Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Women onstage and offstage in Elizabethan England

Though a Queen ruled England, gender equality certainly wasn’t found in Elizabethan society. Everything from dress to employment followed strict gender roles, and yet there was a certain amount of room for play. There are several cases of (in)famous women who dressed as men and crossed the bounds of “acceptable behavior.” Women constitute an integral part of many of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, yet there are massive gaps between the amount of lines, speeches, and even character roles for men and women. Strong-willed and powerful male characters easily outnumber their female counterparts, and it was men who performed those female roles. Such characterizations would become increasingly complicated as male actors portrayed female characters who, in the play, were disguised as men (the “female page” role). Such contrasting rigidity and fluidity in society and on stage reveal a complex understanding of gender and what it means to be a woman.

Download the infographic as a PDF or JPG.

Featured Image: “Sir Toby Belch coming to the assistance of Sir Andrew Aguecheek” (Twelfth Night) by Arthur Boyd Houghton. Folger Shakespeare Library. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Recent Comments

  1. Kari Boyd McBride

    Lanyer’s Jewish heritage is disputable; careful scholarship is agnostic on this point. To call her a crypto-Jew goes way beyond any available evidence. That the OUP proffers this howler on a downloadable poster is almost as disappointing as the poster’s implication that the salient question in the study of women in Shakespeare’s plays is “Who was Shakespeare’s dark lady?”

  2. […] Infographic: Women Onstage and Offstage in Elizabethan England – includes Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady”, early actresses, and cross-dressing. […]

Comments are closed.