Home > 'Tis Pity She's a Whore: The First Women on the London Stage
Until 1660, men and boys play women’s stage roles. Women's first stage performances shock audiences. Puritans object violently to women's presence on London's stages.
King Charles II mandates that men no longer be allowed to imitate women on stage. Audiences assume that female actresses are whores. Men have access to women's dressing rooms.
People attend theaters daily where they fight and brawl. The test of good performances is whether they can distract the audience's attention. Actors speak directly to audiences.
Nell Gwynn, mistress to Charles II, changes the Restoration drama experience. Society takes a great interest in stage gossip. Gwynn displays great wit and self-mockery.
Men's general attitude towards women is licentious. Elizabeth Barry is kept by a number of wealthy patrons. The theater develops a reputation as a nest for prostitution.
Actresses are seen on stage disguised in men's clothing which revealed their legs. The prostitute image of actresses on stage persists for another 200 years.
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Women appeared on Londons stages for the first time in 1660; before that, female roles were played by boys. When the first woman stepped onto the public stage, she was assumed to be a whore; men had free access to their dressing rooms and at least two, Moll Davis and Nell Gwynn, were mistresses to King Charles II. This program looks at the background and training of these first actresses, at their influence on plays written at the time, at their lives and the roles they played, and at how their sexuality and availability became the central feature of their professional identity. (26 minutes)
Length: 25 minutes
Copyright date: ©1994
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