Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Marginality

By Efrat Tseëlon | Go to book overview

6

THE SCARF AND THE TOOTHACHE

Cross-dressing in the Jewish folk theatre

Ahuva Belkin

The aim of this chapter is to examine the significance of cross-dressing and representations of femininity in the Jewish folk play the Purimspiel.1 It will be argued that this traditional festival performance was a vehicle for social comment and protest, expressing resistance by the weak against the strong on two levels: by asserting the identity of an oppressed Jewish minority culture within a dominant Gentile culture, and by registering the perspectives of the poorest and least-powerful male members of the Jewish community within that community itself. However, I shall contend that while the inverted world of masks and disguise found in the topsyturvey world of the Purimspiel afforded a means of expression and release of social tension for the men, it offered no such expression or release for women. On the plane of gender relations and positionalities, these ostensibly oppositional and even radical performances uncritically reproduced and reinforced the subordinated status of women within the Judaic culture of early modern Europe and beyond.

Like the festive plays of other communities, the improvised performances staged by Jews at Purim played with liminal symbols and role-reversal, and exhibited the typical characteristics of European carnival. As with similar phenomena in pre-industrial societies, the Jewish festive folk theatre was characterised by rituals involving dance, feasting, masquerades, mock weddings, mock fights, impersonation and cross-dressing. The popular customs manifested in the folk play included recourse to a spirit of anarchy and rebellion, evoking a world of chaos and the breaking of taboos, which also involved abandoning the banality of mundane clothing. The common practice of wearing masks and costumes in which men took on the roles and garb of women is particularly marked in the Purimspiel.

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Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Marginality
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Foreword xiii
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgements xix
  • References 15
  • 1 - Reflections on Mask and Carnival 18
  • 2 - Stigma, Uncertain Identity and Skill in Disguise 38
  • 3 - Lesbian Masks 54
  • 4 - Fashion, Fetish, Fantasy 73
  • References 81
  • 5 - Is Womanliness Nothing but a Masquerade? 83
  • 6 - The Scarf and the Toothache 101
  • Note 112
  • 7 - The Metamorphosis of the Mask in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century London 114
  • References 133
  • 8 - Masked and Unmasked at the Opera Balls 135
  • References 150
  • 9 - On Women and Clothes and Carnival Fools 153
  • References 170
  • Index 175
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