Rhode Island College
This project expands upon Rohy's ideas of contingent sexualities to explore contingent gender identity in Shakespeare’s crossdressing plays–that is, to borrow from Rohy's model of contingent sexual identity to understand the gendered self as constantly in motion, and never fixed or rooted in a stable gender binary. As You Like It contains, in addition to Celia’s contingent desires, a trope common in Shakespeare's works: a lovely, cross-dressed girl, whose transition from young lady to page-boy to young lady mirrors Celia's sexual conversion that Rohy discusses; like Celia’s sexuality, Rosalind's gender is fluid and changeable. She, as well as the other cross-dressed heroines in Shakespeare's page-boy plays, exhibits an ability to transcend the gender binary and exist in a state of constant mobility, in which her gender, like Celia's sexuality, always has the potential to turn. These characters exist within two liminal worlds—an early modern culture which does not root gender in biological difference, and the transient, performative world of theatre, in which all identities are contingent. These two environments afford them considerable room for movement, which extends the gender mobility that existed in reality to the even more mobile world of the stage. This project interrogates to what extent Shakespeare’s page-boys are able to move between genders, occupying one, two, or none, at any given time, through the lens of a genderqueer approach, and it is my belief that the insights provided by this queer approach to gender may assist modern audiences in retrieving the gender ambiguity in which these heroines were first crafted and performed. The discussion of contingency in gender does not, and is not intended to, discount the validity of gender identities, but rather to explore and expand the ever-growing possibilities of gender and gender identification. Of course, crossdressing characters like Rosalind, Viola from Twelfth Night, and Portia from The Merchant of Venice have all been discussed considerably by critics who approach these characters' arcs, staging, and gender fluidity from a variety of angles, including feminist, gender, and queer theory. However, these discussions are almost all rooted in gender binaries—whether through discussion of boy actors becoming women characters, or women characters becoming men—and neglect to consider the liminal space outside of the gender binary, in which characters transcend traditional gender classification by simultaneously embodying characteristics of the social constructions of both "man" and "woman.” By expanding the conversation to include genderqueer studies, I will argue that these characters function as proto-genderqueer, and discuss a contingent gender identity that these characters may lay the groundwork for. My primary focus will be on Rosalind/Ganymede in As You Like It, Viola/Cesario in Twelfth Night, Innogen/Fidele in Cymbeline, and Portia/Balthsazar in The Merchant of Venice. Each of these figures utilizes crossdressing, as well as other types of gender performance, as a form of contingent gender identification, and each is impacted by their adoption of "masculine" garb and characteristics, with Rosalind as the prime example of contingent gender identification.
Kennedy, Heron, ""When Thou Art A Man": The Contingent Gender Identity of Shakespeare's Page-Boy" (2016). Honors Projects Overview. 125.