Bridget Sundin

PhD Student in Theater and Drama at Indiana University

Pants and Power: Masculine Dress in Tirso de Molina's 'Don Gil de las calzas verdes' and 'El Burlador de Sevilla'


Transgender visibility is on the rise. From public figures like Caitlyn Jenner telling her story in a tell-all interview, to the recent North Carolina anti-trans bathroom legislation, the general public is beginning to understand a topic academics have been writing about for some time: gender as a construct. Typical conversations about transgender issues in non-academic society revolve around a "born this way" narrative, which can negatively reinforce gender binaries and eliminate opportunities of potential. Judith Butler reminds us that the terms "masculine" and "feminine" tend to be monolithic in nature, which, unless acknowledged and dismantled, can be problematic and counterproductive to conversations about gender. Although scholars have been exploring "trans-" issues in a variety of contexts, there is a lack of writing that examines whether transgender scholarship is useful when looking at drama in the Spanish Golden Age. In my paper I ask: what would it mean to put the mujer varonil character of early modern Spain in conversation with the increasingly popular "trans-" conversation and explore ways in which new conceptions of gender allow for a reexamination of the past? To answer the question I look to two characters in Tirso de Molina's plays: Doña Juana in Don Gil de las calzas verdes and Don Juan in El Burlador de Sevilla. In the paper I argue that to present oneself as masculine in early modern Spain would mean to be able to move between domestic and public spheres, make decisions, have authority over ones own body, and thereby obtain a specifically gendered power. Using Butler's theory of gender "as a kind of doing," I look specifically at the fact that the mujer varonil character of Doña Juana in Don Gil never verbally self-identifies as male or female and is addressed by others according to the gendered clothing she wears. Throughout the play she is "doing" gender in fluid ways that beg the question: is using "trans-" in conversation with this character fruitful in thinking about early modern Spanish theatre? (1) Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Full paper can be downloaded here: