After being accepted into the Dean’s Scholar Program in the College of Arts and Sciences at Miami University for 2013-2014, I completed a fifty-page honors thesis under the guidance of Dr. James Bromley. The abstract can be read below. If you’re interested in reading the full thesis, please contact me at mattmetzler91 (at) gmail (dot) com
TEMPORALITY AND TRANSGENDER IN EARLY MODERN CROSS-DRESSED PLAYS
by Matt Metzler
Abstract: In this paper, I draw on early modern portrayals of gender nonconformity to provoke a rethinking of temporality and embodiment in modern transgender discourse. Within early modern studies, critics such as Stephen Orgel, Laura Levine, and Michael Shapiro have analyzed the practice of cross-dressing on the stage in relation to historical conceptions of gender difference, but they have overlooked the role of temporality in representations of cross-dressing. Transgender theorists, influenced by the work of Judith Butler on gender performativity, have investigated gender as a temporal phenomenon, but scholars have hesitated to connect the insights of transgender theory to a time period prior to the existence of modern transgender identity due to the fear of anachronism. In William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Rosalind layers several differently gendered identities on top of one another until it becomes impossible to distinguish which – if any – represents a true or essential gender. By reading Shakespeare’s development of Rosalind alongside Kate Bornstein’s theories of gender fluidity, and by uncovering similarities between Rosalind’s reincorporation into court life and the way that modern mainstream media depicts transgender people as able to be reincorporated into heteronormativity, I argue that sites of resistance toward the gender binary can be found within early modern drama and popular depictions of transgender lives, despite the fact that these sites of resistance are often overlooked or rejected. Then, turning to Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton’s The Roaring Girl, I examine the way that the cross-dressed title character exhibits a mutable, non-linear form of embodiment. Reading the play in light of Julian Carter’s theory of enfoldment, which challenges popular notions of linear transition and the popular rhetoric of “being born in the wrong body,” I argue that the absence of a direct correlation between Moll’s physical gender presentation and her identifications as both Moll and Jack offer modern transgender theory a model of gender nonconformity that operates outside of the narrative of linear transition. Ultimately, this thesis demonstrates that mainstream discourses about transgender lives have failed to engage with the relationship between transgender embodiment and queer temporality, and that cross-dressing in early modern plays can be read as depicting the relationship between gender and temporality in action.