Playing the Early Modern Tomboy

  • Jennifer Higginbotham


This chapter uses the puzzling figure of the “tomboy” to examine the close relationship between boyishness and the queering of gender in early modern drama. Although we tend to think of femininity as being threatening to the social order, I consider the way that the female “boy” exhibits unruly masculinity. I argue that the early modern tomboy’s female masculinity in plays like Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Thomas Lodge’s Lady Alimony, or the Alimony Lady help construct an idea of boyish masculinity that is proper to the male body, even as they reveal the potential for improper female bodies to exhibit sexual desire. Associated with illicit masculinized female desire, tomboys queer our perceptions of early modern categories of childhood by exposing boyish masculinity as a construction. As J. Halberstam says of female masculinity in general, early modern tomboys are “the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity” that enable male masculinity to “appear to be the real thing.”


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Higginbotham
    • 1
  1. 1.Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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