Women Running With Scissors
In The Feign’d Courtesans, Aphra Behn contrasts innate sexual desire with performative sexual identity to challenge the social dependence on performance. In the play, those sexual desires are performed through different forms of female and male sexuality. Like Judith Butler, Behn suggests that gender is performed, but unlike Butler, identifies sexual desire as the engine of the performance. This chapter will focus on Galliard and Cornelia, demonstrating that although both of them perform libertinism, only Cornelia succeeds in achieving her desire. By rendering Galliard unable to exert his sexual power over her, Cornelia in effect castrates Galliard, transforming libertinism from a socially accepted male identity into a demasculated one. Drawing upon Peggy Phalen, Cornelia cross-dressing as a boy represents her masculine influence over Galliard. Her performance as a boy is even more transgressive due to the gender politics of the Restoration stage, thereby commenting on the introduction of actresses into theatre and the resulting cultural anxiety. Behn tempers this overt challenge to Restoration gender and sexual norms by setting the play in Rome, where the geographical distance from England offers some cover for the play’s potentially dangerous challenge to the performance of masculinity and male desire.