Gemma Miller


This essay explores cross-gender casting of Renaissance canonical texts in modern British theatrical institutions as an act of feminist activism. Reversing early modern all-male theatrical practices, female-male re-gendering can not only interrogate the misogyny immanent in the works themselves, but also expose the ideological structures that continue to collude with these values on the contemporary stage and in society more generally. Through a comparative analysis of all-female productions such as Julius Caesar (dir. by Phyllida Lloyd, Donmar Warehouse, 2012-13) and selective cross-gendering, as exemplified in Edward II, (dir. by Joe Hill-Gibbins, The National Theatre, 2013), I argue that cross-gender casting within these most masculine of history plays constitutes a bold feminist activism that audiences, academics and critics alike have found difficult to ignore. By refusing to be bound by a cultural responsibility to reinforce the ideologies of texts born of and endorsing a patriarchal society, this essay demonstrates how women have found a way of articulating their own Foucauldian “reverse discourse” from within the power structure itself. This approach to canonical Renaissance texts constitutes a feminist activism that attacks from three different angles: it questions the “authority” of the originating (male) author; it challenges the hegemony of male-dominated theatrical institutions; and it disrupts culturally embedded ideas of gender hierarchies.

Author Biography

Gemma Miller obtained her first degree in Oriental Studies (Japanese) at Wadham College, Oxford in 1995. Having worked in finance for several years, she returned to academia in 2010 and completed a second degree in literature with the Open University. For the past 2 years, she has been studying for a Masters in Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance at Birkbeck College, and will take up a 3-year AHRC-funded doctoral research studentship at Kings College from October this year. She will be working on a thesis exploring the performance of childhood in contemporary Shakespearean productions under the supervision of Dr. Lucy Munro.