Download Carry on Understudies: Theatre and Sexual Politics by Michelene Wandor PDF

By Michelene Wandor

`one hell of a seminal learn ... here's a booklet that grapples, with strength, ingenuity and tremendous highbrow rigour, with a bewildering woodland of matters round gender and politics ... illuminating, insightful, perceptive.' - Women's evaluation

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9) And the erotic implications become even more complex when it is a boy, masquerading as a woman dressed as a boy. The puns about cross-dressing which Shakespeare used, the use of dramatic irony (the audience knows that there is a double level of deception— the cross-dressed ‘character’ and the cross-dressed boy performer), produced an erotic charge which depended on the combination of associations with sexual attraction towards boys and women: the dependent role of the boy player doubles for the dependency which is woman’s lot, creating a sensuality which is independent of the desired figure, and which is particularly erotic where the sex is confused (when boy player represents woman, disguised as dependent boy).

While the theatrical traditions of ‘camp’ and ‘drag’ have their roots in the relationship of women to the theatre, as well as to the relationship of homosexuals to the theatre, their history has been largely dominated by men, for the same reasons that other theatre forms have been maledominated. There was no visible subculture for lesbians until later in this century, unlike the situation for male homosexuals. And lesbianism was not illegal so there were few spectacular court cases and no compelling reason for a political campaign on the question.

But with actresses now part of the official theatre world, very soon they became the source of a different kind of cross-dressing—women in men’s clothes, in the ‘breeches parts’, which displayed women’s legs, and which were the precursor of the convention of the pantomime principal boy played by a woman. Yet again anxiety about the immorality of the theatre and the dangers of the appeal of female sexuality found public voice in the words of John Evelyn in 1666: This night…was acted by Lord Broghill’s tragedy call’d Mustapha before their Majesties at Court, at which I was present, very seldom going to the public theatres for many reasons, now as they are abused to an atheistical liberty, fowle and undecent women now…permitted to appear and to act, who inflaming several young noblemen and gallants, became their misses, and to some their wives…to the reproach of their noble families and ruine of both body and soule.

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