Mark Rylance said yesterday he accepted he was depriving actresses of leading parts, but added: "I'm afraid I am not politically correct."
But he did reassure potential audiences that his Cleopatra would not have full frontal nudity as Helen Mirren's did in the recent production at the National Theatre.
Rylance's decision to cast himself as Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, which was revealed late last year in The Independent, was formally announced yesterday at a press conference to launch the Globe's season.
He also announced that all the female roles in the production would be played by men, as would all the female roles in Julius Caesar.
The 39-year-old actor will wear hand made costumes to play the role of Cleopatra - the first time in living memory a mature male has played it for a major company. His decision to play the passionate queen of Egypt will have considerable reverberations in theatrical and scholarly circles, as Shakespeare's Globe is increasingly studied across the world as a centre of research as well as performance.
Asked about casting himself in the role, he stressed that it was part of the Globe's remit to explore the stage practices of Shakespeare's day, one of which was boys and men playing females roles.
Rylance said: "It doesn't seem very politically correct does it ... I'm sorry that we are taking a number of roles from actresses this year.
"But the English Shakespeare Company have had a Cleopatra, Helen Mirren played her at the National and Frances de la Tour is about to play her at the RSC.
"Our role is to explore original practices. Sometimes they will not be politically correct. So if you accuse me of being politically incorrect, I have to say, `Yes, it's a fair cop'."
Rylance said he had not yet cast an Antony to act opposite his Cleopatra. "I'm very choosy," he said. "He will have to have good breath."
He said that the production would help to "revive the sense of theatre as a place not only of physical reality but of imaginative reality ... I won't be self- conscious. It must not be camp. But I will be a woman, I will be Cleopatra.
"I am working on the range of my voice ... I want people to believe I love Antony as much as anyone has loved Antony, that I am jealous, that I am a Venusian character opposite the Apollo world of men."
He added that he was exploring the possibility of experimenting with women in male roles and had asked Dame Judi Dench if she would consider playing the part of Brutus in a future production of Julius Caesar.
"But she said the idea reminded her too much of her schooldays and school plays with girls in togas."Reuse content