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.
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