Clare McManus, “Cross-dressed Duelling, the English Boy Actor, and Women’s Feats of Activity”

Cross-dressed Duelling, the English Boy Actor, and Women’s Feats of Activity
Clare McManus, Roehampton University

This paper contextualises cross-dressed duelling in The Roaring Girlagainst performing women’s ‘feats of activity’. English and continental women performed tumbling, acrobatics and rope-dancing: Italian commedia troupes often included female tumblers; Sisley Peadle led an eponymous English acrobatic troupe (1620-30s); a Bristol playbill advertises girls rope-dancing on the playhouse stage. Further primary materials include Scala’s scenarios of the innamorata fighting with bastone or sword, and Cavendish’s letter describing a cross-dressed commedia actress who ‘had been more used to Handle a Sword than a Distaff’. These alternative traditions add a new dimension of feminine physical forcefulness and agility to studies of early modern bodily stage decorum. The paper uses these primary to explore Moll’s emasculation of Laxton as potentially more than the appropriation of masculine traits.