All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

William Hutchings

Advisory Committee Members

M Jay Jessee

Vessela Warner

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2020

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The Drag, the second play Mae West ever wrote and produced, debuted in 1927; What the Butler Saw, Joe Orton’s final play debuted in 1969, two years after its author’s death. These comedies are very similar when considered through the lens of Judith Butler’s gender performance theory, most notably from her books Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies that Matter (1993). In the latter book, she notes that “Drag is subversive to the extent that it reflects on the imitative structure by which the hegemonic gender is itself produced and disputes heterosexuality’s claim on naturalness and originality” (85). Accordingly, since gender is a social construct, drag highlights its performativity—and therefore brings attention to the hegemony within it. In viewing the plays through drag and/or cross-dressing, the reasons why West and Orton presented gender-bending in their plays become clearer: it subverts the notions of normalized attire as a protest of the social order of gender. West’s play was so audacious due to its portrayal of the complications of drag lifestyle and gay relationships that it brought police intervention to ban the production shortly after its opening. In Orton’s play, many characters exchange clothing and thereby change sexual identities; the ensuing farce presents the disruption of sexuality and gender binaries as an extravagantly audacious joke. Orton highlights the absurd way that British authorities view gender and sexuality during the nation’s anti-homosexual laws throughout this time. Each author emphasized the injustices inflicted on the respective gay community of the time, and each was personally active as an outspoken advocate on behalf of the then-current generation. West’s and Orton’s characters are a social critique of gender and of authoritarian rule as their plays are subsequently read through the lens of Butler’s theory.

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