Listed below are our European All-star actors from both England and France. Their bios consist of their theatrical background, along with their experiences with cross-dressing and the public’s reaction. Enjoy!
Edward is a 22-year-old young man from London, England and has been in the theater business for five years. His most renowned performance at age seven as Cleopatra in William Shakespeare’s 1607 production of “Antony and Cleopatra” (Comensoli, 24). However, he was slightly concerned about how cross-dressing as a female character would affect his theatrical future. Most men received harsh criticism for portraying women onstage, yet Edward quickly realized the role of Cleopatra was a unique situation (Comensoli, 25).
Unlike Mr. Shakespeare’s other transvestite comedies, “Antony and Cleopatra” poked fun at the boy actor underneath the female dress, not the female character herself (Comensoli, 25). The script described the boy actor as being the person who “lacks” an important characteristic, whereas popular belief in the English Renaissance period was that women were the gender that “lacked” the robust qualities of men (Comensoli, 25). Despite having to admit he was inferior to Cleopatra (at least for Mr. Shakespeare’s sake), Edward delivered a flawless performance and working with Mr. Shakespeare has been the highlight of his career.
He has continued to be cross-cast as women throughout the past years in such roles as Portia in “Merchant of Venice” and Viola in “Twelfth Night”, both of which are Shakespeare productions (Comensoli, 23). Edward has nothing but high praise for Mr. Shakespeare and believes his knack for writing plays that require cross-casting roles will heavily influence the future of English theater (Shapiro, 199).
Elizabeth is a 31-year-old woman who hails from Manchester, England and is in her third year working in the theater industry. After years of performing in the streets of Manchester, Elizabeth finally got her break in the public theater sphere with her role as Bellafront in a 1645 remake of Dekker and Middleton’s play, “The Honest Whore” (Shapiro, 25). She shined as Bellafront, a woman who disguised as a young page in order to obtain access to the house owned by the man of her dreams: Hippolito (Shapiro, 25).
It was common for women actors to be cast as boy pages and used in romantic endeavors (Shapiro, 25). During the English Renaissance, female pages appeared in productions four times as often as boy brides did (Shapiro, 35). When asked about this drastic difference in statistics, Elizabeth attributes the excess of women pages to society’s disapproval of male cross-dressing (Shapiro, 35). She also is quick to point out Bellafront cross-dressed in the name of love, and only indulged in that forbidden practice to show her dedication to the man she loves (Shapiro, 25).
Audiences love loyalty and fidelity, which was why Elizabeth received a standing ovation for her performance as Bellafront. Elizabeth believes her success stems from the 1642 English ban of all public theaters in the government’s attempt to abolish the theater (Prest, 11). With the lack of formal productions, crowds rushed the streets to be entertained, which led to the discovery of Elizabeth and her immense talent.
Catherine is a 28-year-old woman who has lived in Paris, France her entire life, and has been in the theater business for ten years. She began acting when she was nine years old and landed her first gig in 1632 with the story-turned-play of “Metamorphoses”, the historic Latin tale created by Ovid (Hess, 41). She played Iphis, the child born girl and magically transformed into a male.
The tale begins when Telethusa became pregnant with Ligdus’ child (Hess, 41). Ligdus declared that only a boy could be born into their family and if a girl was to be born, it would be killed (Hess, 41). In the middle of the night, Telethusa had a dream that instructed her to keep the child (regardless of gender) and to raise the child into adulthood (Hess, 41). Telethusa gave birth to a girl, but Ligdus did not know the child’s gender (Hess, 41). The child was named Iphis, after Ligdus’ own father, which pleased Ligdus and satisfied him, so he did not question the sex of the child (Hess, 41). When Iphis turned 13, her father found her a bride, still clueless about Iphis’ true gender (Hess, 41). Telethusa continually postponed the wedding, knowing Iphis’ identity would have be revealed as soon as the marriage occured (Hess, 41). Telethusa prayed every night for a miracle; anything to save both Iphis and her own lives (Hess, 41). Wedding day came around and, moments before the ceremony, Iphis transformed into a young man (Hess, 41).
Catherine enjoyed the complexity and suspense of the “Metamorphoses” plot line, which inspired her to star in similar productions. The other similar French plays Catherine performed in was the 1637 production of “Le Roman de Silence” and the 1639 production of “L’Enfant de sable” (Hess, 41). She is also known for her performance as Joan of Arc in numerous 17th century French productions.
Marguerite is a nine-year-old girl who attends Saint-Cyr School for Girls at the palace of Versailles, a school for the daughters of deceased or impoverished noblemen who served the King (Prest, 57). Saint-Cyr was founded in 1686 by King Louis XIV and is under the management of both him and his wife Mme de Maintenon (Prest, 57).
Marguerite enjoys the direct involvement of the royal family and the opportunity to learn and perform in the beautiful park of Versailles (Prest, 57). Her favorite part of the school’s theatrical productions are they wonderful, long-flowing costumes. Mme de Maintenon provides the girls with only the most luxurious and extravagant costumes, often times the authentic court dress of Versailles (Prest, 59). Marguerite enjoys cross-dressing in the boy wardrobes provide because they make her feel strong and masculine, which lead to her decision on portraying male roles in her school’s 1687 productions of “Polyeucte” and “Marianne” (Prest, 59). She also appreciate Mme de Maintenon’s decision of performing plays that have both moral and historical significance that makes it socially acceptable to cross-dress (Prest, 60).
Marguerite does not find “lovey dovey” plays fun to perform, which aligns perfectly with Mme de Maintenon’s production decisions (Prest, 60). Marguerite hopes to graduate from Saint-Cyr and further pursue a career in acting.