Women and the Elizabethan stage

At the IMAGER conference late November mentioned in an earlier post, I also mentioned the misleading assumption that there were no women on the Elizabethan stage. It is a point I stress in class and at conferences with audiences unfamiliar with the realities of Elizabethan drama. It provides endless fodder.

Much has been said about the fact that the stage was dominated by men: playwrights were male, most characters were male, and, more importantly, all actors were male, with female parts performed by boys. Women on the stage were considered ‘monsters’:

In 1629 a French troupe with actresses appeared at the Blackfriars but was “hissed, hotted, and pippin-pelted from the stage” wrote one observer — although, as Stephen Orgel points out, the same players went on to the Red Bull and Fortune, and Prynne decried “the great resort” of Londoners to see “French women, or monsters rayther” (7; also Walker, 389). In Elizabeth’s reign, Italian female acrobats drew crowds in London, prompting Thomas Norton to complain about “that unnecessarie and scarslie honeste resorts to plaies … and especiallie the assemblies to the unchaste, shamelesse and unnaturall tomblinges of the Italion Woemen” (Lea, 354).1 Continue reading Women and the Elizabethan stage

  1. Pamela Allen Brown and Peter Parolin, Women Players in England, 1500-1660: Beyond the All-Male Stage, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008, p. 2. []

Scot Queen Still Hot Topic

It was difficult to not think about big newspaper headlines when walking around Edinburgh this summer, seeing banners promoting the exhibit on Mary Queen of Scots at the National Museum of Scotland on every lampost. Our hosts in Auld Reeky had heard good things about the exhibit, and we were warned that it took over 3h to visit. It did. Continue reading Scot Queen Still Hot Topic