chapter  4
28 Pages

Playing the eunuch

ByKatherine Crawford

This chapter discusses on the representation of castrates on the early modern European stage in terms of how castrates were understood as gendered persons with peculiar — both visible and elusive — disabilities relative to social norms. Three thematic loci provide an abundance of evidence of castrates simultaneously fitting within and disturbing gender binaries. Theatrical performance constituted readily available cultural knowledge of castrates as at once embedded within social and sexual norms and apart from them. The author has highlighted the convergence of interest in castrates and performative practices on the English stage because the sheer density of instances of castrates reveals the theatrical construction of disidentification. French treatments of classical sources with castrate characters included La Fontaine's verse adaptation of Terence's The Eunuch , but the mistaken castrate plot device did not inspire an abundance of French imitators, and castrates rarely functioned as motivating characters.