The 1870–71 tabloid trial of cross-dressers Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park revealed Victorian society wrestling with the concept of “theatricality” in everyday life. The prosecution sought to expose that the traditionally unspeakable act of sodomy was (paradoxically) encoded in cross-dressing; while the defense employed the “theatre defense”—a systematic insistence that the defendants were just amateur actors. But within British society theatre was both part of the status quo and a haven for a disturbing doubleness—“conspiracies of meaning” that troubled Victorian obsessions with truth-telling and the “natural.”

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