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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Why could women not act in Shakespeare's time?

Por Nina

A woman-Queen Elizabeth I-was the most powerful person in England in the second half of the sixteenth century. However, during her reign she did not allow women to perform in the bustling British theater, dominated by the genius of William Shakespeare. The situation can be seen recreated in the film "Shakespeare in love", which starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, and who won the Oscar in 1998.

But why could not women act? The professor of English Literature Antonio Andres Ballesteros Gonzalez, expert in the English theater of the time, explains it this way: «The presence of the actresses was prohibited to safeguard the decorum; that is why the female characters were played by apprentice teenagers who had just joined the company and had not yet changed their voice.

It is not surprising therefore the considerable amount of transvestism and sex changes that occur in these works». The prohibition by law of the presence of women on stage was but a reflection of the female role in Elizabethan society. They were not allowed to go to the university either - nobles could learn languages and arts in private classes in their homes - and their main function was to get married, have children and keep obedience to their husbands. Of course, they could not enter politics or vote.

The comics of the time did not have, of course, the consideration that today the actors have in Great Britain, where they enjoy a great social respect and where several of them have reached the categories of "Sir" and "Give me". They were little more than vagabonds and beggars - with the rise of the theaters the situation would change - and the women who haunted the theater companies were considered prostitutes. With the death of Isabel I the situation worsened instead of improving; the fall of the Monarchy in 1642 led to the prohibition of the theater, and until the Restoration in 1660 it was not allowed again.

Two years later, Carlos II, a Monarch who loved the theater, decreed "that all the female roles that were represented in either of this two companies-those directed by William Davenant and Thomas Killigrew, who had been granted leave after the prohibition was lifted. - in the future, they could be interpreted by women».

The incorporation of women into theater in England was slow. Only a handful of them dared to overcome prejudice - they were still considered prostitutes. In fact, there were rich men who paid a "supplement" to the entrance to the theater that gave them the right to see the actresses dressed. The actor and poet Thomas Jordan wrote, before a performance of "Othello" by Shakespeare, in December 1660, a warning to the public: the role of Desdemona was going to play a real woman.

Among those pioneers of British theater are Margaret Hughes, Ann Marshall and her sister Rebeca, Nell Gwyn or Moll Davis. There were some exceptions. In 1626, a French company rehearsed a performance at Blackfriars, one of the most prestigious English theaters. In it were actresses, who were booed, insulted and expelled from the stage by an indignant public. Thirty years later, at Rutland House, a private theater, a performance of "Siege of Rhodes" ("The Siege of Rhodes") was offered, of Davenant, with a cast that included a woman, Mrs. Coleman, who is considered the first professional English actress. On the contrary that in England, the women could act in Spain, Italy or France, although the monitoring of the moral was even stricter in these countries.