Showing the Eunuch
This chapter offers an examination of the eunuch in John Dryden’s All for Love (1677) through the intersecting lenses of disability and sexuality studies. By focusing centrally on Alexas, the play’s singular eunuch and a character who is forced to mediate between Cleopatra and Antony, this chapter queries how the play draws attention to the figuration of the eunuch and the ways in which his abilities are positioned against and outside the capacities of the star-crossed lovers. Alexas’s castration and removal from the reproductive economy become not only a running hackneyed joke but also, as the play reveals, such disabilities situate eunuch status as one that inhibits rationality and passion. “Showing himself”—Alexas’s second stage direction—beautifully metonymizes how Alexas as character, in specific, and the eunuch figuration, more generally, must fence-sit on the peripheries of visibility and invisibility, intelligibility and intelligibility, ability and disability, and sexuality and de-sexuality. Dryden’s depiction of the eunuch becomes even more muddied when such a characterization and insult are wielded against Antony. Rather than reading Alexas and the eunuch as figures that lack (a common trope), I argue for the eunuch’s capacity to act, enact, and make possible—a rejection of the social control that physically, psychically, and emotionally marks his body.