Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Early Modern Cross-Dressing and its "Cure"

Title page of Hic MulierEarly 17th-century London had a problem: cross-dressing (gasp!). Apparently, women in the city had taken to dressing like men and having their hair cut in manly styles. In 1620, in response to this trend, an anonymous author published a pamphlet called Hic Mulier: Or, The Man-Woman. Beginning with a  quotation from Virgil, "Non omnes possumus omnes," the tract purports to be a "medicine to cure the Coltish Disease of the Staggers in the Masculine-Feminines of our Times."

Inner page of Hic MulierThe author's strategy to win over his transvestite audience is dubious, at best: he addresses his comments to them directly, but immediately begins by telling them that they "have made Admiration an Asse; and fool'd him with a deformity never before dream'd of" and that they "have made [themselves] stranger things than ever Noah's Arke unladed." Even the title, Hic Mulier, is designed to underscore the socially discordant spectacle of a woman wearing breeches: Hic is the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun, paired with the feminine noun Mulier. Things go downhill from there.

To see the other ways that the author fails to connect with his intended audience, come to Rauner and ask for Rare HQ1148 .H5 1620.

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