Crossing the Stage: Controversies on Cross-Dressing by Lesley Ferris

By Lesley Ferris

Crossing the degree brings jointly for the 1st time essays which discover cross-dressing in theatre, cabaret, opera and dance. the quantity includes seminal items that have turn into ordinary texts within the box, in addition to new paintings particularly commissioned from prime writers on performance.Crossing the level is an essential sourcebook on theatrical cross-dressing. will probably be crucial analyzing for all these drawn to functionality and the illustration of gender.

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The calls at the end of Hic Mulier for the reining-in of women’s freedom are but one sign of just how unsettling change in the sex-gender system had become. Ironically, and this seems to me a chief point to remember, if the vast social changes of the period led to intensified pressures on women and a strengthening of patriarchal authority in the family and the state, these changes also produced sites of resistance and possibilities of new powers for women. 14 If every cultural site is a site of social struggle, attention to the specifics of that struggle may reveal the lapses CROSS-DRESSING, THE THEATER, AND GENDER STRUGGLE 27 and contradictions of power that produce social change.

3 Several questions are at issue. First, was cross-dressing by male actors merely an unremarkable convention within Renaissance dramatic practice; was it a scandal, 20 CROSSING THE STAGE a source of homoerotic attraction, or an inevitable extension of a sex-gender system in which there was only one sex and that one sex male? Second, were women who cross-dressed—in life or in dramatic fables—successfully challenging patriarchal domination, or were they serving its ends? In this chapter I will enter these debates in part by arguing against those readings of the Renaissance sex-gender system that erase signs of gender struggle, in part by arguing that one should not concede in advance the power of patriarchal structures to contain or recuperate threats to their authority.

Natalie Davis (1978:54–5 and 176– 83) has documented that cross-dressed figures were prominent both in carnival— where gender and class boundaries were simultaneously tested and confirmed— and in food riots, demonstrations against enclosures, and other forms of lowerclass protest. Sometimes in such activities men performed as Lady Skimmingtons, appropriating the powerful iconography of the unruly woman to protest the unequal distribution of power and material goods within the social order (Sharp 1980:5).

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