Dec 29th, 2020 (edited)
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  1. I will grant you a lot...
  3. 1) I will grant that most books on the subject, especially those written before Orgel's survey, will say that women playing on stage was illegal.
  4. 2) I will further grant that "ladies" (here meaning any woman of rank) would certainly not have acted in any public performance (outside of a court masque) in any circumstances that I can imagine.
  5. 3) I will grant that church officials tended to dislike players and playing generally.
  6. 4) I will grant that city officials (in and out of London) also didn't much care for players and playing generally.
  7. 5) I will grant that social custom would have made any woman associated with a playing company at least as disreputable as the men associated with the playing company.
  8. 6) I will grant that there is AMPLE evidence that women were neither featured nor regular players on professional stages.
  10. But that all granted does not make the practice illegal. To the contrary, it simply reflects the cultural norms of the time: a boy and a woman could both be viewed as an incomplete man in the EM physiological world view, and it was possible to naturally (or rather unnaturally?) change genders.
  12. Boys could be bound as apprentices to professional tradesmen, and girls could not. And as every professional theatre company I've ever worked for has had some kind of intern or apprentice program, the economic incentives for doing this were fairly obvious. Why pay money to a man (or a woman) to play a role when a boy will do it for 6p/week plus his lodging?
  14. While boys and girls may both have been sent to school to learn English letters and basic arithmetic, boys would have been more likely to receive training in rhetoric in a formal setting, which includes the act of public speaking required of being an actor, and the skills of speaking loudly, clearly, and persuasively. If you hire a woman to play a woman in this context, you will have to train her virtually from scratch, but an educated boy may already know a good deal of what he needs to know to be successful (or useful at the very least).
  16. Additionally, boys may have been members of boy's companies, and received something close to professional experience, and aged out of those into professional roles on some limited bases.
  18. So there are lots of reasons why women did not appear on stage with professional actors on a regular basis, if at all (and I need to emphasize that I think it's possible, maybe even probable some of them did, but only in an extremely limited way).
  19. All that said, I will not grant the practice was illegal (or even banned in a formal way) until I have observed one of the following...
  20. 1) A written statute by civil authorities prohibiting the practice (although I will also grant that, even if I saw this, I would want to see some kind of evidence of the law itself may simply be evidence that the practice was happening, and certain authorities didn't like it, although were powerless to stop it. I'm thinking chiefly of prohibitions against playing on Sunday: many laws against it, but much evidence indicating it happened fairly regularly).
  22. And/or 2) The record of someone being punished for a woman playing a role on stage, whether it was the performer in question or not, either in a civil court or a church court.
  24. And I do feel it's a distinction that matters, because it's one thing to say a certain behavior is punishable by authority, and it's another to say it's morally frowned upon by some people who can't do much about it, and it's quite another altogether to say that it isn't done because of certain cultural norms and practices, and we do ourselves and the past (and the playwright(s) we've all gather to celebrate (on some level)) a disservice by conflating these things.
  26. It's also important that we keep in mind the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical authorities, if for no other reason than this is reflected in some of the early modern plays that history has left us. When staging them or teaching them we need to know the difference between the royal bench and the bawdy courts, the latter of which were LITERALLY charged with policing public morality, and the fact that some morality WAS thus enforceable.
  28. So even if we're saying that playing wasn't "illegal" in the civil sense, but only banned in the sense of official, Church enforceable public morality, I don't think there's much of a case. To say that something is banned implies that there is a punishment for doing it: adultery was banned because you could be punished for it. Suicide was banned because you could be punished for it. If no one was ever punished for a thing, it was never really banned by anyone in authority, it was "frowned upon" at worst.*
  30. But as to not having the parchment, that's what I'm saying (or rather, that's what I'm echoing, because Stephen Orgel is the one who initially did the work): no one has seen such a parchment. Or, if they have, they haven't left us a record of having seen it that we now possess. No one that I know of has seen either a primary source record of the law, or of a punishment for violating it.
  31. Without that evidence, we have only our suppositions to lead us to believe that this behavior was illegal, or otherwise banned by authority, and those suppositions may just serve to blind us to other possibilities.
  33. Hundreds of years of scholarship may say it's illegal, but on what foundations? Why was it easier for "scholars" (because we are not using the term in a modern sense when we look back much before the 20th century, we need to be careful how we apply it) to come to the conclusion that the practice was illegal than it was to consider other possibilities? The prejudices that form a historical narrative without clear evidence are at least as interesting as the prejudices that reacted with surprise, sometimes mixed with delight and sometimes horror, that women were capable of playing women so naturally on stage, when they observed the practice on the continent.
  34. So I'm not comfortable calling the calling the practice "illegal," and I'm not comfortable calling the practice "banned," even as I will acknowledge that the practice of of women as professional players appears to have been as limited AS IF the practice had been either illegal or banned.
  36. I think this might be the first time anyone has ever described me as an alpha, and I can't wait to share that with my wife when she wakes up, because it will give her a chuckle. Lord knows I've never played hockey in my life.
  38. I will reiterate that I will be happy to receive any primary source that clearly establishes the practice of women playing on stage was either illegal or banned by the force of authority, because quite frankly that will be one less fight we could having amongst ourselves, when we should be turning the full force of our knowledge and rhetorical guns against the anti-Stratfordians.
  39. I will allow that I have an iron in this particular fire, because my work with the quartos-previously-known-as-bad is built on interrogating the often baseless and wrong assumptions of the past couple centuries of "scholars," who sought to elevate Shakespeare from the playhouse culture that he wrote for, and which he profited from.
  41. But all that said, I thank you for the argument. Like I said, I do have a lot to do, and nothing wakes me up like an engaging debate on the internet. Especially when I'm having it with someone who is clearly wrong 😃
  43. * I feel the need to qualify that being frowned upon can really suck, especially for members of racial or ethnic moralities who can't be good Catholics in secret, and show up for official church on Sunday. Shunning (or any of the behaviors we would associate with bullying) is a thing that can drive someone to suicide, and we shouldn't dismiss it as an enforcement mechanism. Where this is a semi-official enforcement mechanism, lynchings are public, and there are records of it happening. Where officials contend with this form of enforcement, we tend to see some sort of record of that happening, too. And in the case of women playing on public stages, evidence of either is lacking.
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