Monday, August 12, 2013

Amanda Haberstroh: “MasterMistress”

Amanda Haberstroh

MasterMistress: Heteronormativity and Gender
Expression in Love’s Cure

“I must, and will put on / What fashion you think best: though I could wish / I were what I appeare.” (Clara, Love’s Cure, 1.3.35-37)

1> The greatest concern in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Love’s Cure, the principal question that guides the entire play’s action, is to what extent is one’s gender identity predetermined (nature) and to what extent is it influenced by social pressures (custom)? Siblings Clara and Lucio, raised separately by their opposite sex parent, spend their developmental years hidden in cross-dress. Clara, in exile with her father Alvarez, is dressed as one of his soldiers, while Lucio, at home with his mother Eugenia, dresses and behaves as a daughter. When Alvarez and Clara are safe to return home, the children are expected by their parents to adopt not only the clothing appropriate to their physical sexes but also the corresponding gendered behaviors. Alvarez assures Eugenia on the process to restore their children’s natural gender identities: “…our mutuall care must be / Imploy’d to help wrong’d nature, to recover / Her right in either of them, lost by custome…."[1] Throughout Love’s Cure, the characters search for the authentic gender identities of Clara and Lucio, ones that Alvarez and Eugenia hope will match their physical sexes; however, the play’s ultimate resolution proves that there is in fact no authentic or natural identity that has not already been externally influenced. One’s gender identity is in many ways always already coaxed into certain patterns of socially recognizable behaviors; the search for one’s authentic, uninfluenced, natural gender identity leaves one (as it leaves siblings Clara and Lucio) merely to perform behaviors already predetermined by social forces. The performance brings the siblings no closer to discovering an unadulterated gender identity in spite of the play’s tidy ending.

2> Although readers today understand that gender and sexuality are not necessarily linked to one another, Beaumont and Fletcher’s early modern English audience would likely have been familiar with a socially-accepted concept of an idealized gender identity, one that follows heteronormative patriarchal roles. In this view, those who are masculine are also strictly physical males, while those who are feminine are also strictly physical females. Richard Mulcaster expands on this idea in his 1581 treatise Positions, wherein he explains that, particularly in the case of nature versus nurture, the upbringing of a specifically gendered child falls to the responsibility of the parents in order to align that gender with the child’s physical nature (God-given, according to Mulcaster). He asserts: “…we have it in commandment, not only to train up our own sex, but also our female, seeing he hath to require an account for natural talents of both the parties, us for directing them, them for performance of our direction."[2] To Mulcaster, and to Beaumont and Fletcher it seems, one’s gender identity represents both innate elements (Mulcaster’s “natural talents”) as well as performances from guided instruction of authoritative parties in children’s lives. Already Clara’s wish to be what she outwardly represents in her apparel is challenged—she laments her father’s requirement that she must change her appearance because she does not feel that she embodies the femininity she will perform. Clara, Lucio, and their parents move throughout the play in order not only to restore “natural” gender identities but also to retrain the siblings’ natures according to heteronormative social expectations. While Clara and Lucio seem to want to please their parents (as any dutiful child should), they struggle against a lifetime of training for the opposite gender performance, and express dissatisfaction that their “authentic” natures are not more easily aligned with their socially prescribed genders.

3> While their father Don Alvarez is exiled, he and Eugenia raise their opposite-sex children separately. The decision seems to have been made almost entirely by accident—Clara is sent away with her father and dressed as a boy, Lucio. Eugenia, pregnant with Lucio upon Alvarez and Clara’s departure, is left behind; when Lucio is born, Eugenia chooses to dress him and train him as a girl called Posthumina in an effort to protect him against the threat of revenge by Alvarez’s enemies.[3] Upon his return, Alvarez instructs Clara that she must “forget” her male name, for they are to be reunited with their estranged family members:

My lovd Clara
(For Lucio is a name thou must forget
With Lucio’s bold behavior) though thy breeding
I’the camp may plead something in the excuse
Of they rough manners, custome having chang’d,
Though not thy Sex, the softness of thy nature,
And fortune (then a cruell stepdame to thee)
Impos’d upon thy tender sweetnesse, burthens
Of hunger, cold, wounds, want, such as would crack
The sinews of a man not borne a Souldier….[4]

4> Alvarez reveals his deepest concern with having raised his daughter as a boy: through custom, the expression of her gender has become hardened. Alvarez’s fear localizes on whether or not Clara has been ruined as a woman who behaves like a man; he hopes that Clara will be able to easily revert to her “natural” feminine state.

5> Clara responds to her father’s speech as a dutiful child of the period would to a respected parent: “Sir, I know only that / It stands not with my duty to gaine-say you, / In any thing: I must, and will put on / What fashion you think best: though I could wish / I were what I appeare."[5] Clara’s wish leads to two different interpretations. Does Clara wish she were physically male in order to justify her masculine appearance? Or, does she wish that she could be feminine in order to match her physical femaleness? At the root of Clara’s wish is a desire for authenticity—she recognizes a jolting disconnect between her nature and the performances she has been coached into. Wishing to be what she appears suggests that Clara is uncomfortable either with her physical nature or her gender performance; to Clara, the mismatch is disconcerting and in need of exploration. Alvarez breezes past his daughter’s concern, in a move that follows the advice of Mulcaster, simply telling her, “Endeavour rather / To be what you are, Clara, entring here / As you were borne, a woman."[6] In spite of the training he has provided his daughter into the realm of masculine gender performance, Alvarez seems confident that Clara’s physical nature will win out—he sees as authentic one’s physical nature that informs the proper gender identity performance. Because Clara is a female, her natural inclination should be to perform femininity; Clara does not seem as confident as her father after a lifetime of learning the performativity of masculinity. If a truly authentic, unadulterated gender identity existed, it would stand to reason that Clara’s identity would not be easily influenced by coaching in gender performance. In a move that not only upholds heteronormativity but practically defines it, Beaumont and Fletcher solve Clara’s crisis with the introduction of love interest Vitelli. For it is not until Clara falls in love with a masculine man that she fully embraces the performance of femininity, particularly as a submissive member of the patriarchy.

6> Meanwhile, Eugenia prepares Lucio for his reunion with Alvarez and Clara, indicating that she, too, believes he should have little trouble embracing his performance of masculinity, particularly with his father as a guide:

No more Posthumnia now, thou has a Father,
A Father living to take off that name […]
Thou shalt appeare
To be such as I brought thee forth: a man,
This womanish disguise, in which I have
So long conceal’d thee, thou shall now cast off,
And change those qualities thou didst learn from me,
For masculine virtues, for which seek no tutor,
But let thy fathers actions be thy precepts.[7]

7> Believing her son was brought up to perform femininity by merely observing his mother’s actions, Eugenia explains to her son that he will now learn masculinity through the observation of his father’s behavior. Alvarez and Eugenia unknowingly agree with one another that heteronormative gender expression is easily picked up—just as Lucio believed his femininity came naturally, now that he has been granted permission to act as a male, he should be capable of mimicking his father’s masculinity.

8> Lucio, playing the role of a dutiful daughter who expresses very little opinion in the matter of socially-preferred gender expressions, does not contradict his mother nor does he reveal hesitation in embracing masculinity. Instead, he responds several moments later describing the outfit he would like to wear in order to meet his father: “Pray Madam, let the wastcoat I last wrought / Be made up for my Father: I wil have / A cap and boote-hose sutable to it."[8] Eugenia placates her son with a promise to consider apparel after they have made welcome preparations; Lucio agrees to help his mother and does not again mention his choice in apparel. As the prototypical dutiful daughter, Lucio plays the role perfectly—his interests are shallow and vain (rather than expressing any interest in meeting his father or, more importantly, in the decision that he will now have to forego his femininity), and he is easily distracted from one concern in order to diligently obey the authority figure directly above him (in this case, Eugenia). While Clara has a moment to express some reluctance to the impending and forced change, Lucio does not hesitate to change his outfit. It is not clear at this point whether or not Lucio fully comprehends what his mother is asking of him; it seems that Lucio only understands that she has asked him to stop wearing gowns in favor of waistcoats and hose. As the play continues, however, it is Lucio who seems to have the greatest trouble “reverting” to his “authentic” masculine gender identity. Just like Clara, Lucio soon discovers that gender performance and expression have little to do with simply changing one’s outfit.

9> Upon reuniting their children with one another, Alvarez and Eugenia acknowledge the role their training (custom) has had on the gender identity performances of Clara and Lucio. In spite of the roles the parents have played in supposedly altering their children’s gender identities, Alvarez recognizes an opportunity to correct the wrongs. He suggests they each work on retraining the same-sex child, offering a friendly challenge: “…we’ll contend / With loving industry, who soonest can / Turne this man woman, or this woman man."[9] Alvarez acknowledges the work that lays ahead of the two parents in order to restore “natural” gender identity performances, but by the end of Act One he and Eugenia underestimate the struggle their children will undergo in order to shift their senses of Self. Just as Clara has assumed for herself, Alvarez and Eugenia also indicate a belief in the existence of a natural, authentic identity. In spite of Clara’s wish to be what she outwardly represents, her desire is not particularly subversive or radical. In fact, she and her parents are a great deal aligned with heteronormative social performances of “natural” gender identities; however, the search for an authentic, unadulterated gender identity leaves the dissatisfied family relying a great deal on outward influences: express gender performance training and love.

10> Interrupting an impromptu tutoring session over the ways to perform masculinity between Bobadilla (Eugenia’s servant) and Lucio, Clara enters dressed in a gown. She has obvious difficulty maneuvering within the confines of the skirts: “…brother why are womens haunches onely limited, confin’d, hoop’d in, as it were with these same scurvy vardingales?” Bobadilla responds, “Because womens haunches onely are most subject to display and fly out."[10] Having had little exposure to women’s fashion, as well as to the patriarchal function that fashion had, Clara struggles to understand why women are made to wear clothing that does not allow them the freedom of mobility. Used to her masculine breeches, Clara is an awkward caricature of femininity. Bobadilla, realizing that she needs as much instruction in gender performance as her brother, offers a description of the genders that is typical of the patriarchy:

…I have like charge of you, Maddam, I am as well to mollifie you, as to qualifie him: what have you to doe with Armors, and Pistols, and Javelins, and swords, and such tooles? remember Mistresse: nature hath given you a sheath onely, to signifie women are to put up mens weapons, not to draw them: looke you now, is this fit trot for a Gentlewoman? You shall see the Court Ladies move like Goddesses, as if they trod ayre; they will swim you in measures, like whitting-mops as if their feet were finnes, and the hinges of their knees oyld: doe they love to ride great horses, as you doe? no, they love to ride great asses sooner: faith, I know not what to say to’ye both: Custome hath turn’d nature topsie-turvy in you.[11]

11> At once mocking and instructive, Bobadilla attempts to explain to Clara her place within the patriarchy as a woman—she has a specific role to serve, which is dictated by her relationship to men. She is a sheath while men are the weapons; her physical femaleness requires a specific submission toward those who are physically male, and the patriarchy regulates this submission. Should Clara be in search of her socially prescribed, “authentic,” gender identity performance, Bobadilla lays it out clearly for her: she must put away her masculine posturing and the outward show of phallic weapons. Bobadilla assures Clara that other women are much more adept at being feminine and chides her for her preference to act in a masculine manner. Exasperated, he blames the siblings’ gender confusion entirely on their upbringing (custom).

12> The resonating concern throughout Love’s Cure, perhaps the lesson Beaumont and Fletcher repeatedly underscore, is the tenuous relationship between a natural identity (one’s physical sex) and the influence of social pressures (custom). When he finds Clara and Lucio dressed according to their physical sexes but not behaving according to their prescribed gender performances, Alvarez laments, “How now Clara, / Your breeches on still? and your petticote / Not yet off Lucio? art thou not guelt? […] Art thou not Clara, turn’d a man indeed / Beneath the girdle? and a woman thou? / Ile have you search’d by—, I strongly doubt; / We must have these things mended…."[12] Alvarez speaks to the suspicion that through the wearing of gender-specific clothing, a physical change in sex is possible; to this end, he even threatens a physical search of his children’s bodies to determine the truth. David Robinson points out that, “Alvarez intends this question sarcastically. No search takes place, and gender deviance rather than anatomical change remains the characters’ concern."[13] Perhaps Alvarez does mean his question sarcastically, as Robinson suggests; however, the line should not be dismissed simply because the search never occurs. Alvarez’s desperate threat to search his children’s bodies for physical changes indicates his frustration that they are not more successful at reverting to their “authentic” natures; he is obviously worried that the link between nature and custom in gender identity performance is stronger than he and Eugenia previously imagined.

13> The parents’ constant reiteration that nature has been perverted by custom reaches Lucio and Clara in such a way that they themselves likewise cannot conceive of another way of existing within their gender boundaries. Lucio asks his sister, “When wil you be a woman?” Clara replies, “Would I were none. But natures privy Seale assures me one."[14] Despite their discomfort in their new attire, Clara recognizes that she (and likewise Lucio) must play the role predetermined by physical nature: she is physically female and therefore must be a woman. This dialogue with Lucio recalls Clara’s earlier conversation with Alvarez, in which she wishes she could be what she appears; Alvarez condemns her wish, telling her to behave according to who she is, which suggests that her father believes Clara’s authentic gender identity is aligned with her physical sex. This ontological question of being male or female seems to be predetermined according to physical appearances rather than the siblings’ psychological or emotional needs. The unrelenting rule of physical sex forces the siblings into clothing and genders that do not suit them; however, by play’s end, their discomfort is resolved by their apparent innate heterosexuality. Referencing her own physical femaleness, Clara does not mention whether or not Lucio should change his behavior according to his physical maleness. According to Anne Duncan in “It Takes a Woman To Play a Real Man”:

Masculinity exists in Love’s Cure only in performance. […] Femininity, on the other hand, seems to be grounded in anatomy. Yet femininity exists (only) in performance as well. This assertion seems paradoxical, given that several characters in this play define femininity as absence, or passivity, which would seem to be impossible to “perform.” Clara, however, reveals that passivity is as much of a performance as action, that it too is performed upon another person, that it requires both an object and an audience.[15]

14> According to the early modern heteronormative demonstration of gender identity, masculinity takes root in demonstrable anger—when a man is angry, his masculinity entices him to fight against the cause of that anger. For instance, when Bobadilla watches Lucio emerge for the first time attired in men’s clothing, Bobadilla flies into a rage. It is not the clothing that has angered Bobadilla; rather, he is frustrated by Lucio’s constant complaining and his incessant need to participate in feminine matters, such as minding the kitchen staff.[16] Lucio does not take to his lessons in masculinity because he is used to the more passive, supervisory roles of the aristocratic female. This struggle to accept the new gender identity performance expected of him might suggest that Lucio’s authentic gender identity is truly feminine; this possibility is at the root of Bobadilla’s anger and Alvarez’s anxiety. Incensed by Lucio’s seemingly stubborn unwillingness to play the part of a man, Bobadilla physically threatens the young man in an attempt to coax anger from him as well.[17] His attempts are fruitless, however, as Lucio refuses to draw his sword and instead attempts to pacify Bobadilla’s anger through gentle words. Lucio performs the gender identity of passive femininity beautifully—it is the lack of action in the face of violence that demonstrates Lucio’s ideal feminine gender. Bobadilla, representing social heteronormative expectations of gender identity performance, struggles to comprehend Lucio’s calm demeanor in spite of repeated insults and intensifying threats.[18] Although Lucio appears stubbornly to refuse training in opposition to his childhood upbringing, he himself wrestles with following Bobadilla’s lead, which flies in the face of what Lucio believes are his natural and authentic gendered responses.

15> The characters express consternation that the natural can be influenced by custom and that custom’s influence may not be immediately reversed; however, they also offer multiple demonstrations that indicate a clear and direct link between the two powers. But what of authenticity? The characters of Love’s Cure, while they desperately seek a sense of an authentic gender identity performance that is clearly natural and necessitates little guidance, ultimately realize that the very concept of a performance relies upon inauthenticity. Gender identity performance exists because social prescriptions and expectations exist; an authentic, untouched, uninformed identity performance is one that may not be socially recognizable and therefore risks alienation or correction. As characters in a comedy, Clara and Lucio are not alienated but they are corrected. It is not until Clara understands that her place as a woman is subordinate to her male sexual partner (a role eventually to be played by Vitelli) that she finally chooses a new gender identity performance, one that is no longer masculine but that aligns with her female physical nature. Likewise, Lucio’s reeducation completes its cycle when he meets and falls in love with a female potential sexual partner, Genevora.[19]

16> Delivering the play’s final lines, Vitelli concludes that it is only through the power of heternormative love (sexual arousal) that these cross-gendered siblings can be corrected: “Behold the power of love: lo, nature lost / By custome irrecoverably, past the hope / Of friends restoring, love hath here retriv’d / To her own habit, made her blush to see / Her so long monstrous metamorphoses."[20] Where friends were incapable of restoring the siblings to their “natural” sexes and genders, Vitelli attributes the final success of reeducation to love. Robinson argues that, “Nature must be rescued and reeducated by Love, who must be male, since he only operates in this play between oppositely sexed individuals. At the same time, the passage treats as natural the gender change wrought by love, a mere retrieval of something lost, while portraying the original effects of custom as supernatural, a ‘monstrous metamorphosis.’”[21] Robinson’s interpretation of the scene is not only heteronormative (Love represents masculinity which forces the supposedly female Nature into submission) but also a bit cynical—to suggest that love is a “mere retrieval of something lost” forgets if not wholly ignores the struggles and confusion both siblings undergo upon the first stirrings of sexual attractions to their partners. Both siblings are forced by their love interests to make a choice because neither Genevora nor Vitelli will tolerate the cross-gendered performances.

17> Lucio, an authentically passive character whether or not masculine or feminine, does not welcome his role as an active male sexual partner when he first meets Genevora. Arguably, Lucio’s very passivity, particularly in the face of sexual attraction to a female partner, would be understood according to early modern heteronormativity to be femininity. Because of this, Genevora takes a temporary active role in rejecting Lucio’s advances until he is capable of releasing his inclination to passivity. Upon meeting Genevora, Lucio maintains the feminine speech patterns he learned as a child while attempting to describe physically male experiences. Begging Genevora for a kiss (rather than simply raping her as Alvarez suggests to him earlier), Lucio is obliged. He immediately experiences sexual arousal for the first time:

What strange new motions do I feele? my veines
Burn with an unknown fire: in every part
I suffer alteration: I am poysond,
Yet languish with desire againe to taste it,
So sweetly it works on me. […]
How can this be?
She is a woman, as my mother is,
And her I have kiss’d often, and brought off
My lips unscortch’d….[22]

18> Describing arousal as “new motions,” a peculiar burning in his veins, and “alteration,” Lucio seems to be experiencing an erection.[23] According to Beaumont and Fletcher’s characterization of it, arousal in men is expressed differently from women: for the “gentler” sex, desire manifests as submission and weakness in the face of masculine strength and virility. The erect penis in the male, however, represents a desire that is active and actionable—with his erection, a man is able to penetrate and subjugate a woman. Peter Berek argues in “Cross-Dressing, Gender, and Absolutism in the Beaumont and Fletcher Plays” that in terms of Lucio’s arousal, “[e]rection and contemplated orgasm remasculate the womanish youth.”[24] In this view, Berek argues for heteronormative physical proof of masculinity, which conflates and potentially confuses the boundaries between gender and sexual identities. Because Lucio has experienced an erection (a physical response to sexual attraction), his masculinity (gender identity) is restored. The trouble with claiming that Lucio has been “remasculated” is that it assumes that Lucio, as an apparent heterosexual male, was ever masculine to begin with, a supposition that suggests only masculine males are capable of sexual attraction to the opposite sex (and perhaps simultaneously to the opposite gender).

19> In terms of understanding his attraction to Genevora, Lucio unfortunately does not have access to years of training in masculinized rhetoric in order to describe the experiences; instead, he must rely upon effeminate descriptions, which may lead to confusion about that which he is attempting to describe. According to Robinson:

…the first half of the passage [4.4.12-16] makes Lucio’s gender change sound like a sex change, a bodily change, insofar as he reports physical sensations. […] Even more interestingly, the new emotions have not, in fact, precipitated a gender change from feminine to masculine. For in the second half of his little declaration, Lucio emphasizes the conventionally and paradoxically unmanning effects of love: it’s a sweet poison that leaves him languishing, craving, suffering. All three verbs, while technically active, convey a passive state. Hence the final line [4.4.16]: something is being done to Lucio, something is working on him.[25]

20> According to Robinson and Beaumont and Fletcher, love’s curative power is in its ability to both masculinize and feminize—true heterosexual love, in a heteronormative performance, will work to create males and females who can appropriately love one another. Although Robinson is astute to point out the passivity of Lucio’s word choice, the reading is limited. Lucio indeed appears to be a victim of a sexual arousal that is capable of working upon him without consent or choice. Lucio, however, should not be read as fully cured from his femininity in this passage alone; and, surely, some level of forgiveness ought to be extended toward the youth for his inability to express in masculine vocabulary these new and strange sensations. Not yet a dominant male, Lucio’s entrance into masculinity seems to take more finesse than does Clara’s femininity; while Clara is expected to understand her place innately and to obey that natural order, Lucio undergoes specific training and tests in order to demonstrate his masculinity.[26]

21> In spite of (or perhaps because of) the failure Bobadilla experiences when attempting to train Lucio to accept as natural a masculine gender identity performance, Beaumont and Fletcher present Genevora as a stand-in tutor who will ultimately be successful, underscoring the play’s title: love is curative in a heteronormative society where masculinity and femininity are assumed to pair together. When Genevora creates a scenario that should allow Lucio the opportunity to demonstrate his machismo, Lucio falls short.[27] He understands that it is not enough to use his words (a feminine expression), but he must act like a man:

My womanish soul, which hitherto hath governed
This coward flesh, I feele departing form me;
And in me by her beauty is inspir’d
A new and masculine one: instructing me
What’s fit to doe or suffer; powerfull love
That hast with loud, and yet a pleasing thunder
Rous’d sleeping manhood in me, thy new creature,
Perfect thy worke so that I may make known
Nature (though long kept back) wil have her owne.[28]

22> Again, Lucio acknowledges masculinity as a gender that rises rather than one that is subdued (as in the case of Clara’s femininity); in fact, his masculinity, he comes to realize, is one that had always already existed within him (naturally), “sleeping” until desire causes it to rise. This arousal of masculinity is not enough, Lucio recognizes, to win the affection of Genevora who suggests that she is attracted to “real” (presumably masculine) men.
23> Employing some language of action, asking the personified Love to instruct him “[w]hat’s fit to doe or suffer.”[29] Although his request for instruction of what to “suffer” might ring effeminate, Lucio offers a double-entendre for the feminine word: perhaps he foresees himself suffering through the forced act of fighting Lamorall for the stolen love token. As a newly masculinized man, Lucio does not have the experience of fighting victoriously to offer him a thirst for the duel (unlike his sister Clara). Instead, the fight is suffering for Lucio, but his use of the word does not necessarily suggest an unwillingness to “doe.” Masculinity requires instruction.[30] Lucio, recognizing that his only successful tutor is Love (or, sexual arousal), looks to Love as his best opportunity to learn how to be the man Genevora desires. Lucio does successfully fight Lamorall for the glove and earns the respect of his enemy when he does not take Lamorall’s life in addition to Genevora’s glove. The two men trade hats and swords (Lucio having won Lamorall’s in the fight and volunteering his own to the defeated man), and Lucio requests friendship from Lamorall: “…which if / You wil not grant me but on further trial / Of manhood in me, seeke me when you please, / (And though I might refuse it with mine honour) / Win them again, and weare them: so good morrow.”[31] Left stunned by the mercy of the effeminate youth who bested him in combat, Lamorall reflects: “I nere knew what true valour was till now; / And have gain’d more by this disgrace, then all / The honorous I have won….”[32] Here, Lamorall seems to conclude that this newly-awakened masculinity blended with an upbringing of femininity results in some new form of valor that he had not previously witnessed.
24> Suddenly capable with a sword, Lucio is masculinized enough to win over the affection of Genevora; but it is his femininity that earns him the respect of other males. Perhaps this new gender (one that is neither perfectly masculine nor perfectly feminine) lends itself to the needs of those who do identify on either end of the gender spectrum. Genevora respects the overt active performance of masculinity while Lamorall is softened by the subtle passivity of femininity. By creating a character who blends the performances of both gender identities, Beaumont and Fletcher offer a new, third gender identity, one that demonstrates the malleability of gender identity performance according to situational needs. The question of an authentic gender identity is complicated here, but Lucio’s performance maintains the element of choice that Beaumont and Fletcher have introduced in the beginning of Love’s Cure. If one’s gender identity were merely represented by one’s physical nature (or even merely by one’s sexuality), then it would not be easily changed according to the needs of a particular situation. Eugenia, Alvarez, and even Bobadilla fail to convert Lucio into a performance of masculinity because they do not have the power to offer him the choice of falling in love. Love itself does not convert Lucio, as Robinson suggests. Instead, it Lucio’s decision to perform a masculinity that Genevora finds attractive and worthy of her performance of femininity that ultimately “cures” Lucio of his confused upbringing.
25> Clara’s cure by love comes from her initial sexual arousal by and immediate voluntary submission to Vitelli. Still dressed as a male soldier, shortly after returning to Seville with her father, Clara defends Vitelli in a skirmish against Alvarez when she sees that he is at a disadvantage. Vitelli, believing Clara is truly male, seeks to thank her for her services; however, when he learns that she is a female, his confusion and curiosity are piqued. Rescuing him from a second confrontation (this time with his mistress Malroda), Clara confesses her sexual attraction to her father’s enemy and, without coaxing from her love interest, suddenly agrees to prove herself feminine. Clara understands in this moment that, under heteronormative expectations of gender performance, Vitelli’s demonstrated active masculinity requires the passivity of femininity in a partner. Vitelli confesses his concern for loving a cross-dressed woman: “…to take you for a wife / Were greater hazard, for should I offend you / (As tis not easy still to please a woman) / You are of so great a spirit, that I must learn / To weare your petticoat, for you wil have / My breeches from me.”[33] Vitelli recognizes that should he enter into a relationship with Clara, he risks (as all men risk, according to Vitelli’s sweeping generalization) displeasing her, which could result in his emasculation. Clara replies:

Rather from this houre
I here abjure all actions of a man,
And wil esteem it happiness from you
To suffer like a woman: love, true love
Hath made a search within me, and expel’d
All but my natural softnesse, and made perfect
That which my parents care could not begin.
I wil show strength in nothing, but my duty,
And glad desire to please you, and in that
Grow every day more able.[34]

26> Clara, struck by sexual arousal ostensibly for the first time, finally aligns with her father’s view of gender performance and authenticity: she sees her masculinity as something that can be renounced with relative ease. Love (sexual arousal and desire) has restored her to her natural femininity, which her parents failed to do through new clothing, demonstration, and training. Vitelli replies that “…though you have / A Souldiers arme, your lips appear as if / They were a Ladies.”[35] Clara, still holding her sword, demonstrates the physical manifestation of masculinity; however, when she lays her sword down before Vitelli, Clara begins to align with her predetermined heteronormative performance of femininity.

27> Clara symbolically emasculates herself in the voluntary removal of phallic arms and behaviors in order to establish a clear distinction between the masculine and feminine gender performances in her young relationship with Vitelli. Clara no longer seeks an authentic, uninfluenced sense of gendered identity performance; after experiencing her sexual attraction to Vitelli, she embraces the reality that there is no “authentic” sense of self, that all identities are performances based upon relationship expectations and agreed-upon roles between partners. Beaumont and Fletcher, in what seems to be an effort to reassure audiences of the normative powers of heterosexuality and prescribed gender identity performances, put the sibling characters in situations where they are both powerless to ignore sexual attractions to the opposite sex yet are likewise capable of choosing to perform specific gender identity roles in order to pursue those sexual attractions to forge, presumably, lasting relationships. Clara uses passive femininity to achieve her goal of a sexual union with Vitelli. Although her version of femininity is still tinged with hints of her previous gender manifestation, Clara begins to understand how a convincing performance of femininity can work in her favor in order to gain what she desires from those who are masculine, a realization she fully develops in the final scene of the play.

28> Love’s Cure ends in the explosive confrontation between Alvarez and Vitelli in a state-sanctioned duel. The state agrees to allow these two sides to duel in order to put to rest the feud that began between Alvarez and Vitelli’s father years ago. Begging Vitelli not to participate in the duel with her father and brother, Clara reasons:

Custome, that wrought so cunningly on nature
In me, that I forgot my sex, and I knew not
Whether my body femall were, or male,
You did unweave, and had the power to charme
A new creation in me, made me feare
To think on those deeds I did perpetrate….[36]

29> Not only does her sexual attraction to Vitelli have the power to make her question her previous gender expression, Vitelli himself also receives the credit for causing her to “feare” the masculine behavior she once exalted. Clara’s plea is self-deprecating and apologetic; she describes custom as “cunning,” which strengthens her rhetorical choice of “feare” later. Because custom tricked her, Clara performs the gender identity of vulnerable femininity. When the men do not respond to the pleas of their respective wives, Eugenia, Clara, and Genevora enlist the help of Bobadilla to convince them. Bobadilla enters with two swords and a pistol, and Genevora explains that “...The first blow given betwixt you, sheathes these swords / In one anothers bosomes.” Eugenia instructs Bobadilla, “And rogue, looke / You at that instant doe discharge that Pistoll / Into my breast: if you start back, or quake, / Ile stick you like a Pigge.”[37] When the men realize that the women’s threats are not merely passive, empty words, they agree to suspend the duel and resolve their feud peacefully. Here the women have demonstrated that activeness is not limited to masculine gendered performance; feminine gendered performance is capable of transitioning between passivity and activeness according to one’s needs at any given moment.

30> In “‘Women are Wordes, Men are Deedes’: Female Duelists in the Drama,” Jennifer Low argues Clara’s “fear” of active and dangerous masculinity (in the form of the duel) is necessary in order to restore heteronormative balance to the patriarchy. In using her words, and later physical threat of self-harm, to convince Vitelli not to duel with her family, “…[Clara] works within her self-imposed constraints to master Vitelli without resorting to the superior swordsmanship that would shame him to acknowledge.”[38] Although Vitelli seems to find himself attracted to Clara for her natural masculinity, he also does not find it suitable or even palatable to woo a woman who is more of a man than he is. Low suggests that Vitelli “…fears to take on any role toward her but that of conquering Theseus” to Clara’s Amazonian warrior.[39] According to this argument, Clara’s plea, and certainly even her physical threat, works on Vitelli because she epitomizes the language of femininity (particularly in her choice of the word “unweave”), despite enacting masculinity by aiming a sword at her own breast. Although a valid point in its own right, Low’s argument forgets Bobadilla’s earlier claim that women are sheaths whereas the men are the swords. Threatening to kill herself by running her breast through with a sword symbolically reasserts Clara’s femininity in spite of its use of masculine activity, as Duncan asserts in “It Takes a Woman to Play a Real Man.” Clara, Genevora, and Eugenia recognize that when the passive performance of femininity by its own right fails to achieve a particular outcome, then it is necessary to act—threatening to physically demonstrate the female sheath in a potentially fatal and final movement toward gender identity performance.

31> In the cases of Clara and Lucio, love (sexual arousal) was the best (and it seems only) cure for the errors of their parents’ choice to raise them according to the opposite gender. In a heteronormative experience, only heterosexual arousal can align gender identity performance with social prescriptions for masculine and feminine demonstrations. Once the siblings have fallen in love with their respective partners and have experience sexual arousal in some way, they are capable of choosing their gender performances in a way that was otherwise impossible under the tutelage of their parents and Bobadilla. Beaumont and Fletcher demonstrate in Love’s Cure that once a specific amount of “damage” has been done, only sexual arousal (heterosexual love) is capable of restoring both “natural” and social order. The threat of losing the love of an attractive partner, in the case of the siblings because their gender performances were off-putting to Vitelli and Genevora, ultimately opened Clara and Lucio’s minds to the possibility of relinquishing their respective upbringings. Beaumont and Fletcher imagine a chaotic social scenario where gender identity is simply a learned trait; for them, and it seems for many socio-sexually traditional thinkers of the early modern period, gender is an established and correctable set of behaviors based on a predetermined set of “natural” inclinations prescribed entirely by one’s physical sex. To the early modern, authentic gender identity exists on a clearly defined binary of right and wrong; females are right only when they are feminine, males only when they are masculine. Any deviance from this obvious-seeming relationship results in a need to reeducate and reform the gender identity of the offending party. It is not a magical quality of love or even sexual arousal that results in the change of gender identity performances for Clara and Lucio. Despite a desire, particularly in Clara, to seek out an authentic sense of self, one unencumbered by the instruction or influence of social pressures, the siblings ultimately demonstrate that authenticity itself is an unrealistic thrust for gender identity.


[1] Love’s Cure, 1.3.176-178.

[2] Richard Mulcaster, Positions, 131.

[3] Love’s Cure, 1.2.60-67.

[4] Ibid. 1.3.17-26.

[5] Love’s Cure, 1.3.34-38.

[6] Ibid., 1.3.38-40.

[7] Love’s Cure, 1.2.61-62, 77-83.

[8] Love’s Cure, 1.2.105-107.

[9] Ibid., 1.3.180-182. When the parents introduce one another to their estranged children, Eugenia tells her husband, “Ile returne / The joy I have in her, with one as great / To you my Alvarez: you, in a man / Have given to me a daughter: in a woman, / I give to you a Sonne: this was the pledge / You left here with me, whom I have brought up / Different from what he was, as you did Clara, / And with the like successe; as she appeares / Alter’d by custome, more then woman, he / Transform’d by his soft life, is lesse then man” (1.3.164-173). Eugenia and Alvarez seem to understand, as they speak to one another, the role they each played in the molding of their children’s respective gender identities.

[10] Love’s Cure, 2.2.69-71. The joke in this exchange, aside from the absurd way in which Clara moves in her feminine attire, is that Lucio and Bobadilla have previous exchanged apparel. Bobadilla does this in an attempt to humiliate Lucio, but it serves to confuse Clara who is unable to recognize her brother (whom she has only just met) when he is dressed as a servant. She addresses Bobadilla as though he were Lucio, so Bobadilla is the one who answers her question. Although Lucio trades his feminine attire for masculine, he still manages to cross socioeconomic boundaries by dressing down according to his class, while Bobadilla likewise dresses up. Clara, in her aristocratic woman’s attire, no longer subverts sociosexual boundaries. She has been restored to her socially prescribed gender and sexual identities as well as to her proper socioeconomic status. Bobadilla, however, wants to humiliate Lucio by not permitting him to appear in his “appropriate,” socially expected clothing.

[11] Love’s Cure, 2.2.85-96.

[12] Love’s Cure, 2.2.147-155.

[13] David Robinson, 215.

[14] Love’s Cure, 2.2.138-139.

[15] Anne Duncan, 404.

[16] Love’s Cure, 2.2.2-5.

[17] In an effort to incite rage in Lucio, Bobadilla role-plays as Alvarez’s sworn enemy, Vitelli.

[18] At a loss, Bobadilla curses and threatens Lucio: “Oh craven-chicken of a Cock o’th’game: well, what remedy? did thy father see this, O’ my conscience, he would cut of thy Masculine gender, crop thine eares, beat out thine eyes, and set thee in one of the Peare-trees for a scra-crow…” (Love’s Cure 2.2.56-59).

[19] Vitelli is Alvarez’s enemy because of a blood feud established between Alvarez and Vitelli’s father. Genevora is Vitelli’s sister.

[20] Love’s Cure, 5.3.257-261.

[21] Robinson, 215.

[22] Love’s Cure, 4.4.8.-11, 12-15.

[23] Whether or not this is his first erection at all or from sexual arousal is not made clear in the text, although Lucio does seem surprised by it.

[24] Peter Berek, 364.

[25] Robinson, 214.

[26] It might be assumed that Clara did, as well, although her masculinization with Alvarez is not represented in the text itself. It is offered as a given that Clara would have had to learn to be masculine, just like any boy would—to fight and to speak with masculine vocabulary.

[27] Lucio begs of Genevora her glove, proclaiming himself to be her slave; as she offers it to him, Lamorall (a friend to Vitelli and enemy of Alvarez) snatches it from her. Genevora turns to Lucio, expecting him to defend her honor; instead, he offers Lamorall his life. This exchange disappoints Genevora who exits with Lamorall and the purloined glove.

[28] Love’s Cure, 4.4.54-62.

[29] Ibid., 4.4.58.

[30] In fact, Bobadilla finds himself more than willing to serve as Lucio’s tutor in order to instruct him on how to be a man. “…if you will needs be starching of Ruffs, and sowing of black-work,” Bobadilla promises Lucio, “I will of a milde, and loving Tutor, become a Tyrant. Your father has committed you to my charge, and I will make a man, or a mouse on you” (2.2.2-11). Bobadilla demonstrates masculinity to Lucio through the threat of violence, the threat of tyranny. When Bobadilla engages in mock fight with Lucio, claiming to take the role of Vitelli, Lucio responds in peaceful, subdued, effeminate language: “…I pray put up your sword, / Ile give you any satisfaction / That may become a Gentleman; however / I hope you are bred to more humanity / Then to revenge my Fathers wrong on me / That crave your love, and peace…” (2.2.49-54).

[31] Love’s Cure, 5.1.90-94. This scene recalls the imaginary fight between Bobadilla and Lucio in Act Two. Whereas Lucio’s attempt in Act Two to quell through words Bobadilla’s rage only served to incense his tutor further, here Lamorall is moved both by Lucio’s natural physical prowess as well as by the request for friendship, going so far as to call Lucio’s behavior valorous.

[32] Ibid., 5.1.95-97.

[33] Love’s Cure, 4.2.179-184.

[34] Love’s Cure, 4.2.184-193.

[35] Ibid., 4.2.198-200.

[36] Love’s Cure, 5.3.90-95.

[37] Ibid., 5.3.176-181.

[38] Low, 295.

[39] Ibid.


Beaumont, Francis and John Fletcher. “Love’s Cure: or, A Martial Maid” (1646). The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon. Vol. 3. Ed. Fredson Bowers. New York: Cambridge Univeristy Press, 1976. 12-111.

Berek, Peter. “Cross-Dressing, Gender, and Absolutism in the Beaumont and Fletcher Plays.” SEL. 44.2 (Spring, 2004). 359-377.

Duncan, Anne. “It Takes a Woman to Play a Real Man: Clara as Hero(ine) of Beamont and Fletcher’s Love’s Cure.” English Literary Renaissance. 30.3 (Autumn, 2000). 396-407.

Low, Jennifer. “‘Women are Wordes, Men are Deedes’: Female Duelists in the Drama.” Women, Violence, and English Renaissance Literature: Essays Honoring Paul Jorgensen. Eds. Linda Woodbridge and Sharon A. Beehler. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2003. 271-302.

Mulcaster, Richard. Richard Mulcaster’s Positions (1581). Ed. Richard L. DeMolen. New York: Teachers College Press, 1971.

Robinson, David M. Closeted Writing and Lesbian and Gay Literature: Classical, Early Modern, Eighteenth-Century. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006.

Amanda Haberstroh is an instructor at Southern Union State Community College. She recently graduated from Auburn University with her doctorate in English, specializing in early modern English drama. In her doctoral dissertation, “Men Playing (at) Women: Categorical Consequences of Cross-Dressing on the Early Modern English Stage,” she examines the conflicting discourses present in the early modern period that dominated the ways in which individuals were capable of interpreting their genders and sexualities.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Six (2013): Editions & Editing

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