The clothes make the man: cross-dressing, gender performance, and female desire in Johann Elias Schlegel's Der Triumph der guten Frauen.
The author of this play reshaped German and Danish theater on both practical and theoretical levels. Born in Meissen on 17 January 1719, Schlegel attended the Furstenschule at Schulpforta and studied law, philosophy, and history in Leipzig. From 1743 on, he lived in Denmark, where he worked in diplomatic services in Copenhagen and then later taught at the Ritterakademie at Soro, where he died on 13 August 1749, aged thirty. (1) Schlegel's literary output was substantial; he composed numerous comedies, tragedies, dramatic fragments, translations, and theoretical works on aesthetics and dramaturgy. Schlegel helped found the Danish national theater in Copenhagen in 1747, and his efforts inspired proponents of a national theater in Germany. Schlegel's later tragedies depicted national motifs, an innovative step at the time. Herrmann deals with the Germanic military leader who defeated the Romans in AD 9, and Canut and Gothrika, written in Denmark, treat Danish subjects. Schlegel also published a moral weekly, Der Fremde, written from the perspective of a German expatriate in Denmark.
Der Triumph derguten Frauen was well-received by Schlegel's literary peers. Lessing, for one, praised it as one of the best original German comedies (Lessing 6: 438-40, 442). In Schlegel's day, the play was a theatrical success. Between 1751 and 1780, it was performed by the foremost theater companies in many cities, including Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, and Munich. Schlegel's comedy was also published frequently. Probably written in 1747, it was published in 1748 in Beytrage zum Danischen Theater (see Schlegel 2: 325; Schubert 613) and reissued in 1762 in Schlegel's collected works. The play's contemporary popularity is demonstrated by the fact that it was published in anthologies in Breslau in 1762 and in Berlin in 1767, and in 1763, Colonel Chevalier de Champigny translated it into French. As late as 1783, the play was adapted by Johann Karl Lotich as Sehne Treue! oder Giebt's viel solche Weiber? Lustspiel in funf Aufzugen nach Schlegel. The adaptation remained largely faithful to the original, the major changes being new names for the characters (and for most, as a result, a new social status) and an altered ending.
Schlegel's dramas and his dramaturgical and aesthetic writings have been the focus of scholarly attention for many years. (2) Scholars of Schlegel have been most interested in his historical dramas, Herrmann and Canut, and their relation to themes of nationalism and internationalism. (3) Nonetheless, several authors have dedicated articles or book chapters to Der Triumph der guten Frauen. (4) The issue of gender in Schlegel's work, however, has been raised only rarely. (5)
In her introduction to the 1996 volume of essays, Outing Goethe and His Age, Alice Kuzniar pointed out the relative lack of scholarship on female cross-dressing and female desire in the eighteenth century German lands. (6) More recently, numerous scholars have examined these phenomena in German literature in various periods. Valerie Hotchkiss studies female cross-dressing and reads medieval European literary and historical texts, including numerous German texts, against the background of historical research on cross-dressing women by Rudolf Dekker, Lotte van de Pol, and Julie Wheelwright. Jane Newman examines boy actors playing cross-dressing heroines in German baroque drama. Barbara Becker-Cantarino examines masquerade, gender, and sexual norms in Lessing's Der Misogyne. Last but not least, Elisabeth Krimmer has provided us with an excellent book-length study of cross-dressing women in German literature around 1800. The tradition of cross-dressing women has long fascinated the public, as is attested by the popularity of medieval figures such as St. Joan of Arc, who wore male attire but did not attempt to pass as a man, and the legendary Pope Joan, who was not discovered to be a woman until she gave birth during a papal procession. The figure of the woman who dons male clothing to gain sexual access to other women is capable of inciting societal rage even in our own post-Enlightenment society, as has been plausibly depicted in the 1999 film Boys Don't Cry, based on the life and death of Brandon Teena.
Cross-dressing had had, by the mid-eighteenth century, a long career on the stage; boys performed in female roles in German baroque drama and in the dramas of Shakespeare, whose comedies often featured female characters disguised as men. Actresses in female roles cross-dressed in comedies by Moliere in the seventeenth century and in operas by Mozart in the late eighteenth century. In eighteenth-century Germany, Friederike Caroline Neuber's performances in "breeches parts," or male comedic roles, attracted the attention of Johann Christoph Gottsched, who allied himself with Neuber and her acting troupe in 1727 in order to further his program of theatrical reform (Becker-Cantarino, Der lange Weg 311-12). Cross-dressing was a typical comedic convention, but this practice had a history offstage as well. The historians Dekker and van de Pol have studied cross-dressing among Early Modern women, particularly those in the Netherlands, and they have found that the phenomenon was widespread throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the German lands. The process of bureaucratization (medical examinations, conscription, official identity documents) in the nineteenth century put an end to the tradition (Dekker and van de Pol 11-12, 23, 56-58, 123).
Eighteenth-century women disguised themselves as men for many reasons. Some, especially aristocrats, cross-dressed to protect themselves from attacks while traveling (Becker-Cantarino, Der lange Weg 271; Dekker and van de Pol 43). Others, like the poet Sidonia Hedwig Zaunemann, saw cross-dressing as a means of escaping societal limitations on women. Dressed as a man, Zaunemann liked to ride on horseback through the countryside alone and described this publicly in her poems (Becker-Cantarino, Der lange Weg 270 72). Other women maintained their masculine personae on a long-term basis (Dekker and van de Pol 33; Faderman 55-56). Some accompanied their husbands or lovers on a sea voyage or in the army, some escaped from their husbands, and others eloped with a lover. Several women in masculine disguise joined bands of thieves. Some, often motivated by economics, became soldiers. Finally, numerous women throughout Europe took on a male persona in order to involve themselves sexually with another woman, with or without the other woman's knowledge. Such couples often married officially (Dekker and van de Pol 44-55, 58, 78). Catharina Margaretha Linck, a German woman executed in 1721 for the crime of sodomy, disguised herself as a man for many years, served as a soldier in various armies, conducted sexual relationships with several women, and even officially married another woman, Catharina Margaretha Muhlhahn, not once, but twice (see Muller; English translation by Eriksson).
My analysis of cross-dressing in Schlegel's comedy focuses on how the text constructs and articulates gender roles, desire, and the concept of the sentimental marriage. Cultural critic Marjorie Garber has stated that "[t]he transvestite [...] is both terrifying and seductive precisely because s/he incarnates and emblematizes the disruptive element that intervenes, signaling not just another category crisis, but much more disquietingly--a crisis of 'category' itself" (32). This essay examines the ways in which Der Triumph der guten Frauen takes a potentially liberating historical practice and restructures it by using it to promote the sentimental marriage and by attempting to empty this contemporary cultural phenomenon of any potentially liberating features, thus taming and domesticating the "terrifying and seductive" elements of non-normative gender performance.
Manipulation of Knowledge
Via her masculine disguise, Hilaria constructs an asymmetrical power relation between herself and the male characters in the play, and her power is based on the control of information. Philinte can gain information from Nikander that Hilaria would never learn, such as why Nikander left her soon after their wedding. As the apparently disinterested Philinte, Hilaria can ask Nikander to tell "him" the truth. Nikander tells Philinte that he realized soon after the wedding that he wanted his freedom back: "Nichts in der Welt [hatte sie mir gethan]. Ich hatte sie nur einen Tag zu fruh geheurathet. Denn den Tag darauf besann ich mich, dass es besser ware, wenn ich meine Freyheit behalten hatte. Ich nahm also bey der ersten Gelegenheit meine Freyheit wieder" (405; IV.i.). (7) Sure now that she did not cause his desertion, Hilaria feels confident enough to meet Nikander as a woman. She does not yet reveal her identity, hoping that he will fall in love with her as a woman before reestablishing his married life with her. In terms of the sentimental marriage, it is imperative that spouses remain together out of mutual compatibility and affection rather than obligation.
To win Nikander back, Hilaria uses information she garnered from him as Philinte. Appearing as Philinte's sister, she praises freedom as the prerequisite for genuine love, which marks her as a proponent of the sentimental marriage. For Hilaria, marriage should be free of obligation and should last only as long as two partners love each other. Unsurprisingly, Hilaria's marital ideals win Nikander's approval, since they reflect his own. It remains unclear, however, whether Hilaria is expressing her own views or is merely attempting to find favor with Nikander by echoing his views. Since the text provides us with no other positive description of marriage, we are left only with Hilaria's ambivalently framed description of the sentimental marriage as a positive model for marriage, contrasted with Agenor's tyranny and Nikander's anxiety and unfaithfulness.
Hilaria's strategy to regain Nikander consists also in her efforts, as the supposedly objective Philinte, to present herself, Hilaria, to Nikander in a positive light. Philinte says that the only woman who ever refused bis advances was Hilaria, and this revives Nikander's interest in his wife. Philinte describes Hilaria in positive terms, claiming that she is "[a]rtig genug," "mittelmassig reich," and above all, "so lacherlich tugendhaft" (331; I.ii.).
Hilaria is not alone in attempting to gain control over others by gaining control over knowledge. Agenor, too, would like to create an asymmetrical power relation between himself and his wife Juliane. Agenor searches constantly for someone who will spy on Juliane for him, turning first to the unwilling Cathrine, then to Nikander, who purports to spend time with women in order to educate them morally by boldly criticizing their failings. Based on Nikander's feigned pedagogical goals, Agenor affords Nikander unlimited access to Juliane. However, this disciplinary observer has no plans of educating her morally; he instead intends to seduce her. Agenor again turns to Cathrine to take on Juliane's surveillance. This attempt fails because Cathrine refuses and because Juliane has eavesdropped on rhein. Juliane also learns that her husband wants to seduce Cathrine. What Juliane finds the worst, however, is that Agenor wants total control over her; all other problems spring from this basic attitude. As Agenor puts it: "Hatte ich doch kaum gehoffet, dass ich das uberkluge Magdchen, die Juliane, zu einer so guten und einfaltigen Frau machen konnte! Aber ganz recht, Madame, ehe ich Sie heurathete, haben Sie mich regieret, ich hatte narrisch werden mogen. Nun ist die Reihe an mir; und mein Regiment wird langer wahren, als das Ihrige gewahrt hat" (391; III.vi.). Juliane complains bitterly about Agenor's desire to monitor her, hut Agenor remains undeterred. He hires Frau Agathe as chaperone, hut even hefe, Agenor's attempts at surveillance fail miserably, for Juliane and Cathrine simply ridicule Frau Agathe and throw her out of the house.
Agenor's attempts fall because he has not mastered the technique of eavesdropping, for he deiegates the task to others. He himself eavesdrops on Juliane only once, and not on his own initiative; he is encouraged by Cathrine to eavesdrop on Philinte and Juliane as part of Hilaria's plan to improve him. Hilaria turns Agenor's desires for asymmetrical knowledge and control against him, using his desires to suit her own purposes, for she wants to reform him by demonstrating how his mistreatment of Juliane could drive even his virtuous wife to commit adultery. In a scene staged for the eavesdropping Agenor, Hilaria (as Philinte) attempts to persuade Juliane to elope with "him." When Agenor storms into the room intending to kill Philinte, the latter reveals his true sex: "Erstechen Sie mich nur, Agenor. Erstechen Sie mich, wenn es Ihnen Ehre macht, ein Frauenzimmer zu erstechen" (442; V.ix.). Hilaria educates Agenor by demonstrating to him how easily his shamefully mistreated wife could be seduced, and she warns him that a real seducer might come along to chip away at Juliane's virtue. This finally convinces Agenor and leads to his transformation. He realizes that he has mistreated Juliane, and he asks her for her forgiveness. Thus, Hilaria attains one of her two goals, the reform of Agenor, and with her staging of this attempted elopement she proves herself to be a genius in the manipulation of knowledge.
Given Hilaria's successful use of the technique of eavesdropping and other forms of information control, it is tempting to view the power afforded in Schlegel's text by the manipulation of knowledge as tantamount to power within the marital relationship. This is not the case. Juliane informs Agenor that she knows of his plans to surveil her constantly, yet he hires Frau Agathe to keep constant watch over her anyway. Hilaria fares no better. Only as Philinte does she benefit from the knowledge differential in her own marriage; once Nikander knows her true identity, she can no longer garner or disseminate knowledge in an asymmetrical way. Hilaria's successful manipulation of the technique of eavesdropping when she stages the elopement scene between Philinte and Juliane serves to reform Agenor, but the cross-dressing woman has access to the power of knowledge manipulation only in the guise of a man. Once she has reverted to her female self, she forfeits her paramount position of informed power as Philinte. Despite Hilaria's ambivalently framed professions of marital equality, the role of wife is clearly less powerful than that of husband.
The Best Man Is a Woman
In Schlegel's text, cross-dressing also functions as a means of reinscribing traditional gender roles. In her male persona, Hilaria proves she can play the men's amorous games more successfully than the men themselves, which places her in an excellent position to reform the two husbands. The historian Thomas Laqueur has described the "one-sex model" which dominated medical writing and popular opinion for thou sands of years; in the one-sex model, men serve as the ideal sex, whereas women serve as a less perfect version of men. In the one-sex world, one finds fairly rigid gender roles along with a certain, very slight amount of fluidity in the biological sex continuum. When, as in a famous example, women can become men by jumping over ditches while chasing their swine, one expects that gender would be seen less as a component of a person's essence than as a role that must be performed properly (Laqueur 126-27). Only after the Enlightenment does the view become firmly established that maleness or femaleness makes up the very essence of the person. (8) When a woman's genitalia are viewed to be the same as a man's, the only difference being that the woman's reproductive organs remained inside her body due to a lack of warmth, there is no difference in essence between men and women, only a difference in degree of perfection (Laqueur 4).
One would thus expect Schlegel's drama to emphasize the performative nature of culturally constructed gender over the essential nature of biological sex, and in fact, this is what the drama does. To be sure, there are some oblique references to an essential, "natural" sex in Schlegel's play. Nikander comments on Philinte's appearance, saying that he could pass for a woman: "Philinte [...] hat ein so hubsches Gesichtchen, dass ich glaubte, der grosste Kenner sollte ihn unter dem Frauenzimmer verlieren" (420; IV.viii.). There is something about Philinte which leads Nikander to treat him differently from other men: "Ich weis nicht, was fur ein innerlicher Trieb mich abhalt, dass ich mich nicht an ihm vergreife" (333; I.ii.). Nikander even comes to suspect that Philinte may be a woman in disguise. He suggests that Philinte put on women's clothes and serve as Juliane's maidservant. Cathrine pretends to be horrified, and Nikander airs his suspicions: "Nun! nun! verstelle dich nur nicht, Cathrine. Ich merke bald, dass ich es getroffen habe, weil du dich so ungeberdig stellest" (420; IV.viii.). Can one interpret these moments in the text as examples of the "natural" feminine essence of Hilaria shining through her disguise? Or are Nikander's words merely a comedic device, instances of dramatic irony intended to get a laugh from the audience or, alternatively, a plot device to heighten the suspense by suggesting that Hilaria might get caught in her playacting? Do these moments of near recognition result from weak areas in Philinte's performance of his gender role? Or are all of the above suppositions correct?
Krimmer emphasizes that performative and essentialist models of gender existed side by side and competed with each other during the eighteenth century, which she demonstrates to be a period of transition. She points out that writers who wanted to deny essentialist correlations between gender and the body would generally represent the cross-dressing woman's successful performance of the male gender role; on the other hand, she maintains that writers who wanted to emphasize the body's supposedly essential connection to gender would normally stage the discovery of the cross-dressing character's biological sex (Krimmer 6-10). Schlegel's text does both. Der Triumph der guten Frauen is especially interesting in that Hilaria's performance in the role of Philinte is exceptionally successful and the revelation that Philinte is a woman comes about without reference to the body at all. Schlegel's text thereby clearly emphasizes the performative model of gender. Only Nikander expresses doubts that Philinte is not a man, and Nikander is ultimately convinced of Philinte's maleness. Not only does Nikander fail to recognize his wife dressed as a man, but he does not recognize his rival Philinte when the latter appears in the guise of his sister. Neither Agenor nor Juliane recognizes Philinte in "his" feminine "disguise." Philinte chooses to reveal himself only to Juliane, who is appalled that he should cross-dress. She admits that no one could possibly recognize him in the garb of a woman, and she points out that not even his motivation, which is to gain access to his beloved Juliane, who has forbidden him to see her as Philinte, can excuse his behavior in her eyes. Rather than recognizing Hilaria as a woman once she appears in women's clothing, Juliane merely accepts Philinte's statements at face value, believing that "he" is a cross-dressed man.
The fact that every character in the play accepts Philinte as a man and that Juliane does not realize that Philinte is really a woman even when "he" appears in women's clothes demonstrates that Hilaria is a successful manipulator both of disguise and of gender performance, and it highlights the performative nature of gender roles in this text. An essential femininity is hinted at but is then quickly pushed into the background as the audience is left to admire the skill with which Hilaria presents herself onstage as a man, as a woman, and even as a man cross-dressed as a woman, finally revealing herself--but only at the moment when it suits her to be a woman cross-dressing as a man. Hilaria's revelation of her true identity forms the climax of the play, and this revelation takes place without any reference to the body at all. Hilaria reveals herself by means of cultural artifacts--letters--rather than by means of anatomical features. This manner of revelation stands in stark contrast to the medieval literary and historical tradition and to the contemporary historical situation. In the Middle Ages, cross-dressing women such as the female monk St. Eugenia and female literary characters disguised as men revealed their femaleness by referring to their bodies, and the body of St. Joan of Arc was exposed to display her sex, although in her case, she had not attempted to pass for a man. (9) In the eighteenth century, Catharina Margaretha Linck was also stripped by her mother-in-law and a neighbor to prove her femaleness (Eriksson 33).
When Agenor rushes at Hilaria with his sword and she declares that she is a woman, Agenor believes it is a trick to prevent him from killing Philinte. "Nur Geduld! der Beweis ist leicht," Hilaria claims, then asks Nikander for the letters which she, in the persona of Philinte's sister, had asked him to retrieve (443; V.x.). No one beiieves Hilaria's mere statements that she is in fact a woman; it is only when the written word is consulted that first Nikander, then Agenor, believe that "he" is really a "she." Not once is the body of Hilaria/ Philinte mentioned, even in the context of what is, to speak with Agenor, "eine ausserordentliche Verwandlung" (445; V.x.).
Philinte's transformation into Hilaria, effected in Schlegei's text via the written word, stands in contrast to another contemporary literary depiction of a cross-dressing woman in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's one-act comedy Der Misogyne (written 1748, published 1755, and expanded to three acts in 1767). One can view Lessing's depiction of a second cross-dressing Hilaria as a response, albeit perhaps not a direct one, to Schlegel's comedy. (10) Whereas the gender performance of Schlegel's heroine underlines the cultural constructedness of gender, the masquerade of Lessing's protagonist shifts the emphasis from the performative nature of gender to the ability to see correctly, thereby hinting at an essential gender that one can perceive if one only looks properly. (11) In this play, the misogynist Wumshater (based on the English "woman's hater") has forbidden his son Valer to marry, since Wumshater himself has experienced three bad marriages. Valer's fiancee Hilaria enters Wumshater's house in the guise of her brother Lelio, attempting to ingratiate herself with Wumshater so that he might grant Valer permission to marry her. Disguised as a man, she hopes to circumvent Wumshater's misogyny and win his affection before revealing her true identity. Once Lelio's "sister" Hilaria appears, different characters react differently to her, depending on their ability to see clearly. Wumshater sees little similarity between the two, Laura sees a great deal of similarity, and Lisette recognizes that they are the same person. The fact that Hilaria's performance has a profoundly different effect on each character suggests that the performative and essentialist models of gender coexist and compete with each other in this text to a certain extent.
This becomes even clearer if one compares Lessing's one-act version of 1748 to his later three-act version of 1767. The revelation of Hilaria's true gender comes when she appears "in einer halb mannlichen und halb weiblichen Kleidung," thereby demonstrating that Lelio and Hilaria are indeed the same person (Lessing 1: 338; xvii). In Lessing's earlier version, as in Schlegel's text, no reference is made to the body, for Lessing's Hilaria uses clothing, a cultural attribute, to reveal her gender. Since Hilaria's attire in Lessing's comedy is half masculine and half feminine, the only point which is really proven is that Hilaria and Lelio are the same person. It is not immediately clear whether this person is a man or a woman. In the expanded version of 1767, however, the text hints at an essential view of gender grounded in the body, for Wumshater initially thinks that the person standing in front of him in half-male, half-female attire is still Lelio, playing a joke. Wumshater must resort to the use of another sense, that of touch, to discover that Hilaria is a woman:
Ich sehe nun wohl, wie es ist. Deine Hilaria ist gar nicht da, und der leichtfertige Lelio hat mit seinem Jungfergesichtchen ihre Rolle gespielt. Pfui, Lelio--indem er auf ihn los geht: Nein, nein, so leicht hintergeht man mich nicht. Legen Sie immer diesen zweiten Habit wieder ab, mein guter--indem er sie auf die Achsel klopfen will: Himmel, was seh ich? O weh, meine armen Augen! Wo geraten die hin. Es ist ein Weibsbild! Es ist wirklich ein Weibsbild! (Lessing 1: 1122)
Wumshater's perceptions of Lelio/Hilaria's gender are reflected in the personal pronouns used in the stage directions. As Wumshater approaches what he believes is a man, the stage directions use "ihn"; when Wumshater realizes that he is touching a woman on the shoulder, the stage directions switch to "sie." Lessing's text leaves us with a concept of gender which reflects both performative and essentialist aspects simultaneously. Lelio/Hilaria is able to manipulate the rules of masculine or feminine gender performance so successfully that the other characters all accept her as a man when she appears as Lelio and as a woman when she appears as Hilaria. A performative model of gender is also suggested by Lisette's inability to determine whether Lelio/Hilaria is a man or a woman once she has figured out that they are the same person. The portrayal of gender in Lessing's text is, however, not as malleable as it is in Schlegel's comedy, since Schlegel's Hilaria is seen to be in complete control of her audience's perceptions of her, whereas the performance of Lessing's Hilaria depends to a considerable degree on the capacity of her spectators to perceive her gender accurately.
Returning to Schlegel's text, I would like to emphasize that the depiction of Hilaria's triumph within the one-sex model provides a justification for her moral reform of Nikander and Agenor. Hilaria proves to the less-than-perfect husbands that she is the best, most capable man. She courts women with more success than Nikander can, and she treats Juliane better than Agenor does. Thus, Hilaria demonstrates to the men that they can learn from her, and she is able to reform them.
"Male" Bonding between Women and Men
In order to demonstrate that marriage should be based on mutual friendship and respect between compatible partners, Schlegel's text makes innovative use of the system of male homosocial bonding via cuckoldry described by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). In her analysis of William Wycherly's comedy The Country Wife (1674), Sedgwick emphasizes the central role played by cuckoldry, a "sexual act, performed on a man, by another man" (49). For Sedgwick, this indicates that sexual feelings and behavior between men and women are, in fact, part of a strategy to forge homosocial bonds between men. She describes cuckoldry as an asymmetrical power relationship based on knowledge:
The bond of cuckoldry [...] [is] necessarily hierarchical in structure, with an "active" participant who is clearly in the ascendancy over the "passive" one. Most characteristically, the difference of power occurs in the form of a difference of knowledge: the cuckold is not even supposed to know that he is in such a relationship. Thus cuckoldry inscribes and institutionalizes [...] an impoverishment of horizontal or mutual ties in favor of an asymmetrical relation of cognitive transcendence. (50; emphasis in original)
This description of cuckoldry is reminiscent of the power relationships--which were also based on knowledge--which the characters in Schlegel's play attempt to forge via eavesdropping or spying.
Cuckoldry plays a significant role in Der Triumph der guten Frauen. Both Nikander and, supposedly, Philinte are attempting to cuckold Agenor. These three characters vary in their understanding of the way in which cuckoldry functions, and, much as was the case with eavesdropping, the characters' skill in the technique of cuckoldry determines the power relationships in the play and also the success of each character's goals. The cross-dressing woman successfully uses the tactics of the male cuckolder to gain access to her estranged husband and to demonstrate to Agenor that his mistreatment of his wife has left her in danger of seduction. When Schlegel's text depicts a woman using male disguise in order to gain unlimited access to her husband by competing with him for numerous women in the town, thereby proving herself to be a formidable rival, the text is setting up new norms for marriage: norms of compatibility and even equality. The cross-dressing woman becomes for her estranged husband an individual with characteristics worthy of respect and friendship rather than a woman who merely occupies a space within the economy of male traffic in women and who could be interchanged with another woman. Paradoxically, Nikander's grudging admiration for Philinte's prowess as a seducer will likely disappear once Hilaria puts aside her masculine garments; however, her self-sacrifice as Philinte in paying Nikander's debts will probably lead to more lasting friendship between them.
Both the rivalry between the two philanderers and the innovative ways in which it is manipulated by Hilaria in her masculine persona are instrumental in cementing the bonds between Philinte and Nikander. When Nikander is in danger of being arrested because he has incurred too many debts, Philinte pays off the debts, which greatly surprises Nikander and leads to the latter's transformation. In gratitude, Nikander offers Philinte one of his own lovers. In return, Philinte wants Nikander to meet "his" sister. Thus, the male traffic in women is used as a means of strengthening the bonds of a friendship partially based on the mutual esteem of equal rivals.
Agenor, the other major male character, is acutely aware of the fact that men desire to cuckold each other, and he therefore wishes to keep Juliane captive in his home. Nevertheless, Agenor clearly does not possess a proper understanding of the system of male homosocial bonding via cuckoldry. He fears that he will become a cuckold, yet his excessive fear engenders the very thing he fears, for his insistence that Juliane always remain at home is a substantial part of his mistreatment of her which, in turn, threatens to drive her to commit adultery. Similarly, his desire to place his wife under the surveillance of a trusted spy endangers her virtue when he chooses Nikander to carry out this task. Just as Agenor fails to master the technique of eavesdropping, so, too, does he fail to grasp the symbolic code of cuckoldry, and his failures threaten to bring about that which he fears the most: a lapse in Juliane's sexual fidelity to him.
Nikander, on the other hand, possesses more than adequate skill in the art of cuckoldry. He successfully manipulates Agenor, using misogynistic language to forge a homosocial relationship with him: "Ich hasse die Frauen, aber ich hasse sie so, wie ein vernunftiger Mann die Thoren hasset. Ich wollte sie gern kluger machen" (380; III.ii.). Nikander's combination of hatred of women and reformer's zeal wins him Agenor's admiration and permission to supervise Juliane at all times. It remains, however, unclear whether Nikander's misogynistic comments are his real opinions, as they are couched ambivalently in a scene in which Nikander uses his views to manipulate Agenor.
Philinte proves to be the most successful manipulator of the homosocial system of cuckoldry. By depicting the cross-dressing woman as the most skillful male, Schlegel's text brings into sharp focus the fact that male homosocial system is not intrinsically male at all but can instead be learned. The "male" bonding in the play between a woman and two other men foregrounds the constructed nature of gender roles, even as it propagates normative roles for men and women or for husbands and wives, all via the dramatic construct of the cross-dressing woman.
Juliane's fidelity to her husband prevents her from eloping with Philinte, yet Hilaria shows that she (as Philinte) is potentially capable of seducing Juliane and thereby cuckolding Agenor and successfully defeating her rival Nikander. Although she demonstrates her capability to manipulate the system of homosocial bonding via cuckoldry, Hilaria is not attempting to cuckold Agenor in reality. She has seen to it that Agenor be placed in a hiding spot from which to eavesdrop upon her "seduction" of Juliane, and she expects him to interrupt them at any moment, her intention being to demonstrate to him both the virtuous fidelity of his wife as well as the danger to this fidelity which Juliane's unhappiness presents. One cannot claim that Hilaria does not attempt to cuckold Agenor because she, as a woman, is physically incapable of doing so; cultural historians have documented numerous cases of Early Modern women who disguised themselves as men and enjoyed sexual relations with other women by making use of artificially constructed male genitalia. (12) What is important here is the fact that Hilaria not only toasters the system of homosocial bonding via cuckoldry but that she also turns that system around and uses it to further her own purposes, the moral reform of the tyrannical husband Agenor. In the system of homosocial bonding depicted in the play, men judge each other's worth according to their seductive prowess, as Nikander's servant Heinrich points out when he boasts of his own ninety-nine lovers and his master's two hundred. Hilaria harnesses this system for her own goals. To prevent her husband from seducing other women, she, as Philinte, competes for the same lovers, repeatedly spoiling Nikander's plans.
Sedgwick, commenting on English Restoration comedy, points out that the homosocial bonds created by the men who are competing against each other for women are anything but friendly: "The homosociality of this world seems embodied fully in its heterosexuality; and its shape is not that of brotherhood, but of extreme, compulsory, and intensely volatile mastery and subordination" (66). Hilaria seeks to change this; she grasps the situation and refashions it, forcing it to fit her own purposes of moral reform. When Nikander is about to be imprisoned for not paying his debts, the success of Philinte's own future conquests seems assured. This is not part of Hilaria's plan. As Philinte, she decides not to participate in the asymmetrical homosocial system of power relations, according to which Philinte should be thrilled to eliminate his rival; instead, Philinte decides to lend Nikander the money. This unexpected action leads ultimately to Nikander's transformation. He immediately becomes Philinte's friend and wants to grant Philinte sole access to one of his own attempted conquests, either Juliane, his favorite, or any other one, as a reward.
Hilaria has gained a victory over Nikander by means of her innovative manipulation of the system of homosocial bonding, and in a similar fashion, she turns the male traffic in women around to suit her pedagogical purposes; after listening to descriptions of six of Nikander's prospective lovers, Philinte objects that Nikander has no right to offer him Juliane and that the others are unworthy. Philinte couches his objections in terms that highlight the system of homosocial bonding, in which respect between men is channeled through women: "Ich bedaure dich, Nikander. Ich habe geglaubt, Wunder was du fur ein Held warest. Aber ich finde deine Gottinnen gar nicht anbethenswurdig" (403; IV.i.). Instead, Philinte suggests that Nikander meet a truly worthy woman: Philinte's sister, who will in reality be Hilaria herself in women's clothing. Once Hilaria has forged a trusting friendship between her masculine persona and her husband--a friendship which, it must be noted, has an asymmetrical basis, as Philinte has come to the financial rescue of Nikander and not only refuses any reward from the latter but also goes on to procure Nikander new women--the time is ripe for her to meet him in the guise of a woman. Armed with the knowledge gained from Nikander thanks to her masculine disguise, Hilaria can parrot his own views to him on freedom and matrimony, thereby practically ensuring her success in harnessing his uncontrolled desire and channeling it into the institution of marriage, albeit an ideal of marriage that includes the element of freedom as recompense for the reduction in the number of lovers from two hundred to one.
By depicting the innovative and successful use of male homosocial bonding by a woman, the text foregrounds the constructed nature of gender roles, for it becomes remarkably clear in the play that typical male behavior can be learned by a woman. This perhaps liberating or even, as some might be tempted to contend, subversive emphasis on the artificiality of gender is, however, simultaneously belied by the fact that the text places this example of the female expert in "male" bonding in the service of propagating the patriarchal institution of marriage, which robs the practice of any liberating or subversive elements which modern readers might be tempted to find in the play.
In addition to exploring these various aspects of cross-dressing and gender performance, Der Triumph der guten Frauen provides the literary and cultural historian of eighteenth-century Germany with a rare reference, albeit a cursory one, to female same-sex desire. Schlegel mentioned in letters to Johann Jacob Bodmer that his play was inspired by Richard Steele's 1705 comedy The Tender Husband (Cruger 48-62, esp. 50; [Bodmer] 129; Schlegel 2: 325). In Steele's play, same-sex sexual behavior is depicted onstage: Fainlove, a woman disguised as a man, brashly kisses Mrs. Clerimont. When her eavesdropping husband confronts her with her infidelity, Mrs. Clerimont faints; she wakes up moments later to see her husband kissing what she had thought was a man. Rather than suspecting her husband of engaging in same-sex kissing, she immediately recognizes that her husband has used a mistress in male attire to dupe her. Although Steele's text explicitly depicts same-sex kissing, this kissing functions merely as a device to facilitate the entrapment and subsequent moral reform of Mrs. Clerimont and to make her look ridiculous once she has grasped her husband's tactics. Steele's text barely engages with the topics of cross-dressing women or same-sex desire. Schlegel's text is innovative here. Sexual behavior between Philinte and Juliane is neither depicted nor implied, but it exists as a potentiality, and the text explicitly underlines the cross-dressing woman's role in creating this potentiality:
CATHRINE. Nun! warum stecken Sie die Hande in die Tasche? Wollen Sie nicht todtstechen. Herr Agenor? Geben Sie mir Ihren Degen. Sie muss sterben, nur darum, weil sie ein Frauenzimmer ist. [...] Ein Frauenzimmer soll sich unterstehen, meiner Frau von Liebe vorzusagen? Wenn die arme Frau sich nun hatte bereden lassen, wie grausam ware sie nicht betrogen worden! Nein! das schreyt um Rache! Weg, weg! aus dem Wege! sie muss sterben.
PHILINTE. Nun! hor auf mit deinen Possen, Cathrine. (444; V.x.)
The unmasking of the cross-dressing woman in The Tender Husband, which comes about when a man kisses Fainlove and calls her by her female name, represents only an insult to Mrs. Clerimont. The phenomenon of women who cross-dressed to obtain sexual access to other women is never mentioned. Schlegel's text, however, explicitly calls to mind the death penalty for women engaging in such practices and then immediately ironizes this situation. Since Cathrine is Hilaria's accomplice, she clearly does not want Hilaria executed, and Hilaria dismisses the joke immediately.
In order to understand this ambivalent reference, one must call to mind the historical women who courted other women in the guise of men. Lillian Faderman points out the effect such women had on their communities: "While a woman who engaged in lesbian sex posed no threat, at least to a libertine mentality, as long as she maintained all other aspects of her role as a woman, someone who both engaged in lesbian sex and rejected the other aspects of a female role always aroused societal anxiety" (47; emphasis in original). Indeed, in phallocentric preindustrial societies, whose conceptions of sexual intercourse were based on the idea of penetration, people had difficulty imagining how two women could even have sexual relations without recourse either to clitorises which were monstrously enlarged through masturbation or to artificial penises. Although there were isolated cases of women being investigated for engaging in tribade practices without using male clothing, it was generally the usurpation of male social privilege by means of male clothing and/or instruments which brought society's wrath down upon these women (Wahl 21-23; Faderman 52). Cathrine parodies this "extreme societal anger" (Faderman 52) in her reaction to Philinte's revelation, placing female same-sex contacts in an ironic context, for Hilaria had no intention of seducing Juliane. Further, Hilaria's cursory dismissal of Cathrine's feigned accusation suggests that the virtuous Hilaria would never engage in practices deemed so morally questionable by her society.
In fact, in Schlegel's play, female sexual desire, no matter what the object, seems not to exist at all. The text constructs desire as a male phenomenon. At the outset of the play, Cathrine states as much: "Die Begierde zu verfuhren muss doch gleich in den Mannskleidern stecken" (327; I.i.). Male clothing, indeed, transforms the "so lacherlich tugendhaft [e]" Hilaria, whose virtue consists in her being "unuberwindlich[ ]," into the womanizing Philinte (331; I.ii.). Juliane's virtue also consists in her ability to resist suitors and in her steadfast love for her tyrannical and undeserving husband. She is a passive victim who bemoans her situation yet adamantly resists Philinte's and Nikander's attempts to seduce her. Cathrine is perhaps the most popular woman in the play. Agenor, as master of the household, tries to force Cathrine to become his lover; Nikander and his servant Heinrich make overtures to her, and Philinte joins in the act, though clearly as a ruse. Yet although many of the wittiest lines of erotic banter fall to Cathrine, she herself does not seem to exhibit any active sexual desire. Female desire almost surfaces briefly when Nikander mentions women who are eager to submit to his entreaties, but the audience never gets to see them. Instead, the only female characters presented to the audience are objects of male desire rather than desiring female subjects.
Since the text constructs sexual desire as a male phenomenon, it would be implausible for any of the characters to take Cathrine's comments on female same-sex contacts and her jesting thirst for vengeance seriously. In this case, the phallocentric logic of the play precludes the existence of female desire in general and female same-sex desire in particular. Although the comedy pivots around the very strong character of Hilaria, the male-centered perspective of the play cannot be denied; the anagnorisis is a case in point. Whereas Steele's Mrs. Clerimont rushed at her seducer/betrayer Fainlove with a sword, her counterpart Juliane--who could hardly be more different from Mrs. Clerimont--is not accorded one word of reaction. The revelation of Hilaria's true identity transforms Agenor into a penitent husband and reunites Hilaria with her own husband, the now reformed philanderer, and these two events represent the fulfillment of Hilaria's well-laid plans. The perspective of the woman who was almost seduced has become completely irrelevant, and Juliane is left silenced on the stage until it is time for her to forgive her husband in what seems an almost automatic gesture: "Ihr Gestandniss verdienet mehr, als meine Verzeihung" (446; V.x.).
Nevertheless, this direct allusion to the practice of cross-dressing women is somewhat ambivalent. Women who wore men's clothes, pursued men's occupations, and actively courted other women were perceived as a threat to a society based on male privilege (Faderman 47-54). Although the idea that a woman could take part in such behavior is ultimately ridiculed in Schlegel's comedy, the very mention in Der Triumph der guten Frauen of the practice of cross-dressing in order to gain sexual access to other women brings the concept onto the stage and places the idea into the heads of the audience members, at least as a potentiality.
At the outset of the play, Cathrine claims that masculine attire instills in the wearer a desire to seduce women, and as it turns out, desire is constructed in the text as a purely male phenomenon. Yet Hilaria manipulates the gendered symbolic code of clothing, rather than the other way around. Once onstage with Juliane, the cross-dressing Hilaria begins manipulating Juliane's clothing in an authoritative fashion, inviting the audience or the readers to think about the role of clothing in the play: "Was?" says a surprised Philinte upon seeing Juliane, "Sie sind schon vollig angekleidet [...] ? Sie sollten es doch wissen, dass Sie mich dabey nicht entbehren konnen. [...] Ich will Ihnen weisen, wie man sich kleiden muss. Weg mit dieser Blume! Diese Schleife soll anders sitzen" (334-35; I.iii.). On a symbolic level, one might be tempted to read Hilaria's removal of the flower as an attempt to banish Juliane's traditional femininity, and Hilaria's repositioning of the bow, another feminine accoutrement, could potentially be seen as an attempt on her part to restructure Juliane's performance of her feminine gender role. Hilaria takes control of Juliane's clothing, despite the latter's protests, and turns Juliane into her own creation: "Nun sind Sie auf heute vollkommen. Denn Ihre Schonheit ist mein Werk" (335; I.iii.). Yet Juliane remains fundamentally static throughout the play; Hilaria is able to better Juliane's situation, but she accomplishes this by reforming Agenor rather than by transforming Juliane. Hilaria has much more success with male clothing, which she skillfully uses in order to manipulate and reform both Nikander and Agenor, turning them into her own beautiful creations--into good husbands.
Through the character of Hilaria, Schlegel's text takes the potentially liberating historical practice of female cross-dressing and co-opts it, placing it in the service of the sentimental marriage. In the lives of historical women such as Catharina Margaretha Linck, cross-dressing functioned as an opportunity for women to secure male privilege in a patriarchal society in the form of access to male-dominated occupations or in the form of establishing sexual relationships with other women. Schlegel's play appropriates this practice and uses it to promote the emerging conception of the sentimental marriage based on love, mutual compatibility, and free choice of partners. Nikander's unbridled sexual behavior is channeled into a more socially sanctioned direction, focused solely on one woman, his wife, and Agenor's excessive tyranny is brought under control, without the primacy of the husband's position within the marriage being called into question. When Agenor realizes his mistakes, he undergoes an instantaneous trans formation, even to the point where he offers his wife complete power over him: "Sie konnen uber alles, uber mich selbst gebiethen" (447; V.x.). Immediately, Juliane restrains him, lest he bring the power relationship within their marriage out of balance in the opposite direction: "Nicht zu viel, Agenor, nicht zu viel!" (447; V.x.). The play ends with Hilaria integrating everyone into the proper type of marriage; rational control becomes established, and limitations on sexual behavior become enforced in both marital relationships. In recompense for the limitations placed on men's sexual behavior, the sentimental marriage offers the male characters in the play compatible spouses who are willing to sustain them emotionally.
Hilaria's project, however, is not as successful as it seems. Stephen Greenblatt, in describing Rosalind's transformation in Shakespeare's As You Like It, points out that the phenomenon of female cross-dressing is initially motivated by external necessity and is only temporary: "What begins as a physiological necessity is reimagined as an improvisational self-fashioning that longs for self-effacement and reabsorption in the community" (115). Unlike Rosalind's disguise, Hilaria's cross-dressing is not motivated by the external necessity of protecting herself while traveling but is instead based on a desire to gain access to and power over men in order to reform them morally; nonetheless, Hilaria's powerful performance as a man is indeed temporary, and, within the symbolic economy of this text, a woman can only achieve this educative power in the guise of a man. This demonstrates that the practice of cross-dressing is, in fact, liberating, thereby providing an element which runs counter to and potentially undermines the text's attempts to defuse the practice of cross-dressing by using it as a tactic to propagate the sentimental marriage.
The text provides us with an active, powerful, morally educative femininity in Hilaria, but she can only access this activity and this power by transforming herself into a man. Hilaria is aided by the resourceful and wittily flippant Cathrine, but Cathrine's ability to espouse her own standards of morality is continually hampered by her socioeconomic position; she is repeatedly threatened by Agenor with dismissal when she resists his plans to make her his spy or to seduce her. The only other vision of femininity provided by the text, if we disregard the ineffective elderly chaperone Agathe, who is made to appear ridiculous by the other women in the play, is that of Juliane, the passively suffering, faithful wife, finding strength in her inexplicable love for her tyrannical husband. These are the "good women" who "triumph" in the end. The viewer or reader is offered two choices: passive goodness as a woman, or active goodness as a woman passing as a man, an ambivalent "triumph" indeed. (13) It is Juliane's "triumph" to gain a less tyrannical, potentially more caring husband, at least as long as Agenor remains reformed. Juliane remains a paragon of passive chastity; her virtue or "goodness" consists in her inaction. Hilaria's "triumph" consists in her reintegrating the two wayward husbands, one tyrannical, the other promiscuous, into a conception of marriage based on mutual respect, friendship, love, and freedom. Nonetheless, it is a patriarchal institution in which the wife is subordinate to her husband.
Hilaria's virtue, unlike that of Juliane, is an active, educative virtue, but it depends on her temporary masquerade and is therefore transitory. Once she has succeeded in correcting the husbands' behavior, she no longer has any need of her male clothing. She even playfully alludes to the possibility of continuing her male masquerade, calling Nikander's attention to his invitation to Philinte to dine with him and a beautiful young girl: "Nikander, Sie haben ein kurzes Gedachtniss. Haben Sie mich nicht diesen Abend auf ein hubsches Madchen zu Gaste gebethen?" (448; V.x.) Rather than agreeing to form a menage a trois with his cross-dressing wife, Nikander expresses his newfound interest in monogamous fidelity: "Ich denke an kein hubsches Madchen mehr, nachdem ich Sie wiedergefunden habe" (448; V.x.). Hilaria's comments suggest that continuing her male role might involve sexual transgressions, thus calling further cross-dressing into question. These comments are followed by Cathrine's final words in praise of women's ability to reform men: "Ihr Herren Ehemanner, ihr moget so wild oder so ausschweifend seyn, als ihr wollt. Eine gute Frau findet schon Mittel, euch wieder zurechte zu bringen" (448; V.x.). One can therefore only assume that Hilaria's proposal to continue her role as the womanizing Philinte was meant as a playful test.
Certainly, it cannot be contended that Schlegel's text celebrates the subversive potential of cross-dressing, but the text does display a degree of ambivalence regarding this practice. The play defuses the practice of cross-dressing women by using it to propagate the sentimental marriage, yet it also demonstrates the potential for power and liberation which cross-dressing can provide to women, thereby subverting, at least to a certain extent, the containment of the practice which the text undertakes. Cathrine herself casts doubts upon the success of the men's transformation and, by extension, upon the educative effectiveness of Hilaria: "Die geschwindesten Bekehrungen sind sonst nicht allemal die aufrichtigsten. [...] Das schlimmste ist, dass man bey dergleichen Sachen sich auf das blosse Versprechen verlassen muss" (44748; V.x.).
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EDWARD T. POTTER
Mississippi State University
(1) See Johann Heinrich Schlegel's biography of his brother in Schlegel, Werke, 5: vii-lii; also Eaton 30-56 and Wolff.
(2) For a recent overview of Schlegel's life and work, see Lamport. On Schlegel's dramaturgical and aesthetic writings, see Bretzigheimer, Wilkinson, and Antoniewicz. For analyses of Schlegel's dramatic output, see Hollmer 143-66, 211-27; Meier 147-60; Paulsen; Schulz; and Wolf.
(3) See Detering; Essen 57-97; Krebs; and Namowicz. For a recent examination of Herrschaft in Canut, see Braungart.
(4) The most recent of these is Plassmann 227-50. See also Kandler; Paulsen 77-81; Hinck 224-32; and Wolff 161-67.
(5) On masculinity in Schlegel's Herrmann, see Herrmann, especially pages 34-37.
(6) See Kuzniar, especially 20-22. Much of the scholarship has focused on British and French literature. Literary scholars such as Stephen Greenblatt and Michael Shapiro have concentrated on English Renaissance drama, where boy actors played female characters disguised as men. Gertrud Lehnert has writ ten two surveys of historical and literary cross-dressing women but does not include any eighteenth-century German dramas.
(7) Johann Elias Schlegel, Der Triumph der guten Frauen: Ein Lustspiel in funf Aufzugen, Werke, ed. Johann Heinrich Schlegel, 5 vols. (Copenhagen and Leipzig: Mumme [vols. 14]; Rothe and Proft [vol. 5], 1761-70. Frankfurt am Main: Athenaum, 1971): 2: 323-448. Further citations will be taken from this edition.
(8) See Laqueur 22. Krimmer's study In the Company of Men examines the competition between the more performative one-sex model and the more essentialist two-sex model in literary cross-dressing around 1800. The mid-eighteenth century comedy Der Triumph derguten Frauen is, I posit, firmly invested in a performative conception of gender. Krimmer wisely warns us not to view all cross-dressing as liberating gender subversion, and it is clear that Schlegel's play is very much involved in co-opting and defusing any subversive aspects of the practice of cross-dressing, although the text ultimately remains, at least to a certain extent, ambivalent.
(9) See Hotchkiss 128, 134. The medieval period also boasts a cross-dressing St. Hilaria (sixth century) who lived as a monk (see Hotchkiss 136).
(10) In his 1952 article, "The Original Model for Lessing's Der junge Gelehrte," Charles E. Borden provides convincing evidence that Schlegel's comedic work, in this case, Der geschaffitge Mussigganger, proved to be a strong influence on the young Lessing. Lessing was likely familiar with the work of Schlegel at an early age, for Lessing became close friends with Schlegel's younger brother Johann Heinrich at school at St. Afra, and the fourth volume of Johann Christoph Gottsched's Deutsche Schaubuhne, which contained J. E. Schlegel's Herrmann and Der geschafftige Mussigganger, appeared in 1743, when both Lessing and J. H. Schlegel were at St. Afra, a literary event that Lessing surely noted.
(11) In a recent and insightful analysis of Der Misogvne, Barbara Becker-Cantarino emphasizes the performative aspects of Lessing's depiction of cross-dressing over any "essential" femininity or masculinity: "Hier geht es im Misogynen um 'chimarische Gleichheit' [...] der Geschlechter, 'offenbare Gleichheit' in der Erscheinung; die Dopplung von mannlich-weiblich wird in der Maske, dann in einer Figur, im 'Zwitterkostum,' vorgefuhrt diese wird lediglich als theatralische Moglichkeit auf die Buhne gebracht [...]. Es geht hier um eine scharfsinnige, witzige Auseinandersetzung mit Sexualitat und der Position der Geschlechter in ihrer 'offenbaren Gleichheit' dem Begehren nach der 'Gewogenheit [des] Mannes'" ("Lessing" 136-37; emphasis in original). I would tend to agree with this reading, but I would also like to take the essentialist components of Lessing's depiction more closely into account.
(12) See Faderman 51 52; Dekker and ran de Pol and Eriksson passim.
(13) See Hinck 232 on Juliane's passivity and Paulsen 80-81 on the ambivalent triumph of the women.
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|Author:||Potter, Edward T.|
|Publication:||The German Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2008|
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