Friday, December 7, 2012

Homebaked Shakespeare

Happy First Actress to Appear on the Professional English Stage Day!

I know, I know, you're just sick and tired of all the hype and commercialization of FATAOPES Day. If I see one more blow-up Desdemona doll waving at me from someone's lawn I'm going to lose it. But I wanted to remind us all of the true meaning behind the holiday. The following is an excerpt from W. Davenport Adams' A Dictionary of the Drama (Philadelphia: J. Lipincott Co,1904):

"On December 8, 1660, Killigrew gave, at the theatre in Vere Street, a representation of Othello, in which the rôle of Desdemona was performed by a woman. The occasion was signalized by a prologue from the pen of Thomas Jordan, in which attention was drawn to the special attraction:

"I come, uknown to any of the rest.
To tell the news; I saw the lady drest--
The woman plays to-day; mistake me not,
No man in gown or page in petticoat."
Some of the inconveniences of having men-actresses were amusingly glanced at:

"Our women are defective, and so sized
You'd think they were some of the guard disguised;
For, to speak truth, men act, that are between
Forty and fifty, wenches of fifteen:
With bones so large and nerve so incompliant,
When you call Desdemona, enter giant."
The name of the actress who played Desdemona is not known. Killigrew's principal lady at this time was Ann Marshall, and the rôle would naturally fall to her; but there is no record of her having appeared as the heroine of Othello, and it is more likely that the part was taken in this instance by Margaret Hughes, who was the seconda donna of the company."

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