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"Then Nothing be my Speech": Identity and Its Discontents in Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure

By: Sukanya Dasgupta

In this paper, I wish to discuss Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure (1688) and argue that the narrow lenses of feminist theory or performance studies have been inadequate in portraying the play as a provocative site of cultural contestation where the writer interrogates the limits of performance with a dizzying mix of theoretical conventions that emphasizes the instability of performance itself as a genre. Cavendish transcends the rigid categories of gender and class, playfully probing, ridiculing and ultimately rejecting dominant assumptions that structured early modern beliefs; through the depiction of female-female erotic behaviour followed by a reinstatement of heteronormativity at the end, she fashions a personal identity that poses a challenge to any theory that attempts to classify her position or categorize her play.

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