Male Appropriations of the Female Form in Early Modern Literature(Panel)
Gregory Schnitzspahn (Fisher College)
While his most famous crossdressing characters are women posing as men––including Rosalind from As You Like It, Twelfth Night’s Viola, and The Merchant of Venice’s Portia––William Shakespeare also twice imagines male characters posing as women: Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and the page playing Christopher Sly’s wife in The Taming of the Shrew. Male characters also pass (to varying degrees) as women in works by Sidney, Jonson, Middleton, Fletcher, and others. But while much has been made of the “squeaking” boy actors who played women’s parts on the early modern stage, very little critical attention has been paid to male characters wearing women’s weeds in early modern literature. Indeed, Simone Chess has recently argued that now is the time “to attend to MTF [male-to-female] crossdressers and their genderqueer, relational impacts on their textual worlds and beyond” (22). Furthermore, crossdressing is not the only way for men to appropriate the female body, and early modern male writers often figure the very act of writing as a figurative form of pregnancy and conception––as in the opening sonnet of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, when the speaker claims he is “great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes” (12). This panel seeks to explore what happens when men assume (in various ways) the female form in early modern drama, poetry, and prose. Papers are welcome that bring lesser-known plots and characters to our attention, as well as those that reexamine more canonical works.
Although female characters dressed as men have received considerable critical attention, many early modern writers, including Shakespeare, Sidney, Jonson, Middleton, and Fletcher, also imagine male characters dressed as women. This panel considers what happens when men assume (in various ways) the female form in early modern English literature. Papers are welcome that bring lesser-known plots and characters to our attention, as well as those that reexamine more canonical works.