Philobiblon: The plasticity of gender

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The plasticity of gender

... that's what I've been musing on after seeing this evening the production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe with an all-female cast.

It's amazing how well it works, how soon you even stop thinking about it working. The "actor" playing Benedick - a star playing in this role somewhat against part as the fool - reasserts his "lead star" quality at one point by flirting with female members of the audience, and it IS a male actor flirting, not a dressed-up woman.

Benedick (Josie Lawrence) is the undoubted star of the show; Beatrice (Yolanda Vasquez) has a great stage presence too, but without the problem of playing across gender.

It makes it much easier to understand through all those centuries when clothing was very strictly gender-specific how so many women (and they are just the ones we know about) were able to "pass" as men for long periods of time. Lower the pitch of your voice, walk in a swaggering way, wear the right clothes, and voila!


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