Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

Stage Beauty

Category Othello
Words 571 (2 pages)
219 views

Stage Beauty “Stage Beauty” explores the boundaries between reality and performance. It’s the 1660s, and Edward ‘Ned’ Kynaston is England’s most celebrated leading lady. Women are forbidden to appear on stage and Ned profits, using his beauty and skill to make the great female roles his own. But King Charles II is tired of seeing the same old performers in the same old tragedies. Since no one will take him up on his suggestion to improve Othello with a couple of good jokes, he decides to lift the royal palate by allowing real women to tread the boards.

In a slightly less progressive spirit, he rules that men may no longer play women’s parts. I find it hilarious, that such a prudish society who are against homosexuality and such things as women acting, will find it ok to have a bunch of men pretending to be women and having, well not physical love scenes, but professing romantic poetry to other men. The film, is really about two things at once: The craft of acting, and the bafflement of love.

It must be said that Ned is not a very convincing woman onstage although he is pretty enough; he plays a woman as a man would play a woman, lacking the natural ease of a woman born to a role. Curiously, when Maria takes over his roles, she also copies his gestures, playing a woman as a woman might play a man playing a woman. Only gradually does she relax into herself. "I've always hated your Desdemona," she confesses to Ned. "You never fight, you only die. " Ned is most comfortable playing a woman both onstage and off.

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But is he gay? The question doesn’t precisely occur in that form, since in those days gender lines were not rigidly enforced, and heterosexuals sometimes indulged their genitals in a U-turn. Certainly Ned has inspired the love of Maria his dresser, who envies his art while she lusts for his body. We see her backstage during one of Ned’s rehearsals, mouthing every line and mimicking every gesture; she could play Desdemona herself, and indeed she does one night, in an illicit secret theater, even borrowing Ned’s costumes.

It is a cruel blow when he finds fame and employment taken from him in an instant, and awarded to Maria. Yet Maria still has feelings for Ned, and rescues him from a bawdy music hall to spirit him off to the country -- where their lovemaking has the urgency of a first driving lesson. The movie lacks the effortless charm of many of the movies that I saw like O, and Shakespeare in Love and its canvas is somewhat less alive with background characters and details. But it has a poignancy that "Shakespeare" lacks, because it is about a real dilemma and two people who are trying to solve it.

The London of the time is fragrantly evoked, as horses attend to their needs regardless of whose carriage they are drawing, and bathing seems a novelty. I wonder if the court of Charles II was quite as Monty Pythonesque as the movie has it, and if Nell Gwynn was quite such a bold wench, but the details involving life in the theater feel real, especially in scenes about the fragility of an actor's ego. Poor Ned. "She's a star," the theater owner Thomas Betterton tells Ned about Maria. "She did what she did first; you did what you did last. "

Stage Beauty essay

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