Many of Shakespeare’s most famous heroines disguise themselves as young males. In The Merchant Of Venice, As You Like It and Twelfth Night, the disguise is key to the plot. The Smithsonian tells the story of two illiterate slaves who escaped slavery with an elaborate disguise:
One of the most ingenious escapes was that of a married couple from Georgia, Ellen and William Craft, who traveled in first-class trains, dined with a steamboat captain and stayed in the best hotels during their escape to Philadelphia and freedom in 1848. Ellen, a quadroon with very fair skin, disguised herself as a young white cotton planter traveling with his slave (William). It was William who came up with the scheme to hide in plain sight, but ultimately it was Ellen who convincingly masked her race, her gender and her social status during their four-day trip. Despite the luxury accommodations, the journey was fraught with narrow escapes and heart-in-the-mouth moments that could have led to their discovery and capture. Courage, quick thinking, luck and “our Heavenly Father,” sustained them, the Crafts said in Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, the book they wrote in 1860 chronicling the escape.
I noted that they were illiterate slaves; they learned to read and write once they had won their freedom. Their story would make a great movie.