Playfully Emergent Lesbian Erotics

  • Denise A. Walen
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


The cross-dressed heroine was a popular convention in early modern drama—according to Michael Shapiro, nearly eighty texts include the character type.1 Women dress as men in plays to follow lovers, to help them, or to keep them away from other women; to avoid rape, scandal, or death; to travel the countryside freely, and, as is the case of Moll Cutpurse in Dekker and Middleton’s The Roaring Girl, to express gender choices.2 In early modern drama, women in male disguise and the women who desire them can also signify same-sex attraction. Roughly, thirty plays between 1580 and 1660 that employ cross-dressing also include scenarios of female homoerotic desire. Of course, not all cross-dressed heroines evoke a female-female erotic tension, and not all female homoerotics issue from disguised female characters. Why, then, is the disguised heroine such a common plot element in plays that evoke female same-sex desire? What benefit does she offer—what use is the convention to early modern playwrights? Moreover, how do these plays signify homoerotic constructions?


Sexual Attraction Female Character Quiet Life Feminine Quality Female Homoeroticism 
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© Denise A. Walen 2005

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  • Denise A. Walen

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