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Then, inthe outbreak of Civil War led to a ban on stage plays that lasted for 18 years. The theatres were closed, and public playing largely disappeared. Women did not have the opportunity to perform professionally on the English stage until the Restoration of the English monarchy in Usage terms Public Domain in most countries other than the UK. When Charles II and his supporters returned to England in to restore the monarchy and take the throne, they brought with them an enthusiasm for the theatre that they had cultivated during their time in exile at the French court of King Louis XIV.
In particular, they had developed an appreciation for the French professional actresses, and were keen to instil this continental tradition in the English playhouses. The identity of the first woman to play Desdemona is unknown, her name unrecorded in theatrical s. However, research undertaken by Elizabeth Howe suggests that Anne Marshall was the most likely candidate. It is likely that she came from a respectable family fallen on hard times, as this would have equipped her with the manners and decorum required to play a lady onstage convincingly, as well as the financial motivation to enter such a disreputable profession.
Remaining chaste was almost impossible for the Restoration actresses. They were viewed primarily as sexual objects, placed in the public arena to titillate the audience: men were permitted to visit them in their dressing rooms while they changed, and costumes were deed to be as revealing as possible. Despite their exploitation on and off the stage, the most celebrated actresses were not entirely powerless: playwrights often created roles in order to showcase the talents of certain Lady looking sex Desdemona.
Usage terms Public Domain. As public interest in performers grew steadily throughout the s, a select of actresses had a powerful new commodity at their disposal — fame. The first to attract national veneration was Sarah Siddons — After training for years in provincial theatres, Siddons ed Drury Lane in and was a resounding success. Audiences found her naturalistic acting style refreshing and engaging, and she quickly gained popular favour. By her thirties she was Lady looking sex Desdemona adored by high society. She brought a new interpretation to the part, choosing to play her as a devoted wife distorted by ambition for her husband rather than the manipulative fiend of tradition.
Some even began to take on male roles in order to expand their repertoire and showcase the full extent of their abilities. Siddons had experimented with playing Hamlet on tour in the provinces, but this type of cross-gendered casting did not receive a wider audience until Charlotte Cushman — played Romeo at the Haymarket in The Parisian Sarah Bernhardt — was a canny self-promoter who cultivated her image as a mysterious, exotic outsider.
Inshe took the controversial decision to play Hamlet and was rewarded with acclaim throughout Europe and America. The French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, crossed gender boundaries when she played the male hero in Hamlet. The critics, however, were not so sure. Many felt that Bernhardt and the actresses she inspired were fundamentally incapable of understanding male drives and emotions.
These attitudes would persist into the 20th and 21st centuries, presenting yet further challenges to women determined to enjoy the same opportunities as their male equivalents. Bernhardt used this human skull for the graveyard scene in her performance as Hamlet. Despite the achievements of Cushman and Bernhardt, Ellen Terry —the biggest star of the Lady looking sex Desdemona century, chose to present a socially respectable and traditionally feminine public image.
By the age of 36 she was the highest-paid woman in Britain and a confirmed national treasure. But in order to reach such heights, Terry was obliged to exert considerable control over her public profile. She concealed the illegitimacy of her two children and allowed Henry Irving, her professional partner, to choose her roles and set her salary.
In her autobiography, Terry revealed feelings of compromise and regret at some of the opportunities she had missed. Ellen Terry was the biggest theatre star of the 20th century. Here she plays the role of Portia disguised as a male lawyer in The Merchant of Venice. The second-wave feminism of the s—70s had a limited impact on Shakespearean performance as a direct result of the absence of women in positions of power within the industry. In recent years, however, there have been a of female-dominated productions in prestigious theatres.
In spite of the persistence of such outdated views, the Shakespearean canon remains as enticing to the modern actress as it did to her Restoration counterpart.
And although men still hold the majority of senior roles in the theatre, greater representation will surely usher in a new era of possibility for female Shakespeareans. Her PhD thesis is on Provincial Shakespeare Performance, — and explores the connections between Shakespeare performance and local and national identity.
The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons. Choose Yes please to open the survey in a new browser window or tab, and then complete it when you are ready. Women playing Shakespeare: The first female Desdemona and beyond. Hannah Manktelow charts the journey from the all-male playhouses of Shakespeare's day, to great actresses in female roles, and modern women cross-dressing to play male heroes like Hamlet. View images from this item Shakespeare and the actress in the 18th and 19th centuries As public interest in performers grew steadily throughout the s, a select of actresses had a powerful new commodity at their disposal — fame.
View images from this item 1. View images from this item 2. Skull given by Victor Hugo to Sarah Bernhardt Bernhardt used this human skull for the graveyard scene in her performance as Hamlet. Share this. British Library newsletter up to our newsletter.
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