This chapter examines Ottoman prison camp theaters in Egypt, from where more sources have survived. With the exception of some passing mentions in scholarship, entertainment in general, and theatre in particular in the Ottoman military is a neglected subject. Scholars of European history studying troop and prisoner of war entertainment during the two world wars have produced a noteworthy amount of material. Many have even focused specifically on soldiers’ cross-dressing or female impersonation in theater on various fronts and prisoner of war camps. Older scholarship viewed female impersonation as mere entertainment, but more recent studies have taken up gender related issues. Drag performance could be a challenge to social norms regarding appropriate male behavior, argues Rachamimov in his examination of German speaking POWs in Russia, though some officers thought that female impersonators, by preserving the image of woman, could be an effective measure against outbreaks of “epidemic” homosexual behavior in prison camps. Another scholar has recently argued that female impersonation “allowed for a rich cultural lexicon based on ambiguity and mutability rather than referencing only gender identity or erotic object choice”. Of course, gender analysis has not been the only way to interpret prison camp theaters. Other scholars viewed prison camp theaters and other cultural pursuits as curative or therapeutic activities, which helped prisoners deal with debilitating boredom, keep their sanity, and survive both mentally and physically. Going further and turning to the issues of gender and masculinity, this chapter will suggest that theater, namely those featuring female impersonators, was much more than a tool for dealing with boredom. It was therapeutic in helping heal and reaffirm the prisoners’ sense of manliness and masculinity, which I will argue had been undermined by their capture and treatment. Of course, theater was also fun for both the performers and the audience. First, a brief historical background and context is needed.

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Post-print Chapter



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Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2019 Brill. This book chapter first appeared in Entertainment Among the Ottomans, edited by Ebru Boyar and Kate Fleet, 225-256, Boston: Brill, 2019.

The definitive version is available at: Brill.

Full Citation:

Yanikdağ, Yücel. “Warriors in Drag: Performing Gender and Remaking Men in Prisoner of War Theater.” In Entertainment Among the Ottomans, edited by Ebru Boyar and Kate Fleet, 225–56. Boston: Brill, 2019.



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