and musical abilities of the choristers—for that is what these boys primarily were—excelled.  Even so, the overall matrix in which the drama then existed would now deeply disturb the modern play-goer.  See Thomson, pp. 15, 55, 58, 68-69, 71, 84-85.

[38]H.S. Bennett, Shakespeare’s Audience (London: Humphrey Milford Amen House, 1944 [The Annual Shakespeare Lecture to the British Academy]), pp. 8-9.  This sentiment certainly justifies F.T. Prince’s argument that comedy was “…the easier, safer form for Shakespeare”.  This, because “he could there remain at a certain distance from reality, moving in a familiar range between laughter, wit, sensuality and pathos”.  See F.T. Prince, ed., The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: The Poems (London and New York: Methuen, 1985 [1960]), p. xxxviii.

[39]See Susan Zimmerman, “Disruptive Desire: Artifice and Indeterminacy in Jacobean Comedy” in Susan Zimmerman, ed., Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), p. 43.

[40]Elaine Aston and George Savona, Theatre as Sign-System> A Semiotics of Text and Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 160.

[41]T.W. Craik, The Tudor Interlude: Stage, Costume, and Acting (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1958), p. 42.  See also Thomson, pp. 118-119.

[42]Zimmerman, p. 43, n. 9.

[43]Again, see Hamlet, 2.2.420-425 (Arden Edition).  When the eponym greets the travelling players he jokingly requires the boy who will play the queen in the play-within-the-play still to have a high voice.  Harold Jenkins agrees with both the reference to the coinage and the anatomical nature of the male actor and of the female whom he represents.  In support of my own conclusions on this example of open bawdry, see also Zimmerman, p. 43, n. 9, after P. Meredith and J. Tailby, eds., The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ages: Texts and Documents in Translation (EDAM Monograph Series 4, Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1983), p. 209.  An excellent example is in the quotation “…qui estoit ung tres beaul fitz et ressembloit une belle jonne fille” from M. Twycross, “ ‘Transvesticism’ in the Mystery Plays” in Medieval English Theatre, 5, p. 134.  Here, Zimmerman acknowledges that the sexual implications of this form of androgyny was reduced by the tendency to “iconic or stylized acting” in that era, yet, she argues, there must still have been an erotic element.  This element has only recently become a focus of study, Zimmerman reports.

[44]It is theorized that Redford was a son-in-law to Sir Thomas More, therefore it is possible that he might have tended towards primness.  He was not only choirmaster, but also organist and almoner to St. Paul’s until 1547, for which, see Shapiro, 1977, p. 11.  Sebastian Westcote took over on Redford’s death and Westcote’s possible authorship of the later and clearly much more bawdy play seems to indicate an evolution in itself towards a freer, less morally confining system of entertainment.  This, in a matter of thirty years.

[45]In pursuit of extended historical context, it must pointed out that “stand in the corner like Robin Hood” was still a euphemism for solitary male sexual relief in 1950s Britain.  This, in my own experience!

[46]Craik, 1958, pp. 42-43.  See also Shapiro, 1977, p. 12, for the possible attribution of authorship of The Marriage of Witte and Science to Sebastian Westcote, who was “…the guiding spirit of theatrical activities at Paul’s for the next thirty-five years”.

[47]Eric Partridge, Shakespeare’s Bawdy: A Literary and Psychological Essay and a Comprehensive Glossary (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968 [1947]) pp. 218-219.  See also C.T. Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary, Robert Eagleson, ed. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 318. 

[48]This principle is not confined to the comedies of Shakespeare or other authors of his period.  Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin cogently argue that the high-comedy in the scene where Henry and Katherine spark towards the end of Henry V depends on gesture in order to work at all.  The pointed interaction, for example, between the English word “gown” and the Medieval French word “coune”, forms the very basis of the humour in this scene.  The boy actor, they suggest, would have pointed to the parts of his gowned body that corresponded to the English and the French words.  This is done, ostensibly, to explain the foreign word to the English audience; but everyone will see that the primary purpose of the pointing is to create highly suggestive humour in a pointedly visual joke of great power.  See Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin, Engendering a Nation: A feminist account of Shakespeare’s English histories  (London and New York> Routledge, 1997), p. 210.

[49]Shapiro, 1977, pp. 104, 113.

[50]See Penny Gay, As She Likes It: Shakespeare’s Unruly Women (London and New York> Routledge, 1994). Gay argues for future cultural productions in which the woman is made free by the nature of the dramaturgy.

[51]Shapiro, 1977, p. 37 and n. 28, p. 246.

[52]See Judith Cook, The Golden Age of English Theatre (London> Simon and Schuster, 1995), p. 15.

[53]William Tydeman, ed., Four Tudor Comedies: Jake Jugeler, Roister Doister, Gammer Gurton&s Nedle and Mother Bombie (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), pp. 10, 35.  To broaden this view to the breadth of skill required by the apprentices in the adult companies, there are the examples of the height of rarefied grace in Hippolyta’s almost ethereal presence and the depth of hoydenish clumsiness in Flute’s reluctant Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  In between, there are the outwardly lady-like Hermia and Helena, who are not above fighting like alley-cats when aroused and indeed do so in one of the forest scenes.  Further, in reinforcing the idea of the extremely broad range of Shakespeare’s original players, the strong likelihood that some of these contrasting characters existed in doubled-parts seems to drive home the idea that his young male actors alone must have—of sheer necessity—been highly versatile actors.  Clearly, as this argument has already pointed out, Shakespeare set out to demonstrate the sheer range of his actors in the rapidly-changing and widely-differing styles that he creates in his texts and therefore required his actors to attain.

[54]Tydeman, pp. 10-11.  In roughly the same period, the 16th century Spanish concept of the roguish but highly humorous picaresque is hinted at in these characters.  Such works as the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes (1543) and Francisco Quevedo’s La Vida del Buscón of 1626, existed almost in parallel with the above plays commented on by Tydeman, as well as Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller of 1594.  This style of character went on developing, throughout Europe, in the authorship of Lesage, Defoe, Fielding and Smollett.  In 1954, Thomas Mann created Felix Krull in much the same tradition of the Spanish picaro.  In Ben Jonson’s 1598 Every Man in His Humour, Bobadill forms links between the miles gloriosus—the braggart soldier of Plautus—and Shakespeare’s Falstaff.  Uniting all of these characters is the sense that though they are rascals, they are well-loved.  Though they represent wickedness, they are central characters in the drama of those various ages, and in the discourse of all drama since then.

[55]Brown, p. xxi.

[56]See Brown, p. xviii, for his note that The Duchess had earlier been performed privately, by the boys at Blackfriars.

[57]Brown, p. xxi.

[58]Elizabeth Moran, “Fashioning Femininity in the Early Modern Period”, a paper delivered to the Eight Annual Conference of the Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group at the University of Western Australia, the 24th July, 1999.  Moran had found that the word “puritan” was often too contentious to be used, so she has substituted “radical protestant” in most of her work.  Presumably, there too many puritans still around?

[59]Peter Stallybrass, “Transvesticism and the ‘body beneath’: Speculating on the boy actor” in Susan Zimmerman, ed., Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (London and New York, Routledge, 1992), p. 67.  Stallybrass cites Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, B.R.S. Fone, ed., (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1968), p. 55.

[60]See also Ann Blake,^^Boy Actors in Women’s Roles&& in R.S. White, Charles Edelman and Christopher Wortham, eds. Shakespeare> Readers, Audiences, Players (Nedlands, Western Australia: The University of Western Australia Press, 1998 [A paper presented at the ANZSA Conference, February, 1994]), p. 123.

[61]Stallybrass, pp. 67-68.  He quotes this from Nathaniel Lee’s The Rival Queens of 1677 as it appears in T.B. Stroup and A.L. Cooke, eds, The Works of Nathaniel Lee (New Brunswick: Scarecrow, 1954), pp. 211-213.

[62]Smith, 1991, p. 149, after Michael Shapiro, “Lady Mary Wroth Describes a ‘Boy Actress’ ” in Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism and Reviews 4, 1989a, p. 194.

[63]Smith, 1991, p. 149, after Michael Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Tradition of Boy Heroines in Male Disguise (forthcoming). 

[64]Bruce Smith, “Making a difference: male/male ‘desire’ in tragedy, comedy, and tragi-comedy” in Susan Zimmerman, ed., Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), p. 129; after Gamini Salgado, Eyewitnesses of Shakespeare: First-hand Accounts of Performances 1590-1890 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975), pp. 23, 31-33, 47; Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Stage, 1574-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 209; and Henk Gras, “ ‘As I am a man’: Aspects of the presentation and audience perception of the Elizabethan female page”, a paper presented at the World Congress of the International Shakespeare Association, Tokyo, 1991.  Smith is specific in using the term eros in the sense “of the god, Eros”, or “of the association with love, therefore, eros”.  This is, however, not the differentiated love of heterosexuals, but the homosexual love of the erastès, the lover) for the eromènos, the much younger loved-one).  This latter distinction is supported by K.J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (New York: Random House, 1978), p, 16.

Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time by Agnolo Bronzino

[65]Bronzino’s 1546 Allegory, otherwise known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, is an extreme example of the idea that outright lewdness may properly be portrayed in notionally “High Art”.  Bronzino’s peers classed it as “di singolare bellezza” and Grand Duke Cosimo presented it to Francois I, clearly not in anticipation of his taking offence.  That Cupid, here portrayed as a boy, may impishly grasp at Venus’ breast while a wonderfully impish putto scatters roses perhaps as well as anything creates a perceptual gulf between the culturally-acceptable of then, and now.  What must be said is that is that there is an overall sense of sheer fun in the picture, despite all of the open bawdry and in the darker elements of allegory within the frame. See Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, George Bull, trans. (London: The Folio Society, 1993 [1965]).  This, for primary-reference to the background of Italian Renaissance perceptions.  See also James Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986).  This latter for a modern gay-theory view of those same perceptions and their representations.  Michael Gill’s Image of the Body: Aspects of the Nude (New York and London> Doubleday, 1989), gives a much broader view of pictorial representations throughout the ages in which, particularly, perceptions of the state of childhood have so radically changed.  Jean-Pierre Maquerlot’s, Shakespeare and the Mannerist Tradition: A Reading of Five Problem Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 44, is also useful in a focus on perceptions and imagery in this vexed field.

[66]Minion, from French, mignon, with the similar connotation of ingle, play-thing, the stress always on the sexual frisson of ownership of a lesser being for one’s own pleasure.  It is no coincidence, in this context, that the word minikin entered the lexicon in 1541 to represent a playful, spritely girl.  In Shakespeare’s comedies, however, read boy.

[67]Smith, 1991, p. 153, after Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982), pp. 1-43, 109-133.  Also, Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975), pp. 231-271; Marrianne Novy, Love’s Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), pp. 21-44; and Catherine Belsey, “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies” in John Drakakis, ed., Alternative Shakespeares (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 166-190.  See Theodora Jankowski, Women in Power in the Early Modern Drama (Urbana and Chicago: The University of Illinois Press, 1992) for a strongly variant view.

[68]Thomson, p. 117.

[69]An American actor and producer, Sam Wanamaker, was the inspiration for this undertaking, and it took years of determined lobbying and fund-raising to achieve.  Sadly, Wanamaker did not see the first performances in his re-built Globe, as he died in 1993.  As he cannot now speak for himself, we are left to wonder whether he was really serious about creating any notional, full authenticity in the plays to be performed in this newly re-created space, given that we can never return the all-male tradition.  Perhaps he, like so many others, did not even think of that?

[70]See Stephen Orgel, “Shakespeare Performed: What’s the Globe Good For?” in Shakespeare Quarterly 49, 1998, pp. 191-194 [Originally presented as a paper to the Modern Language Association, Washington, 1997].

[71]T.W. Craik, ed., The Arden Shakespeare> Henry V (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 117.

[72]Orgel, p. 193.  Allowing for the historical fact that Kynaston’s period of greatest fame was in the period of the 1660s revivals of the cross-dressed boy, this statement proposes interesting tensions between such a famous actor—so well-noted by Pepys—and the original boy, the pre-Civil War Katherine, whom one might well expect to be less well-known or even, perhaps, quite anonymous.  Most tellingly of all, Orgel suspected that “the Globe’s company was trying not to be too convincing” in their reproduction of the authentic cross-dressed boy.  Ultimately, he wisely decided that “…a modern Kynaston might be seriously disturbing” (emphasis mine).  Which is perhaps why Orgel uses Kynaston as his iconic example in creating the idea of our possible discomfort in viewing a truly convincing Katherine, now, especially in those scenes in which the princess sparks with the handsome young King Harry?  Even though the bawdry is mild indeed, when compared to the comedies.

[73]Zimmerman, pp. 43, 58. Particularly, she cites W. Tydeman, The Theatre in the Middle Ages: Western European Stage Conditions c. 800—1576 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), and G. Wickham, The Medieval Theatre, 3rd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

[74]Jamieson, p. 321.

[75]Samuel Pepys, Diary, Volume II (London: The Folio Society, 1996), p. 74.

[76]There are several records of female appearances in the years before 1662.  Thomas Killigrew had produced a version of Othello in which “Mrs Hughes and Mrs Rutter” took the parts of “Desdemona and Emilia respectively” in 1660.  See Judith Cook, p. 295.

[77]Robert Latham, ed., Pepys’s Diary, Volume I (London: The Folio Society, 1996), p. 109, informs us that this was “The Fifth-Monarchists’, or Venner’s rising”.

[78]Pepys, Diary, Volume I, p. 109.

[79]Also, elsewhere, spelt “Kynaston”.

[80]Blake, p. 121.

[81]Blake, p. 121, in support of views in Derek Cohen, “The Rite of Violence in I Henry IV” in Shakespeare Survey 38, p. 77; and Catherine Belsey’s “Disrupting sexual difference: meaning and gender in the comedies” in J. Drakakis, ed., Alternative Shakespeares (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 179.

[82]Blake, p. 122, suggests that P.H. Parry’s “The Boyhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” in Shakespeare Survey 42, pp. 99-109, is “…an attack on illusion specifically in the context of boy actors”.

[83]Blake, p. 122.

[84]Blake, p. 122, after Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless and his Supplication to the Devil in Stanley Wells, ed. The Stratford-upon-Avon 1 (London: Edward Arnold, 1964), p. 66.

[85]See the discussion of this paradox in the introduction.  Please also see Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearian drama (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 117.

[86]Elizabeth Moran in a paper entitled, “Fashioning Femininity in the Early Modern Period”, (Eighth Annual Conference of the Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group on the 24th of July, 1999).

[87]Moran notes that the burgeoning New World trade and a newly prosperous merchant-class, together with new fabrics and new accoutrements such as exotic feathers and gem-stones from the Americas as well as the East Indies began to appear in abundance as radical shock to the “humble” puritanical, especially, as well as more moderate people.

[88]Blake, p. 123.

[89]Blake, p. 124,

[90]See Dympna Callaghan, “The Castrator’s Song” in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26, 1996b, p. 323.

[91]Shapiro, 1989a, pp. 189; 193, n. 7, after S.L. Bethell, “Shakespeare and the Actors” in Review of English Studies 1, p. 203.  Also, Bethell’s Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (Durham: Duke University Press, 1944), pp. 28-42.

[92]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 192, n. 3.  In opposing this very broad statement, it is maintained that a uniform concept of “dual consciousness” across the entire audience would have required a crowd of individuals to have only one mind.  Yet all the same it is theorized that it could very well have applied to the majority of Shakespeare’s play-goers.  See Tracey Sedinger in a book-review in Shakespeare Quarterly 49, 1998, pp. 95-97.  Sedinger studied Michael Shapiro’s Gender in Play on the Skakespearian Stage: Boy Heroines & Female Pages (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994).  Sedinger also reports that the dual-consciousness concept is strongest in such scholars as Gerald Eades Bentley and Kathleen McLuskie in recent times, but keenly the critic is cautioned against its blanket use.

[93]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 192, n. 3, from Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (written earlier, but published in 1612).  This, quoted in E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1923), IV, p. 252.

[94]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 189.

[95]In Jackson”s own words, “decore, et apte agebant”.

[96]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 189; 193, n. 8, records the entire quotation that had been translated by Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Stage, 1574-1642, 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 209.

In quibus non solùm dicendo, sed etiam faciendo quaedam lachrymas movebant.—At verò Desdemona illa apud nos a marito occisa, quanquam optime semper causam egit, interfecta tamen magis movebat; cum in lecto decumbens spectantium misericordiam ipso vultu imploraret.

This may also be found in context in Gamini Salgado, ed., Eyewitnesses of Shakespeare (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 30.

[97]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 190.

[98]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 187.  Shapiro uses the word, boy, in a general, portmanteau manner, in the way of many people in the modern world.  This, to indicate people of an age including youths and young men.  The assumption is here made that he would have been open to the facts that both Ann Blake and Dympna Callaghan have revealed about the actual ages of the young male actors of the early seventeenth century, and the lexical usage of those times, which is almost identical to ours, with the addition that the word and concept, boy, was also then used to indicate male servants in a general way, almost regardless of the age of the subject; much as the word, garçon, was until recently used when referring to, or even speaking to, a waiter in France.

[99]Shapiro, 1989a, pp. 187, 192, n. 1, after Lady Mary Wroth, The Countesse of Montgomeries Urania (London, 1621), sig. 12.

[100]Peter Burke, “Representations” in Alan Bullock and Stephen Trombley, eds., Modern Thought, 3rd edn. (London: Harper Collins, 1999), p. 749.  See also Émile Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie réligieuse (1912).

[101]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 187.

[102]David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Routledge, 1986 [London> Methuen, 1985]), p. 16.  Bordwell cites Plato, The Republic, Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, eds. (New York: Pantheon, 1963), p. 638.

 [103] See M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971 [1953]).

[104]Shapiro, 1989a, pp. 187-188, quoted from Lady Mary Wroth, The [first and] secound booke of the secound part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Vrania (MS in the Newberry Library, [Book I], f. 30 [2v].  Presumably, this is of a later date than the published section of 1621.

[105]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 188.

[106]Shapiro, 1989a, p. 188, et seq., presents an excellent survey of historical reference and logical argument to support his ideas about Wroth’s thoughts on mimesis and artifice, particularly, with reference to her life and court friends, her literary circle, her play-going and her own frequent participation as an actor in masques.

[107]Blake, p. 121.

[108]Partridge, p. 101, gives “et-caetera” as “Pudend”.  This, stated in the sense of “the other thing”, but in this instance he hedges around the Elizabethan slang-meaning of the medlar resembling “an open arse”.  For the moment he is ignoring this as one examples the extremes in double-meaning bawdry that the theatre-poet wrote in recognition of the boy who played Juliet.  At this juncture, Romeo has already met Juliet and even though Mercutio thinks that he is still mooning over Rosaline, this openly sexual imagery may be seen as applying to Rosaline, Juliet, and the apprentices who represent them both.  T.J.B. Spencer’s New Penguin Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996 [1967]), does not mince words.  While “et cetera (or caetera)” appears in other editions, Spencer gives “open arse” in its place, as does the Oxford edition.  Partridge is more forthcoming on p. 147, but it is here suspected that this is because his stated source—Oswald Doughty—had seen the heterosexual/homosexual ambivalence as more particularly applying to this example.  All the same, Partridge is clear that all of “Shakespeare’s mature work is characterized by deliberate ambiguity and a deliberate ambivalence”.  Onions, p. 168, avoids the sexual connotations of “medlar”, altogether.  Primly, he does provide that “meddler” might be implied, in some occurrences of “medlar”, but for him the fruit itself is simply> “Mespius germanica ... a small brown-skinned apple ... eaten when decayed to a soft, pulpy state”.  Rather predictably, Helge Kökeritz, pp. 136-137, disagrees with Partridge about “poperin pear”.  She prefers the “the noun popper as ‘gun, pistol’ or alternatively as a frequentative of pop, with the same meaning”.  The fact is that—whichever way you read or hear this passage—it is open to interpretation as extreme bawdry and, it was performed by boys.

Continue to Chapter 2




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