It really is bizarre to think that Shakespeare never saw a real woman perform in one of his plays. You really have to feel for him – I mean how many theatre directors today would do that job if they couldn’t shag their female lead?
Had Ophelia, Cordelia or Desdemona flown out of the pen of a playwright in any other European country, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but England persisted with this strange practice until 1660. “Look, there’s a woman on stage,” an Elizabethan might say. “Must be a prostitute,” was the standard reply.
This of course was the central premise of Shakespeare in Love: that a woman needed to pretend to be a pre-pubescent in order to play a woman, and it is a theme echoed in Shakespeare’s Women, a new play written by Ian Burns and Barry McKenna, which is set to make its worldwide premiere next Wednesday (see G2 for details).
In one scene, the two title characters wear beards in order to fool the Bard into conceding that the custom is ridiculous. It might not have the comedic wow factor of Some Like it Hot, or the dramatic punch of the end of Tootsie, but is sounds like it has a lot of potential.
Especially as Shakespeare can be quite sexy at times. While Hamlet and Ophelia have some pretty flirtatious moments (“Do you think I meant country matters,” the cheeky mare asks in Act 3 Scene 2), I’m a sucker for the femme fatales. One of my favourite ever lines is uttered by Regan in King Lear, moments after helping her husband gouge out somebody’s eyes. “Let him smell his way to Dover.” It cuts me to the bone every time. It wouldn’t be the same coming from an acne-ridden third grader with an Airfix glue habit.
And to think they called it the Golden Age. Anyhow, at least Shakespeare lasted the test of time, as I’m not sure Facebook and Twitter will be inspiring playwrights in 400 years time. Social Media Week (see G9) includes lots of events for technophobes who don’t know their trolling from their tagging.
And don’t forget children’s half-term (see G9), which either occurs in Week 7 or 8, depending on which council you live in.
Shakespeare wouldn’t have liked it as half his cast would have had the week off. Unless, of course, he was prepared to improvise.