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Shakespearean performance is an arena for exploring desire, sexuality and gender roles and for challenging audience expectations, especially when it comes to the female performer.
Much of this fear and much of the energy of Shakespeare’s cross-dressed dramas depends on desire.
In , for instance, Viola/Cesario quickly falls in love with her new master, Orsino, and he himself seems to desire his new page, hinting at his pleasure in the layering of male and female as he describes Cesario: they shall yet belie thy happy years, That say thou art a man.
This production deliberately offered its performers a far greater range and number of roles than the standard repertory usually allows.
This is partly so because modern repertory stands in the long shadow of Shakespearean casting conditions.
The small number of female roles in each play (usually no more than three or four roles that could be described as more than walk-on parts), have shaped and constrained opportunities for actresses on the modern stage.
Hamlet Dresser Essay
This kind of Shakespearean casting has been explored by productions such as the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s in 2002.
In Shakespeare's day, female parts were played by male actors, while more recently, actresses have taken on some of his most famous male roles such as Hamlet and Julius Caesar.
Clare Mc Manus explores gender in the history of Shakespeare performance.
The stages of the earlier 17th-century commercial theatres were all-male preserves: women were part of the play-going audience and worked in the theatre buildings but they did not act on the commercial stages.
in 1599, female roles were taken by a small cohort of highly trained boys.