Ellen R. Welch, “The Essence of Gender: Iphis et Iante and the Tradition of Female Performance in Pastoral Plays”

The Essence of Gender: Iphis et Iante and the Tradition of Female Performance in Pastoral Plays
Ellen R. Welch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In early modern pastorals, female characters — and the actresses who incarnated them in continental theaters — often played with masculine forms of embodiment before unveiling their “true” identities. Isaac Benserade’s 1634 Iphis et Iante, by contrast, concludes with the cross-dressed shepherdess Iphis’s transformation into a boy and questions the relationship between the essential self and its material form. Was Iphis always, essentially, girl or boy, genderless or gender-fluid? Renowned director Jean-Pierre Vincent’s 2013 production cast a female¬†actress as Iphis; celebrated as an endorsement of “marriage for all,” the play spoke to contemporary issues of gender and sexuality. Yet Vincent’s casting choices also simplified the text’s ambiguities. How might different stagings produce different interpretations of the play’s approach to gender identity?