This dissertation argues that understandings of gender subtly transformed throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to allow for a more nuanced and potentially positive idea of androgyny as a distinct category of identity. Elizabethan English literature typically understands androgyny as a metonym for the subversive woman who threatens to dissolve a strict gender hierarchy, and male authors working across genres map this anxiety about masculine women onto literary androgynes like witches, Amazons, hermaphrodites, and stage cross-dressers. These early writers then deploy various narrative strategies to neutralize these disruptive women and reinscribe stable definitions of male and female. Ultimately, however, these strategies prove unsuccessful, and the destabilizing properties of the androgyne continue to haunt the text and generate anxiety in male characters and readers. I argue that by the late seventeenth century, however, definitions of and attitudes towards androgyny had become looser and more adaptable; rather than simply representing a threatening and uncontrollably masculine femininity, androgyny had transformed into a distinct concept that authors were utilizing in innovative and transformative ways. Male and female authors working across media acknowledge the possibility of an androgyne that, rather than threatening societal order and being imperfectly forced back into one side of a strict gender binary, persists as a discrete identity and even promotes agency and social harmony. This shift, which emerged in part due to Restoration nostalgia for Queen Elizabeth and increased female public visibility on stage, is an important but critically under-studied step towards modern understandings of gender as a spectrum of numerous identities rather than as a simple binary.
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Ivie, Jordan, "Shifting Conceptions of Androgyny in Early Modern Literature" (2022). English Theses and Dissertations. 13.
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