Location

Northwestern College, Rowenhorst Student Center

Description

The increased diversity of beliefs surrounding the definition of gender identity and gender roles has enhanced the need for research on historical societies' beliefs and practices. By examining the private and professional theatre of Elizabethan England through contemporary scholarship, primary sources, and plays of the time, I found a contrast between companies comprised entirely of boys and those comprised of adult men. Boy players were able to play female and male characters across a wide age range. My analysis shows that the Elizabethan society's acceptance of this theatrical convention depended upon the widespread view of adolescents as ambiguous in age and gender identity. Playwrights, including Shakespeare, exploited this ambiguity of boys who were no longer children and not yet adults by using conventions such as double cross dressing and gender switching onstage to appeal to both male and female members of the audience. Although Puritan critics of the time like John Rainold claimed such conventions were detrimental to audiences, the backlash failed to stop or hamper the boy companies from producing art that took advantage of a culturally ambiguous understanding of gender identity.

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Apr 12th, 11:00 AM Apr 12th, 1:00 PM

The Theatre of Ambiguity

Northwestern College, Rowenhorst Student Center

The increased diversity of beliefs surrounding the definition of gender identity and gender roles has enhanced the need for research on historical societies' beliefs and practices. By examining the private and professional theatre of Elizabethan England through contemporary scholarship, primary sources, and plays of the time, I found a contrast between companies comprised entirely of boys and those comprised of adult men. Boy players were able to play female and male characters across a wide age range. My analysis shows that the Elizabethan society's acceptance of this theatrical convention depended upon the widespread view of adolescents as ambiguous in age and gender identity. Playwrights, including Shakespeare, exploited this ambiguity of boys who were no longer children and not yet adults by using conventions such as double cross dressing and gender switching onstage to appeal to both male and female members of the audience. Although Puritan critics of the time like John Rainold claimed such conventions were detrimental to audiences, the backlash failed to stop or hamper the boy companies from producing art that took advantage of a culturally ambiguous understanding of gender identity.

 

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