Cross-dressing and Magic: Dialects of the Body in Late Medieval and Early Modern Narratives (Silence, Mélusine): Gerhild Scholz Williams
GERHILD SCHOLZ WILLIAMS (ST. LOUIS)
Cross-dressing and Magic: Dialects of the Body in Late Medieval and Early Modern Narratives (Silence, Mélusine)
1.Body as Language: Introductory Thoughts
Barbara Korte opens her 1997 book Body Language by stating casually but very much to the point that “Body language appears in literary texts in a variety of forms and serves various artistic functions.”1 If, to paraphrase Judith Butler, gender is something we do,2 then body language can be read in postures, spatial movements, facial expressions, gestures, and glances that are deployed in the service of establishing a gendered identity. Aside from such gendered identity, reading the body as one would a text (whether as language prompted by personal agency or in response to forces outside the individual’s control) can take yet other forms, as for example the articulation of magic or witchcraft in and through the body’s performance.
That said, two varieties of body language are particularly thought-provoking. First, cross-dressing, that is, articulating a gender other than one’s sex. Secondly, when communicating the magical, the body either reveals a power within itself such as the compulsion to shape-shift, or the magically empowered can influence the shapes and expressions in the bodies of others, making a person ugly or beautiful, sick or well, potent or impotent.