Exploring the concept of cross-dressing in Shakespeare's plays: uncovering the SHE
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This paper aims to study ‘Cross-dressing’ as a recurrent and significant element in the plays of William Shakespeare. It will show how ‘Cross-dressing’ of the characters, mainly of the female characters in the plays of William Shakespeare not only serve as a literary tool to enhance the dramatic appeal but posits avenues of cultural and gender stereotypes to be reviewed in a new light. This paper shows how through ‘Cross-dressing’ or by altering socially determined attires, the female characters in Shakespeare could subvert the traditional gender roles dictated upon them. To put it in the simplest, ‘Cross-dressing’ or ‘Transvestism’ serves as the liberty of the female protagonists of Shakespeare confined in a patriarchal paradigm. To do so, this paper will give close readings to some of the very successful plays of William Shakespeare in order to go to the depth of analyzing ‘Cross-dressing’, its possible derivations and its probable effects in and after the play. While analyzing the concept of crossdressing this paper also finds it significant to discuss about the Elizabethan society and its women in their subordinate position to men as Literature tends to revolve within the sociocultural atmospheres of its age. It will also talk about the cultural metonymy associated with clothing as clothing is never free from gender-bias and it projects further distancing of women. The paper will also talk about the ‘female body’ as the center of politics of male gaze and how ‘Cross-dressing’ liberates the female body in Shakespeare’s plays. This paper will then engage into the debates of whether or not this recurrence of ‘Crossdressing’ was after all a well thought de(ad)vice on the part of the playwright which demands our critical attention. The works of Shakespeare which have been chosen for this paper are as follows: The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. This paper is divided into four segments with an introduction followed by three chapters of close reading of the selected plays which contrive cultural and gender theories for further explanation and finally reaches to the conclusion. In the first chapter I will introduce the key terminologies and concepts which have played a significant role in achieving the framework of the thesis. In the second chapter, I will discuss about the nature of the ‘Presence’ of the ‘Patriarch’ or the ‘Father’ both in the society and in the plays and how they mirror each other. In the third chapter, I will discuss how cross-dressing could weaken this ‘patriarchal presence’. In the final chapter, I will show how the female heroines or the ‘Damsel in distress’ of the chosen plays are uncovering their inner faculty by covering their feminine appearance and henceforth establishing ‘Cross-dressing’ as an important way out to patriarchal authority. This is how my paper will show, how ‘Cross-dressing’ helps the heroines to take male disguise and compensate for their loss of control.