Diversities in gender and sexuality I: Histories of representation of gender in the theatre

Diversities in gender and sexuality I: Histories of representation of gender in the theatre

In this video Kelsy explains the history of the erasure of women from stages and from theatre history  in the West, and inquires as to the ethical realities of having women play in historical drama in the present.

Histories of representation of gender in the theatre, by Kelsy Vivash, performance maker and PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance studies

Kelsy Vivash


Kelsy Vivash holds a BA from Brock University and an MA from the University of Toronto, and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.  Her doctoral research focuses on the secretions and excretions of the body, the long lineage of their relationship with understandings of subjectivity, and the ways in which this relationship has been aestheticized both on historical stages and within the contemporary performative frame.  She has presented at TaPRA (University of Kent, 2012), PSi (Stanford University, 2013), and CATR (Brock University, 2014), and has recently published work in Alt.theatre, Performance Research, Canadian Theatre Review, and Theatre Research in Canada.





  1. Kelsy discusses how theatre history has been predominantly recorded by, and about, men. She states that the “current understandings of theatre history rely on texts that are exclusionary, and that tell only a fraction of the story of theatre’s history as it pertains to the populations in any given historical period.” Considering this, how might our understandings of theatre history be skewed or inaccurate?
  2. Aristotle’s Poetics state that, “There is a type of manly valor; but valor in a woman, or unscrupulous cleverness is inappropriate” (15). It is statements such as these that construct a strict gender binary that places women in a position of minority or subservience to men. In doing so, a gender hierarchy is maintained in which generally only men are given certain traditionally masculine traits such as ‘valour.’ How have works such as Iphigenia and Antigone countered these strict gender binaries? Even in their progressive nature, how are they still promoting problematic representations of men and women?
  3. Hrosvitha of Gandersheim was the first recorded female playwright, and “ her works went largely unexamined by theatre historians” who thought that her work was “a mediocre imitation of the works of Roman playwright Terence.” Hrosvitha’s representations of women were radical for the time in which she wrote, serving as they did to counter the problematic representations of women commonly found in Terence’s work. How can taking pre-existing texts with problematic representations, and countering these by giving a stronger voice to female characters, work to challenge strict gender binaries still evident in theatre today?
  4. Shakespeare’s texts include cross-dressing roles that frequently reinforce negative stereotypes of women. How can modern adaptations of these texts help to blur strict gender binaries and give more of a voice to the female characters and women’s experiences in general?

  5. With the eventual allowance of women onto the stage came a rise in the popularity of the “breeches role.”  Instead of giving women a voice on the stage, however, these roles exploited the female body and created a spectacle that further reified the notion of female actors as akin to prostitutes.  In what ways can we continue to subvert binarized perspectives on gender through cross-dressing and thereby give voices to historically minoritized persons?  

Arikha, Noga. Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours.  New York: Ecco, 2007.  Print.
Aristotle.  Poetics.  Trans. S. H. Butcher.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1961.  Print.
Case, Sue-Ellen.  “Re-Viewing Hrosvit.”  Theatre Journal 35.2 (1983): 533-542. Print.
Davis, Tracy C.  “A Feminist Methodology in Theatre History.”  Interpreting the Theatrical Past.  Eds. Thomas Postlewait and Bruce A. McConahie. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1989.
Glenn, Susan.  Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism.
Cambridge; London; Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.  2000.  Print. 


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