'The top of woman! All her sex in abstract!': Ben Jonson Directs the Boy Actor in The Devil is an Ass

Regina Buccola


Working from the premise that Jonson's copious stage directions and meta-theatrical dialogue offer insight into early modern theatrical practice, I use The Devil Is an Ass to consider anew the question of the cross-dressed boy actor. Jonson draws careful distinctions among the female characters in The Devil Is an Ass, suggesting a range of performance styles for the boy actor. The meta-theatrical discussion of cross-dressed performance in The Devil is an Ass coupled with the sheer variety in its female characters make this play a fascinating artifact chronicling the range of the boy players' abilities and what playwrights and stage managers expected of them.

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