By Elizabeth Klett (auth.)
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Extra resources for Cross-Gender Shakespeare and English National Identity: Wearing the Codpiece
This tunic emphasized Shaw’s concealed femininity: by showing the audience the bindings, the costume at once hid and acknowledged her breasts, which suggested the presence of her female body. She also wore a long white robe in several scenes that was cut with a full skirt, in a style more feminine than masculine. These costume choices encouraged the audience Fiona Shaw’s Richard II 39 to speculate on Shaw’s body beneath the clothes and to attempt to fix gender upon her mutable body. While certain costumes combined with the male character may have indicated masculinity, the imagined appearance of Shaw’s body beneath the wrappings provided both presence (of female breasts) and absence (of male genitalia).
The actresses’ interpretations show that the theater can open up gender, character, text, and author to new and transformational meanings, which is why they are perceived by the press as threatening to the status of Shakespeare within the culture, and, as a result, to English national identity. The Threat to English National Identity The critical controversies over these productions in the press confirm their threatening nature. It is evident from reading the reviews that many critics are well aware of the challenges that the actresses pose to mimetic theater, gender, and Shakespeare, and thus use a variety of devices to dismiss them and to make them look ridiculous.
Yet others, such as Carl Miller (1995), detected “more than a whiff of sexuality . . from [Shaw’s] Dick” (21). My own response to the production finds that the performance offered a queer reading of the relationship between Richard and Bolingbroke. Gender and sexuality not only mattered; they assumed a centrality that broke new ground in the performance history of the play. ” Because of these disruptions of masculinity, Shakespearean authority, and national identity, the critics reacted negatively, confirming the power and importance of the production.