Cross Dressing In Shakespeare

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From Casting to Casting Away Gender: Cross-Gendering in Modern Shakespeare Performance The year 1660 marked an important juncture in the English theatre. Not only was monarchy restored in England but Charles II also allowed women to enter the stage. Thus, women replaced the young adolescent males who cross-dressed in order to portray the women characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Although, the cross-dressing motif might seem strange to some, this practice can be traced back to Ancient Greeks who did not allow women to enter the stage and therefore, men had to wear costumes and masks to represent women. Shakespearean critics, on the other hand, have been divided over the use of ‘cross-dressing’ in his plays. Questions like does Shakespeare use…show more content…
Gender was no longer seen in terms of biological or anatomical but social and cultural. For Judith Butler, Gender is a cultural construct formed through repeated ‘acting’ which gives the notion of a static gender while at the same time obscuring the instability of a person’s gender act (Butler 179). In this sense, cross-dressing in Shakespeare becomes an important motif as it supports the fluidity of gender characteristic. Cross-dressing, according to Marjorie Garber, points to the ‘constructedness of gender categories’ (Garber 9). She further suggests that there is a tendency to look beyond cross-dressing or ‘transvestism’ as it challenges the binary of ‘female and ‘male’. Garber is careful not to call it the ‘third sex’; instead she classifies it as ‘third’ which puts into question “identities previously conceived as stable, unchallengeable, grounded and known” (Garber 13). Keeping this in mind it is also important to answer certain questions regarding the cross-dressing motif. Questions such as does the use of cross-dressing motif point towards an interest in the historical practices or does it bring out the contemporary debate around gender? Secondly, what is accomplished by using this motif: - blurring of the gender differences or the heightening of the same? Lastly it is important to map the changes in the relationship between characters when one or more are…show more content…
This short movie by Bernhardt in 1901 received mixed reviews and was declared the most controversial performance by the actress because the character of Hamlet was being portrayed by a woman (acting like a man). This however, was not a new form of experimentation ushered in by the actress of the silent era. Post-Restoration, Sarah Siddons and Charlotte Clarke were well known 18th century actresses who played the troubled prince of Denmark. The movie Le duel d'Hamlet is a two minute film which shows Bernhardt dressed in princely attire dueling with Laertes. The London critics were extremely critical of her portrayal calling it ‘pretentious’. However, Sarah Bernhardt does not conceal her being a woman on stage affectively. Her hairstyle is more feminine and her breasts are very much visible under her costume. This would have immediately made the audience aware that Sarah Bernhardt is a female actress playing the role of a man. It is important to understand the role of cross-dressing in case of Bernhardt. Jennifer Drouin suggests that cross-dressing is of three kinds: -“a) theatrical, a practice… rooted in necessity, b) Drag, a humourous parody of hetero-normative behaviour and c) passing, a subversive infiltration of society that attempts to occlude difference” (Bulman 15). These distinctions,
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