Gender and Cross-dressing in the Seventeenth Century: Margaret Cavendish Reads Shakespeare
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Is there a woman in Shakespeare? This might sound facetious, but it is not so outlandish in the context of boy actors. Elizabethan drama was after all designed and stagemanaged by men mostly for men. In this context, is there an “essential” woman on the stage? In this essay, I examine issues of gender and sexual identity in Shakespeare’s drama by looking at how one particular woman reader of the seventeenth century, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, perceived femininity in his plays. In particular, I look at what can be read as a commentary on the ambivalent ending of Measure for Measure in her own Convent of Pleasure (1668) to try and offer a contextualized reflection on notions of gender expectations, and issues of reception.