Vice-Versa: All-Female Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre (2003–04)



In 2003, women’s cross-gender performances of Shakespeare entered a new phase with the announcement of the Globe Theatre’s summer season: the then artistic director Mark Rylance unveiled his plans for a brand new all-female company to complement the theater’s long-standing all-male company. The Women’s Company, composed of fifteen actresses, performed Richard III, with Kathryn Hunter in the title role, and The Taming of the Shrew, with Janet McTeer as Petruchio. This experiment was successful enough that Rylance repeated it the following year, staging an all-female Much Ado About Nothing, with Josie Lawrence as Benedick, this time without an accompanying all-male production. Yet the all-female companies proved controversial enough that the artistic staff at the Globe decided to justify their decision to the press and to their audiences. Both Rylance and director Phyllida Lloyd defended the casting by championing equal opportunity. As Rylance told Benedict Nightingale in the Times (February 4, 2003), “it’s unjust that men should get many more opportunities than women to show their strengths in classic roles.… ‘Isn’t there an enormous waste when women achieve [Ian] McKellen’s or [Michael] Gambon’s ability yet haven’t a King Lear to play?” Lloyd included a prologue to her production of Shrew that emphasized the prodigious “female talents” of the cast, and offered a hope that the use of “vice-versa” casting would help to “redress the balance” by giving women the chance to wear the codpiece.


National Identity Male Character Audience Member Globe Theatre Male Role 
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© Elizabeth Klett 2009

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