The clothes that make the man: The assumption of male disguise in three 17th-century dramas

Kathleen M Maurer, Marquette University


This dissertation examines the phenomenon of women who disguise themselves as men in three 17th century dramas--Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1602), Middleton and Dekker's The Roaring Girl (1611), and Wycherley's The Plain Dealer (1674). It employs a dual approach, benefiting equally from textual analysis and from reconstructing performance history. It offers close textual reading of each play, using psychoanalytic and feminist criticism to examine issues such as the female characters' sense of identity, the roles they fulfill within patriarchal society, their quest for autonomy and self-definition, their sexuality, and the impact the above have on the characters' relationships with other characters. This work also traces the evolution of each play's performance and reception, pairing it with the textual analysis offered in earlier chapters. The compiled performance histories of Twelfth Night, The Roaring Girl, and The Plain Dealer determine the frequency and location of productions, as well as the manner in which each of these plays has been produced. Through this we are able to see how actors and directors privilege specific readings of the work, sometimes reinforcing the established social order and at other times, challenging it. When taken together, textual analysis and performance history allow us to experience each drama more fully and exactly, providing a solid understanding of each play's potency and social power. Research revealed that of the three selected plays, only Twelfth Night has enjoyed any degree of popularity on the American and Canadian stages. However, in keeping with general North American stage practices, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that performances of Twelfth Night began to take risks and stress the more controversial and erotic textual undercurrents. The Roaring Girl and The Plain Dealer, on the other hand, have both suffered serious neglect over the years, due in large part to the gender issues they showcase. However, whereas The Plain Dealer is customarily overlooked in favor of another Wycherley drama, The Roaring Girl is experiencing a rapid growth in its appeal, serving as a springboard for cutting-edge productions which feature this text in drastically revised forms.

Recommended Citation

Maurer, Kathleen M, "The clothes that make the man: The assumption of male disguise in three 17th-century dramas" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9823985.