Boy Actors in Early Modern England

What was life like for early modern boy actors, and what was it like to write for them? The Intellectual Forum was joined by Jesus College Fellow Dr Harry R. McCarthy to hear about his new book, Boy Actors in Early Modern England: Skill and Stagecraft in the Theatre.

‘Brilliantly written and argued, Boy Actors in Early Modern England is a tour de force, transforming our understanding of the boy actor. Harry McCarthy's book is the first study to consider accomplishments of boy actors across early modern performance traditions. His close readings, archival work, and practice-based research together reveal the range of the physical, affective, and intellectual contributions of early modern boy actors. A major contribution to theatre history, performance-as-research, and childhood studies, this book will be a model for future research in the field.' - Evelyn Tribble, University of Connecticut

Harry's book provides a new approach to the study of early modern boy actors, offering a historical re-appraisal of these performers' physical skills in order to reassess their wide-reaching contribution to early modern theatrical culture. Ranging across drama performed from the 1580s to the 1630s by all-boy and adult companies alike, the book argues that the exuberant physicality fostered in boy performers across the early modern repertory shaped not only their own performances, but how and why plays were written for them in the first place.

Described by reviewers as 'a tour de force, transforming our understanding of the boy actor,' the book offers a critical re-imagining of what it meant - and took - to perform as a boy on professional sixteenth- and seventeenth-century stages.

Harry spoke wonderfully about his book and the historical and literary traces left by boy actors and their bodies.

A recording of the talk is available on our College YouTube channel.