[Katarina Bradič (Bradamante) in Handel's "Alcina", Aix-en-Provence 2015. – Clip with thanks to Helmut Fischer]
This week in "What did he do now?!" (and if it only were just one thing, and not several again!)
Perhaps this is a timely moment – transatlantically – to remember who Bradamante actually is, going back to Ariosto's 1516 first edition of the "Orlando Furioso". Bradamante is not, foremost, a jealous lover. Bradamante is a warrior maiden, which, if you look at the actual text, and at the later libretti it inspired, can mean a variety of things.
What we know:
Bradamante was assigned female at birth; her body tends to be read as that of a woman. They were socialized to a certain degree as a girl in their youth, but also early on turned into a knight by vocation, receiving a military education, in a cultural context that associated the military with men. Bradamante then presents as a man for most of their adventures and it is in this persona – where they successfully fight battles, rescue damsels and others, and stand up to unjust rulers – that they connect romantically to people of different genders (the Muslim knight Ruggiero, the princess Fiordespina).
It is possible that Bradamante is someone who, despite being largely raised into femininity and generally addressed as female by family and friends, realizes he is a guy and chooses to live as the man he understands himself to be, no matter the assignations others put onto his body. It doesn't make him a lesser warrior.
It is possible that Bradamante is a warrior who presents as a man, lives as a man in a male-dominated field, but comes to realize that she is a woman, and chooses to present and live according to that truth. That does not diminish her standing among the armed forces of Charles The Great as one of the best knights they have. It also doesn't stop Fiordespina from being very, very attracted to her.
It is possible that Bradamante is genderqueer and rejects a permanent binary labeling, performing instead a variety of gendered nuances in their many travels and adventures that are truthful to her, and which depend on the contexts they enter. And they are a better and more successful knight and warrior for it.
Bottom line: None of these possibilities prevents Bradamante from being a kick-ass warrior, respected by comrads and command alike.
The only one, if we look at the Handel clip above, who does not belong in this military setting is the guy in a suit with a butter knife, who may be a general by title but does not even have impulse control.