Date

2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Traister, Barbara

Other advisers/committee members

Gordon, Scott; Edwards, Suzanne; Mundhenk, Robert

Abstract

This project examines thirteen transvestite female characters featured in nine Renaissance comedies and romances (1598-1611) and in two Restoration plays (1677-1679) spanning roughly eight decades (1598-1679). I hope to deepen the critical discussion of the period by bringing generally overlooked plays such as Shadwell's The Woman Captain, Heywood's Four Prentices of London and The Fair Maid of the West into dialogue with much discussed plays such as Shakespearean comedies and well-known Restoration plays. I re-visit the "breeches roles" by focusing on the recognition scene, the moment where the female cross-dresser comes out of the disguise or is recognized as a woman. When analyzing those scenes, I employ two different definitions of recognition: a) an Aristotelian recognition by which the cross-dresser is re-apprehended as the person the onstage characters once-knew, and b) what I have called a Butlerian recognition based on Judith Butler's definition of recognition (Precarious Life), that is, a claim for a different identity. I argue that these recognition scenes are more than mere plot devices; they are unique sites where both a constructivist and an essentialist narrative of gender briefly coincide, and where the playwright can reinforce or challenge hegemonic gender roles. In the recognition scenes, not only the characters who have been deceived by the one in disguise re-apprehend the once-known other when the disguise is left behind but also the cross-dressed characters discover and recognize new future possibilities for themselves. The recognition scene is thus the site where the female cross-dresser re-emerges, in most cases, with an empowered sense of self after claiming her new identity.

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