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In Elizabethan England, by law, women were not allowed to perform in the theater. Acting was considered a lowly profession to begin with, and it was considered unseemly for women to even think about acting on stage. Usually, boy actors, who were from around 13 to 20 years of age, took on the parts of the female characters. They were dressed up as women in very elaborate costumes and wigs. White make-up was applied to their faces-make-up that was lead based and highly toxic, causing disease and skin infections. Many died of lead poisoning due to this. These young boys were also the least well paid of any of the performers in Shakespeare's plays. They were apprentices to older actors and given a place to sleep, food, and a very small allowance.
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