Mazes, Water, Dolphins, Beasts:
The Shakespearean Androgyne's
Defiance of Closure
Th'imperious seas breeds monsters.….
For Shakespeare as for the Greeks, the androgyne was a powerful symbol of human synergy. Along with Shakespeare's more obvious “stagings” of androgyny—his numerous cross-dressed female characters, who constitute for their audiences visible images of mythic hermaphrodism—the language and plots of Shakespearean comedy work in various ways to body forth the androgynous principle, or the abstract spirit of potent human connectedness.1 In nearly all of its stage manifestations, Shakespearean androgyny is, like the love Diotima defines in Plato's Symposium, neither self nor Other, but an intermediary force linking the two—a wave oscillating between self and Other, linking the separated entities in powerful relational identity. Shakespearean androgyny is movement, potency, fertility, promise, possibility, and pregnancy; it is, as is eros, the impulse to bond and to procreate.
The transvestite female characters—such as Portia, Viola, Rosalind, and Imogen—who power so many of Shakespeare's comic plots are, of course, central media for the expression of the androgynous principle. Their ability both to catalyze romantic relationships and to baffle conventional gender distinctions by synthesizing seemingly oppositional human attributes has been the appropriate focus of numerous critics.2 But exclusive attention to the transvestites distracts us from the other dramatic means through which mythic androgyny is asserted in Shakespeare. Specifically, Shakespearean comedy promotes erotic identity-in-relationship through a cluster of visual and verbal images, syntactical devices, dialogic modes, and specific invocations