What's The Deal With The Cross-dressing?

Ok, posting about As You Like It reminded me of this.  Why the excitement over the crossdressing?  I mean, sure, I get the whole thing with Shakespeare and boys playing girls pretending to be boys.  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about the response from the ladies who seem positively thrilled over it.  I hope they don’t mind my quoting them, but in the AYLI thread, Ren Girl says you “can’t go wrong” with cross-dressing, and Angela is “all for any play that involves a pants-role for a female.”  But I’ve seen similar responses at other times which often come down to a near-giddy “Hooray, a girl gets to play a boy!” excitement. What’s up with that, exactly?  Maybe I’m stupid but I would have thought the exact opposite, that the ladies in the audience would not be so supportive of strong female characters who have to play men for half the story.  Lady Macbeth may say “unsex me here”, but she stays a woman for the whole play.  Somebody want to enlighten me?

4 thoughts on “What's The Deal With The Cross-dressing?

  1. I’m an actress. Pants-roles in Shakespeare equal strong, complex characters and major stage time. Is there any actress who wouldn’t want to play Imogen? Or Viola? Or Rosalind? They’re really great, interesting characters.

    I don’t know. That’s why I’m attracted to them. From an acting standpoint.

  2. Remember this is the play with “All the World’s a Stage” – and Shakespeare constantly touches on the illusions of life – the ‘roles’ people have to play; the transitions between roles – what bigger and better illustration than the ‘pants’ roles? The switch between gender whilst maintaining something unique.
    It is an old theme – the ancient Greek Theatre used it.
    What is fascinating is the difference between a woman playing Hamlet (seen that) and one playing Rosalind.

  3. As a side note, I’ve actually played Lady Macbeth (in college… I’m too young to play her outside of a peer-group casting situation… and it was in an all-female production of the show, which was neat). Although she goes through the “unsex me” deal, it’s a different sort of transformation from pants roles because she doesn’t have as much contact with covering energies (the character hiding their true thoughts/selves) as pants roles. Yes, she has to play innocent, but it’s different somehow… She’s an amazing character, but it’s a completely separate sort of gender ambiguity (to me, at least). Hard to compare.

  4. I’d agree with Angela–the fact that they dress up as boys means that, as their female characters underneath, they get to be saucy and independent & snarky (in Rosalind’s case specificially), and in general, as Angela said, strong complex characters & major stage time.
    I act, too, so that sounds fun to me. 🙂

    Also I’m just a fan of mistaken identity as a plot device, & girls-as-boys gives that. Also, in the case of Rosalind / Orlando & Viola/Orsino, the girl-as-boy courting boy lends a really interesting gender twist to the relationship. (I’m thinking here of Trevor Nunn’s film of Twelfth Night…don’t know if you’ve seen that.)

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