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30 July 2011

Edward Kynaston (c1640 - 1712) actor.

The London theatres were all closed by act of Parliament in the early stages of the Civil War in 1642.  They re-opened immediately after the Restoration in 1660, and 20-year-old Edward Kynaston achieved his brief fame as a boy-actor as per the old traditions. However women were now permitted on the stage for the first time: historians disagree whether Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall was the first to play Desdemona in late 1660. Despite this Kynaston became the standard which they were judged against: it was doubted whether any woman could ever be as good as he in female parts.

He sometimes played a male and a female role in the same play. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, commented on Edward Kynaston in Ben Jonson's Epicoene: he
'had the good turn to appear in three shapes: first as a poor woman in ordinary clothes, ... then in fine clothes, as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house, and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house'.
Colly Cibber a fellow actor said:
'Kynaston was at that time so beautiful a youth, that the Ladies of Quality prided themselves on taking him with them in their coaches to Hyde Park, in His theatrical habit after the play'.
It is said that the new king was watching a play when it suddenly stopped. When he sent to see what the problem was, it was found that Kynaston in the role of the Queen was still shaving.  In any case, Charles II Stuart had decided to listen to those who claimed that boy actors contributed to unnatural vices, and in 1662 he issued a Royal Warrant that female parts should be played by women.

Kynaston's last female role was as as Evadne in Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy with Thomas Killigrew's King's Company in 1661.

As he matured Kynaston developed a career in male roles, and was noted for his portrayal of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. In the 1670s he was rumoured to be the lover of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

Kynaston retired in 1699.

He is the central character in the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, 1999, by Jeffry Hatcher, which was filmed as Stage Beauty in 2004 with Billy Crudup as Kynaston.
  • Roger Baker. Drag: a history of Female Impersonation on the Stage. A Triton Book. 1968: 35,62,89,100-2.

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