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Edward Kynaston
Edward Kynaston.jpg
1889 mezzotint engraving of Edward Kynaston.
DiedJanuary 1712

Edward Kynaston (c. 1640 – January 1706) was an English actor, one of the last Restoration "boy players", young male actors who played women's roles.


Kynaston was good looking and made a convincing woman: Samuel Pepys called him "the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life" after seeing him in a production of John Fletcher's The Loyal Subject at the Cockpit-in-Court, "only her voice [is] not very good". He also played the title role in Ben Jonson's Epicoene. Pepys had dinner with Kynaston after this production on 18 August 1660.[1]

Simultaneously, Kynaston played male roles as well. He filled the role of Otto in Rollo Duke of Normandy on 6 December 1660, having played the female role of Arthiope in the same play in previous weeks. On 7 January 1661, Kynaston played three roles in a performance of Jonson's Epicoene, one female and two male.[2]

Part of Kynaston's appeal may have been his ambiguous sexuality. The actor Colley Cibber recalled: "the Ladies of Quality prided themselves in taking him with them in their Coaches to Hyde-Park in his Theatrical Habit, after the Play."[3] Cibber also reported that a performance of a tragedy attended by Charles II was once delayed because, as someone explained, Kynaston, who was playing the Queen, "was not shav'd".[4]

In the 1660s women were permitted to appear on stage and male actors playing female roles in serious drama was strongly discouraged. Kynaston's last female role was as Evadne in Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy with Thomas Killigrew's King's Company in 1661.

Described by Samuel Pepys as "the prettiest woman in the whole house" and "the handsomest man", the rumor of the time had him playing female roles off stage as well. When already in his thirties, lampoons circulated that made him out to be the lover of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham.[5]

Kynaston went on to make a successful career in male roles and was noted for his portrayal of Shakespeare's Henry IV. He retired in 1699.

Fictional portrayals

Kynaston is played by Billy Crudup in the 2004 film Stage Beauty directed by Sir Richard Eyre. He is represented as a foppish bisexual, who slowly reveals more complexity in his personality and sexuality. The film is an adaptation of the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher. In 2012, the Houston Grand Opera announced a new opera by Carlisle Floyd, with the actor as protagonist, is to be premiered in March 2016.[6] He also appeared as a character in Nell Gwynn, played by Greg Haiste in the premiere production in 2015.

See also


  1. ^ The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 18 August 1660.
  2. ^ Howe, Elizabeth. The First English Actresses: Women and Drama, 1660–1700. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992; p. 25.
  3. ^ Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, With an Historical View of the Stage During His own Time: Written by Himself, Byrne R. S. Fone, ed., Mineola, NY, Courier Dover, 2000; p. 71.
  4. ^ Cibber, p. 71.
  5. ^ Matt Cook, A gay history of Britain: love and sex between men since the Middle Ages - P. 67.
  6. ^ Houston Press, 18 Feb 2016|

10 Annotations

Charles Britton  •  Link

Kynaston is the main character in "Stage Beauty," to be released in October 2004. Hugh Bonneville plays Pepys in the film.

phil mroz  •  Link

Up until the early 1660's women's roles were played by men, Edward Kynaston was England's most celebrated leading lady, using his beauty and skill to make the great female roles his own. When Charles II eventually allowed real women to play women roles and the men could no longer do so, Kynaston becomes a virtual nobody.

Kate  •  Link

Actually, Kynaston continued to be a successful dramatic actor after the introduction of actresses, which would likely have happened with age anyway (that was often the story with boy actors).

Stage beauty is good, and references lots of historical accounts, but it emphasizes and dramatizes certain facts for the sake of narrative. For instance Kynaston had in fact played men various times before it became official decree that men could only play men (interestingly, I think the first English woman to play a male character was in 1667?).

Kate  •  Link

Sorry, the first English woman playing a man was actually in 1776, Sarah Siddon, as Hamlet.

Airyn  •  Link

actually, it was Mrs. Coleman in a private theater before/in 1656.

Airyn  •  Link

just kidding i misread the answer.

Bill  •  Link

Edward Kynaston, engaged by Sir W. Davenant, in 1660, to perform the principal female characters: he afterwards assumed the male ones in the first parts of tragedy, and continued on the stage till the end of King William's reign. He died in 1712.
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

Bill  •  Link

Tho', as I have before observed, Women were not admitted to the Stage till the Restoration, yet it could not be so suddenly supplied with them, but that there was still a Necessity to put the handsomest young Men into Petticoats; which Kynaston was then said to have worn with Success particularly in the Part of Evadne, in the Maid's Tragedy, Arthiope in the Unfortunate Lovers, the Princess in the Mad Lover, Ismenia in the Maid in the Mill, Aglaura, &c. being Parts so greatly moving Compassion, that it has been disputed among the Judicious, whether any Woman could have more sensibly touched the Passions.
Kynaston at that time was so beautiful a Youth, that the Ladies of Quality prided themselves in taking him with them in their Coaches to Hyde-park, in his theatrical Habit, after the Play; which in those days they might have sufficient time to do, because Plays then, were us'd to begin at four a-Clock, the Hour that People of the same Rank are now going to Dinner, This Truth I had confirmed from his own Mouth, in his advanced Age. Indeed to the last of him, his Handsomeness was little abated; even at past sixty, his Teeth were all sound, white and even, as one would wish to see in a beautiful young Woman of twenty. He had something of a formal Gravity in his Mien, which was attributed to the stately Step he had been so early confined to, in a female decency. But that, in Characters of Superiority had its proper Graces; it misbecame him not in the part of Leon, in Fletcher's Rule a Wife, and Have a Wife, which he executed with a determined Manliness, and honest Authority, well worth the best Actor's Imitation. He had a piercing Eye, and in Characters of heroic Life, a quick imperious Vivacity in his Tone of Voice, that painted the Tyrant truly terrible.
---The History of the Stage. C. Cibber, 1742

Bill  •  Link

As mentioned above, all our favorite actors from this time period have roles in the film: Stage Beauty (2004). And Hugh Bonneville (of Dalton Abbey fame) plays our own SP.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.



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