A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts
Subjects:Women's & Gender Studies
Men have been dressing as women on stage for hundreds of years, dating back to the thirteenth century when the Church forbade the appearance of female actors but condoned that of men and boys disguised as the opposite sex. Forms of travestism can be traced back to the dawn of theatre and are found in all corners of the world, notably in China and Japan.
In recent years, of course, drag has witnessed a dramatic and widespread revival. Newsday recently observed, People are talking about all those fabulous heterosexual film idols who now can't seem to wait to get tarted up in drag and do their screen bits as fishnet queens. Drawing on a cinematic tradition popularized by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot, Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie) and Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire) have each delighted mainstream audiences with their portrayals of women. Even former drag queens have experience newfound fame; witness the recent popularity of the late Divine, renowned for her oddly compelling appearances in underground John Waters films.
Music, too, has been profoundly influenced by drag sensibility, from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Rocky Horror Picture Show to Boy George and RuPaul (the self- proclaimed Supermodel of the World).
Tracing drag tradition from the Golden Age of stage transvestism during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I in England to the current quasi-drag inclinations of American grunge bands, Drag is an entertaining overview of this popular and complex medium.
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