‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts’ (Jacques, As You Like It Act 11, Scene iv). Early modern theatre in England was predominantly performed by all-male companies, and in these companies the actors played all the roles, male and female. Shakespeare was an actor, playwright and shareholder in several professional single-sex male companies including the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the Queen’s Men, the King’s Men and perhaps, several others (Thomson 1999). These companies were composed of only men and boy players, because women were ‘banned’ or rather ‘dissuaded’ from performing professionally on stage, because conservative Elizabethans ‘found the practice opprobrious’ and felt that actors and the art of acting ‘breaks with religious orthodoxy and inappropriately inspires lust in the observer’ (Lublin 2012: 67).
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