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LHMP #427 Brown & Parolin 2005 Introduction

Full citation: 

Brown, Pamela Allen & Peter Parolin. 2005. “Introduction” in Women Players in England, 1500-1660: Beyond the All-Male Stage, edited by Pamela Allen Brown & Peter Parolin. Ashgate, Burlington. ISBN 978-0-7546-0953-7

Publication summary: 

Although this collection does have one paper addressing female homoeroticism on stage, I have covered it primarily as background reading for exploring role-playing and stage theatrics as a context for romance tropes involving female couples.


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During the 16th and earlier 17th century, women were not members of professional acting troupes, but did participate in class-appropriate performances at all levels: masques and plays at court, pageants and parish plays in towns, and traveling performers at the poorest level. In addition, women were patrons and spectators. All of these undermine the idea of the “all-male stage”. At the same time, women players were often heaped with scorn. This could be hazardous to the critic when the attacks were on court ladies participating in masques and plays.

Identifying when women “first” acted on the English stage depends on how one defines “act” and “stage”. Restricting the question to paid performers is necessary to exclude court ladies. The question must be restricted to the secular stage to exclude women performing in religious drama.

The claim that women actors first appeared on the Restoration stage erases a vast array of dramatic contexts and players. This collection takes a broader definition and looks at “women players” in a wide variety of contexts, up to the point when the professional, secular, stage actress emerges.

Time period: 

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