Contesting Cultural Norms: Cross-Dressing

[Click on image to enlarge] Hic Mulier and Haec-Vir (both 1620) combine the hoary genres of attacks on and defenses of women with satire on contemporary fashion, specifically the fad of female cross-dressing, adopted, it seems, not only by such legendary lower-class "roaring girls" as the notorious Long Meg of Westminster and Moll Cutpurse, but even noblewomen and citizens' wives. King James himself denounced the fad, unleashing a barrage of denunciation from the pulpit, as a contemporary, John Chamberlain, reported to his friend Dudley Carleton on January 25, 1620: "Yesterday the Bishop of London called together all his Clergy about this town, and told them he had express commandment from the King to will them to inveigh vehemently and bitterly in their sermons against the insolency of our women, and their wearing of broad-brimmed hats, pointed doublets, their hair cut short or shorn, and some of them stilletos or poinards. >> note 1 * * * The truth is the world is very far out of order." The anxious reaction of James, the Bishop of London, and Chamberlain testifies that this cross-dressing was seen as a challenge to gender hierarchy, insinuating that clothes and custom (not intrinsic nature) make the man or woman, and that women might assume masculine roles and privileges as easily as doublet and sword.

[Click on image to enlarge] Hic Mulier participates in this denunciation; the title combines the Latin male personal pronoun with the noun for woman. The answering tract, Haec-Vir, combines the Latin female personal pronoun with the noun for man; it may be by a woman but most likely was not (the publisher may even have commissioned it from the same writer to keep the controversy going). It wittily answers the attack in part by emphasizing the distinctly feminized styles male courtiers were wearing at the time, and with some allusion to the sexual ambivalences introduced by the established practice throughout the Elizabethan period and earlier seventeenth century of male actors playing female roles on the English stage. All the women's parts in the plays of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Webster (NAEL 8, 1.1001, 1058, 1461) were played by men.


From Hic Mulier

Hic Mulier: How now? Break Priscian's >> note 2 head at the first encounter? But two words, and they false Latin? Pardon me, good Signor Construction, for I will not answer thee as the Pope did, that I will do it in despite of the grammar. But I will maintain, if it be not the truest Latin in our Kingdom, yet it is the commonest. For since the days of Adam women were never so Masculine: Masculine in their genders and whole generations, from the mother to the youngest daughter; Masculine in number, from one to multitudes; Masculine in Case, even from the head to the foot; Masculine in Mood, from bold speech to impudent action; and Masculine in Tense, for without redress they were, are, and will be still most Masculine, most mankind, and most monstrous. >> note 3 Are all women then turned Masculine? No, God forbid, there are a world full of holy thoughts, modest carriage, and severe chastity. To these let me fall on my knees and say, "You, oh you women, you good women, you that are in the fullness of perfection, you that are the crowns of nature's work, the complements of men's excellences, and the seminaries >> note 4 of propagation; you that maintain the world, support mankind, and give life to society; you that, armed with the infinite power of virtue, are castles impregnable, rivers unsailable, seas immovable, infinite treasures, and invincible armies; that are helpers most trusty, sentinels most careful, signs deceitless, plain ways fail-less, true guides dangerless, balms that instantly cure, and honors that never perish. Oh do not look to find your names in this declamation, but with all honor and reverence do I speak to you. You are Seneca's Graces, women, good women, modest women, true women — ever young because ever virtuous, ever chaste, ever glorious. When I write of you, I will write with a golden pen on leaves of golden paper; now I write with a rough quill and black ink on iron sheets the iron deeds of an iron generation."

Come then, you Masculine women, for you are my subject, you that * * * have taken the monstrousness of your deformity in apparel, exchanging the modest attire of the comely hood, cowl, coif, handsome dress or kerchief, to the cloudy ruffianly broad-brimmed hat and wanton feather; the modest upper parts of a concealing straight gown, to the loose, lascivious civil embracement of a French doublet, being all unbuttoned to entice, all of one shape to hide deformity, and extreme short waisted to give an easy way to every luxurious action; the glory of a fair large hair, to the shame of most ruffianly short locks; the side, thick gathered, and close guarding safeguards >> note 5 to the short, weak, thin, loose, and every hand-entertaining short bases; >> note 6 for needles, swords; for prayerbooks, bawdy legs; for modest gestures, giantlike behaviors; and for women's modesty, all mimic and apish incivility.

* * *

It is an infection that emulates plague and throws itself amongst women of all degrees, all deserts, and all ages; from the capitol to the Cottage are some spots or swellings of this disease. Yet evermore the greater the person is, the greater is the rage of this sickness; and the more they have to support the eminence of their fortunes, the more they bestow in the augmentation of their deformities. * * * They swim in the excess of these vanities and will be manlike not only from the head to the waist, but to the very foot and in every condition: man in body by attire, man in behavior by rude complement, man in nature by aptness to anger, man in action by pursuing revenge, man in wearing weapons, man in using weapons, and, in brief, so much man in all things that they are neither men nor women, but just good for nothing.

* * *

The long hair of a woman is the ornament of her sex, and bashful shamefastness her chief honor; the long hair of a man, the vizard >> note 7 for a thievish or murderous disposition. And will you cut off that beauty to wear the other's villainy? The Vestals >> note 8 in Rome wore comely garments of one piece from the neck to the heel; and the Swordplayers, >> note 9 motley doublets with gaudy points. The first begot reverence; the latter, laughter. And will you lose that honor for the other's scorn? The weapon of a virtuous woman was her tears, which every good man pitied and every valiant man honored; the weapon of a cruel man is his sword, which neither law allows nor reason defends. And will you leave the excellent shield of innocence for this deformed instrument of disgrace. Even for goodness' sake, that can ever pay her own with her own merits, look to your reputations, which are undermined with your own Follies. * * * Away then with these disguises and foul vizards, these unnatural paintings and immodest discoveries! Keep those parts concealed from the eyes that may not be touched with the hands; let not a wandering and lascivious thought read in an enticing Index the contents of an unchaste volume.

* * *

Remember that God in your first creation did not form you of slime and earth like man, but of a more pure and refined metal, a substance much more worthy; you in whom are all the harmonies of life, the perfection of symmetry, the true and curious consent of the most fairest colors and the wealthy gardens which fill the world with living plants. Do but you receive virtuous inmates (as what palaces are more rich to receive heavenly messengers?) and you shall draw men's souls unto you with that severe, devout, and holy adoration, that you shall never want praise, never love, never reverence.

* * *

To you therefore that are Fathers, Husbands, or Sustainers of these new Hermaphrodites belongs the cure of this impostume. >> note 10 It is you that give fuel to the flames of their wild indiscretion; you add the oil which makes their stinking lamps defile the whole house with filthy smoke, and your purses purchase these deformities at rates both dear and unreasonably. Do you but hold close your liberal hands or take strict account of the employment of the treasure you give to their necessary maintenance, and these excesses will either cease or else die smothered in the tailor's trunk for want of redemption.

And therefore, to knit up this imperfect declamation, let every Female-masculine that by her ill examples is guilty of lust or imitation cast off her deformities and clothe herself in the rich garments which the Poet bestows upon her in these verses following:

Those virtues that in women merit praise
Are sober thoughts without, chaste thoughts within,
True faith, and due obedience to their mate,
And of their children honest care to take.


From Haec-Vir

Haec Vir: Most redoubted and worthy Sir (for less than a Knight I cannot take you), you are most happily given unto my embrace.

Hic Mulier: Is she mad or doth she mock me? Most rare and excellent Lady, I am the servant of your virtues and desire to be employed in your service.

Haec Vir: Pity of patience, what doth he behold in me, to take me for a woman? Valiant and magnanimous Sir, I shall desire to build the tower of my fortune upon no stronger foundation than the benefit of your grace and favor.

Hic Mulier: Oh, proud ever to be your servant.

* * *

Haec Vir: What, Hic Mulier, the Man-Woman? She that like an alarm bell at night raised the whole kingdom in arms against her? Good, stand and let me take a full survey, both of thee and all thy dependants.

Hic Mulier: Do freely and, when thou hast daubed me over with the worst colors thy malice can grind, then give me leave to answer for myself, and I will say thou art an accuser just and indifferent. >> note 11 Which done, I must entreat you to sit as many minutes that I may likewise take your picture, and then refer to censure whether of our deformities is most injurious to Nature or most effeminate to good men in the notoriousness of the example.

* * *

You condemn me of Unnaturalness in forsaking my creation and contemning >> note 12 custom. How do I forsake my creation, that do all the rights and offices due to my creation? I was created free, born free, and live free; what lets >> note 13 me then so to spin out my time that I may die free?

To alter creation were to walk on my hands with my heels upward, to feed myself with my feet, or to forsake the sweet sound of sweet words for the hissing noise of the Serpent. But I walk with a face erect, with a body clothed, with a mind busied, and with a heart full of reasonable and devout cogitations, only offensive in attire, inasmuch as it is a stranger to the curiosity of the present times and an enemy to Custom? Are we then bound to be the flatterers of Time or the dependents on Custom? Oh miserable servitude, chained only to Baseness and Folly, for than custom, nothing is more absurd, nothing more foolish.

Therefore, to take your proportion >> note 14 in a few lines, my dear Feminine-Masculine, tell me what charter, prescription, or right of claim you have to those things you make our absolute inheritance? Why do you curl, frizzle, and powder your hairs, bestowing more hours and time in dividing lock from lock, and hair from hair, in giving every thread his posture, and every curl his true sense and circumference, than ever Caesar did in marshalling his army, either at Pharsalia, in Spain, or Britain? Why do you rob us of our ruffs, of our earrings, carcanets, >> note 15 and mamillions, >> note 16 of our fans and feathers, our busks, and French bodies, >> note 17 nay, of our masks, hoods, shadows, and shapinas. >> note 18 Not so much as the very Art of Painting, >> note 19 but you have so greedily engrossed it that were it not for that little fantastical sharp-pointed dagger that hangs at your chins, and the cross hilt which guards your upper lip, hardly would there be any difference between the fair mistress and the foolish servant. But is this theft the uttermost of our spoil? Fie, you have gone a world further and even ravished from us our speech, our actions, sports, and recreations. Goodness leave me, if I have not heard a man court his mistress with the same words that Venus did Adonis, or as near as the book >> note 20 could instruct him. Where are the Tilts and Tourneys and lofty Galliards >> note 21 that were danced in the days of old, when men capered in the air like wanton kids on the tops of mountains and turned above ground as if they had been compact of fire or a purer element? Tut, all's forsaken, all's vanished. * * * To see one of your gender either show himself in the midst of his pride or riches at a playhouse or public assembly: how, before he dare enter, with the Jacob's staff >> note 22 of his own eyes and his page's, he takes a full survey of himself from the highest sprig in his feather to the lowest spangle that shines in his shoestring; how he prunes and picks himself like a hawk set aweathering, calls every several garment to auricular confession, >> note 23 making them utter both their mortal great stains and their venial and lesser blemishes, though the mote be much less than an Atom. Then to see him pluck and tug everything into the form of the newest received fashion, and by Dürer's >> note 24 rules make his leg answerable to his neck, his thigh proportionable with his middle, his foot with his hand, and a world of such idle, disdained foppery.

* * *

Now since according to your own Inference, even by the Laws of Nature, by the rules of Religion, and the Customs of all civil Nations, it is necessary there be a distinct and special difference between Man and Woman, both in their habit and behaviors, what could we poor weak women do less (being far too weak by force to fetch back those spoils you have unjustly taken from us), than to gather up those garments you have proudly cast away and therewith to clothe both our bodies and our minds?

* * *

Cast then from you our ornaments and put on your own armor; be men in shape, men in show, men in words, men in actions, men in counsel, men in example. Then will we love and serve you; then will we hear and obey you; then will we like rich jewels hang at your ears to take our Instructions, like true friends follow you through all dangers, and like careful leeches >> note 25 pour oil into your wounds. Then shall you find delight in our words, pleasure in our faces, faith in our hearts, chastity in our thoughts, and sweetness both in our inward and outward inclinations. Comeliness shall be then our study, fear our Armor, and modesty our practice. Then shall we be all your most excellent thoughts can desire and having nothing in us less than impudence and deformity.

Haec Vir: Enough. You have both raised mine eyelids, cleared my sight, and made my heart entertain both shame and delight in an instant — shame in my Follies past, delight in our noble and worthy conversion. Away then from me these light vanities, the only ensigns of a weak and soft nature, and come you grave and solid pieces which arm a man with Fortitude and Resolution; you are too rough and stubborn for a woman's wearing. We will here change our attires, as we have changed our minds, and with our attires, our names. I will no more be Haec Vir, but Hic Vir; nor you Hic Mulier, but Haec Mulier. * * * Henceforth we will live nobly like ourselves, ever sober, ever discreet, ever worthy: true men and true women.

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