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  • Shakespeare Re-Dressed: Cross-Gender Casting in Contemporary Performance
  • W. Reginald Rampone Jr.
Shakespeare Re-Dressed: Cross-Gender Casting in Contemporary Performance. Edited by James C. Bulman. Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008. Pp. 255. $53.

James C. Bulman’s introduction provides an overview of this excellent collection of essays concerning cross-gender casting: “Does cross-gender casting today,” he asks, “signal an archeological interest in historical practices, or does it reflect contemporary debates about gender and sexuality?” (14). Bulman efficiently divides the essays into three categories: “those that introduce theoretical issues which figure in a number of essays, those that focus on North American productions, and those that focus on productions in the United Kingdom, and particularly at the New Globe” (16).

In “Cross-Dressing, Drag, and Passing: Slippages in Shakespearean Comedy,” Jennifer Drouin “argue[s] the need for a theoretical distinction between cross-dressing, drag, and passing and for a more precise application of the terms to discussions of Shakespearean and early modern drama” (23). While cross-dressing—in the early modern period a way of circumventing the prescription against women on the stage—now functions as a kind of all-encompassing category, drag is “rooted in an underground or low performance tradition, first arising on stage in the mid-nineteenth century and later popularized in cabaret and bar shows” (26). Finally, passing is a form of mimicry, posing epistemological and ontological challenges to social norms. Drouin cites The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It as examples of plays “in which [both] drag and passing work in the text,” noting “how women characters negotiate differently the slippages between these two states of gender performativity and how character specificity informs their various responses to the experience of passing and the privileges it affords them” (40).

Roberta Barker’s “Acting against the Rules: Remembering the Eroticism of the Shakespearean Boy Actress” examines the erotics of the anachronistic theatrical practice of cross-dressing. “I suggest,” she writes, “that only an actor/audience [End Page 197] community that retains both a historical convention of cross-dressed playing and a reason to view the cross-dressed male player with desire and anxiety can fully remember the lost erotic potential of the Shakespearean boy actress” (58). Barker considers how five productions, William Poel’s Hamlet in 1900, Harley Granville Barker’s Twelfth Night in 1912, Giles Block’s Antony and Cleopatra in 1999, Tim Carroll’s Twelfth Night in 2002, and Declan Donellan’s As You Like It in 1991 have been haunted by the “boy actress” (58).

Bulman’s “Bringing Cheek by Jowl’s As You Like It Out of the Closet: The Politics of Queer Theater” argues that Donellan’s 1991 production of the play needs to be read through the lens of queer theory. Noting that critics such as David Cressy and others have “been strangely reluctant to apply queer theory to contemporary all-male productions” (82), Bulman avers that “homophobic social attitudes and government policies . . . formed the context through which the production should be viewed” (82) and cites Jaques as the vehicle for Donellan’s “contemporary political agenda” (86). Bulman explores a scene from the production in which Jaques came upon perspiring, shirtless, masculine hunters, who have just killed a deer, and in which the “production’s political agenda grew more overt and topical” (87). When he asked who killed the deer, they began to roughly jostle him, and later when they began to sing the song about “the lusty horn,” they poked him with it, suggesting phallic penetration—the scene suggested a “vicious gay bashing” (87).. Describing the production as “a landmark in performance studies because it so brilliantly destabilized gender assumptions” (89), Bulman asserts, “it would be impossible for a production as daring as this not to ground itself in political discourse” (90).

In “Rosalind’s Breast,” Cary Mazer “propose[s] a reading of cross-dressed Shakespeare without recourse to—and perhaps in defiance of—queer theory, performativity theory, and the more sexual readings of early modern performance by cultural historians” (100). On the contrary, Mazer “would like to suggest that the invocation of the theatrical both foregrounds the...


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