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In this book, David Mann examines the influence of the Elizabethan cross-dressed tradition on the performance and conception of Shakespeare's female roles through an analysis of all 205 extant plays written for the adult theatre. The study provides both an historical context, showing how performance practice developed in the era before Shakespeare, and a comparative one, in revealing how dramatists in general treated their female characters and the influence their characterisation had upon Shakespeare's writing. The book challenges many views of the sexual ethos of Elizabethan theatre, offering instead a picture of Shakespeare which pays less attention to his supposed gender politics and more to his ability to exploit the cross-dressed convention as a dramatic medium. By challenging the gay and polemical feminist accounts that currently dominate the treatment of Elizabethan cross-dressing, the book restores its importance as a mainstream performance topic for academics and students.