- Trans* Historical Drama:Bodily Congruence in Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger's Love's Cure and Taylor Mac's Hir
"The more your beard grows in, the more literal you get."Taylor Mac, Hir1
Love's Cure, first printed in the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio but first performed in its existing state either around 1615 or in the early 1630s, is a striking addition to the comic repertory of the King's Men.2 The repertory and, no doubt, the reputation of the King's Men and, before that, of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, was largely established through comedy.3 While the nature of those comedies took various turns—Shakespearean romantic comedy; city comedy; humoral comedy; Fletcherean tragicomedy—Love's Cure is founded on quite different comic assumptions from many of their earlier plays. The script for Love's Cure, whether adapted by Massinger from an original play by Beaumont and Fletcher or worked on as a collaborative play by Massinger and Fletcher, presents not only a conspicuous shift in direction but also something of an implied critique of Shakespeare's romantic comedies in particular.
One of the standard tropes of Shakespearean comedy is performative transvestism, associated with the playwright's famous cross-dressing heroines: Portia, Rosalind, and Viola. The comedy of these performances depends upon a playful suspension of the relationship among actor, character, and costume in which the body of the young male actor does not so much provide sure grounds for the ironic play of transvestite comedy as become a phantasmagorical screen upon which are projected multiple images of variously gendered personae. As Peter Stallybrass argues, it is [End Page 201] the vacillation between invitations to access the body of the player and performances that are, in fact, derived from costume, that the particular effects of the early modern stage are produced:
The interplay between clothing and undressing on the Renaissance stage organized gender around a process of fetishizing, which is conceived both as a process of fixation and as indeterminable. If the Renaissance stage demands that we 'see' particular body parts (the breast, the penis, the naked body), it also reveals that such fixations are inevitably unstable.4
Love's Cure is different. Given that this is a play from the early seventeenth century, the underlying practice of transvestite performance remains but the direction of the play's narrative advances an implied critique of the assumptions upon which the comedy of transvestite performance is based. In place of Shakespeare's capacity to draw on the performative resources of transvestism, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger feature a brother and sister who have been purposely raised as though they really are members of the opposite sex. During the course of the play, they are variously educated, threatened, and violently bullied ("cured") into adopting the gender of their birth-sex rather than that into which they have been brought up. The happy ending of the comedy is, then, dependent on both brother and sister assuming what are seen as the appropriate gender roles. The traditional comic ending of heterosexual marriage now reinforces the gender conformity of the two protagonists rather than, as is the case with Shakespeare's transvestite comedies, providing a platform for continuing ambiguities. Love's Cure seems rather to pose the question: what happens when the disguises of the cross-dressing plot are adopted in earnest?
Because of this, some of the frameworks within which we have tended to construe constructions of gender in early modern dramatic comedy are not applicable to Love's Cure. Where earlier transvestite comedies seem particularly amenable to being theorized through the lens of gender performativity, Love's Cure tests the limits of those interpretations. A typically generative reading of Shakespearean transvestite comedy that takes its cue from theories of gender performativity and, particularly, from Judith Butler's early work on gender-as-performance would be Casey Charles's reading of Twelfth Night. Charles writes that "both Butler and Shakespeare rely upon performance as a theoretical means of shaking the foundations of the metaphysics of binarism and gender hierarchy."5 Butler, in her later work, and as Charles in part acknowledges, falls away from the implications of...