?"Quieres que de hombre / la pinte?": the limitless theater of female transvestism in Golden Age drama.
If the female cross-dresser is a type, a repeated convention within a given play, why should she be any more revelatory than others, such as the gracioso or the galan and dama, who always appear and form the backbone of any play? Though popular, the cross-dresser is not constitutive in the sense that plays happen without her presence, and they happen to great success. It is helpful from the outset to consider the figure less as representative of a formal type that makes up the comedia, and more as a force introduced into plays in order to defy types. The female cross-dresser, rather than fitting classificatory marks, evades them. She plays the role of galan in order to become a proper dama by the work's close, fragmenting the formula presented by Lope in which boy chases girl. Marjorie Garber argues that cross-dressing in general offers this liminal power to dismantle categories within Western culture. Neither man nor woman, the image of the cross-dresser offers "a mode of articulation, a way of describing a space of possibility" that "questions binary thinking and introduces crisis" (11). We can think of the cross-dressed character, then, as introducing a certain method of category destabilization essential for, but not limited to, the comedia that allows for an intensified experience of theatrical reversals and carnivalesque overturnings. (4)
The plays discussed in this paper are particularly well-suited to illustrate the ways in which the cross-dressed character creates a transvestite effect beyond the realm of gender identity due to each playwright's innovative use of the figure. As Carmen Bravo-Villasante notes, though the female transvestite character draws from Italian source material (both the comedia dell'arte and Ariosto's Orlando furioso), Spanish playwrights eventually moved beyond these models in order to explore other dramatic possibilities available through the cross-dressing figure. These plays represent distinctive additions made by such playwrights. Tirso contributes an array of unique cross-dressed heroines to the comedia, including El vergonzoso's Serafina, whose only motivation for the act is an affinity for the theater, a clear symptom of the Baroque aesthetic in formation during the period. Castro's play further acknowledges the popular stage convention not by its inclusion but by its potent absence, pointing to cross-dressing's transcendence of character or plot as a source of comedic intrigue and personal evolution. These plays use the device past the basic conflicts of gender and the honor code to signal cross-dressing's unique theatrical capacities.
Certainly, cross-dressing fits as one piece of an elaborate puzzle of deceptive behavior staged by the comedia. In Spanish comedias of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, self-discovery and transformation often emerge as products of the role-play, disguise, and trickery that constitute the metatheatrical elements of a given play. In Tirsos El vergonzoso en palacio, for example, the protagonist, Mireno, ultimately discovers his noble lineage, or rather, becomes "Tirsos impeasanted noble" after working at court disguised as a secretary (Wiltrout 189). Edward Friedman points out in his discussion of the play that Mireno's quest to find himself connects with the same self-searching of other genres, given that "No sabe, como don Quijote (I, 5) quien es, y si sabe que esta por descubrirse, que es un hombre en el proceso de hacerse" (20). As early modern society adjusted to an early form of capitalism and the discovery of the New World, its static class structure began to become more fluid, opening new possibilities for changing one's occupation and social standing, thus creating a space for the type of subject-in-process that appears in Tirsos play and Cervantes's novel. (5) Despite these new opportunities, early modern subjects still lived in a society that placed great value on fulfilling designated social roles. As such, a tension may be noted in literature and theater of the period between a more fluid, interior exploration of selfhood and the pressure of broader, exterior social and culture forces to close off said exploration. Disguises, in this sense, function as an agent to temporarily offset the latter while indulging the former. Cross-dressing serves as a powerful disguise to this end, eliminating boundaries at the heart of personal and social identity (those of gender). Another play from the period, Castro's La fuerza de la costumbre, demonstrates the social and dramatic need for this figure, ironically, through its lack, as its central characters remain trapped in roles of the opposite gender, unable to overcome "la fuerza de la costumbre" without recourse to cross-dressing's manipulations. I will use El vergonzoso en palacio and La fuerza de la costumbre as counterexamples that point specifically to the theatrical crossdressing act as a central, dynamic force that facilitates the metatheatrical breakdown and rebuilding of identity. In the first play, this occurs by way of its presence, and, in the second, through its absence, with both dramatic works effectively pointing to the theatrical cross-dresser as an agent of category crisis with the unique power to transform identity.
By revealing more of her body in masculine garb, the female cross-dresser appealed to male audience members, but a look at these plays reveals its deeper dramatic and social purpose. The disruption of the binary gender division carried out by the cross-dresser allows characters to step out of their designated roles, and, in metatheatrical ploys, to inhabit other in-betweens, namely that of the gap between reality and fiction. Friedman, in his discussion of Tirsos use of metatheater, signals the way in which it interrogates the relationship between discourse and reality, or rather, "Tirso rechaza la diferenciacion a favor de la fusion de elementos, subrayando asi la inevitable confusion que resulta de una dialectica sin fin. El espectaculo senala la confrontacion del ser humano con lo real y lo imaginario, que, como los suenos, no tienen limites" (20). The limitless effect of Tirsos theater within a theater begins with the collapse of a binary division: that of the real and the imagined. Cross-dressing's manipulation of category, as argued by Garber, initiates such a breakdown. When a person takes on the identity of another gender, he or she ceases to be either one or the other, but rather one as the other, effectively disrupting the strict binaries that stabilize Western culture. As a result, the cross-dresser invokes and embodies a crisis of category, serving as a useful tool within theater as related to the mundo al reves often created through metatheatrical manipulation. As evidenced in both Tirsos and Castro's comedias, the presence of cross-dressing is necessary to ignite category crisis. While in Mireno's case, the performance carried out does not include cross-dressing, the character of Serafina uses the device to express the same type of dissatisfaction and desire for change. This tool, instrumental in its manifestation in Tirsos play, proves the crucial missing element for Hipolita and Pedro in Castro's play.
In his discussion of El vergonzoso en palacio, Raymond Conlon argues that Tirso establishes three female sexual types, "a narcissist, a heterosexual, and a latent lesbian," whose unconscious sexual desires fuel their behavior (55). While Mireno progresses towards a new social status, Serafina, Madalena and Juana depict "a spectrum of female sexual types" (55). As Conlon emphasizes, the development of this theme arises as a result of a series of confrontations each female character has, or rather, "All three begin in a state of apparent ignorance of their sexual natures, then encounter some figure who, despite their emotional resistance, stirs up buried sexual desires which eventually prove so overwhelming that the three women are driven to some sort of sexual expression with the figure" (66). In the case of the two sisters, these encounters will ultimately serve as an agent of transformation with regard to their marital status (the suggestion of lesbianism will not find its proper expressive outlet for a few more centuries). Regardless of the tangible outcome wrought by each of these self-discoveries, according to Conlon, the women seem propelled by "some preconscious, irrational power influencing their actions, and, by implication, human actions generally," the theatrical representation of which marks Tirsos achievement as a dramatist (66). What remains unanalyzed in Conlon's discussion is the role transvestism plays in carrying out these moments of recognition, or rather, the way in which cross-dressing serves as the vehicle by which Serafina and Juana (and, subsequently, the audience) may tap into this power of influence or force that guides their sexuality. Cross-dressing, I argue, makes this force dynamic within Tirsos dramatization, allowing Serafina to tap into "the unconscious male aspect of her personality so long repressed," given that through this act, she is able "to incorporate her male self into her female body" (64). This indirectly enables Juana's sexual discovery, given that once Serafina has done this, Juana must grapple with the attraction stirred up by Serafinas performance.
Tirso anticipates the dynamism offered by this performance through the character of Mireno. Serafinas gender transformation runs parallel to the class-climbing achieved by Mireno, who, even prior to finding out his true identity, senses that he is not where he belongs. In Act 1, when he proposes his plan to Tarso, Mireno mentions this feeling: "Mil veces, estando a solas / le he preguntado si acaso / el mundo, que a cada paso / honras anega en sus olas, / le sublimo en su alto asiento / y derribo del lugar / que intenta otra vez cobrar / mi atrevido pensamiento; / porque el ser advenedizo / aqui anima mi opinion" (368-76). Long before Serafina gives her cross-dressed performance, Mireno introduces the themes of social mobility and self-fashioning and thus cements the dramatic possibilities contained in the work via category climbing. Foreswearing his position within the strict early modern hierarchy, Mireno recognizes his place outside the binaries that characterize his culture. His invitation to Tarso reflects this new consciousness: "Si quieres participar de mis males o mis bienes, / buena ocasion, Tarso, tienes" (403-05). He can define himself and his plan as neither one nor the other, an intermediary position that propels both the play and his journey within that play.
As Conlon explains, when Serafina presents herself to Juana dressed as a man, Juana seems fairly openly attracted to her. According to Conlon's reading, Juana can more overtly express her desire for Serafina the woman by articulating it as attraction to Serafina the man. I argue, however, that such a reading looks through Serafina the cross-dresser, and that she is neither man nor woman in this moment on stage. Just as Mireno juxtaposes his "bienes" and "males," Serafina immediately clarifies to Juana that she is still a woman while her appearance simultaneously contradicts this fact: "no te asombre / que apetezca el traje de hombre, / ya que no lo puedo ser" (764). The emphasis on the in-between and the use of contrast then extends to Serafinas metatheatrical discussion, as she mentions several opposing elements that make up the theater: "Para el alegre, ?no hay risa? / Para el triste, ?no hay tristeza? / Para el agudo, ?agudeza? / Alli el necio, ?no se avisa? [...] / ?No hay guerra para el valiente, / consejos para el prudente, / y autoridad para el grave?" (764--65). Having established the intermediary nature of Serafinas theatrically composed identity and its link with the theater itself, a performance can then follow in which Serafina continually confuses reality and dramatic artifice, forgetting herself and pulling Juana into her performance. From Serafinas position not as man or woman but as woman posing as man, a breakdown of several categories occurs: it becomes difficult to define Juana's desire as strictly hetero or homosexual, and the layers of performance and reality multiply and intersect.
In addition to the overlapping and blurring of these categories, Serafinas crossdressed performance with Juana then makes possible the next moment of recognition, given that this performance inspires the portrait Antonio has requested. As Melveena McKendrick points out, the portrait was another popular theatrical device that facilitated Baroque contemplations of art within art as well as imitation and identity. Portraits also indulged the fascination with "the shifting interplay of illusion and reality, image and self-image, self-expression and socio-sexual role-play" given the neo-platonic notion of them "as a combination of image and idea [...] paintings of the mind as well as of the eye" (Identities 152). Here, Tirso takes advantage of the liminal nature of the portrait to reflect to Serafina a figure that evades gendered divisions. The composition of this portrait perpetuates the blended gender identity Serafina has cultivated, and the text again emphasizes this combination when Antonio consults with the painter. When the painter asks, "En fin: ?quieres que de hombre / la pinte?" Antonio responds "Si; que deseo / contemplar en este traje / lo que agora visto habernos" (1058-62). When Antonio requests a portrait of his love interest, we are reminded that said portrait will not be her but her as a man. Once Serafina then falls in love with this portrait, her repeated commentary on its likeness to her may not be so much narcissism as another reminder for the audience to keep the image out of any designated binary category. The identity, or entity, that defies categorization then makes possible another theatrical ruse and manipulation of identity, since Antonio must divide himself to accommodate for Serafinas new interest: "Don Dionis he de ser yo / de noche, y de dia el conde / de Penela; y deste suerte, / si amor su ayuda me da, / mi industria me entregara / lo que espero" (1084-87). One bifurcated identity begets another, as Serafina and Antonio become both self and other. The cross-dressing act both causes and energizes these divisions and confusions, and for as long as Mireno, Juana, Serafina, and Antonio can remain beyond the realm of binary identifications, the play may continue.
Whereas in El vergonzoso en palacio, Tirso de Molina presents us with a series of characters who get somewhere by way of cross-dressing, Guillen de Castro demonstrates the importance of stage transvestism through a pair of characters who get nowhere without it. La fuerza de la costumbre, described by Melveena McKendrick as "one of the most charming comedies the siglo de oro produced," has not garnered the same critical attention as Tirsos comedia, but delivers a powerful message as related to the importance of role-play in early modern society (Woman 98). McKendrick summarizes the plot as follows:
After twenty years in Flanders, Don Pedro returns to his wife, now that her hostile father is dead, bringing with him their daughter Hipolita. She has been reared by him and has lived at his side as a fellow soldier. Dona Costanza for her part brought up as a girl the son she was left with twenty years before. She has kept him firmly tied to her apron strings and his world is that of his mother's estrado. The central action involves Don Pedro's efforts to make his son Felix a worthy man, but this procedure has its comic parallel in the conversion of Hipolita into a woman. (99)
For McKendrick, the transformative force that ultimately reverses "la fuerza de la costumbre" for Hipolita is love, here presented through a sexual encounter with her suitor, and in this sense, Guillen de Castro combines the dramatic potential of a rebellious heroine with the more commonplace ideology of his time: "In his concept of love as the essence of femininity and his belief in its unstoppable force, Guillen de Castro differs from other seventeenth-century dramatists only in his realistic inclusion of the precipitating power of sex" (102). As Jonathan Thacker stresses, however, this transformation comes at the very end of the work, whereas the parental figures spend most of the play struggling, unsuccessfully, to undo the gendered habits and traits their children have acquired. Given that Castro uses the play to emphasize the embedded nature of role-play, such that transformation seems basically impossible, the sudden recourse to "natural" sexual roles as the determinant for social ones seems "a belated attempt to find a way to feminize her" (33). In Thacker's reading, rather than cementing biological determinism through what he regards as a deus ex machina to Hipolitas character plot, Castro lays the falseness of such determinism bare, creating "an inexplicable (parodie) gap between woman as she is portrayed on stage for the vast majority of the play, and woman as she appears in the textbooks" (35). The continuous struggle for both Felix and Hipolita to change out of their preferred feminine and masculine roles, respectively, coupled with the unlikely ending of Hipolitas transformation, has the overall effect of stressing the importance of role-play in early modern society while exposing its deeply patriarchal tenants.
In addition to social critique, La fuerza de la costumbres emphasis on role-play also points to the theatrical difficulty of its unavailability. As such, the importance of role-play does not just impact the members of its society, but at a theatrical level, its absence impedes the dramatic character development so desired by Felix and Hipolitas parents. Although Felix and Hipolita begin the play cross-dressed, they are not theatrical cross-dressers in the sense that they do not actively take on a new identity before the audience and use it to their manipulative advantage. Instead, they spend most of the play stuck firmly in their established identities, leaving their parents to try and pick up the dramatic slack, as it were, mimicking the actions they would take were they to embody the popular cross-dressing trope. The central conflict of the play, then, becomes about the dramatic deficiency that arises from a lack of the innovative self-fashioning offered by the cross-dressing plot.
Ironically, this theme develops in a play whose central characters begin dressed as the opposite gender. Adding to this irony is the fact that the work opens with Felix commenting on the remarkable, and forced, set of changes he has undergone in order to properly greet the arrival of his long-lost father. His implorations to his mother about the forced rearrangement of his identity serve as the play's introduction: "?Que novedades son estas, / mi senora? ?Que mudanzas? / [...] !Hasta en mi nombre hay mudanza! / ?Ayer Feliciano, y hoy / don Felix?" (39). Felix's initial editorializing will be short-lived, however, as his reticence to speak (echoing womens incomplete access to language) during his attempted masculinization will function as one of his continuing marks of femininity. His initial exposition is quickly overshadowed by his mother's subsequent lengthy explanation of the familial history that has led to the changes he mentions. Later, when Pedro asks Felix why he is dressed in a long robe like a priest, his mother answers for him, explaining that "nunca su animo dispuse / a que mudara el vestido" (43). Shortly thereafter, Pedro inquires again about Felix's dispositions, and his tutor gives another account in place of Felix's own self-description.
As the opening sequence offers an ironic introduction to its primary theme, its presentation of characters also plays upon our dramatic expectations by setting up protagonists who have no luster or motivation to confront the conflict guiding the development of the comedic intrigue. Although the play introduces us to the central pair of protagonists, Felix and Hipolita, we are also given a sense of how much of the action will happen around them, as largely static, rather than dynamic, figures. The secondary characters, Pedro and Costanza, will have to try to find a way to infuse the necessary energy to provoke the expected transformation. During their discussion of the gender switch, both Pedro and Costanza repeat the same refrain in a reference to the play's title that anticipates the difficulty they will face in bringing about the changes they desire in their children: "Milagros que suele hacer / la fuerza de la costumbre" (43). The refrain that linguistically connects them also marks them as the agents who will have to compensate for this force that makes the gender transition so seemingly impossible, and that simultaneously forms the work's social critique of early modern patriarchy.
In order to fill the gap left by Felix and Hipolitas contentment in their supposedly gender-crossed selves, Pedro and Costanza embark on their transformative project, utilizing the tools of the theatrical cross-dresser along their way to infuse the necessary movement of plot. They begin by suggesting a sartorial change for both children that, as more typical protagonists, they might have taken on of their own volition. They use the concept of cross-dressing, or rather, an appropriation of a material object to reconfigure identity, to re-inscribe and predetermine the signification of each object as related to their needs. Representation precedes reality as both parents try to create a dramatic energy that can sustain a reversal. While Costanza attempts to put Hipolita in feminine dress, Pedro introduces Felix to the sword. In both instances, the parental figure attempts to recode the object, creating a new set of associations that fit the change in gender. When Hipolita enters the room in her new outfit, a servant follows close behind with the arms she previously bore. Hipolita, still identifying with her masculinized upbringing, shows more linguistic entitlement than her feminized brother in denouncing this sartorial switch: "Reniego los chapines, / del vestido y del tocado; / impertinente cuidado / de tan mal seguros fines" (45). She then delivers a speech praising, and lamenting the loss of, her sword, taking it from the servant. Don Pedro follows this up with another tribute to the sword, trying to re-signify it for Felix as an object that defines his honor, and by extension, his masculinity. Here, Don Pedro chooses the material accessory to introduce the same social concept that he will spend the rest of the play provoking his son to care about and defend, arguing, "Es la espada, al lado asida, / en el que tiene valor, / un respeto del honor / y un resguardo de la vida; / y no ha de darla rendida / aunque vea peligrar / la vida que ha de guardar; / porque aunque no le convenga a la vida, es bien que tenga / la honra el primer lugar" (46). In contrast to Hipolitas bravado, Felix shows little affinity for the sword, and chooses a brief, apologetic response that maintains his feminine stance. While both parents choose outward wares as the key to initiating a reversal of gender and social role, trying to inscribe them with the proper meaning for each child, these efforts prove fairly fruitless as each protagonist seems destined to remain stagnant.
After attempting a literal cross-dressing of Hipolita and Felix, Costanza and Pedro move on to metatheatrical deception. Rather than encourage their children to develop manipulative schemes, they form them themselves, making Felix and Hipolita the objects, rather than the agents, of the play's enredo. Making up for the lack of comedic intrigue normally produced by the effects of a cross-dresser's newly formed and integrated identity, Don Pedro spends Acts 2 and 3, with the help of other characters, coaxing Felix to retrieve the glove of his love interest, Dona Ines. Getting Felix to properly care and then act on this possible affront to his honor proves difficult. During the third act, Don Pedro and Don Luis are still clarifying the connection between violence and honor. Luis presents this option to Felix: "Matar su contrario haga de noche con una daga, o con un palo de dia," to which Felix responds "Y ?podre cobrar asi yo la opinion que he perdido?" (65). The female characters of the play similarly try to make Hipolita feel affronted as well by suggesting that her love interest, Luis, has married another woman. Whereas normally this type of dishonoring would provoke a radical character change, born out of necessity to recuperate social credibility, Hipolita continues to interpret this news with the code still proving so evasive to Felix. In her reaction to Don Luis's supposed betrayal, Hipolita specifically contrasts the opposing terms she can use to define her emotional response: "Pero burlose con engano injusto / del honor y del gusto, / pues esto en mi valor ?que ha sido? / afrentas son, aunque parecen celos" (68). Though the female conspirators who design the ruse hope Hipolita will take the bait and opt for "celos," she defines Luis's offense with the term "afrentas," maintaining the masculine interpretation that Felix is only slowly beginning to grasp. Late in the game, Pedro and Costanza have made little progress.
Desperate for social (and theatrical) normalcy, the parental figures of La fuerza de la costumbre try to coax their children into cross-dressing back to the genders implied by their biological identity by using theatrical cross-dressing techniques: first a sartorial switch and then a metatheatrical ruse. For the most part, these efforts do not seem to have their intended effect until the conventional ending of the play takes hold. Furthermore, once they do, the last-minute reversals are of an ambiguous nature. On the one hand, Felix returns Dona Ines's glove and then utters the play's refrain, thus reclaiming his social and dramatic agency. Nevertheless, the play's ending does little to reverse the disparity in the two sibling's access to language. In addition to the "deus ex machina" feel of Hipolitas transformation as argued by Thacker, Hipolita does not seem to lose the linguistic license of narration even in confirming her gender reversal, elaborating her sexual encounter to her mother, as well as the events leading up to it. In this speech, she continues to outwardly and openly express her interest in Luis (a habit her mother tried to break throughout the play and scolded her for) while eschewing the feminine pose of silence. Both her narrative mode and the content produced by this mode imply a certain preservation of her former masculine self. Felix's relationship similarly marks the remnants of his previous feminine pose, given that he does not narrate his moment of transformation like Hipolita. Instead, the Capitan enters to give a lengthy account of the moment for the other characters and the audience. The play does not dramatize either metamorphosis, and instead uses the necessary narration of these moments to signal the gap in either character's supposed return to a masculine or feminine gender role.
Without the typical enthusiasm for self-fashioning exhibited by the cross-dressed heroine, the characters of La fuerza de la costumbre find it difficult to bring about change and the play follows them in their attempt to create play and movement despite the cross-dresser's absence. Lacking the creative act of this heroine and her negotiation between categories, even the strict necessities of patriarchal society cannot undo what Felix and Hipolita have become. By mimicking the dramatic tactics of a cross-dresser, their parents do ultimately push them towards transformation. In the end, Felix and Hipolita become heterogeneous figures due to their relationships with language and the manner in which they communicate themselves to the audience. This blurred, incomplete gender identity signals the way in which Costanza and Pedros prodding produces an in-between of subjectivity fitting with the moving-out-and-around of categories implied by their cross-dressing strategy. If the female cross-dresser was the key, missing piece of Castro's play, all four characters have done their best to reproduce her by its close, with Hipolita and Felix embodying her ability to break down binary separations.
In a play in which so much goes awry, one aspect of identity remains firmly normative: the desires expressed by Hipolita and Felix. Despite their crisscrossed gender identifications, both siblings possess starkly heterosexual desires throughout the play. In the first act, shortly after attempting to follow their parents' instructions of transformation, they each meet a prospective love interest. Luis begins pursuing Hipolita, impressed by her fighting abilities, and Felix finds himself spellbound by Leonor. While on the one hand, their masculine and feminine behavior (respectively) create a discourse of something akin to same-sex desire, from a material perspective, what we know to be two biological men fall in love with two biological women without any hesitation or mistaken identity. In contrast to the erotic tension between Serafina and Juana in Tirsos El vergonzoso, as well as any number of other plays featuring cross-dressed characters, neither Hipolita nor Felix attract their same sex, which would facilitate the depiction of a thinly veiled homoerotic, but ultimately indeterminant, desire. Felix, though thoroughly confused about how to interpret the honor code, has no trouble immediately adopting the poetic language of a tortured courtier to establish his romantic inclinations, exclaiming "!Oh, quien pudiese / en los brazos y en el alma / recogerla otras mil veces!" after catching a fainting Leonor (49). During this same exchange, Luis confirms his desire for Hipolita. Though both siblings struggle with the proper behavior to convey within these courtships, Castro leaves no doubt surrounding the basic facets of their desire. Without the allure of the new, unknown male (actually a female cross-dresser) who arrives to compete with the play's galan, same-sex desire has no veil to make it safe. As a consequence, one normally confused result of gender confusion remains clarified: the play does not dally in the blurring of normative sexuality.
In addition to tantalizing male audience members, the female cross-dresser makes movement and discovery possible, temporarily suspending the divisions that kept early modern subjects in place and generating uncategorizable desires and deceptions for them to play off of to their advantage. In Castro's play, she becomes the absent hero, a phantom lingering in the background as the unspoken missing element that could remake Hipolita and Felix. In the end, Pedro and Costanza's efforts to compensate for this figure yield the in-between of their missing heroine. This same in-between propels Juana's desires, Serafinas self-conception, and Antonio's pursuit of Serafina in Tirsos play. In both cases, cross-dressing functions as a dramatic vehicle of personal transformation, indispensable and called upon in the case of its absence. A closer look at the function of transvestism in both plays reveals the manner in which playwrights used the figure, and its ability to confuse categories, as a lens to examine and refract the early modern subject as represented on stage.
In both Tirsos and Castro's plays, the female cross-dressing figure proves essential, and the breakdown of categories offered by her deception goes beyond that of the man/ woman divide. Her move between genders is, in reality, the basis for a crisis of category at all levels, with personal character transformation as one of its results, as is the case in both ploys examined here. In La fuerza de la costumbre, the end product for Hipolita and Felix, an in-between of gender roles marked by individual relationships to language, cannot be separated from the play's form, such that style and content enmesh just as the genders do. As the boundaries of self loosen, so do those separating the characters from their implied author. In El vergonzoso, a series of divided characters emerge after Serafinas cross-dressed performance, generating an obscuring of the categories defining sexuality, personality, and reality (as distinguished from representation). At the same time that Serafina contemplates theater and loses herself in it, she, while posing as a "he," unravels the representational hold the work places on its subjects, allowing them to reinvent themselves and making them entertaining to the audience. The dynamism of the figure, then, rests on her ability to recreate the creative process that produced the play and the characters in the first place. As Friedman explains, "En la metanovela, la metapintura y el metadrama hay una representacion figurada del metodo del artista y del proceso de la creacion" (21). In these plays, this representation occurs by and through the female cross-dresser and her profound ability to suspend the categorical limitations that cement identity. In this process, she both imitates and suspends representation's constitutive hold on reality, pointing out to viewers of the comedia the construction of the early modern play and the early modern person as she re-constructs them, and herself.
These two plays both call our attention to cross-dressing's usefulness in carrying out personal transformations from the stage. The stage practice of transvestism makes possible reversals at the level of personal identity that also entwine with the discourse of the drama. The presence (or absence) of cross-dressing in these plays points to the way in which female transvestism provided a source of dramatic energy indicative of the comedias, reliance on liminality as one of its foundational precepts. We can trace in these plays a need for the "in-between" as a vehicle, a way to move the play along and to make the art form more complex, and hence more stimulating, for audiences. If early modern Spanish literature teeters perpetually between conflicting artistic, commercial, and institutional (normative) interests, the public theater offers a fairly straightforward model for such a negotiation. The play begins and ends with recognizable types and social configurations, all of which are thoroughly questioned, upended, and parodied for the play's duration. While interpolated stories allowed narrative mediums to weave socially marginalized characters and perspectives into the development of the novel, the commercial theater expressed the dual interests that would determine its success and survival through two identifiable points of reversal. In the middle space in which playwrights could challenge those normative moments that begin and end their work, the female cross-dresser allowed for a strengthening of the artist's imaginative power, not just challenging dominant perspective, but fully distorting perspective itself in its visual and stylistic forms, creating tropes upon tropes, deceiving deception, and blurring the lines that defined early modern subjectivity.
The version of questioning and reordering carried out by the cross-dresser does not just generate an unintelligible form of gender, but it further upends the very communicative components that signify for the attending public. In El vergonzoso, Serafina's affinity for cross-dressed theatrical performance brings to fruition a replication of liminal images that shift between embodied performance and artistic representation. In the case of La fuerza de la costumbre, the gap between story and discourse widens as word begins to stray further and further from appearance. The dramatic irony and the paradoxical realities enhanced by the cross-dresser for the audience allow the play to move forward (or not, in the case of La fuerza), while defining the boundaries of the art form itself. Her version of category crisis and its innate ties to theater, or rather, her disruption of binary distinctions as a form of dramatic energy, demonstrates how the reversal constitutes the "play" of the play. It is what allows the play to happen and the art form to continue. The liminal moment, in this sense, is what "makes" the play, it is what sustains a dramatic development that entertains audiences and keeps them coming back. By taking this upheaval to its social and stylistic limit, the female cross-dresser calls our attention to what is theatrical: a series of overturnings that make art a mirror to more theater, interminable, yet carefully defined and controlled by the playwright. A closer look at the female cross-dresser of the Spanish comedia points to how playwrights rooted their unique brand of dramatics in gender reversals and, ultimately, how drama is defined in its seventeenth-century context.
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Rosie M. Seagraves
(1) For a more detailed discussion of costuming and the comedia, see Laura Bass's discussion of teaching El vergonzoso. As she points out, clothing played a major communicative role in early modern Spain in both daily life and theater, made only more transparent by stage transvestism.
(2) Other scholars have made similar observations regarding the popularity of female cross-dressing in Western culture as a whole. Vern L. Bullough, for example, argues in his discussion of medieval transvestism that its acceptability correlates directly with "status concepts" as related to gender, or rather, dressing as the more highly valued sex constitutes a rise in social status, and hence becomes more socially acceptable (1382). Marjorie Garber also stresses that Western culture justifies instances of cross-dressing by encoding them as part of a "progress narrative" in which increased social mobility tempers the threat of the gender-bending practice. In other words, if the cross-dresser engaged in the act of transvestism to gain something (a better job or other forms of social privilege), the threat to social hierarchies organized around gender neutralizes (67-92).
(3) Matthew Stroud, in his examination of queer desire in the comedia, explains that stage cross-dressing allowed for the exploration of same-sex desires, so that "the comedia raises the fears of sexual fluidity, of transgression, of perversion, of women usurping the power of men, of the traps of sexual expectation, of desire out of control, then calms them [...] " (83). Sidney Donnell interprets female cross-dressing as a form of gender parody that highlights the early modern crisis of masculinity occurring outside the stage stemming from events such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the loss of Iberian unity (47).
(4) The design of the art form itself suggests the symbiotic relationship between successful dramatic entertainment and transvestite-based intrigue as presented on stage. Victor Turner, who discusses liminality as it relates to social ritual and forms of public entertainment, argues that artists enjoy great freedom to "play with the factors of culture [...] in a much more complicated way than in the liminality of tribal initiations, multiplying specialized genres of artistic and popular entertainments, mass culture, pop culture, folk culture, high culture, counterculture, underground culture, etc." (40). Dramatists enact this play, or rearrangement of cultural elements, in the middle of the comedia, prior to a normative marriage ending. The very word "entertain" reflects the liminal essence of representation, since it derives "from O.F. entretenir, to "hold apart," that is, to create a liminal or Iiminoid space in which performances may take place" (41). The cross-dressing character accelerates play by inserting another in-between, here, of gender identification, within the liminal structure that facilitates entertainment.
(5) Lope de Vega's El perro del hortelano also deals with this theme, given its protagonist's last minute, albeit falsified, claim to nobility. For a comparison of the two plays, see Friedman ("Resonancias") and Dixon.
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|Title Annotation:||articulo en ingles|
|Author:||Seagraves, Rosie M.|
|Publication:||Confluencia: Revista Hispanica de Cultura y Literatura|
|Article Type:||Ensayo critico|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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