I've been thinking a lot about Twelfth Night of late. The first record of its playing is 1602, which is a couple years after the great comedies for pairs of women roles (played by boy actors). If you look at A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Merchant of Venice, for example, there are two really nice women's parts (which would have been played by boy actors in the early modern theater).
Most Shakespeare folks think that there were two really strong boy actors who played these roles originally, and that Shakespeare wrote really good women's parts because he had actors who could pull them off. Later, he seems to have had one really incredible boy actor to write for (think Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, and so forth). But for a while, he had two.
That while probably started in the mid-1590s, so if the boys were, say, 12 or so when they started, they'd have been 19 or so when Twelfth Night gets onto stage.
I was thinking, did he still have these boy actors? Was part of the gender play with these two boy actors in having them play women playing men as they got closer to adulthood?
So then I started fantasizing that the younger of the two might play Viola, and the elder Sebastian (though it seems one was shorter and darker than the other). Wouldn't that have been cool? All the jokes about immaturity and not having a beard. Wouldn't those be even better?
But Sebastian is a minimal part, right? So then I started fantasizing that you could double Sebastian and Maria. ("Doubling" means the same actor plays two roles; it seems to have been pretty common in the early modern period in plays where a large cast of characters was played by a relatively small company of 18-25 or so. Usually an actor would double two small parts.)
There are rules of thumb about doubling parts, though. We think it took about 100 lines for an actor to go from one character, change costume, and reappear as another character, so in addition to the "doesn't appear together thing," an actor doubling as Sebastian and Maria would have to have a fair chunk of text separating their appearances.
Unfortunately, reality isn't nearly as cooperative as I'd hoped, and in Act 3, scene 4, Maria enters with Olivia on the heels of Sebastian's scene. Can you tell how excited I was getting as I looked through the entrances and exits before that, though, how much I wanted it to work out?