This thesis draws on the works of Will Fisher, Lucy Munro, Michael Shapiro, and other critics who have written on the boy actor on the early modern English stage. Focussing on city comedies performed by children’s companies, it argues that the boy actor functions as a kind of “third gender” that exceeds gender binaries, and interrogates power hierarchies built on those gender binaries (including marriage).

The boy actor is neither man nor woman, and does not have the confining social responsibilities of either. This thesis argues that the boy’s voice, his behaviours, and his epicene body are signifiers of his joyous and unconfined social position. Reading the boy actor as a metaphor for the city itself, this thesis originally argues that the boy’s innocence enables him to participate in the games, merriment, and general celebration of carnival, while his ability to slip fluidly between genders, ages, and other social roles enables him to participate in and embody the productively disruptive carnival, parodic, and “epicene” spaces of the city itself. In these spaces, when gender and age expectations are temporarily overthrown, individual bodies can desire, dress, and perform however they want.

In persistently recognising the boy actor’s metabolic ability to metamorphose its gender according to his own, or the individual spectator’s desire, and in so doing to explore alternative modes of living and structuring families and other social relationships in the city, Amends for Ladies, Epicoene, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Eastward Ho!, Ram Alley, and Bartholomew Fair offer strategies by which individual bodies in the audience can pursue their own individual alternative modes of living in the city.

And that’s how I spent my summer.

27 August 2010 ~ Hamilton


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