In 1999, Rylance announced that he was going to play the female role of Cleopatra in William Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra, sparking outrage from some people who said he was taking acting gigs away from women. Rylance did this in order to stay true to the Elizabethan school of acting & style– during Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to perform onstage.
Nonetheless, the staging of Antony and Cleopatra was a huge hit. Critic Paul Taylor describes Mark Rylance’s performance:
There is a moving strain of delicacy and sensitivity in this Cleopatra, as is shown by an excellent directorial detail in the final scene where – her wig now removed, revealing a scalp riddled with alopecia, and wearing a simple white shift – she braces herself for her self-transcending suicide. (UK’s Independent 3.8.99)
Rylance as Cleopatra and Paul Shelley as Antony
(photo taken from Tolstoy2007′s Flickr)