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7 Reasons For Crossdressing In Shakespeare As Told By She's The Man

As you probably know, women were not allowed to perform in many of Shakespeare's plays when they were first written. Men played the women parts, and they also played the women playing men parts. Have you ever wondered why?? She's The Man is here to explain for you.

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1. Because women showing their sexuality is scary!

For most of the audience, the idea of a strong female figure or a woman really embracing her sexuality was especially scary. At The Rose theater, as in many other theaters, women coming to plays was looked down on, as men thought the women should be staying home to watch the children. While some of the ideas in these plays were very modern, the absence of women in the troupes added some familiarity for a male audience that was afraid of the uprising of women.

2. Because it creates a secret between the audience and the actors

In quite a few of the plays, such as Twelfth Night or As You Like It, the idea of crossdressing is integral to the play. While these are men dressed as women dressed as men, they create a certain bond between the characters and the audience. This kind of plot line helps to attract the audiences attention, because the audience gets to be in on a secret that the rest of the players do not know about.

3. Because plays are already considered seditious...

At the beginning of the 17th century, the privy council decided to shut down a lot of the playhouses because they thought that there were too many, and that people were spending too much time with their entertainment. If these plays also included women, they would be considered even more seditious, as they would be showcasing women in a space that is not a brothel. Women who attended plays were already thought to be prostitutes, so this would only add to the tension surrounding these theaters.

4. Because sometimes complex characters need to be overly simplified

Many of Shakespeare's female characters are incredibly strong, and not at all stereotypical. Take, for example, Portia in Merchant of Venice. She breaks a lot of female stereotypes by making men enter into a lottery for her hand, and the losing men are forced to never marry again. She asserts an incredible amount of power over the men around her, which is different from the common woman trope. While the characters are very dimensional, the actors who play them take on the most stereotypical way to represent a woman: with a high voice, and a "mimetic" mask. By making the characters look more simple than their personality, it makes them easier to understand and more relatable to the audience.

5. Because gender is fluid

Especially in Shakespeare's plays, using men to play women was very acceptable, since he includes many instances of crossdressing within his own plays. The Lord Chamberlain's Men and the Lord Pembroke's Men, two of the troupes that performed at The Rose, were all male, and thus played not only the women, but also the women playing men. Shakespeare loved playing with the gender binary, writing girls who acted like men, men who acted like girls, and characters who dressed crossdressed regularly. By having not only the actors crossdress, but also the characters, Shakespeare destroys the gender binary while simultaneously adhering to the social norms of male actors only.

6. Because 16th century gender norms

The Rose was situated in an area called Southwark, which was well known for it's brothels, as well as it's theater. Women were either wives or prostitutes, and in Shakespeare's time very few women had other jobs. Because of this, being in a troupe was very frowned upon for women, who could be doing other things such as taking care of the children, or working around the house. In terms of actually attending the theater, there were some women in the audience, but they caused a scene, even without being on the stage. A lot of times women in the audience were either accompanying their husbands, or were prostitutes looking for prospective work. While Shakespeare's plays might have been a bit more progressive, the norms of the time certainly were not, and meant that crossdressing was a must if the women characters were to be represented.

7. Because these play's were written to be performed by all men

Women were not allowed to perform in the plays, which was a fact that Shakespeare was aware of when he wrote them. For this reason, while the women can be seen as somewhat progressive, they are still confined to mostly representing their sexuality. While they can have positions of power, this power usually comes from their husband also having power, or from using their sexuality as power over the men around them. For the women that don't represent this high level of sexuality, they can be characterized by common female roles, such as a nurse or a mother. While the men can be seen as more complex and can take on many different roles, a woman's power is still linked to her body or to the men in her life. These common themes make it easier for men to play them and to embrace the female stereotype that they dress into.

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