Cross-dressing on no matter if it was in or off the stage caught a lot of attention. People in short were scared.
What was to become of identity? How could we distinguish between ourselves? How do we know are rich, and who are the distinguishing peasant? How on earth am I to know if this pretty lady is a lady?? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO!?
Even though it may seem ridiculous to us, it was a legitimate fear to the people of Early Modern England (1500-1800). Before they knew that there were biological differences between males and females, the saw the clothes as a symbol of one’s gender. So as you can imaging some people disturbed about this phenomenon. Critics soon rose to the challenge to dispel their issues with it such as Philip Stubbes, quoted by Katie Normington, in [his] Anatomy of Abuses…
“Our apparel was given us as a signe distinctive to discern betwixt sex and sex, and therefore one to weare the Apparel of another sex is to participate with the same, and to adulterate the vertie of his own kind.” (Normington 60).
Cross-dressing to them served a threat to the stability of society itself. During this time, clothing was predetermined but status, not by choice. Other than using the fact of social status to disbar cross-dressing, the critics of it put religion into the argument, specifically Duetrronemy 22 which states the very act of cross-dressing as an abomination….
The “problem” of cross-dressing was seemingly going out of had that even “the monarchy was aware of the political dangers of cross-dressing. Elizabeth I strengthened sumptuary laws in 1597 to regulate male to female gender distinctions, maintain separate rank and classes, and protect the linen and wool trades.(Normington 61)
Transvestism disrupted the common and monotonous neat categories that “kept the society in order’. It it a sense brought to light how wrong the system was. as expanded by Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, to the minds of the mundane and follower, “Clothes…were closer both to a second skin, a skin that names you” (Jones and Stallybrass 32)However, those who dared to break put of that, revealed how easily one could flow from one category to the next. This begs the question, what exactly makes people of different social tiers and even genders different. What makes the rich and masculine superior?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
⊗Normington, Katie. Gender and Medieval Drama. 1. Vol. Woodbridge, Suffolk;Rochester, NY;: D.S. Brewer, 2004. Web.
⊗Jones, Ann Rosalind, and Peter Stallybrass. Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Web.