Gender, power and disguise: cross dressing women within Shakespeare and Spenser
Gender, Power and Disguise: Cross-Dressing Women within Shakespeare and Spenser. Master of Arts in English, 2018. By engaging with Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield's (1994) consolidation, subversion and containment theory this dissertation explores how Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare incorporated female crossdressers within their works to present fictional women as threatening to established Elizabethan gender codes. Transgressive female characters in these works demand particular
... ention given the insecure variant of patriarchy that had emerged out of Elizabeth I's reign, and the insistent iconography of female power and constancy that was encouraged throughout the final decades of her rule. This dissertation argues that Spenser and Shakespeare presented crossdressing women as figures who had the potential to subvert established notions of patriarchy during the final decade of the sixteenth-century. Shakespeare and Spenser chose to present these female protagonists, during the latter portion of Elizabeth I's reign, as threatening in three distinguishable ways. First, crossdressers conceal their female form beneath male attire, proving both fraudulent in nature and capable of usurping male authority by falsifying their female subordinated gender. Secondly, they evidence a disobedience to masculine authority by using marriage vows and rings to gain advantage over prospective romantic partners while disguised. Thirdly, Elizabethans would have regarded the depiction of women who incorporated a combatant temperament, by wearing weaponry or physically fighting with men, as distinctly provocative. This dissertation examines these figures of transgressive femininity within both the poetic and staged genres. In Spenser's epic poem, The Faerie Queene, the warrior maiden Britomart consistently reinforces accepted gender stereotypes, wilfully containing her own transgressions. Contrastingly, Shakespeare's crossdressing women display an array of subversive potential in both their original intentions to defy male authority and their varied abilities to follow through with their intended deceit.