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Women in the Elizabethan Era

Acting - PART 305 with Loretta Bailey

Camille Blott and Emma Heidenheim

The Elizabethan Era is a time in English history marked by the reign of

Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603. It was a time of renaissance and
progression. England had never been so economically healthy, so optimistic,
and so opportunistic, provoking a strong sense of national pride among the
people. Many citizens were enjoying new freedoms and increased
opportunities to explore and share new ideas. Even women in society were
finding ways to enjoy more freedom than they ever had before; Queen
Elizabeth strongly encouraged noblemen to educate their daughters.
Noblewomen were given an impressive education in academic subjects, and
were encouraged to take up musical instruments, painting, and
literature.Since It was considered emasculating for men to read anything
other than books on law, medicine, and tithes, upwards of 80% of all books
were purchased and read by women. Civilians, regardless of sex or status,
witnessed an increased interest and demand for poetry, music, literature,
and the arts. Most famously, this era is known for the work of the English
playwright, William Shakespeare. Despite some of the limitations still placed
on women at the time, Shakespeare depicted his women as brilliant,
strategic, and rebellious.

Although women did not enjoy political, economic, or social parity with
men during this time period, Shakespeare had a way of seamlessly
integrating the subtle forms of power and influence that women brought to
the table that challenged gender roles. Male characters often failed or
refused to notice the amount of authority women had over them, even
though they were significantly affected by it. A character like Hermia in A
Midsummer Nights Dream insisted upon her right to control her own destiny,
despite the patriarchal authority placed upon her. Egeus wanted his daughter
to recognize and honour masculine authority and comply to traditional
gender roles, which dictated that a woman should marry to either preserve
or advance social ties and family status. Her father did not believe her
marriage should gratify her own romantical or physical desires. Egeus is so
insistent on maintaining the dominant figure, he entreats Theseus to use the
full weight and penalty of the law to punish his daughter if she refuses to
obey. Theseus complies, and tells Hermia To you, your father should be as a
god. Despite the high stakes, Hermia does not become aggressive,
apologetic, or helpless in the situation. In fact, she devises a plan to respond
to the men and maintain her position and the right to choose her own
destiny. Hermia is articulate, strategic, and decides she will deem what is
best for herself. Hermia is just one of countless examples of three-
dimensional female characters Shakespeare depicted in his plays that are so
extraordinary and highly valued to this day.

Despite the fact that Shakespeare had so many leading female

characters in his work, women were not seen on the stage. Women were
forbidden by law to take part in theatre because it was viewed as an
inappropriate activity for women to partake in. Instead, young boys and men
would play the roles otherwise written for women. There was an exception,
however: women were allowed to perform in masks used for drama and
masquerade balls, such as the ball most famously referenced in Romeo and
Juliet. Elizabethan masques were lavish and elaborate, and the costumes
worn to balls were of fantastic nature. No expense was spared in creating the
extravagant pieces. Fairies, Greek gods, and legendary characters were
among the favourites to dress up as. The masques allowed men and women
alike to behave in a ludicrous fashion and combined dancing with dramatic
scenarios. There was usually a theme given and attendants would dress
accordingly, often giving women much liberation. In a disguise and playing a
part, women were less concerned with acting rigid and strictly formal. The
women were even allowed to flirt behind the masques, which was no
laughing matter, since the masqued courtship introduced potential suitors
which could lead to marriage.

The Elizabethan Era was a time of progression. Although many women,

especially those not of nobility, were still subject to lives of childbearing and
housewife duties, there was still more freedom than had ever been seen
before. From the increase in freedom, a newfound sharing of ideas and
knowledge was prominent. In particular, the arts were flourishing, directly
impacting women of regal status. Drama became more widespread, and
women relished in reading literature for pleasure. Shakespeare was a master
at creating well rounded, intellectual female characters in his extensive
works, even if women were not actually allowed to play these roles on the
stage. Despite that restriction, women were still encouraged to dress up
alongside men for masquerades and perform in dances and dramas that
allowed them to feel liberated. Altogether, it was an incredible time period
driven forward by the reign of the relentlessly fierce Queen Elizabeth.
Contemporary Look at Women of the Elizabethan Era: A

Jerica - Emmaline Heidenheim

Ashley - Camille Blott

Scene 1: The Pink Convertible - What women faced in the

Elizabethan Era
Scene 2: The Mall - How womens rights were changing
and Shakespeares influence
Scene 3: The Spa - Progression of women in the theatre
and masque
Scene 4: The Movie Theatre - Women here and now

Scene 1: The Pink Convertible

(Jerica pulls up in her pink convertible)

Jerica: Hey, sorry Im late, I was watching Shakespeare in love!

Ashley: Thats okay, girl! I love that movie, what a totally cool, and such a
romantic time period!

Jerica: Yeah, except women were like treated like garbage!

Ashley: Wait, really?

Jerica: Yeah, they werent seen as equal to men like at all. Their job was
to get hitched, have kids, and look after the house and clean.

Ashley: Oh yeah, I remember noticing that in the movie and there were
like, so many rules for women too.

Jerica: Yeah and like, women basically had to get married. Because like, they
couldnt work, and men had all the money. Also, if they didnt get married,
theyd be broke as hell but people also thought they were like a freaky witch
or something so they would just like die or be sent to be a nun or something.

Ashley: Gross. Women are not witches.

Scene 2: The Mall

(A bench is set up centre stage. The two girls stroll by with shopping bags,
and coffee cups.)

Jerica: Ugh, I need to sit down for a second, my feet are killing me.

Ashley: Me too! You know what I was just thinking about Jerica?

Jerica: What?

Ashley: Well, you know how were talking about how women were treated so
shitty in the Elizabethan era? Well like, it wasnt all bad. Queen Elizabeth was
so cool, she made sure lots of women had an education and got to enjoy art
and reading and stuff.

Jerica: I think I remember that! Queen Elizabeth was awesome. Apparently

men didnt even read books unless they were about math and science.

Ashley: Oh my god seriously? Boring.

Jerica: Yeah, like 80% of books were bought by women who read for fun.

Ashley: Women are so trendy.

Jerica: You know what? Shakespeare was really progressive for women too!

Ashley: Wait, what?

Jerica: Well like think of characters like Hermia in a Midsummer Nights

Dream, when she tells her dad she doesnt want to marry Demetrius! And
Lady Macbeth, who gets TOTAL control over her husband! They arent
helpless at all! They stand up for themselves, which is really cool considering
how women were viewed in society.

Ashley: Thats so true! Women are so cool.

Scene 3: The Spa

(The girls are sitting in salon chairs, cucumbers on their eyes, nails drying)

Jerica: Oh my god, I totally needed this face mask.

Ashley: Me too!

Jerica: And my nails were SO gross.

Ashley: Yeah, they were. Hey Jerica, you know whats totally whacked?

Jerica: What?

Ashley: Even though Shakespeare wrote soooo many cool parts for women,
women werent even allowed to perform.

Jerica: Uh? You cant be serious. How did they do the plays then??

Ashley: They got boys to play all the girl parts! Isnt that SO stupid?

Jerica: Um, yes! Were women allowed to do anything cool?

Ashley: Ok, well yeah. You know like masquerade balls? Like the one in
Romeo and Juliet? Well women were allowed to dress up for those and wear
masks, and they did really cool stuff, like scenes and dancing. So it was
basically like a big show and they were allowed to go wild!

Jerica: Oh em gee! I bet they got to wear the coolest stuff.

Ashley: Oh yeah. They got sooo dressed up and wore the cutest costumes
like fairies and Greek gods. And the outfits were custom made and suuuuper

Jerica: Goals.

Scene 4: The Movie Theatre

Jerica: I totally needed this. I love the movies.

Ashley: Me too.

Jerica: You know, women have come so far. Like, we can pretty much do
anything we want. And it all started in the Elizabethan era.

Ashley: Youre so right Jerica.

Jerica: Like, just look at Emma Stone. She is sooo good. Could you imagine if
she wasnt allowed to act?

Ashley: That would be the worst.

Jerica: I guess we can thank Queen Elizabeth. She started it.

Ashley: Ugh, bless. Love her.