Critics’ Reviews

Despite the popularity of these plays during the Renaissance period, there were many critics (declared as anti-theatricalists) that publically voiced their disapproval of cross-dressing in theater. Listed below are a few of their critiques.


“These theatrical productions involving cross-dressing need to end NOW. The self is fixed and stable; uniform and distinct; female and male (Levine, 10). There is no ‘third sex’ that Freud is so keen on mentioning. There is no ‘in-between’ status in gender (Sponsler, 27). There are women and men. They are two completely separate and unique sexes that have their own distinguishable set of attire.

Cross-dressing blurs those gender lines and causes social instability and utter chaos within
a society (Sponsler, 27). What is the reason for dressing women in men’s clothing and vice versa? Are the playwrights trying to deceive us, the innocent audience, simply trying to be entertained without being tricked (Shapiro, 241)? How are we to be assured that, once the play is over, the actor changes out of character and continues with his regular life (Prest, 6)? We are not. Here is an idea: all male plots (Prest, 47). No women. At all. Avoids all problems, eliminates the physical disruptions in the playhouse, and keeps the divinely order in line (Sponsler, 43; Prest, 11). Men play men; there is no need for women, either symbolically or literally, in theater.”

-Jonas Barish 1643 (pictured far left)


“Deuteronomy 22.5: ‘A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing’ (Stone, 2). Women who cross-dress refuse to settle into their fixed social place prescribed by biblical authority (Stone, 2). Enough said.”

-Phillip Stubbes 1635 (pictured middle)


“The 1579 pamphlet wars should have been enough of a reason to stop this atrocious cross-dressing or cross-casting or cross-crapping practice (Levine, 10). Theater structurally transforms men to women (Levine,10). It starts with “only clothes”, but it will develop into a biological transformation that should terrifying every single member in the audience (Levine, 10).

As William Prynne said in his 1000 page tract, a man in women clothes will degenerate into a woman (Levine, 10). Simple as that. I mean, even Antony in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” lost his warrior masculinity from just merely being around a woman (Levine, 44)! He cried in Act IV, focused more on love than war, even Caesar claims Antony is just as manlike as Cleopatra (Levine, 44-5).

Theater transforms men into women. I am not sure how many times it needs to be said before we completely ban theater. The English did it in 1642, and even though it did not hold, if the ban goes global it is bound to be successful (Prest, 11).”

-Henry de Vull 1667 (pictured far right)


IMG_6736         IMG_6721         IMG_6752

                  Jonas Barish                                           Phillip Stubbes                                          Henry de Vull

To end tonight’s production, we would like to wrap up with a look ahead towards the future of cross-dressing in the arts. Thank you for coming to the All-Star production of “Clothed Confusion”. We hope you enjoyed this production and look forward to seeing you again soon!

By the end of the 18th century, cross-dressing in both theater and literature decreased in popularity (Gatrell, 139). As in the entertainment world, the attitude towards every day cross-dressing evolved too. Finally, after 2000 years of a “one-sex” belief, it was medically understood that both men and women are biologically different (Gatrell, 139). Women were no longer cross-dressing to “fix their lack” because now society understood they were not lacking anything at all; women simply had a different anatomical makeup (Mounsey, 137). Actually, people tended to prefer the female reasoning when paired with the male logic (Gatrell, 139). Ultimately, like in the saying “womb to tomb”, people enter this world in correct gender apparel and exit this world in the same fashion (Barnes, 23). Yet, they have the choice and ability to dress to their desired liking in between their birth and death.



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Comensoli, Viviana. Enacting Gender on the English Renaissance Stage. Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Doniger, Wendy. The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Gatrell, Simon. Thomas Hardy Writing Dress. Bern: Lang, Peter, AG, Internationaler Verlag Der Wissenschaften, 2012.
Hess, Erika E. Literary Hybrids: Cross-dressing, Shapeshifting, and Indeterminacy in Medieval and Modern French Narrative. New York, NewYork: Routledge, 2004.
Hotchkiss, Valerie R. Clothes Make the Man: Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe. New York, New York: Garland, 1996.
Levine, Laura. Men in Women’s Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization, 1579-1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Li, Siu Leung. Cross-dressing in Chinese Opera. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003.
Mounsey, Chris. Presenting Gender: Changing Sex in Early-modern Culture. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press ;, 2001.
Prest, Julia. Theatre under Louis XIV Cross-casting and the Performance of Gender in Drama, Ballet and Opera. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Shapiro, Michael. Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
Solomon, Alisa. Re-dressing the Canon: Essays on Theater and Gender. London: Routledge, 1997.
Sponsler, Claire. Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Stoll, Anita K. Gender, Identity, and Representation in Spain’s Golden Age. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press, 2000.
Stone, James W. Crossing Gender in Shakespeare Feminist Psychoanalysis and the Difference within. New York, New York: Routledge, 2010.
Thomas, Jane. Thomas Hardy and Desire: Conceptions of the Self. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Washington and Lee University Writing Center