- A male actor who plays female roles. The intention may be eithera realistic impersonation or a broad caricature of femininity, asin the traditional dame of English pantomime. A female impersonatoris sometimes called a drag artist because the women's costumesdragged along the stage.
In the classical theater the female roles were almost alwaysplayed by boys or men. The Roman actor Bathyllus is one of the earliestimpersonators whose name is recorded. Female impersonators have alwaysbeen a part of drama in Japan (see onnagata) and inChina (see Peking Opera). In France, Alizon (1610 - 48)was famous for playing comic elderly maids. In the Elizabethan theater,where it was illegal for women to appear on a public stage, EdwardKynaston was the most famous boy actor to take female roles.The first professional actress in England, Margaret Hughes, did notappear on stage until 1660.
More recent examples of female impersonation in the legitimatetheater include Alec Guinness's portrayal of the transvestite 'Mrs Artminster'in Simon Gray's Wise Child in 1967 at Wyndham's Theatre. That same yearAnthony Hopkins, Ronald Pickup, Charles Kay, and Richard Kaye playedPhoebe, Rosalind, Celia, and Audrey in Shakespeare's As You LikeIt at the National Theatre. The tradition of male performers playingShakespeare's female characters has since been revived at the rebuilt GlobeTheatre. Famous drag artists in revue and on television include JulianEltinge, Danny La Rue, Barrie Humphries ('Dame Edna Everage') andPaul O'Grady ('Lily Savage'). see also breeches part.