Manifestation: masculinity on the female body in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama
Pinguelo, Hannah DeWitt
At the end of Michael Shapiro’s highly influential Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage (1996) was an appendix comprising a “Chronological list of Plays with Heroines in Male Disguise” from 1570-1642 (221). This thesis focuses on the plays written in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in order to establish the development of a subgenre of female to male crossdressing and examines the expectations for female crossdressing characters and gender expression. Organized by authorial groupings and then an overview of outlying plays, the thesis seeks to contextualize heroine crossdressing as a trope contributed to by a substantial cohort of playwrights. Although Shakespearean drama is discussed first, this is not to prioritize his work but rather seeks to demonstrate how conservative his use of such tropes is in comparison with later playwrights. His plays provide evidence of an Elizabethan adherence to structure and limitations for female crossdressers that are later developed. Thomas Heywood’s plays exemplify the growing attention and interest in heroine crossdressing. He features a character who is minor and rudimentary; another who is derivative but reflects newly popularized archetypes; while his most detailed is an epic character who serves as the main protagonist of her narrative. Plays by Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, and John Webster are at the heart of the new genre and testify to an established public desire for female crossdressing characters onstage, while their characters begin to evolve the trope and introduce diverse new traits, relationship arcs, and resolutions. Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, in collaboration with Phillip Massinger, abandon the restrictions of Elizabethan standards in exchange for increasingly transgressive innovations. Over the course of eight plays, they become masters in creating crossdressing heroines. Finally, an evaluation of individual dramas written by several authors establishes how the creation, growth, and scope of such heroine crossdressers reveals evolving expectations for gendered performances in early modern England.