"His Play shan't ask your leave to live": Following the Ghosts of Trans Embodiment in Restoration Drama
The relationship between contemporary queer theory and contemporary transgender studies is a complex one, many of whose tensions cohere around questions about the embodiment of gender. This project explores these tensions by tracing the Derridian ghost of the trans body into the Restoration drama of the late seventeenth century. Through a reading of William Wycherley's 1675 play The Country Wife that evaluates the play's relationship between language and the body, and through a reading of Aphra Behn's 1677 play The Rover that brings costumes and the masquerade to seventeenth-century questions about the gendered body, this project builds a way of reading trans bodies in seventeenth-century expressive cultural production. Ultimately, I argue that both The Country Wife and The Rover, although they handle issues of language and of gender in slightly and productively different ways, give us carefully staged and meta-theatrical glimpses into the ways in which seventeenth-century people were thinking, talking, and writing about gender and embodiment. In this project, I bring our present tensions and questions about gendered embodiment into productive contact with the tensions and questions produced in The Country Wife and The Rover, and I explore how such contact speaks to the possibility of spectral trans bodies in these texts. Because these texts, unlike contemporary queer theory and contemporary transgender studies, each find a way to allow for the importance of bodies that are simultaneously real, physical, present, and linguistic, performative, theorized. It is only by acknowledging these bodies in Restoration dramas and bringing them into contact with our more contemporary tensions and concerns that we can build a method for ethically reading trans in expressive cultural production.
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