Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Cell Analogy: The Cell- Part 1 Renaissance and Transvestites

In light of my previous post regarding the "Bigger Issue", or the "So What?" part of my ongoing argument that methods of gender exploration in the Renaissance echo that of today's modern blogosphere, I decided to go with the analogy I used in yesterday's post to create another series of posts which echo my more scholarly trilogy exploring this same topic. Each constituent part of this series builds upon the next to create the "Big Picture" in the end. Note, I am a science freak, thus the biological analogy.
Let's start with the issue of gender identity, particularly let's explore a female taking masculine roles.
Thanks to my colleague, Neal, and his comment on a previous post, this post will address Renaissance exploration of gender and Queen Elizabeth's role in that exploration differently than in previous posts. Neal suggested including more in terms of the transvestite theater and how Elizabeth's Tilbury Speech "performance" echos that prominent social platform.

Renaissance Society
The Renaissance was a homosocial society prominently male dominated, yet the crown was held by a queen, Elizabeth Tudor, who claimed to be a King and "convert[ed] her reign, through the perpetual love tricks that passed between her and her people (Bedford). Her reign was during the height of the transvestite theater in England, this type of theater being a place where men and boys dressed and played both male and female roles. In addition to adopting the dress of female characters (as the definition of "transvestite" is "One who wears the clothing of the opposite sex" [OED]), the male actors adopted characteristics usually associated with the female gender and performed accordingly.

Transvestite theater
=male actors taking a female role, combining both physical appearance, or sex, of a female as well as feminine mannerisms, or the feminine gender.

Switching Roles
Elizabeth was once quoted saying "We princes, I tell you, are set on stages, in sight and view of all the world" (Bedford). Standing on that political stage (her passion was the theater of politics [Bedford]), Elizabeth adopted both traditional and transvestite roles as necessity dictated. In her famous Tilbury speech where she rallied her men against the threat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth played the role of the men's general, judge and leader, boldly proclaiming "I have the heart of a King- and a King of England too." Visually, Elizabeth fulfilled her male role by donning the "costume" of battle armor from the waist up and even claiming her physical features to be that of a King, the title "King" typically associated with the male position in monarchy. When it is understood that "Renaissance historiography constituted a masculine tradition...devoted to the deeds of men, glorifying the masculine virtues of courage, honor and patriotism" (Rackin) and we read of Elizabeth promising to her men "By your obedience to my General, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom and of my people" we see she is recognizing those three elements of courage, honor and patriotism and participating in a very masculine tradition of honoring those characteristics of her men.

Many "Me's"
Just as you dress differently for a presentation than when you go to the gym, presentation of self differs depending on situation. Did Elizabeth use masculine characteristics and clothing to permanently make herself male? No, in fact all the pictures painted of her depict her in lavishly feminine attire. The situation at Tilbury necessitated the emergence of her more masculine "Me," the novel aspect here being she, as a female, seemed to possess masculine qualities which she readily put forth. Situation creates gender characteristics. Is that a fair statement to make? If Elizabeth were married I feel it safe to say her husband would have been out there, rallying the men. Yet she wasn't married. She was the monarch, the King, the masculine leader her men needed at that point. This emerging masculinity creates the idea of the hermaphrodite, a being with both sets of masculine and feminine characteristics. Could this be characteristic for all, not just females? Do we all possess pieces of our other hermaphroditic half (see my previous post, The Hermaphrodite, for more on the idea of the hermaphrodite) and simply suppress those pieces to create a dominant gender? It seems the bolgosphere suggests this is possible and possibly occurring right now...more on that next!


  1. Becca, I like the way you include your thesis right in the beginning and then use kind of a teaser/transition into your next post. It is clear and I want to read the next section.

  2. I concur! With Ben. I think also that the way you used a picture, not just as a placeholder, but as something to refer to and analyze, is excellent.

    Also, I just saw this article in the NYT, about gender switches in Sweden, that has some really interesting points...they may not have a lot to do with this post, but would be interesting to compare with past ones maybe:

    Here's an exemplary quote from it: "Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” Ms. Ohlsson, who has lobbied European Union governments to pay more attention to fathers, is eight months pregnant, and her husband, a law professor, will take the leave when their child is born."