Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Buzzfeed, 1662
Perhaps, like me, you've often seen memes mocking fundamentalist Christians who condemn homosexuality or crossdressing because they're banned in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, while blithely ignoring other practices outlawed in the same places, such as eating shellfish, mixing linen and wool, wearing tattoos, etc.

Where did this meme begin? I don't know, but I give you a contender for the earliest example: Sir Richard Baker, Theatrum Redivivum, or, the Theatre Vindicated (1662):

Indeed, he cites a text of scripture for it, Deut. xxii. 5: 'The women shall not wear that which pertaineth to the man, neither shall a man put on a woman's raiment.' A pregnant place indeed, but where finds he this precept? Even in the same place where he finds also that we must not wear clothes of linsey-woolsey; and seeing we lawfully now wear clothes of linsey-woolsey, why may it not be as lawful for men to put on women's garments? But if he will have this precept to stand in force, though it be no part of the moral law, yet because it may have a moral construction; how will he then defend his own eating of black-puddings against the precept for the eating of blood? For this precept against eating of blood hath a stronger tie than that for wearing of garments.


There is nothing new under the sun, sayeth the Preacher.
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Perhaps people in my beloved 17th century knew their bibles a little better?

A LOT better--and of course, the Puritans thought they were the New Israelites, so it's not surprising to find a defense of the theater poking fun at Puritans claims to be obeying divine law.

And the theater poked fun right back, Malvolio was a Puritan. I always felt so sorry for him.You could just tell that he had never ever been one of the cool kids.

There's a scene in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair that's even more on-topic, when Zeal-of-the-Land Busy tries to shut down the puppet show:

Bus. Yes, and my main Argument against you, is,
that you are an abomination: for the Male, among you,
putteth on the Apparel of the Female, and the Female of
the Male.

Pup. It is your old stale Argument against the Players, but
it will not hold against the Puppets; for we have neither Male
nor Female amongst us. And that thou may'st see, if thou
wilt, like a malicious purblind zeal as thou art!

The Puppet takes up his Garment

Edg. By my faith, there he has answer'd you, Friend,
by plain demonstration.

Pup. Nay, I'll prove against e're a Rabbin of 'em all, that
my standing is as lawful as his; that I speak by inspiration,
as well as he; that I have as little to do with learning as he;
and do scorn her helps as much as he.

Bus. I am confuted, the Cause hath failed me.



I adore that scene. Ben was fascinated by cross-dressing; in 1615, he asked his friend John Selden, the great scholar of Jewish law, for his "notes touching the literal sense and historical of the holy text usually brought against the counterfeiting of sexes by apparell."

Selden's response, a long and learned essay, citing Latin, Greek, and Hebrew sources, is worth wrestling with. He shrugs off the proscriptive aspects of the passage ("as it tends to morality, I abstain to meddle"). What intrigues him is the "mystery of ... theology concluding upon the masculine-feminine power." The focus of the interdiction, he thinks, is "avoiding of a superstitious rite used to Mars and Venus, which was, that men did honour and invoke Venus in Woman's attire, and women the like to Mars in man's armour."

Nine



Edited at 2016-09-18 08:07 am (UTC)

Very interesting! I wonder whether that ritual use was somewhere in Shakespeare's mind when he had Cleopatra reminisce about swapping clothes with Antony (or was that already in Plutarch?).

So he was saying he thought it was forbidden because the pagans did it? Interesting.

Wow. Pretty scathing of old BJ. I like the image of the puppet pulling his dress up.

And this you tell to a Quaker? :o)

Searching for Jewish interpretations of the verse in Deuteronomy, putting aside the best-known, as typified by Orthodoxy, which fetishizes gender distinction in dress, so that the most transgressive possible act would be a man wearing a woman's costume on Purim, I found this essay--to my surprise, I recognized the author, who was once a rabbi at my synagogue in Norwich. He didn't last long--to smart, not good at congregational politics. Glad to see he's publishing, if only online. http://www.beki.org/dvartorah/crossdressing/

Thank you - that was quite fascinating, for the form of argument (I speak as one unused to rabbinical discourse) as well as for the content.

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