Convent of Pleasure: Ironic. Confusing. Gender.

The play Convent of Pleasure by Margaret Cavendish is a comedy filled with role reversals, disguises, irony, and copious amounts of dark humor. We have men portrayed as oversexed and evil men that leave their wives and children poor, hungry, miserable and alone. Then we have women who are unhappy all the time, either in search of a husband or married to one.  This play was an obvious commentary on the social and gendered interactions, behaviors, and expectations of men and women. However, I found that the underlying homoeroticism of the play, and then the sudden demolition of that element was so abrupt. Then again, maybe I am the only person that thinks there was any homoeroticism to begin with (obviously my mind is in the gutter).

At the beginning of Act IV Scene I there is a dialogue between the “Princess” and “Lady Happy.” During this scene, Lady Happy is struggling with the idea of falling in love with a woman. She says to herself, “But why may not I love a Woman with the same affection I could a Man? No, no, Nature is Nature, and still will be. The same she was from all Eternity.” Lady Happy is obviously questioning her sexuality; going back and forth with the ideas of what is natural and what is not. The symbol of nature harkens back to Act I Scene II of the play where Lady Happy discusses her commitment and servitude to Nature. Madam Mediator informs Monsieur Take-pleasure and the Advisor, “Alas Gentlemen!…for she is not a Votress to the gods but to Nature.” Therefore, Lady Happy’s romantic desires for the Princess are against nature, or the social norm where man and woman can only develop desires for each other.

Then the entire situation in Act IV gets more complicated when the Princess decides to dress up as a man, specifically a Shepherd. The “Prince-ss” passes so well as a man, that the other towns people do not suspect a thing during the country dances. At this point in the play we are at this weird moment where the Prince-ss is a woman, pretending to be a man, but is actually a man. As we later find out, the Prince-ss is actually a man, pretending to be a woman, pretending to be a man.The confusion of the gender identities and roles is then adds to Lady Happy’s inner conflict with Nature. Does it now become acceptable for her to fall in love with the Prince-ss because she has the appearance of a man? Or is it still against nature because Lady Happy knows the Shepherd to be a woman? She does not appear to continue her contemplation about nature once her relationship becomes acceptable to the public’s eye.

Everything goes out the window at the end of the play. Any possible ideas about homoeroticism, challenges to Nature, and resistance to the social gender norms  become completely irrelevant when we realize that the Convent of Pleasure was infiltrated by a man, that the convent’s founder has fallen in love with a man and then proceeds to marry him. My question is: What was the point of it all?


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