“Betrothed Both to a Maid and Man”: Bisexuality in William Shakespeare’s Crossdressing Plays
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AbstractThis thesis examines the existence of bisexuality in William Shakespeare’s three major crossdressing plays: The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. The past few decades have seen several homoerotic interpretations of Shakespeare's crossdressing plays, but many of these readings argue that same-sex desire is transitional and that because the plays end in opposite-sex marriage, same-sex desire can never be consummated. While a case can be made for these arguments, readings that rely on the heterosexual-homosexual binary overlook the possibility of bisexual identities and desire within the plays.
Historical accounts illustrate that same-sex relationships and bisexual identities did exist during the Elizabethan era. However, I will be examining bisexuality from a modern perspective and, as such, will not discuss the existence, or lack thereof, of bisexual terminology within early modern culture or as it relates to Shakespeare’s own sexual identity.
Instances of bisexuality within the plays will be analyzed through the use of romantic language and imagery as seen in three relationship categorizations: same-sex, opposite-sex, and crossdressed. The nature of romantic language and imagery in each set of relationships not only proves that textual evidence exists for a bisexual reading, but that same-sex and opposite-sex desires are fully realized by the end of each play. By comparing the nature of same-sex and opposite-sex interactions, this thesis concludes that same-sex relationships are given the same respect and legitimacy as opposite-sex relationships, and that same-sex desire does not disappear once a character enters into opposite-sex marriage.
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