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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: January ::
Re: Cross-Dressing
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0066.  Thursday, 25 January 1996.

(1)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 08:13:36 -1000
        Subj:   Re: Cross-Dressing

(2)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 18:56:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Cross Dressing


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 08:13:36 -1000
Subject:        Re: Cross-Dressing

To All you Helpful Folk;

Thank you so much for your swift and abundant responses to my request for
information on cross-dressing.  It is daunting to know (as opposed to just
suspecting) that there is so much information out there, but I'm looking
forward to diving in.

If there are any further responses I'll be happy to receive them privately or
through the list as you see fit.

Thanks again,
Shirley Kagan
<
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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 18:56:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Cross Dressing

Shirley Kagan;

A most rewarding book that has everything to do with this topic is "Homosexual
Desire in Shakespeare's England" by Bruce R. Smith, which looks intelligently
at the sexual reality behind the gender bending and cross dressing in
Shakespeare, and other popular writers of the time. It's very well written and
the scholarship is excellent. (I have Christine Mack Gordon of this list to
thank for posting this title here a couple of months ago.)

A suggestion: read the comedies you mentioned while keeping in mind the fact
that the roles are all being played by men. When we see Cesario in Twelfth
Night, we see a woman playing a man. When Shakespeare's audiences saw this
play, they saw in Cesario, not a girl in boy's clothing, but a youth of twelve
to fourteen working through romantic involvements with two older men (The
Captain and Orsino) and an older woman (Olivia). The fiction of the play asks
us to believe that a girl is cross dressing through the heart of the play, and
that is the reality we see today, but in Shakespeare's time, the reality worked
at cross purposes to the fiction, for the reality was that the actor was cross
dressing only at the beginning and the end of the play.

Fraser's biography of "Mary Queen of Scots" said that Mary, who was very tall,
and very slender in her youth, used to go out with her ladies-in-waiting, all
of them dressed like men, and mingle with the crowds.

Cross dressing was acceptable in the English renaissance theater in a way it
isn't with us today, because the deepest and most compelling source of the
renaissance theater was the revels of folk tradition, the mumming and
"disguising" that took place at all festival seasons, the winter and summer
solstices and numerous other lesser "pagan" and Church holidays. Although the
disguises took many forms, the primary one seems to have been gender switching,
with men wearing women's clothes and women weaing men's clothing; in poor
communities, the clothing of their own family members; among the nobility,
fabulous costumes designed by artists. I believe that all the gender switching
roles were written as Court entertainments for one or another of these festival
times.

Good luck with your thesis. It's a great topic.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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