"No matter - now - sweet - but when I'm Earl": Dickinson's Shakespearean cross-dressing

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A new way of reading Dickinson's poetic experiments with gender has been offered by the work of Judith Butler and other cultural critics, who contend that gender is socially constructed and neither fixed nor essential. For Butler, gender is "the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being" (Gender Trouble 33). Gender is constituted performatively through a stylised repetition of gestures and acts that establish rather than express a stable abiding gendered identity. This article focuses on those Dickinson poems that construct speakers who blur and confuse the regulatory distinction between the masculine and the feminine, which Butler argues constrains and limits the proliferation of alternative configurations of gender through different repetitions of acts (147-9). These gender-crossing poems can now be read as subversive in that, like drag and cross-dressing for Butler, they disrupt the illusion of gender identity as an essential inner substance by denaturalising and mobilising gender categories (136-8). I suggest that the subversion...
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-94
Number of pages30
JournalThe Emily Dickinson Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1998


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