’shakespeare and his fellow actors … were not limited by the gender of the parts they played. They enjoyed a theatre of the imagination, where commoner played king, man played woman, and, within the plays, woman man. In Shakespeare, the disguise and revelation of everything, including gender, is central’ (Rylance 2003). Actor Mark Rylance explains here that cross-gender performance was an integral part of Shakespeare’s original theatrical practice. Despite London accounts from ‘individuals who found the practice opprobrious’ (Lublin 2012: 67) in society, Elizabethans enjoyed acts of cross-dressing on their stages and in their plays. Shakespeare, a shrewd businessman as well as playwright, capitalised on this interest by creating characters in his plays that are deeply entrenched in cultural gender prescriptions but find liberation from this dramaturgical gender bondage through acts of disguise and cross-gender playing. Doubly alluring for Elizabethan audiences was the cross-gender acting performed by the boy players in Shakespeare’s company as they assumed the female roles in his plays.
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