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. []

Disentangling genre and gender

from title page of 'The Roaring Girl', 1611
Moll Cutpurse, from title page of ‘The Roaring Girl’, T. Dekker and T. Middleton, 1611

A  recent conference on “Genre and Gender” organized by research group IMAGER / UPEC was a great opportunity to reflect on these categories. The CFP stated some of the issues which would be discussed during the three-day conference:

What this conference proposes to discuss is the question of identity at the crossroads between sexual gender and literary genres. Indeed etymologically, the term genus covers two meanings to be found in the dictionary: one concerning origin and the other, category. Genus designates that which separates, divides, identifies and delimits. Continue reading Disentangling genre and gender