Why were female roles played by men in classical theater?

If you saw a performance of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the 1500s, you might wonder why the production wasn’t called Romeo and Romeo. Women weren’t allowed on stage during the period known as the English Renaissance (or in ancient Greece or during many other periods in history). The reasons were often rooted in religion (England at the time was under the influence of a devout group known as the Puritans) or a strange sense of propriety. It was thought that women on stage demeaned themselves or somehow tempted the male members of the audience. The result: Female roles went to men or boys who pretended to be women. Women didn’t first take the stage until the end of the Renaissance, in the late 1600s.


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