Publication Year



Literature, theater, acting, character, cross-dressing, gender


Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Gender and Sexuality | Theatre and Performance Studies


When a person dresses up as something other than himself, then he creates a different person. Actors, especially display this talent for creating another person, or character. As the boys actors of Shakespeare's time portrayed women characters to their audiences, they relied upon the use of costumes and disguise to achieve this feminine depiction. Disguise essentially enabled these boys, especially the successful actors, to put on another self. This person or the "I" then becomes the "Not I" and eventually the "I" becomes alienated and separated from his or her fellow characters. Because of the physical dominance of the "Not I," the "I" cannot be fully expressed and displayed to others. Even after the veil of the "Not I" vanishes, its residue still remains. Questions concerning how much of the "Not I" exists in the "I" therefore arise, and we as members of the audience must wonder about who or what really wears the mask. Although we see the initial masking of the actor, we still experience confusion when we attempt to analyze the different personalities within the actors and the characters they portray to their audience. In Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety, Marjorie Garber writes that, "Cross-dressing is about the anxiety of economic or cultural dislocation, the anticipation or recognition of 'otherness' as a loss." According to this statement, the very action of dressing up and promoting a sense of "otherness" leads to a loss and an imperfect fulfillment of desire. Williams Shakespeare depicts an environment where the "I" and the "Not I" become similarly entangled and ambiguous. In the comedies of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It, strong examples of the "Not I" and its initial power as well as eventual isolation exist. The cross-dresser, or more specifically the "Not I," comes to represent the latent desire and incomplete gratification the "I" experiences within the conclusions that each of these comedies presents. As the audience watches the "Not I" and the "I" on stage, its members must wonder how anything can reach a true resolution in the play when the characters never completely reveal all of their identities to each other as well as the audience. In this manner, cross-dressing especially illustrates our frustration as observers, since although we know what even the characters may not, we cannot completely accept the conclusions to their dramatic actions.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status

English: Literature and Writing