The Unruly Womb in Early Modern English Drama: Plotting Women's Biology on the Stage 9783110662016, 9781580443708

This study provides an accessible, informative and entertaining introduction to women’s sexual health as presented on th

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Table of contents :
L ist of Figures
1. Troubled with the Mother
2. The Bugbears (1566–1570)
3. The Taming of the Shrew (ca. 1592–1594)
4. Romeo and Juliet (ca. 1594–1595)
5. Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare
6. Hamlet (1601) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613)
7. The Maid’s Tragedy (1611–1613) and Parasitaster, or The Fawne (1604–1606)
8. A Fair Quarrel (1617) and The Hollander (1635)
9. Measure for Measure (1604) and Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634)
Appendix: Chart of a selection of plays representing women’s health in English drama 1540–1640
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The Unruly Womb in Early Modern Drama

LATE TUDOR AND STUART DRAMA: GENDER, PERFORMANCE, AND MATERIAL CULTURE Series Editors: Cristina León Alfar Hunter College, CUNY Helen Ostovich McMaster University

See our website for further information on this series and its publications. Medieval Institute Publications is a program of The Medieval Institutes, College of Arts and Sciences   Western Michigan University

The Unruly Womb in Early Modern Drama Plotting Women’s Biology on the Stage Ursula A. Potter

Late Tudor and Stuart Drama: Gender, Performance, and Material Culture MEDIEVAL INSTITUTE PUBLICATIONS Western Michigan University Kalamazoo

Copyright © 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data are available from the Library of Congress

ISBN 9781580443708 eISBN 9781580443715 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book.


List of Figures






1 Troubled with the Mother


2 The Bugbears (1566–1570)


3 The Taming of the Shrew (ca. 1592–1594)


4 Romeo and Juliet (ca. 1594–1595)


5 Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare


6 Hamlet (1601) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613)


7 The Maid’s Tragedy (1611–1613) and Parasitaster, or The Fawne (1604–1606)


8 A Fair Quarrel (1617) and The Hollander (1635)


9 Measure for Measure (1604) and Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634)




Appendix: Chart of a selection of plays representing women’s health in English drama 1540–1640







1. Jan Steen, The Doctor’s Visit, ca. 1668–1670. Mauritshuis, The Hague. 2. Title page to Edward Jorden, A Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother, 1603. Wellcome Collection. 3. Jan Steen, The Doctor’s Visit, ca. 1663–1665. Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, Object Number Cat. 510. 4. Engraving of Amazonian Warrior Women in de Bry’s India Orientalis series, 1598. British Library, London, UK/Bridgeman Images. 5. Galen treating a lovesick woman, 1586. The National Library of Medicine, Bethesda. 6. Title page to Nicholas Goodman, Hollands Leaguer, 1632. British Library, London, UK/Bridgeman Images.

x 14 88

124 140 184



HE ORIGINS OF THIS book go back nearly two decades to an invitation from the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at Victoria University in the University of Toronto, to present a paper on green sickness in Romeo and Juliet at the Premodern Teenager Conference, Toronto, 1999. This opportunity, together with the support of Konrad Eisenbichler, editor of the subsequent proceedings, The Premodern Teenager (2002), encouraged me to delve further into Renaissance medicine and female biology as represented on the stage. Over the following years my research into popular medicine and the pubescent female body has expanded well beyond its early parameters of medical texts and dramatic literature, to include a wide range of source materials such as conduct books, Tudor grammar school exercises, historiographies, devotional texts, sermons, witchcraft, and demonic possession (with special thanks to Judith Bonzol) and even moving into the modern field of eating disorders in young women in collaboration with Emeritus Professor Roger Bartrop, Daniel Akrawi, and Professor Stephen Touyz in the Clinical Psychology unit at the University of Sydney. None of this research could have been undertaken without the constant and generous backing of the academic and support staff in the English Department at the University of Sydney, to whom I am truly indebted, and also the sponsorship of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, which generously funded opportunities to present aspects of the research of past years. I am indebted to the organizers of The Australia and New Zealand Shakespeare Association (ANZSA) for providing multiple opportunities to share and expand my research in a stimulating environment, as I am to the community of talented medievalists and early modernists, too numerous to mention, who produce truly outstanding research in our two countries. Special thanks are due to Sara Crouch, research assistant, for the sheer breadth of the drama covered in the book and to Tobin Miles for handling the stylistic technicalities of preparing the final manuscript. To all the members of my family, young and old, who have lived with my fascination with green sickness and unruly wombs for so many years, thank you for being so loyally by my side throughout it all. Ursula A. Potter Honorary Research Associate, University of Sydney Honorary Associate Investigator, Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions

Figure 1. Jan Steen, The Doctor’s Visit, ca. 1668–1670. Mauritshuis, The Hague.



HE PURPOSE OF DRAMA is to entertain and inform, and the purpose of this study of unruly wombs in early modern drama is likewise to entertain and inform. It is intended to serve as an accessible and thought-provoking introduction to women’s health as it was portrayed on the early modern stage. All the plays discussed here, with one exception, were written and performed by men and boys so the perspectives we glean from them are necessarily filtered through male perceptions,1 yet within this limitation they show immense respect for the womb as a powerful driving force in the health of women and in the welfare of the nation. The levels of empathy for women’s biology that can be found in drama, and in particular in the works of Fletcher and Shakespeare, are rarely evident in medical or devotional tracts and books, and this is where drama tells us more about popular levels of discourse on women’s health than can be found in such scholarly treatises. The plays analyzed here provide us today with convincing evidence of the powerful role female biology played in early modern England and the high levels of anxiety it generated in men. A fulfilled womb could be a source of intense joy and pride—a precious spiritual repository nourishing an unborn child with divine essence2 and the path to the “perfection of womanhood” as Donne put it3—or it could be a cesspit of pollution for a man’s essence, his seed.4 How did dramatists represent something so private and hidden, and yet often so integral to the plot, as a womb on stage? They employed a system of coding for sexual status through visual or verbal props (discussed in detail below), all of which would have been recognizable to an early modern audience but which have lost meaning over time. As will become evident, women’s uterine health featured with increasing frequency in early seventeenth-century drama, only a fraction of which is considered here, and there remains a wealth of dramatic material yet to be analyzed, as indicated by the appendix which lists some fifty plays for further research. This study commences with the rise of green sickness, the disease of virgins, from its earliest reference in drama in the 1560s and

2  Introduction

traces a continuing fascination with women’s biology through evidence culled from a large number of plays through to the 1640s. Two historical events lay behind this surge of interest in women’s biology in Elizabethan drama. Sex and virginity had ever been core literary themes, but this new attention to the womb as the controlling source of women’s health and behavior may be attributed to a conflation of two significant historical developments in mid-sixteenth-century England. The first is the rise of physicians practicing in the field of women’s health and their particular preoccupation with the disease of virgins, known as “green sickness,” as documented by Helen King in her impressive medical history of the disease5 and by Laurinda S. Dixon in her richly rewarding study of women and illness in pre-enlightenment art and medicine.6 More recently, Kaara L. Peterson has followed with a study of women’s ailments in popular debate in early modern England in which she points to interest by dramatists in uterine diseases.7 The second development was the impact of religious reform on women’s health. One of the imperatives for Protestant reformers was to sever the ties between chastity and Marian devotional practices, and more generally the prime status of virginity (and hence nuns) in Catholic tradition, by repackaging female celibacy as unnatural and by encouraging marriage. Thus we find Protestant writers endorsing marriage as a rejection of what they label “papist” chastity. Thomas Becon in his The Booke of Matrimony (1564) is positively vitriolic on this Catholic idolisation of celibacy, which he associates with the devil, the Pope, and their antichristian adherents, and which he claims deprives matrimony of its rightful honor.8 This cultural shift away from pious celibacy was facilitated by the medical profession’s warnings of the dangers of virginity and extended chastity. It is no coincidence that most qualified physicians were Protestants and those who published often did so in English for the benefit of a wider readership. Unfortunately for Tudor and Stuart women, translations into English of religious texts with allusions to the womb did not always further their cause. The translation of the Bible and the spread of vernacular devotional and scriptural texts, to say nothing of public sermons, did much to undermine faith in women’s biology. Deprived of their Latin veil, biblical references to the womb were visible to all who could read and these references were generally negative— its insatiable nature, the menses as poisonous and the epitome of filth (the product of an entrenched belief that menstrual blood had either poisonous or magic properties) and the bleeding woman in the gospels is construed as a lustful harlot.9 Such biblical assertions gained traction in printed tracts and sermons in English, thus bringing the womb into disrepute. One of the most startling images drawn from the Bible is that of the insatiable womb found

Introduction  3

in Proverbs: “There be thre thinges that are neuer satisfied . . . hell, a womans wombe and the earth hath neuer water ynough.”10 Seen in the context of medical theories of the womb’s need for moisture, usually in the form of hot moist seed, there is some justification for this image, but the context makes the association with depravity crystal clear. Popular usage of this proverb usually equates the womb with insatiable lust, as implicit in a quotation by Thomas Wright, the influential Jesuit priest, in The Passions of the Mind (1604): “Hell, earth, and a womans wombe, saith Salomon, are unsatiable & with these he might have numbred a number of Passions.”11 We recoil at such a vicious statement today, and quite possibly Wright was exploiting the proverb for humorous purposes, but his usage tells us it was a popular quotation, and one which held true for many men in early modern England. In a 1597 rant against women, an unidentified author claims it is a rare husband who can “satisfie that which Solomon in the 30. of his proverbs saith hath never enough, and with many and often imbracings desire to fill the unsatiable gulfe of her wombe with endlesse copulations.”12 The men who espoused such opinions were usually well-educated men, often scholars, with strong religious convictions who put their views in print. One of the most influential authors on religion and female sexuality in the late sixteenth century was the eminent Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives, whose conduct book for the education of daughters, The Education of a Christian Woman, is underpinned by his total faith in chastity as the highest virtue in women and his fear of female sexuality. Written in Latin for Catherine of Aragon’s daughter and translated into English in 1523, it went far in propagating Vives’s educational ideas in England, becoming the most popular conduct book for women during the Tudor period and beyond. The Instruction went through nine known editions, the last two (1585 and 1595) coming from the press of Puritan printers.13 The book is shot through with warnings of the dire consequences of sexual arousal in young virgins. Vives was an intensely pious man whose dread of female sexuality and its degrading influence on men shaped his vision of an intellectual and physical pedagogy of containment for daughters, one which reads as more appropriate to life in a convent than preparation for a role in society. Indeed, many of his arguments reflect a tract written by Erasmus as a persuasion to nuns to keep their vocation.14 So fearful was Vives of the influence of the womb on the young female body that he urges regular severe fasts to “extinguish the fires of youth” and against arguments that such methods could put the girl’s health at risk he responds that “the chaste purenes of body ought to be more regarded than the lyfe.” Pursuing a doctrine of virginity of both mind and body in the training of daughters,

4  Introduction

he makes it clear that to even experience sexual longings is to irreversibly contaminate her virginal state. Shame and fear are his main strategies for enforcing chastity: fear of loss of reputation and fear of men whom Vives represents as predatory and deceptive towards women (a tactic Polonius adopts to manipulate Ophelia in Hamlet). But women too were predatory, and Vives rather rashly asserted that they could “transmit a deadly poison from their eyes and annihilate you with a single glance. Let no one think that I am exaggerating.” Whether from personal experience or by following St. Jerome (his main source), Vives’s views are motivated by extreme paranoia towards sexuality.15 Yet The Instruction enjoyed enormous popularity in England and became the prototype for various conduct books for women in the Tudor period, including Philip Stubbes’s Anatomie of Abuses (1583), Edward Hake’s A Touchstone for this time present (1574), and Robert Cleaver’s A Godly Forme of Householde Governement (1598). Those who shared Vives’s view on women’s sexuality were undoubtedly far fewer in number than those who opposed such opinions. Erasmus, the other great name in humanism and Tudor education, provides the alternative view: I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin. Nothing is so far from the truth. As if marriage, whose function cannot be fulfilled without these incitements, did not rise above blame. In other living creatures, where do these incitements come from? From nature or from sin? From nature, of course. It must be borne in mind that in the appetites of the body there is very little difference between man and other living creatures. Finally, we defile by our imagination what of its own nature is fair and holy.16

For Elizabethan dramatists, whose schooling was steeped in a curriculum founded on the works of these two humanists, Erasmus held the greater influence with his understanding of how to engage boys in their lessons through humor, domestic themes, and liberal sexual allusions and anecdotes. Elizabethan and Jacobean plays show little evidence of a bias against the womb; rather they reflect the Erasmian view of sex as natural and the imagination as the contaminating party. By the end of the sixteenth century how­ ever, Puritan pressure was calling for censorship of Erasmus within the classroom as unsuitable material for schoolboys, while giving increasing prominence to Vives.17 Meanwhile, intensely misogynistic authors such as Mantuan (the neo-Latin poet known as the Christian Virgil, who is credited with “the dubious honour of having introduced misogynistic satire wholesale into the

Introduction  5

genre”)18 remained staples of the Tudor curriculum. In Elizabethan literary circles Mantuan’s misogyny was well recognized. In a poem prefacing Robert Greene’s prose romance Mamillia (1583), and addressed to the “Ladies of England,” Richard Stapleton apologizes for “Mantuan which so blasphemde your kinde.”19 These pressures reflect the rise of a much darker vision of the womb which Mary Fissell identifies from cheap print and medical texts around 1603, leading to what she called “the womb gone bad.”20 Fissell took her sources from small books, pamphlets, and broadsides available to even the poorest of England’s readers, whereas if we look at drama from the same early seventeenth-century period we find the same debate but from a more positive perspective. Dramatists never succumbed to this negative view of the womb and many of them seemed to take it upon themselves to support a far more benign understanding of the womb as the locus of mankind’s future and, as such, something to be honored and cherished. John Fletcher, in particular, consistently offered positive reflections on women’s biology. In The Tamer Tamed; or, The Woman’s Prize (1609), Petruchio’s young bride, Maria, refuses to sleep with him until he has mended his bullying ways. Her determination to remain a virgin and so deprive her womb of the heat it needs until that time, weighs heavily on her own future well-being. She tells Livia, “there’s a fellow / Must yet before I know that heat (nere start wench) / Be made a man, for yet he is a monster.”21 Livia is startled either by the direct reference to the semen that will heat Maria’s womb or by the thought of withholding sex on her wedding night and the context seems geared to comedy, but Maria follows this with a moving prayer to Lucina, goddess of childbirth, for her support in holding out a little longer against the womb’s rightful dues of both pleasure and conception: Lucina heare me, Never unlock the treasure of my womb For Humane fruit, to make it capable; Nor never with thy secret hand make briefe A mothers labour to me; if I doe Give way unto my married husbands will, Or be a wife, in any thing but hopes: Till I have made him easie as a child, And tame as feare; ... And when I kisse him, till I have my will, May I be barren of delights, and know Onely what pleasures are in dreams, and guesses.22

6  Introduction

Despite being written by a man, and spoken by a boy on stage, these words have a ring of feminine pride and joy in the womb and the promise it offers. They also acknowledge the womb’s powerful role in a woman’s future well-being, and consequently in that of her husband. We can only guess that Fletcher took his cues from a personal understanding of how women felt about their biology, yet Fletcher and Shakespeare are the two playwrights who seem most determined to present women’s sexuality in a positive light. Lesel Dawson misjudges Fletcher and Beaumont when she attributes the expression of disgust at female sexuality in one of their plays, to the playwrights rather than the character. Their target is male fear, not female sexuality.23 Whenever the misogynist’s view is expounded in Shakespeare it is invariably voiced by bitter, angry, and usually aged men. Such outbursts have no credibility, but serve to highlight the speaker’s own fears and powerlessness. Lear, whose rage against his daughters defines the womb as the locus of all evil, is one example: Down from the waist They’re centaurs, though women all above. But to the girdle do the gods inherit; Beneath is all the fiend’s. There’s hell, there’s darkness, There is the sulphurous pit, burning, scalding, stench, Consumption.24

Hero’s father, Leonato, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598) and Juliet’s father, Capulet, let slip similar fears at moments of extreme stress. Capulet turns on Juliet as if she were contaminated flesh when she shows signs of green sickness and Leonato wishes Hero dead at the very thought of his daughter as sexually active. Like Vives, this previously amiable father works himself into a frenzy, claiming “if they speak but truth of her, / These hands shall tear her.”25 Leonato’s behavior is quite excessive yet entirely in line with the numerous models of defiled or suspected daughters torn to pieces or killed by righteous family members which Vives lists as a warning to girls—examples Vives sometimes verifies from personal experience.26 Both Capulet and Leonato profess to be liberal-minded towards their child, yet revert at the first sign of discord to autocratic authority and that reversion ultimately targets a daughter’s sexual development as the source of their fear. Shakespeare is a consistent exponent of this contradiction in paternal behavior throughout his works, which show time and again that a liberal education and independence of choice will equip daughters well for life, including the ability to harness their sexual selves to positive ends, whereas an over-controlling parent who fears a daughter’s sexual

Introduction  7

development will lead to the destruction of both child and parent (discussed further in chapter 5). Shakespeare and Fletcher stand out as supporters of healthy sexuality in women, but they are not alone. It is hard to find any playwright in the early 1600s who did not reflect positively on women’s biolog y. Many dramatists satirized the notion of the womb’s insatiable appetite and they suggested men who fear it have been duped. Yet, as they were fully aware, merely by bringing such material to the stage so frequently they were complicit in perpetuating such theories as the belief that girls were prone to either promiscuity or green sickness once they reached fourteen and menarche. The amount of dramatic material dedicated to “ripe” bodies assures us it was a genuine issue. Like fruit, they must be plucked, as a father of two daughters is advised in Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase (ca. 1621): For look ye father, they are just like melons Musk-melons are the emblems of these maids; Now they are ripe, now cut ’em, they taste pleasantly, And are a dainty fruit, digested easily; Neglect this present time, and come tomorrow, They are so ripe they are rotten, gone, their sweetness Run into humour, and their taste to surfeit.27

The sexual status of women on stage is typically identified through the perspective of other characters, predominantly male characters, but dramatists also had a range of other resources to call on. This is a system of coding for sexuality embedded in such features as a woman’s age (commonly fourteen), facial color (rosy cheeks for ripeness, pale face for an unhealthy absence of heat, yellow for sexual frustration), plump (full, fertile, and healthy) or thin (barren) body, posture, and gait (coy and modest or assertive), breathlessness (a symptom of green sickness), and temperaments such as melancholy, anger, peevishness, or tearfulness. The art of physiognomy, or the discovering of inner qualities through outward facial appearance, was a highly regarded skill in early modern England and one which dramatists exploited for plot purposes.28 In Much Ado About Nothing (1598) the Friar’s skill in this field changes the course of action. He has observed Hero’s face during her shaming as a bride and when her father condemns her the Friar intervenes: Hear me a little, For I have only been silent so long And given way unto this course of fortune

8  Introduction

By noting of the lady. I have marked A thousand blushing apparitions To start into her face, a thousand innocent shames In angel whiteness beat away those blushes, And in her eye there hath appeared a fire To burn the errors that these princes hold Against her maiden truth. Call me a fool, Trust not my reading nor my observations, Which with experimental seal doth warrant The tenor of my book. Trust not my age, My reverence, calling, no divinity, If this sweet lady lie not guiltless here Under some biting error.29

This arresting passage facilitates a turning point in the plot and a move to take defensive action on Hero’s behalf. Diet is another feature of sexual coding. Any reference to food in drama brings with it significance for the temperament and health of characters. Foods were held to have either heating or cooling properties and these were most often employed in controlling the libido. Those with cooling qualities reduced lust, such as salads and green fruits which were considered triggers for green sickness in virgins. In Thomas Nabbes’s The Unfortunate Mother (1639), the sickly Amanda has lost the blush upon her cheek and her color is earthy. The nurse explains she has been eating salads and green fruits and is in need of a steel tonic. (Iron deficiency and steel tonics became a popular means of treating chlorosis.)30 Foods with hot qualities, on the other hand, were considered aphrodisiacs. These are hot meats, spices, onions, leeks, garlic, scallions, and asparagus. In Richard Brome’s The Sparagus Garden (1635), a neighbor chastises a husband who neglects his wife: “You are not kinde to your own wife John in the Asparagus way; you understand me.”31 It is easy to miss such puns today, but that was not the case for early modern audiences. Asparagus belonged to a group of phallic-shaped seed-provoking vegetables which were believed to enhance both sexual pleasure and procreation. 32 Eggs were in a similar category: “An egge (as Physicians say) will make one lustie.” 33 In The Tamer Tamed (1609–1611) the angry Petruchio, who has been refused wedding night consummation, vents his frustration on his new bride with the curse that: “may all she eate be Eggs, / Till she run kicking mad for men.”34 As Jennifer Evans has so aptly demonstrated, early modern society fully comprehended the way foods acted on the body and understood aphrodisiacs not only in terms of sexual pleasure

Introduction  9

but as promoters of fertility. Pleasure and procreation were inextricably linked so that to enhance one was to enhance the other.35 Other indicators of sexual status included costumes, hats, and wigs. Disheveled and loose hair suggested ripe virginity and was therefore appropriate for maids on their wedding night: “At length the blushing Bride comes with her haire / Dishevel’d ‘bout her shoulders.”36 Curled hair, in both sexes, was another indicator of a lusty nature, but in women it could be considered contrary to a modest demeanour: “She is killing a pride / She is combing of her head, she will not have it frizle.”)37 Headwear could have sexual significance, with a kerchief signaling a woman’s availability and her sex appeal.38 In The Wit of a Woman (1604) the nurse cautions Isabella to avoid swaggering gallants who accost young women in the street and who “have at yee all, that comes, and shee have a kerchiffe she is corrant mettle,” implying she will be easy to seduce.39 Costumes, now lost to us, must have been a frequent means of identifying sexual status on stage. In King Lear (1605) for example, Lear taxes his daughter Regan for wearing something which apparently flaunts her sexuality: Thou art a lady. If only to go warm were gorgeous, Why nature needs not what thou, gorgeous, wear’st, Which scarcely keeps thee warm.40

Early modern audiences also would have grasped the significance of costume color in ways we need to retrieve. Andrew Gurr opens his section on stage costumes in The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642 with “Color was a major source of stage symbolism. The decorums of social status were rigidly marked by dress and its colors in accordance with the Tudor sumptuary laws.”41 It was not just sumptuary laws which dictated color, it was also humoral status. Green, white or yellow costumes could all have a bearing on sexual characterization: The greene, agrees with them in hope that live: And eeke to youthe, this colour wee do give. The yelowe next, unto the covetous wighte. And unto those, whome jalousie doth fret.42

Yellow was the color of jealousy and jaundice. In Glapthorne’s The Hollander (1635), which is discussed in chapter 8, Lady Yellow has checked into a health clinic suffering from jaundice as a consequence of enforced abstinence due to her husband’s irrational jealousy. In Thomas Middleton’s

10  Introduction

Women Beware Women (1621) there is reference to Hymen dressed in yellow presumably because it has been kept waiting too long.43 White and green were both used to identify virginity and the difference is instructive. White gowns usually represent pure, cold chastity, as with Diana’s vestal virgins, but green gowns are for ripe virginity. In A Fair Quarrel (1617), a play discussed in chapter 8, a “yard of a green gown” is a metaphor for a sick-looking bride in need of a “yard,” slang for penis: “I say, then, and I’ll stand to’t, three ounces of wrestling with two hips, a yard of a green gown put together in the inturn, is as good a medicine for the green sickness as ever breath’d.”44 In Cupid’s Banishment (1617), stage directions identify both green and white gowns.45 The cast of thirty-one included many teenage daughters of court appointees. Some attended Diana Goddess of Chastity, who is attired all in white “to shew the purity of chastity . . . with a very rich girdle about called the zone of chastity,” and others were dressed entirely in green dresses, shoes, and gloves. These were wood nymphs, so green is matched with fertile nature but also with the fertile young virgins themselves. A green gown for Maid Marian in Henslowe’s theatrical inventories serves a similar purpose.46 The ballad “Greensleeves” must have been instrumental in furthering green for virgins in need of sexual release. Bruce R. Smith suggests the singer’s passion became synonymous with green sickness.47 Fletcher puts this to comic use in The Tamer Tamed (1609–1611) as Petruchio rails at “Lady Green-Sleeves” his resistant bride, convinced that what she needs is precisely what she is refusing to allow him.48 In Christopher Marlowe’s poem Hero and Leander (1593), Hero, a vestal virgin, is introduced in the opening lines wearing a gown with green embroidered sleeves and a blue kirtle, with blood stains on it: Her wide sleeves green and bordered with a grove, Where Venus in her naked glory strove To please the careless and disdainful eyes Of proud Adonis that before her lies. Her kirtle blue, whereon was many a stain, Made with the blood of wretched lovers slain.49

Despite being a vestal virgin, the color and imagery on Hero’s gown promise an erotic and risky future, an accurate prediction. The green sleeves are for a ripe virgin and the blue and bloodied kirtle predicts her fall into sin. Blue gowns were apparently for prostitutes. In Promos and Cassandra (1578), Lamia, a courtesan, is threatened with a blue gown unless she is more careful in public.50 In The Honest Whore II (1604–1605), two whores in Bridewell appear in blue gowns and blue headdresses as part of their punishment

Introduction  11

(5.2.65; 311; 366).51 Perhaps they were the two blue calico gowns recorded in Henslowe’s list of properties dated March, 1598. It is noteworthy that out of the eighty or more costumes listed, only three are blue.52 Just as dramatists could code for the sexual status of young women on stage, so could they prepare their audiences for paternal behavior and characterization by the choice of actor. Any discussion on the emerging sexuality of daughters in Shakespeare’s work is therefore unequivocally tied to the part her father plays, with age a crucial factor in the role (see chapter 5). It has been speculated that many of the father roles in Shakespeare’s early works were probably performed by John Heminges, including Baptista in Taming of the Shrew (ca. 1594), Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (1594–1596), Leonato in Much Ado about Nothing (1598), Polonius in Hamlet (1601), and Brabantio in Othello (1604). From then onwards, Baldwin suggests that John Heminges was given such elderly and worthy characters as Kent in Lear (1608) or Camillo in The Winter’s Tale (1610), all parts which show similar traits to previous fathers. As soon as he steps on stage in a paternal role his audience will transfer aspects of previous role patterns into this part.53 This feature of early modern performances is easy to overlook and this is where an actor’s perspective, such as Oliver Ford Davies provides in Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, proves valuable. The following chapters trace this fascination with women’s biology through evidence culled from a large number of plays dating from the 1560s through to the 1640s, concluding with plays which deal with abuse of the womb in court circles and two plays which give evidence of the rise of physicians practicing in women’s health in seventeenth-century England. These two late plays endorse Wendy Churchill’s assertion that by the 1640s women’s health had become part of a distinct growth market in the practice of medicine.54 An Appendix listing over fifty plays between 1560 and 1640, which feature either explicit or implicit allusions to the womb, is included as an incentive to further research. Whether expressed through the medium of sickness (such as melancholy, love sickness, or green sickness), hidden pregnancies, barren wives, wedding-night rituals, virgin suicides, or through a young woman’s wayward behavior, it is the womb which we find haunting each of these plays, driving the plot and generating angst in male characters. It was every woman’s unchallenged right to have a satisfying and fruitful sex life—“our bodies ask it,” as one girl puts it quite simply in The Wild Goose Chase (1621).55 This was the cornerstone of Renaissance medical understandings of the female body. A disordered, infertile, or unrequited womb unable to fulfill its natural function was a tragedy for its owner and an indictment on

12  Introduction

the husband or lover who was the cause of its frustration. The nation’s future rested on healthy fertile wombs and this onus on male performance underlies much male characterization in the form of jealousy, fear of cuckoldry, misogyny, fear of failure to perform, recourse to aphrodisiacs, and abstinence. What emerges from this survey is the unshakeable belief in early modern England that a woman’s womb lay at the core of all religious, social, and biological understandings of what it was to be a woman. This essentialist reasoning may not sit comfortably with feminist arguments for female agency, since it defines women by their biology, yet there is evidence in the plays to suggest women were endowed with a high level of empowerment through their womb precisely because it challenged masculinity and held posterity to ransom. NOTES 1 The exception is Milton’s Comus (1634) in which fifteen-year-old Alice Egerton played herself. 2 Phillip, The Play of Patient Grissill, l. 1963. 3 Donne, “Epithalamion made at Lincolnes Inne,” p. 209. 4 Glapthorne, The Hollander, B2v. 5 King, Disease of Virgins. 6 Dixon, Perilous Chastity. 7 Peterson, Popular Medicine, Hysterical Disease, and Social Controversy in Shakespeare’s England, p. 9. 8 Cited in Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman (Beauchamp et al.), p. xliv. 9 For a fascinating history of medical attempts to theorize the exact nature of menstrual blood see Read, “‘Only Kept up by the Credulous and Ignorant’: Eighteenth-Century Responses to the ‘Poisonous’ Nature of Menstrual Blood.” 10 Proverbs 30:15–16 (Myles Coverdale Bible, 1535). 11 Wright, Passions of the Minde, p. 71. 12 Lindley, Trials of Frances Howard, p. 103. 13 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), p. 31. 14 Erasmus and Paynell, The Comparation of a Vyrgin and a Martyr. 15 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), pp. 87–89, 81–82, 126. See also the introduction to Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman (Beauchamp et al.). 16 Erasmus, De Conscribendis Epistolis, p. 136. 17 Potter, “‘No Terence Phrase’,” pp. 376–85. 18 Piepho, Adulescentia, p. xxvi–xxvii, n. 64. 19 Greene, “Mamillia,” Preface, D. 20 Fissell, Vernacular Bodies, chapter 2.

Introduction  13

Fletcher, The Tamer Tamed, or, the Woman’s Prize, 1.2.101–3. Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 1.2.108–20. 23 Dawson, “Menstruation, Misogyny and the Cure for Love,” p. 476. 24 Shakespeare, “King Lear,” 4.5.121–26. 25 Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing,” 1.4.192–93. 26 Potter, “Elizabethan Drama,” pp. 283, 276. 27 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 1.3.108–15. 28 Face reading is a highly prized skill today in South Korea, where it is used as an aid to selection in job interviews. 29 Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing,” 4.1.156–72. 30 King, The Disease of Virgins, pp. 125–28. 31 Brome, Sparagus Garden, 3.8. 32 Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England, p. 116; 33 Lyly, “Gallathea and Midas,” 2.2.31. 34 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 1.1.52–53; 1.3.16–17; 5.2.60. 35 Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England, pp. 30; 89–90. 36 Heywood, A Marriage Triumphe (1613), image 4. 37 Anon, Knacke to Know an Honest Man, p. 5. 38 Richardson, “‘Honest Clothes’,” p. 68. 39 Anon, The Wit of a Woman, 1107–20. 40 Shakespeare, “King Lear,” 2.2.441–43. 41 Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642, p. 193. 42 Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes,” p. 134. 43 Dessen and Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama 1580–1642, p. 256. 44 Middleton and Rowley, A Fair Quarrel, 2.2.173–76. 45 White, “Cupid’s Banishment,” p. 76. 46 Lin, “Suits of Green,” p. 49. 47 Smith, The Key of Green, p. 179. 48 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 3.4.106. 49 Marlowe, The Complete Poems and Translations, First Sestiad, lines 11–16. 50 Whetstone, Promos and Cassandra, 1.6.5. 51 Dessen and Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions, pp. 33 and 256. 52 Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642, pp. 194–98. 53 Baldwin, Organisation and Personnel, pp. 249–50. Although this has since been contested by Chambers, the concept of writing parts for individual actors is sound. 54 Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, pp. 43–44. 55 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 1.3.124. 21


Figure 2. Title page, A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother. Edward Jorden, A Briefe Discourse of a Disease called the Suffocation of the Mother, 1603. Wellcome Collections.

Chapter 1

Troubled with the Mother


HE MAJORITY OF YOUNG women experiencing menarche today may not give too much thought to the source of the blood, concerned only with managing menstrual flow and rarely thinking of the womb itself. Their sixteenth- and seventeenth-century counterparts, on the other hand, were much more conscious of their womb or “the mother” or “matrix” as it was commonly referred to, as an active and controlling organ deep within the body. It was both their feminine center of gravity and, for religiously-inclined girls, the discomforting locus of original sin. These two contrasting concepts of the womb—either chaste treasure and the promise of healthy motherhood, or filthy dross and the threat of damnation—became particularly prominent in early modern England as the medical profession championed the womb for their own field of expertise and the reformed church increasingly represented it as the devil’s domain. Whichever view was adopted, the womb was a major player in the lives of women in Tudor and Jacobean England.

Renaissance Medicine and the Womb In Renaissance humoral theory the body was made up of four humors (phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile) which reflected the four complexions or human temperaments (phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, and melancholy).1 These four humors needed to be kept in balance if the body was to remain in good health. Andrew Boorde explains it simply as (paraphrased): There be four humors otherwise named the four complexions of man which be to say, phlegm, blood, choler, and melancholy. They are not evenly distributed in everyone, for each person has more of one complexion than of the other. . . . When God made man he gave him a perfect balance of humours, but through sensuality [original sin] man altered his humours or complexions, setting them out of order.2

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The formal explanation of humoral theory is generally credited to Hippocrates and to Galen but Boorde provides a Christian frame, with its particular relevance to women as bearers of original sin through their reproductive bodies. Women, with their cool, wet bodies, were particularly vulnerable to humoral imbalance and their womb was the organ most at risk. Humoral theory was central to the ways in which women understood their bodies and menstruation was the means to maintaining a healthy balance either through purification (the Hippocratic cathartic model) or through reducing excess blood (the Galenic model of plethora).3 An excess of one or another humor or the inordinate influence of a particular planet affected the whole person, though the imbalance might show itself in an isolated organ or system.4 For astrological physicians who specialized in women’s health, such as Simon Forman (1552–1611), their experiences with women’s health led them to see the matrix as “a world unto itself.”5 The womb had the fearsome reputation of being the most powerful organ in the female body and, as a consequence, had earned the status of being the source of all health problems in women. Depicted as an independent and ultra-sensitive body part, it was capable of inflicting great suffering on its owner and required constant attention to maintain stability. It was endowed with powerful sensory faculties such as smell, sensitivity to heat and cold, an appetite (for hot, moist male seed), and a disturbing capacity for movement. This latter was its most feared quality for if the womb shifted even slightly from its natural position, any number of emotional and physical repercussions could ensue, including death. The wandering womb theory can be traced back to the works of Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 BC) which held the womb responsible for virtually all female ailments. In seventeenth-century England all medical persons and many who were not medically-minded, were familiar with this piece of Hippocratic wisdom. Edward Jorden’s treatise, A Disease called the Suffocation of the Mother (1603), opens with the statement: “The passive condition of womankind is subject unto more diseases and of other sortes and natures then men are: and especially in regarde of that part from whence this disease which we speake of doth arise” and he references Hippocrates in the margin. He explains that this comes from the “community and consent which this part hath with the braine, heart, and liver, the principall seates of the three [animal, vital, and natural] functions of the body” which render the uterus extremely sensitive to motion and the senses.6 Jane Sharp, who compiled a popular midwifery manual nearly seventy years later, also relied on “the judgment of Hippocrates that

Troubled with the Mother   17

womens wombs are the cause of all their diseases” and she endorsed the womb’s sensitive nature: “for let the womb be offended, all the faculties Animal, Vital, and natural; all the parts, the Brain, Heart, Liver, Kidneys, Bladder, Entrails, and bones, especially the share-bone [pubic bone] partake with it.” 7 For Sharp this was cause for sympathy towards women: “The Female sex are subject to more diseases by odds than the male kind are, . . . therefore great care should be had of the care of that sex that is the weaker and most subject to infirmities.”8 Sharp drew much of her material from Nicholas Culpeper, one of the most widely-published physicians in the vernacular in the Civil War era, who agreed “it is not to be expressed what miserable diseases women are subject to; both Virgins and others from the womb, and its consent with other parts.”9 By “consent” Culpeper, like Jorden’s use of the term “community,” means the innate influence of the womb on all parts of the body and mind. Virgins were particularly at risk of disease since virginity was contrary to the womb’s reproductive function, and sex and pregnancy were the natural and best medicine for keeping the womb healthy and stable. A woman’s health was so singularly dependent upon the womb that it was even possible for Sharp to joke that to be born without a womb was an advantage: “If one womb in a woman be the cause of so many strong and violent diseases, she may be thought a happy woman of our sex that was born without a womb.”10 A similar joke appears in a 1633 play, not to express sympathy for women but to poke fun at male fears of the womb. One fearful husband maintains that were it possible to get children “by any other way then by a woman” he would do so.11 His fear leads him to equate the womb with the devil’s domain: “women may be angels above the waist, but below they are naught but hel.” 12 This is a common image in drama, notably in the mouths of misogynists accusing women of insatiable lust, and not usually found in medical texts, although the womb’s association with corrupt blood and humors came close at times. The physician Abraham Zacuto (1575–1642) described the uterus as “the cloaca of the entire body, the bilge and receptacle of excrements. The weakness of innate heat in the female sex adds to this by not repelling the causes of decomposition.”13 The association with original sin lies behind such despoiled womb perceptions: “For the part wherein the Image of God ought to be conceived by the holy Spirit, became a sink of filths, and testifies the abuse, and fault of an unobliterable sin.”14 While such descriptions in drama may be understood as humor directed against credulous or powerless males, the association between the womb and the devil was a long-standing one which only contributed to

18   Chapter 1

the womb’s powerful reputation as a controlling source of sinful lust and therefore, for some men, a sink or cesspit of vice, or “a standing pool . . . which begets of Frogs and Toads.” 15 In Richard Brome’s The Antipodes (1638), Joyless, the reluctant bridegroom, suffers from intense fear of the poisonous womb on his wedding night: She may be of that Serpentine generation That stings oft times to death (as Mandevile writes) Of people near the Antipodes, call’d Gadlibriens; Where on the wedding-night the husband hires Another man to couple with his bride, To clear the dangerous passage of a Maidenhead.16

The Serpentine reference alludes yet again to the idea of original sin as located in the womb. Coming from the deluded and naive Joyless, Brome’s purpose is to mock the notion of the toxic womb as a male fiction.

Religion and the Womb This conflation of womb and devil dates back to early Christianity. A mobile womb with a will of its own suited the Christian doctrine of original sin. Influential physicians such as Galen of Pergamon (ca. 130–210 AD) and Soranus of Ephesus (fl. 98–138 AD) denied the theory of uterine migration, concluding that “we must consider as totally preposterous the opinion of those who, by means of this reasoning, make the womb into an animal.” Despite Galen’s fervent denial of uterine mobility, as Dixon has cogently pointed out, he continued to perpetuate the standard Hippocratic odor therapy which was contingent upon the womb’s mobility.17 In a late ninthcentury medical volume, an exorcism is included, intended for use with afflicted women, in which the womb is directly addressed: I conjure you, womb, by our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . not to harm this maidservant of God, nor to hold on to her head, neck, throat, chest, ears, teeth, eyes, nostrils shoulders, arms . . . ankles, feet or toes, but to quietly remain in the place which God delegated to you, so that this handmaiden of God might be cured.18

As this incantation demonstrates, religious doctrine and classical medicine merged to invest the womb with demonic powers, recasting it as a tool of the devil. Eight hundred years later, and despite Reformation attempts to discredit Catholic superstitions and beliefs, the womb continued to be cast

Troubled with the Mother   19

in this role by some Protestant clerics. When Edward Jorden was called in as consultant physician in 1602 in the famous case of fourteen-year-old Mary Glover, who was supposedly afflicted by witchcraft, he preferred to rely on Hippocrates to argue for a medical not spiritual diagnosis, although he failed to persuade the Protestant and Puritan divines attending her. Her symptoms certainly gave rise to confusion, as uterine disorders were widely recognized to have symptoms in common with possession or bewitchment. 19 One possible contributory factor in Mary’s illness is that she experienced menarche during the course of her illness and, as a devout and godly Protestant, this sign of internal sin may have contributed to her spiritual trauma. Shortly after the case, Jorden published A Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother (1603), in which he argues for natural, not supernatural, origins of this condition: “this disease doth oftentimes give occasion unto simple and unlearned people, to suspect possession, witchcraft, or some such like supernaturall cause.”20 The association of the womb with the devil originates in the doctrine of original sin and God’s punishment of Eve through the pangs of childbirth and monthly pains of purging. The theory that menstrual blood was evidence of spiritual corruption lingered long beyond medical denials such as the English translation of The Birth of Mankind (1545), in which the author, Eucharius Roeslin, “abhors the shameful lies and slander that Pliny, Albertus Magnus [in] De Secretis Mulierum and diverse others have written of the venomous and dangerous infective nature of the woman’s flowers or terms, the which all be but dreams and plain dotage.”21 Unfortunately for women, these myths were to some extent reinforced by Calvinist and Puritan theologians who used the imagery of menstrual blood to depict utter sinfulness in sermons and devotional writings. Such beliefs were the cause of extreme trauma for many women, who interpreted bodily dysfunction as the result of the Devil’s temptations, in some cases leading them to practice starvation and attempt suicide.22 As will be evident in a number of the plays analyzed in this study, the womb remained a contested site between religion and medicine well into the seventeenth century. Read’s research suggests it took a further two centuries to overcome the combined forces of religion and ancient wisdom pertaining to menstrual blood.23

The Wandering Womb Religion played a major role in perpetuating the womb’s fearsome reputation, but the wandering womb theory and its function as source

20   Chapter 1

of all women’s grievances can be attributed to a renewed interest in Hippocratic writings on the nature of women. When several texts by Hippocrates—Nature of Women, Places in Man, Barrenness, Girls, and Superfetation—first became available in Latin in the early 1500s, they were readily embraced by the medical and allied professions and for the following two centuries were commonly cited on women’s health issues. According to Hippocrates, whenever the uterus changed from its normal position—whether it moved forward or whether it withdrew—it produced diseases. 24 It could move upwards, downwards, sideways, or come “to occupy a loin or flank.”25 Whichever it did, treatment involved coercing it back to its natural seat. 26 He discusses the various symptoms indicative of the womb’s movement (including headaches, pain, swelling, and disrupted menses) and follows with instructions for treatment. These rely heavily on the use of smells and other sensory techniques to attract or repel the womb back to its normal position. These two defining features of the womb—the power of movement and the faculty of smell—were given pride of place in women’s health for nearly two thousand years. Monica Green points out that early “medieval Latin texts are strewn with references to uterine movement” and odoriferous therapies based on the womb sensing and moving towards or away from smells. 27 In seventeenth-century England the medical profession, with occasional exceptions, continued to present the womb as an independent entity, endowed with animal faculties which, as Dixon has pointed out in her examination of sick maids in Dutch paintings, is a concept which can be traced back to “the Platonic perception of the womb as an animal, frenetic, and uncontrolled in its wayward whims and appetites.” 28 In The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) Robert Burton refers to suffocation of the mother, the most common condition caused by the womb, as a “feral malady.”29 In The Art of Physick (1659) the womb is likened to a ball in the lower belly, “tossing and tumbling to and fro.”30 Thomas Willis (1621–1675) writes of a patient who “seemed to feel a prodigious movement, such as that of a wild animal running from the side to the ilium” which Willis considers caused by humors and vapors arising from blood and filthy excrements, by which he may be referring to corrupt menstrual blood and seed.31 By 1671 the wandering womb theory is increasingly under challenge, yet not entirely dismissed. “Whether it can ascend and go upwards is doubted by some,” concedes midwife Jane Sharp, but for herself she has no doubts, acknowledging only that it is tied at the neck. She too employs animal imagery to describe its actions:

Troubled with the Mother   21

“It hath a kind of animal motion,” which at conception “contracts itself and so closely embraceth it [the male seed], being greedy to perfect this work.”32 This image of the womb snatching the male seed and then closing is not uncommon.33 The wild animal simile is revealing as it personifies the womb as an untamed beast which can be compared with similar symptoms of demonic possession, such as described by John Darrell, a puritan exorcist and spiritualist healer: “they had some quick thing within each of them; and not only so, but such a violent moving there was also in their inward parts.”34 Curious swellings and lumps roving around the body were frequently cited as sure signs of possession.35 Little wonder then that the womb was so often equated with the devil’s domain. It is perhaps also worth noting here that, while the wandering womb theory has long since been dismissed, vestiges of a displaced womb remained a feature of surgical procedures until very recently. Fixation of a tilted or retroverted womb was finally discredited a mere fifty years ago.36

Fits of the Mother Dramatists used “fits” as a generic term to convey a range of female behaviors and moods attributed to the womb. When male characters identify fits in women it is likely to be as an explanation of certain behaviors, but when it comes from female characters (and their boy players) satire colors the context. In Wild-Goose Chase (1621) one spirited young woman mercilessly teases her bemused suitor with a variety of moods, before giving him hope by explaining that “Heigh-ho! My fit’s almost off; for we do all by fits, sir.” 37 She is of course feigning her mood swings and exploiting the culture of fear that keeps men on edge. In the same play another young woman feigns green sickness (the disease of virgins discussed below) as a ruse to trick her intended lover into marrying her out of pity.38 It is mainly in drama, and predominantly comedy, where we find high levels of skepticism towards the way women exploited their volatile uterine reputations, although at least one physician, Simon Forman, became skeptical about diagnosing green sickness because the symptoms for the condition were so similar to those for pregnancy, and because women lie. He therefore considered it necessary to consult the stars to see if a woman was either a virgin, or pregnant. 39 Drama reflects this skepticism, usually in the form of satire directed at male fear, yet by staging such material, dramatists were complicit in perpetuating male mistrust of the female body.

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Terminology The most popular term for the womb was “the mother,” but others frequently used were “uterus” and “matrix.”40 There does not seem to have been much contention over any of these terms, whereas other idioms for female genitalia were apparently more controversial. In the course of their Latin translation exercises, grammar schoolboys would be given the Formulae of Erasmus to translate, one of which included the following statement: “‘Vulva’ is a blameless word, and so is ‘womb,’ yet the ignorant consider them disgusting. You may say ‘a woman’s nature’ without giving offence, when you mean her pudenda.”41 Schoolboys could hardly have remained ignorant of women’s biolog y for long, particularly those who became members of the children’s troupes operating in Elizabethan London. Both “nature” and “kind” are terms which shared gendered meaning and were often exploited in this context in drama, particularly in relation to crossdressing scenes, such as in John Lyly’s The Mayds Metamorphosis (1600), in which Eurymine cross-dresses as a boy, leading to a lengthy dialogue playing on her dual sexuality, with twelve references to “kind.”42 When it came to describing conditions of the womb, the medical profession used a range of descriptive alternatives to express aspects of female biology, including womb-fury, womb-frenzy, uterine strangulation, uterine suffocation, furor uterinus, and passio hysterica. “Qualms” is another term with similar implications of uterine movement. Early usage of the term tends to apply it to sea sickness and, later in the Reformation, to pangs of conscience. In drama, however, it is generally applied to women by men to indicate fainting, nausea, morning sickness, or some other symptom of uterine discomfort or pregnancy. In Sappho and Phao (1583) when Sappho falls sick (lovesick) she is diagnosed with “a woman’s qualm.”43 In a play by George Whetstone, Promos and Cassandra (1578), the courtesan Lamia turns the usage around to mock her suitor’s moans that he is dying for love and to satirise so-called pitiful female biology: “Tis but some usual qualm you have” she tells him, “pitifull Dames to fear.”44 In a scene of pure satire in Dekker and Middleton’s Blurt MasterConstable (1602), the court ladies are tutored in women’s fashionable sicknesses, including the counterfeiting of qualms. This, they are told, will have the added benefit of justifying a posset (strong drink) to aid their recovery: “my counsell is, you eate little at Table, because it may bee said of you, you are no cormorant; yet at your comming home you may counterfeit a qualme, & so deuour a posset.”45

Troubled with the Mother   23

Symptoms Symptoms for fits of the mother covered so many possibilities that it is no surprise the womb was held responsible for all women’s ailments. “As Galen saith,” writes Culpeper in his section on mother-fits in general, “the mother or hysterical passion is one name, but hath under it innumerable symptoms.”46 According to Jorden, the most common symptom was breathlessness, or choking : “most commonly it takes them choaking in the throat.”47 The entry for “Chokyng or suffocatyon of the matryce” in Thomas Phaer’s The Regiment of Life (1560) identifies a range of common symptoms and the potentially fatal nature of the condition: the matrice or mother in a woman oftentimes mounteth up towarde the mydrefe and the stomake, wyth intolerable payns, and is called suffocation, because that it is choked, or over charged wyth some evyl and superfluous matter, as by stoppyng of the due purgacyons as to muche abstinence of Venus,48 where by is often chanced shortnesse of breath, payne of the heade, swounyng, trembling of the hearte, contraccyon of members, and otherwhyles death without remedye.49

As this description tells us, the most common symptoms included shortness of breath, headaches, swooning , palpitations, cramps, and coma, if not death. These are the symptoms commonly identified in drama, being easy to stage. The threat of death is no exaggeration. In a Bill of Mortality drawn up for London parishes in 1630 and listing causes of death, seventy-two cases were due to “rising of the lights [lungs] & Mother.”50 Breathlessness has special connotations. In a virgin it was a sign of her sexual ripeness and considered an attraction. It occurs in this sense in Troilus and Cressida (1602), when Pandarus is commending Cressida to Troilus: “She does so blush, and fetches her wind so short as if she were frayed with a spirit. I’ll fetch her. It is the prettiest villain! She fetches her breath as short as a new-ta’en sparrow.”51 In Edward Herbert’s poem, The Green-sickness Beauty, breathlessness is one of the appealing symptoms of a disordered virginal body: Though the pale white within your cheeks compos’d, And doubtful light unto your eye confin’d, Though your short breath not from itself unloos’d, And careless motions of your equal mind, Argue your beauties are not all disclos’d.52

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Herbert has turned the common symptoms—the pallor, the dull eye, the shortness of breath, and the distracted mind—into a blazon of inner virginal beauty. Helen King notes that many physicians represented green sickness patients as beautiful and she suggests the appeal lay in their young, innocent, passive, and suffering status.53 In The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) the doctor brought in to assist the suffering jailor’s daughter, makes the comment “how prettily she’s amiss!”54 And in Hamlet (1601), Claudius twice remarks how pretty Ophelia is in her delirium.55 It is only men of course who find this symptom appealing. It was not uncommon for patients to faint and some even fell into a coma. Culpeper refers to cases where the “woman falls into a dead sleep, which makes her seem as though she were dead.”56 Patricia Crawford describes the case of an afflicted seventeen-year-old girl who lay senseless for eight hours with what were described as “fitts of ye Mother” and which developed into “a violent Ague.”57 This implies green sickness. In a 1616 lexicon the term “ague” is defined in relation to green sickness: “Agues, wherewith maidens that have the greene sicknesse, be troubled.” This listing comes under an entry for fievres blanches (white fevers), which identifies the two conditions as similar, if not the same.58 At the other extreme of the spectrum of clinical symptoms, fits of the mother could be physically violent, with cramps and convulsions, and these could be confused for signs of demonic possession or witchcraft. Physicians had trouble distinguishing between uterine furor and that fury caused by the devil.59 Shakespeare’s son-in-law, John Hall, was at one with the physician William Harvey (1578–1657) in the conviction that No one of experience can be ignorant what grievous symptoms arise when the uterus either rises or falls, is put out of place or is seized with spasms! Mental aberrations, delirium, melancholy, paroxysms of frenzy follow, as if the person were under the dominion of spells.60

Dramatists exploited such symptoms for their bawdy appeal: “[Does she] shake all her body?” asks one titillated gallant. “T’is a saucie fit, I’me jealous of that Ague.”61 Dekker and Middleton included several fits characterized by very physical writhings: “Shee’s troubled with the mother extreamly, I held downe her belly even now, and I might feele it rise.”62 In The Second Part of the Honest Whore (1605), one credulous husband is told that his wife’s suspicious contortions under the physician’s treatment are due to “the disease call’d the Mother. . . . It is a vehement heaving

Troubled with the Mother   25

and beating of the Stomacke, and that swelling did with the paine thereof crampe up her arme, that hit his lips.”63 Such comic depictions are notable for their bawdy innuendo: I am so troubled with the mother too, I have often called in help, I know not whom, Three at once has been too weak to keep me down.64

Despite the humor and their evident satirical nature, these staged fits of the mother serve as much to affirm their medical credibility as to deny it. Churchill relates a case history where a patient suffering from an hysterical fit asked her maids (rather than the attending physician) to press down firmly on her stomach in order to prevent vapors from ascending to her brain.65 On stage, doubts about the validity of such fits extend no further than to their female persona and her trustworthiness. Many men in the audience might harbor similar suspicions about their own wives, daughters, or mistresses, but Renaissance medicine allowed little room for doubting the existence of fits of the mother.

Etiology Fits could be triggered by a clinical obstruction in the womb or by “a vexation of the mind [or] a sudden sorrow,” such as grief, anger, or jealousy.66 Shakespeare has Lear exclaim at a moment of extreme passion: “O! How this mother swells up toward my heart; / [hysterica] passio! down, thou climbing sorrow, / thy elements below.” He will later qualify this as his heart, but at this point it is the mother. For a stage audience, Lear’s use tells them he fears the shame of his degeneration into a feminine state of hysteria. Shakespeare’s use of the metaphor may be one of the few non-satirical references in drama. There has been considerable debate on this issue, but there can be little doubt it was Shakespeare’s way of depicting Lear’s emasculating trauma.67 Similarly, Amintor in Fletcher and Beaumont’s The Maid’s Tragedy (1611–1613) uses much the same language but identifies his heart: “Down! All the swellings of my troubled heart.”68 Amintor is suffering from sexual rejection by his bride, a traumatic experience for him, as also for Petruchio in The Tamer Tamed (1609–1611), who comically feigns sickness in response. Hysterica passio was not exclusive to women. Kenneth Muir tells us of a Richard Maynie who “had a spice of hysterica passio, as seems from his youth, hee himselfe termes it the Moother, a

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poore passion of the Mother, which a thousand poore girles in England had worse.”69 But this does tell us it was commonly associated with young girls and more likely to be an insult for use with men, much like green sickness as used in The Elder Brother (1625) in which the protagonist, a reclusive, scholarly young man, is considered effeminate: “He is tender, / And of a young girls constitution, Sir, / Ready to get the greene sicknesse with conceit.”70 According to Jane Sharp the desire to have a child could be a cause of fits of the mother: “we see that there is in women so great a longing to conceive with child, that ofttimes for want of it the womb falls into convulsions and distracts the whole body.” 71 Drama occasionally refers to ‘longing’ maidens who are usually melancholy and at risk of sickness. Perhaps this was a further reason why broken betrothals were a common cause of fits in young girls, as the physician Gideon Harvey claimed: But young blossom’d Girls seem to be troubled with another Divil within ’em, to augment (increase) the fire of their doting hell, and that’s their Mother, which must ever and non [be] fuming up to their throats upon the least disturbance of their Amours (love), as I have ofte been a spectator of several, that fell into most terrible fits of the Mother, five or six in a day, upon a rupture of Marriage.72

While Harvey is undoubtedly exaggerating, broken betrothals were a rich source of material for dramatists, drawing on chaste and beautiful virgins dying from unrequited love. In one of Webster’s plays, a manipulative mother, in a moment of extreme emotion, becomes ill. “Oh, I am very sicke,” she tells her son and his reply suggests her sickness is a learned response: “Your old disease / When you are griev’d, you are troubled with the Mother.”73 In The Revengers Tragedy (1607) another scheming mother claims money is what governs women’s affections, so “that a woman / Will not be troubled with the mother long / That sees the comfortable shine of [gold coins].”74 Bearing in mind that these women were played by boys, such comments tend to come across as reflections of male skepticism towards women’s fits but they serve the further purpose of marking these older mothers as still sexually charged, which has relevance for the plot.

Treatments Unsurprisingly, sexual relations, preferably leading to pregnancy, are the ideal and natural cure for most uterine disorders, including green sickness,

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and the one endorsed in the vast majority of plays dealing with virgins, widows or neglected wives. As Monica Green has demonstrated, regular sexual relations were always considered vital to a woman’s health throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.75 Dramatists were merely reflecting what Renaissance medicine took for granted. This is a contributory factor to so many comedies ending in weddings. In Perilous Chastity Laurinda Dixon remarks of seventeenth-century medical authorities that even the most conservative and the most progressive gave sexual deprivation as the primary cause of furor uterinus (uterine hysteria). She cites one of the many paintings by Jan Steen known as The Doctor’s Visit as an example, interpreting the young patient’s condition as due to sexual neglect by a husband seen sitting in his study engrossed in writing or accounts.76 Husbands in drama who denied a wife their right to sexual gratification, and thus to childbearing, are depicted as reneging on their duty and as foolish, fearful, and worthy of cuckoldry. Chapter 7 looks at Marston’s Parasitaster, or The Fawne (1604–1606) to explore the fear that drives a husband to keep out of his wife’s bed.77 Sexual relations (also known as “the benefit of marriage” or “hymeneutic exercises”) were clearly the prime cure for fits of the mother. However, since “the womb is of exquisite sense,” other treatments could be applied via the senses, the most acute of which was smell.78 This assumption that frequent sex was essential to a woman’s health still prevails in some quarters today. A 2015 American TV show claimed daily sex was good for women’s health. The benefits listed included reduced menstrual cramps, protection against the flu, a lowering of cholesterol, and improved mental function.79 Treatments which did not involve sex or sexual stimulation relied heavily on aromatherapy, or “fumigation” as it was called. This was an ancient method of treating uterine conditions and would remain the most common form of treatment long after the Renaissance. Hippocrates explains of the womb that “fumigations make it open up when it has been closed” and he lists several effective ingredients, including myrrh, frankincense, wormwood, anise, and sulfur.80 If the womb has dropped, he recommends applying evil-smelling substances from below to repel it back, or if it has moved upwards use pleasant-smelling applications to entice it back down. He provides an example of how to make a vessel with a suitable neck for insertion into the vagina for this purpose.81 The applications themselves could be liquid, as in douches, or pessaries, but were most commonly vapor baths. Hippocrates includes an extensive list of recipes for each and explains how to prepare them: “Spread out some coals and sprinkle moist barley bran over them: employ as a fumigation.” 82

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In seventeenth-century Dutch art, hot coals appear as underskirt warmers, but they also double as fumigation equipment. The physician Gideon Harvey viewed these charcoal burners (chaufrettes) which continuously heated the lower body, as a major instigator of uterine furies.83 In paintings of sick young women being visited by the doctor, the artist may include in the foreground a small charcoal burner in a box with a piece of string hanging out of it (see figures 1 and 3). This tells us burnt string has been used as a fumigant, not from below but at the nostrils, which in turn identifies the young patient’s condition as suffocation of the mother.84 This is in line with Hippocrates’s instructions that when “a woman’s uterus advances and causes her to suffocate, light a lamp wick, extinguish it, and hold it under her nose so that she will inspire the smoke.”85 This technique is repeated in The Syknesse of Wymmen as a wick soaked in oil, lit, and then quenched. Other repugnant smells include burnt sheep’s horn and old shoes, and even the smoke from an eel laid on hot coals.86 The smell would have been considered so repugnant it would repel the womb back down. Sometimes both forms of fumigation would be used jointly for greater effect: “apply evil smels to [the patient’s] nostrils and sweet smels beneath and tie their legs hard with a garter for revulsion sake.”87 Jorden repeats this almost word for word in his advice on how to prevent the patient from self-harm in their fit and advising carers to “apply euil smels to their nostrils, and sweet smels beneath tie their legs hard with a garter for reuulsion sake, &c.”88 Asafetida is often recommended, as in The Treasurie of Health (1560), along with instructions to “let her receive stinking and filthy savoures at her mouth, & a suffumigacion of diverse swete and odifferous thynges beneth.” 89 The powerful nature of such fumigants is attested to in The Breviary of Helthe (1547), under a venereal condition known as ambustio meratricis (“burnynge of an harlot”), a condition caught by men dealing with a harlot who “doth stand over a chafynge dyshe of coles into the which she doth put brimstone and there she doth parfume herself.”90 Bizarre as they sound, these remedies were not fancies of the imagination, although Ben Jonson may well have thought so given a laconic comment in The Magnetick Lady (1632): “They burn old shoes, Goose-feathers, Assafoetida / A few horne shavings, with a bone, or two, / and she is well again, about the house.”91 In the case notes of the Stratford physician, John Hall, one of his patients was thirteen-year-old Mary Comb who suffered from fits of the mother due to a stopping of her lunar evacuations (she had started menstruating aged eleven) and who was treated with “a fume of Horse-hoofs” to the nose and an aromatic ointment of musk, nutmeg, and oil of lilies applied to

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the matrix through the vagina.92 Further treatments included diet, herbal drinks, plasters, baths, and phlebotomy. Bloodletting was considered useful in draining off excess blood, usually from the arm in mature and married women, but from the ankle or heel in maidens. Culpeper prescribed the “letting of blood, especially in the heel” for green sickness.93 Burton also recommends bloodletting from the ankles in virgins who are melancholy for love matters.94 The reason is unclear but according to Nicholas Gyer’s The English Phlebotomy (1592), “in griefes of the womb or bellie, we take the vaine of the ankle” because this vein has an affinity with the womb.95

Maidens and Menarche Virgins constituted a special risk category for uterine disorders. Prior to puberty there is nothing in the medical texts to suggest the womb could be held responsible for sickness in girls, but with the onset of menstruation the risk of a disordered womb was taken seriously. Green sickness became one of the most commonly diagnosed ailments for pubertal girls well into the eighteenth century. This stage of development, sometimes referred to as the third age (puberes), was popularly depicted in botanical terms as a girl’s springtime, her month of April, “now sending forth Buds and Flowers, apparent Testimonies of inward Sap, and immediate Messengers of approaching Fruit.”96 In a poem by An Colins (1653), “The Winter of My Infancy,” the poet expresses her sadness for a springtime which never arrived. (Read uses this poem to demonstrate how forcefully humoral theory had become a fundamental part of how women perceived themselves and their bodies.97) Having passed the winter of her infancy, An looked forward to the expected signs of fertility: But in my Spring it was not so, but contrary, For no delightful flowers grew to please the eye, No hopefull bud, nor fruitfull bough No moderate showers which causeth flowers To spring and grow.

Using the imagery of flowers, showers, fruitful buds, and spring, she draws attention to the expectation of the onset of menstruation, but My Aprill was exceeding dry, therfore unkind; When tis that small utlility I look to find, For when that Aprill is so dry,

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(As hath been spoken) it doth betoken Much scarcity.98

“Unkind” plays on “kind” as in gender, thus against nature, and “that small utility” is the sign of first menstruation. Writing in hindsight, Colins interprets her dry April as a precursor to later barrenness. Milton uses the same imagery: “But my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th . . . And inward ripeness doth much less appear” to lament his own late maturing.99 In a 1591 play by Robert Wilmot, a young widow is still “in the Aprill of her springing age” and “she craves the right that nature challengeth.” Her father refuses to allow her to remarry, although he acknowledges her teeming body: “my daughter knows the proofe of natures course.” Using the imagery of spring and fruitfulness to justify satisfying her body’s sexual needs, she begs her aunt’s help: When I record, how soone my youth withdrawes It selfe away, how swift my pleasaunt spring Runnes out his race, this this (Aunt) is the cause. When I aduise me sadlie on this thing, That makes my heart, in pensiue dumps dismaid, For if I should, my springing yeares neglect. And suffer youth, fruitles to fade away: Whereto liue I? or whereto was I borne? Wherefore hath nature deckt me with her grace? Why have I tasted the delights of love? And felt the sweet of Hymeneus bed?100

“Wherefore hath nature deckt me with her grace?” is an allusion to her fertile, teeming body. The final two lines provide further justification. As a widow she has tasted the pleasures of sex and thus abstinence now puts her health at risk. Her father understands this well using the metaphor of a lamp that, without oil, cannot give flame. In Henry Glapthorne’s The Hollander (1635), it is not a widow but a young wife who suffers similarly and adultery is therefore justified, as she tells her delinquent husband: [You did] forsake my bed Before my blood scarce relish’d the delights Attending on young nuptials, so that I Expect no anger from you if I seeke That from the charity of other men, Which you neglect (though you in duty owe it).101

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Once the womb’s appetite had been awakened there was no easy reversion to a celibate life. This follows the understanding that since “the appetite follows the first taste; when we have relished . . . then our desire is whetted on to more.”102 Dramatists present sexual intercourse for women—with the exception of rape or impotent husbands—as an exquisitely pleasurable and fulfilling experience. This is what drives the actions of so many female virgin characters. Fletcher’s comedy, The Wild Goose Chase (1621), for example, revolves around the machinations of three virgins, all intelligent, confident, and well-educated, who are driven by their libido and a fear of prolonged chastity to actively pursue potential husbands: “Husbands they must and will have; / Or nunneries and thin collations / to cool their bloods.”103 They too crave the right that nature challenges. And failing success, only austere convent life could tame their overheated wombs.

The Age of Ripeness Just as April is popularly used as a symbol for the onset of fertility and an awakening womb, so fourteen is the symbolic age cited for female ripeness. This too is based on classical sources. Sharp reminds her readers that the stages of life are measured in seven-year stretches and that year fourteen holds particular significance for girls: “Pythagoras saith, that seven is the knot that binds Mans life, and Hippocrates . . . saith, that the time of all men is determined by seven, every climactericall or seven years breeding a new alteration in the body of man: Children cast their Teeth at seven, and Maids courses begin to flow at fourteen.”104 A well-established tradition embraced fourteen as the age of ripeness which in turn brought legal implications, hence puberty is also defined as “a ripe and lawful age.”105 This was based on Roman and canon law which held the innocence of children allowed juridical immunity until the legal end of puerizia at fourteen years of age.106 In The Lawes Resolutions of Womens Rights (1632), the ages of a woman are summarized as follows: “at 7. her father shall have ayde, at 9. shee’s Dowable, at 12. she may consent to marriage, at 14. out of Wardship.”107 A girl could marry at fourteen without her father’s consent, something she could not do at twelve, the legal age for marriage, and female wards became legally hors du guard (outside wardship) at fourteen. This change in legal status implicitly acknowledges that by fourteen, and post menarche, it might be hard to enforce parental control. This is what Antigonus, in The Winter’s Tale (1610), alludes to when he swears he will geld his three young daughters if Hermione prove adulterous:

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By mine honour, I’ll geld them all. Fourteen they shall not see, To bring false generations.”108

In a 1576 moral interlude a fourteen-year-old girl addresses the audience to argue her fitness for marriage: How say you my virgins everyone Is it not a sin to lie alone When fourteen years have gone? I dare say you think so everyone.

Her mother does not agree: “[My mother] sayeth for wedding that I am unfit / Maids of fourteen years have no wit.” Given the average age for marriage was in the twenties, the audience would have laughed at the maid, but also recognized the difficulties of keeping her both chaste and healthy now that she is ripe.109 Any schoolboy playing her part (or in the audience) might recall a phrase from their Latin exercises: “This mayde is nat yet able to be married. / Haec puella immature viro es,” alluding as much to a girl’s biology as her wit.110 Once a girl reached menarche, she was more likely to be under the control of her womb than of her parents. The legal implications of menstruation as a sign of sexual desire are sharply exposed in rape laws. The diplomat Dudley Carleton wrote of a case where a priest was accused of raping a young girl, but argued his innocence on the basis of the fact that the girl had reached menarche: “The parents endeavour to prove it a rape, which might have some color if the wench were not at woman’s estate, and the priest in his justification shows he hath no more ravished his young mistress than her massaia [maidservant] who is with child by him likewise.”111 Indeed, the perception of adolescents of both sexes as slaves to lust can be traced back to at least the high medieval period.112 Medical sources often endorse this understanding. The Anatomy of Melancholy asserts that “generally women begin to sprout hairs [pubescere], as they call it, or yearn for a male, as Julius Pollux cites, out of Aristophanes, at fourteen years old, then they do offer themselves, and some plainly rage. Leo Afer saith, that in Africa a man shall scarce find a Maid at fourteen years of age, they are so forward, and many amongst us after they come into the teens, do not live without husbands, but linger.”113 Sharp also warns her readers that once the courses flow at fourteen, “maids will not be easily ruled” and that “lustful thoughts draw away their minds, and some fall into Consumptions,

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others rage and grow almost mad with love.”114 This is the predicament so many dramatists found appealing as a plot device and which they used as a template for exposing parental fears of a daughter’s sexual development. Threatened with either disease or unchaste behavior, fathers in drama are most likely to make errors of judgment. The most famous example is Capulet, in Romeo and Juliet (ca. 1594–1595) whose misdiagnosis of his daughter’s behavior as green sickness is the catalyst for the tragedy. In Pericles (1608), on the other hand, where there are two such fleeting birthday references, one for Thaisa, Simonides’s daughter and one fourteen years later for Thaisa’s own daughter, Marina, neither father mishandles this stage of development.115

Green Sickness or the Disease of Virgins When Sharp refers to “consumptions,” she means green sickness, an illness that would have been most readily understood by her late-seventeenthcentury readers. The clinical history of the disease has been well documented by Helen King and more recently, Sara Read has considered the rich literary contextual history attached to green sickness.116 Until lately, it was defined as chlorosis, a term which connotes greenness, or a form of anemia, a disease of young girlhood occurring at or soon after the period of puberty. Sixteenth-century references tend to present it as a new disease, although it had a prior history in late medieval texts. In English popular culture it was apparently considered a new disease and possibly also on the continent as demonstrated by one physician’s need to specifically deny that “the pale colour of girls” is a new disease.117 The specific impetus for its focus on virgins came with the publication of a case history in 1554, by a German physician, Johann Lange.118 Lange’s case history was in the form of a letter to a father whose daughter, Anna, was of an age to marry. There is no shortage of good suitors but her health is in decline. The main symptoms are paleness, weakness, and an aversion to food—meat in particular. Her father has consulted numerous physicians who have offered a range of diagnoses (including suffocation of the womb), leaving Anna’s father confused as to treatment. Lange confidently assures him his daughter is suffering from a condition specific to virgins when ripe for a man, which comes from menstrual blood being trapped in the body by obstructions in the veins. Having explained in detail the extensive medical complications which arise from this, Lange then quotes Hippocrates:

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Who says in his little book on the diseases of virgins: the patient is cured of this disease by bloodletting, if there are no contraindications. But I myself—he says—order virgins suffering from this disease to live with men as soon as possible, and have intercourse. If they conceive, they recover. In fact, if they are not attacked by this disease during puberty, then it seizes them a little later, unless they have married a man.119

By drawing attention to Hippocrates’s “little book on the diseases of virgins,” Lange set the ball rolling for the disease to be diagnosed with increasing frequency. A century later, Lange and Hippocrates continued to be cited as the original authorities: “Hippocrates bids them presently marry for if they conceive they are cured. John Langius saith this disease comes in the ripeness of age or presently after.”120 At some point in the first half of the sixteenth century the term “green sickness” was coined and was rapidly adopted in popular usage as well as in medical texts. It is specific to English usage and appears to have its origins in the botanical concept of green for fresh and young, and immature, as in “young men or virgins while their years be green.” 121 Some physicians would later claim the term indicated a greenish pallor of the girl’s face, leading to the term chlorosis, as suggested in The Practice of Physick (1655), in which the chapter on green sickness opens by listing some alternative terms: “This Disease by Hippocrates, is called Chlorosis; by the Modern Physitians, the white Feaver, the Virgins Disease, the Pale color of Virgins, the white Jaundice, but vulgarly the Green-sickness.”122 In Laurinda Dixon’s survey of Dutch paintings she notes the extreme pallor or grayish-green cast all artists depicted of sufferers. 123 Given the condition was dependent on virginity, the color green points squarely at the absence of sexual experience. The physical symptoms of the condition echoed those for fits of the mother (a pale complexion, general weakness, breathlessness, headaches, palpitations, amenorrhea, swooning ), but extended to eating disorders such as pica. As Sharp observes, “It is alwayes almost attended with disgust and loathing of good nutriment, and longing after hurtful things.”124 When Sharp refers to an ill or evil habit of the body, she may well have disordered eating in mind. John Tanner identifies green sickness as an “evill habit of the Body.”125 In drama, eating disorders are likely to be identified with the consumption of chalk, ashes, coal, or oatmeal. Oatmeal in particular was thought to thicken the blood and obstruct flow. In Fletcher’s The Elder Brother (ca. 1625), Lord Lewis is concerned

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that his fourteen-year old daughter is looking ill and he recommends exercise and a healthier diet: And thou shal not with eating chalke, or coals, Leather and oatmeal, and such other trash Fall into the Greene sicknesse.126

To an early-modern theater audience the psychological symptoms were of prime significance, encompassing weeping, sighing, anxiety, depression, anger, violent mood swings, delirium, insanity, and either promiscuity or an aversion to sexual relations. All these symptoms could be staged effectively and could serve to enhance dramatic and comic or tragic action. As a general rule, plays dealing with green sickness suggest it was over-diagnosed and they satirise the medical profession’s obsession with the condition and mock fathers who fear the sexual development of daughters and construe puberty as a clinical condition. Green sickness and love sickness are often conflated in drama, suggesting audiences understood both as a uterine condition occasioned by either pining for or thinking too much on love. In Hey for Honesty, Down with Knavery (1627), a soldier bragging about his success with a maid makes a jest about “a pretty waiting gentlewoman, that with dreaming of her Lord, was fallen into a terrible Green sicknesse,” but his more sensitive, honest, and older companion chides him for making a joke of something so serious: Come leave this jesting, ile endure’t no longer; I will not let you hate this pretty Lasse. ’S life it may prove her death: These wanton girls Are very subject to eat chalk and coals. S’lld, too much grief for you, with thoughts of love, May chance to generate the green-sicknesse in her.127

As is so often the case with comedy, differentiating the serious from the satiric can be a challenge (particularly in the case of boy players) and is usually best approached by considering the character who is voicing the opinion.

Green Sickness Treatment Although humoral theory had much to do with treatment and with susceptibility to the condition, green sickness was a consequence of virginity and therefore cured by sexual relations.128 Sharp warns of the dangers of

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letting the disease advance too far: “this disease never comes till they are fit for Copulation, and then commonly it hasteneth; and it is cured by opening of Obstructions, and heating the womb; which nothing can so soon, and well perform, as the Venereal acts, to make the courses come down.”129 Of course, it was not always possible for an afflicted virgin to be married in haste, nor did everyone agree with this simple remedy. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Paracelsus (1493–1541) put his faith in chemical and mineral treatments and physical therapies. Far from recommending sex as a cure, he aimed to “expel lewd thoughts by shutting [the victims] in dark unpleasant places with bread and water without mercy” as a cure for a form of uterine suffocation he referred to as chorea lasciva.130 This particular form of uterine hysteria was characteristic of a dancing mania sometimes known as St. Vitus’s dance, which spread throughout Germany and Holland, and which Paracelsus maintained was initiated by imagining the sexual act. He also suggested that a good beating would quickly return a raving woman to her senses.131 In one of the Paston letters dating from the mid-fifteenth century, Elizabeth Clere writes to John Paston to urge him to arrange a marriage for his sister. The severe treatment his sister was currently receiving at the hands of her mother sounds suspiciously like a Paracelsian form of treatment for green sickness: For she was never in so great sorrow as she is nowadays; for she may not speak with no man, whosoever come, ne not may see ne speak with my man, ne with servants of her mother’s, but that she beareth her on hands otherwise than she meaneth [i.e. unless she deceives her mother]. And she hath since Easter the most part been beaten once in the week or twice, and sometimes twice on a day, and her head broken in two or three places.132

A much gentler and more enjoyable form of treatment was friction, or masturbation, with the aim of evacuating seed and bringing the womb back to stability. Masturbation does not seem to pose a concern except in virgins because of the potential damage to the hymen. In his chapter on Virginity, Culpeper recognizes that some virgins are very lustful “and when it itcheth, they put in their fingers or some other thing, and break the membrane.”133 “Itching” is a term often used in drama to signify an active libido in a girl and seems a means of describing the internal stimulation of the genitals.134 According to some medical authors, “Itching or Tickling in those parts that serve for Generation” could be caused by salty foods which stimulated the genitals and improved the seed.135 As therapy for female patients, masturbation was sometimes practiced by physicians

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or by midwives or nurses, although not without some controversy. This was not just because of the damage virgins could do to themselves but because of pressure from religious authorities. Schleiner quotes a Catholic physician, Ranchin: “We, however, following the teaching of the theologians, hold friction of this kind to be abominable and damnable, particularly in virgins, since such pollution may spoil virginity.”136 Such terms as “damnable” and “pollution” put a religious slant on masturbation and indeed for nuns it was referred to as “the silent sin.”137 Commentary in drama, on the other hand, implies it was a common practice and not one of concern. When the Duchess of Malfi feigns fits of the mother as a pretext for hiding her pregnancy, she boldly suggests masturbation as treatment for the fits: “Shall I sound [swoon] under my fingers? I am / So troubled with the mother.”138 Similarly, in Marston’s The Fawne (1604–1606), we learn women are well-practiced in the art of masturbation: Herod: Here, Faunus, [drink] a health as deep as a female . . . Nymphadoro: How dost thou feel thyself now, Fawne? Hercules: Very womanly, with my fingers.139

As this particular play is very much concerned with neglected wives it should come as no surprise that women are depicted as resorting to selfgratification. Drama suggests maids were equally entitled to self-medicate. In Dekker’s The Wonder of Kingdom (1631) the audience is informed that when a virgin is taken all over with “a pricking; first about her stomack, and then she heaves and heaves, that no one man with all his weight, can keep her downe” she can provide her own treatment, “in her greatest conflict sh’as had a worthy feeling of herself.”140 Lesbian sex similarly raises little concern in drama because it can never fulfill the womb’s need for hot male seed or for erotic satisfaction: “female sexual pleasure was thought to be engendered by the raising of heat in the genitals through the friction of intercourse, but also by the special properties of semen itself . . . which had the effect of generating pleasure.141 Unlike sodomy, it was not a legal offence and was less discussed as a sin in the early modern period than in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.142

Lifestyle as Risk Factor Part of the interest in green sickness in the early modern period—and in particular for dramatists—centers on the fact that the condition affected the wealthier classes, whose daughters were more likely to remain virgins

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until marriage. This was not the case with country girls from working families: “Maids that live in the country are not so troubled with those diseases, because there is no such lying in wait for their maiden-heads, and also they live sparingly and hardily, and spend their time in continual labour.”143 A rich diet and a comfortable, idle lifestyle contributed to an excess of blood (which may be why one playwright glosses green sickness as “that lasie humour”144). Women from poorer families, on the other hand, rarely suffered from the condition because they were “among the ranke of meane people, where everie one must worke for a living, and are not pampered with full and daintie fare.”145 Hard physical work was thought to lead to a reduction in blood production, hence active country women had shorter periods than their city sisters, as did nuns who slept and ate little and sang much.146 In The Hidden Treasures of the Art of Physick (1659), John Tanner lists the preconditions for green sickness as “flourishing Age, highkeeping, and an idle life, Sanguine Complexion and ripe for Generation.” 147 In early modern texts, “complexion” embraces an individual’s humoral disposition—choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, or (as here) sanguine— for which facial color provides evidence. However, as Brid Phillips has argued, the primary idea of complexion as temperament shifted in the mid sixteenth century to focus more on facial coloring and we can see that shift in drama.148 A sanguine or high complexion indicates an abundance of blood.149 Women’s complexions are influenced by their womb, “they grow sandy, or pale and yellow or swarthy, and now and then their eyes and faces shew red, and very sanguine.”150 On stage, a girl’s complexion is often a means of conveying her sexual status. Under discussion of maidenheads in James Shirley’s The Gamester (1633), Will Hazard bluntly informs Penelope that “by your complexion, you have your’s still; / Away with’t, and in time.”151 This is a good example of Victoria Sparey’s argument that early modern performances asked their audiences to view the actor’s body in a way that manufactured culturally-recognized signs of adolescence appropriate to character. She identifies blushing in particular as a sign of a girl’s increasing womanliness.152 One early eminent example of green sickness may have been the teenaged Queen of Scots. In 1559 the English ambassador to France reported that “the Scottish Queen in my opinion looked very ill on it, very pale and green, and withal short breathed, and it is whispered here among them that she cannot live long.”153 The earliest known English patient is Sir William Paget’s teenaged daughter who, in 1558, was “still troubled

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with the greine sickness” despite the fact she had been married for a year. Quite possibly it was hoped her marriage would cure her sickness, but if so it was without success. Paget goes on to express his hope that by hiring the most learned physicians in London a remedy may be found.154 Paget is the first documented example of a concerned father willing to hire the best physicians at presumably whatever cost it takes to cure his daughter. It is noticeably fathers in both fiction and non-fiction who show the most concern over the condition, and whose love for their daughters is expressed in willingness to pay high fees for the best physicians. Perhaps Lange’s case history featuring Anna and her concerned father set a precedent, or perhaps fathers were more inclined than mothers to diagnose green sickness in a sick daughter. Paget’s wife did not share her husband’s diagnosis, rather she thought it was consumption. The repeated references to consumption in relation to green sickness remind us that it was the frustrated or deprived womb which led to the body being consumed from within. It was a concept dramatists such as Richard Brome found appealing : “To keep a Maiden-head three yeares afte Marriage, / Under wed-locke and key, insufferable! Monstrous. / It turns into a wolfe within the flesh.” Brome is playing on the metaphor of the womb as feral beast consuming the body from within.155 When fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Isham showed signs of illness (fatigue, dullness, pallor) it was her father who diagnosed green sickness but her mother put it down to grief at the death of her grandmother.156 For fathers, a green sickness diagnosis was not something to be ashamed of, in fact precisely the reverse, since the condition gave evidence of a comfortable life style, a refined nature, and, of course, proof of a daughter’s virginity. The earliest medical reference to green sickness occurs in the Breviary of Helthe (1547), a handbook written for the common good and to promote esteem for the medical profession. The author claims that too many ignorant people are meddling with physic and he specifically singles out women who practice medicine.157 In 1551 Andreas Vesalius recommends the use of “imperial oil” against “the grene sicknes in wemen,” either drunk or applied internally.158 (Numerous miracle cures in the form of oils, potions, and spa waters would be touted in the following centuries.) In 1558 William Bullein published The Government of Healthe with a mention of “a new disease peraccidentes called the grene syckenes” and he recommended onions, which were known for their hot, sharp qualities which could counter thick humors and bring color to the face.159 Subsequent publications and reprints by both Boorde and Bullein included further references, suggesting the

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condition became increasingly familiar. Most texts included recipes for treatment, such as a 1568 treatise by William Turner, Doctor of Phisick, recommending the virtues of water hemp,160 while Thomas Hill’s The gardeners labyrinth (1577), a compendium of advice from a range of sources, also recommends distilled water of garlic which, like onions, “doth marvellously amende the greene sicknesse.”161 All of these oils, spring waters, recipes, pills, and concoctions were promoted for the gamut of women’s uterine health problems, not just green sickness. They indicate just how prominently women’s health featured in medical, herbal, and other tracts, and in the apothecaries’ trade. By the turn of the century, green sickness is well and truly entrenched in English medical practice and as common a disease in young maids as worms, measles, and scabs were in children, if we take Simon Forman’s word for it.162 That it was over-diagnosed by physicians is not surprising but there was evidently considerable room for error. Elizabeth Isham privately disputed her own diagnosis, yet for three years she accepted it until she turned seventeen and finally grew out “of that greene sicknes.” When her sister was diagnosed by physicians with “the mother,” both girls were skeptical, since “those things which was proper for the desease availed not neither did other sircumstances a gre with the phisitians rule for it,” which may indicate they were both menstruating.163 A survey of approximately fifty early modern plays dealing to a greater or lesser extent with adolescent girls (Appendix A) reveals that, with a few possible exceptions, two of which are by Shakespeare, there are virtually no greensick patients on stage. What emerges instead is a fairly consistent picture of female puberty as it reaches ripeness and of the health and behavioral risks this presents. The plays endorse the medical theories but suggest that pregnancy rather than sickness is the more likely outcome. This is the case in the very earliest play to introduce the topic, The Bugbears (1566–1570), where green sickness is a cover for pregnancy as it is in one of the later plays to be discussed, A Faire Quarrel (1617). These plays all document a rise in interest by dramatists in women’s health (excluding childbirth) over an eighty-year period, a timeframe which coincides with the rise of physicians treating women and specializing in uterine health. Public debate on female sexuality tended to fall into either the natural and healthy category or the corrupting and sinful view driven by religion. Dramatists are almost always sympathetic to the natural philosophy and critical of masculine misinterpretations or prejudices. This did not change over the period of this study which indicates the debate

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remained alive and well and, as later chapters will show, argues for religious reform in early modern England as instrumental in reviving fears of the female body and its matrix.

NOTES Much in this chapter draws on, endorses and extends Read’s findings in her outstanding research into female biology in early modern England. Her work on menstruation provides a wealth of fascinating medical detail and insights into topics discussed here, such as the female humoral body, menarche, puberty, religion, and sexuality, and their application to literature. See Read, Menstruation and the Female Body. 2 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe (1547), chapter 184. 3 Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, pp. 15–16. 4 For a full explanation of humoral theory and the female body see also Dixon, Perilous Chastity pp. 11–13, or King, The Disease of Virgins, pp. 22–23. 5 Traister, “Matrix,” p. 442. 6 Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, pp. 1–7. 7 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 100. 8 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 191. 9 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, p. 107. 10 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 247. 11 Marston, Parasitaster, 4.1.271. 12 Marston, Parasitaster, 4.3.1. 13 Quoted in Schleiner, Medical Ethics, p. 111. 14 Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, p. 198. 15 Glapthorne, Hollander, B2v. 16 Brome, Antipodes, image 37. 17 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, pp. 18–20. 18 Green, Trotula, p. 25. 19 Bonzol, The Other Sort of Witches, p. 127 20 Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, B. 21 Reynalde, Birth of Mankind, pp. 187–88. 22 See Adcock, Read and Ziomek, Flesh and Spirit; and Potter, “The Trauma of Puberty for Daughters in Godly Households.” 23 Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, chapter 5. 24 Hippocrates, Places in Man, p. 95. 25 Hippocrates, Nature of Women, p. 9. 26 Hippocrates, Nature of Women, p. 227. 27 Green, Trotula, pp. 24–25. 28 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, pp. 18 and 100. 1

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Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Smith), p. 353. Tanner, Art of Physick, p. 329. 31 Willis, Oxford Casebook, p. 82. 32 Sharp, Midwives Book, pp. 235–36. 33 Crawford, Blood, Bodies and Families, p. 58. 34 John Darrel, A True Narration of the Strange and Grievous Vexation by the Devil of Seven Persons in Lancashire, quoted in van Dijkhuizen, Devil Theatre, p. 61. 35 Bonzol, The Other Sort of Witches, p. 151. 36 I am indebted to Dr. Mark Beale for alerting me to these now discredited procedures. 37 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 2.2.157. 38 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 2.2.157. 39 Lauren Kassell, Medicine and Magic, p. 161. 40 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe, item 376. Boorde also lists uvula as the Latin name and hystira as the Greek. 41 Cited in Rummel, Erasmus on Women, p. 19. 42 Lyly, ed. Bond, “Mother Bombie; Poems; Maid’s Metamorphosis,” 5.1.1–47. 43 Lyly, “Sappho and Phao,” 3.1.1–5. 44 Whetstone, Promos and Cassandra, 3.6. 45 Dekker and Middleton, Blurt Master-Constable, image 21. 46 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, p. 107. See also Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, p. 1. 47 Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, p. 5. 48 Abstinence from sexual relations. 49 Phaer, Regiment of Life, image 67. 50 Sullivan, Beyond Melancholy: Sadness and Selfhood in the Renaissance. Figure 2.1. First presented at a seminar at Sydney University, May 16, 2013. 51 Shakespeare, “Troilus and Cressida” 3.2.29–32. Sparrows were symbols of lechery. 52 Herbert, Minor Poets, p. 47. 53 King, Disease of Virgins, pp. 6–8. 54 Shakespeare, “Two Noble Kinsmen,” 4.3.28. 55 Shakespeare, Hamlet, 4.5.41 and 55. 56 Culpeper and Chamberlayne, Compleat Midwife’s Practice, p. 239. 57 Crawford, Blood, Bodies and Families, p. 24. 58 Cited in Cotgrave, Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611), LEME. 59 Schleiner, Medical Ethics in the Renaissance, p. 94. 60 Quoted in Wilson, “Observations on English Bodies,” p. 141. 61 Middleton, “A Mad World, My Masters,” 3.1.44–46. 62 Dekker, “North-Ward Ho,” 3.2.98–99. 29 30

Troubled with the Mother   43

Dekker, “Honest Whore (1605),” 1.3.127–29. Middleton, “Hengist,” 4.2.100–107. 65 Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, p. 73. 66 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Smith), p. 354. 67 Petersen, “Historica Passio,” pp. 1–22. 68 Fletcher and Beaumont, Maid’s Tragedy, 2.3.360. 69 Muir, “Samuel Harsnett and King Lear,” p. 14. 70 Fletcher, The Elder Brother, G2. It is also used as an insult in Dekker’s The Wonder of a Kingdom; Ford’s The Lover’s Melancholy and Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2. 71 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 76. 72 Harvey, Morbus Anglicus, p. 45. 73 Webster, “Devil’s Law Case,” 3.3.240. 74 Tourneur, Reuengers Tragaedie, 2.1.120–4. 75 Green, Trotula, p. 27. 76 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, pp. 159, 166, color plate 1. The man looks aged, and the patient very young, so if they are husband and wife (not father and daughter) then she will certainly suffer. If he is the father, the message remains the same; he is oblivious to his daughter’s sexual development. 77 Henceforth referred to as The Fawne. 78 Tanner, Art of Physick, p. 344. 79 “Hollywood Today” Fox Channel 5, Washington D.C., 15.10.2015. 80 Hippocrates, Surfetation, p. 345. 81 Hippocrates, Places in Man, pp. 8, 97–99. 82 Hippocrates, Nature of Women, pp. 10, 317. 83 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, p. 102. 84 Dixon, Perilous Chastity. Examples of artists include Jan Steen, Dirck Hals, and Gabriel Mertsu. 85 Hippocrates, Nature of Women, pp. 10, 297. 86 Anonymous, Sekenesse of Wymmen, pp. 33, 47, 51–52, 73. 87 Anonymous, Sekenesse of Wymmen, pp. 53, 71. 88 Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, 24V. 89 Pope John XXI, Treasurie of Health, image 121. The author of this text— translated and published in English in 1560—was no less than a thirteenthcentury Pope. 90 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe, p. 362, chapter 19. 91 Jonson, “Magnetick Lady,” 5.1.11. 92 Hall, “Select Observations,” pp. xliv, 132. 93 Culpeper and Chamberlayne, Compleat Midwife’s Practice, p. 238. 94 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Oxford, 1621). 2nd Partition. Section 4. Member 2. 95 Gyer, English Phlebotomy, p. 119. 63 64

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Swinburne, Treatise of Spousals, p. 47. Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, pp. 15–16. 98 Collins, Divine Songs and Meditacions, 57. 99 Milton, Comus and Other Poems, p. 92. 100 Wilmot, Tragedy of Tancred, 2.2.460, 1.1.159, 2.1.297–307. 101 Glapthorne, The Hollander, p. 931. (D3v). 102 Fletcher, Middleton and Rowley, “Wit at Several Weapons,” 2.2.90–3. 103 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 1.3.24, 5.1.21–23. 104 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 134. 105 Swinburne, Treatise of Spousals, p. 5. See also Mendelson and Crawford, Women in Early Modern England, p. 79. 106 Taddei, “Puerizia, Adolescenza and Giovinezza,” p. 21. 107 Edgar, Lawes Resolutions of Womens Rights, images 6 and 11. 108 Shakespeare, “Winter’s Tale,” 2.1.149. 109 Wapull, Tyde Taryeth No Man, image 16. 110 Horman, Vulgaria, p.144. 111 Carleton, Carleton to Chamberlain, pp. 187–88. 112 Stoertz, “Medieval Adolescent,” p. 225. 113 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Smith), p. 656. 114 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 69. 115 Shakespeare, “Pericles” 2.1.107 and 4 Chorus 17. 116 Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, pp. 63–81. 117 Joubert, The First Book of Popular Errors concerning Medicine and Physicians, p. 16. 118 King, Disease of Virgins. King links an earlier digestive disorder of green jaundice to sixteenth-century green sickness, see chapter 1. 119 Cited in King, Disease of Virgins, p. 48. 120 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, p. 105. 121 Wilmot, Tragedy of Tancred, line 1505. 122 Riviere, Culpeper, and Cole, The Practice of Physick, p. 400. 123 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, p. 72. 124 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 195. 125 Tanner, The Art of Physick, pp. 314–15. 126 Fletcher, The Elder Brother, Bv. 127 Randolph, Jaques, and Aristophanes, Hey for Honesty, image 22. 128 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Smith), p. 353. 129 Sharp, Midwives Book, pp. 199–200. 130 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, pp. 20–21. 131 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, pp. 40–41. 132 Davis, Paston Letters, pp. 23–24. 133 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, chapter 13, Book IV, Part II. p. 97. 134 Read cites a 1559 text, “The Secret Miracles of Nature,” Menstruation and the Female Body p. 46. 96 97

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Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine, pp.105–6. Schleiner, Medical Ethics, pp. 120, 150. 137 Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors, Book Four, Chap X, p. 306. 138 Haslem, “Troubled with the Mother,” p. 453. 139 Marston, The Fawne (Smith), 2.44–47. 140 Dekker, “Wonder of a Kingdom,” 2.3.8–21. 141 Toulalan, “‘Unripe’ Bodies: Children and Sex in Early Modern England,” p. 143. 142 Crawford, Blood, Bodies and Families in Early Modern England, p. 62. 143 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, p. 44. 144 Glapthorne, The Hollander, A4v. 145 Crawford also suggests that “nutritional deficiencies and chronic infections may have led to a late menarche—around 16 or 17—for many girls.” Crawford, Blood, Bodies and Families, pp. 22, 34. 146 Barratt, ed., Knowing of Woman’s Kind, pp. 48, 57. 147 Tanner, The Hidden Treasures of the Art of Physick, p. 329. 148 Phillips, “Betrayed by Blushing: The Colour of Facial Feeling.” Phillips used Loves Labours Lost to demonstrate the role of facial color in drama. 149 Sharp, Midwives Book, See Hobby, “Note on Humoral Theory,” pp. xxxiii–v. 150 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 237. 151 Shirley, “The Gamester,” 3.1; 226. 152 Sparey, “Performing Puberty: Fertile Complexions in Shakespeare’s Plays,” pp. 459–63. 153 Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, p. 111. 154 King, Disease of Virgins, p. 21. 155 Brome, Antipodes, image 8. 156 Isham, Book of Rememberance, 17v. 157 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe, p. 362. Aiir–v. This book was republished six times before the end of the century. 158 Vesalius and Raynalde, Oile Imperial, image 35. 159 Bullein, Gouernement of Healthe, images 125 and 131. 160 Turner, Herbal, image 1. 161 Hill and Dethick, Gardeners Labyrinth, images 1 and 40. 162 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, p. 33. 163 Isham, Book of Rememberance, fols. 19r, 22r. 135 136

Chapter 2

The Bugbears (1566–1570)


HE FIRST KNOWN MENTION in literature of the term green sickness is found in The Bugbears, an early Elizabethan play. Authorship is not certain but is thought to belong to a John Jeffere who inscribed his name twice in the manuscript: “Johannus jeffere scribebat hoc.”1 Three John Jefferays have been identified as possible candidates, two associated with Trinity College and the third with Gray’s Inn.2 Authorship by a university student would accord with the genre, content, and tone of the play, which shows all the hallmarks of drama written for schoolboys or choristers to perform (the play includes five songs). The content appears curriculum-based, being marked by displays of school rhetorical exercises such as synonyms, amplificatio, and alternating lines,3 Latin quotations, and references to Virgil and Ovid.4 The youthfulness of the players is acknowledged by direct self-referencing, such as “we boys” (5.1.78), or implicit irony as in “As we have devised, the case is such truly / That easily thereof a man might make a comedy” (5.4.11–12). Even the title—The Bugbears—suggests the youth of the players, bugbears being a commonly used ploy to scare children.5 Here they scare old men being played by children. The humor is adolescent in tone, mocking the elderly male and his declining sexual powers and reveling in colloquialisms for getting pregnant. Whichever Jeffere he was, the author shows a strong commitment to the humanist pedagogy of Erasmus—playful, earthy, informative, topical, and critical of supernatural beliefs. He also demonstrates a particular interest in the disease of virgins. A robust anti-Catholic vein emerges in the lampooning of magicians and cunning-folk (a term which will be elucidated later in this chapter) and the mockery of the occult, exorcism, and superstitious rituals. This immediately draws attention to the dating of the play, which has been determined as no earlier than 1566, based on borrowings from Johann Weyer’s De praestigiis daemonum (1566 edition) and 1567 has been suggested.6 In 1563 the Elizabethan Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments

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and Witchcrafts was passed, which generated a deal of complaints in the following years about the profusion of cunning-folk (healers and practitioners of popular magic).7 The Act was reinforced in 1570 by the publication of a new catechism, specifically for use by schoolboys (catechismus puerorum), in which pupils were instructed that amongst those who sinned against the First Commandment were “soothsayers, conjurers, sorcerers, witches, charmers, and all that seeke unto them.”8 This popular catechism was written by Alexander Nowell, the Dean of St. Paul’s (1560– 1602) and it is possible that the play was also written for the Children of Paul’s, a company of boy players attached to St. Paul’s Cathedral School, who were active at this time. A brief reference in the play to “the brethren of St. Paul” (3.3.138) can be interpreted as self-referencing and the content certainly echoes the curriculum for St. Paul’s which was famously devised by Erasmus.9 The play’s principal source is La Spiritata, a 1561 Italian comedy by Antonfrancesco Giovanni Grazzini, with secondary material from an anonymous comedy, Gl’Ingannati (ca. 1531). Grazzini’s play also satirizes superstition and the occult world, but the wit and bawdy humor are much more pronounced in the English version and the material dealing with the medical condition of green sickness is unique. Jeffere eschews the feigning of demonic possession in his source, in favor of a novel medical condition less likely to arouse controversy at this juncture of Protestant reform under Elizabeth. The Bugbears is an early example of the way dramatists writing for Tudor grammar schools and for children’s troupes used their material as a forum for introducing topical debate, in this case with an obvious religious bias against superstitious beliefs and practices, but also a specific focus on medicine and women’s sexual health. Tudor schoolboys were introduced to the topic of female sexuality in the classroom, if not in domestic life. While perfecting their Latin with the comedies of Terence, they would be familiarized with prostitutes and pregnant girls, and while studying and translating the colloquies of Erasmus, they would be introduced to the forces the womb exerted on women’s health and to their own powerful role as future administering physicians. Much of it would be distinctly misogynistic, as was inherently the case with the Latin-based curriculum. They would learn, for example, that pale young girls were usually healthier for a good dose of sex. In the colloquy “Courtship,” a young suitor varies the carpe diem trope to persuade of the health benefits of marriage. The girl he is wooing puts the case for chastity:

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Maria: Which is the more pleasing sight, a rose gleaming white on its bush or plucked and gradually withering? Pamphilus: In my opinion the rose that withers in a man’s hand, . . . Is luckier than one that grows old on a bush. . . . But a girl’s flower doesn’t fade the instant she marries. On the contrary, I see many girls who before marriage were pale, run-down, and as good as gone. The sexual side of marriage brightened them up so much that they began to bloom at last.10

The withered rose is a common poetic metaphor for maidenheads left too long ungathered. In another colloquy by Erasmus entitled “The Marriage,” Eulalia gives Xantippe advice on how to deal with her drunken, vomiting husband, Socrates, ranging from a contrived Patient Griselda approach to keeping him happy by getting pregnant. Xantippe tells Eulalia that she became pregnant before marriage, naively claiming that she did not understand how it happened and that she suspects she is now pregnant again. Eulalia’s bawdy response—that a good ploughman has found a good field and that most wives don’t get enough sex from their husbands—endorses the theory that the womb is in constant need of gratification.11 Using an agricultural metaphor for planting human seed is common across all genres and can be dated back to ancient sources.12 The womb is envisaged as the field of generation to be tilled and sown. For school-aged boys the plowing image is one of the most tactile and visual, and illustrative of the type of humor and material Erasmus considered not only appropriate but necessary to attract boys to their lessons. The Bugbears employs the same techniques when it offers an unprecedented display of colorful colloquial alternatives for pregnancy: I cannot tell What you call being with child; she hath trod her slipper awry, Someone or other looked babies in her eye, She hath played false at tables [backgammon] and borne a man too many, The tailor hath curtailed her clothes too short before, She hath fallen upon feathers and hath bruised her very sore, She hath stolen her mother’s apron, she is stung with a lizart, She breedeth young bones. The terms of that art

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I cannot well skill of, but in plain words he did say Flatly she was with child.13 (4.5.39–47)

It is tempting to see this as a direct parody of one of the exercises in the Formulae by Erasmus. This exercise lists a string of alternatives on how to greet a pregnant woman, ranging from a simple “God grant you luck in your bearing,” to “I pray that this swelling of your womb may subside luckily,” and finally “Heaven grant that whatever this burden you carry, may it slip out with no more trouble than it slipped in.”14 Such bawdy content was geared to appeal to adolescent schoolboys and Jeffere clearly has his adolescent players in mind, as well as their audience, which is likely to have included local dignitaries, school patrons and, of course, parents. Not everyone considered this appropriate material for boys and certain colloquies of Erasmus were gradually weeded out of the grammarschool curriculum under pressure from reformist voices so that, by the turn of the century, most of the colloquies, together with the plays of Plautus and Terence, would be gone from school curricula, replaced with the much tamer exercises of Juan Luis Vives.15 School drama, however, escaped such censorship under the auspices of academic exercises and, as a consequence, plays written for boys to perform often became residual pedagogical vehicles for sexual instruction and bawdy humor. A culture of defense is already evident in the 1550s interlude Jack Jugeler, which lays claim to a moral content for boys, yet includes considerable bawdy material. Similarly, the prologue in Damon and Pithias (ca. 1564–1568), a play written for performance by the Children of the Chapel (a troupe of professional boy actors and choristers with the Chapel Royal), asserts its prime function as a rhetorical exercise, yet homoeroticism and sexual abuse of boys is written into the dialogue. July and Julian (ca. 1559–1570), a play clearly written for a school as it features several songs and deals with the topic of schooling, is one of the few to avoid crude, bawdy humor. Nonetheless it does include sexual puns about abuse by schoolmasters and an allusion to young girls suffering for lack of sex. Nan, the daughter of the household who has reached marriageable age, is in the dumps, a term meaning moody or sullen and often associated with teenaged girls. The manservant, Ffenell (whose name refers to a herb with hot, generative properties), diagnoses her mood as sexual frustration: “I know what you aild, I cold mend it if I will,” he tells her. Nan replies with a shocked “Oh Ffenell?” and unwisely goes on to talk about how she was “handled” that

THE BUGBEARS (1566–1570)  51

day, leading Ffenell to pun on the innuendo of handled.16 Written around the same time as The Bugbears, this play assumes a classroom knowledge by boys of the problems facing sisters as they reach sexual ripeness. Boy players in early modern England, even young ones at grammar schools, were probably far more informed about sex and women’s sexual health than many young women themselves, due in large part to the content of the drama (mainly comedies) they performed. By the turn of the seventeenth century, English drama is peppered with “pale-visaged maids” in need of an injection of robust sex or suffering from unruly wombs requiring the services of suspect physicians.17 Although green sickness as a condition was not new to European medicine (in France it was known as “the pale color of girls”),18 this interest in the virginal body and contemporary medicine seems to be a particularly English phenomenon for which The Bugbears provides early evidence. Here is the forerunner of gullible fathers quick to diagnose daughters with the latest virginal condition, usually spouting their unreliable knowledge of female diseases and lavishing money on quack physicians. This is the first of a fashionable literary trend that would continue for well over a century. The plot of The Bugbears is typical of Terence’s work, where the younger generation lord it over the senex, their foolish elders. Young Formosus has married Rosimunda in secret, fearing the disapproval of his avaricious father who looks for a greater dowry, but Rosimunda’s pregnancy precipitates an urgent and elaborate plot to gain parental approval. The play opens with Formosus persuading his father, Amedeus, that his house is haunted at night by spirits (bugbears) and that he needs to call in a famous astronomer, Nostradamus, to perform an exorcism. The plan is to use the occasion to steal his father’s horde of three thousand crowns in order to return them to him in the form of a cash dowry from a relative for Rosimunda. The plot is complicated by Rosimunda’s equally covetous father, Brancatius, favoring the wealthy old greybeard Cantalupo as suitor for his daughter. Rosimunda, who is never on stage, conceals her pregnancy by feigning sickness. The audience learns this early in the play from Biondello, servant to Formosus, who explains to the foreigner, Trappolo: First, Formosus’ wife doth feign herself sick And keeps her chamber close, having gone a month quick, Lest her father should perceive her belly swell. In which case we were forced the whole matter to tell To her mother who, to hide the thing more cunningly,

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Hath devised, as it were for the ease of her malady, That she shall to the farm, here without the town’s end, To take fresh air to see if she will mend. (1.2.91–98)

By announcing that Formosus’s wife has “gone a month quick,” we know she is at least twenty weeks pregnant. “Quickening” meant the moment at which a foetus could be felt moving inside the womb, usually around four months into pregnancy.19 Trappola’s response conveys a common distrust of mothers colluding with daughters against fathers: O, these mams are exigent their daughters’ pranks to hide. How finely for the purpose, and clerkly, she doth provide To salve her daughter’s sore and blear Brancatio’s eye. (1.2.99–101)

It is not clear in the play whether her mother is in fact aware of her pregnancy at this early stage. Rather, the audience will learn later that Rosimunda was too fearful to tell her father, and confided in her uncle, Donatus,20 who takes a more compassionate view, and believes the mother is unaware: I am bold to break my mind. The poor girl for shame Till this morning strong grief forced her to show the same To me that am her uncle she durst not to my brother – Neither yet, as I think in my conscience, to her mother. (5.7.65–68)

This fleeting token of defense of the integrity of mothers when it comes to pregnant daughters is rare in drama—as rare as mothers themselves. It comes late in the play with an air of apology to wives, but also of criticism of fathers who inspire fear rather than trust in their daughters, quite possibly aimed at parents in the audience.21 Over the ensuing decades it will be the nurses and physicians in drama who pull the wool over a father’s eyes. Whether or not Rosimunda’s mother is colluding in a deception, the diagnosis she gives her husband, Brancatius, of her daughter’s illness is grounded in contemporary medical theory and when he passes this on to

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the aged Cantalupo, who still harbors hopes of marrying Rosimunda, it is an entirely plausible medical diagnosis: Cantalupo: Brancatius: Cantalupo: Brancatius: Cantalupo: Brancatius:

I am sorry for my sweetheart, but I hope she shall do well. What is her disease, I pray you, can you tell? Partly the greensickness, a preparative to the dropsy, But her greatest disease is a spice of the tympany As my wife doth inform me. In what part lies her sickness? In her belly most of all, which is swollen in great bigness. What might be the cause? A distemperature of the liver Which bred of the dregs of an evil cured f[e]ver. . . . I do purpose this evening To have her to our farm, for they tell me the changing Of the air will do her good. (3.2.36–42)

In line with several predecessors in Terence, Brancatius is easily gulled. He unquestioningly accepts that his daughter’s swollen belly is the result of a tympany. Long before the term green sickness had been coined, the term dropsy (a swelling of the body) was commonly used to gloss similar female conditions. As the late fifteenth-century The Sekenesse of Wymmen notes, “the Dropsy of the mother comes oft of withholding of blood that she should be purged of.” 22 Once green sickness enters the vocabulary, it becomes harder to distinguish between the two, leading some medical authors to identify green sickness as a precondition (“preparative”) for dropsy, as in Culpeper, where “it is often turned to a Dropsie,” 23 or in Tanner’s The Art of Physick (1659) where “it can lead to dropsyes.” 24 The cause usually remains the same: “Jaundice, Dropsies and Green-sickness are caused by bad blood running from the liver to the womb.” 25 Jeffere is using Brancatius to educate his audience with medical knowledge and terminology that is both accurate and current, thus giving his play considerable medical credibility. Brancatius goes further into medical detail with “but her greatest disease is a spice of the tympany,” suggesting his daughter’s swelling stomach is due to wind. Medical knowledge espoused the theory that wind could cause the womb to swell. Excess wind in the mother was a common complaint in women’s health, sometimes entering the womb from

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without, sometimes from within, causing the womb to swell and bubble.26 Here Brancatius’s personal credibility is challenged as the audience knows it is not wind in the stomach but pregnancy, yet technically he is still correct. In one 1538 dictionary, tympanites is glossed as “a kynde of dropsy, wherin the bealy swelleth great, a tympany, whereof wynde is the chiefe occasyon.”27 The Art of Physick (1659) explains there are two dropsies of the womb, one is wind, like that sort called tympanites, the other watery answering to ascites.28 Both cause swelling of the womb and are associated with a false conception, known as a mole, or a fleshy mass. Misdiagnosing pregnancy as a tympany, or wind in the womb, was ripe for satire by poets, usually targeting duplicitous midwives: “Midwifes would sweare, ’twere but a tympanie.” 29 Thomas Nabbes makes the joke twice, once in The Unfortunate Mother (1639), where the old court gossip is proud of her role in hushing up pregnancies: Ladies have falne and risen; and their timpanies Have been cur’d with as secret carriage, As e’re was practis’d by a suburbe Mid-wife: I have had plots to save a Ladies honour.30

And again in Microcosmus (1637) under discussion of “some Chambermaide sick of a Midwifes timpani” which prompts the advice that “’twere good she chang’d ayre. Remove her into the Countrey, and if she fall agen into the greene-sicknesse, she knows the cure.”31 By using the term “spice” to qualify the tympany, Brancatius is identifying his daughter’s illness as a particular form of dropsy. In Thomas Paynell’s 1557 translation of Regimen Sanitatis Salerni, he notes “there be thre spices of dropsie” of which tympany is one.32 We do not know where Jeffere found his medical sources, or his precedent for this term (which is also a doublet of “species”), but The Bugbears is the first play to exploit the term spice as a metaphor for the exotic nature of green sickness, elevating it beyond a common condition and providing a template for future dramatists dealing with green sickness, such as Ben Jonson’s The Magneticke Lady; or, Humours Reconciled (ca. 1632), in which fourteenyear-old Pleasance is diagnosed with “a dainty spice / O’ the greene sicknesse! . . . Or the Dropsie!”33 Implicit in a green sickness diagnosis were the elite factors which precipitated it: a virginal body, refined sensibilities, a wealthy and indulgent lifestyle, and the hiring of learned physicians. The high esteem in which physicians were held and the level of expenditure fathers were willing to

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go to on behalf of sick daughters is yet another feature of green sickness satire which finds its way into this very early play. The condition was clearly ripe for exploitation by the medical profession, as Timothie Bright made abundantly clear in 1580 in his attack on the cost of medicines: “Hath God so dispensed his blessings, that a medicine to cure jawndies, or the greene sicknes, or the rheume, or such like, should cost more oftentimes then one quarter of the substance that the patient is worth?”34 Brancatius is not in this wealthy league, but old Cantalupo is, so he takes on this role, instructing Brancatius: “for good physic see you do not neglect, / Though I bear the whole charge” (3.2.46–47) and boasting later of his generosity to the supposed physician: “If you set her on foot and make her whole again, I will double, double, double consider your pain,” and again “she is well worth your cunning” (3.3.31–32, 41). Brancatius grovels to the “master doctor,” the quack astrologer (3.3.4) and when he learns he is also a physician, he reacts with a statement which will resonate in later plays: “Is he then a physician? O, I have a sick daughter!” (3.3.28). A father’s love for his daughter is often expressed in concern for her health and in his willingness to employ a physician, usually a charlatan or a suitor in disguise, as in The Wit of a Woman (1604): “There is a yong gentlewoman, somewhat given to the greene sicknes, and if you can cure her, I tell you she hath a father that will soundly recompence your paines.”35 In The Wonder of a Kingdom (1631) another gullible father falls into the same trap: “Welcome good Doctour: have you seen my daughter? / Restore her health, and nothing in my Duke-dome, / Shall be too deare for thee.”36 In ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1632) Florio anxiously tells his daughter: Look, I have brought you company: here’s one A learned doctor, lately come from Padua, Much skilled in physic; and for that I see You have of late been sickly, I entreated This reverend man to visit you some time.37

Padua, as will be seen in the following chapter, was the most prized university for the study of medicine and its naming in English drama reflects both its esteem and, as here, an element of social satire. Biondello’s colleague, Trappola, plays the feigned astronomer and physician and adopts the name of Nostradamus. The illustrious astrologer died in 1566 and it may be this event, and the contentious publication of his prophecies in English around this time, that prompted the author to write him into the play.38 In 1562 twenty booksellers were fined for

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selling the prognostications of Nostradamus.39 Assuming various titles and skills—astronomer, magician, doctor—he takes on the role of exorcising the spirits haunting Amedeus’ house. He is repeatedly referred to as a “cunning man.”40 “Cunning” is a term commonly associated with practitioners of popular magic, who were ubiquitous in early modern English society and offered to tell fortunes, find lost or stolen objects, create love potions, and cure illnesses, especially those believed to be caused by witchcraft. As Nowell’s Catechism makes clear, it was not just the practitioners who were condemned but all those who consulted them. The general public from all walks of life frequently turned to cunning-folk as a last resort, after having spent considerable sums of money on orthodox doctors to no avail. Owen Davies recounts the case of a father of a bewitched daughter who said “he had spent much money upon several doctors and others but they could do her no good.”41 In fact, many trained physicians themselves subscribed to the supernatural causation of illness.42 “Cunning” implied specialist knowledge, as is evident in its frequent application to schoolmasters and learned men (who were in fact the earliest known readers and collectors of books on magic in Latin).43 This part in the play may well have been written with a particular schoolmaster or senior scholar in mind.44 His role dominates Act Three with orations laden with obscure and exotic supernatural terminology and rhetorical flourishes, all similar to the type of magical formulas used by many cunningfolk. In his role as physician he turns his hand to treating green sickness. Nostradamus’s fame as physician to the queen of France is offered as proof of his qualifications: “And in Paris what a cure he did on the French King— / I would have said the queen—how he brought down her teeming” (3.3.25–26).45 “Teeming,” which meant able to bear children, suggests he brought on her menstrual cycle. With a bawdy pun on how he achieved it, Nostradamus is credited with rendering the Queen fertile, and therefore qualified to cure green sickness.46 This satirical approach to Nostradamus as a physician suggests Jeffere was siding with those who criticized ill-qualified practitioners of medicine. He was evidently well-informed on the medical particulars of green sickness and his clinical description would remain accurate, with minor variations, over the ensuing decades. His interest in the disease does not stop with a clinical diagnosis. Rather, he expands the theme to include alternative diagnoses and a range of treatments. The audience never sees Rosimunda on stage; she “keeps her chamber close, having gone a month quick” (1.2.92), so her symptoms are reported second hand. Although

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she feigns green sickness, she is also suffering symptoms unrelated to pregnancy and which are a cause for concern for her lover, Formosus, and for her nurse. Formosus tells the audience that Rosimunda is in “her dreary drooping dumps” and vexed with “corrosies,” (2.3.141–42) meaning corrosive and consumptive symptoms, and later the Nurse endorses this image of the pining , anxious girl, who “doth nought but lie and muse / In her dumps on this matter and consumeth away / As the salt in the water or the snow in summer’s day” (4.1.8–10). Dumps—meaning sorrows, melancholy—were common psychological symptoms often attributed to grievances besetting the mind, and in women likely to lead to pining away or consumption. Iphigenia, another daughter thwarted in love in the play, predicts she will die of starvation if she is forced into an arranged marriage and others fear the same (2.5.19).47 When Lord Paget’s daughter died of green sickness (see chapter 1), her mother attributed her death to consumption—literally a starved body. We are told that Julia, in Hymenaeus (1578), was emaciated for love of Erophilus.48 Girls did not die of a broken heart; they died of a disordered womb triggered by grief and manifested in self-starvation. Jeffere makes a point of citing possible alternative conditions, depending on who is making the diagnosis: the servants see pregnancy; the parents, green sickness; the physician love disease and even epilepsy—a “spice of the falling evil” (5.2.95, 88)—and the nurse jealousy. This last is the most credible explanation as jealousy was held to be one of the many perturbations of the mind which could lead to sickness in young girls. Unfortunately, lacuna in the manuscript for The Bugbears deprive us of the nurse’s contribution on the topic, leaving only her final lines to the audience: “See what mighty wonders worketh love and mad jealousy / In a woman’s willful heart” (2.3.63–64), but the textual remnants on the torn page indicate the nurse has prescribed a cawdell (broth) for Rosimunda and is urging her to be given food, with a hint that she may have been fasting too long. 49 In Arthur Brooke’s Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet, Juliet’s condition is referred to as “grudging envy’s faint disease,” which Shakespeare later replaces with green sickness. 50 This provides useful confirmation of just how closely related the symptoms were for all of these conditions. While medical texts might try to differentiate each condition, dramatists rarely did. In a much later play, another young girl who looks sick is variously diagnosed by those around her with first green sickness, then pregnancy, and finally love sickness.51

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In his role as physician, Nostradamus’s prescription for treatment is distinctly Catholic: But touching her disease, certain things must be prepared As I will prescribe. We will make suffumigation, Then will I gather herbs to make a fomentation, And then an incantation. Then I’ll hang about her neck This writing that shall give the falling ill a countercheck: Gaspar fert Mirrham, Thus Melchior, Balthazar aurum. It is writ in virgin parchment. (5.2.120–6)

The incantation, the writing on virgin parchment and hanging about her neck, plus the exotic names, are typical of popular magic healing rituals, yet Nostradamus also includes less controversial medical treatments such as suffumigation and fomentation. Suffumigation—the treatment of a disordered organ by the use of smells, as discussed in chapter 1—was a well-established means of therapy for both men and women. Sometimes suffumigation was applied in the form of pessaries made of boiled herbs and this seems likely when Brancatius instructs the nurse: “Nurse, look you to the medicines, and when they are boiled / Take the sponge and apply it as the doctor hath appointed” (5.6.1–2). Also common was the use of fomentations, often in the form of warm plasters applied to the relevant part of the body. A fomentation is “a comforting, a feeding with any plaisters applied to the stomacke, a strengthning with any cordials.”52 Both these methods of treatment would continue to be used in England throughout the seventeenth century. Incantations on the other hand, together with the hanging of magic words or characters around the neck, belong to a papist culture associated with exorcism, sorcery and magic.53 Incantations and magic formulas are not commonly found in English medical texts after the 1560s (although astrological physicians such as Simon Forman and Richard Napier continued to use them), but were still widely used in the European medical context and associated with Catholic exorcism rites.54 In what can only be called an excess of adolescent humor, Jeffere exploits this new skepticism by giving over an entire scene in act 3 to a parody of the nature of sprites, folklore, charms, black magic, devils and their various types, names, and origins. Some of it verges on nonsense but nonetheless it is an impressive display of copia skills (this is the art of elaborating

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a topic using an abundance of words, an essential skill in Tudor grammar school curricula).55 Jeffere clearly delights in these displays and chooses provocative topics, here witchcraft (Nostradamus pretends he has to consult with his “familiar”), exorcism, and superstitious beliefs, and their relationship with the field of women’s medicine, yet there are hints that he feels the need to justify such content for his English audience: “We are as privy with devils and with sprites as the brethren of Saint Paul / Here in Italy can skill, by a gift supernatural” (3.3.140). This seems a pointed reference to the skills of the young players, the Children of Paul’s, in acting out the supernatural for the play’s Italian context. In the play’s main source, Grazzini’s La Spiritata (1561), the heroine feigns demonic possession to cover her pregnancy.56 Despite the fact the play is set in Italy, Jeffere explicitly avoids demonic possession as an explanation for Rosimunda’s illness, substituting instead the feigning of green sickness. His choice is interesting. Exorcism had become controversial in mid-sixteenth-century England when it was struck out of the English Rite by Protestant reformers, but that did not mean cases of demonic possession disappeared and it seems likely that Jeffere used his medical knowledge to argue against demonic possession in favor of natural causes. The concept of demonic possession remained entrenched in theology and Protestant divines devised a new means of casting out devils that had scriptural authority (fasting and prayer). Dispossessions, therefore, took on an increasingly partisan character in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign.57 Physicians were unavoidably involved in this precarious debate, caught between medical skepticism and Protestant doctrine. One of the most compelling accounts of the widespread misdiagnosis of natural diseases in women as witchcraft or possession came from Johann Weyer (or Weier), court physician to the Duke of Cleve, whose De praestigiis daemonum (1563) went into six Latin editions and caused him to be placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, meaning that to read it could incur the penalty of excommunication.58 In his treatise (which has been used to date The Bugbears), Weyer rails against eminent physicians who “have employed ligations, characters, and charms.” 59 When Andrew Boorde wrote The Breviary of Helthe in England in 1547, his position on demonic possession was already to cast it as madness, best treated by prayer and fasting, and with increasing irony he observed that few in England now observe prayer or fasting, hence he feared such persons are themselves possessed, albeit not mad.60 As it turned out, fasting and prayer were adopted with great success by Puritan divines, but to the

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detriment of medicine. They used the success of their own exorcism rituals to celebrate the superiority of communal prayer and fasting, not only over the pretensions of Catholic exorcism, but also over the remedies of physicians and folk healers.61 Boorde may have hoped medicine would increasingly account for cases of demonic possession in England, but that was not to be the case. In fact, by the end of the sixteenth century Puritan public successes with exorcism through fasting and prayer posed a threat not only to physicians but also to the Protestant church. Young maids were most likely to be the suffering patient caught in this conflict as their symptoms could be due to fits of the mother or fits of the devil. The debate came to a head between the medical profession, Puritan divines and the English church in 1603, with the case of Mary Glover and the subsequent publication by Dr. Edward Jorden of his support for natural (menstrual) not supernatural causes for her fits. Most educated people accepted that demonic possession had symptoms in common with a range of illnesses, such as suffocation of the mother, falling sickness, and melancholia, and that only the strangest symptoms suggested a supernatural cause. Yet the physician Thomas Willis continued to protest in the mid-seventeenth century that many who were taken to be “daemoniacks, or possessed with the Devil . . . were only Epilepticks.”62 The Bugbears is remarkable, therefore, not only for recording the first literary depiction of green sickness, underpinned by a sound grasp of its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, but also because the play serves as a prototype for future dramatic treatment of the disease. Although Jeffere’s medical sources are yet to be identified, from a medical perspective The Bugbears is particularly useful because it provides a starting point for measuring popular knowledge of the condition and is evidence of the fact that in literary depictions this knowledge remained largely unchanged over the course of the following century. From a religious point of view, Jeffere derides and mocks the Catholic culture of superstition and supernatural beliefs, right at a point where English religion is moving to a Protestant faith and when the medical profession is beginning to repudiate exorcism and question the supernatural causes of apparent demonic possession. The distinctions were never clear; almost every recorded case of demonic possession in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had some level of medical involvement.63 Rosimunda is of course pregnant, so neither demonic possession nor green sickness actually accounts for her symptoms, but there is immense significance in this play for historians of early modern medicine, simply due to Jeffere’s choice of green sickness as

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a substitute condition for demonic possession. Van Dijkhuizen comes to a similar conclusion, that Rosimunda’s feigning of sickness “resembles the charge of simulated possession which would come to play a central role in anti-exorcism writings. Indeed, Rosimunda’s affliction shows further analogies with contemporary accounts of demonic possession.” He points out that the swollen belly is reminiscent of the many descriptions of swollen abdomens in possession narratives of later decades.64 In both cases the victim is often young, virginal, and innocent, and beyond blame. Both conditions are surrounded by mystery, with symptoms unexpectedly manifesting themselves in emotional and bizarre behaviors, leaving parents at a loss as to how to care for their daughters. If, as can be surmised, Jeffere has chosen the nearest secular equivalent to demonic possession, then this suggests that the origins of green sickness are also grounded in religious controversy, but that Jeffere, along with the earliest physicians, opted to explain it as purely natural and a counter argument to demonic possession. The following chapters will discuss the next known reference to green sickness in an English play, which comes in Shakespeare’s exploration of adolescent behavior in Romeo and Juliet around 1595, but preceding this by just a year or two is his The Taming of the Shrew (1592–1594) which, although not mentioning green sickness, also focusses on the young ripe female body within a medical context, as well as allowing the possibility of mocking demonic possession within an Italian context. NOTES Anon., The Bugbears, p. 55. Text references are to act, scene, and line. Anon., The Bugbears, pp. 26–27. 3 For example: “Some fauni, some satiri, / Some nymphs, hamadryads, and dryads that are sly, / Pucks, Puckerels, Hob Howlard, Bygorn, and Robin Goodfellow.” Anon., The Bugbears, 3.3.49–50; see also 3.3.60–65; 3.3.55–57. For alternating lines see 3.4.29–40 and 4.2.66–105. 4 Wiggins, British Drama, pp. 11–14. 5 A bugbear was a ghost, or spirit or a “sort of hobgoblin (presumably in the shape of a bear) supposed to devour naughty children; any imaginary being invoked by nurses to frighten children.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives several examples, including “meere bugge-beares to scare boyes” in Nashe, Pierce Penilesse (1592). 6 Wiggins, British Drama, p. 13. 7 Owen Davies, Popular Magic, p. 172. 1 2

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Owen Davies, Popular Magic, p. 33. Nowell’s Catechism was first written in 1563 in manuscript, then published in 1570 in Latin and also in English. The version cited by Owen Davies was edited by G. E. Norrie in 1853. 9 Gair, Children of Paul’s. In the curriculum are Virgil’s Bucolics and Aeneid along with Ovid’s Metamorphoses, among others. Arguing against this is the fact that the Paul’s curriculum was adopted by numerous Tudor grammar schools, and a number of colloquies by Desiderius Erasmus were translated and published as set performance pieces around this time, including one targeting cunning-folk, A Conjuration, or Spirit (1567). Wiggins, British Drama, p. 14. 10 Erasmus, Colloquies, p. 95. These were Latin texts for schoolboys to translate into English. 11 Erasmus, Colloquies, p. 125. 12 Bloomer, “Technology of Child Production,” pp. 71–79. 13 Jeffere’s interest in metaphors for pregnancy continued elsewhere in the text, such as: “some inconvenience” (5.2.104), “bagged” (5.3.3), “He hath left his mark behind and made her a mother” (1.2.44), “sick of two left heels” (3.1.52–53). 14 Erasmus, Colloquies, pp. 559–60. 15 Potter, “‘No Terence Phrase’,” p. 385. 16 Anon., July and Julian, lines 209–11. Fenell was valued for the generation of seed or breast milk in women. See Bullein, Bulwarke of defe[n]ce againste all Sicknes, Sornes, and woundes, that doe daily assaulte mankinde . . . (London, 1562) Fol. vj. 17 See for example, “your own ladies and pale-visaged maids / Like Amazons come tripping after drums.” Shakespeare, “King John,” 5.2.154–55. 18 Joubert, Popular Errors, p. 261. 19 Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine, Glossary. Ix. 20 Donatus (a Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric) is a familiar name for schoolboys, synonymous with the arts of rhetoric and grammar in Tudor schools, and with commentaries on Terence. “Donat” or “donet” came to mean any kind of lesson. His is the sole voice of common sense in the play. 21 See also: “And that my niece durst not declare to him for fear / So much of her mind as she hath done to me” (5.4.20–1). 22 Green, Women’s Healthcare, pp. iv, 29, 72. Citing Gilbertus Anglicus. 23 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, chapter 2 “Of the Green-sickness, or White Feaver,” p. 101. 24 Tanner, Art of Physick, p. 315. 25 Sharp, Midwives Book, pp. 101, 208. 26 Anon, Sekenesse of Wymmen, p. 59. 27 The Dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot (1538). LEME. A dropsy of the mother is not always due to wind. See Anon., Sekenesse of Wymmen, p. 39. An early text attributed to Trotula, On Treatments for Women, claims there are some women 8

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who take in wind through the female members, which, once it had been taken in, causes pain and swelling: “These women we foment with a decoction of mustard or turnip.” Green, Trotula, p. 97. 28 Tanner, Art of Physick, p. 337. 29 Donne, “The Anagram,” Complete Poems, p. 139. 30 Nabbes, “Unfortunate Mother,” pp. 106–7. 31 Nabbes, “Microcosmus,” p. 195. 32 Paynell, de Mediolano, and de Villanova, Regimen Sanitatis Salerni, image 30. 33 Jonson, “Magnetick Lady,” 1.4.16–17. 34 Bright and Bedford, A Treatise, p. 23. 35 Anon., Wit of a Woman, lines 556–59. 36 Dekker, “The Wonder of a Kingdom,” 2.3.48. 37 Ford, “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” 2.1.53–57. 38 Prophecies of Michael Nostradamus were published in English as early as the mid-sixteenth century, although there are no extant copies. Owen Davies, Popular Magic, p. 135. 39 Ackroyd, The History of England, Vol. 2, p. 309. 40 See for example 3.2.65, 3.3.8, 3.3.42, 3.3.54, 3.3.145. Anon., The Bugbears. 41 Owen Davies, Popular Magic, p. 104. 42 Owen Davies, Popular Magic, pp. 76–80. 43 Owen Davies, Popular Magic, p. 120. 44 Some of the Children of Paul’s members were superannuated choristers, kept on after their voices cracked to play the more serious and mature parts. Gair, Children of Paul’s, p. 132. 45 Queen Catherine had made him Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to her son, the young King Charles IX of France. 46 Cockeram, English Dictionary, LEME. 47 Anon., The Bugbears, Appendix D pp. 53–54; 48 Fraunce, Hymenaeus, 2.5. 49 Anon., The Bugbears, Appendix D, pp. 6–11. 50 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, p. 103. 51 Nabbes, “Unfortunate Mother,” pp. 102 and 120. 52 Florio, World of Words, LEME 53 Florio, World of Words, LEME. 54 Van Dijkhuizen, Devil Theatre, p. 161. 55 Van Dijkhuizen has pointed out that a similar mockery of devil names appears in Harsnett’s attack on counterfeit exorcisms in Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (ca. 1603), but as the play predates this by nearly forty years this may be another instance of how influential this play may have been on later writers. Devil Theatre, p. 160. 56 Grazzini himself had introduced demonic possession from one of his sources, Lo Spirito (1549). The Bugbears, p. 57, n. 3.

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MacDonald, Witchcraft and Hysteria, pp. xix–xx. Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors, pp. 73, lxix. 59 Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors, book 5, chapter 31, pp. 455–57. 60 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe, chapter 11, “The Extravagantes.” Boorde then follows up with a sceptical anecdote of a supposed exorcism he witnessed in Rome, as an introduction to an attack on the deceit and corruption in the Vatican. 61 Bonzol, “Supernatural Illness,” p. 7. 62 Bonzol, “Supernatural Illness,” p. 11. 63 Bonzol, “The Medical Diagnosis of Demonic Possession,” pp. 118–19. 64 Van Dijkhuizen, Devil Theatre, pp. 160–61. 57 58

Chapter 3

The Taming of the Shrew (ca. 1592–1594)


HAKESPEARE’S THE TAMING OF the Shrew was first published in the 1623 Folio,1 but is generally thought to have been written and performed in the early 1590s. A shorter and simpler version of the play, with the title The Taming of a Shrew, appeared in print in 1594. The plots are virtually identical, to the point of including a framing scene with a drunken tinker who is made to believe he is a lord, and for whom a comedy will be played. The comedy which then follows this opening scene deals with the unruly Katherine being wooed, won, and apparently tamed by the fortune-hunting Petruchio. A subplot in both plays involves the wooing and winning of Bianca, Katherine’s younger sister. The exact relationship between the two plays is still under dispute; A Shrew has sometimes been regarded as the source for The Shrew and some scholars believe both plays derive independently from an earlier play, now lost. It has also been suggested that Shakespeare wrote both plays.2 If that is so, then they were written with different audiences in mind. The unattributed A Shrew is a comedy about courtship grounded in gender stereotypes but constrained by religious imperatives, whereas The Shrew is a comedy about courtship also grounded in gender stereotypes but shaped by biological not religious imperatives. One of the most telling differences between the two plays is the focus on the physiology of sexuality, which is pointedly anchored to the study of medicine through Shakespeare’s exceptional attention to Padua. When Shakespeare names a location several times within a play, there is good reason to consider what the implications of that location were for an Elizabethan audience. Richard Roe has pointed out that in The Taming of the Shrew Pisa is mentioned no less than fourteen times, and Mantua three times in quick succession.3 Surprisingly, Roe has little to say about Padua, which is mentioned no less than twenty-three times, a record for any city in any of Shakespeare’s plays. Roe’s analysis of geographical concordances in the Italian plays builds a provocative argument for

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Shakespeare himself having traveled in Italy. Another critic even considers it possible Shakespeare might have attended the University of Padua. 4 Padua was famous in England for its university and for the numbers of young Englishmen who studied there, yet that alone seems insufficient to explain the extraordinary number of repetitions. It is what the students studied that is relevant to the play’s themes. The sixteenth-centur y Paduan studium was renowned for medicine and law (Dr. Bellario, Portia’s scholarly lawyer cousin in The Merchant of Venice is from Padua) and it is Padua’s standing as the best medical school in Europe that Shakespeare draws on.5 Eminent Paduan lecturers and their dates of appointment include Vesalius (1537), Falloppio (1551–1562), and Fabricius (1565–1619). Graduates of Padua include Edward Jorden, who qualified in 1591 and was the author of A Disease called the Suffocation of the Mother (1603), and William Harvey (1578–1657) who discovered the circulation of the blood. 6 Many graduates returned to England well-grounded in the medical theories of Galen, Hippocrates, and, more significantly for this play, Aristotle’s natural philosophy. According to Aristotle, natural philosophers and physicians shared a common training, since the study of medicine was based on the principles of natural science: “ubi desinit physicus, ibi medicus incipit” (where the natural philosopher finishes, there begins the physician) is a phrase found cited in texts discussing philosophy and medicine. 7 According to Charles B. Schmitt, “one of the key texts, if not the fundamental text, which lay at the basis of the whole tradition making medical training follow on from philosophical training is to be found in Aristotle’s De Sensu et Sensato.” This text was cited and discussed almost everywhere in the medico-philosophical literature of the Renaissance well into the seventeenth century. 8 At its core was the understanding that the senses controlled the rational mind, an oft-repeated understanding in early modern medical treatises such as in The Hidden Treasures of the Art of Physick (1659): Judgment is seated in the midst of the braine, there to beare rule over the other faculties, it is the judge of the little World, the seat of the rationall soul, and the judge of mens actions. If you would know the mean, whereby it knoweth and judgeth of things, Aristotle and many others have thought that the Spirit knoweth by the help of the senses, and that the understanding without the senses is but as white Paper. Nil est in intellectu, quod non fucritprius in sensu. There is nothing in the understanding, which is not first in the sense.9

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Thus wrote John Tanner, physician, in 1659, who then proceeded to discount this long held wisdom as no longer tenable, being incompatible with Protestant doctrine. At the time of writing of The Taming of the Shrew some sixty years earlier, it was universally accepted that rational judgment was subject to the power of the senses. Shakespeare offers his audience a parody of this theory in the opening scene to the play (the Induction), where the drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, is induced into believing himself to be a nobleman by isolating him from his familiar surroundings and assailing his senses with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste. The play’s opening scene presents a mock demonstration of the power of the senses over rational judgment. Petruchio’s assaults on Kate’s mind and body follow similar thinking , but whereas the Induction is staged as a comic theatrical trick, Petruchio’s treatment of Kate is a more thought-provoking exposition of the ethics of a medical technique referred to as a dolus ad bonum (beneficial ruse) which sanctions deception through the senses for the patient’s benefit.10 It is, of course, the ethics of Petruchio’s treatment of Kate that have inspired four hundred years of energetic debate, no less then than now, but these were framed at the time within a medical understanding of female biology. Shakespeare and Fletcher would return to this medical ruse many years later for another distressed young woman in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), to bring her mind and body back to stability through the senses (music, food, visuals, touch) and Fletcher would employ it again in The Mad Lover (1617). Richard Brome would also use it twice, once in The Antipodes (1638), where it is referred to as medicine of the mind, and again in The Queene’s Exchange (1631). For dramatists who, better than anyone else, were cognisant of the power of the imagination over the mind, this physiological theory offers an attractive metatheatrical technique presented in the form of medical treatment. The Induction opens with the belligerent and coarse drunkard, Christopher Sly, falling asleep on the tavern floor. For the recently arrived lord and his hunting party, Sly’s comatose body presents a disgusting picture of degraded humanity which he observes with repugnance: “O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies! / Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!” (Induction lines 29–30). To the lord, this beggar is no more than a corpse, devoid of any human virtues, and merely matter for experiment. “Sirs, I will practise on this drunken man,” he declares, and then elaborates on how he proposes to do that. Editors generally gloss “practise” in relation to the jest to be played on Sly, as used in Baret’s 1574

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dictionary (“to practise wiles to an ende to intrappe or deceiue”)11 but that ignores the Elizabethan usage of the term with the craft or skills of medicine. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century lexicographers commonly defined physicians as practisers of physic and by the 1580s, and the time of this play, “practise” had also become the defining label for the new empirical medicine: “Empirice: phisicke consisting in practise, or gotten by practise. Empiricus. A physition by practise.” 12 The trick to be played on Sly becomes an exhibition of skills in mind-manipulation through the power of the senses, skills more linked to physicians than to hunting lords, although any Englishman who studied Aristotle would be familiar with the theory. The lord notably addresses each of the five senses—touch, taste, smell, eyesight, and hearing: What think you, if he were conveyed to bed, Wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers, A most delicious banquet by his bed, And brave attendants near him when he wakes – Would not the beggar then forget himself ?

As he continues, the purpose of the joke shifts from identity confusion to sexual confusion: Carry him gently to my fairest chamber And hang it round with all my wanton pictures; Balm his foul head in warm distilled waters And burn sweet wood to make the lodging sweet; Procure me music ready when he wakes To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound. (Induction lines 33–47)

Music, in the right hands, was a respected healing quality—“a medicine as it were to a pensive mind”—and an aid to divine devotion.13 In the wrong hands, “it hath in it a secret baite that leadeth to grievous mischiefs” and young gentlewomen who are tenderly bred, if taught music “should in time become licentious.” Kate and Bianca would never have been encouraged to learn music had their father followed Bruto’s conduct book. 14 Aristotle forbade lascivious music in his commonwealth. Thomas Wright’s Passions of the Mind (1604), which praises at length the benefits of music on the passions, glosses over these dangers only because “the experience is so sensible, that it were superfluous to proceed any farther in proofe.”15 Tranio will later advise his young master, Lucentio, “music

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and poesy use to quicken you” (1.1.16) and although “quicken” can be intellectual, the context here (Ovid) is clearly sexual. Of all the faculties, smell was considered the most powerful and central to the practice of physic. The use of aromatherapy today is a faint echo of the early modern practice of fumigation, a technique of applying strong or sweet smelling elements (not just to the nose but to any bodily orifice and commonly the womb), as a remedial therapy for internal imbalances and disordered organs, and commonly used in stimulating or controlling the libido (see chapter 1). For Sly, sweet smelling clothes, sweet wood (juniper) to perfume the air, and rosewater to bathe his hands, prove effective in confusing him into an alternative reality: “I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things. / Upon my life, I am a lord indeed” (Induction 67–68). Here the aim is as much to arouse Sly as it is to fool his mind. Sexual arousal in fact appears to be the prime focus of this experiment, for which the eyes will be the main sensory organs. The tongue may speak to the ear, but a picture speaks to the eyes and makes a deeper impression on the mind, and the power of lewd and wanton pictures was such that they could “inflame even the desires, long extinguished by age, of a Priam or a Nestor.”16 In one popular conduct book for women, virgins are exhorted to avoid “private chambers arras’d with amorous passions,” whereas the opposite applies to husbands wishing to increase their lady’s ardor.17 In seventeenth-century Dutch art, the erotic paintings and tapestries which decorate the bedrooms of sick maidens provide clues to the patient’s sexual needs (see Figure 1).18 The paintings to be hung around the chamber on stage are expressly “all my wanton pictures,” a gallery of erotica designed to stimulate Sly: “We’ll have thee to a couch, / Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed / On purpose trimmed up for Semiramis.” Semiramis was a legendary Assyrian queen, famous for her wanton behavior and voluptuousness.19 It is quite possible paintings were brought on stage, as they were for John Lyly’s play Campaspe (ca. 1583) which also displayed erotic delights in the context of love and power.20 Here their content is specifically described in sensual detail for the benefit of the audience: Servingman: Lord:

Dost thou love pictures? We will fetch thee straight Adonis painted by a running brook, And Cytherea [Venus] all in sedges hid,21 Which seem to move and wanton with her breath Even as the waving sedges play wi’th’wind. We’ll show thee Io as she was a maid, And how she was beguiled and surprised, As lively painted as the deed was done.

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Or Daphne roaming through a thorny wood, Scratching her legs that one shall swear she bleeds, And at that sight shall sad Apollo weep, So workmanly the blood and tears are drawn. (Induction lines 45–56)

The focus is entirely on scenes of seduction and rape: Io was raped by Jove, who concealed himself in a dense mist. Daphne escaped being raped by Apollo by being turned into a laurel tree as she fled from him, but here she seems to bleed—an allusion to rape.22 The emphasis on rape and the physicality of seduction introduces the play’s underlying motif of male sexual domination, a theme continued in the later scenes between Kate and Petruchio. Here, the purpose is to arouse Sly’s erotic instincts when the page playing his young wife is brought to his bedside: “My lord and husband,” he meekly observes, “I am your wife in all obedience,” to which Sly cockily responds, “I know it well” (Induction 102–3). Already he is adjusting to the dominant male role, anticipating her sexual submission: “Madam, undress you and come now to bed” (Induction 113). When she pleads absence from his bed on the orders of his physicians, Sly’s hopes, along with his erection, are dashed: “Ay, it stands so,” he ruefully observes, “that I may hardly tarry so long.” This moment of sexual teasing is the crowning point of the lord’s experiment, who dwells at length on how his page should play the young, seductive wife—“I long to hear him call the drunkard husband” (Induction 127–29)—and how he longs to see Sly’s reaction. The Induction presents its audience with a nobleman character­ ized by arrogance—“Thou art a fool” he bluntly dismisses one of his men (Induction 22)—and who practices his apparent expertise on an ignorant drunk in the very complex medical field of sensory perception. As a piece of theatrical entertainment the ruse is successful, but it is also a piece of satire on contemporary medicine and its appropriation in amateur hands. As a prelude to the main plot, the Induction prepares the ground for another overweening male to display his skills in the field of humoral and sensory medicine and again, sexual tensions play a prominent role. The Induction closes with the medical commonplace that “melancholy is the nurse of frenzy” (1.1.128), for which the recommended antidote is a comedy. When this antidote—the play within the play— opens, it is by invoking “fair Padua, nursery of arts” (1.1.2). It may

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seem pure coincidence that “nurse” and “nursery” follow so closely upon each other, yet it is more than likely that Shakespeare intended to carry over the medical allusion, alerting his audience to another case of frenzy, as suggested by the play’s title, and drawing attention to his setting of Padua. For those in the audience unfamiliar with Padua, its status as a university city is made clear by Lucentio who has come to study : “Here let us breathe and haply institute / A course of learning and ingenuous studies.” “Haply” and “ingenuous” immediately disqualif y any serious academic pursuit. “Haply” implies “maybe, perchance” and “ingenuous” implies an eye to the fitting education of an aspiring gentleman rather than a dedicated scholar. Ingenuous is usually defined as gentlemanlike, as in Thomas Coryat’s Crudities (1611): “These courtly gentlemen, whose noble parentage, ingenuous education, and vertuous conversation have made worthy to be admitted into your highness court.” 23 Shakespeare is taking aim at a class of indulged student seeking studies as appropriate accomplishments in conjunction with the pleasure of travel, for whom medicine held great appeal. As the 1587 edition of William Harrison’s The Description of England stated, “a man may (if he will) begin his study with the law or physic (of which this [law] giveth wealth, the other [physic] honor).” Medicine held the higher status in Elizabethan society, but interestingly Harrison follows by deploring the Elizabethan vogue for study in Italy and singling out both law and medicine: “One thing only I mislike in them [students of law or medicine] and that is their usual going into Italy, from whence very few, without special grace, do return good men, whatsoever they pretend of conference or practice, chiefly the physicians.” 24 Fears of religious contamination may lie behind this. In Hymenaeus (1578), a play dealing with a quack empiric physician in Padua, the townsmen complain of the scholars who “squabble and swap syllogisms about subtleties, but don’t own a grain of silver,” which tells us the usual town and gown frictions were aggravated by students who were under-funded by parents. Like Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew, the play’s main protagonist, Erophilus, has gone to Padua at his father’s expense to study philosophy but will become embroiled in a romance to the neglect of his studies. 25 When Lucentio loftily claims the study of philosophy and virtue as the path to happiness,26 there is no mention of medicine, but when his man, Tranio, identifies Aristotle as the philosopher in question, then the study of medicine becomes a strong contender:

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Only, good master, while we do admire This virtue and this moral discipline, Let’s be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray, Or so devote to Aristotle’s checks27 As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured. (1.1.18–33)

For Lucentio, Ovid will most evidently displace Aristotle as he woos Bianca. Not so for Petruchio, who puts his faith in the natural sciences. He is a man of martial, not rhetorical, arts: “For I am rough and woo not like a babe” (2.1.133). Soldiers were notoriously unskilled in the arts of wooing, a trait Shakespeare put to good use in Benedick (who also hails from Padua) in Much Ado About Nothing (1598).28 When Baptista enters the stage with his daughters, he is mid conversation, actively encouraging two suitors to vie for the hands of his two daughters but making a major error of judgment. He is the first of many fathers in Shakespeare’s work who will put their daughter’s welfare unwittingly at risk due to their own faulty judgment. His insistence that Kate must marry before her younger sister is an ill thought-out decision, which effectively blights Kate’s marriage chances. No faint-hearted male will look at the more spirited and outspoken older sister while the apparently more compliant and meek younger sister is available. Kate has good reason to resent Bianca and everything that makes her the favored marriage choice, and she fears she will end up a spinster leading “apes in hell” (2.1.34). Kate’s fiery temperament and verbal wit are evidence of a young woman of spirit and independence, one who is contemptuous of such timid men as Hortensio and Gremio, who are cowed in her presence. Petruchio on the other hand recognizes Kate’s demeanour as evidence of sex appeal. He describes Kate’s walk as a “princely gait,” “Oh let me see thee walk,” he says, “Did ever Dian so become a grove, / As Kate this chamber with her princely gait?” and he goes on to urge her to express her sensual self: “O, be thou Dian, and let her be Kate, / And then let Kate be chaste and Dian sportful” (2.1.251–55). This visualizes the young actor striding angrily across the stage and signals a full-blooded temperament to the audience. According to the conduct books, women were not to stride out in public, but to walk timidly and demurely, a ruling which Middleton satirized in A Mad World my Masters (1604–1606), where one wife remonstrates against such petty misogyny: “I’ve heard this, not without a burning cheeke: / Then our attires are taxt, our very gate / Is cal’d in question” (3.1.111). Kate’s shrewishness is less intended to put suitors off than to voice her sense of injustice. Had she wanted to spite her sister, she could

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refuse to marry and condemn Bianca to spinsterhood, but Kate does want to marry and she is clearly under Petruchio’s thrall. When he fails to turn up for the wedding she gives no indication of relief at the prospect of avoiding marriage to him, instead dwelling on the shame of being jilted: No shame but mine. I must, forsooth, be forced To give my hand, opposed against my heart, Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen, Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure. ... Now must the world point at poor Katherine And say, “Lo, there is mad Petruchio’s wife If it would please him come and marry her!” (3.2.8–20)

Katherine’s assertion that she is being forced to marry against her heart is just not credible, given her heartfelt admission at the end of that scene: “Would Katherine had never seen him though!” (3.2.26). For an Elizabethan audience Kate’s violent physical behavior may suggest one of two possibilities, both attributable to an indulgent upbringing. First, of course, is the absence of discipline due to a misguided father. Baptista proudly claims “I will be very kind and liberal / To mine own children in good bringing up” (1.1.98). This is the mark of a selfstyled gentleman and he is characterized with gentle irony as “an affable and courteous gentleman” (1.2.94). As a father who feels the social burden of a difficult daughter, he turns to the audience for sympathy in an aside: “Was ever gentleman thus grieved as I?” (2.1.37). Baptista has never checked Kate’s behavior, or ever denied her wishes, as she herself tells us—“But I, who never knew how to entreat, / Nor never needed that I should entreat” (4.3.7)—and his feeble remonstrations with her are entirely ineffective. They serve rather as a “little wind” to fan her temper rather than extinguish it, as Petruchio observes: Though little fire grows great with little wind, Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all. So I to her, and so she yields to me. (2.1.130–32)

Petruchio’s choice of characterizing both himself and Kate as raging fires, suggests it is not just an unruly temperament he plans to control but also an excessive heat of sexual passion—both hers and his own.

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Unruly behavior in a young woman could also be diagnosed as demonic possession and there is plenty to suggest this is how others might see her, notably the older males in the play: “From all such devils, good Lord deliver us!” from Hortensio (1.1.66, 2.1.147), “this fiend of hell” and “devil’s dam” from Gremio (1.1.88–121 passim; 3.2.145), “thou hilding of a devilish spirit!” from Baptista (2.1.26) and “a devil, a devil, the devil’s dam!” from Tranio (3.2.146). For an English audience however, there would be little difficulty distinguishing between a Catholic Italian culture of superstition and an enlightened Protestant medical approach. The other theory Kate’s behavior brings to mind is that of a frustrated young woman ripe for generation and kept in a life of idle high keeping in her father’s house. This is an issue which has been overlooked when discussing humoral theory in The Taming of the Shrew. Melinda Spencer Kingsbury has demonstrated the physiological foundations in the play by drawing on medical theory with regard to emotion and affect and providing valuable insights, but the play goes beyond medical theory for certain temperaments to specific concepts of sexual development and disorders of the virginal body.29 Aggressive, unruly behavior could be identified as a form of melancholy in maids or frustration in young wives. Put an angry young wife on stage and the audience will interpret sexual frustration in her characterization. In Middleton’s The Witch (1613), newly married Isabella is bad tempered, leading Sebastian to recognize the marriage is not consummated: “I know what makes you waspish. A pox on’t! / She’ll every day be angry now at nothing.”30 Two of the plays discussed in later chapters feature an angry young wife with a frigid husband. The physician John Hall diagnosed seventeen-year old Editha Staunton as “miserably afflicted with melancholy, her Courses as yet not having broken forth, as also with the Mother; she was very easily angry with her nearest Friends, so that she continually cried out that her Parents would kill her, as also of all others that came unto her.”31 Editha has not yet started to menstruate and the medical diagnosis takes into account the blood accumulating in her body which will threaten her mental and physical state. The failure to purge what was often considered corrupt blood was the most common condition thought to affect young women, resulting in either delirium or behavioral problems, or even in death. In Grace Mildmay’s medical recipes she cites one treatment used “upon a maid that was so outrageous for a quarter of a year, that her friends were [planning to send her] to Bedlam—she was exceeding costive and had other unnatural stoppings in her body” (amenorrhea).32 Richard Napier was consulted by many parents who construed such

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rebellious behavior in their daughters as a form of mental disturbance. In Robert Burton’s study of melancholy in nuns, maids, and widows, he lists unruly behavior in a maid as a possible symptom of melancholy, and his advice for treatment could have been taken from Petruchio’s methods in The Taming of The Shrew: If religion, good discipline, honest education, wholesome exhortation, fair promises, fame and loss of good name, cannot inhibit and deter such (which to chaste and sober maids cannot choose but avail much), labour and exercise, strict diet, rigour, and threats, may more opportunely be used, and are able of themselves to qualify & divert an ill-disposed temperament.33

Burton’s advice is based on the entrenched belief, as explored in chapter 1, that noble virgins may suffer from an indulgent lifestyle. Many medical authors concurred in the view that young women of “flourishing age, highkeeping, and an idle life, sanguine Complexion and ripe for Generation” will fall ill if not treated.34 They did not need to be languishing and pale to be diagnosed with the maids’ melancholy: “Sometimes there is joined with it a kind of uterine fury, with talking and anger,” writes Nicholas Culpeper,35 while Jane Sharpe warns that once the courses begin to flow, “then maids will not be easily ruled.”36 Underpinning these theories is the assumption that idle well-fed bodies generate high levels of sexual desire which manifest in promiscuity or antisocial behavior. The physician Ferrand argued in his treatise on love, or erotic melancholy, Erotomania (1640), that sexual continence was almost impossible for those who are “young, fortunate, rich, high-fed and idle withal.”37 Tranio accurately assesses Kate as “fretting” (chafing and wasting herself ) in Baptista’s keeping : “[She] was a commodity lay fretting by you. / Twill bring you gain, or perish on the seas” (2.1.317–18). As editors have suggested, there may be a pun here on “commodity” as a sexual object, but also on “fretting” as pains in the belly.38 Early modern lexicon references to “fretting” link it to the womb, to pains in the belly, and to the bloody flux.39 Fretting has also been noted as a term used in relation to virginity: “For the Hymen may be corroded by acrimonious fretting humours flowing through it with the Menses.”40 Tranio’s analogy with commodities puns on Kate as perishable goods who will not survive unless married. Kate is an early example of the interest dramatists showed in the adolescent female body and the prevailing medical discourse on the disease of virgins. In the following decade, she will be followed by numerous other examples. In Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife (1624), a rich

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young heiress argues that because her body needs sexual variety she needs a house with multiple bedrooms for multiple partners.41 In Marston’s The Fawne (1604–1606), the “lusty, vigorous, full and idle” fifteen-year-old Dulcimel is, like Kate, frustrated by her father’s ruling on marriage and takes matters into her own hands.42 Dulcimel’s “full” means “plump,” a sign of excess blood coursing through her body due to a rich diet and idle lifestyle, which, if unchecked, will lead to erratic and risky sexual behavior. Is Kate plump? Petruchio claims not, “knowing thee to be but young and light” (2.1.196) as he tells her. But Petruchio speaks in contradictions. He calls her “bony Kate” in the First Folio (2.1.182), which later editors have amended to “bonny Kate,” but “bony” may have been intentional, as mockery of Kate’s robust body. Petruchio’s choice of a hazel simile for Kate is also interesting: Kate like the hazel-twig Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels. (2.1.243–45)

Horst Breuer has linked this to a popular ballad, “The Nutbrowne Mayde,” to characterize Kate as “a sweet, rich personality under the protective shell of outwardly forbidding behaviour.”43 This analogy of the hazelnut for Kate is attractive, but there is more to the sweet nut and bitter kernel allusions. If Kate has a brown complexion, then according to Thomas Wright she is likely to be a woman of strong feelings, who either loves or hates but nothing in between: “For only women that be of a hote complexion, and for the most part, those that be blacke or browne, I take to be of that constitution, and indeed those have their affections most vehement.” 44 Women of hot constitutions were often dark haired, lustful, manly, and risked being labeled viragoes.45 Such women also tended to have strong sex appeal, as in the following poem: Give me the Nutbrowne lasse Who when we court and kiss She cries, forsooth, let go. But when we come where comfort is, She never will say no.46

The origins of this piece of wisdom are to be found in Ovid’s Elegies, part of the Tudor school curriculum: “A white wench thralls me, so doth golden yellow; / And nut-brown girls in doing have no fellow” (Book II,

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Elegia IV). This was clearly an attractive adage to those with a literary bent.47 Lyly included it in Mother Bombie (1594), where two young men exchange sexual banter about the maid Rixula to proclaim her sex appeal and fertility: Lucio: I love a nutbroune lasse, tis good to recreate. Half: Thou meanest, a browne nut is good to crack. Lucio: Why wold it not do thee good to crack such a nut?48

Not only are hazelnuts hard to crack and sweet inside, but it seems tradition erroneously held them guilty of causing shortness of breath (one of the symptoms of green sickness). So incensed was Nicholas Culpeper with this old wives’ tale that he wrote an amusing apology for hazelnuts. Why should the Vulgar so familiarly affirm, that eating Nuts causeth shortness of Breath than which nothing is falser. . . . I confess the Opinion is far older than I am, I knew Tradition was a Friend to Errors before, but never that he was the Father of Slanders, or are mens tongues so given to slandering one another that they must slander Nuts too. . . . And thus I have made an Apology for Nuts which cannot speak for themselves.49

In the medical field, Culpeper argued, hazelnut kernels were useful in electuaries for curing lung problems and also, interestingly, for controlling women’s menstruation. The treatment Petruchio metes out to Kate in terms of diet, exercise, and sleep deprivation is intended to cool and reduce the blood coursing through her body, reduce the female seed, and prevent crude humors accumulating without having to resort to phlebotomy.50 In a later play by Fletcher and Massinger, The Double Marriage (1621), the same treatment is applied by a doctor to a libidinous male courtier, as he teases him with food and snatches it away as he goes to eat, waters down his wine, keeps him from sleep, and sends away the women brought in for his pleasure, leaving him hungry and angry; all “for your health Sir.”51 It was not just women who suffered from the build-up of seed but high-living men also.52 Fasting was the most common natural method for “pulling down the pride of the body, and the height of the naturall humours thereof, a very convenient meanes, and often prescribed by our Authors in young and lusty bodies.”53 Meat and spicy or hot foods had long been contraindicated for hot, full-blooded young women. “Let her abstain from strong wines and flesh meat,” writes one sixteenth-century physician, and “all such things as

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increase natural sperme.”54 Sixty years later, the same advice was offered by Culpeper: “The outward causes [of increased libido] are hot meats, spiced strong wine, and the like that heat the privities.”55 Much ado is made about meat in the play. “What’s this? Mutton?” (4.1.131), asks Petruchio, going on to argue the dangers of burnt meat for choleric persons: “She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat” (4.1.168, 4.3.41). 56 Grumio teases Kate mercilessly with offers of meat dishes and hot mustard, only to deny her because of their choleric or hot qualities (4.3.23). Padua was apparently known for its mustard, according to a 1598 cookery guide which includes a recipe “to make mustard after the manner in Padua.”57 These references to meat go beyond standard advice for general choleric dispositions, to draw on advice for well-fed and idle virgins. 58 It is worth reiterating Jennifer Evans’s finding that early modern society fully comprehended the way foods acted on the body, in particular those that promoted lust and fertility. 59 So when we read of one young man’s advice to his twelve- to thirteen-year-old betrothed, urging her to “see well that you be no eteter [picky eater] of your meat, the which should help you greatly in waxing,” we can assume she was still sexually immature.60 Everything about Kate bespeaks a strong sexual energ y, including her shrewishness and her violence towards Petruchio. Having heard from Hortensio how she broke a lute over his head, Petruchio is spurred into admiration for her: “Now, by the world, it is a lusty wench! / I love her ten times more than e’er I did” (2.1.156–17). In The English Moor; or, Mock Marriage (1658), when young Rashley is struck by the girl he attempts to kiss, he too reads physical violence as an encouraging sign: “I have read / That your viragoes use to strike all those / They mean to lie with.”61 Old Moroso in The Tamer Tamed (1611) on the other hand, deludes himself when he wonders whether young Livia gave him a box on the ears out of “a longing / (As you know women have such toys) in kindness.”62 Kate’s fiery temperament is symptomatic of an active libido. She is “gamesome,” “sportful” and “a raging fire.” “Is she so hot a shrew as she’s reported?” asks Curtis (4.1.15) and it won’t be just her temper he is thinking of. References to heat in drama, in either men or women, generally identify sexual heat as their source. “If the nature of the woman be too hot . . . such a woman is very hasty and Chollerick, quick witted and crafty, thirsty and desirous after Carnal Copulation.”63 Kate’s characterization draws on medical understandings of the hot young female body and an unruly uterus, and Petruchio’s tactics reflect the recommended means of treatment, which are exercise, fasting, cooling therapies, and less sleep.64

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“[I] am starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,” bemoans Kate, and then gives the audience a direct clue: He does it under the name of perfect love, As who should say, if I should sleep or eat ’Twere deadly sickness or else present death. (4.3.14)

While, quite clearly, this lusty wench is not facing deadly sickness, if the overheated womb is not satisfied, frenzy, green sickness, or other conditions of the young female body could well bring her down. Exposed to the cold, (4.1.26–27; 4.3.37), forced to exercise (5.1.55–65, 4.3.180), and starved of sleep and food, what may seem abuse can be refigured as beneficial treatment. Petruchio is following the dolus ad bonum theory: “I intend / That all is done in reverend care of her,” he insists (4.1.169–74), and there is no reason to disbelieve him. Lynda E. Boose similarly argues that Shakespeare was modeling a series of humane and effective methods for behavioral modification by giving such methods romantic life on stage, despite their apparently brutal nature.65 All the methods Petruchio has used to tame Kate—fasting, absence of meat, reduced sleep, and denial of bodily desires—were those recommended by both physicians and churchmen for containing young lusty bodies and controlling the libido. Even her exposure to the cold was a means of treating overly hot bodies, particularly female ones: “And I have another plain Observation” wrote Robert Boulton, “that will satisfie all Observing Women, . . . for nothing is more common, than that taking cold stops Womens Courses, the Acid Particles of the Air coagulating their Blood, and causing Obstructions.”66 Exercise similarly helped to consume excess blood and was highly recommended for young girls. Young Elizabeth Isham’s father had her running up and down the stairs many times a day when he feared she was at risk of green sickness through excess blood, and was very concerned about her diet.67 Fasting was the most common strategy for controlling concupiscence, and such an integral feature of religious practice in Reformation England that none could be ignorant of its benefits, in particular as an aid to the practice of chastity and sexual continence. Throughout the play there is a constant awareness of sexual tensions fueled by the anticipation of consummation. Sexuality is kept to the fore with numerous explicit verbal allusions such as “I will board her” (1.2.91), “woo her, wed her, and bed her” (1.1.135), “in thy bed” (2.1.256), and “carouse full measure to her maidenhead” (3.2.214), along with implicit

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allusions in Petruchio’s use of falcon imagery. Birds of prey could be mastered with gentle but firm means, as could difficult women: “The only way you know for haggard hawks, and as I suspect for wayward women.”68 There is a strong physical sexuality to their relationship, initiated by Kate, who strikes him at their first meeting only to be held by Petruchio and threatened with physical violence: “I swear I’ll cuff you if you strike again” (2.1.214). Four times he demands a kiss of her, “kiss me Kate” (2.1.314, 3.2.13), and “He took the bride about the neck / And kissed her lips with such a clamorous smack” (3.2.167–18). She does not resist. When he refuses to enter Baptista’s house for the wedding feast without a public kiss in act 5, Kate’s sudden display of modesty is quaintly comic for a girl whose previous behavior in public was anything but modest. Touch and kissing bring us back to the role of sensory perceptions in the maintenance of chastity. Chastity is assailed “by so many avenues as there are senses; amongst which the hearing and sight receiving the poyson of glances, and words, cause chastity to stagger and languish; but it receives the deadly blow when the touch surrenders itself to the inchantment of kisses.”69 The most tantalizing element of Petruchio’s treatment is the withholding of sexual gratification. While he and others make frequent allusions to sexual expectations, he forces a night of continence on them both. “And for this night we’ll fast for company. / Come, I will bring thee to thy bridal chamber,” he tells her, where apparently he subjects her to a lesson on abstinence: “[He] is in her chamber / Making a sermon of continency to her.” The audience is given an image of Kate in the bedroom being tutored on chastity and piety and followed by a lecture from Petruchio making it clear he intends to spend the night keeping her from sleep, but not with sex. Petruchio has played on her sensual nature, confusing and denying her natural inclinations, just as he did when forcing her to deny her eyes rather than contradict him over the burnt meat, the moon as the sun, or old Vincentio as a young maid. Both Kate’s and the audience’s erotic expectations have been aroused, only to be dashed like Christopher Sly’s in the Induction. The enforced continency is an exercise in self-control, but it raises the question of to what end. This scene is reminiscent of the advice urged on young husbands by Juan Luis Vives, to defer consummation for three days: After thou hast married thy wife, go thy way into thy chamber, and abstaining three days from her, give thyself to prayer with her, and in

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the first night thou shalt burn the liver of the fish, and the devil shall be driven away. The second night thou shalt be admitted unto the company of saints. The third night shalt thou obtain the blessing of God, so that whole children shall be born of you. And after the third night be past, take thy wife unto thee in fear of God and more for the desire of children than bodily lust.70

For Vives, whose conduct books were driven by a pathological fear of female sexuality and its ability to disempower male self-control, it was all about fear of the Devil exerting his influence through sexual experiences. Some physicians, following Aristotle, did advise that excessive sensual pleasures were damaging as they could alter the seed and hinder conception, but the medical profession was firmly behind the therapeutic benefits of intercourse.71 Of all the measures Petruchio has taken to tame Kate, this is the most revealing since it identifies his desire to control her sex drive. On the one hand, this may indicate he is anxious about his own performance, proving him all talk and no action, yet on the other hand it could indicate he is equally trying to keep his own libido under control. As Petruchio so often asserts, he shares with Kate the same choleric nature and is treating himself as much as her: And I expressly am forbid to touch it [meat], For it engenders choler, planteth anger; And better ‘twere that both of us did fast, Since of ourselves, ourselves are choleric, Than feed it with such over-roasted flesh. (4.1.142–46)

Petruchio’s redeeming feature is that of self-knowledge. When charged with inappropriate clothing for the wedding, his response is revealing : “Could I repair what she will wear in me / As I can change these poor accoutrements, / ’Twere well for Kate and better for myself ” (3.2.108–10). Could he but change his volatile temperament as easily as change his clothes, he would be a better man for it, and thus Kate a happier wife. Humility is not one of Petruchio’s virtues, so when he argues that “’tis the mind that makes the body rich, / And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, / So honour peereth in the meanest habit” (4.3.166–68), he is again targeting his own nature as much as hers. As Frances Dolan has pointed out, the play explores Petruchio’s motives and feelings far more fully than it does Kate’s, with the result that he becomes the more

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interesting character on stage, dealing as much with his own demons as with trying to exorcise Kate’s.72 We may question whether the audience is persuaded that sexual frustration is the key to Kate’s behavior, but there is no denying that the sexual themes and tensions were introduced by Shakespeare. They do not exist in the 1594 version, which is not located in Padua and which makes no references to physicians or to the risk of sex to Sly’s health in the Induction. There is no gallery of erotic pictures described in all their sensual detail and there is no wedding night of enforced continence. 73 Furthermore, in Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed (1609–1611), which ties itself to The Taming of the Shrew despite a nearly twenty-year interval, sexual consummation is at the very core of the plot. The play starts where Shakespeare finishes, with a wedding—in this case Petruchio’s second wedding. It is the withholding of sex on his wedding night which most enrages and tortures Petruchio and which becomes the most effective means of eventually bringing him to heel. He is an older man now and less confident about satisfying his young new wife. He talks up his prowess to the men and takes wagers on his wedding night’s success but acknowledges he may “sink” under the expectations. Told by his fatherin-law to stop talking and go to bed, his anxiety shows: “I hope you do not doubt I want that mettle / A man should have to keep a woman waking.”74 There are even suggestions he needs aphrodisiacs to perform on his wedding night. 75 The Tamer Tamed (1609–1611) looks back to Shakespeare’s treatment of the relationship between Petruchio and Kate as at heart a sexual one, and it reverses the power struggle. Fletcher’s depiction of Petruchio’s first marriage assumes Kate’s passive behavior towards her husband was short-lived, and that the marriage was a battle of wills.76 This nonetheless suggests it was a sexually compatible one. In another Fletcher play we read: “Couples who argue: A pox upon that wrangling, say I still, / . . . There’s not one match ’mongst twenty made without it, / It fights i’th tongue, but sure to agree i’th haunches.”77 If husbands found shrewish wives hard to govern, it seems they reaped their rewards in bed, at least in drama. Thomas Nabbes’ character Mr. Ferret in The Bride (1638) has a bossy and lusty wife. She knows how to play the submissive wife in public: Mr. Ferret: She is somewhat shrewish at home, but the best wife abroadMrs. Ferret: Fy, sweet heart, nowe you flatter. ’Tis virtue enough in us to be obedient and dutyfull; we should lay ourselves under our husband’s feet if they command it.78

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Nabbes’s use of this same scenario argues for Shakespeare’s Kate as a pattern for later “shrews” and for the assumption that sex was the glue of the marriage. “Ferret” was slang for penis, and Mr. Ferret’s wife is a shrew and shrews are sexual creatures. In Fletcher’s The Pilgrim (1622), the madhouse for women is run by a woman who is “as lecherous too as a Shee-Ferret,” and coincidentally is named Kate.79 If Nabbes’s pairing of “ferret” and “shrew” had meaning for a seventeenth-century audience, it was grounded in fierce sexual relationships, as Yachnin and Shea have shown in their entertaining research into the shrew’s historical reputation for aggressive and noisy mating habits. Their conclusion that Kate is best understood as a well-hung shrew is in line with my own theory that the play’s title puns on unruly wombs.80 In fact, the epithet “shrew” for a woman is not of itself derogatory. A shrewish woman was consid­ ered an honest woman, as in Monsieur D’Oliue (1606), and an intelligent one. 81 Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (1598) is a good example. It is only when used by men unable to match the woman’s wit, or fearful of the female power to disrupt a masculine culture, that the term becomes derogatory. Vives gave every possible reason why a woman should keep silent in company, and his most irrational argument was reserved for intelligent women: “if thou speke counnyngly, thou shalte be called a shrewe.” 82 It is fear of women’s outspoken truths that leads these men to call women shrews, and in drama outspoken women are more often than not sexy women. For the audience, it is unlikely that Kate’s intelligence was ever in question, and certainly not once she proves a match for Petruchio’s own game at bare-faced falsehoods. Her final speech is therefore as much a challenge to the audience as it is a surprise to Petruchio, leaving him close to speechless, and urging him to get Kate to bed before he loses control of what he has so skillfully practiced. In the final analysis, it is hard to determine whether the sexual consummation—so long awaited and so frequently frustrated—should be understood as Kate’s prize or as Petruchio’s. The dynamics have changed at this point, leaving the audience to come to their own undoubtedly gender-based decisions (not forgetting that Kate’s speech comes from a young boy player skilled in the arts of performance). 83 The lesson in shrew-taming has become destabilized, and, as Penny Gay has concluded, has turned a simple farce into “something far more unstable that relates in uncomfortable ways to the structures underlying the real life of the Elizabethan audience.”84 So while this play may appear to be a celebration of male dominance over

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the female body, it is just as much a celebration of the sexual power of the female body to destabilize male authority. It was a challenge Shakespeare and Fletcher repeatedly brought into their plays, and which provided so much of their humor and entertainment, usually at the expense of male self-confidence.85 NOTES Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew (Thompson), p. 3. Text references are to act, scene, and line. 2 Shakespeare, “Taming of the Shrew” (Wells et al.), p. 29. 3 Roe, Shakespeare Guide to Italy, pp. 110–11. 4 Cimino, “Shakespeare in Italy,” pp. 23–26. 5 Greene’s Mamillia (1593), which deals with a daughter at risk of green sickness, mentions Padua no fewer than fourteen times. 6 The University of Padua “was generally regarded as the best medical school in Europe.” Bylebyl, “School of Padua,” pp. 363–65. 7 Also in the prologue to the 1604 revised edition of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Schmitt, “Aristotle Among the Physicians,” p. 15. 8 Schmitt, “Aristotle Among the Physicians,” pp. 9–10. 9 Tanner, The Hidden Treasures of the Art of Physick, chapter III, p. 5. 10 Schleiner, Medical Ethics, chapter 2, pp. 5–37. 11 Baret, Alveary or Triple Dictionary. LEME. 12 Cited in Cooper’s 1584 lexicon which includes a further 7 citations; see also lexicons of Thomas Thomas 1587; John Rider 1589; Claude Hollyband 1593; Richard Percival 1599; Robert Cawdrey 1617; Henry Cockeram 1623. LEME. 13 Moffett, A Commentarie upon the booke of the Proverbes of Salomon for the edification of the Church of God, 1592. Chapt XVIII, p. 153. 14 Bruto, Education of a yong Gentlewoman, pp. 1–4. 15 Wright, Passions of the Minde, pp. 165–67. 16 Cited in Rummel, Erasmus on Women, p. 19. 17 Brathwait, English Gentlewoman, p. 149. 18 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, p. 100. 19 The Taming of the Shrew (Thompson), Induction n. 35. “Semiramis: the prowde and wanton Queene of Babilon wife of Ninus.” Du Bartas, Divine Weeks and Works. See also Ovid’s Metamorphoses. 20 Gair, Children of Paul’s, p. 100. 21 The classical story of Cytherea (or Aphrodite), whose tears of blood fell upon ground which then grew flowers, frames a poetic blazon describing a 1

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woman’s physical appearance with menstrual allusions. Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, p. 123. 22 The images derive from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. 23 T. Coryate Crudities Ep. Ded. sig. a5, (OED). See also Bullokar, An English Expositor (1616), and Cockeram, English Dictionary (1623). LEME. 24 Harrison, Description of England, pp. 74–75. 25 Fraunce, Hymenaeus, 4.2. 26 Note Aristotle’s definition of happiness: “strength, health, beauty; an abundance of worldly things: and a virtuous soul.” Woolfson, Padua and the Tudors, p. 99. 27 Possibly a printer’s error for “ethics.” 28 Compare: “before God Kate, I cannot look greenly nor gasp out my eloquence.” Shakespeare, “King Henry V,” 5.2.147. 29 Kingsbury, “Kate’s Froward Humor,” pp. 61–84. 30 Middleton, The Witch, 3.2.48–49. 31 Lane, John Hall, pp. lxxx, 174. 32 Pollock, Faith and Physic, pp. 120–21. 33 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Smith), p. 355 [memb. 2, subs. 4]. 34 Tanner, Art of Physick, p. 329. See also “The Nature of Wommen” in Green, Women’s Healthcare, chapter 4, pp. 85–86. 35 Culpeper, Compleat Midwife’s Practice, p. 239. 36 Sharp, Midwives Book, p. 69. 37 Quoted in Babb, Elizabethan Malady, p. 131. 38 Taming of the Shrew (Thompson), n. 2.1.317. 39 See various entries in LEME. 40 Gibson, The Anatomy of Humane Bodies Epitomised (London 1682), quoted in Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, p. 134 41 Fletcher, “Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,” 2.1.9–21. 42 Marston, The Fawne, act 3, lines 190–94. 43 Breuer, “Taming of the Shrew,” pp. 173–75. 44 Wright, Passions of the Minde. 45 Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine, p. 71. 46 Campion, Poet, Composer, Physician, p. 51. 47 Marlowe, Christopher Marlowe’s Complete Poems and Translations, p. 141. 48 Lyly, Mother Bombie, 3.4.15–21. 49 Culpeper, English Physitian, image 39. 50 Galenists believed that women produced seed at orgasm similarly to men, whereas Aristotelian theorists thought that menstruation eliminated the impure

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part of the excess blood leaving a pure substance, but not seed, which was a woman’s contribution to the conception. See Read, Menstruation and the Female Body, pp. 19–20. 51 Fletcher and Massinger, “Double Marriage,” 5.1.89–113. 52 Dawson, Lovesickness, p. 25. 53 Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, Dedicatory. 54 Massaria and Turner, De Morbis Foemineis, p. 28. 55 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, p. 116. 56 Burnt meat engenders choler. See Escolme, Emotional Excess, pp. 7–8. 57 de Rosselli, Epulario, image 20. 58 Hippocrates forbids sweet and fat meats ( Jorden 22). 59 See chapter 1 on diet and aphrodisiacs. 60 Cited in Phillips, Medieval Maidens, p. 41. 61 Brome, English Moor, 2.3. 62 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, appendix, p. 179. 63 Massaria and Turner, De Morbis Foemineis, p. 42. 64 Sharp, “nothing furthers good concoction more than moderate labour . . . whereas idle persons breed crude humours. And therefore Lycurgus the Lacedemonian Law-giver commanded Maids to work, for saith he, this keeps their bodies in good temper.” Midwives Book, pp. 71–73. 65 Boose, “Scolding Brides,” p. 198. 66 Quoted in Read, Menstruation, p. 54. 67 Isham, Book of Rememberance, p. 17v. 68 Browne to Thynne’s brother regarding marriage negotiations she was resisting. Quoted in Wall, “Godly Advice,” p. 57. 69 Havers, Collection of Discourses, p. 428. 70 Vives, “Office of an Husband,” p. 131. This refers to the Biblical story (Tobit 6:8) of the chaste Tobias and his young wife burning a fish’s heart and liver to repel demons of lust on their wedding night. 71 de Montaigne, Essayes, p. 432. 72 Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew (Dolan), p. 14. 73 While there are some bawdy lines in the play (10.44–45), they are of the type common to plays written for boys. 74 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 1.3.1, 27, 46–47. 75 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 1.1.52–53; 1.3.16–17. 76 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 3.3.150. 77 Fletcher, Middleton, and Rowley, “Wit at Several Weapons,” 3.116–17. 78 Nabbes, “The Bride (1638),” 1.5. pp. 16–17. 79 Fletcher, “The Pilgrim,” 3.6. p. 191. 80 Shea and Yachnin, “Well-Hung Shrew,” pp. 112–13. 81 Chapman, Monsieur D’Oliue, 1.1. Image 7.

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Potter, “Elizabethan Drama,” p. 271. In discussing this speech, Lynn Enterline refers to the disjunction between Kate’s rhetorical performance and what she (as orator) actually thinks and feels, and she points out that this was a skill honed in Elizabethan classrooms (and of particular relevance to boy actors). Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom, pp. 116–18. 84 Gay, Shakespeare’s Comedies, p. 30. 85 For example, in Fletcher’s “Women Pleased” (1620), Isabella is an ill-used wife deprived of food, clothing, warmth, and sex by a jealous husband. See also Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife (1624) for a mockery of purging, starving, and sex deprivation treatment. 82


Figure 3. Jan Steen The Doctor’s Visit (ca. 1663–1665). Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, Object Number Cat. 510.

Chapter 4

Romeo and Juliet (ca. 1594–1595)


Y THE TIME SHAKESPEARE wrote Romeo and Juliet in the 1590s,1 the condition of green sickness was more widely known than when first addressed in The Bugbears. Jeffere had used his play as a vehicle for educating as well as entertaining audience and performers alike on the clinical details of a relatively new disease, whereas some twenty-five years later the condition could be exploited by Shakespeare with confidence that his audience would be familiar with it and understand its relevance to adolescence and, more significantly, to parental responses. Earlier Tudor interludes and school plays frequently addressed adolescent behavior, but usually from a moral or religious perspective, such as Nice Wanton (1550), The Disobedient Child (1560), and Misogonus (1571), and with little interest in teenage biology. Even Shakespeare’s source, Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562), which shows considerable interest and sympathy in the emotional effects of adolescent love, still prefaced the work with lengthy moralizing against the dangers of disobedience to parents and the perils of lust. Shakespeare’s version avoids passing judgment on the lovers; rather it is the parents the play has in its sights. Brooke based his poem on a play (now lost) he had seen performed in 1560: Though I saw the same argument lately set forth on stage with more commendation than I can look for (being there much better set forth than I have or can do), yet the same matter, penned as it is, may serve to like good effect.2

The differences between Brooke and Shakespeare are informative. Both dramatists describe Juliet’s behavior in similar terms (weeping, pale face, loss of appetite, strange behavior, and keeping to her room) but Brooke attributes Juliet’s sickness to envy of her married peers, as articulated by her mother:

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But now at length I have bethought me, and I do believe The only crop and root of all my daughter’s pain Is grudging envy’s faint disease; perhaps she doth disdain To see in wedlock yoke the most part of her peers, Whilst only she unmarried doth lose so many years. And more, perchance she thinks you mind to keep her so; Wherefore despairing doth she wear herself away with woe.3

Brooke’s Juliet is sixteen so the suggestion of envy is just about credible. Perhaps the term green sickness was still unfamiliar in 1562, but green as the color for envy is an interesting possibility. Shakespeare has Romeo employing this concept when he implores Juliet to “be not [Diana’s] maid, since she is envious / Her vestal livery is but sick and green” (2.2.7–8). The concept of envy as trigger for the condition of green sickness surfaces in a much later play, John Webster’s A Cure for a Cuckold (1624). Here, during wedding celebrations, attention is drawn to the melancholy behavior of one young guest, and the father of the bride seizes the opportunity to diagnose envy as the cause. He proposes she is: Sick of the Maid perhaps, because she sees You Mistriss Bride, her School- and Play-fellow So suddenly turned Wife. . . . When I was young At such a Meeting I have so bestir’d me, Till I have made the pale Green-sickness Girls Blush like the Rubie, and drop pearls apace Down from their Ivory fore-heads: In those days I have cut Capers thus high.4

The assertion comes from an aged father who boasts of his prowess with girls in his youth and is confident of his own wisdom. He is a later version of Capulet who also brags of his own success as a lover when he was young: I have seen the day That I have worn a visor and could tell A whispering tale in a fair lady’s ear, Such as would please; ’tis gone, ’tis gone, ’tis gone. (1.5.21–24)

For an early modern audience, Capulet’s nostalgia for past sexual exploits is an unspoken nod to present failure.

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Changes made by Shakespeare to Brooke’s version have the effect of staging adolescent sexual development more forcefully and of putting the spotlight on Capulet and the ways he handles his daughter’s maturation. In Brooke’s poem, Juliet’s mother is characterized as a loving, caring, observant, and entirely affectionate parent, who agonizes over her daughter’s unhappy state. She is the one who makes the diagnosis and who suggests marriage as the cure, not her husband. There is no mention of her age or any hint of disparity with her husband. In contrast, Shakespeare renders Juliet’s mother an emotionally undeveloped figure, married at thirteen and now in her prime with an aged, impotent husband. She is almost the only mother to appear in the numerous father–daughter plays in Shakespeare’s work, so her role has the specific dramatic function of providing an exemplum of the dangers of “January” and “May” marriages as they were sometimes called (discussed further in chapter 7). Shakespeare pays much greater attention to Capulet than does Brooke. He is on stage in ten scenes, including the opening scene where he is clearly identified as aged and in need of a crutch, according to his young wife. His role is the lynchpin to the tragedy, which hinges on his love for his only child dissolving into irrational fear at the prospect of her developing sexuality. In Brooke, the young lovers’ passions are rarely sexually charged despite lengthy descriptions. There is no erotic first night together but a brief allusion to three months of secret marriage before Romeus is banished. Shakespeare ramps up both the tension and the sexual electricity by giving his lovers one stolen night together, enhanced by erotic language and imagery before they are forced apart. His play is thick with sexual allusions extending to virtually all characters. Marjorie Garber’s analysis reveals just how focused the play is on sex and on death, with its confusion between love and death, the two being inextricably bound together by linguistic puns and stage action and the relentless twinning of “womb” and “tomb.”5 This pairing of sex and death is foretold in the Prologue, seamlessly merged in “the fatal loins” of the Montagues and Capulets. The opening scene takes the audience straight into a world of sexual bravado and violence. Two posturing hot-headed young servants, Samson and Gregory, come on stage and within the first thirty lines they have conjured up a juvenile world of testosterone-fueled youth, threatening street violence and talking up their imagined sexual prowess through images of physical assault and rape. Underlying the repartee and verbal bravado is the anxious need to prove their masculinity. They are clearly juveniles. As they joust with each other with puns on thrusting and maidenheads,

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Samson boasts of the power and credentials of his manhood on unwitting maids: “Me they shall feel while I am able to stand, / And ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.” Gregory deflates this boast with a pun on flesh and fish: “’Tis well thou art not a fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been Poor John” (1.1.27–30). Poor John was salted, dried fish—food for the poor but also a bawdy pun on the female sex. There is a distinct connection between fish and sexual health in early modern dietary texts.6 Fish were cold, wet, and smelly, and could be used in Elizabethan bawdy as metaphor for women’s genitals, as suggested in The Doctor’s Visit (figure 3), where the ailing girl is mocked with a cold fish representing her disordered womb, and the onions proffered by the leering boy are symbolic of the hot male seed it needs. The implication is that if Samson had been fish (a girl) rather than flesh (a man), he would have been dried out and impotent. In a 1620 play by John Fletcher, prostitutes are referred to as mackerel: “I have a pack of wry-mouth’d mackrell Ladies, / Stinke like a standing ditch, for a bunch of coxcombs.”7 Stale maidenheads took on fishy properties— “And if thou hast thy maidenhead yet extant, / Sure ’tis as big as a cod’s head,” which is footnoted as “a membrane so big and stretched only a fool would deal with it.”8 Fishing terms were commonly appropriated for sexual arousal in women, as illustrated by Barnabe Rich: “A wanton wench is of the nature of a Trowt, for it loues alwaies to be tickled.”9 This aphorism is immediately followed by another on green sickness, again predicated on the cold female body: “Shee that hath the greene sicknesse, if shee will be well Recouered, shee must be well Couerde, for Cold is a nourisher of the disease.” These two aphorisms are clearly linked as commentary on the womb. Shakespeare uses the same play on fish and flesh when Romeo appears early in the morning, having spent the night in the Capulet’s garden and not in the arms of Rosaline as Mercutio assumes: Benvolio: Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo Mercutio: Without his roe, like a dried herring Oh flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified.


They assume Romeo has conquered Rosaline, spent his seed and now lost his virility. The bawdy innuendo continues through the following scenes, with sexual puns on tickling and pricking (1.4.26–28), and medlars and pears (2.1.36–38). Mercutio is the main culprit for imaginative and explicit bawdy, but again it is all talk and no action, as Romeo later tells the nurse: “[Mercutio] loves to hear himself talk, and will speak more in a

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minute than he will stand to in a month” (2.4.141–43). The audience is continually reminded of the fragility of the young male sexual ego. Shakespeare uses the opening scene to present a male world of crass sexual exploitation, devoid of beauty, love, or sensitivity and marked by sexual anxiety. Against this background he introduces the more romantically forlorn character of Romeo, who, pointedly, does not boast of sexual prowess, having failed with Rosaline who has sworn to live chaste. He is the archetypal moody, secretive teenager, who spends his nights away from home and his days locked in his bedroom, given to tears and melancholy. He expresses himself with schoolbook rhetoric (until he meets Juliet and his language changes) and wallows in his misery under color of humoral sickness.10 Mercutio mocks him as the image of a melancholy lover, full of sighs and “Ay mes” and juvenile rhyme. Shakespeare differentiates Romeo’s adolescence from that of his companions by rendering it not just less aggressive but remarkably feminine. When Romeo defines the nature of love, he does so with humoral images more usually associated with the fluid female body: Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, Being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes, Being vext, a sea nourisht with loving tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, A choking gall, and a preserving sweet. (1.1.188–92)

Rising vapors, mental derangement, a choking gall, were symptoms of suffocation of the mother, ideally purged by sex. Capulet will turn to similar terms when he fears Juliet is sick. The Friar criticizes Romeo for behaving “like a misbehaved and sullen wench” (3.3.142) and challenges him: “Art thou a man? . . . Thy tears are womanish” (3.3.108–9). Even Romeo’s father speaks of him in terms more usually associated with virginal girls, when he describes Romeo as a “bud bit with an envious worm, / Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air, / Or dedicate his beauty to the same” (1.1.149–50). Juliet will use the same imagery to describe their love: “This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath / May prove a beauteous flow’r when next we meet” (2.2.121–22). When Capulet uses the bud imagery it is heavily invested with sexual promise. Inviting Paris to his banquet, he promises Such comfort as do lusty young men feel, When well-apparelled April on the heel

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Of limping winter treads—even such delight Among fresh female buds shall you this night Inherit at my house. (1.2.26–29)

“Well-apparelled April” alludes to ripening pubescent bodies, not minds, set against the infirmities of aged, disabled winter. To the mature Paris, Capulet talks up the sexual promise of the young virgins who will attend, including his own daughter, but when faced with the actuality of her sexual ripeness he will panic. Female puberty was commonly depicted with botanical images (see chapter 1), so to find both Romeo and Juliet described as buds is to understand they were not yet fully “ripe,” but on the brink of sexual maturity. They will cross that line during the course of the play. There is no mention of Romeo’s age, but he is still under his father’s control, and given his use of schoolboy rhetoric, his lack of experience in love, the late teens would be appropriate. Marriage at that age for a boy was rare. Shakespeare’s own marriage at eighteen was unusual, and as a minor he had to get his father’s permission. Girls, however, reached sexual maturity at an earlier age than boys, and marriage at fourteen was preferable to the threat of promiscuity, as Henry Swinburne pointed out in A Treatise of Spousals (ca. 1600), “to these persons, albeit very young, the remedy against lust is not to be denied.”11 Swinburne’s advice is based on the understanding that the onset of menstruation triggered the onset of lust. From that point on the female body was a sexually sentient body.12 In Brooke’s poem Juliet is two years older (a more credible age) but still considered too young to marry: “Scarce saw she yet full sixteen years: too young to be a bride.”13 By reducing Juliet’s age to fourteen, Shakespeare signals the arrival of menarche and the libido with it, and the powerful urges this generates. Juliet’s age is never in doubt. Six times the audience learns that Juliet is a mere two weeks away from this highly significant birthday. Some critics have suggested Juliet’s younger age is to emphasize the illegality of the marriage, but there is no evidence for this.14 Every member of the audience would have understood that this emphasis on her age signals a potential domestic crisis. The most chaste of daughters could turn into a sexual predator. As Robert Burton flatly asserted, “at fourteen years old, then they do offer themselves, and some plainly rage,” and without husbands such girls “do not live, but linger.”15 When Paris claims that Juliet is old enough to marry, Capulet’s response reveals the unhappy experience of his own marriage to a child bride:

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Paris: Younger than she are happy mothers made Capulet: And too soon marred are those so early made.


The audience learns later (1.3.72–74) that Lady Capulet was the same age as Juliet when she gave birth, although her youth would have been evident in her stage presentation from the opening scene. They may understand Capulet’s comment of “marred” as a reference to stillbirths or miscarriages or infant deaths—Juliet is after all their only surviving child, as Capulet reveals early in the play: “Earth has swallowed all my hopes but she” (1.2.14). Giving birth too young was dangerous to the mother, and often used as a reason for delaying a marriage a few years. Alternatively, and more likely given Capulet’s nostalgia for past sexual exploits, the audience would understand he was now too old to satisfy his young wife’s sexual needs and she will be suffering from sexual frustration. This would explain the emotional deficiency Shakespeare sketches in her (and perhaps explain the unexpectedly lyrical language she lapses into when praising Paris to Juliet as a lover and husband). In Brooke she is a warmer, more emotionally involved character, and very distressed by her daughter’s illness, whereas Juliet’s father in Brooke is a more distant figure. For Brooke the parents are largely blameless and it is the younger generation who receive the moral lessons: “And to this end, good reader, is this tragical matter written to describe unto thee a couple of unfortunate lovers thralling themselves to unhonest desire, neglecting the authority and advice of parents and friends, . . . and hastening to most unhappy death.”16 Shakespeare’s version of the story turns this around to make Capulet the prime target for criticism. He is characterized as an aged “cot-quean” usurping the role of his wife in running the household. Not only does he run everything “in extremity” (1.3.103), meaning in a disorganized and ad hoc fashion, but he deprives his wife and daughter of their natural domestic roles. A brief interval at the end of act 1, scene 4 sets the domestic scene as a disorganized and ill-managed household (as well as highlighting Capulet’s age and faulty memory). The physician Johann Lange claimed uterine fury never occurred “in married women occupied in house cleaning,” an opinion supported by other contemporary authors who regarded a physical occupation as essential to a healthy and virtuous wife or daughter.17 Capulet has taken on the domestic management here. A rich diet was a further risk factor, for certain foods increased a woman’s seed and generated blood, and there were dangers in having “hote

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metys and drynkys, and lyuoun yn mych rest.” 18 Capulet’s household is noted for its generous provision of meats and spices (4.4.1). Spices were well known as aphrodisiacs or as shameful stimulants to lust: “foods that are warm of their own efficacy . . . inflame us with shameful desires.”19 Vives would have despaired of Capulet’s domestic arrangements. His advice to parents was to avoid all occasions for inciting venery in their daughters, and he singles out banquets: “Much fuel is added to the fire at a banquet: food, drink, conversations, cajoling smiles, enticing looks, touches, pinching.” Dancing was a particularly risky pastime for young women, conducive to hysteria, and a threat to chastity. Juliet is proof of Vives’s warnings: “I would venture to say that after the age of puberty, few girls return from these banquets and celebrations among men with the same virginal spirit they had when they went.”20 And of course Juliet’s garrulous nurse would never have passed Vives’s selection criteria, with her bawdy tales and her low moral standards. Shakespeare’s audience would be aware that Capulet has transgressed all the parenting rules Vives lays down, and Juliet is the perfect exemplum of his dire warnings. This is not to say the play supports the strict, enclosed domestic environment Vives advocates—that would be anathema to Shakespeare’s depictions of successful daughters across his work—but it exposes the contradictions in Capulet’s pedagogical role. The most significant flaw in Capulet’s judgment is to misread Juliet’s grief as symptomatic of green sickness. There has been much in the play to encourage his diagnosis, incorrect thought it may be. Shakespeare’s audience is continually reminded of Juliet’s grief-stricken behavior. Her weeping and confinement to her bedroom is repeatedly brought to the fore. Her nurse describes to Romeo how she “weeps and weeps” (3.3.98), Paris says to her “Poor soul, thy face is much abus’d with tears” (4.1.29), and she herself tells Lady Capulet, “Madam, I am not well” (3.5.68), to which her unsympathetic mother responds by berating her: “Ever more weeping for your cousin’s death? / . . . Some grief shows much of love, / But much of grief shows still some want of wit.” It is when Lady Capulet tells her husband that “tonight [ Juliet] is mewed up to her heaviness” (3.4.11) that Capulet decides to call back Paris and “make a desperate tender” of his child’s love. In his wisdom, Capulet diagnoses sex as the remedy for his languishing daughter, and hurries the marriage plans forward. “Thou hast a careful father, child,” Lady Capulet tells Juliet, “one who to put thee from thy heaviness, / Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy” (3.5.107–9). Whether “careful” was already invested with irony at this stage is hard to tell, but there are numerous careful fathers strewn through early modern drama

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alerting audiences to impending domestic conflicts. In The Tragedie of Locrine (ca. 1594), close in date to Romeo and Juliet, the statement “for carefull parents glorie . . . to see the issue of their blood / Seated in honour and prosperitie” already implies material ambition is a motivation. Thus “careful” becomes in drama a term more associated with ambitious parents than with love for their child, and therefore a herald of conflict.21 In Brooke’s poem, it is the mother who is denoted as careful, and there is no suggestion of ambition but, instead, genuine distress. Juliet’s response to the news of plans for her sudden marriage is entirely logical: “I wonder at this haste, that I must wed / Ere he that should be husband comes to woo” (3.5.118–9). Only a few scenes earlier, Capulet was resisting early marriage for his daughter, claiming she was too young at not even fourteen, and asking Paris to wait a further two years as well as making Juliet’s consent a condition of the marriage. Now, he has done an about-face. He is reading into Juliet’s behavior—that is, her weeping and her pale face—the symptoms of disease. In a significant departure from Brooke, where “skilful leeches” (physicians) are sent for to treat Juliet, Shakespeare characterizes Capulet as confident in his own diagnosis and treatment. Paris confirms that “her father counts it dangerous that she do give her sorrow so much sway” (4.1.10), and the Friar makes the same point at the end of the play: “you, to remove that siege of grief from her, / Betroth’d and would have married her perforce” (5.3.237–38). Capulet had good grounds for his fears—grief was indeed a common trigger for green sickness—but his failure to call in a physician is an error of judgment. He prides himself on his knowledge of humoral theory and the female body, as conveyed in his moving expression of love and sympathy for his daughter: How now, a conduit, girl? What, still in tears? Evermore show’ring? In one little body Thou counterfeit’st a barque, a sea, a wind, For still thy eyes—which I may call the sea— Do ebb and flow with tears. The barque thy body is, Sailing in this salt flood; the winds thy sighs, Who, raging with thy tears and they with them, Without a sudden calm will overset Thy tempest-tossèd body. (3.5.129–37)

Shakespeare has taken his cue of conduits and “betost” ships from Brooke’s poem.22 The watery ocean imagery, like Romeo’s earlier “sea nourish’d

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with loving tears” (1.1.190), reflects Renaissance theories of the fluid nature of female physiology. The conduit pipe recalls the arteries and veins in the body and the term conduit draws on notions of bodies as incontinent feminine sites.23 Gail Kern Paster draws on Renaissance proverbs and medical texts to document the representation of the fluid female body in Renaissance drama and to reveal the anxiety this generated in men struggling to contain these leaky vessels.24 There may be medical significance to this tempest-tossed imagery. The ship as metaphor for the soul is a known Renaissance literary usage, one which Brooke uses for Romeo’s troubled state, but when used of a woman it may signify the unruly womb in its watery environment. In Philaster; or, Love Lies a-Bleeding (1609), the dramatist draws on ocean imagery to represent the promiscuous female body: “Thou troubled sea of lust.”25 The sudden calm that Capulet envisages for his daughter mirrors his wife’s image of “a sudden day of joy.” It is not the romance of a wedding but rather sex that will bring calm back to the raging sea within her, and not just any sex—it needed to be robust and satisfying, as argued by the seventeenth-century physician Lazare Rivière (1589–1655): It is very good advice in the beginning of the Disease, before the Patient begins to manifestly rave, or in the space between her fits, when she is pretty well to marry her to a lusty young man. For so the womb being satisfied, and the offensive matter contained in its Vessels being emptied, the Patient may peradventure be cured.26

Capulet assuredly has the lustiness of the noble Paris in mind when he describes Paris to Juliet as positively “stuff ’d, as they say, with honourable parts, / Proportioned as one’s thought would wish a man” (3.5.182–83). The irony is, as the audience knows, that Juliet is no longer a virgin and to the audience, therefore, Capulet’s behavior is comically naive, but also poignantly logical. When Juliet defiantly rejects marriage to Paris, her father reacts first with confusion and then with anger. He had every expectation that his daughter would be proud to have so worthy a gentleman as Paris as her bridegroom and he therefore interprets her outright rejection and the ambiguous wording of her response as evidence of an irrational state of mind, a familiar symptom of green sickness. “Does she not give us thanks? / Is she not proud?” he demands. Juliet:

Not proud you have, but thankful that you have. Proud can I never be of what I hate, But thankful even for hate that is meant love.

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Capulet: How now, how now, chopp’d logic! What is this? ‘Proud,’ and ‘I thank you,’ and ‘I thank you not,’ And yet ‘not proud.’ (3.5.146–51)

His next words reveal his assumption that she cannot be well, and that her condition is caused by her emerging sexuality, a thought which frightens and disgusts him. Fettle your fine joints ’gainst Thursday next To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church, Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither. Out, you green-sickness carrion! Out, you baggage! You tallow-face! (3.5.153–57)

“Green-sickness carrion” is a reference to diseased flesh and to a corpselike pallor. It conveys the dual nature of Capulet’s fears for Juliet’s life and for the onset of sexuality in her.27 Her inexplicable resistance and her “chopp’d logic” (contradictory argument) in the face of his concern to do the right thing for her only confirm, in his mind, how far the condition has progressed. “Incoherent babble” was a sign of mortal illness and insanity, which should have caused Capulet to look for help. 28 Instead he condemns the “young baggage” to “graze” where she will, to “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,” which signify a life of prostitution.29 Even Juliet’s emotionally inarticulate mother is shocked at her husband’s outburst: “Fie, fie, what, are you mad?” (3.5.158). It is at this point that Shakespeare colors Capulet with an irrational fear of the womb and with imagining his young daughter as a potential whore. Editors have failed to grasp the sexual implications of green sickness given voice in Capulet’s curses and “baggage” and “hilding.” In a moment of tragic irony, given he considered his daughter too young to marry, Capulet attacks Juliet’s refusal as a sign of immaturity. Having made his decision that her disordered but frighteningly sexualized body needs marriage, he now reverts to treating her as a child: A wretched puling fool, A whining mammet, in her fortune’s tender To answer, ‘I’ll not wed, I cannot love; I am too young.’ (3.5.185–86)

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In Brooke’s poem, Juliet’s refusal is similarly read by her father as an aversion to sexual relations based on immaturity and lack of experience: “And yet thou playest in this case, / The dainty fool and stubborn girl, for want of skill / Thou dost refuse thy offered weal, and disobey my will.”30 For both fathers, disobedience is the trigger, but Shakespeare introduces a fear of the female body not present in Brooke. In Fletcher’s The Pilgrim (1621), another angry old father is possessed of the same fears of a pubertal daughter’s “hour of itching” and he threatens to send her to an asylum for the insane: “Is she growne mad now ? / Is her blood set so high? Ile have her madded, / Ile have her worm’d.”31 His plan was to marry her to an older, rough outlaw as a means of sexual control. When cautioned to use his discretion, he responds, “Discretion? Hang discretion, hang yet all.”32 Angry old fathers faced with recalcitrant daughters lose all sense of discretion when it comes to their daughters’ budding sexuality and fear becomes the controlling sentiment. Shakespeare’s characterization of this thirteen-year-old allows the possibility that Juliet is indeed showing symptoms of green sickness. A number of critics have read Juliet’s powerful expression of desire for Romeo as a transgression of Renaissance theories on female behavior, as they are generally prescribed in Renaissance conduct manuals.33 In school texts, Tudor schoolboys received the lesson that “it’s [the man’s] job to woo; that isn’t appropriate to [girls]. We girls like to be swept off our feet, even if sometimes we’re deeply in love.”34 William Harvey’s description of male and female roles in courtship also pithily epitomizes contemporary cultural mores: “Male woo, allure, make love; female yield, condescend, suffer; the contrary preposterous.”35 Of course, the humor behind such advice suggests it was far from the reality, as can be sensed in ironic use in comedy, such as Lyly’s Gallathea (1592) where the young players adopt crossgendered roles, and the statement that “it were a shame, if a maiden should be a suitor (a thing hated in that sex)” loses all credibility in the confusion.36 Juliet’s behavior is impeccable towards her parents before she meets Romeo; her boldness after meeting him could well signify she is now under the control of an aroused womb. The reversal of gender roles, emphasized through the falconry imagery, “O for a falconer’s voice / To lure this tasselgentle back again,” and Romeo as pet wanton bird (2.1.203–4; 221–23),37 makes Juliet the seducer who offers herself to Romeo in the manner Burton forecasts: “At fourteen years old they do offer themselves, and some plainly rage.”38 Romeo himself invests her with a masculine virility: “Juliet is the sun. / Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon” (2.2.3–4). The sun was an

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unequivocally masculine image, as one medical text for women explains: “I hope you have wit enough to know . . . that by the Sun I mean the Man, and by the Moon the Woman.”39 Romeo’s usage signals to the audience his hopes that Juliet will take the initiative, as indeed she does. Young men in Renaissance drama may boast as much as they like about their seduction skills, but when it comes to it many would prefer to take the role of the seduced than that of seducer. Young Palamon in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) is a good example of this (see chapter 6). Few of Shakespeare’s heroines voice the erotic desires this thirteenyear-old confidently articulates: Learn me how to lose a winning match, Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods. Hood my unmann’d blood, bating in my cheeks. (3.2.12–14)

Remarkable poetry cloaks the physiology of an aroused body. The pair of “stainless maidenhoods” indicates Juliet’s assumption that Romeo is also a virgin and she is the one who will possess him. O, I have bought the mansion of a love, But not possess’d it, and thou I am sold, Not yet enjoy’d. (3.2.26–28)

The audience has been privileged to witness in Juliet a level of sexual desire that could be construed as symptomatic of incipient green sickness, but also her own provision of a cure. One further feature of green sickness deserves consideration in relation to this play and contemporary medicine, and that is the coma advised by the friar, which leads Juliet’s parents to assume she has died. A number of sixteenth-century medical treatises indicate coma as a symptom of uterine fits, either for several hours or even for days. In discussing suffocation of the mother, the author of The Sekenesse of Wymmen points out that “yn this sekenes wymmen fal doune to ground as they had the fallyng evyll and are swollen at the hert. And this accyse [attack] endureth sum tymes too dayes or iij.”40 Edward Jorden also notes how common this symptom is in uterine fits and warns of misreading syncope (coma) as death: Syncope or swounding, the very image of death . . . like a dead corpse three or foure houres together, and sometimes two or three whole dayes without sense, motion breath, heate, or any signe of life

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at all. . . . There have been laws enacted, Mercurialis reporteth, that no woman which was subject to this disease should be buried until she had beene three dayes dead.41

There was an anecdote circulating in Elizabethan England, which told of the physician Vesalius who commenced a dissection of a female corpse, only to find the body regain consciousness, causing him such trauma that he never performed surgery again. Coma in fact becomes a major feature of a later play which echoes Romeo and Juliet. Gail Kern Paster has noted the similarity of plot in Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1613), where a parent diagnoses her daughter’s behavior as a symptom of green sickness and promptly determines a husband is the answer. The daughter pretends to sicken and die, since by undergoing a false funeral she hopes to escape her parents’ demands. Paster points out that the counterfeit illness was fully diagnosable by medical and popular thinking as suffocation of the mother and suggests Middleton’s audience might recognize both the literary allusion and the gynecological symptom. 42 Some twenty years earlier, audiences would also have been aware of this gynecological symptom which is never considered by Capulet, his wife, or the nurse, signaling again the inadequacy of their medical knowledge. The cultural implications of a single term in the play—green sickness— foreground Capulet’s fear of the young female body as it transitions into womanhood. In line with other scholars who see adolescence as the major theme, this reading of the play focusses attention on male perceptions of female biolog y. 43 Romeo and Juliet’s young passion is located in a social climate that has reduced lovemaking to sexual aggression, and women’s anatomy to a fearful handicap. Bawdy sex is what characterizes the nurse, while the aging Capulet views sex as escapades in a long-gone past, and an absence of sex is what mars his young wife. Shakespeare’s use of the green-sickness trope goes beyond the humorous to expose the limitations of male attitudes towards sexuality and to locate an aged father’s inadequate handling of the onset of puberty in his only daughter in poignantly domestic terms. He converts Brooke’s play into one with greater empathy for youth and for the impact of developing sexuality in young bodies, and he directs criticism towards the older generation which has lost touch with this stage of life and become acculturated to female sexuality as something to be feared. The play highlights the disjunctions in society between the natural world, as experienced by the young nubile body, and a socially constructed dread of that natural world.

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The brutal, sexual world that Capulet threatens to banish Juliet to is what Marjorie Garber astutely interprets as “the world of experience, the world of fall and redemption.”44 This is precisely the world fathers were advised to keep their daughters from at all costs, so his threat is the equivalent of damning her to hell. This is the single most significant issue—the protection of innocence in daughters—in analyzing Shakespeare’s father–daughter relations throughout his works, and it was one which was much debated in pedagogical circles. At the time of writing Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare himself was just thirty-three, a bare fifteen years between him and Romeo, and his own daughters were on the brink of puberty—Judith was eleven and Susanna thirteen, the same age as Juliet. His youngest brother, who is thought to have been apprenticed to him in London, was only sixteen. This was the first powerful exploration of adolescence and parenting to come from Shakespeare’s pen. Many more were to follow, each of them engaging with the dangers of aged fathers and exposing deep-seated fears of the female body, and reflecting on the influence of a pedagogy fueled by Juan Luis Vives or his advocates in Elizabethan society. In the decade following Romeo and Juliet, he authored four more plays centered on tragic father–daughter relationships: Much Ado About Nothing (1598), Hamlet (1601), Othello (1603), and Lear (1605). No other contemporary playwright wrote father–daughter relationships into his work as frequently as Shakespeare did, and perhaps part of Shakespeare’s popularity is precisely because he engages with such personal and emotional domestic relationships. As this chapter has shown, Shakespeare stages a daughter’s sexual maturation as a confronting development for her father and he will repeat this scenario many times. The following brief chapter will consider some contextual and biographical evidence for these pedagogical theories which consistently emerge in his works. NOTES Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. Text references are to act, scene, and line. An earlier version of this chapter first appeared in Potter, The Premodern Teenager. Youth in Society 1150–1650, pp. 271–91. 2 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, pp. 5–7. 3 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, p. 103. 4 Webster, “Cure for a Cuckold,” 1.1.122–32. 5 Garber, Shakespeare after All, pp. 200–1, 206. 1

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In early modern medical texts it was claimed that salty foods, and therefore salt-water fish, could improve male seed. See Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine, pp. 105–6. Similarly, Dixon notes in Perilous Chastity that “humoral theory rated all fish cold and wet, and physicians prescribed eating them as a remedy for fevers as well as hot livers and burning agues,” pp. 88–89. 7 Fletcher, “Women Pleased,” 3.2.107–8. 8 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 2.1.145. 9 Rich, Irish Hubbub, image 33. 10 Garber, Shakespeare after All, p. 192. 11 Swinburne, Treatise of Spousals, pp. 47–48. 12 Consequently, menstrual blood was evidence of lust. This remained a consistent understanding well into the eighteenth century. For a comprehensive analysis of early modern understandings of puberty and menstruation, see Read Menstruation and the Female Body, chapter 2, “Having the benefit of Nature’: Menarche and Female Adolescence.” 13 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, p. 104. 14 Watson and Dickey, “Legacy of Rape,” p. 139. The authors’ suggestion that Capulet’s horrified “O heavens! O wife, look how our daughter bleeds!” may refer either to menstrual or maidenhead blood is an interesting possibility, p. 132. 15 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Jordan), p. 656. 16 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, p. 6. 17 Quoted in Dixon, Perilous Chastity, p. 135. 18 Anon., Sekenesse of Wymmen, p. 135. 19 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), p. 90. 20 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), pp. 136–37. 21 W. S., Tragedie of Locrine, line 212. See also Anon., The Wit of a Woman and Daborne’s The Poor Man’s Comfort. 22 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, pp. 101; 85; 52; 80; 87. 23 Harris, “This Is Not a Pipe,” p. 215. 24 Paster, Body Embarrassed, p. 25. 25 Fletcher and Beaumont, Philaster, 2.4.137. 26 Riviere, Culpeper, and Cole, Practice of Physick, p. 419. 27 See “thou most ill-shrouded rottenness” used to describe a promiscuous woman in Fletcher and Beaumont, Philaster, 2.4.137. Or Diomedes, in Troilus and Cressida, in relation to Helen: “for every scruple / Of her contaminated carrion weight / A Trojan hath been slain.” Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 4.1.72. 28 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, p. 143. 29 Rubinstein, Sexual Puns, p. 116. 30 Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, p. 109. Both aversion to sex and marriage and promiscuity were cited as symptoms of green sickness. 31 Fletcher, “The Pilgrim,” 2.1.5. 6

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Fletcher, “The Pilgrim,” 4.1.18–21. Roberts, Shakespeare, p. 53. 34 Erasmus, Colloquies, p. 98. 35 Quoted in Loughlin, Hymeneutics, p. 86. 36 Lyly, “Gallathea and Midas,” 3.2.13. 37 The tassel-gentle is the male bird, so for Juliet there is no confusion about Romeo’s masculinity. I am indebted to Green’s paper on Birds and the Language of Love at the 2018 ANZSA conference for this information. 38 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Dell and Jordan), p. 656. 39 Massaria and Turner, De Morbis Fœmineis, p. 9. 40 Anon., Sekenesse of Wymmen, p. 49. 41 Jorden, Suffocation of the Mother, pp. 9–11 (pagination incorrect). 42 Paster, Body Embarrassed, pp. 52, 61–62. 43 Kahn, “Coming of Age,” pp. 171–93; Cox, “Adolescent Process,” pp. 379–92. 44 Garber, Shakespeare after All, p. 196. 32 33

Chapter 5

Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare


HAKESPEARE MARRIED AT EIGHTEEN in 1582 and was a father by nineteen. We have no idea what sort of a father he was, but there is no denying that he was very young and that he must have been largely an absent parent, particularly from the early 1590s when records of his work and involvement in the theater commence. As far as sixteenthcentury pedagogical theory goes, Shakespeare transgressed all the prime rules for a father: he was too young, too absent, and a member of a socially suspect profession. It is significant therefore that the three greatest flaws built into his dramatic fathers are excessive age, an overly controlling disposition, and pride in their high social standing. Such tragic daughters as Juliet, Ophelia, Desdemona, and Hero are all victims to an upbringing where a father’s assumptions of complete paternal authority, and his commitment to an ideological code of female conduct, render his daughter dependent, naive, and incredibly vulnerable. Each of their fathers adheres to stereotypes of female behavior and paternal authority which even then were regarded as dated. By contrast, all Shakespeare’s heroines who survive in the outside world—such as Portia, Beatrice, Rosalind, Helena, and Viola—do so precisely because their fathers are either dead or absent, and their development is thus shaped by experience and exposure to society. There was a school of thought in Tudor England which held that exposing children to evil was tantamount to teaching them evil. The theory was that an innocent mind ensured an innocent body, a premise which applied to daughters more than to sons. Vives was the most ardent proponent of this pedagogical theory: And hit is an ungratious opinion of them that say, they wyll have theyr children to know both good and yvel. For by that meanes they say they shall the better fle vice and folowe virtue. But it were more suretie, and more profitable, and therto more happy, nat only to do none yll, but also nat ones to knowe hit.1

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This theory gained traction over the following century. In The Virgin’s Character (ca. 1625), a poem dedicated to the fourteen year old daughter of Sir Philip Knyvet, the poet praises her for her piety and modesty and for living entirely ignorant of evil: “[she] lives even ignorance it selfe in ill.”2 The poet, Philip Massinger, may not have agreed personally with this principle but it was her father he was writing for. Shakespeare parodies this theory through the voice of Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597). She uses a small boy as a messenger for Falstaff ’s liaisons with two local housewives. The boy’s youthful innocence guarantees confidentiality: “He may come and go between you both . . . [yet] never need to understand any thing,” she assures Falstaff, “for ‘tis not good that children should know any wickedness: old folks, you know, have discretion, as they say, and know the world.”3 Shakespeare’s pedagogical theories demonstrate that keeping daughters ignorant of male behavior renders them vulnerable to abuse.4 His poem, The Rape of Lucrece (1594), is explicit in stating that had Lucrece been more experienced she would have been able to “read” Tarquin’s sexual intentions in his eyes: But she that never coped with stranger eyes Could pick no meaning from their parling looks, Nor read the subtle shining secrecies Writ in the glassy margents of such books.5

The “subtle shining secrecies” of gender relations can only be learned through experience, not through didactic instruction. Lady Capulet uses the same metaphor to urge Juliet to read Paris as if he were a book and see the promise of love’s hidden pleasures in his eyes: Read o’er the volume of young Paris’ face, And find delight writ there with beauty’s pen; Examine every married lineament, And see how one another lends content; And what obscured in this fair volume lies Find written in the margent of his eyes. This precious book of love, this unbound lover, To beautify him only lacks a cover.6

Her eloquent rhetoric, choice of book as metaphor, and faith in external appearances reflect Renaissance courtly values but they comprise an unsound mode of judgment. True judgment and discretion are learned through life experiences. This is a theme Shakespeare returns to again and again, fleshed out in such heroines as Portia, Beatrice, Rosalind, Helen,

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and Viola, whose development is shaped by experience and exposure to society and unhampered by patriarchal values. Beatrice, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598), is a particularly good example. The play makes the point several times that she is an astute judge of character and that she has learned by experience to protect herself in gender relations.7 All these young women are characterized with a healthy sexuality which not only challenges the men around them but empowers them into independent action. Juliet’s healthy sexuality empowered her into independent action, but she could not escape the limitations of her father’s faulty judgment. Father figures in Shakespeare’s plays were of necessity collaborative products, shaped by the extended company of sharers, actors, apprentices, and their families. Shakespeare may rarely have spent time with his own daughters, but he had ample opportunity to observe parenting failures or successes among his colleagues in the acting company over his entire career. They seem to have been a tight-knit group, most of them married, with large families, and often intermarrying. Sexual relations were probably common amongst the younger members. Many of the girls married young; John Heminges was about thirty when he married sixteen-year-old Rebecca Knell, who was already a widow to another actor who died in a fight the previous year. Rebecca and John had at least thirteen children over the next two decades. One of their daughters, Thomasine (b. 1596), married William Ostler in 1611 when she was just fifteen and pregnant. A year later he was dead, and, as widow, she inherited his share in the company, but her father refused to release it, so she took her father to court to recoup her entitlement. She was an independent and feisty girl by all accounts, as she also won a lawsuit against Walter Raleigh (d. 1618) for slander. Shakespeare’s own daughter, Susanna, was another young woman who, together with her husband, successfully took out a lawsuit for slander. In 1613 at the age of thirty, she was accused by twenty-three year old John Lane of having been “naught” and “had the running of the reins” (sexually promiscuous). However, Lane failed to turn up at the Bishop’s court at Worcester to answer for this slander and Susanna was cleared.8 Given Shakespeare’s take on slander and daughters in Much Ado About Nothing (1598) (to say nothing of Othello or Cymbeline), there is little doubt he was a champion of independence and self-assertion in young women, especially when it came to attacks on their sexual reputations. Vives’s injunctions to isolate daughters and contain their sexual development must have appeared either laughable or tragic to this group of theater families. Of the thirty-seven plays attributed to Shakespeare, sixteen build father–daughter relations into the plot. Apart from Capulet, and Leontes

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in The Winter’s Tale, every father is widowed. The presence of a mother would not only deprive the drama of plot material and the potential for comedy, but diminish the poignancy of an aging sole parent responsible for bringing up a daughter. It is precisely this poignancy which makes the plays so compelling, and which suggests Shakespeare’s motives were to generate compassion as well as humor in the interests of providing a constructive criticism of the aged father figure (the senex). Fathers in Shakespeare are not only old but they married late, something a modern audience or reader may overlook but, for Shakespeare’s audience, this would have been immediately apparent on stage. The following chart demonstrates how consistently Shakespeare includes older fathers with young daughters:

Chart of Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare’s Plays 1592–1594 1594 1593–1594 1594–1595

The Taming of the Shrew Titus Andronicus Two Gentleman of Verona Romeo and Juliet

Baptista Titus Duke of Milan Capulet


Two fathers

1596–1598 1598 1598–1599 1601 1603–1604 1605–1606

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Merchant of Venice Much Ado About Nothing As You Like It Hamlet Othello King Lear

1606–1608 1608–1611 1610–1611 1611 1613

Pericles Cymbeline The Winter’s Tale The Tempest The Two Noble Kinsmen

4 fathers Cymbeline Leontes Prospero Jailor

Shylock Leonato Two fathers Polonius Brabantio Lear

old old old old (near 60) one old (Helena’s) old old both old old old old (over 80) 1 young old 30 old not identified

Only one of these fathers is a truly positive figure who encourages his daughter to make her own decisions. This is Simonides in Pericles (1606–1608). Deanne Williams also picks out Pericles as a play which

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shows a girl blossoming when freed from the excesses of patriarchal power.9 When Thaisa falls in love with Pericles, Simonides is delighted not just with his daughter’s choice, but with her independence of mind. She writes a letter to her father announcing she will wed Pericles or die, and Simonides’ pride in her absolutism is remarkable in its uniqueness: ’Tis well, mistress; your choice agrees with mine; I like that well: nay, how absolute she’s in’t, Not minding whether I dislike or no! Well, I do commend her choice!10

Simonides is the exception and since there is no suggestion in the script that he is old we can assume he was young. Age can be indicated on stage through costume, props, wigs, posture, and verbal clues. Leonato is a whitehaired old man, Brabantio a potent grave and reverend signor, Shylock is old, and Polonius is parodied mercilessly by Hamlet for his infirmity. What are the issues that arise as a consequence of their age? The single quality most lacking in all of them as a parent is the one quality humanists theoretically attributed to age: discretion. Shakespeare trounces that theory. He parodies it in Polonius, the meddling, precept-spouting father of Ophelia: By heaven, it is as proper to our age To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions As it is common for the younger sort To lack discretion.11

Age does not have a monopoly on discretion. Lear is the most welldefined example of this, as his daughters frequently remind him: “As you are old and reverend,” says Goneril, “[you] should be wise,”12 and Regan makes the same point: O, Sir! You are old; Nature in you stands on the very verge Of her confine: you should be rul’d and led By some discretion that discerns your state Better than yourself.13

She is right. Not one of these fathers is able to divorce their own egos from the bigger picture and for each their daughter is an extension of their self-image. They all talk of her as “mine.” Any attempt at separation or independent action is therefore a mortal blow to the paternal ego and that ego will look for explanations in the young female body, not in their own faulty reasoning.

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An actor’s perspective on fathers and daughters in Shakespeare can be very rewarding, such as Oliver Ford Davies’s Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters which brings to life so much hidden to the reader but apparent to the performer. Davies is alert to the sexuality Shakespeare writes into so many daughters, as he is to their youth (assessing most as in their early teens), and to their fathers as aged. He makes the same point that I have argued for in this chapter, that is that the only way to explain elderly fathers with young daughters is to recognize they had to have had young wives and more than one marriage. For early modern audiences this must have been a given factor in interpreting father-daughter relations on stage. Having played the father in so many of these plays, Davies fleshes out these father-daughter relationships in richly rewarding ways.14 The following chapter looks at the most delinquent father of all: Polonius, in Hamlet. Ophelia’s decline into madness and suicide is the product of a male environment and a pedagog y which teaches her to fear her body and mistrust men, and which leaves her grieving for an unfulfilled womb. This is another play in which the women, both maid and widow, are sacrificed to male concepts of female sexuality. In The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), on the other hand, Fletcher and Shakespeare put two young women on the stage, both in the throes of sexual maturation, one exhibiting behavior similar to Ophelia, but each girl has the benefit of sound judgment from either a sister or a physician. NOTES Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman (Beauchamp et al.), p. 15. McIlwraith, “Virgins Character,” p. 67. 3 Shakespeare, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” 2.2.130–37. 4 Potter, “Elizabethan Drama,” p. 264 n. 7, pp. 269–78. 5 Shakespeare, “Rape of Lucrece” lines 99–105. 6 Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.3.82–89. 7 Shakespeare, “Much Ado about Nothing,” 1.1.36–38. 8 Brinkworth, Shakespeare and the Bawdy Court of Stratford, pp. 112–13. 9 Williams, Shakespeare and the Performance of Girlhood, p. 103. 10 Shakespeare, Pericles, 2.5.17–20. 11 Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.2.113. 12 Shakespeare, “Lear,” 1.4.217. 13 Shakespeare, “Lear,” 2.2.319–23. 14 Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters. 1 2

Chapter 6

Hamlet (1601) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613)1


HAKESPEARE’S INTEREST IN HOW parents handled puberty in daughters continued to haunt his works right to the end of his working life. Two plays, over a decade apart, are of particular interest for what they have to say about the fragility of the young female body as it matures, these are Hamlet (1601) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613). There is such a rich critical history of Ophelia that it may seem at best superfluous and at worst risky to add yet another analysis to it, and one which specifically relates to Renaissance gynecological theories. One of the many inspiring scholars in this field is Lesel Dawson, whose Lovesickness and Gender in Early Modern English Literature offers the most complete and in-depth analysis of Ophelia’s lovesickness and her degeneration into eroticized madness as seen from prevailing Renaissance medical perspectives. In line with other scholars, Dawson concedes that Ophelia’s madness resembles a uterine disorder, but Dawson’s prime interest is in unpacking all the tropes and symbols which imbue Ophelia’s death with an eroticized romanticism.2 My purpose is not to duplicate or challenge this impressive analysis, but to eschew the figurative in Ophelia’s characterization in favor of the domestic relevance for Shakespeare’s audience. That is, to demonstrate how Ophelia’s sexual development is arrested by her father and brother, and by Hamlet’s own insecurity towards the female body, and to present her story as yet another reflection of misogyny towards the womb in Renaissance drama.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601) Between 1559 and 1582 a collection of stories (Histoires Tragiques by François de Belleforest) was published in France in seven volumes. Volume Five, which was reprinted in as many as eight editions before the end of the century, includes the story of Ambleth, Prince of Denmark.3 This is generally accepted as Shakespeare’s main source. An earlier play under the same title and possibly written by Thomas Kyd was apparently performed some time before 1589.

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However, there is no surviving play script.4 The first known English translation of Ambleth dates from 1608. This is seven years after Shakespeare’s version but it is useful in demonstrating how Shakespeare adapted his French source to once again bring adolescent sexuality to the stage. In Belleforest’s version there is just the briefest mention of an unnamed “fair and beautiful woman” whom Hamlet held in great affection and who is used to trap him. Certain courtiers “were appointed to lead Hamlet into a solitary place within the woods, whither they brought the woman,” so that she, “with flattering speeches and all the craftiest means she could use should purposely seek to allure his mind.” She, however, having loved Hamlet from her infancy, alerted him to the trap. She disappears from the story at this point.5 This brief episode is developed by Shakespeare into a major subplot for critiquing the damaging effects of a male culture on a young nubile daughter. It will draw on the same fear of sexuality, male and female, as articulated by Vives and his adherents (see Introduction). Ophelia is a particularly tragic example of the emotional trauma inflicted on a young woman by the men in her life; not only does she have an aged and meddling father directing her every move and thought, using her as marriage bait and as a test of Hamlet’s apparent madness, she also has a brother who teaches her to mistrust youthful sexual emotions in herself and in Hamlet in particular. Most damaging of all is Hamlet’s increasing misogyny, triggered by disgust at his mother’s sexual attraction to Claudius, and channeled into subjecting Ophelia to a barrage of crude sexual allusions. Hamlet is another male character who has learned to fear sexuality and so to cast women as either whores or chaste virgins. He is young, so his fear of female sexuality cannot be attributed to age. Is it therefore his university education at Lutheran Wittenberg which is responsible not just for his religious melancholy but also his misogyny?6 Scholars and schoolmasters were proverbially colored in drama with animosity and awkwardness towards women. This was attributed to the misog yny embedded in their studies and their isolation from the female sex. 7 For example, in Fletcher’s The Elder Brother (1625), the titular character is a university scholar, totally dedicated to his books as his source of knowledge for everything from farming to women, from whence he derives his aversion to marriage and his misog yny.8 Or did Shakespeare find this fear of the womb in his source? In Belleforest, Gertrude is a sexually and morally corrupt queen, who was already in an adulterous relationship with Claudius before her husband’s murder. She is a figure of unredeemed female sexual depravity. Belleforest refers to


her lust-driven body as “this beast to be so hard to be tamed,” utilizing a common simile for the womb as a feral animal.9 Directions for Ophelia’s first appearance on stage differ between the first and second quarto. In the first quarto she comes on stage in Act 1, Scene 3 and immediately has a long scene alone with her brother. The audience knows nothing of her before this but in the Second Quarto stage directions list her on stage in Act 1 Scene 2 but given no dialogue. This staging would offer the audience an image of a silent and presumably passive young woman, similar to the wordless Hero in the opening scene of Much Ado About Nothing (1598) a few years earlier, as a precursor to the obedient daughter image in the following scene. A silent young woman on stage in the opening scenes of any play is an alert to the audience to expect some significance in her role. The stage directions in the first quarto version of “enter Ofelia playing on a Lute” lead Deanne Williams to argue for a contrary interpretation of Ophelia as a more educated, forthright and expressive girl who can take care of herself and defend her own interests.10 The lute certainly adds to the image of her as an educated and accomplished girl, but may do more to gloss her as sensitive and musically gifted rather than of an independent nature, an image hard to reconcile with Shakespeare’s consistent inclusion of dominating aged fathers (and Polonius is without doubt the worst example) as anathema to the mature and healthy development of daughters. If, as Baldwin has suggested, John Heminges played Polonius, an informed audience would have expectations based on his previous paternal roles as Baptista, Capulet, and Leonato. After a perfunctory announcement of his pending departure for France, Laertes launches into a lecture on Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet, warning her not to trust it as anything more than a trivial, youthful crush: “a toy in blood,” which is sweet now but not lasting (1.3.5). 11 Ophelia’s disbelieving response indicates the relationship is already one of mutual trust. Laertes then softens his warnings to allow that Hamlet may genuinely love her now, and his intentions may indeed be honorable, but as heir to the kingdom of Denmark his choice is constrained by political concerns. Therefore, she should fear his intentions as seduction techniques: Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain If with too credent ear you list his songs, Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open To his unmaster’d importunity. Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister. (1.3.29–33)

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Ophelia’s “chaste treasure” is her pristine womb, not the maidenhead which guards it. For Laertes it is what defines her worth, as it does for Ophelia who will die mourning for a wasted chaste treasure. In this, she agrees with male carpe diem arguments: “Fools, then, are maids to lock from men that treasure / Which death will pluck and never yield ’em pleasure.”12 Suggesting his sister is gullible, Laertes exhorts her to fear both her feelings and Hamlet’s intentions. As he continues, he homes in on sexual desire as a fearful, contaminating disease: The canker galls the infants of the spring Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d, And in the morn and liquid dew of youth Contagious blastments are most imminent. Be wary then: best safety lies in fear. Youth to itself rebels, though none else near. (1.3.39–44)

Such terms as “infants,” “buttons,” and “dew of youth” all suggest Ophelia is very young and very innocent. Hamlet too is represented as young and not yet of maturity. 13 Hamlet’s loss of innocence is already underway following his father’s ghostly revelations, while Ophelia’s trial is just beginning as brother, father and eventually lover destroy her faith in romantic love. Laertes’s choice of language—“contagious” and “blastment”—is that commonly used in sermons and religious tracts to depict base and depraved behaviors. 14 His arguments follow those prescribed by Vives for keeping daughters in fear and trepidation of shame, “she is held back to a great degree solely by fear. If that is not present, then all the barriers of nature are let down.” 15 Ophelia’s rejoinder that she trusts her brother practices what he preaches shows she grasps the religious allusions and his self-appointed role as preacher. When Polonius arrives he too lectures Ophelia with yet less sensitivity, instructing her to keep her distance from Hamlet, criticizing her for having been “most free and bounteous” of her time with him and chastising her for lack of judgment: “I must tell you / You do not under­s tand yourself so clearly / As it behoves my daughter and your honour” (1.3.95–97). Uppermost in his mind is his own reputation. With callous unconcern he dismisses her faith in Hamlet’s affection for her, deriding her inexperience: “Affection? Pooh, you speak like a green girl, / Unsifted in such perilous circumstance. / Do you believe


his tenders, as you call them?” (1.3.101–3). No wonder Ophelia responds with “I do not know, my lord, what I should think,” for she has not been brought up to think for herself. 16 Twice she attempts to argue that Hamlet’s intentions are sincere but is dismissed each time by her father’s sermon on the perfidy of men and the tricks they play. Whether he actually believes that of Hamlet or not is unclear. What is clear is that he is sacrificing Ophelia’s faith in Hamlet for his own ambitious purposes. Having ignored previous warnings of her budding relationship with Hamlet, “’Tis told me” and “as so ’tis put on me” (1.3.91–94), being engrossed in his own self-importance at court, he now impetuously seizes control. True to form, he directs the action and instructs Ophelia to withdraw her favors. Like Laertes, he too reverts to similes of religious hypocrisy to undermine vows of love as “mere implorators of unholy suits, / Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds / The better to beguile” (1.3.129–31). He bans Ophelia from further contact with Hamlet and her dutiful response, “I shall obey, my lord” (1.3.135), is entirely in line with her characterization as a submissive, obedient daughter. For the audience, now familiar with her father’s character, such obedience bodes ill for Ophelia. The next time the audience sees Ophelia she comes on stage totally traumatized by Hamlet’s apparent madness and seeking comfort from her father. Her description of the disheveled, staring, clutching, and silently imploring Hamlet before her might suggest to the audience a crisis point in Hamlet’s faith in the fair sex, rather than feigned madness, but Ophelia interprets these as symptoms of insanity. Far from comforting his distraught daughter, Polonius attributes Hamlet’s behavior to her withdrawal of favors, and only grudgingly does he acknowledge he was in error in instructing her to play harder to get. He is sparing of the truth when he claims, “I fear’d he did but trifle / And meant to wrack thee” (2.1.112). His instructions to his daughter to “set your entreatments at a higher rate” were a bargaining tactic to lure Hamlet into a commitment. Polonius perceives his role as broker for Ophelia in a potential royal marriage. Hamlet shrewdly labels him a fishmonger (2.2.174), that is, a pimp, as is suggested by “I’ll loose my daughter to him” (2.2.162). For Davies this is a barnyard image of making the female available for copulation.17 As a hunting term, to ‘loose an arrow’ or ‘let loose dogs,’ it similarly portrays Ophelia as a weapon or bait with Hamlet as the unwitting target. Polonius is curiously unconcerned by guilt in his dealings, presenting them as detached moral lessons:

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Read on this book, That show of such an exercise may colour Your loneliness.—We are oft to blame in this, ’Tis too much prov’d, that with devotion’s visage And pious action we do sugar o’er The devil himself. (3.1.44–48)

Shakespeare characterizes this derelict father as a hollow statesman devoid of any moral or emotional center, who has irreparably compromised his daughter in Hamlet’s mind. The nymph, in whose orisons Hamlet sought forgiveness, is now cast as “good kissing carrion” ready for indiscriminate breeding. The same entrenched fear of sexuality which drove old Capulet to curse Juliet as a piece of green sickness carrion festers in the much younger Hamlet. Hamlet’s faith in Ophelia remains true until act 3, scene 1 and the contrived meeting when he comes across Ophelia reading, presumably from the book thrust into her hands. The unspecified book is likely to be a devotional handbook, such as Resolution: the First Book of the Christian Exercise Pertaining to Resolution which Middleton identifies for the same purpose in A Mad World, My Masters (1604–1606).18 Hamlet’s thoughts turn from his conscience to Ophelia as saving grace: “Soft you now, / The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins remember’d” (3.1.88–90). Nymph is an interesting choice for Hamlet, defining her with not Christian but pagan piety which allows a sexual dimension, as in Venus and Adonis where Venus is likened to “a nymph, with long dishevell’d hair.”19 Or the allusion may be to Diana’s nymphs, or the nymph Chloris who was associated with virginity and the color green, or, as in one 1616 lexicon, simply “a virgin, a faire young maid.”20 Ophelia’s reserved greeting, “Good my lord, / How does your honour for this many a day,” confirms she has kept herself away for many a day as instructed. Addressing the man who wrote her intimate love letters, which she is now returning to him at her father’s directions, she withdraws into cool formality. As she hands over the letters and love tokens she implies Hamlet has dealt falsely with her: “Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.” The seeds of suspicion planted in her mind by her brother and her father that Hamlet might be toying with her are already at work. She now questions whether he ever loved her. Hamlet briefly allows that he did love her once, and then goes on the defensive, no longer trusting others or even himself, plagued by his own sins as he is. His growing distrust of women bursts forth in his harangue on cosmetics, affections, flirtations, adultery (3.1.144–51). This is not madness but fear, which finds its expression in misogyny and which could have found its template in Vives, who ranted against cosmetics


as “the veil of Antichrist.” Compare Hamlet’s “God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another” with Vives’s “God gave you a human face in the image of his Son . . . why do you cover it with filth and mire?”21 The depth of Ophelia’s distress in this scene—“Oh woe is me / T’have seen what I have seen, see what I see” (3.1.162–63)—is a clear signal to the audience to expect future signs of the damage inflicted on this young and sensitive mind. From this point on all Hamlet’s words to Ophelia are crude and cutting, as she herself tells him: “You are keen, my lord, you are keen” (3.2.243). It will take her death to return her to the state of icy chaste innocence Hamlet revered. In a parallel rant against his mother his paranoia explodes into vicious language and repugnant images, castigating her like a prostitute “in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty” (3.4.81–83). Gertrude is innocent of all except remarrying, leading Hamlet to assume she has remarried out of lust. Widows only remarry out of lust, according to Vives: Confesse thyn owne viciousness. For none of you taketh an husbande but to the intent that she wyll lye with hym, nor excepte her lust pricke her. What a ragiousnes is it, to set thy chastitie common lyke an harlotte, that thou mayst gether riches? And for a vyle, and a thing that shall sone passe away, to [de]fyle thy chastite, that is a thyng most precious and ever lastyng. If thou have children alredy, what nedest thou to marye? If thou have none, why dost thou nat feare the barennes, that thou hast proved afore.22

For Hamlet, women’s sexual desire is something out of control and as Marjorie Garber points out, it therefore renders all women guilty of inordinate desire just for being a woman.23 The lessons Ophelia is receiving from all quarters hijack her faith in the goodness of human nature, leaving her adrift in the sea of perilous circumstances her father not only predicted but has himself unwittingly engineered. Her distracted speech, as reported to Gertrude, reveals the core lesson of male deceit which he taught her has gone deep: “She speaks much of her father, says she hears / There’s tricks in the world . . . speaks things in doubt” (4.5.4–6). Similarly, her song fragments reflect the tricks and betrayals maidens suffer in love, again as asserted by Laertes, Polonius and even Hamlet’s blatant lie, “You should not have believed me, . . . I loved you not,” to which Ophelia had responded truthfully, “I was the more deceived” (3.1.116–19). Ophelia’s songs have been linked specifically with her grief for her father but, as the Arden editors point out, they are predominantly about the death of true love and they express Ophelia’s feelings about Hamlet.

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As the editors recognize, the irony is not that the singer of the song has suffered from loss of honor, but that she has not. Hamlet, far from despoiling, has rejected her.24 She may be raving but these are not fantasies. The main focus in two of her songs (“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day” and “By Gis and by Saint Charity”) is the loss of virginity, and however deceitful the seductions, her lament is for the loss of her right to enjoy sexual fulfillment, her chaste treasure doomed to die with her.25 Hers will be the “leane and hunger-starved wombe” of the abandoned woman, deprived of “perfection, and a woman’s name” as articulated by Donne in a wedding poem.26 In Renaissance medical terms, Ophelia’s symptoms reflect a condition sometimes referred to as “womb frenzy” or “uterine furor,” a state when the womb generated “immoderate desire for venery” which, if frustrated, may lead to madness and delirium and bawdy raving : “There are degrees in it, for modest women have it, but will not for shame declare it, and die of Consumptions. Others will not conceal it, but speak their thoughts bawdily, and follow men, and sollicite them shamelessly as Hippocrates writes in his Book of Virgins Diseases.”27 Ophelia belongs to the modest category. Her behavior is not as sexually explicit as that of another young woman, the jailer’s daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), but for an audience versed in popular women’s medicine, the outof-character snatches of bawdy ballads are enough to indicate an aroused womb as cause of the delirium. Although grief for her father exacerbates the condition, the origins are evident in the early and repeated injunctions to fear her sexuality, or what Hamlet calls “the compulsive ardour” or “the heyday in the blood” (3.4.69, 89), and to mistrust men as deceitful seducers, a lesson Hamlet does more to prove than deny. Caught between the urges of her ripe body and threats of betrayal and dishonor, the maid who would not be a maid is doomed. Even the herbs and flowers she hands out may bring sexual connotations to mind for some in the audience. Fennel has been associated with women’s lust, the columbine with cuckoldry, rue with its properties in abating lust, the daisy with the betrayal of love, and the withered violets with the death of virginal love.28 The tragedy for Ophelia is that there is no one and nowhere she can turn to for comfort or guidance. Her father’s total disregard for her welfare—“How now Ophelia? / You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said, / We heard it all” (3.1.180–82)—compounds the damage. Even Gertrude, who expressed great affection for Ophelia, abandons the distraught girl: “I will not speak with her” (4.5.1), plagued as she is by guilt through her complicity in the death of Polonius and the departure of Hamlet. Juliet at least had the Friar to turn to, but there is no religious consolation available to


Ophelia. The irony of Hamlet’s bitter injunction to “go thy ways to a nunnery” (3.1.130) is one of numerous allusions to the losses women sustained in post-Reformation England, deprived of the comforts of a conventual community and other Catholic intercessory consolations, and faced with an uncompromising and unmediated Protestant doctrine. The pun on nunnery as “brothel” endorses Hamlet’s sexual aversion but for an Elizabethan audience the religious context is of greater significance. In an interesting study of “old lauds” (medieval chants associated with nunneries), Alison Chapman traces the significance of religious nostalgia in Ophelia’s songs and mad scene. She demonstrates that Ophelia’s descent into grief and madness is marked by a surge of allusions to medieval Catholic forms of piety, such as old lauds, along with Catholic benedictions such as “God dild you” and “God be at your table.”29 Chapman explicates the sexual tensions between two of the songs, the legend of St. Charity, a virgin martyr, and the sexual wantonness expressed in the St. Valentine’s Day song, and highlights the relevance of the tale of the owl as a baker’s daughter as analogous to Ophelia: The story of the baker’s daughter is the story of a young woman who, faced with a young man, chose the traditional world of the father over the radical options the young man Christ offers. Hers is also a disastrously wrong choice.30

While Chapman sees this as Ophelia’s spiritual conflict, the tale can also be interpreted as the triumph of self-interest over generosity. The tale of Jephthah’s daughter, used earlier by Hamlet, is another example of a father who sacrifices his daughter to his own poor judgment, and one which holds even greater relevance for Ophelia. This well-known biblical story tells of a father who unwittingly sacrifices his daughter through a promise he makes to God.31 Jepththah’s daughter is young and virginal and the only favor she asks before her death is for two months’ reprieve to bewail her virginity. This ties Shakespeare’s use unequivocally to Ophelia’s grief at dying a virgin. In her analysis of both Hamlet and Ophelia, Chapman suggests Shakespeare links madness to England’s medieval Catholic past, and in the case of Ophelia she wonders whether the flood of medieval Catholic allusions seems more the result of her insanity than its catalyst.32 This same question arises when it comes to identifying the causes behind the increasing number of young girls afflicted by the disease of virgins as the Reformation was being implemented in all its drastic forms. Religious anxiety and despair of salvation were on the rise among pious young women in early modern England and Ophelia offers a nuanced dramatic example of

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the interconnection between religion and medical theories on the female body. Some twelve years later, Shakespeare worked with John Fletcher to create another distracted daughter caught between the opposing and uncompromising forces of religion (sin) and medicine (uterine furor).

Shakespeare and Fletcher’s, The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613)33 When it first appeared in print, in 1634, The Two Noble Kinsmen was stated to be “by the memorable worthies of their time, Mr. John Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakespeare.”34 There is no reason to disbelieve this nor was it the only play the two collaborated on. The play reflects their shared interest in the process of adolescent maturation. It tells a romantic tale of the conflicting claims of love and friendship: the “two noble kinsmen,” Palamon and Arcite, are the closest of friends until each falls in love with Emilia, sister to the Amazonian Hippolyta. Their conflict is finally resolved by a formal combat with Emilia as the reluctant prize, in which the loser is to be executed. Paralleling Emilia’s distress and confused sexual emotions is the equally distressing emotional state of the jailer’s daughter suffering from unrequited love for Palamon. The similarities between Ophelia and the jailer’s daughter have been noted by many scholars, including Alison Chapman, who has reservations about an ending which sees her cured by being duped into sex: “Unlike Ophelia whose madness leads to her drowning, the Jailer’s Daughter is both rescued from drowning by the Wooer and implicitly cured by having sex with him.”35 As I will show in the following discussion, sex is just one component—granted a key one—of a more complex cure dependent on sensory perceptions. While this treatment may well be colored by satire, the play does reflect medical theory of the time. The jailer’s daughter is not the only one in the play whose virginity is causing her grief—the nobly born Emilia is also characterized as suffering from incipient green sickness. Nor is it only girls who suffer from adolescent sexual anxiety—the two young noble kinsmen also have elements of sexual angst in their characterization. This is clearly anticipated in the Prologue, which presents the audience with a direct analogy between precarious virginity and the precarious place of new plays in society. This is not a new analogy for drama. See, for example, Westward Ho (1604) or the preface to The Family of Love (1604), both of which compare new plays with fresh girls and old ones


with stale harlots: “for plays in this city are like wenches new-fallen to the trade: only desired of your neatest gallants whiles they’re fresh; when they grow stale they must be rented by termers and country chapmen.”36 Here, though, the comparison is with maidenheads: “New plays and maidenheads are near akin— / Much follow’d both, for both much money gi’n. / If they stand sound and well” (prologue 1–3).37 The analogy suggests that a virgin’s market value depends on the healthy state of her virginity, and its successful transition into conception, pregnancy, and birth. New plays similarly have to make the transition from a dramatist’s healthy imagination into a fertile stage production. As the play will demonstrate, it is the health of the imagination which ensures successful survival of both body and play. The issue of virginity and healthy wombs dominates the opening wedding celebrations presided over by Hymen and her train of nymphs and accompanied by music, song and such sexually emblematic flowers as thornless roses and maiden pinks. The ceremony is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of three queens in mourning, and before the audience even knows the reason for their arrival they invoke the blessing of a healthy fertile womb for the bride, Hippolyta, “For your mother’s sake / And as you wish your womb may thrive with fair ones / Hear and respect me,” and a similar blessing of spotless virginity for her younger sister, Emilia, “for the sake / Of clear virginity, be advocate / For us and our distresses” (1.1.26–32). As the audience will soon learn, Emilia’s virginity is not at this stage “clear” but suffering an obstruction.38 As they plead with Theseus to wage war on their behalf against Thebes, they beg sisterly support from Hippolyta who will have to forgo the joy of her wedding night. For both bride and groom this is no easy sacrifice, but particularly for Hippolyta who risks the threat of sickness from an unrequited womb: Did I not, by th’abstaining of my joy Which breeds a deeper longing, cure their surfeit That craves a present med’cine, I should pluck All ladies scandal on me. (1.1.189–92)

Hippolyta’s choice of words echoes a popular green sickness song, “Faine Would I Wed,” which declares that “maids are full of longing thoughts that breed a bloudlesse sickenesse, / And that, oft I heare men say, is onely cur’d by quicknesse.”39 She acknowledges that if she put the needs of her womb before their grief she would be a disgrace to womanhood. Theseus agrees similarly to master his libidinal urges, proudly claiming that to

Figure 4. Engraving of Amazonian warrior women in de Bry’s India Orientalis series, 1598. In Greek legend, Hippolyta was an Amazon Queen who was taken as a prize by Theseus of Athens after he had conquered her in battle. Amazon warriors were often described in Elizabethan literature as unwomanly. They were also presented as needing to be (and being) killed or tamed and brought under (male) control. Fears and fantasies about Amazon warriors resonated with fears and fantasies about female monarchs. This engraving shows a band of “Amazon” women warriors fighting a male army. In the foreground is a solitary woman depicted with bow and arrows, long flowing hair, and a single breast—an example of the Amazon warrior woman. In the middle ground in front of the battle is a pubescent girl having her breast removed by two other women (Amazon warriors were believed to remove one breast in order to aid their archery). British Library, London, UK/Bridgeman Images.


succumb to sensuality is to lose one’s humanity (1.1.231–33). There is a twist to this piece of wisdom, however, as educated audience members would realize. Hippolyta was renowned for her chastity, whereas Theseus was infamous for betraying her.40 Of the three virgins in this play, Hippolyta is the least at risk of sickness occasioned by enforced celibacy. As the Amazonian queen married to Theseus, she is historically associated with warlike strength, with lesbianism, and with chastity in marriage. She says as much when she pleads with Theseus for the lives of the two young noblemen: “By all the chaste nights I have ever pleased you.” She is unlikely to be represented with rosy cheeks, since as a martial Amazonian woman she has her womb fully under control, similar to the English ladies and “pale-visaged maids / Like Amazons [who] come tripping after drums” noted in Shakespeare’s King John (5.2.154–55). Their only son, Hippolytus, was unsurprisingly also renowned for his determined chastity in the face of temptation. The other two virgins are both young. The jailer’s daughter is fifteen and Emilia likely to be the same. At one point we learn that it is Emilia’s birthday: “This bright young virgin; pray observe her goodness. / You have honoured her fair birthday with your virtues” (2.5.35–36). Dramatists used birthdays as a cue for young virgins, usually fourteen or fifteen, to signal them as ripe. This usually initiates a major error of judgment by fathers but there are no aged fathers here and the presence of women and a physician will ensure the healthy transition of two fifteenyear-old virgins from precarious puberty into stable sexuality. Since there are no aged characters in the play, despite a precedent in one of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s sources (the aged Egeus in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale), the audience does not get to see Emilia’s sexual maturation through a father’s distorted perspective, but through that of her sister and through her own role on stage.41 As sister to Hippolyta, Emilia is also an Amazonian, which links her to lesbianism and provides the cultural context for her confusion and resistance towards heterosexual relations, a confusion she will resolve during the course of the play. Her Amazonian background further connects her with skilled horsemanship. It is a neat and comic touch therefore, that at the end of the play her warrior suitor Arcite is unseated and trampled to death by her own stallion, thus effectively giving Emilia the (sexier) Palamon she intuitively wants but without the need to choose. Emilia is introduced to the audience as a compassionate, sensitive girl, responding to the distress of the queens with deep feeling, but when she swears that if Theseus allows lust to delay his help she will never marry, the audience is expected to recognize her green sickness symptoms are not

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an itchy womb but the opposite, a fear of heterosexual relations. She holds platonic friendships in high esteem, illustrated in Theseus and Pirithous (1.3.26–34) and looks back with longing to the innocence of a close friendship between herself and another eleven-year-old girl, Flavina. By mentioning their budding breasts, the audience understands these bonds of friendship were forged with the onset of puberty, perhaps even invoking the mythological ritual of removing a breast at puberty. As Emilia is describing the relationship she gets carried away with emotion, reliving the intensity of their girlish crush (“fury-innocents”), before realizing she has worked herself into such a state that she needs to justify this display of feelings, which she does by claiming such pure love was no less true than the love between man and woman: This rehearsal Which fury-innocent wots well, has this end: That the true love ’tween maid and maid may be More than in sex dividual. (1.3.78–82)

Her sister’s first response gives the audience a clue to Emilia’s condition: “You’re out of breath!” Breathlessness was an early symptom of green sickness, and one used by poets as a sign of prettiness (see chapter 1), which Hippolyta then follows up with another symptom, Emilia’s aversion to marriage: And this high-speeded pace is but to say That you shall never, like the maid Flavina, Love any that’s called man.

Hippolyta’s is the rational female voice, responding with compassion for her sister and tempered by her understanding that Emilia’s judgment is flawed by her precarious state of health: Now alack, weak sister, I must no more believe thee in this point, Though in’t I know thou dost believe thy self, Than I will trust a sickly appetite That loathes even as it longs.

Emilia’s attitude is, as Dawson points out, the product of her pubescent, virginal state, which Hippolyta associates with the disorderly appetites of the green-sick girl.42 Hippolyta is wise enough not to discredit Emilia’s


emotions (as Polonius or Capulet would have done); rather, with a pun on “ripe” she acknowledges the strength of them: But sure, my sister, If I were ripe for your persuasion, you Have said enough to shake me from the arm Of the all-noble Theseus. (1.3.83–93)

For Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons who preferred their own sex for company and used men only for the purpose of procreation, to say nothing of her current state as prisoner-bride to Theseus,43 there is every reason to expect her to agree with her sister—“to be ripe for your persuasion”—but she does not. The play deliberately draws on a cultural context of lesbian relations only to demonstrate it may be a passing phase in young girls, or what Valerie Traub deems a holding pattern until heterosexual marriage. When sexual relationships between adolescent girls are hinted at in drama they rarely raise any serious anxiety in men. They may cause comment, such as Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It (“never two ladies loved as they do”44) which was the ostensible cause for Rosalind’s exile, but will get no further attention. In Brome’s The New Academy; or, the New Exchange (1635) two foster sisters have developed such a close bond it prompts a comment but it also is of no further interest. 45 If Richard Brome’s The Sparagus Garden (1635) reflects social practice, then women certainly did turn to other women, but usually out of frustration, as is the case with the family nurse who in her youth gave sexual service to both master and neglected mistress in this play.46 In Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife (1624), one young, insecure husband is berated for being suspicious of his wife’s relationship with another woman. “What do you suspect?” he is asked. “She cannot cuckold ye, / She is a woman Sir, a very woman.” Yet he is still suspicious: Your very woman may do very well Sir Toward the matter, for though she cannot performe it In her own person, she may doe it by Proxie Your rarest jugglers work still by conspiracy.47

His fears reveal his naive insecurities. In the final analysis it is only men who can provide the womb with what it requires—the hot male seed. Anything less is ultimately an inadequate substitute, as the naive Martha and her frustrated bed-partner discover in The Antipodes (1638):

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I remember A wanton mayd once lay with me, and kiss’d And clip’t, and clapt me strangely, and then wish’d That I had beene a man to have got her with childe: What must I then ha’ done, or (good now tell me) What has your husband done to you? 48

All the actions here, as Valerie Traub points out, are passionate, even forceful, caresses by the wanton maid,49 but Martha’s passivity does not suggest she was sexually aroused and her use of the term “strangely” (a term often used in drama to identify unsanctioned or abnormal sexual behavior) implies she considered these sexual caresses as deviant.50 Even if she had been aroused and brought to orgasm by the maid, this would not have cured either her melancholy or the other girl’s frustrations. For both, the ultimate prize is to enjoy the special properties of semen which contained the vital heat necessary to sexual pleasure and to conception.51 In The Two Noble Kinsmen, a teenage fear of heterosexual sex pervades Emilia’s thoughts, illustrated in the brief garden scene where she walks with a female companion, singling out the rose as metaphor for virginity, which responds to gentle caresses but closes against rough impatient seduction: It is the very emblem of a maid, For, when the west wind courts her gently, How modestly she blows and paints the sun With her chaste blushes! When the north comes near her, Rude and impatient, then, like chastity, She locks her beauties in her bud again And leaves him to base briars. (2.2.137–43)

The Arden footnotes explicate this as being “like Aesop’s fable of the traveller in the wind and the sun: a young girl will respond to gentle courtship but not to rudeness.”52 It is important to note the sexual component here too, in the sun as a life-giving force capable of opening the bud. Perdita in The Winter’s Tale (1610), uses this as a metaphor for the male heat that will cure “pale primroses” (green sickness maids) “that die unmarried ere they can behold / Bright Phoebus in his strength—a malady / Most incident to maids.”53 Primroses, violets, and cowslips are all used in drama to signify virgins. All depend on heat and moisture to bring them to full bloom: The pale Cowslips flourish, ere warme showres With quickening moisture raises them to tell


The early Violets they are not alone The Springs prime Virgins.54

The imagery and language is consistent with common poetic usage to characterize female puberty, such as used by An Collins for her poem grieving for a fertility (menarche) that never arrived (chapter 1). In the garden scene, the audience is presented with an image of Emilia in a contradictory mode, alternating between erotic and chaste desires, light-heartedly flirting with sexual themes with her woman. This is the playwright’s technique for staging Emilia’s development away from an unhealthy aversion. Like Desdemona, who received her sex education from Iago’s wife (also an Emilia),55 it is other women who will shift Emilia’s viewpoint. Her final words in the garden seem to reflect her changing emotions towards sex: “The sun grows high; let’s walk in,” discloses her fear of the power of the sun, yet it excites her: “I am wondrous merryhearted, I could laugh now” (2.2.149–50). As the play progresses, we see her gradual transition from fear to attraction, much of it via the workings of her imagination on her affections. When Theseus passes judgment of death on the two noble princes, pity overwhelms her, and she pleads for mercy, again calling on her status as a blushing maid. When this fails to persuade Theseus, who accuses her of feminine compassion—“You are a right woman sister: you have pity / But want the understanding where to use it” (3.6.215–16)—Emilia shifts her status to that of all women with an articulate argument grounded in women’s emotions such as the sufferings of mothers or of maidens in love. This time she is successful, although Palamon’s and Arcite’s juvenile and melodramatic refusal to accept banishment from her presence foils her plan. Theseus, ironically, is much moved by the young men’s heady displays of masculine declarations of love, and he directs them to return to court to fight it out in three months’ time. His very masculine enthusiasm for witnessing such a dueling joust comes in stark contrast to Emilia’s feminine horror of being the cause of bloodshed. With her emotions in turmoil with pity and guilt she comes on stage alone with two portraits of the two suitors. This scene is a demonstration of the power of the imagination at work and reveals how far she has moved from being a coy denying maid (4.2.11) to running mad for the golden, wanton, Ganymede-like Arcite, and equally for the dark, bold Palamon whose eyes so “command and threaten love” that “what young maid dare cross ’em?” (4.2.38–40). “My virgin faith has fled me,” she concedes, prepared to run mad for either, which is of course just what the jailer’s daughter is doing in the preceding scene. Praying at the altar of Diana immediately before the

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fight, a single rose appears, which Emilia interprets as meaning she will remain a virgin. Her immediate reaction is one of despair she will be left a spinster: “I, a virgin flower, / Must grow alone, unplucked.” But as the rose falls, her relief is palpable: “I shall be gathered,” an inclusive term, implying she will not be abandoned (5.1.166–67). Emilia cannot choose while the Mars-worshipping Arcite remains in contention, but it is clear that it is the virile, dark Palamon, who worships at the temple of Venus, who she favors. Intuitively fearful that Palamon would fail in combat but unable to reason why, Emilia concedes “Our reasons are not prophets / When oft our fancies are” (5.3.101–4). By the end of the play, Emilia’s fancy has moved her from worshipping Diana with her chaste blushes to embracing a full-blooded Venus. By juxtaposing scenes between Emilia and the jailer’s daughter, the audience is presented with alternate representations of what is essentially the same condition: green sickness in one and love sickness in the other, both triggered by a disordered womb. The jailer’s daughter is the more startling example of what Burton would probably label love-melancholy and Culpeper might identify as “frenzie of the womb.” 56 She is one of very few actually to represent the sickness graphically and dramatically on stage in her language, her actions and her decline into quasi madness. Although she is older than fourteen—in act 3, scene 4 she implies fifteen and in act 5, scene 2 her wooer suggests eighteen—the jailer’s daughter suffers many of the symptoms of green sickness but it is never named as such simply because she does not share the social status attached to the condition. “I am moped,” she says, using a common term, and the doctor will diagnose her with a “thick and profound melancholy” (4.3.50). Nonetheless, chastity, if not virginity, is the cause of her condition. She falls in love with Palamon, her father’s eminent prisoner, and in a prominent soliloquy she shares with the audience her emotional turmoil and her lucid awareness of the irrational nature of her passion: Why should I love this gentleman? ’Tis odds He will never affect me: I am base, My father the mean keeper of his prison, And he a prince. To marry him is hopeless; To be his whore is witless. (

Acknowledging the impossibility of the match, she bewails the physiology that started it: “Out upon’t! / What pushes are we wenches driven


to / When fifteen once has found us!” As she details the progression of her crush on him, Shakespeare identifies the role of the senses in the developing condition, from first sight of her handsome young prisoner, to pity for him, and thence to love, an extreme and infinite love compounded by the aural beauty of his sad songs, his fair words and, crucially, a kiss: “Once he kissed me. / I loved my lips the better ten days after: / Would he would do so every day!” (Her cure will come through these same sensory processes). The turmoil in her emotions overrides logic and fear of family or the law, and she determines to set him free with the intention of ravishing him. Like Juliet, she sees herself as the proactive lover and sees him as the passive follower, which is precisely how Palamon sees himself in his youthful erotic imagination, just not with the jailer’s daughter: “This blushing virgin [Emilia], should take manhood to her / And seek to ravish me” (2.2.262). Aroused virgins are not to be denied, in this both drama and physicians concur. Having confessed to the audience the violence of her passion for him, the jailer’s daughter helps Palamon to escape from her father’s jail, only to find he leaves without so much as a second thought for her—not even a kiss, she complains (2.6.22). Sexual gratification is at the forefront of her needs: Yet I hope, When he considers more, this love of mine Will take more root within him. Let him do What he will with me, so he use me kindly, For use me so he shall, or I’ll proclaim him, And to his face, no man. (2.6.26–31)

The pun on “kindly” makes it clear that copulation is the use for which she looks. Akin to “nature,” “kind” is another generic term with, in this context, a secondary meaning of female reproductive organs (see chapter 1). 57 Having spent the night in the forest fruitlessly waiting for Palamon (with her imagination running riot with assumptions that he has been killed by wolves), lack of sleep and food are beginning to affect her and culminate in hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and fear of insanity (3.2.25–32). Her condition reflects the condition of womb frenzy as previously described by Culpeper, and quoted here in its fuller detail: It is an immoderate desire of Venery that makes women [usually but not exclusively Virgins and Widows] almost mad, or a

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Delirium from an immoderate desire of Venery: it is without a feaver, and with heat, and tends to madness. There are degrees in it, for modest women have it, but will not for shame declare it, and die of Consumptions. Others will not conceal it, but speak their thoughts bawdily, and follow men, and sollicite them shamelessly, as Hippocrates writes in his Book of Virgins Diseases.58

Burton gives a very similar picture of young girls who “do offer themselves, and some plainely rage.”59 Other clues dropped in the course of the dialogue, such as thirst (4.3.4), affirm a longing womb, as in the following poem by Thomas Campion on a longing maid: Faith, ’tis but a foolish mind Yet, me thinks, a heat I find, Like thirst longing, that doth bide Ever on my weaker side, Where they say my heart doth move. Venus, grant it be not love. If it be, alas, what then? Were not women made for men? As good ’twere a thing were past, That must needs be done at last. Roses that are overblown Grow less sweet, then fall alone.60

There are numerous similarities between the jailer’s daughter and Ophelia, in particular their songs about men as fickle lovers. As befits her commoner status, the jailer’s daughter’s expressions of desire are more blatant and her imagination more comically excessive, as when she visualizes Palamon as a serial seducer. In her mind, this young, inexperienced youth has impregnated two hundred maids and begets only boys. Her illusory vision of Palamon as a prolific, fertile seducer is matched by Palamon’s own similarly juvenile visions, revealed in his prayers at the altar of Venus. His ambitions all center on male sexual prowess and in one extraordinary example of the powers of Venus he is in awe of the tale of a gouty, “globyeyed,” and crippled eighty-year-old man whose fourteen-year-old wife bore him a son. She swore he was the father and “who would not believe her?” claims the ingenuous Palamon, who is as immature and as full of fantasies as the jailer’s daughter. She fantasizes about his ability to cure her ills with graphic medical imagery: “He’ll tickle’t up / In two hours, if his


hand be in” (4.1.138–39). Tickling the uterus was a therapy available to female carers of girls suffering from fits of the mother and who were not able to use a man. Hidden Treasures of the Art of Physick (1659) is one of a number of texts to advise this: If the Sick be a married Woman let her have carnall Conjunction with her Husband as soon as ever the Fit is over. If that cannot be had, that is, if she be a Maid or Widdow, let a Mid-wife tickle the Neck of the Womb with her finger anointed with Oyl of Musk, Cloves, or the like, so that the offensive Sperm may be voided.61

In the Galenic two-seed model of fertility, the womb also produced sperm which mingled with male seed to effect conception. Female sperm remain­ ing unfertilized in the womb too long needed purging to avoid becoming corrupted.62 The jailer’s daughter understands full well that copulation is the urgent cure for her unruly womb, as she explains in one of her songs: “for I must lose my maidenhead by cocklight, / ’Twill never thrive else,” (4.1.112–13). She would do anything to cure “the offending part” lawfully. In what is undoubtedly an aside to the audience reminding them she is being played by a boy, she tells the audience “Believe me, . . . one would marry a leprous witch to be rid on’t, I’ll assure you” (4.3.44–47). Yet with­ out the sanction of marriage she fears the hell that adulterers suffer. The play illustrates the conundrum posed by the theory that celibacy was dangerous, and thus couples health with sin. Several passages by the jailer’s daughter suggest that religious guilt is a factor in her sickness. She is desperate to cure herself through copulation, but vivid images of hell and damnation hold her back: Alas, ’tis a sore life they have i’th’ other place – such burning, frying, boiling, hissing, howling, chattering, cursing: oh, they have shrewd measure; take heed! If one be mad, or hang or drown themselves, there they go – Jupiter bless us! – and there shall we be put in a cauldron of lead and usurers’ grease, amongst a whole million of cutpurses, and there boil like a gammon of bacon that will never be enough.

She is aware, despite her distracted state, that to commit suicide, even if insane, is to be condemned to hell, and she draws on biblical images of apocalyptic terrors. By extending the punishment to the nobility, she assumes Palamon will suffer the same fate: “Lords and courtiers that have got maids with child, they are in this place. They shall stand in the fire

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up to the navel and in ice up to the heart, and there th’offending part burns and the deceiving part freezes. In troth, a very grievous punishment, as one would think, for such a trifle” (4.3.31–45). Despite the obvious humor here, damnation remained a powerful concept in Puritan doctrine and an effective deterrent against unlawful sex. In a 1625 play by Massinger, an avaricious father urges his daughter to have sex with her rich suitor, but she refuses out of fear of damnation: Though you could dispense With your own honour, cast aside religion, The hopes of heaven, or fear of hell, excuse me. In worldly policy, this is not the way To make me his wife; his whore I grant it may do.63

Religion played a role in a number of plays dealing with green sickness and related conditions in young girls. Sometimes it was overt, as in Hamlet (1601), sometimes covert, as here in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613). The purpose seems to underscore a Protestant regime in which there are no religious havens of safety (convents) or means of intercessory comfort (confessors, prayers to saints and the Virgin Mary, masses, rosaries, relics, icons, pilgrimages, etc.) for girls of ripe age caught between the demands of their womb and a Protestant doctrine of damnation. Unlike Ophelia who was left unaided, the jailer’s daughter is cared for by her father, her uncle, and two other male friends who go along with her hallucinations, and by the timely services of a physician. It is intriguing that it is only men who come to her aid, whereas it was men who were Ophelia’s undoing. In this play, Shakespeare and Fletcher appear to be advocating for family, community, and medical support to fill this vacuum, and they may well be reflecting actual social practice. Wendy Churchill notes that it was usually male family members who corresponded with physicians.64 That fathers should consult physicians on behalf of an ailing daughter, suggests they were sympathetic to the health risks of female puberty, and undoubtedly acutely aware of the threats this could present for future marriage. The doctor prescribes no purges, bloodletting , or other common treatments but relies on observation and questioning her father. His first question is whether her distraction is more “at some time of the moon” than at another, which is generally interpreted by critics as a menstrual query. 65 Her father lists her symptoms: she lacks an appetite but has a strong thirst, she suffers from insomnia, she imagines herself in another world, and


her distracted speech is punctuated with Palamon’s name. The doctor’s prescription for a cure is to satisfy her disordered body by giving her what she desires, “for there the cure lies mainly” (5.2.8). Similar phraseology occurs for other cases of virgin’s melancholy, as in Jonson’s The Magnetick Lady (ca. 1632) where the curate uses it in relation to a case of green sickness: “thence flowes the cause of the maine grievance.” 66 Since the jailer’s daughter cannot have the real Palamon, her father should bring her a false Palamon and the deception will cure her on the basis that “it is a falsehood she is in, which is with falsehoods to be combated” (4.3.93–94). This is another example of the medical technique discussed in chapter 3, known as a dolus ad bonum (beneficial ruse). She will be cured by the same means by which she became sick— through the power of the sensory faculties. As the doctor explains it, “that intemperate surfeit of her eye hath distempered the other senses; they may return and settle again to execute their preordained faculties, but they are now in a most extravagant vagary” (4.3.69–72). In other words, the hurt or injured imagination is supposed to be healed by the imagination itself. The use of trickery as therapy was particularly indicated in cases of a kind of melancholy conceived as laesa imaginatio (injured imagination), which were the mainstays of medical literature.67 In Medical Ethics in the Renaissance, Winfried Schleiner documents several male cases, but the same remedy is at work here, partnered with sexual therapy. Dramatists use these techniques for men, sometimes with abject failure as in Fletcher’s The Mad Lover (1617) where the mad lover was to be cured by bringing in a counterfeit princess to lie with him and thus by feeding “his fancie . . . this may lock up his follie.” 68 In Brome’s The Antipodes (1638) the remedy was singularly successful.69 From a medical perspective the technique was intended to harness the power of autosuggestion; from a theatrical perspective it was a form of metatheatrical fantasy.70 In a wonderfully comic scene, the doctor urges the wooer to do anything the jailer’s daughter requests, such as singing to her, kissing her, and lying with her if she asks him to. Her shocked father anxiously interjects with: “Whoa there Doctor!” to which the doctor responds, That’s but a niceness. Nev’r cast your child away for honesty. Cure her first this way; then if she will be honest, She has the path before her. (5.2.22–5)

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He roundly condemns fathers as fools who would risk a daughter’s life rather than let her lose her virginity. You fathers are fine fools, he complains, who would have us withhold treatment until the delirious patient can tell them whether she is a virgin or not. Regardless of what her father says, he tells the wooer: If you perceive her mood Inclining that way that I spoke of, Videlicet, the way of the flesh—you have me? …     Please her appetite, And do it home—it cures her, ipso facto [by the very act]. (5.4.34–39).

So confident is he that he guarantees she’ll be cured within three or four days, and indeed she is. After a lifetime of engaging with father-daughter relations, this outburst could be read as Shakespeare’s final, exasperated words on the topic of fathers, daughters, and chastity, and if Fletcher authored this scene the two were probably in agreement. Physicians in drama were traditionally depicted as quacks and parasites who pandered to their wealthy clients, but that is not the case here, nor indeed in any of Shakespeare’s plays after 1603, as Barbara Traister has pointed out in her survey of doctors and healers in Shakespeare’s work. They are represented as competent and not comic, and she goes on to point out that most of them do not actually heal. Instead they offer advice, explain and observe.71 These scenes may well have been authored by Fletcher, who was apparently an avid reader of the medical lore of his day, and whose plays contained either doctors or individuals who have an understanding of medicine.72 As with Taming of the Shrew, some scholars, such as Chapman, find the sexual cure hard to accept: While this ending is technically a happy one, it is hard to be comfortable with either the confidence that a good “fitting” is all the Daughter needs or with the fact that the Wooer only wins his way into her bed by pretending to be Palamon.”73

Yet the treatment is so much more complex than just sex, and a consid­ erable improvement upon the alternative treatments of the time such as bloodletting, purges, clysters, and suffumigation, which, as the audience would know, were unpleasantly invasive and rarely successful. And let us not


forget this is not a case history but a play written to appeal to the healthy imaginations of its audience. There is a third option for this ending, a more enjoyable explanation, and one not evident in the text but which would be apparent in the staging, and that is that doubling allowed the roles of Palamon and the Wooer (who is dressed in Palamon’s clothes) to be played by the same actor, thus giving the suicidal jailer’s daughter exactly what she was so desperate for. How the Wooer himself felt about having sex with her under these false pretences, which were practised on him as much as on her, is never addressed simply because the physician’s authority overrides all social and moral reservations. It is equally feasible that Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote the two female roles of Emilia and the jailer’s daughter as doubles for the same boy actor. This would bring home visually to the audience the fact that the dangers of sexual maturation in young girls apply across the social spectrum, being distinguished by different symptoms according to their social status and life style. The play conveys a strong message of the importance of family and community support during this stage of devel­ opment. This is a rarely discussed issue, but it is one which has considerable bearing on the dramatization of such isolated maidens as Ophelia. In the next play to be discussed, Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy, another young maiden, Aspatia, is effectively abandoned by both father and her community. NOTES Some of the material on The Two Noble Kinsmen was previously published in Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring 2013. 2 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, pp. 72–79. 3 Shakespeare, Hamlet, p. 89. 4 Shakespeare, Hamlet, pp. 82–83 5 de Belleforest, “History of Hamlet,” p. 168. 6 Wittenberg may have been particularly redolent of spiritual melancholy. See Taylor and Beauregard, Shakespeare and Christianity, p. 266. 7 Potter, “Cockering Mothers,” pp. 244–58. 8 Fletcher, Elder Brother, Cv, D4. 9 In Belleforest, Claudius seduces Gertrude before he kills the king. Belleforest, “History of Hamlet.” 10 Williams, Shakespeare and Girlhood, pp. 75–76. 11 Shakespeare, Hamlet. References are to act, scene, and line numbers. 12 Middleton, “Mad World,” 3.1.26–27. 13 See for example: 1.4.124, 1.5.16, 1.5.38, and 1.5.102, although he is bearded. See Belsey, “New Directions,” in Hamlet: A Critical Reader, pp. 112–14. 1

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“Blast” is commonly used but “blastment” is unique to Shakespeare. Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), p. 58. 16 Oliver Ford Davies finds this line open to several interpretations, the most likely being: “Is she simply, perhaps ironically, resigned to being told yet again by her father what to think?” Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, p. 82. 17 Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, p. 80. 18 Middleton, “Mad World.” 1.2.44–47. The most pertinent would have been a copy of Vives’s The Instruction of a Christian Woman, although whether the audience could identify a title at a distance is debatable. 19 Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis,” line 146. 20 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 75; Bullokar, English Expositor. LEME. 21 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), p. 96. 22 Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman (Beauchamp et al.), p. 177. 23 Garber, Shakespeare after All, p. 494. 24 Shakespeare, Hamlet, pp. 530 and 542. 25 Ophelia’s unfulfilled sexual longings contribute to her madness: Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, p. 87. 26 Donne, “Epithalamion made at Lincolnes Inn,” in Complete English Poems, p. 210. 27 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, p. 115. For further discussion on uterine fury, see Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, pp. 68–72. 28 Shakespeare, Hamlet, Long Notes, 537–41. There is a wealth of interesting scholarship on the meaning of flowers in Hamlet, each, as here, identifying sexualized connections. 29 Chapman, “Ophelia’s ‘Old Lauds’,” p. 111. 30 Chapman, “Ophelia’s ‘Old Lauds’,” pp. 118–20. 31 Shuger emphasizes how well-known the story was among sixteenth-century schoolchildren through a neo-Latin school play by George Buchanan. Shuger, “The Renaissance Bible,” pp. 134–35. 32 Chapman, “Ophelia’s ‘Old Lauds’,” p. 129. 33 An earlier version of this section is included in Potter, “Navigating the Dangers of Female Puberty in Renaissance Drama.” 34 Shakespeare, “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” p. 1379. 35 Chapman, Ophelia’s “Old Lauds,” pp. 124–25. 36 Middleton, The Family of Love, p. 2. 37 Compare this with “New Playes, are like new Fashions; if they Take” in Heywood, Mayden-Head Well Lost, Epilogue. 38 This is contrary to Dawson, who reads Emilia as embodying the “clear virginity” of elevated Neoplatonic traditions. Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 83. 39 Campion, “Faine would I wed,” in Poet, Composer, Physician, p. 156. 40 Hippolyta and Theseus also appear in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (1596), similarly celebrating their forthcoming wedding. 41 Shakespeare and Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen, p. 15. 42 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 28. 14 15


There are several versions of how Theseus obtained Hippolyta to be his bride. Shakespeare, “As You Like It,” 1.1.107. 45 Brome, “New Academy,” p. 17. 46 Brome, Sparagus Garden, 1.4. 47 Fletcher, “Rule a Wife,” 2.4.50–54. 48 Brome, Antipodes. 1.3; image 9. 49 Traub, Thinking Sex, p. 104. 50 For example: “It is my hap so strange / to wed and feele no change” in a poem on the failure to consummate marriage associated with Howard’s nonconsummation libel. Lindley, Trials of Frances Howard, p. 103. See also: “Your strange usage of me” by a wife whose husband will not lie with her, in Glapthorne, The Hollander, D3v. 51 Toulalan, “‘Unripe’ Bodies: Children and Sex in Early Modern England,” p. 143. See also Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England, p. 56. 52 Shakespeare and Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen, n. 2.2.138–43. 53 Shakespeare, “Winter’s Tale,” 4.4.122–25. 54 Glapthorne, The Hollander, C2v. 55 Shakespeare, “Othello,” 4.2.58–104. 56 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, (Faulkner et al.) pp. 721–22; Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, pp. 115–16. 57 The title of Barratt’s The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing exemplifies this usage. 58 Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, p. 115. 59 Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Faulkner et al), p. 65. 60 Campion, Book of Airs, pp. 64–65. 61 Tanner, Art of Physick, pp. 331–32; 36. For masturbation as treatment, see also Crawford, Blood, Bodies and Families, p. 62. 62 Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England, pp. 56–59. 63 Massinger, “Old Debts,” 3.2.129–33. 64 Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, p. 12. 65 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 30. 66 Jonson, Magnetick Lady, 1.4.16–17. 67 Schleiner, Medical Ethics, pp. 12, 34, 20–21, 40. 68 Fletcher, “Mad Lover,” 4.1.90–91. 69 Brome, Antipodes, image 37. 70 Traub, Thinking Sex, p. 108. 71 Traister, “Note Her a Little Farther,” pp. 43–52. 72 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 24. 73 Chapman, “Ophelia’s ‘Old Lauds’,” pp. 124–25. 43


Figure 5. Galen treating a lovesick woman. Author; Galen, Publication Venetiis: Juntas, 1586. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda. Catalogue 2242030R. Alecia Simmonds, “Loves Losses.” Abstract for conference paper. In Renaissance medicine lovesickness was treated as a serious medical condition. According to the physician Gideon Harvey (1636–1702), broken betrothals were a cause of fits of the mother in many young girls. Harvey claimed he had often been a spectator of girls who “fell into most terrible fits of the Mother, five or six in a day, upon a rupture of Marriage.” Harvey belittled the trauma of ruptured betrothals in young girls, but, as this illustration shows, it was a genuine concern for physicians. In the casebooks of Richard Napier (1559–1634), an astrological physician and cleric in a village in Buckinghamshire, troubled courtships feature prominently in gynecological maladies. There were legal implications to broken betrothals as impediments to future marriage or even later cause for divorce. It is a little-known fact that “heartbreak” continued to be recognized as a medical condition well into the twentieth century and was used as evidence in court cases involving a breach of promise of marriage.

Chapter 7

The Maid’s Tragedy (1611–1613) and Parasitaster, or The Fawne (1604–1606)


N THE SAME YEAR The Two Noble Kinsmen was staged, another play on the theme of precarious virginity was performed. This was The Maid’s Tragedy, written by John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, and presented at the court of James I as part of the wedding celebrations of two royal teenagers—James’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine.1 The bride and groom were each only sixteen years old. The play opens by discussing a “great match” about to take place and a masque to celebrate it, so it must have appeared self-referential at the time of its performance, whether or not it had been written earlier as has been conjectured.2 It was one of several plays performed during the course of the lengthy marriage celebrations (February to April 1613), but given the themes of broken betrothals, bridal night failure, sexual exploitation, and betrayal, it seems an extraordinary choice of play, particularly if it was performed on the wedding day: February 14, Valentine’s Day. Yet this play is possibly only exceptional in that it is a tragedy. By tradition, plays and masques written for weddings focused on the wedding bed and consummation. They usually praised the bride’s beauty, her virtues, and her bashfulness, whereas the groom was fair game and was expected to “endure the short scorne of a Bridegroomes play,” as Donne claims in Love’s Alchymie. Furthermore, Donne claims that, That loving wretch that sweares, ’Tis not the bodies marry, but the minds, Which he in her Angelique finds, Would sweare as justly, that he heares, In that dayes rude hoarse minstralsey, the spheares.3

In alerting us to a tradition of “rude hoarse minstralsey” (the forerunner of today’s “stag night” bachelor parties) the poet appears to be refuting “that loving wretch” Shakespeare, who wrote of the marriage of true minds in Sonnet 116. Donne’s own contribution to this particular royal wedding,

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“An Epithalamion, or Marriage Song on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine Being Married on St. Valentine’s Day,” is an exercise in comic titillation drawn out over eight stanzas. The poem dwells first on the frustratingly slow progress of the bride to the bedchamber, then the negotiation of the unclothing, and finally to her lying on the bed awaiting the groom who, in stanza 6, has his own impediments to surmount: But now she is laid; what though shee bee? Yet there are more delayes, for, where is he? He comes and passes through Spheare after Spheare,4 First her sheetes, then her Armes, then any where.

Stanza 7 completes the act, as “very quickly they pay their debt” again and again, and so moves to the court onlookers who “neare you whisper­ ing speake, / and wagers lay” on which of the newlyweds will first open the curtains at break of day. 5 Evidently, wedding poems and plays were written explicitly to celebrate the sexual initiation of the bride and the loss of her maidenhead, while the groom had to endure some scorn. A key component of The Maid’s Tragedy is the failure to consummate on the wedding night; for a young groom such as Count Frederick, expectations of sexual performance could be daunting, and it is in this light that I want to consider what the play may have meant to a court audience at this royal wedding. In 1613, irrespective of date of composition, The Maid’s Tragedy would have drawn attention to James’s own court with its reputation for sexual misdemeanor and one scandal in particular. This was the year Frances Devereux sued for divorce from her husband, alleging his incapacity to consummate the marriage and expressing her desire to marry James’s favorite, Robert Carr. This high-profile case involved household staff testifying that Robert Devereux was impotent, while others gave evidence that he was capable of sexual relations with other women, and Frances herself was subjected to a bodily inspection by a jury of four ladies and two midwives who declared her to be capable of sexual relations but still a virgin. Frances was also charged with having exercised maleficium (witchcraft) on her husband, and further scandal was added to the case with the imprisonment and death of Sir Thomas Overbury, guardian and mentor to Robert Carr, followed by rumors of poisoning at the behest of Frances. Like Elizabeth and Frederick, Frances and her husband Robert were only teenagers when they were married. In fact, they were so young (thirteen and fifteen respectively) that consummation was deferred for fear sex at too


early an age would debilitate the youthful husband.6 When Robert turned eighteen they lived together as man and wife but it seems he was unable to have sex with her. In Frances’s libel, she averred that she was “desirous to be made a mother . . . and as much as lay in her offered herself and her body to be known; and earnestly desired conjunction and copulation.” Annulment proceedings were commenced in May 1613, shortly after the royal wedding, and by December Frances was free to marry Robert Carr. Although there is no suggestion The Maid’s Tragedy was written with this case in mind (others were, such as Thomas Middleton’s The Witch, ca. 1613–1616), the theme of sexual failure and frustration is hard to ignore in this court environment.7

Fletcher and Beaumont’s The Maid’s Tragedy (1611–1613) The Maid’s Tragedy opens with a wedding and dwells on the bridal night preparations, followed by an extended scene in the bridal chamber where the groom’s anticipated initiation into the pleasures of sex is dashed by the bride’s refusal to consummate the marriage. His bride, Evadne, once a chaste and virtuous virgin, is now in a relationship of sexual enthrallment to the king. This is therefore a marriage of convenience to provide a public cover should she become pregnant by the king. There will be no intercourse with her young bridegroom, Amintor, who had originally been engaged to the virgin Aspatia. The play’s focus is squarely on sexual frustration. The plot, which has been noted for its originality, is paraphrased below from a summary by Thomas Rymer in 1678: Amintor, contracted to Aspatia, by the King’s command marries Evadne, sister to Melanthius and expects to lye with her, but the Bride, mincing nothing, flatly tells him that he is but taken for a Cloak, that She indeed is a Bedfellow only for the King. The good man is perswaded to dissemble all, till his friend, Melanthius, extorts from him the secret, and thereupon hectors his Sister, Evadne, into repentance, and makes her promise to murder the King. . . . Aspatia in mans habit kicks her Sweetheart, Amintor, duels him, and is kill’d followed by Amintor and Evadne both killing themselves.8

Rymer’s synopsis does not do justice to Aspatia’s crucial function as the forsaken virgin who must die as a consequence of the broken betrothal. Others have argued that the title The Maid’s Tragedy does not accurately

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reflect the main tragic interest, but this ignores the fact that it is Aspatia’s role as wronged virgin which drives the play. The illustrations on the title pages of the 1619 and later editions identify both Aspatia and Amintor.9 Aspatia was a name associated with female virtue in the licentious Persian court of King Cyrus, as told, for example, in Thomas Lodge’s The Life and Death of William Longbeard (1593).10 In The Maid’s Tragedy the two main female characters—Aspatia and Evadne—can both be understood as maids tragically sacrificed to male abuse. Evadne has been irretrievably corrupted by the king’s abuse of his sovereign power to seduce her: “Once I was lovely,” she accuses him, “not a blowing [blown?] rose / More chastely sweet, till thou, thou, thou foul canker, . . . didst poison me. I was a world of virtue / Till your cursed court and you . . . Made me give up mine honour” (5.1.77–79). Aspatia is the victim of a broken betrothal, the seriousness of which may underwhelm us today but would not have done so then, whether on stage or in real life. Broken betrothals were a cause of fits of the mother in many young girls, as shown in chapter 1. In the casebooks of Richard Napier (1559– 1634), an astrological physician and cleric in a village in Buckinghamshire, troubled courtships feature prominently in gynecological maladies.11 There were legal implications to broken betrothals as impediments to future marriage or even later cause for divorce. Dramatists like Shakespeare and Fletcher understood the medical ramifications which lay behind literary depictions of forsaken maidens. Ophelia’s symptoms in Hamlet (1601) are expressed in raving, bawdy, loss of sanity and suicide. The jailer’s daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) suffers from insomnia, loss of appetite, overactive libido, raving, and attempted suicide. For both girls, marriage is the key to calming a disordered womb and bringing stability back to mind and body. The jilted Aspatia has been compared to Ophelia, but she is sketched with significantly different behavior. There are no symptoms of insanity, nor does she commit suicide by drowning (one of the common means for girls in early modern England), but rather seeks “some unpractised way to grieve and die” which “heaven may forgive” thus avoiding the sin of suicide (5.3.1–8). Poetic decorum seems to require that she wander in the woods, sighing and singing, strewing flowers (a common feature of tragic maids in drama), but she never sings bawdy songs about lost maidenheads (like Ophelia) or solicits men for sexual encounters as the jailer’s daughter does. On stage regularly, she is a sad and melancholy figure, but utterly rational, and admired for her exceptional rhetorical skills in narrating stories which


bring others to tears. Her demeanor gives so little evidence of a disordered womb that it would be difficult to argue more than grief as the cause of her decline were it not for the intense and repeated focus on sexual frustration throughout the play, and the close link between grief and womb disorders in Renaissance medicine. Lesel Dawson’s perceptive analysis of Aspatia reveals her as fully in control of her actions and plans, exploiting and playing the role of forsaken virgin to maximum effect at the court.12 While Aspatia uses the jilted maiden trope to further her plans for revenge on Amintor, there is no suggestion that she is feigning her sickness. For those around her it is genuine and expected to prove fatal. Some in the audience may well perceive her as capable of choosing to live or die, unlike Ophelia or even the jailer’s daughter, but by choosing to follow tradition and adopt the role of lovesick maiden, Fletcher ensures she becomes another tragic stage figure to die of unrequited love and serve as a future model. Richard Lovelace, for example, would later single out her role as “a diamond [Fletcher] throws / Splendid in all the bright Aspatia’s woes.”13 The audience first meets Aspatia as she is greeted by the recently arrived Melanthius, close friend of her erstwhile fiancé, Amintor. Unaware she has been jilted, Melanthius offers her his blessings for her wedding day and specifically for a fruitful womb. Fletcher is cuing the audience here to expect anything but a fruitful womb, just as he did with the three queens’ blessings of a fruitful womb in the opening scene of Hippolyta’s wedding in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613). Melanthius then learns that Aspatia has been supplanted by Evadne, his own sister, as bride to Amintor. Aspatia’s reported grief-ridden behavior mirrors Ophelia’s in many ways, and presents the audience with very clichéd images of the typical forsaken maiden: She walks discontented, with her wat’ry eyes Bent on the earth. The unfrequented woods Are her delight, and when she sees a bank Stuck full of flowers she with a sigh will tell Her servants what a pretty place it were To bury lovers in, and make her maids Pluck ’em and strow her over like a corse. She carries with her an infectious grief That strikes all her beholders; she will sing The mournfull’st things that ever ear hath heard And sigh, and sing again; and when the rest Of our young ladies in their wanton blood

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Tell mirthful tales in course that fill the room With laughter, she will with so sad a look Bring forth a story of the silent death Of some forsaken virgin, which her grief Will put in such a phrase that ere she end She’ll send them weeping one by one away. (1.1.90–107)

That all forsaken virgins will die of grief appears to be a literary decorum which Shakespeare and Fletcher challenged, as we have seen in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), by means of medical theory, although there the patient was of the meaner sort. At court the stakes of honor are higher, more public, and more political. In the court environment of The Maid’s Tragedy, death is not challenged but accepted as given. Melanthius’ tells Amintor “I hear / A lady mourns for thee, men say to death” (1.1.135–36). Aspatia’s father, Calianax, assumes his daughter will die and he rails against the injustice of a wedding that should have been for his daughter—“they ha’ near killed her amongst them” (1.2.19)—and bitterly attacks Melanthius: “Yes, I do some service for your sister here, / That brings mine own poor child to timeless death” (1.2.59–60). Aspatia deliberately contributes to these expectations by anticipating her own death in a song. She bids the ladies farewell—“this is the last time you shall look on me”—and gives instructions for her funeral: “Let my bier / Be borne by virgins that shall sing by course / The truth of maids and perjuries of men” (2.1.105–7). 14 The lesson Laertes drummed into Ophelia not to trust sweet words of love (“If with too credent ear you list his songs”),15 Aspatia has learned by bitter experience: “In these ears of mine / These credulous eares, he powered the sweetest words / that art of love could frame” (2.1.51–53). Dawson argues persuasively that throughout the play Aspatia is in complete control of her melancholy, to the point of teaching others how to act and behave as a grief-stricken, forsaken virgin.16 Theoretically, this should distance the audience from her trauma and lead them to expect some reversal of her fortunes under her control, but the emphasis on the denial of sexual gratification is such a constant in the play that regardless of her controlled exterior the audience will be expecting inner trauma, and, as argued above, Fletcher does not develop her sickness into a feigned condition. Aspatia’s expressions of anger and loss at being denied the erotic pleasure of losing her maidenhead to Amintor are far more articulate than Ophelia’s, not embedded in songs but expressed in direct


grievances. During the bridal disrobing scene, she charges the attending women with betraying her virgin womb: This should have been My night, and all your hands have been employed In giving me a spotless offering To young Amintor’s bed. (2.1.44–47)

Fletcher built a wedding masque into the play for the sole purpose of emphasizing the erotic injustice. It dwells on lusty bridegrooms and blushing maids, brides who will weep and cry (out of pain) and coyly protest, and frequent dyings (orgasms), the envy of virgins “that grieve to lie alone” (1.2.250). And then in the bridal chamber the women’s sexual innuendo reinforces the injustice as they tease the bride: “Madam shall we undress you for this fight? / The wars are nak’d that you must make tonight.” They instruct Evadne (who needs no instructions) on how to lose her maidenhead—“You must endure more and lie still; / You’re best to practice”—and how to talk dirty to arouse a virgin groom: “A dozen wanton words put in your head / Will make you livelier in your husband’s bed.” These are measures one of the more experienced court women has used herself ever since she reached ripeness: “This is a trick that I have had / Since I was fourteen” (2.1.18). Aspatia’s role as wronged bride turns the mood funereal. Without the sexual fulfillment her womb not only needs but that is deemed its natural right, Aspatia will become pale and start to wither—in other words she will die of consumption. This is the image she desires her maid to reproduce in her needlework, “. . . and the trees about me / Let them be dry and leafless and let the rocks / Groan with continual surges” (2.2.74–76), perhaps suggesting surges of grief but equally possible are surges of the unrequited mother, since “groan” is a term so frequently used for intercourse and childbirth. As if all the emphasis on sex in the dialogue were not sufficient, Fletcher and Beaumont use numerous visual codes for a woman’s sexual health. The play is littered with hot and rosy cheeks which are a sign of full blood and thriving sexuality. Faced with a bride who refuses to sleep with him on their wedding night, Amintor assumes Evadne is being precious about religious vows, but she points to her cheeks to disillusion him: Alas, Amintor, thinkst thou I forbear To sleep with thee because I have put on A maiden’s strictness? Look upon these cheeks,

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And thou shalt find the hot and rising blood Unapt for such a vow. (2.1.285–89)

Later, Amintor will use Evadne’s hot red cheeks as alleged evidence that he has consummated the marriage: Have I not received A lady to my bed, that in her eye Keeps mounting fire, and on her tender cheeks Inevitable colour? (3.2.73–76).

But Evadne’s cheeks are far from tender, despite the blood in them, and when, days later, Amintor passes a bowl of wine to her, his claim that it will set false blushes on her cheeks is a bitter accusation that she is incapable of blushing (4.2.70). At another point in the play, Aspatia unexpectedly questions her maid, Antiphila, about her rosy cheeks: “Good gods, how well you look? Such a full colour / Young bashful brides put on; sure, you are new married,” to which Antiphila responds “Yes, madam, to your grief ” (2.2.2–4). It seems a superfluous inclusion but its purpose is to emphasize how pale Aspatia is, an external symptom of internal disorder, presumably enhanced by stage makeup. Calianax, Aspatia’s father, looking on his pale daughter, uses the same simile: “I shall revenge my girl, / And make her red again” (3.2.324–25). Further markers of sexual corruption include facial blemishes and leprosy references. Evadne swears by them that she is sexually faithful to the King: But if I ever yet Touched any other, leprosy light here Upon my face, which for your royalty I would not stain (3.1.175–78)

When her brother, Melanthius, learns the truth of her situation, he curses her as a leprous whore (3.2.178) and eventually Evadne herself acknowledges as much: “My whole life is so leprous it infects / All my repentance” (4.1.198–99). Sickness is what characterizes the sexual status of all three main characters. Addiction is Evadne’s sickness (4.1.57); abstinence is Amintor’s (3.2.248) and an unrequited womb Aspatia’s. Like young Palamon and Arcite in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), Amintor is inexperienced in


love. Much is made of his youth, he is not yet considered mature, suggesting he is perhaps in his early teens—similar to the bride and groom before whom this play was performed. He is still a virgin, “a spotless offering” (2.1.46), who longs to lose his “lusty youth” with his bride (1.1.141). Like the Count Palatine, he is a young man whose “youth did promise much, and his ripe years / Will see it all performed” (1.1.57–58), instead of which the sexual corruption at court damages him beyond repair and the tragedy is as much his as it is a maid’s. His role mirrors Aspatia’s; both are young, inexperienced, and innocent, and both are denied the joys and honor of the marriage bed. How they handle their personal tragedies is the crux of the play’s relevance for a court audience. Aspatia knows what is expected, exploits it, and exacts her revenge. Amintor is lost in the mire of duty to sovereign authority, personal honor, and sexual humiliation. He is incapable of action, a figure of scorn for the King and of pity for the others, who ultimately loses his life to his inability to take decisive action. Bridal night failure as a stage attraction must have been popular. Fletcher used the same device in another play, A Wife for a Month (1624), in which the libidinous king Frederick threatens to execute Valerio, the groom, if he lies with his bride Evanthe (intriguingly close to Evadne). Valerio’s excuses to Evanthe range from being sick and inexperienced, to respecting chaste love, to being simply incapable. His bride will not be thwarted: “Fie my Lord, / Will you put a maid too’t, to teach ye what to do? / An innocent maid? Are ye so cold a Lover?” He argues that to pluck thee from the stalke, Where now thou grow’st a sweet bud and a beauteous, And bear’st the prime and honour of the Garden, Is but to violate thy spring, and spoile thee.

She accuses him of abusing her pious love for him, and then when he finally claims he has been impotent since childhood, she is devastated: “’Tis my hard fortune, blesse all young maids from it, — / Is there no help my Lord in Art will comfort yet?”17 As with The Maid’s Tragedy, Fletcher uses the deprivation of legitimate wedding night joys of sex as a form of extreme torture on the bride. If there were lessons to be learned from The Maid’s Tragedy in Jacobean England, they were lessons directed at the royal court in general and signaling the damaging effects of loss of innocence in a sexually corrupt court environment. If the play was indeed performed in front of the young bride and groom, then the groom must have recognized it was a challenge to his own performance in the bed of an English princess.

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John Marston’s Parasitaster; or, the Fawne (1604–1606)18 Just as Beaumont and Fletcher found their entry point into the theme of the rights and abuses of the womb through the topic of broken betrothals, so Marston found his entry point in The Fawne through the issue of illmatched betrothals, specifically those ill-matched in age. Such marriages, often referred to as December–April or January–May matches, had long been a source of satire in drama, as we have seen in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), where the naive Palamon pays homage to Venus by invoking anecdotal evidence of a doddery eighty-year-old siring a healthy son by a fourteen-year-old wench. Palamon is clearly not familiar with Aristotle’s Politics, which asserts a man can beget until he is seventy but concedes that it is true that if the father is old, not only in years but in constitution and unhealthiness, his sperm is less vital and the child will be more slight and sickly.19 Age disparity was also the topic of a 1585 Scottish play, Philotus, which was republished in Edinburgh in 1603 as a poem on the “greit inconveniences that fallis out in the Mariage betwene age and youth.”20 It presents a fourteen-year-old maid pursued by the eighty-year-old Philotus. She argues she is old enough to withhold legal consent to marriage: Sen Mariage bene but thraldome free, God and gude nature dois agree, That I quhair as it lykes not mee, May lawfullie refuse. I am fourtene, and hee fourescoir, I haill and sound, hee seik and soir, How can I giue consent thairfoir, Or yit till him agree?21

At fourteen a girl could legally withhold consent, and marry without her father’s permission, something she could not do at twelve, the legal age for marriage.22 In this case, the father agrees with her, wondering at the old suitor for seeking such an unsuitable match. Such disparate marriages are analyzed in several other plays close in date to The Fawne, such as The Gentleman Usher (1604) and The Wit of a Woman (1604). This latter play adds a further argument against old widowers taking young brides, by exposing the risk this poses to their children’s inheritance.23 Age disparity may also be a trigger for Othello’s jealousy. He is much older than Desdemona (who is about fifteen)24 and claims he did not marry her to please “the palate of my appetite, / Nor to comply with heat—the young effects / In


me defunct—and proper satisfaction” yet he is still vulnerable to a loss of reputation. 25 The issue was one for serious discussion in Elizabethan England. In The Flower of Friendshippe (1568), Edmund Tilney recommends a match in terms of sexual compatibility and not just years of age. Under this prescription Tilney cites an acceptable age difference of up to sixteen years, for example matching a fourteen-year-old girl to a thirtyyear-old man. The rationale behind this is based on male control being dependent on sexual control, i.e. a husband’s ability to satisfy his wife’s sexual needs.26 In a diary kept by Lady Hoby (1599–1605), which generally deals with spiritual devotions rather than social gossip, the mention of a specific local case alerts us to the controversial nature of such unequal marriages: “We heard also of Mr. Busshop Mariage to Mr. cholmeles Daughter, being about 14 years olde and himself fiftie.”27 In The Fawne, where the suitor is sixty-four years old and the intended bride has just turned fifteen, the arguments against the match are based mainly on biological health, with no mention of legal status. In a 1633 edition of the play, her age is reduced to thirteen, possibly to eliminate the issue of her legal ability to refuse consent.28 The Fawne was first played sometime between February 1604 and March 1606 when it was entered in the Stationer’s Register, where English rights to publication were recorded. It stages a witty, articulate young heroine determined to get her man, reminiscent of Rosalind in As You Like it (1599) or Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well (1604–1605), but the driving force behind the play goes beyond the young heroine’s sex-drive to argue for healthy sexual relations as the natural due of womankind and the nation’s healthy posterity. The play was written for performance by the Children of the Queen’s Revels. It delights in bawdy wit and sexual satire, and is a reminder of just how familiar child players were with what we would consider adult themes. The play is set in the pretentious court of the Duke of Urbin, whose daughter, the Princess Dulcimel, is celebrating her fifteenth birthday. A handsome prince, Tiberio, has just arrived to woo the princess, not for himself, but on behalf of his sixty-four-year-old father, Hercules, the Duke of Ferrara (later disguised as the Fawne). The Duke of Urbin approves of this disparate match, believing it shows gravity in himself, and he counsels his daughter at length on the need to ignore the younger prince’s obvious charms. Dulcimel, however, sets her sights on the son and uses all her considerable wit to outsmart her vain and gullible father. She plays the obedient daughter, using flattery and guile to manipulate him in order to bed and wed Tiberio with her father’s unwitting consent. The unseemliness of

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the match is raised in the opening scene, when Hercules, Duke of Ferrara, takes leave of his brother, Renaldo, who has accompanied him thus far and who is now to return to Ferrara to rule in his brother’s absence. Renaldo is curious to know why his brother should put at risk his reputation as a grave, self-disciplined statesman by taking a young wife, arguing that he will lay himself open to shame. Hercules reveals it is a strategic move to get his reluctant son, Tiberio, to marry: I have vowed to visit the court of Urbin, as thus: My son, as you can well witness with me, could I never persuade to marriage, although myself was then an ever-resolved widower, and though I proposed to him this very lady to whom he is gone in my right to negotiate. Now how his cooler blood will behave itself in this business would I have an only testimony. (1.1.19–26)

He further affirms that were he to remarry he would do his own courting and that it would be pure folly for him to go ahead with this marriage: “Think not but I shall approve that more than folly which even now appears in a most ridiculous expectation” (1.1.33–34). Once his brother has departed, Hercules appears to change tack, rejoicing in the liberty anonymity allows him, and the freedom from the public image by which “my forced life against the stream of blood / Is tugged along,” giving the audience cause to wonder whether he may indeed follow the motions of his blood after all. With arresting imagery Marston depicts the invasion of the cold, unresponsive body with sudden hot blood: I vow to waste this most prodigious heat, That falls into my age like scorching flames In depth of numbed December, in flattering all In all of their extremest viciousness. (1.2.345–48)

Hercules intends to put his own rush of blood to strategic use to cleanse the court of sexual corruption. The heat which fills his veins will be directed into prompting others into self-destroying mischief, a process which eventually effects their purification. 29 Dulcimel will similarly channel the heat in her blood into strategic actions for beneficial ends. There are numerous references to heat in the blood which serve as constant reminders of nature’s effects on the body, and the way they are handled. 30 In a carpe diem poem31 by Thomas Campion, residual heat in an aged male body is turned to menacing sexual exploitation:


Though you are young and I am old, Though your veins hot and my blood cold, Though youth is moist and age is dry. Yet embers live when flames do die. ... Thou that thy youth doest vainly boast, Know buds are soonest nipped with frost; Think that thy fortune still doth cry, Thou fool, tomorrow thou must die.32

The proposed match between Dulcimel and the aging Duke dominates the early scenes of the play, condemned and mocked by all, their repugnance graphically visualized by Herod: “Were’t not to be wept that such a sapless, chafing-dish-using old dotard as the Duke of Ferrara, with his withered hand, should pluck such a bud?” he exclaims (1.2.75–79), the chafing-dish image invoking a cold, bloodless body in need of artificial warmth. Dulcimel’s own father, Gonzago, who shares with Polonius an ability to discourse on errors of judgment while ignoring their relevance to himself, unthinkingly draws attention to the infirmities of age, such as feeling the cold or having shrunken calves (1.2.543–45). He instructs Dulcimel to ignore the young Tiberio’s “well-fill’d veins, complexion firm, and hairs that curl with strength of lusty moisture” (curly locks were a sign of virility) in favor of “a grave wise prince” (1.2.83–85). When the young prince Tiberius proffers Dulcimel a portrait of his father, her keen wit seizes on the image to extract the full gamut of his father’s infirmities, as balding and “a little shrunk from the full strength of time” (1.2.130–9). Nonetheless, she assures Tiberio it is not the aged body that deters her but rather fear of slander at the “almost impossibilities” of the Duke being able to satisfy her youthful body. Herod, the most vicious gossip of the court, proves her point by anticipating cuckoldry: “Horn on him, threescore and five, to have and to hold a lady of fifteen. O Mezentius! A tyranny equal if not above thy torturing.”33 Gonzago, having listened with self-satisfaction to his daughter’s articulate arguments against the match, hastens to assure Tiberio that her reservations are just maidenly coyness: “She must seem somewhat nice; ’tis virgin’s kind / To hold long out; if yet she chance deny, / Ascribe it to her decent modesty” (1.2.168–70). This is a common refrain in drama, usually from men trying to arrange matches against the wishes of their daughter or sister. In Webster’s The Devils Law Case (ca. 1619), a brother explains his sister’s distressed behavior to an unwanted suitor as “virgins must seem unwilling” and that her tears actually mean “yes.”34 Schoolboys may well have learned this in school. “Did I never teach you: that a woman

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denies that in show / Which indeed she desires?” questions the pedant in Anthony Munday’s Fidele and Fortunio (1585).35 John Lyly wrote an entire poem of thirty-one stanzas on this theme.36 Like Juliet, Dulcimel’s erotic urges push her into bold action. She claims that her current idle life conflicts with her full-blooded youthful state, thereby threatening her health. Her good healthful blood needs a man and must not be kept waiting: “That I, a female of fifteen, of a lightsome and civil discretion, healthy, lusty, vigorous, full, and idle, should forever be shackled to the crampy shins of a . . . rheumy, threescore and four” is unthinkable (3.190–4). (A further reason for reducing her age to thirteen in the 1633 edition, like Shakespeare’s reduction to thirteen for Juliet, is to code for behavior associated with the onset of menarche and the libido). Marriage to an older man will lead to gossip, may cause barrenness, and raises the specter of green sickness: “Shall I speak like a creature of a good healthful blood,” she asks, “and not like one of these weak, green sickness, lean phthisic starvelings?” Indeed, as she concedes to her waiting woman in private, she does not lack bravery or will power: I am very valiant, for there is no heroic action so particularly noble and glorious to our sex as not to fall to action. The greatest deed we can do is not to do (look that nobody listen). Then I am full of patience, and can bear more than a sumpter-horse, for (to speak sensibly) what burden is there so heavy to a porter’s back as virginity to a well-complexioned young lady’s thoughts? (Look nobody harken.) By this hand, the noblest vow is that of virginity, because the hardest. I will have the prince. (3.1.211–22)

As editors have noted, Marston is echoing advice from an essay on chastity by Michel de Montaigne, Upon Some Verses of Virgil (1588): “The vow of virginity is the noblest of all vows, because [it is] the hardest,” he writes, or, putting it more crudely, for a young woman “there is no point of doing more thorny nor more active then this of not doing.”37 Dulcimel’s purpose is not to satisfy noble vows but to satisfy nature. Female sexuality is the leitmotif dominating the dialogue, not only in the bawdy talk by the men, but also in the context of a woman’s right to a healthy sexual partner and to reproduction. The play mocks husbands who fear cuckoldry yet don’t lie with their wife; it exposes male fear of failure in sexual relations and is critical of men whose debauched youth renders them sexually incapable husbands to the detriment of their wives’ health and to family lineage. A 1609 treatise on the Right Manner of Erecting


and Ordering a Family states that it is “unlawful to make a contract with a person unfit for the use of marriage . . . for example in regard of sickness, or of frigidity, or of the palsy uncurable.” 38 Women therefore have a legal right to fertile husbands. Donna Garbetza is one such wife in The Fawne, married to a sickly knight, Sir Amoroso Debile-Dosso, who employs expensive but useless aphrodisiacs such as dissolved pearls, amber, fomentations, baths, electuaries, frictions, “and all the nurses of most forcible excited concupiscence, he useth with most nice and tender industry” (2.150–5). Petruchio, in The Tamer Tamed (1609–1611), is rumored to be guilty of similar practices due to the fact he is an ageing widower whose first wife is long-since buried. He is an “old sport” who needs aphrodisiacs to perform for his tender bride on his wedding night, but he’s more likely to use common foods such as eggs and spices, on the reasoning that “an egg and pepper will go farther than their [impotent courtiers] potions.”39 Eggs, being the epitome of fertility, were popular as aphrodisiacs and fertility aids for both men and women,40 as demonstrated by Petruchio in The Tamer Tamed.41 In The Fawne, Sir Amoroso Debile-Dosso’s efforts are all to no avail as the couple remain childless. His wife is described as “a spiny, green creature, of an unwholesome barren blood and cold embrace, a bony thing” who nobody wants to bed and for which her husband is to blame (4.46–48). Thin, anorexic women lacked sex appeal and are glossed here as frigid, while “spiny” was a description sometimes applied to fasting Puritans.42 By the end of the play we learn that she is indeed pregnant to her husband’s devious younger brother, Herod. Another delinquent husband is Don Zuccone, who so fears being cuckolded that he publicly asserts he has stayed out of his wife’s bed for the past four years: “I hear there’s one jealous that I lie with my own wife, and begins to withdraw his hand. I protest, I vow—and you will, on my knees, I’ll take my sacrament on it—I lay not with her this four year” (2.217–20). Don Zuccone positively revels in his self-fashioned image as innocent victim. The same image can be found in Glapthorne’s The Hollander (1635) in Sir Martin Yellow who refuses to sleep with his wife, and perceives himself as “an innocent lamb” heroically sacrificing himself to her adultery.43 Donna Zoya, Zuccone’s wife, is a paragon of virtue so her healthy complexion needs explaining. Angry at her husband for having kept out of her bed for so many years, she publicly supports goading him with rumors that she is pregnant and that she cuckolds him with all and sundry: “For pity of an afflicted lady, load him soundly, let him not go clear from vexation: he has most dishonourably, with the most sinful, most vicious obstinacy, persevered to wrong me that, were I not of a male constitution, ’twere

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impossible for me to survive it” (2.335–40). “Were I not of a male consti­ tution” is a comic aside for the boy playing her part, which reminds us how the young actor’s looks and body were not always suited to his role. Clues to women’s sexual status were printed on their faces or bodies, yet these clues can be confusing. An abstinence from or an excess of sex can produce similar symptoms. Nymphodoro points out that Donna Zoya “keeps full-face, unabated roundness, cheerful aspect. Were she so infamously prostitute [as her husband claims], her cheek would fall, her colour fade, the spirit of her eye would die” (2.234–35). Prostitutes were thought to become dull-eyed, pale-faced, and sunken-cheeked as a consequence of too much fornication, yet green sickness girls were similarly characterized as dull-eyed, pale, and thin for exactly the opposite reasons. Likewise, mistresses of men such as Nymphodoro should look sick because they “must of necessitie bee very ill and unsufficiently served” given his propensity to sleep around. Whether through excess or insufficiency the end result was a disordered womb. For all the men’s boasting of their sexual conquests or their selfimposed chastity, much of the comedy arises from the enormous anxiety the womb generates in men. Don Zuccone is convinced he has been cuckolded and determines to divorce his long-suffering wife and remarry “a woman with no womb” (4.290). “Well, Fawne” he asks, “whom shall I marry now? . . . O, that we could increase . . . any other way than by a woman. . . . O heaven, that God made for a man no other means of procreation and maintaining the world peopled but by women!” He goes on to make the not unfamiliar association of the womb with the devil: “Above them naught but will, beneath them naught but hell” (4.363–72). Even the posturing braggart Herod is afraid of the rapacious womb: “Oh, the falling sickness on them all! Why did reasonable nature give so strange, so rebellious, so tyrannous, so insatiate parts of appetite to so weak a governess as woman?” (4.106–9). Hercules counters Herod’s misogyny with the reasonable argument that custom is to blame for imposing impossible codes of conduct on women: “Or why, O custom, didst thou oblige them to modesty, such cold temperance, that they must be wooed by men, courted by men?” Custom is of course society and if a patriarchal society is to blame, then men have wrought their own punishment. Marston uses his protagonist, Hercules (the Fawne of the title), to articulate both sides of the debate over the nature of women’s sexuality. In his role as provocateur, Hercules flatters the misogynists with their own prejudices: “Why all know [women] are more full of strong desires, those desires more impatient of delay or hindrance, they have more unruly


passions than men, and weaker reason to temper those passions than men” (4.119–23), before targeting the sensitive issue of male fear of failure: “How often should they take us unprovided, when they are always ready?” (4.132). The heavy use of satire directed at the womb and male anxiety towards it appear at first reading to override any pretense of genuine interest in the well-being of women, playing instead on male anxieties. Yet Marston consistently keeps the bigger picture in mind for his audience. This is the generation of future heirs, who are realized on stage by the boy players. Unless women are treated well there will be no healthy wombs, and without them there will be no future generations. What all these caviling men want is a healthy male heir: Don Zuccone tells the loyal wife he refuses to sleep with, “I married thee in hope of children” (4.307). DebileDosso, having wasted his youth in debauchery, vainly hopes the fertility aids he employs will help him impregnate his wife. Hercules, who feared his son’s cooler blood would “kill our hope of name in his dull coldness,” is overjoyed to see him stealing into Dulcimel’s chamber: You genital, You fruitful well-mixed heats, O, bless the sheets Of yonder chamber, that Ferrara’s dukedom, The race of princely issue, be not cursed, And ended in abhorred barrenness. (5.5–9)

Only the conniving Herod did not want children, hoping instead to inherit his brother’s estate when his sickly brother dies. But his sister-in-law, now pregnant to him, observes the irony: “He was in fair hope of proving heir to his elder brother, but he has gotten me with child” (4.73–74), and that child will inherit first. Not one of the female characters is depicted in a negative light. Dulcimel is entirely justified in her actions to outwit her father to achieve what he himself acknowledged: I confess sweet prince, For you to love my daughter, young and witty, Of equal mixture both of mind and body, Is neither wondrous nor unnatural. (3.409–12)

Philocalia, a matronly companion to Dulcimel, is as the cast list tells us, “an honourable learned lady,” which is a departure from the usual disreputable

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nurse companion in drama. Even the “poore laundresse” is a woman of intelligence and integrity and immune to flattery by the duplicitous Herod. Donna Garbetza’s affair with her brother-in-law is defensible since it was solely for the purpose of providing the heir which her husband is incapable of begetting. Once pregnant she has no interest in continuing the relationship. Donna Zoya, Zuccone’s wife, is “a virtuous, fair, witty lady” who deliberately puts out the rumor that she is pregnant in an intelligent attempt to bring her husband to his senses by purging his fear of cuckoldry. Comedic decorum requires that she take him back, which may irk modern readers and perhaps it did some contemporary spectators, but it is at least on her own terms. We will probably never know whether Marston drew on real personalities for some of his fictional characters. His contemporary, Ben Jonson, might have come to mind, as he was reputed to have spent his youth in venery, and, according to the diarist John Manningham writing in 1603, Jonson kept out of his wife’s bed for five years. The fact that Jonson described her as both honest and a shrew suggests she deserved respect.44 A play which deals so directly with women’s biology and nature’s dues to women, and has such trenchant criticism of male sexual behavior, was evidently written with an audience of women in mind. The Prologue seems to endorse at this: For we do know that this most fair-filled room Is loaden with most Attic judgements, ablest spirits, Than whom there are none more exact, full, strong, Yet none more soft, benign in censuring. (Prologue 23–26)

The self-referential bawdy humor is typical of plays written for boy players, in this case the Children of the Queen’s Majesty’s Revels, and is a reminder that the children’s companies had a greater license for bawdry than the adult companies. Marston writes on such intimate topics as orgasm (4.108–10) and masturbation: Herod: Here, Faunus, [drink] a health as deep as a female . . . Nymphodoro: How dost thou feel thyself now, Fawne? Hercules: Very womanly, with my fingers. (2.44–47)

Boys in these children’s companies were probably far better primed on sex than many women in the audience.


The Fawne is unarguably sympathetic to women. This was the play’s intention according to a Latin motto below the title in the printed edition preceding act 1, which draws on Juvenal’s Satire II (Effeminate Rome) on the defense of women by citing male offences. 45 Readers of the play knew therefore what to look for, but for audiences there may have been no such prompt, making the dramatic treatment more exceptional.46 All the criticism in this play is directed towards the men who put at risk future generations through their misguided or vicious prejudices or debauchery. Particularly noteworthy is Marston’s depiction of the court environment as one of male sexual anxiety. It is worth noting that when the play was entered in the Stationer’s Register on 12 March 1606, it was with a proviso that it was not to go to print without lawful authority. This restriction has led Tiffany Stern to comment that this may be a sign that “the Warden does not trust The Fawne . . . to be free of sedition.”47 A year or so later in The Entertainment at Ashby (1606–1607), a piece written for the Countess of Derby, Marston could have been responding to prudish criticisms of The Fawne, when he writes of a court environment with “Ladies that are rudly coy . . . and those who hate our chaste delight.”48 Fruitful wombs are the business of the two plays discussed in this chapter. Marston’s The Fawne is squarely focused on the ramifications of sexual anxiety and debauchery in a court environment, and the need for leadership in purging such an environment. As a comedy, the play ends with hope for future generations in the figures of two healthy and sexually compatible young people joining forces. Thirteen years later, Fletcher and Beaumont’s The Maid’s Tragedy was staged with a devastating ending of destroyed fertility, serving as a warning perhaps for the same court environment depicted earlier by Marston. This time, the hope for future generations lay outside the play with a young royal couple facing an uncertain future. NOTES Fletcher and Beaumont, Maid’s Tragedy. Text references are to act, scene, and line. 2 This is based on a reference to The Second Maydens Tragedy, as licensed by the Master of the Revels in October, 1611. Fletcher and Beaumont, Maid’s Tragedy, p. 2. 3 Donne, “Loves Alchymie,” Complete English Poems, p. 86. 4 A parody of the poetic usage of “spheares.” 1

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Donne, “Epithalamion,” Complete English Poems, p. 195–96. Haynes, Sex in Elizabethan England, p. 125. 7 Lindley, Trials of Frances Howard, pp. 81–82, 97. 8 Fletcher and Beaumont, The Maid’s Tragedy, p. 8. 9 Fletcher and Beaumont, The Maid’s Tragedy, p. 10. 10 Lodge, William Long Beard, images 24–26. 11 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, p. 75. 12 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 113 13 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, Commendatory verses, 7. 14 This is the first indication of Aspatia’s awareness of, and control over, her sickness. Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 113. 15 Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.3.30. 16 Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender, p. 112–18. 17 Fletcher, “Wife for a Month,” 3.3. 217–35. 18 Marston, The Fawne (Hoeniger et al.). With two exceptions, scenes are not marked and quotations are identified by act and line numbers. 19 Cited in Joubert, Popular Errors, p. 120. 20 The full title is Ane verie excellent and delectabill Treatise intitulit Philotus: Quhairin we may persave the greit inconveniences that fallis out in the Mariage betwene age and youth. 21 Anon., Philotus, verses 48–49. This transcribes loosely as: 5 6

Since marriage be but thralldom free, God and good nature doth agree, That I, should it displeasure me, May lawfully refuse. I am fourteen, and he fourscore; I hale and sound, he sick and sore. How can I give consent therefore, Or yet to him agree? (transcription courtesy of Tobin Miles). Swinburne, Treatise of Spousals, p. 5. Anon., Wit of a Woman, line 1221. 24 Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, p. 104. 25 Shakespeare, “Othello,” 1.3.262–64. 26 Tilney, Flower of Friendshippe, pp. 109.345–51. 27 Hoby, Private Life, p. 173. 28 Marston, “The Fawne,” (Wood), p. 181 n3. 29 Marston, The Fawne (Hoeniger et al.), p. 9. 30 What Hercules regards as the “appetite of the blood” (1.1.41), the others more preciously refer to as the “passions” (Nymphodoro 1.2.52, Gonzago 1.2.85, Herod 2.73). 22 23


“Seize the day,” an aphorism affirming the need to make the most of the present time, often used in poetry as a seduction persuasion. 32 Campion, Daniel, and Selected Poems (II. A Book of Ayres, 1601). 33 A tyrant described by Virgil in book 7 of the Aeneid, who punished by binding a corpse to the living victim. Marston, The Fawne (Hoeniger et al.), n. 201. 34 Webster, “Devil’s Law Case,” 1.2.116, 1.2.123. 35 Pasqualigo and Munday, Fedele and Fortunio, Ciii. See also: “Poor wench, no word so hard in a maid’s mouth as ‘no’,” in Daborne, Poor Man’s Comfort, p. 4. 36 Lyly, Complete Works of John Lyly, Poem 16. 37 Montaigne, Essayes, p. 438. 38 Perkins, Christian Economy: Or, a Short Survey of the Right Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures, trans. from Latin by Pickering, London 1609. Cited in Klein, “Daughters, Wives, and Widows,” p. 163. 39 Fletcher, “Rule a Wife,” 3.1.81. 40 The most commonly cited foods as aphrodisiacs were hot meats, spices, onions, leeks and scallions, asparagus, and eggs. As with most aphrodisiacs, eggs were also recommended for curing infertility: “An egge (as Physicians say) will make one lustie.” Lyly, “Midas,” 2.2.31. See also Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England, chapter 3. 41 Fletcher, Tamer Tamed, 1.1.52–53, 1.3.16–17, 5.2.60. 42 In A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, a Puritan girl who gives birth is described as “a spiny creature, well mettled, like the faithful, to endure / her tribulation here and raise up seed.” Middleton, “Chaste Maid in Cheapside,” 53. 43 Glapthorne, The Hollander. D2. 44 “Five years he had not bedded with her, but remained with my Lord Aubigny.” Donaldson, Ben Jonson, p. 181. 45 Marston, The Fawne (Hoeniger et al.), quotation from Juvenal, Sat. II, 63, fn. o.1. p. 7. 46 Although it is possible the motto was displayed over or on the stage. 47 Stern, “Plays in the Stationers’ Registers in the time of Shakespeare,” The Stationers’ Company Archive 1554–2007, Adam Matthew Digital 2017. 48 Marston, The Entertainment at Ashby (1606–7), lines 339–43. 31

Chapter 8

A Fair Quarrel (1617) and The Hollander (1635)


N THE SEVEN PLAYS discussed so far, only two call in a physician to treat an afflicted maiden. In The Bugbears, Rosimunda’s elderly suitor is willing to pay handsomely for the services of Nostradamus to cure her alleged green sickness, unaware he is a fake, and in The Two Noble Kinsmen a doctor is consulted for the suffering jailer’s daughter with a satisfactory outcome. No physician is called to assist Juliet, whose “cot quean” father confidently makes his own diagnosis and determines the cure, and Ophelia in Hamlet and Aspatia in The Maid’s Tragedy are left to die unattended by a physician, and the only reference to medical help in The Fawne relates to fertility aids. The plot for each of these plays requires responsibility for the tragedy to be shouldered alone by the protagonists. When physicians do feature in drama, they are likely to be called in by credulous fathers or guardians to treat a daughter thought to be at risk of green sickness, as for example in The Wit of a Woman (1604), Richard Brome’s The Northern Lasse (1629), John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1632), or Ben Jonson’s The Magneticke Lady (1632). Here the dramatists seem to be satirizing social practice by suggesting both fathers and physicians favored a greensickness diagnosis for an ailing daughter. This endorses Helen King’s assertion that green sickness was embraced by physicians, which she attributes in part to the appealing nature of their patients: “the pubertal sufferer from the disease of virgins is usually seen as the ideal patient . . . a passive, weak, innocent, beautiful and suffering victim” and, at least from a father’s perspective, a proven virgin.1 A small number of plays also stage physicians with mature female patients, single or married, where the relationship is less trusting.2 Two of these plays—A Fair Quarrel (1617) and The Hollander (1635)—are discussed below and can be understood as reflecting levels of public suspicion towards the medical profession’s infiltration into the field of women’s health. We know from seventeenth-century medical records that physicians were increasingly consulted by women for gynecological issues, often menstrual disorders, and it was the relationship

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which these physicians developed with their female patients which is of particular interest. A small number of plays indicate it gave rise to both envy and suspicion in husbands and lovers. For centuries, women’s health and women’s secrets had been in the hands of midwives and other women, but change came in the early sixteenth century as physicians challenged the competence of midwives and promoted their own services. They did this through publishing vernacular treatises and guides to women’s health, often with the clear intention of promoting the physician’s superior knowledge and skills in this field. In 1540 an English edition of The Birth of Mankind: Otherwise Named the Woman’s Book was published under the name of Richard Jonas, possibly a schoolmaster but certainly not a medical man. When the second English edition was published five years later it was stamped with the authority of “Thomas Raynalde, Physician” and it quickly became a best seller.3 When it came to discussing women’s anatomy in the vernacular—issues which could be addressed with some confidence in Latin—authors had to tread carefully with their much wider range of readers, male and female. Terminology was clearly a concern. As always, Erasmus was refreshingly honest about the sexual body, declaring that “vulva” (the passage to the womb) and “womb” are blameless words but “the ignorant consider them disgusting,” so he offers “a woman’s nature” as a less offensive alternative.4 When translating De Morbis Foemineis, a sixteenth-century treatise on women’s health, as The Woman’s Counsellor, R. T. Philomathes felt such terms as pudenda, uterus, testes and membrum virile could be rendered literally once but only euphemistically thereafter: “I hope you have wit enough to know what I mean by the Sun and the Moon, that I may not be forc’d to English one thing twice: and if you be men or women, then know that by the Sun I mean the Man, and by the Moon the Woman.” Similarly, he would at times revert to Latin, such as when letting blood from “the thighs and Venus Cubiti, et ab utero you may imagine my meaning though I speak Latine.”5 In Christopher Langton’s Introduction to Physicke, the author’s reticence towards even naming sexual parts is justified on the following grounds: “first because I wyll gyve no occasion to youth of wantonnes, and then that I wyll offende no honeste eares, in descrybynge them playnlye.”6 Langton’s treatise also reveals an anti-papist sentiment, which provides an additional reason why Protestant physicians were keen to sell themselves to the female market and displace the midwives and cunning folk commonly associated with superstition and incompetence. The gradual undermining of midwives was already underway in 1547 when Andrew Boorde published A Breviary of Helthe which


included a section dealing with the womb and which blames midwives for mishandling births. He calls for them to be examined and instructed by physicians and for the bishops who were responsible for licensing midwives to exert greater oversight. If “this were used in England there shulde nat be halfe so many women miscarry, nor to many children perished in every place in Englande as there be. The byshoppes ought to loke on this matter.”7 Childbirth did remain the responsibility of midwives until the early eighteenth century, although in France there were calls for childbirth to be monitored by physicians.8 Religious reform provided a powerful impetus for physicians to become more involved in women’s medicine and the majority of English physicians would have been of Protestant faith. In fact, by 1606 recusant physicians were specifically forbidden to practice.9 Not only would it have been difficult for a Catholic physician to practice in England at this time, but Protestant physicians were well placed to reinforce the dangers of enforced chastity as a vocation. One interesting contributory factor, may have been the large number of English students studying medicine in Protestant Leiden. The university became a center for the study of furor uterinus (uterine fits) which, as Laurinda Dixon suggests, could have generated an interest in green sickness in returning English graduates.10 A review of the medical records of three Elizabethan physicians— Simon Forman, Richard Napier, and John Hall—confirms just how frequently English women consulted a doctor, and also reveals remarkable levels of empathy from medical practitioners for female patients. In her survey of hundreds of medical casebooks (as opposed to printed medical or devotional tracts), Wendy Churchill also identified “a deep sympathy and understanding of women’s bodies amongst many male practitioners.”11 As far as we know, Forman, Napier, and Hall did not study in Leiden but all three were Protestant and two of them—Napier and Hall—held strong religious convictions. Simon Forman (1552–1611) is perhaps the most well-known of the three because of his colorful public reputation as a womanizer, his expertise in astrology and magic, and his quarrels with the College of Physicians. Forman was constantly in trouble with the authorities and in and out of prison due to his interest in practicing magic.12 Despite a long-running dispute with the College of Physicians, who declared him unfit because of his unorthodox methods, Forman nonetheless built up a substantial and profitable practice in Lambeth in the 1590s. His patients represented a cross section of London’s inhabitants and women with uterine problems comprised a sizeable segment of his clientele. He used astrology and other

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divinatory arts to judge whether a disease had natural, unnatural, or super­ natural causes. Astrological physic was based on the intricate positioning of planets and stars and used as a tool to determine the most appropriate remedy and the right time to use it.13 If an affliction was caused by God, then prayer was the best remedy; if it was caused by nature, or by the devil, or a witch working through nature, then the physician could choose from a repertoire of purges and magical interventions. 14 Gynecolog y seems to have been Forman’s specialty and he was known to have consulted midwives as a means of educating himself. In one year alone, he held approximately 830 medical consultations with women patients. Retained menses (amenorrhea), a symptom of either pregnancy or green sickness, was by far the most common g ynecological complaint. 15 Forman saw himself as an intimate counsellor who relied on fostering trust with his patients. Over time, however, he became cynical about women’s honesty and in particular about diagnosing green sickness, no doubt in part because the symptoms could be so similar to those of pregnancy.16 This must have been a common dilemma for physicians and one which Thomas Nabbes chose to satirize in The Unfortunate Mother (1639), the title of which is a blatant pun on the womb. The plot hinges on whether the heroine is pregnant, greensick, or lovesick. Her father is reluctant to believe his daughter is pregnant: “Did she reveal’t her selfe to you?” he asks the old nurse, “or else do you conclude it from some circumstance? / In such a cause I would not have credulity / Mocke it selfe into errour.”17 This father does not wish to follow an established tradition of credulous stage fathers crediting pregnant daughters with green sickness. Richard Napier (1559–1634) was another astrological physician (and in contact with Simon Forman), but he was also a clergyman who, over a period of nearly forty years, ministered to both spiritual and physical needs. His reputation grew to the point where he was treating as many as two thousand patients a year. It was because astrologers were visited by their clients in contrast to classically trained physicians who usually attended their patients, that the famous astrologers treated many more people than physicians normally did.18 Many of Napier’s patients suffered emotional and mental disorders, which for female patients could give rise to menstrual problems.19 Napier was also presented with the difficulties arising from symptoms common to both natural and supernatural afflictions. In 1633 he treated fourteen-year-old Alice Egerton, daughter of the Earl of Bridgewater, for suffocation of the mother (by which we can assume she had reached menarche). When she failed to recover, Alice’s


mother removed her from Napier’s care, arguing for a diagnosis of witch­ craft rather than a uterine disorder.20 We are told that Napier was strongly disinclined to specialize in female complaints, yet women outnumbered men among the ranks of his distressed patients by a ratio of almost two to one. This may have been a reflection of the importance these women placed in his role as both confessor and doctor attending to their physical and spiritual welfare. They would have avoided the potentially conflicting advice a physician alone might provide. In The Practice of Piety, the most popular devotional guide of the seventeenth century, the author stressed that while it was acceptable to call a physician in a case of sickness, the patient must “take heed that thou put not thy trust rather in the Physician than in the Lord . . . which is a kind of idolatry which will make the Physick received uneffectual.” 21 For patients of Richard Napier, the nomenclature of ghostly physician so often given to clerics must have been very comforting.22 John Hall (1575–1635), Shakespeare’s son-in-law, was also a highly regarded physician who practiced in and around Stratford for over thirty years. He studied at Queen’s College, Cambridge, and possibly also at Montpellier. He arrived in Stratford in 1600 and married Susannah Shakespeare in 1607.23 John had inherited a large library of medical books from his father, who may or may not have been a physician. Medical books were just as likely to be found in any gentleman’s library as literary or historical works.24 What is unusual though, is that this bequest to his son specifically excluded all titles on astronomy, astrology, or alchemy. These were willed instead to his servant, Matthew Morrys, on condition that Matthew should instruct John in these arts, if he wished to learn them.25 Hall, however, was not interested in these topics, perhaps due to his religious leanings. He was a conscientious Puritan active in the church in Stratford who usually attributed successful cures to God’s work, ending many case histories with “thus she was cured, praise be to God.” He often made a note of a patient’s religious inclination, such as “Brown is a Romish Priest,” and “Mrs Winter, widow” and “The Lady Smith” are listed as Roman Catholic while Lady Jenkinson, who he describes as “fair, pious, chast,” is most likely a Puritan.26 As with Forman and Napier, women comprised the majority of his patients, consulting him for disorders of the mother, including dropsy, fumes, menstrual disorders in teenage girls, and green sickness. There are case notes for his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who suffered from obstruction of the courses among other complaints. He does not identify

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her condition as green sickness, but he does note her habit of eating nutmegs. This could be a symptom of pica (strange appetite) and relevant to greensick girls. In Culpeper’s section on green sickness he identifies “the eating of oatmeal, chalk, earth, nutmegs, and drinking of vinegar” as contributory factors in the condition.27 In Fletcher’s The Pilgrim (1621), the melancholic and peevish fifteen-year-old Alinda, who perceives her own powerful sexual urges as dangerously uncontrollable, has a ring engraved with the sexually explicit motto “prick me and heale me” which she keeps in a case the shape of a nutmeg, all of which suggests nutmegs were associated with unruly wombs.28 It is more than likely that eating nutmegs, like drinking vinegar, was intended to keep such urges under control. Unfortunately, none of Hall’s case notes listed in the index under ‘green sickness’ has survived. Of the extant case notes, over one hundred are for female patients, many with obstetric or gynecological problems. Hall’s methods of treatment relied heavily on herbal and natural therapies, including fumigants, and on a psychological understanding of the needs of his patients based on careful and continued clinical observation.29 There is no way of knowing how much contact he had with his father-in-law, but his influence has been adduced in discussing the dramatic characterizations of physicians in Shakespeare’s works, which, with the early exception of the buffoon Dr. Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597), is notably benign.30 The treatment regimens these physicians recommend are more indebted to psychological and natural remedies, such as sleep, diet, herbs, and music, as we have seen in The Two Noble Kinsmen, than to more invasive treatments.31 Most dramatists in early seventeenth-century England did not depict physicians in a positive light, particularly when it came to female patients.32 In A Mad World, My Masters (1604–1606), which features two women with disordered wombs, the quack physician prides himself on his intimate knowledge of the female body, perhaps with a derisory glance at astrology: “we physicians see the most sights of any men living. Your astronomers look upward into th’air, we look downward into th’body, and indeed we have power upward and downward.”33 In the case of sick daughters, physicians were often represented as incompetent and sleazy predators who are far too ready to diagnose green sickness. Interestingly, it’s almost always fathers who are so easily duped, their judgment clouded by their love for their daughters but also by their esteem for physicians. The high fees they charge do not deter these dramatic fathers—rather, they see their ability to employ a physician as a badge of social status:


Ha! Not well, my girl? Thou shalt have a physician then, The best that gold can fetch upon his footcloth. Thou knowest my tender pity to thee ever; Want nothing that thy wishes can instruct thee To call for.34

Bragging of one’s ability to pay becomes positively farcical in A Very Woman (1634) where two statesmen vie with each other for the rewards they offer a physician to cure a young man suffering from melancholy and distraction. The Duke of Messina assures the doctor, “we will not in such petty sums consider / Your high desarts. Our treasury lies open, / Command it as your own,” and is promptly followed by the Viceroy’s counter offer to “choose any castle / Nay City, in our Governement, and be Lord of ’t.”35 Overcharging is one of the most frequently voiced complaints in drama, along with under qualification. The high cost of physicians’ fees had long been a cause for concern in sixteenth-century England, prompted perhaps by reports that German physicians only charged fees if their clients recovered. Fynes Moryson, who was one of many Elizabethan gentlemen to travel extensively through continental Europe, wrote positively of the medical profession in Germany: the Phisitians in Germany (as my selfe found by experience being sicke at Leiptzig, and by discourse in other places) are very honest and learned, Contrary to the old rule to take when the disease payneth, because after ease Phisitians are little regarded, they never take any mony till they have donne the Cure, and if the sicke man dye in theire hands, they expect no rewarde of their unsuccessfull labours. Yea, when he is recovered, they expect no greater reward then after the rate of Eightene pence the day in English mony.36

This allegedly was not the case in England, where the high death rate from unqualified physicians, and their excessive fees, led qualified physicians like Christopher Langton to complain “for whereas before I was author of health, to every man sekyn for me: nowe I am not onelye a commune murtherer, and a commune thefe [by overcharging], but also a mayntayner of Paricides, much more vyle then the stynking whore of Babylon,” (a common Protestant term of abuse for the Pope). In early modern Spain the same accusations of murder were leveled against Moorish physicians as part of a conspiracy theory put out by the state that Muslims were deliberately killing their Christian patients.37 Langton’s anti-papist sentiment is secondary

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to his concerns with the risk to the profession’s reputation by those practitioners who have not followed the full course of studies of philosophy, dialectic, mathematics, arithmetic, elements, temperatures, anatomy, and astrology.38 Andrew Boorde is similarly critical of those who practice without having studied the full curriculum.39 A 1578 Latin play Hymenaeus; or, Julia and Erophilus, produced and performed by Cambridge students, one of whom was the playwright Abraham Fraunce, satirizes such an unqualified physician in the character of Pantomagus: “I am keeping to an untrodden path of medicine,” he proudly declares, “I care nothing for Hippocrates, I ignore Galen, nor does Paracelsus greatly please me. I’ve discovered a new method of Cabalistic art.” That new method is nothing but a commercial tonic: “How many sick do you think I’ve cured here near Padua with Burcot’s unique elixir?”40 The amateur nature of his medical skills is brought into sharp focus by locating him in Padua, the seat of medical learning.41 Dramatists frequently depicted physicians as unskilled, arrogant murderers extracting exorbitant fees. Thomas Nabbes does so in at least three plays, including Covent Garden: “’Tis a good sword; it cost me two pieces. No matter; many a mans death hath cost more at the Physitians.”42 Ben Jonson used Volpone as his mouthpiece for similar opinions: He does think Most of your doctors are the greater danger, And worse disease t’escape. I often have Heard him protest that your physician Should never be his heir. ... No sir, nor their fees He cannot brook; he says, they flay a man Before they kill him.43

The physician’s failures rather than his successes—“Physitians and Surgeons are good for nothing but to fill Graves and Hospitals”— would continue to haunt the medical profession in drama over the ensuing century.44 Even the Bible provided fuel for criticism in the story in the Gospels of a bleeding woman: “And there was a certayne woman, which had ben diseased of an issue of blood twelve yeres, / And had suffred many thynges, of many phisitions, and had spent all that she had, and felt none amendement at all, but rather the worse.” She was cured by her faith in Jesus.45 For physician and cleric Richard Napier, this story must have been a doubleedged sword. It endorsed his own reputation for treating the poor free or at very small charge, but for a man who treated so many women for menstrual problems, it is unlikely he was confident of a cure by faith alone.


By the early 1600s attention to physicians in drama has turned away from suspect superstitious medical practices (as in The Bugbears) to engage with the relatively new but highly profitable field of women’s reproductive medicine and with the relationship physicians developed with their female patients. Whereas fathers in drama take this relationship on naive trust, husbands and lovers are more likely to view it with suspicion. The dilemma for men in general was that physicians were worthy of respect for their learning, but envied for their knowledge of the secrets of the female body. This quandary provided dramatists with rich pickings for satire, as in The Wit of a Woman (1604): “For you Sir, you are dominus literatus, hee shall be maister Doctor of Fi-sicke, and now and then goe visite your patient, and as you feel your Pulse, so thinke of the disease, with the secrete of the Cure.” Women, on the other hand, found such knowledge attractive and the play gives a neat summary of the physician’s appeal to women (doctors and physicians seem interchangeable terms in drama): wenches love him out of all reason; hee hath gotten his words so fit for his purpose, his complexions, and constitutions, and observations, the time of the moone, and the houre of the daye, and such a deal of tittle tattle, that who but maister doctor? . . . He is gone to a patient that if he finde the right vaine, hee will helpe her of a greene sicknes.46

The anonymous dramatist has picked out the most common features of a medical diagnosis, those of complexions, constitutions, fertility cycles and of course “a deal of tittle tattle.” This is the professional jargon which not only impresses women but is apparently a good seduction technique, as one inexperienced suitor is advised in a Fletcher comedy: “If ye . . . talk not like a doctor, you are damned.”47 The physician’s most envied skill, according to drama—and there is no reason to disbelieve this—was his understanding of women’s fertility cycles and his knowledge of when they were ready for sex. In Middleton’s The Family of Love (1604), the doctor is challenged by an envious husband on this issue. “You physicians are as good as false doors behind hangings to ladies’ necessary uses: you know the very hour in which they have neither will to deny nor wit to mistrust,” and, as if in an afterthought, he puts the crucial question: “faith now, by the way, when are women most apt?” 48 “After they have been purged,” comes the response, “for then are their pores most open.” Popular opinion held women to be most apt “in the darke, (that’s the only time to deale with a woman)”49 or when asleep, as Thomas Campion’s poem “It Fell on a Summer’s Day” so delightfully recounts:

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First a soft kiss he doth take, She lay still, and would not wake; Then his hands learned to woo, She dreamt not what he would do, But still slept, while he smiled To see love by sleep beguiled.

And should she awaken? Undoubtedly, she would be astute enough to feign sleep: “Women are most apt to be surprised / Sleeping, or sleep wisely feigning,” thus endorsing the usual male assumption that women were coy but willing participants.50 It was the secretive and intimate nature of the physician’s dealings with female patients which playwrights obviously considered of interest to their audiences. This is echoed in the bawdy punning of doctors’ names, such as the doctor in Middleton’s The Family of Love: “[Here] comes Master Doctor Glister [clyster], as his manner is, squirting in suddenly,”51 or Dr. Rut in The Magneticke Lady, a young house physician who is “licentious in discourse, / and in his life a profest Voluptary.”52 Identifying him as young and living within the household differentiates him from the usual older independent physician and makes him a greater seduction risk (although Jonson makes Mr. Needle, the tailor, responsible for the fourteenyear-old patient’s pregnancy). In The Duke of Milan (1621) the Duke dismisses suspicions of his wife’s infidelity because he is confident of his ability to satisfy her, unlike the accuser, who is aged and jealous, and may well have a young physician in his household: Lock up thy own wife, fool, that must take physic From her young doctor – physic, upon her back, Because thou hast the palsy in that part That makes her active. I could smile to think What wretched things they are that dare be jealous.53

In A Fair Quarrel there are no indications of the physician’s age, but his characterization as a sexual predator suggests his stage persona was younger rather than older.

Middleton and Rowley’s A Fair Quarrel (1616) A Fair Quarrel was performed for King James I around 1616 by “the Prince his Highnes Servants” and on various occasions on the public stage.54 It includes a comic role for a surgeon which is pure satire, together with


two rare scenes between a physician and his patient, the daughter of the household, in which the physician uses patient–doctor confidentiality to try to blackmail her for sex. These two scenes stand out not just for their topic, but for their absence of satire and the fact that they are more suited to tragedy than comedy. Jane, daughter of the merchant Russell, is, unbeknownst to her father, pregnant by her lover Fitzallan. Russell wants a wealthier suitor for his daughter and has lined up the rich but ill-educated country bumpkin, Chough. Russell does briefly consider the risk of her bearing foolish children but avarice overrules his doubts and he persuades himself that “a great scholar may beget an idiot, / And from the plow tail may come a great scholar; / Nay they are frequent propagations” (1.1.403– 5). Genetics was a popular topic for jokes about which parent had the greater influence on the unborn child, with fathers usually the butt of the joke. In Mother Bombie (1594) one simpleton father cannot understand how he came to have a simpleton son: “I marvel he is such an ass, he takes it not of his father.”55 Dramatists suggest the mother’s influence at conception was greater, but they may have been flattering women in the audience. In Tottenham Court (1633), under discussion of the offspring of cowardly husbands with fearless wives, the audience is informed that physicians “say women have most right in the conception.”56 And in Ram Alley; or, Merry Tricks (1611) by Lodowick Barry, one father reasons, “may not I a fool get a wise child, as well as wise men get fools; all lies in the agility of the woman. In troth I think all fools are got when their mothers sleep; therefore I’ll never lie with my wife but when she’s broad waking.”57 Russell, Jane’s father, is not foolish, but money colors his judgment. As a father, he prides himself on being able to afford all luxuries for the daughter he dotes on, so when she pleads ill health, his response is true to form: “Thou shalt have a physician then, / The best that gold can fetch upon his footcloth” (1.1.407–8). Predictably, it never occurs to him that she may be pregnant. Rather, green sickness comes immediately to mind and, like Capulet, he looks for a cure in the form of a husband: “Fore me, and thou look’st half ill indeed. / But I’ll bring one within a day to thee / Shall rouse thee up” (1.1.411–13). (Russell’s crude puns on how his choice of suitor, Master Chough, will cure her are matched by Chough’s own rough handling of this “sick” maiden a few scenes later). When Russell calls for a physician to cure his daughter, he refers to her condition as a “peevish sickness.” Peevish was a term often used in drama to describe a difficult, wayward teenage girl, with implications of sexual frustration, such as I have argued for Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. For Deanne Williams, on the other hand, there is no association

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with sexual development. She identifies “peevish” with a particular stage of girlhood in early modern drama between childhood and sexual maturity.58 Williams’ arguments are sound but dramatic usage allows for sexual inferences in the context of medical interpretations. In early modern lexicons the term variously embraces derangement (deliro, insanio, desipio), melancholy, froward behavior, and immaturity, all of which are labels at times associated with green sickness in medical texts. The physician’s first words to Jane are to instruct her to be open with him in more ways than one: Nay, mistress, you must not be cover’d to me; The patient must ope to the physician All her dearest sorrows. Art is blinded else And cannot show her mystical effects. (2.2.1–4)

Did physicians expect their female patients to undress? It seems unlikely, but further references allow the possibility, as he later tells her, “Look you, mistress, here’s your closet; put in / What you please; you ever keep the key of it” (2.2.65–66). Patients of course did not have to undress to be abused. An attack on fraudulent physicians in 1670 spoke of “groaping doctors” who pretended they could not discover the causes of disorders without feeling a woman under her clothing.59 Notions of female modesty and decorum did not prevent the majority of female patients from submitting to examinations conducted by professional medical men, which often involved touching female patients in order to administer topical and surgical treatments. With the rise of male practitioners taking on midwifery in the late seventeenth century, manual gynecological examinations became increasingly common. 60 Since the pregnancy is well advanced, Jane responds to the doctor’s instructions with incredulity at his lack of observational skills—“Can art be so dim sighted sir?”—and questions whether he is one of those physicians who relies on the patient to provide the diagnosis. This was another medical topic for satire in drama suggesting doctors fool their patients by acquiring prior information on their symptoms.61 Jane challenges him to identify her condition by facial color: Have you no skill in physiognomy? What colour, says your coat, is my disease?62 I am unmarried and it cannot be yellow; If it be maiden green, you cannot miss it. (2.2.12–15)


These are meaningful colors: yellow for married women suffering from sexual frustration and green for maidens suffering from a sick maidenhead. Physicians were supposed to be skilled in physiognomy, the art of reading complexions, so his diagnostic skills are doubtful. 63 But of course Jane’s face is not green as she is pregnant not greensick, as the physician acknowledges when he responds, “I cannot see that vacuum in your blood.” By vacuum he means an unnatural absence in the virgin’s body (the empty womb), an absence which nature requires filled by male seed and pregnancy, and which could manifest in a pale visage. In one of George Chapman’s plays the term “concavity” has similar implications: “A woman’s concavity! ’Sblood, what’s that?” asks one naive gallant and is told it is her “hollow disposition which you see sweet Nature will supply, or otherwise stop up in her, with solid or firm faith!”64 (“Firm faith” points to the practice of severe fasting and prayers in pious girls which could lead to amenorrhea, and “solid” suggests the perverse eating of oatmeal to the same ends.)65 The physician urges Jane to be free and plain with him, but her refusal to speak plainly leaves him at a loss, so he resorts to labelling her condition as mystical. Jane is not impressed: “Lord, what plain questions you make problems of ! / Your art is such a regular highway / that put you out of it, and you are lost” (2.2.22–24). This seems to be an attack on physicians whose diagnostic skills follow a standard path and who have no observational skills, but it also exposes one of the impediments to women’s health raised in The Woman’s Counsellour (1657), that women are too shamefaced and would rather suffer in silence than talk to a physician.66 Frustrated with her circuitous comments he urges her to trust him, likening his role to that of the priest in the confessional: . . . the very common name Of physician might reprove your niceness. We are as secret as your confessors, And as firm oblig’d; ’tis a fine like death For us to blab. (2.2.39–43)

Such a claim would alert the audience to the absence of religious guidance for Jane, and the physician’s usurpation of this role. It certainly alerts us today to the possibility that in the absence of personal confessors, physicians did take on this role. A comment in a play later in the century would seem to endorse this likelihood. In The Country Wife

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(1675) a quack doctor who acts as a pimp complains he is no longer in the women’s confidences as he once was and makes the ironic comment that “Nay, the truth on’t is, priests, amongst the women now, have quite got the better of us lay-confessors, physicians.”67 According to Winfried Schleiner, Renaissance medical authors frequently mention the physician’s duty to keep knowledge about the patient’s infirmities secret, particularly in Catholic areas, understandably with reference to the duties of confessors.68 Usage in drama suggests physicians became a simile for the absence of discretion, at least in England.69 Schleiner also points out that academic physicians in Europe were forbidden to touch women’s genitalia during the course of treatment and if manipulation was required then an obstetrix or matron could be called on as the intermediary to perform the therapy.70 In A Fair Quarrel the doctor is forced into this measure by Jane’s unwillingness to confide in him or allow him to examine her, so he brings in his sister, Anne, instructing Jane to “make yourself unready, and be naked to her” (2.2.52). Once he has left the room, Jane confides in Anne, alluding to her “fault” with a simile of “spots” of sin on her face (one commonly used in religious tracts to denote sexual sins in women). Yet she also defends herself as having conceived under oath of betrothal, lacking only the “barren ceremony.” She binds Anne to confidentiality knowing full well that if word of her pregnancy gets out her reputation is black­ ened. When Anne urges her brother to keep the secret, his protestations of confidentiality highlight the sordid side of his professional practice: Tush, we physicians are the truest Alchemists, that from the ore and dross of sin Can new distil a maidenhead again. (2.2.130–32)

Repairing maidenheads (sometimes with the gallbladder of a fish) was another procedure which called into question ethical obligations. Francois Ranchin, Catholic physician and chancellor of the University of Montpellier after 1612, conceded that sometimes the physician has to collaborate for the sake of family peace and honor, and in a passage pertaining to “The Repairing of Lost Virginity,” he argued that “it is the duty of physicians to correct the weaknesses and defects of the parts of the body; but penitence of former sin with the desire to live properly is the concern of the theologians and the girls themselves.”71 Jane will in fact prove penitent, but the doctor’s motives are far from ethical as he considers the opportunity for blackmail: “Then she’s beholding to our help / For the close delivery of


her burden, / Else all’s overthrown” (2.2.127–29), leaving the audience in little doubt as to his intentions. This serious scene is followed by the comic introduction of Master Chough to Jane, and his crude wooing techniques. Jane’s father hastens to excuse his daughter’s pale looks, by explaining “she has lost some color / By wrestling with a peevish sickness now of late” (2.2.138–39) and by insinuating bawdily that “a little thing” will bring her back to full health. That “little thing” is of course the loss of her maidenhead, which Chough readily understands: I say, then, and I’ll stand to’t, three ounces of wrestling with two hips, a yard of a green gown put together in the inturn,72 is as good a medicine for the green sickness as ever breath’d. (2.2.173–76)

Chough is one of those who believe ripe virgins (hence green gowns) like rough handling, a popular assumption about women and sex, and one often satirized in drama: “Like a woman, I find you must be struggled with before one brings you to what you desire.”73 When Chough prepares to grab Jane for a sample of his wrestling, the physician intervenes lest he hurt her, perhaps less out of concern for Jane than fear that discovery of the pregnancy will thwart his own plans. The physician tells Russell his daughter is to make her recovery to full health under his own roof: There at my house She shall be private, and near to my attendance. I know you not mistrust my faithful care; I shall return her soon and perfectly. (2.2.184–87)

Again, the “perfectly” implies an intact maidenhead. It was not unusual to recommend a change of air for green sickness cases (as also for demonic possession or melancholia) and dramatists naturally exploited the potential for deceiving friends and family, as in The Bugbears where the pregnant Rosimunda has gone to take fresh air to see if she will mend, or in Jonson’s The Magneticke Lady where the fourteen-year-old Placentia’s pregnancy has been publicly diagnosed as a tympany necessitating a spell in the country for a month or so.74 An audience watching A Fair Quarrel would by this stage be aware of the physician’s dubious character, while Russell’s esteem for him is such that he entrusts the care of his beloved daughter to him without a second thought.

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The next time we see Jane and the physician the baby has been born and is in the care of a hired nurse. She is Dutch and speaks with a coarse accent, which signals a vulgar nature. As the physician hands the newborn to the nurse he presents himself to the three women around him—Jane, his sister Anne, and the wetnurse—as a man of the arts, discoursing in similes on the nature of generation and inheritance, perhaps the sort of language found so seductive by female patients. His efforts are not lost on the nurse, who is in a sexual relationship with him (“I shall often visit you, kind nurse,” with “kind” providing the clue to the relationship). It is quite possible that doctors were commonly assumed to have relationships with their nurses, since Dr. Glyster, in The Family of Love (1604), has an illegitimate son by a country nurse.75 Jane, too, seems to have been taken in by his rhetoric, but more significantly by gratitude for having preserved her from shame. She is no longer critical but overwhelmingly grateful: “Oh, sir, what a friend have I found in you! . . . Your boundless love I cannot satisfy / But with a mental memory of your virtues; / Yet let me not engage your cost withal” (3.2.28–39). His pompous response draws on a commonplace from Cicero which claims higher principles:76 Oh pray you, urge it not! We are not born For ourselves only; self-love is a sin. But in our loving donatives to others Man’s virtue best consists; love all begets; Without, all are adulterate and counterfeit. (3.2.32–36)

The double-entendre of “loving donatives” will become clear shortly, but at this point the unsuspecting girl recounts her debt to him: [You did] defend and keep me from a father’s rage, Whose love yet infinite (not knowing this) Might (knowing) turn a hate as infinite? Sure, he would throw me ever from his blessings, And cast his curses on me. Yes, further, Your secrecy keeps me in the state of woman; For what else husband would choose me his wife, Knowing the honor of a bride were lost? I cannot number half the good you do me In the conceal’d retention of my sin. (3.2.51–60)

There is a powerful ring of truth to this speech, compared to the hollow rhetoric of the physician. Any daughter in her position could have faced a


furious father, ready to throw her out. Capulet was prepared to do exactly that, and Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing (1598) turns from a loving father into a ferocious raging parent wishing death on his beloved daughter. Drama plays up these images but there were (and continue to be) thousands of girls whose lives were ruined forever by a previously doting father’s sense of personal shock and shame. Nor is it unusual for a girl experiencing such a trauma to see her physician as her savior. Jane’s relationship with the physician has taken on the intimacy and trust between penitent and confessor, which he first mooted in their earlier consultation and she now endorses: I thank you. You’re my just confessor, and, believe me, I’ll have no further penance for this sin. Convert a year unto a lasting ever, And call’t Apollo’s smile; ’twas once, then never. (3.2.93–96)

She is effectively promising to remain chaste henceforth. Although there is no mention of religion in the play, this relationship clearly duplicates that of religious confessor. It is now the physician’s turn to use ambiguous language as he circles around his target of sexual recompense for his silence. For the next fifty lines the two are at cross purposes until finally he spells it out for her: Physician: Jane: Physician: Jane: Physician: Jane:

Pray you, mistake me not; indeed I love you. In deed? What deed? The deed that you have done. I cannot believe you. Believe the deed then. Away you blackamoor! You love me? I hate you for your love! Are you the man That in your painted outside seem’d so white? Oh, you’re a foul, dissembling hypocrite! You saved me from a thief that yourself might rob me, Skinn’d o’er a green wound to breed an ulcer. Is this the practice of your Physic College? (3.2.97–106)

And Jane repeats her question, “Pray you, tell me, sir—I ask’d it before— / Is it a practice ’mongst you physicians?” and his response acknowledges as much when he refuses to tell: Tush, that’s a secret; we cast all waters. Should I reveal, you would mistrust my counsel.

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The lawyer and the physician here agrees; To women clients they give back their fees, And is this not that kindness? (3.2.113–17)

Physicians and lawyers were frequently paired as professions of wealth, with medicine being considered the more honorable of the two. Middleton and Rowley challenge this in both the physician and his foregrounding of the College of Physicians here, and perhaps there had been some recent scandal, or it may be an ongoing grudge against a powerful elite. Founded in the early sixteenth century, the College’s main function was to grant licenses to practice within the boundaries of London and to punish unqualified persons and those engaging in malpractice, such as Simon Forman, one of the physicians listed early in this chapter, who did eventually qualify but was still refused admission. Dramatists did not hold this institution in high esteem. Ben Jonson’s play, Volpone (1606), ridiculed the College in their alleged treatment of Volpone: They have had (At extreme fees) the colledge of physicians Consulting on him, how they might restore him; . . . at last they all resolv’d That, to preserve him, was no other meanes, But some yong woman must be straight sought out, Lustie, and full of juice, to sleepe by him.77

Shakespeare also appears to mock the prestige of the College in All’s Well that Ends Well (1602). When Helena offers to cure the King with one of her father’s recipes, the King dismisses her expertise as amateur, even shameful, comparing it with the College’s declaration that his case is incurable, but as the play will show, Helena has the expertise the College lacks: We thank you, maiden But may not be so credulous of cure, When our most learned doctors leave us, and The congregated College have concluded That labouring art can never ransom nature For her inaidable estate. I say we must not So stain our judgement or corrupt our hope, To prostitute our past-cure malady To empirics, or to dissever so Our great self and our credit, to esteem A senseless help, when help past sense we deem.78


Empirics were physicians whose expertise derived as much from experience as from book learning, and were therefore often excluded from the College. A call for reform of the College appears in another play by Fletcher, A Very Woman (1634), in which a skilled and devout physician calls for a college to be erected “in which no man may be admitted to a Fellowship / But such as by their vigilant studies shall / Deserve a place there.” 79 In A Fair Quarrel the plot proceeds towards Jane’s unwilling marriage to Chough, while the physician continues to threaten to “produce thy bastard” and “bring thee to public Penance” (5.1.27). Jane defiantly challenges him to carry out his threats, hopeful that exposure will at least prevent the marriage. The bridegroom does indeed call off the wedding once informed by the physician. Jane’s father is aghast, yet his response is surprisingly untypical of most fathers in drama faced with compromised daughters. He avers that his love is greater than her fault: “one spot a father’s love will soon wipe off ” and “wipe thine eyes; I’m a grandfather then” (5.1.244). Whether he is motivated from love or from self-interest in swiftly marrying her to her previous suitor and father of her child, Fitzallan, is debatable, but it does suggest that middle class fathers, even wealthy ones, were less indebted to perceptions of personal honor than those of nobler status, at least on the stage. Either way, the outcome is a happy one. Despite this being a comedy, Middleton and Rowley’s take on physicians and their female patients is a darker one than most, in particular in its staging of the physician as a confessor with obvious implications of spiritual care in secular hands. Religion rarely features in plays which depict physicians, yet in seventeenth-century England sickness and God were inseparable and medical men and clergy often worked together. In pious households, prayer and fasting were as much a part of treatment as herbals and purging. This begs the question of whether physicians treating women became more confident of their diagnosis without the need for religious oversight. The College of Physicians was intensely protective of their professional integrity, and was determined to exclude outsiders, including clerics, from the legal pursuit of a medical career. By maintaining this monopoly and adhering to the classical pagan authorities of Galen and Hippocrates, they ensured the erosion of the traditional interaction of religion and medicine in England.80 Drama offers further evidence for this development. In Jonson’s The Magneticke Lady (1632), there is a religious presence but it is negligent, presented in the form of a curate who is merely a hanger-on. The play presents a household ruled by Lady Loadstone, a name which

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draws the play into the ambit of female physiology. 81 The opening act announces that Placentia Steele, the heiress, “strikes the fire of full fourteene, to day, / Ripe for a husband.” 82 This necessitates a prompt call for the house physician, Dr. Rut, who, as his name implies, is “a profest Voluptary; / The slave of money, a Buffon in manners” who is quick to diagnose Placentia with “a dainty spice / O’ the greene sicknesse!” Just like Jane in A Fair Quarrel (and Rosimunda in The Bugbears), her real condition is pregnancy, which, as Jonson’s chorus tells us, the audience would have known from the outset. The women in the house take over and the curate merely parrots his knowledge of uterine disorders by quoting a phrase from the relevant section in The Anatomy of Melancholy: “Hinc Illae lachrymae; / Thence flowes the cause o’ the maine grievance” (1.3.5–6). 83 Like A Fair Quarrel, The Magneticke Lady deals with religion in an allusive manner; nothing is voiced yet the curate’s visual presence is a reminder of the absence of spiritual guidance. In a play by Fletcher and Massinger two years later, A Very Woman; or, the Prince of Tarent: A Tragi-Comedy (1634) this issue is given much greater prominence. The play features a doctor and two surgeons, all of whom work harmoniously and respectfully together to cure a young nobleman first of his wounds, and then of his distracted mind and deep melancholy, caused in part by his sense of guilt at killing an innocent man in a moment of immature passion. The doctor uses psychological manipulation in the form of theatrical deceit to cure the afflicted mind, acting as a quasi-confessor and at one point even disguising himself as a Friar. His faith is evident as he urges those around the sick man to pray for him, and in his own attribution of recovery to heavenly causes. The exceptional and highly unusual humility of the doctor and the surgeons presents initially as a parody, as do the exaggerated rewards and fees offered if they succeed. However, following several detailed and thought-provoking scenes of psychological explanations and treatment, employing logic, reason, and religion, we come to a statement about the doctor which stands out as topical commentary rather than stage dialogue: Observe his piety! I have heard, how true I know not, most Physitians as they grow Greater in skill, grow less in their Religion. Attributing so much to natural causes, That they have little faith in that they cannot Deliver Reason for: This Doctor steers Another course.84


Fletcher and Massinger have inserted political commentar y here perhaps to assuage religious authorities. It was apparently the lack of religious content in traditional medicine which provoked the anger of religious reformers.85 As it happens, there is also a young woman in this play, Almira, mistress to the wounded man, who declines into sickness from a similar cause of guilt over her immature behavior—wilful, vain, discourteous, and peevish—which provoked the near fatal duel. The doctor is never brought in to cure her and we have to ask, why not? How would a contemporary audience view this distinction on stage between male and female patients? The most likely answer for the audience is that her melancholy and distraction are as much a product of her biolog y as her immaturity, allowing for a different cure—not one responsive to logic and spiritual reasoning but one that is sexually-driven. She does in fact recover from her sickness through a strong physical attraction to another man, effective almost the moment she sets eyes on him. There is no logic or reasoning here, purely female physiology, just as the play’s title, A Very Woman, seems to promise its audience. A Fair Quarrel is not the first play to deal with unethical physicians treating women but it is exceptional in the amount of stage time it devotes to the issue. Its contemporary significance has been underestimated. Modern commentary on the play by medical historian George Price has remarkably little to say about the physician and instead focusses on the scenes involving the surgeon and the satire directed at his incompetence, his faulty terminolog y, and his inability to speak plainly—criticisms usually attached to physicians at the time. Price considers the statement on lawyers and physicians giving back their fees to women as a “perhaps unnecessary tinge of cynicism” and then sums up the physician’s role as intended “to do no more than serve the needs of the intrigue. In general his professional function seems to be respected.” 86 For a seventeenthcentury audience there could be no respect as the dangers of the patient-doctor relationship are staged before their eyes with little or no concession to comedy. These scenes highlight the intimate, confessional nature of the doctor’s relationship with female patients and the authority and influence he could exert, particularly on young daughters of trusting fathers. Middleton and Rowley’s play provides evidence of just how far the medical profession’s influence in the sphere of women’s health had moved from its marginal status in the mid-sixteenth century, and sounds some warning bells. Some twenty years later another play indicates that medical services for women have expanded yet further and in an increasingly uncontrolled medical environment.

Figure 6. Title page to Nicholas Goodman, Hollands Leaguer, 1632. British Library. Hollands Leaguer was a notorious seventeenth-century brothel which stood near London’s playhouses, on the south bank of the River Thames. It was run by a famous prostitute named Elizabeth Holland and its prestigious clients included King James I himself. The ‘leaguer’— meaning fortress—was a mansion with a moat and drawbridge, near Southwark’s Old Paris Garden. In winter 1631–1632, King Charles I ordered for it to be raided, but the prostitutes outwitted the soldiers by luring them onto the drawbridge and plunging them in the moat below. Hollands Leaguer was closed later that year. Goodman’s pamphlet contains the fictionalized life-story of Dona Britanica Hollandia but was inspired by Elizabeth Holland’s experiences in London. Hollandia creates a thriving brothel business, perfectly placed to catch customers from nearby theaters, the Globe or “Continent of the World” the Hope and the Swan. The pamphlet ends with the failed siege. It inspired a popular comedy, Hollands Leaguer, written by Shackerley Marmion which premiered onstage in 1631 and was first published in 1632. (Courtesy British Library)


Henry Glapthorne’s The Hollander (1635) One of the most intriguing plays for what it may reveal of the growth of gynecology as a specialized discipline in seventeenth-century medical practice is Glapthorne’s The Hollander, written in 1635 and performed at court in 1640, most probably by Beeston’s Boys.87 This city comedy has the sort of humor usually found in performances by children or adolescent boys (puerile jokes, witty exchanges, bawdy puns). The play ridicules two medical treatments of the time, one was the notion of a weapon salve (a myth) in curing a wound from a distance, the other that doctors could administer sex to patients as part of their treatment.88 Dr. Artlesse fraudulently offers both purely for financial or sexual gain. The play exposes what must have been a common source of conflict in the treatment of women’s diseases, that is, the blurring of the lines between illicit sexual intercourse and intercourse as a sanctioned therapy which physicians could justifiably prescribe (and were sometimes rumored to administer). This is what Mistress Susan in Covent Garden (1632) claims: “I have knowne a Doctor’s prescription cast down a Gentlewoman for three quarters of a yeare. But if ever I lie under any of them for the green sicknes . . . Why, I doe not meane naughtines.”89 Glapthorne exploits this quandary in The Hollander by presenting a quack doctor running a clinic which specializes in women’s ailments but operates simultaneously as a clandestine brothel: “Hither come Ladies and gentlewomen, City wives and country wives, and the better sort of saylors wives: Nay wives of all sorts, but Oyster wives, some to have the falling sicknesse cur’d, others the inflammation of the blood, the Consumption of the body and lungs.” 90 Falling sickness was officially the name for epilepsy, but by punning on falling (on their backs) it was exploited for the prostitute’s trade. In Middleton’s The Witch (1613) the courtesan Florida is referred to as a member of the “falling family.”91 Some physicians did take patients into their own homes to treat them, such as the previously mentioned Richard Napier who took in Alice Egerton and her elder sister for several weeks of treatment for suffocation of the mother.92 In The Family of Love (1605) two male patients argue they need to lodge with Dr. Glister for a few days in order for him to treat them.93 Glapthorne’s play suggests specialist residential services for female patients were also available and that this was happening in London with the knowledge, if not approval, of the College of Physicians. The play’s dating (written in 1635 and performed in 1640) is right at the point when the College was under attack from medical reformers who wished to destroy the monopoly of the College in London and thus open the practice of medicine to all who claimed the ability to heal

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(regardless of formal qualifications).94 The Hollander illustrates the adverse effects of such reform, and in particular exposes the potential for corrupt and immoral uses to which such clinics could be put. This links it to a famous brothel, known as Hollands Leaguer, which stood near London’s playhouses in the early 1630s and which inspired a pamphlet by Nicholas Goodman (see figure 6).95 The opening scene provides the background to the plot and main players. Doctor Artlesse—a country apothecary posing as a qualified doctor—has moved to the city with his wife to run a residential brothel which masquerades as a clinic. Their financial success will soon allow him to apply for a license from the College of Physicians. In seventeenth-century England, more so than elsewhere in Europe, apothecaries gave out medical advice and functioned as general practitioners of medicine.96 Nicholas Culpeper, for example, was an apothecary who practiced in London as a kind of unlicensed astrological physician, similar to Simon Forman.97 Glapthorne’s treatment of this state of affairs suggests he expected many in his audience would not approve of this practice. In order to improve his chances of getting a license, Dr. Artlesse has taken in two gentlewomen sisters as patients, both suffering from some form of melancholy, to provide a legitimate cover to their bawdy-house activities. The play opens with Doctor Artlesse enquiring of his wife whether the two new guests are satisfied, and she responds: Very well: That fortnight they’ve beene here, I have observ’d From them not the least relish of distaste; The Lady and her sister are so good Themselves, their innocence cannot mistrust Ill in another, specially in us, Who doe assume that formall gravity Might dash prying eyes: But is the sister Cur’d of her Ague perfectly?

The doctor’s response identifies the conditions the two sisters suffer from: The Spring Does not produce an Ague but for Physicke, She’s cur’d, and onely does expect her sister, The Lady Yellow, otherwise I feare We should not have her company. (A)


This tells the audience that the married sister, Lady Yellow, is suffering from sexual frustration and that the younger unmarried sister has an ague, which is the product of springtime. In addition to astrological influences on the body, the seasons also played a vital role. One of Richard Napier’s young patients was thirteen-year-old Alice Egerton suffering from fits of the mother (see chapter 9) and her carer wrote to Napier in February asking “whether the [Lady] Alice sh[ould] take any thing to prev[ent] her fits before the spri[ng].” That the pubescent body should be in sympathy with the season of spring is entirely logical in Renaissance thinking. Mistress Artless had already diag­ nosed green sickness, a legitimate diagnosis according to a listing for “ague” in a 1616 lexicon: “Agues, wherewith maidens that have the greene sicknesse, be troubled.”98 And she would have arranged a cure (Physicke): Green-Sicknesse take her, I thought it had beene that, and then my Art Would have beene requisite. I should have found Some lusty youth that would have given her physicke, More powerfull to expell that lasie humour Than all your Cordialls. (A)

The audience then learns that Dr. Artlesse was “an Inne-Keeping Apothecary in the country” before coming to town, and now, after seven years of practice, is successful enough to dress in satin and plush and to apply for a license. This is in line with evidence that seventeenth-century apothecaries were increasingly acting as general practitioners, and were both diagnosing and providing drugs to their patients.99 That two gentlewomen have booked into his clinic will bolster his professional reputation: I have now Atchiev’d a wealth sufficient to procure My selfe a license, though the murmuring Doctors That doe not bite-backe it, though they watch All opportunities that may undoe My estimation: we must therefore arme Our selves with circumspective care: be sure Those vertuous gentle women, who are now Domesticke guests, have no cause to suspect A misdemeanour here, nor that, our daughter, A virgine cold as morning ayre or Ice, So timerous of society, that shee seemes Neglectfull of mankind, be expos’d to every common eye,

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Frequents our house, we must be politicke, wise, or our state, Will soone embrace a ruine. (A)

This opening scene identifies three young women, each of whom suffers from some uterine-related condition: the younger unmarried sister who suffers from an ague and her married sister, Lady Yellow, whose name tell us she is suffering from sexual abstinence due to a jealous husband; and third the Doctor’s daughter, Dalinea, who is figured as frigid and averse to marriage. That two virtuous gentlewomen should choose this counterfeit clinic indicates the risk women take in consulting physicians, as Freewit, a suitor to the younger sister, Mistress Know-worth, argues: Why should she lodge here? All similitude Explaines this house for vicious, and this Doctor For an imposter: Though she have bin sicke, She might have found to remedy her disease, Another and more fam’d physician Than this. She stayes perhaps to beare Her sister company. Whatsoere’s the cause, Who dare deprave her innocence, or cast A thought of blemish on her vertues? (C1)

This seems a likely reference to the brothel, Hollands Leaguer, and by ‘the more fam’d physician’ Glapthorne may be referring to the fame of Richard Napier (the elder Napier had died the year before but his nephew of the same name continued the practice), and possibly even to the two sisters, Alice Egerton and her older sister who lodged with Napier in 1633, or perhaps he had someone related to his dedicatee, Sir Thomas Fisher, in mind.100 Freewit assumes that the younger sister is there to keep her sister company but she also bears symptoms of ill health herself. Her symptoms are paleness and weeping and the audience soon learns that her disorder is lovesickness. She is in love with Freewit but her high moral principles prevent her from marrying him because he is rumored to have seduced and abandoned a young maid. Freewit, who is of equally high moral principles, is deliberately testing her with this rumor since he too wants a chaste and honest marriage. He understands her chaste purity as temporarily muddied by some humoral disorder, for “light


diffused through aire (although some thicke-brow’d fogge, / Or sickly vapour doe invade ayres sweetnesse) / Suffers no loath’d corruption.” This suggests he cannot conceive it as related to anything as gross as corrupt menstrual vapors (green sickness) but to an excess of passion. There is no doubt she is physically pining and she herself claims to be close to death: “Did you know / How neare I am to death, and for your sake?” (C2). Lady Yellow, the married sister, is suffering from a frustrated womb. She too is pale and her name tells the audience she is married to a jealous husband who, like Don Zuccone in The Fawne, so fears being cuckolded he refuses to lie with his wife. And like Zuccone’s wife, Lady Yellow is angry and quite explicit about her frustrated body: I am apt For entertainment of [amorous dalliance], as a bride Long time contracted to some exquisite man Is on her wedding night. (B3)

She accuses her husband of perverse sexual behavior and threatens to commit adultery: Had I the chasest temper, that fraile flesh Could ever boast of, your strange usage of me, Would undermine it: to forsake my bed, Before my blood scarce relish’d the delights Attending on young nuptials, so that I Expect no anger from you if I seeke That from the charity of other men, Which your neglect (though you in duty owe it) Will not allow me. (D3v)

She is another neglected wife who will pretend to be pregnant in order to spite her jealous husband: “I hope ere long you will provide Gossips for the child / I go with, marke you ducke.” To her squeamish husband, the idea of fathering a child through a woman’s womb— “to venture his creation; nay transforme / His essence by them”—is repulsive (B2v). He is another man who perceives the womb as a cloaca, “a standing poole / On whose salt wombe the too lascivious sun / Begets of Frogs and Toads a numerous off-spring” (B3, G). Any gesture of affection by his wife has him recoiling in disgust and fear. His paranoia towards female sexuality

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is so unhealthily irrational that it verges on insanity (and is attributed to dangerous sexual abstinence in his own body). Dr. Artlesse hopes to exploit this refusal of conjugal rights, by offering his own services to Lady Yellow under the guise of medical treatment: Tis a strange humour Madam . . . Did I not know it lawfull; nay no way But that for the recovery of your health, I should not urge it thus, you are late falne Into a desperate melancholy, and your blood Can no way purge so well as by Performance of what I have declar’d. (F4r)

Lady Yellow emphatically rejects his diagnosis: “Neither doe I / Finde any such strange sickenesse raining on me / As you have urg’d” (F4). The repeated use of “strange” reinforces the deviant nature of such sexual cure and relations. Neither she nor her sister is so easily gulled, and as befits a comedy they will both eventually escape the clutches of Dr. Artlesse for the arms of a contrite husband and an honorable lover. Dalinea, the doctor’s daughter, is the third ailing young woman. She lives in absolute fear of the sexual body but for religious reasons. She is “a virgine cold as morning ayre or Ice, / So timorous of society / that she seems neglectful of mankind” (B), yet she is no pale, sickly virgin. Her cheeks are rosy and her veins swell with blood (G2). She is a handsome girl who lacks “the audacity, which a man would put into her” (D). Dalinea’s aversion to marriage and her fear of sexuality are born of excessive religious fear. She is typical of the many young women in early seventeenth-century puritan England who were so fearful of committing sins through carnal temptations that they chose to dedicate themselves to lives of chastity and the avoidance of society. Like Amelia in the Two Noble Kinsmen, she views platonic love as free of the threats of sensual emotions—“Every woman ought / To love a man with that indifferent heate / She fancies other women, without sence / Of difference twixt the Sexes” (E)—but she is astute enough to perceive the impossibility of such love. Her equally chaste and inexperienced suitor, Popingay, whose name reflects his relationship with Dalinea,101 can see from the color which floods her cheeks that her body is ripe, but his pious persuasions of chaste marriage fail to persuade her: “I love you Lady / With the religious fancy, that one Saint / Affects another.” He assures her that his “desires retaine / Their maiden purity” (D4v).


Dalinea is nonetheless fearful of her own physical responses which she represents as a potential disease: Away, we may not; If true – chaste love had rested in discourse, I could have beene its votary, but a thought Of any thing beyond it, is to me Dangerous as sicknesse. (Ev)

Dalinea shrewdly recognizes chaste love as a matter for philosophical and theoretical discourse, and a physical impossibility. When she responds “there’s obedience / A Nuptiall wreath brings with it, which I fear / My frailty would scarce keepe” she is not talking of domestic obedience but of obedience to the marriage bed, which she could not resist and which would break her vow of chastity and “to become / Perfidious to a vow were such a sinne / As I should quake to thinke of.” Fear of damnation overrides her natural inclinations. Dalinea’s parents plan an arranged marriage with a crude but wealthy Dutch captain, to which the “pretty puling baggage” naturally objects, but with no apparent way out Dalinea is left to hope she may die. The plot, of course, will resort to disguises and substitutions to achieve marriage to her suitor, Popingay, instead of the Dutch Captain, and the audience will hear no more of Dalinea’s religious scruples as nature takes its course. As befits comedy, all three women will recover their health through the benefits of marriage, and although it is not mentioned, we can be sure the audience understood Sir Martin Yellow would likewise recover his sanity once he resumed sexual relations with his wife. Glapthorne’s play is of interest for the treatment of women by physicians in mid seventeenth-century England, but it also taps into a wider debate about chaste marriage, which was prompted by puritan emphasis on the carnal body as sinful and on spiritual enlightenment achieved through suppression of the body. Dalinea’s medically-minded parents think their daughter needs a man’s hot seed to embolden her, Dalinea’s own religious scruples interpret the pleasures of sexual relations as the path to spiritual damnation. She is not alone in these fears. Richard Napier saw so many female patients who despaired of salvation that he became increasingly anxious about the perils of excessive religious zeal and Robert Burton expressed similar alarm at what he referred to as religious melancholy. 102 The play can be read as drawing a connection between religion and the spread of green sickness

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in seventeenth-century England. At the time of writing , chaste love and spiritual conflict over the marriage bed had become a common theme in plays and masques. One of the earliest to broach this theme, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, puts on stage the religious figure of Isabella, who prefigures so many adolescent girls in Protestant England who struggled to suppress their sexuality and tame their wombs for fear of religious damnation. NOTES King, Disease of Virgins, pp. 7–8. The doctor treating Macbeth’s wife is one exception to this general rule. 3 Hobby, editor of the most recent edition, was the first to identify Jonas as a schoolmaster. Reynalde, Birth of Mankind, p. xix. 4 Erasmus, Colloquies, “Formulae.” Cited in Rummel, Erasmus on Women, p.19. 5 Massaria and Turner, De Morbis Fœmineis, p. 9. 6 Langton, Introduction into Phisycke, p. xli. 7 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe. Extra 51 (misnumbered as 71). Professional conflict between obstetricians and midwives continues today. 8 Schleiner, Medical Ethics, p. 17. 9 Donaldson, Ben Jonson, p. 228. 10 Dixon, Perilous Chastity, pp. 15; 50–51. 11 Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, p. 37. 12 He is reputed to have been the physician involved in the scandalous Frances Devereux court case discussed in chapter 7. 13 Bonzol, “The Other Sort of Witches”: Cunning Folk and Supernatural Illness, p. 91. 14 Kassell, Medicine and Magic, p. 228. 15 Of these 830 medical consultations with women patients, 38 per cent involved gynecological matters. Traister, “Matrix,” fn. 6, 438; 443. 16 Kassell, Medicine and Magic, pp. 132, 159, 161. 17 Nabbes, “The Unfortunate Mother,” p. 117. 18 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, p. 29. 19 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 20, 74, 199, 165. 20 Egerton features in Milton’s mask Comus, discussed in chapter 9. 21 Bayly, Practice of Piety, p. 369. 22 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 37; 73. 23 Wilson, “Observations on English Bodies,” pp. 122; 2. 24 Nicoll, Shakespeare in his Own Age, p. 152 25 Wells, “His Son-in-Law John Hall,” p. 85. Wells nominates 1607 as first evidence of Hall in Stratford. 1 2


Hall, “Select Observations,” Observation 36, pp. 31–33; 107–9. Culpeper and Chamberlayne, Compleat Midwife’s Practice, pp. 237–38. 28 Fletcher, “The Pilgrim,” pp. 198–99; 157. 29 Hall, “Select Observations,” p. 24. 30 “Dr. John Caius (1510–73), a scholar and linguist, followed the ideals of Linacre . . . and was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians nine times.” Kail, Medical Mind, p. 21. 31 For example, the doctors in Macbeth, Lear, and Cerimon in Pericles who recommends sleep, herbs, and music, 3.2.32. See also Wells, “His son-in-law John Hall,” pp. 89–91. 32 The later works of Fletcher, Brome, and Massinger show physicians in a more positive light, with an interest in meta-theatrical techniques for treating mental disorders. 33 Middleton, “A Mad World, My Masters,” 3.1.26–27. 34 Middleton and Rowley, A Fair Quarrel, 1.1.406–11. References are to act, scene and line numbers. 35 Fletcher and Massinger, “A Very Woman,” 2.3.58–73. This play satirizes this feature of the physician’s status, but it does so only to highlight the unusual humility and piety which characterize this particular physician. 36 Moryson, Shakespeare’s Europe, p. 302. 37 Soyer, “Politics of Fear.” 38 Langton, Introduction into Phisycke, Fol vi. Verso. 39 Boorde, Breviary of Helthe, Aiii. 40 Burcot was physician to Queen Elizabeth and credited with curing her small pox. 41 Fraunce, Hymenaeus, 2.2. 42 Nabbes, “Covent Garden,” 3.2. p. 43. 43 Ben Jonson, “Volpone,” 1.4.19–26. 44 Randolph, Jaques, and Aristophanes, Hey for Honesty, 2.3. 45 Bishops’ Bible, 1568. Math. 9:25–27. 46 Anon., Wit of a Woman, lines 186–88 and 572–79. 47 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 2.2.33. 48 Middleton, Family of Love, lines 590–93. 49 Glapthorne, The Hollander, facsimile. G1v. 50 Campion, Daniel, and Ralegh, Selected Poems (The Second Book of Ayres XI, lines15–16). “It fell on a Summer’s Day” A Book of Ayres, VIII, p. 14. 51 Middleton, Family of Love, 4.1.1193. 52 Jonson, “Magnetick Lady” 1.2.38–41. 53 Massinger, “Duke of Milan,” 4.3.97–101. 54 Middleton and Rowley, A Fair Quarrel. The first quarto was published in 1617. The source for this tale is taken from an Italian novella by Cinthio Giraldi, Hecatommithi, xx. Text references are to act, scene, and line. 55 Lyly, Mother Bombie, 30, 40. 26 27

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Nabbes, “Tottenham Court,” 4.1. p.149 Lodowick, Ram Alley, p. 352. 58 Williams, Shakespeare and Girlhood, chapter 1, “Peevish and Perverse,” 21–51. 59 Crawford, Blood, Bodies and Families, 34. 60 Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, pp. 65–66. 61 See also Anon., Wit of a Woman, lines 481–89. 62 This suggests physicians wore white coats: “Are you the man / That in your painted outside seem’d so white?” (3.2.101–2). 63 “Observe how learnedly and discreetly, / I will proceed, and as a skilfull Doctor / In all the quirks belonging to the game, / Read over your complexions.” Fletcher and Massinger, The Sea Voyage (1622), 3.1.300–4. 64 Chapman (ed. W. W. Greg), Blind Beggar of Alexandria, lines 396–97. 65 Oatmeal is listed in Culpeper as one cause for narrowing of the vessels and contributing to green sickness. Culpeper and Chamberlayne, Compleat Midwife’s Practice, p. 237. 66 Massaria and Turner, De Morbis Foemineis, p. 4. 67 Wycherley, “Country Wife,” Act , Scene 3, p.71. 68 Schleiner, Medical Ethics, p. 35. 69 Mistress Wilding’s page claims he can keep a secret “as your physician.” Shirley, “The Gamester,” p. 204. 70 Schleiner, Medical Ethics, p. 148. 71 Ranchin, Tractus de morbis virginum (1627), cited in Schleiner, Medical Ethics, pp. 33–34. 72 “Inturn” is a wrestling term for the putting of a leg between the opponent’s thighs and lifting him up. A “yard” is slang for “penis.” Middleton and Rowley, A Fair Quarrel, n 175. 73 Etherege, “Man of Mode,” p. 175. 74 Anon., The Bugbears, 1.2.98; Jonson, “The Magnetick Lady,” 2.3.33. 75 Middleton, The Family of Love, 5.3.2066–67. 76 Middleton and Rowley, A Fair Quarrel, 57, n.32–33. 77 Jonson, “Volpone.” 2.6.27–35. Jonson’s folio was published in 1616, the previous year to A Fair Quarrel. 78 Shakespeare, “All’s Well That Ends Well,” 2.1.113–23. 79 Fletcher and Massinger, “A Very Woman.” 2.2. 80 Elmer, “Medicine,” p. 13. 81 Loadstones were recommended as a cure for barrenness or to ease childbirth, and the womb itself was credited with a magnetic quality which, like a “loadstone draweth Iron, or Fire the light of the Candle.” Sharp, Midwives Book, pp. xxi, 53 and 98. (The candle analogy may be a bawdy pun on the natural mutual attraction between the womb and the penis.) Jonson’s sub title, Humours reconciled, looks towards a resolution that will return harmony not only to the immediate household but to two young female bodies. 56 57


Jonson, “Magnetick Lady” 1.2.4; vol iv, pp. 499–597. Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Faulkner et al.), 1. 416, lines 22–25. 84 Fletcher and Massinger, “A Very Woman,” 2.2.96–102. 85 Elmer, “Medicine,” p. 13. 86 Price, “Medical Men,” p. 42. 87 Glapthorne, The Hollander. Text references are to Act and folio where indicated. 88 Elmer, “Medicine,” p. 18. 89 Nabbes, Covent Garden, p. 41. 90 Glapthorne, The Hollander, B (pagination incomplete). 91 Middleton, The Witch, fn. 3.2.36. 92 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” p. 10. 93 Middleton, The Family of Love, 5.1.1715–19. 94 Elmer, “Medicine,” p. 19. 95 Baldwin, The Organization and Personnel, p. 348. 96 Bonzol, “‘The Other Sort of Witches:’ Cunning Folk and Supernatural Illness,” p. 71. 97 Fissell, Vernacular Bodies, p. 135. 98 Cited in Cotgrave, Dictionary of the French and English Tongues, LEME. 99 Evans, Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine, p. 47. See also Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, p. 9. 100 Among famous physicians at this time were Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne (1573–1655), who had a practice in London and who was physician to Queen Anne, and William Harvey (1578–1657), who was closely associated with the College. ODNB. 101 Popingay can mean either gaudy parrot or the herb symphonia. Symphonia meant appropriately “consent in tune, or harmonie, a tuneable singing without iarring.” Thomas, Dictionarium Linguae Latinae et Anglicanae. LEME. 102 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing, pp. 220–24. 82 83

Chapter 9

Measure for Measure (1604) and Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634)


ACH OF THE PRECEDING chapters has dealt with women or girls who were under the control of their wombs, manifested in various ways such as unruly behavior, a powerful libido, delirium, promiscuity, or consuming sexual frustration. Even the pregnant Rosimunda in The Bugbears and Jane, in A Fair Quarrel, evidently succumbed to their body’s sexual demands. Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights rarely put female characters on stage who are actively attempting to overcome or suppress their bodily urges, possibly because they would be of little appeal to an audience, yet by the 1630s there is a significant shift in this direction through a growing focus on the theme of chaste love. At its most simplified, chaste love is conjugal love but without the sexual stimulation—a contradiction in terms as Dalinea recognizes. It was what Vives envisaged in The Instruction—a kind of Platonic ecstasy.1 Perhaps the only credible example of chaste love in drama can be found in the Amazonian warrior Hippolyta in The Two Noble Kinsmen. For Hippolyta, conjugal relations with her husband are for procreation and to please her husband and not for her pleasure, as she reminds him of “all the chaste nights I have ever pleased you.” In The Hollander, Glapthorne devotes a large number of lines to this in a debate between Dalinea and her equally pious and well-intended lover. Between 1630 and 1640 chaste love is a theme which surfaces in several plays and masques, in particular those written for performance at the court of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, as The Hollander was. Just a year earlier in 1633, The Shepheards Paradise, was performed. It is a lengthy court masque about platonic love written by a twenty-nine-year-old favorite of the Queen, Walter Montagu. Staged by Inigo Jones and performed by Queen Henrietta and her ladies in waiting,2 it is a display of blatant flattery of women, presenting all the females as chaste, virtuous, steadfast, beautiful, and never driven by impetuous emotion. The central figure is Fidamira, whose innocence (to say nothing of her extraordinary beauty and virtue)

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is such that to even experience temptation would contaminate her pure soul. She seeks to escape male attention and temptation by entering a pas­ toral Eden reminiscent of a convent. The Prince who is courting Fidamira recognizes the human impossibility of achieving such a state “unlesse you could refine your selfe into an Idea abstracted from your flesh. You must not only lose your memory, but all four senses, to retain this new opinion.” He concedes with remarkably prosaic reasoning that “I will promise you the rest of my sad life to study this hard happinesse which is not at the first so easily understood.”3 The masque’s persistent and often tedious preoccu­ pation with debate on the senses, and its parody of an ideal state of “insen­ sibleness” or transcendence, make this a very credible satire of a religious culture which laid such heavy emphasis on the suppression of the senses. One of the earliest plays to engage with puritan doctrine and the female body is An Humerous Dayes Myrth (1597) by George Chapman. This is an unambiguous parody of the influence of religious dogma on women, as is clear in the opening address to the audience. On stage is the elderly Count Labervel, still in his nightgown, who tells us that he has a young wife, Florila, who longs to have a child, but he doubts he can give her one. His wife, he tells the audience, is fair and young, and delicate, but “too religious in the purest sort.” She believes that spiritual purity can be achieved through reasoning and subjugation of the senses. In his wife’s case, the count argues, this theory is faulty, because whatever her intellectual reasoning, her actions will always be influenced by her biology, “the motion of her bloud,” as she indeed proves. This opening argument goes straight to the heart of the genuine difficulties women faced with a doctrine that preached subjugation of the senses in the quest for spiritual fulfillment but which failed to identify the limits to which this should be taken (such as dangerous fasting and excessive prayer, withdrawal from society, and guilt-ridden consciences). Unlike Isabella in Measure for Measure, Florila’s religious zeal is barely skin deep, exposed in her ready ability to turn religious arguments to personal benefit. Her husband at one point suggests her barrenness is due to her secluded life: “Sure wife I thinke thy keeping always close, making thee melancholy, is the cause we have no children, and therefore if thou wilt, be mery, and keepe companie a gods name.” Despite the comic element here, his advice follows the theory that girls suffering serious melancholy needed to socialize more in cheerful company. Florila readily agrees, reasoning that if seclusion did prevent God’s purpose for her of procreation, then it would indeed be a sin to isolate herself from society. Her startled husband


reacts with dismay: “God’s my passion . . . who would have thought her purenesse would yeeld so soone to courses of temptations. Nay, hark you wife, I am not sure that going abroad will cause fruitfulnesse in you.” “Courses of temptation” may well be a pun on the belief that menstrual blood invoked lust. Florila will equally seamlessly persuade herself that by succumbing to temptations she is following the path to spiritual merit, for which she cites biblical authority: “for it is written, we must passe to perfection through all temptation, Abacuck the fourth.”4 For Chapman, the religious debate over the sexual body was material for comic satire, but for devout girls a sexually ripe body was not a laughing matter. The medical profession warned of the potential for disease and disorder in the womb with the arrival of menarche, while Protestant doctrine preached of the dangers of lust and the sinful body. The onset of menstruation was visible proof of lust. Referred to by one female author as “the bloody issue of sin,” it was an obvious impediment to spiritual purity.5 No longer could the womb be associated with the Virgin’s pure and miraculous conception but henceforth with Eve and uncleanness. To those who denied that original sin was passed on by propagation, Calvin was unequivocal : “ We bring with us from the womb of our mother a vitiousnesse planted in our begetting. . . . we bee in the sight of God filthie and spotted. For who could geve cleane of the uncleanesse?” 6 This is rendered by Vives as “to be briefe, thou arte nat christened, nor spirituall, but a pagane and carnall, if thou dost nat beleve that thou hast a sprynge of ungratiousnes with in the: And this hit forceth nat, what the mynde be, but the body.”7 The image of a fluid spring was often used in devotional works to depict either spiritual grace or vice, and for women it is hard to avoid an association with the womb and menstrual flow. In King Lear (1605), we find the principled Edgar attributing his bastard brother’s vicious nature to his mother’s womb, not to his father Gloucester: “The dark and vicious place where thee he got / Cost him his eyes.”8 This “uncleanness” in the womb drove many girls to despair. Historiographies and personal diaries give us vivid pictures of young girls in pious households, usually Puritan, using fasting and prayer to control carnal temptations and stop menstruation, sometimes to the point of death.9 Puberty was the most telling time for such girls. In her memoirs, Elizabeth Isham (1609–1654), writes that the sins of the flesh beset her hard in her early teenage years, in particular sexual thoughts: “for in these yeres not only the temtations of Satan troubled me, but also there slided into me the [alur]ments of the world. And I found those sinnes which

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my owne flesh were prone to. For I had evill thoughts which were not lawfull (besides the devell tempting me to filthy thoughts which were not desent).”10 For Elizabethan dramatists, censorship rules meant generally avoiding engagement with contentious religious principles, but it is equally true that sick and fasting girls were unlikely to have much popular stage appeal. One of the few to be staged, is Castiza, the virtuous and chaste heroine, in Middleton’s The Mayor of Queenborough (1618). She is accused by her betrothed, Vortiger, of excessive piety: Come, you’re so linked to holiness So taken up with contemplative desires, That the world has you, yet enjoys you not; ... Is there not time enough for meditation, Must it lay title to your health and beauty, And draw you into time’s consumption too?

Vortiger is a brute, and his criticisms serve to enhance Castiza’s moral determination in a corrupt court, but many loving parents and husbands would have used such arguments against excessively pious daughters and wives. 11 Two plays do tackle this issue and are of particular interest for the way they associate excessive religious zeal in young women with adolescent development. Measure for Measure (1604) is one of the earliest plays to comment on the Puritan passion for a pure and spotless body, and to consider the dangers of religiously-inspired chastity on the young female body, and thirty years later Milton’s Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634) puts fifteen-year-old Alice Egerton on stage in an enactment of the perils of puberty and the idealization of chastity.

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1604) The play’s setting is the city of Vienna, where strict legal codes of morality are in place but rarely enforced.12 The ruling Duke of Vienna authorizes a young deputy to implement these regulations, while he pretends to absent himself from the city. The audience learns early in the play that this deputy, Angelo, is renowned for his rigid strictness in his life, his austereness, and his abstinence. He is referred to as a man of ice-cold blood, as one who keeps himself immune to the senses through fasting, meditation, and study (1.4.56–60). This is the theoretically perfect Puritan—one who strives to divorce body and mind through such means. So unnatural is this


state, so antithetical to human nature that Angelo is joked of as being not of human birth, but of a cold bloodless one “begot between two stock fishes” (3.2.96). As in Chapman’s play, such professed religious virtues are being set up to fail. When the young Claudio is found guilty of fornication with his betrothed, Angelo pounces on the opportunity to make an example of him by calling for the death sentence despite appeals for mercy from others. Claudio’s pious and beautiful sister, Isabella, is urged to plead with Angelo for her brother’s life. She agrees to do so, believing that her piety and chastity will sway him to mercy, but she has been falsely persuaded by the theory that a chaste mind and untouched body will breed respect in the beholder, and provide protection against sexual assault. This was an unconscionable precept touted by Vives. Dramatists rarely lent credibility to such a theory and some even turned to satire as in The Tragedy of Valentinian (1610–1614), where chastity is given as a reason for rape: “you are made to ravish / There were no pleasure in ye else.”13 In The Fawne, the promiscuous Nymphadoro announces that “if she be a virgin of a modest eye, shamefac’d, temperate aspect, her very modesty inflames me, her sober blushes fires me.”14 Angelo similarly finds that Isabella’s chastity and piety raise the demon of lust in him. He is astonished that despite his ascetic training “now I give my sensual race the rein.” Rape becomes his intention and he attempts to blackmail her with the promise of repealing her brother’s death sentence, a promise he has no intention of keeping. He will try to exonerate himself with the familiar argument that all women are both tempters and tempted, telling Isabella: Be that you are; That is, a woman, if you be more, you’re none. If you be one, as you are well expressed By all external warrants, show it now By putting on the destined livery. (2.4.135–39)

Once again Eve’s legacy (“the destined livery”) as temptress is cited to justify male loss of self-control. Isabella is as much a figure of Puritan excess as is Angelo. When she is introduced to the audience she is accompanied by a nun and on the point of entering the Order of Saint Clare, one of the strictest orders of nuns—the stricter the better, we learn. She is young, a virgin, and her sexual status is visible in her complexion, as observed by the rogue, Lucio: “Hail, virgin, if you be-as those cheek-roses / Proclaim you are no less”

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(1.4.16). The rosy cheeks (simple stage makeup), tell the audience she has reached menarche and her body is now ripe for procreation, bringing with it the libido that her religious faith tells her will be a constant impediment to spiritual salvation. In her youthful religious zeal (or “adolescent masochism” as Davies perceptively terms it) 15 she would suppress the motions of her blood just as the zealous Angelo tries to, in her case with a life of penitence and fasting cloistered from society and its temptations, the greatest of which is male company. The sin of fornication disgusts and repels her so much she cannot even bring herself to name it. It is “the thing” she hates, the vice she shuns, and “what I abhor to name” (2.2.30, 2.4.120, 3.1.101, 2.4.184). She provides a notable contrast to Juliet who embraced her sexual body and the “unmann’d blood” pulsing through her veins, and who refused to be disposed of in a sisterhood of holy nuns.16 Shakespeare sketches this young woman with a mindset towards her biology derived from Vives and his adherents, whose fears for salvation led them to value chastity more than life itself. Vives praised virgin martyrs for preferring death to rape (contradicting his argument that rapists are dissuaded by virginity).17 His influence is still evident in a later conduct book, The English Gentlewoman (1631), which also elevates to iconic status those virgins who kill themselves rather than be raped.18 Isabella is in complete agreement—“more than our brother is our chastity”—and for herself “were it but my life / I’d throw it down for your deliverance,” she assures her brother, whose laconic “Thank you, Isabel” must have resonated with an audience perturbed by such unhealthy zeal (2.4.185–86, 3.1.103). His sister is following a theological principle which promised the path to heaven: “virgineal chastity is such that it hath no vitious excess. The more we abstain from pleasures, the more pure we are. … Marriage peoples the Earth, but virginity peoples Heaven.”19 Isabella is a devotee, but not her brother, or indeed many young men if we go by an entry in the commonplace book of Edward Pudsey. Under the heading “Of honourable Wedlock” Pudsey copied down what must have been a popular witticism: “Let others praise chastity as much as ye list (which ye say filleth heaven I pray God it does so) yet I will commend matrimony wch. I am sure . . . filleth heaven and earth.”20 Unlike the heroines in Shakespeare’s main sources for this play— Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (1564) and Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra (1578)—who are neither immature nor religiously fervent, Isabella’s absolutist views characterize her as immature, and her extreme abstention as its own form of distortion.21 Like Angelo, she believes it is possible through


ascetic means to divorce the senses from the mind and to achieve a semiangelic state, envisaging herself as one of the “fasting maids whose minds are dedicate / To nothing temporal.”22 This is one of the earliest dramatic examples of this religious concept—the yearning to “refine oneself into a spiritual being abstracted from the flesh”—which would dominate The Shepheards Paradise (1633). The immaturity of Isabella’s spiritual selfvision is reinforced by her image of willing martyrdom: she would wear the scars of keen whips as rubies adorning her body and she would strip herself naked for death as eagerly as she does for her sickbed (2.4.101). Her professed longing for her sickbed is particularly revealing, since it connects her with her divine spouse through mortification of the body. Pious daughters were taught to look on sickness as a divine affliction, a sign that they had been singled out by Christ, and historical medical and biographical records suggest many devout girls in the seventeenth century fasted to the point of being bedridden in the desperate hope of achieving spiritual purity and union with Christ.23 Neither Isabella nor Angelo is suited to this type of ascetic rigor; rather they are as much victims to the hot blood coursing in their veins as was Evadne in The Maid’s Tragedy (1610–1611), who dismissed Amintor’s naive assumption that religious vows motivated her refusal of the marriage bed. She pointed to her hot cheeks as evidence: Alas, Amintor, thinkst thou I forbear To sleep with thee because I have put on A maiden’s strictness? Look upon these cheeks, And thou shalt find the hot and rising blood Unapt for such a vow.24

Isabella has not yet put on a maiden’s strictness and although she may consider herself apt for such a vow, the play will not sanction such a move. Thus, at the play’s end when the aging duke virtually requisitions Isabella to wife, a proposal we consider highly questionable today, Shakespeare’s audience may well have understood this as a benign move offered in her own best interests. Few in the audience would accept that such an articulate, virtuous, and compassionate young woman should be hidden away in a convent. Instead, the play’s ending provides the Duke with a respected companion, even a new deputy as some have argued,25 and Isabella with a protective patron, or a surrogate father as Oliver Ford Davies suggests, who views Measure for Measure as yet another play written around Shakespeare’s interest in fathers and daughters.26

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The Duke is aged. He is the “old fantastical Duke” and not apparently motivated by sexual desire: “I never heard the absent Duke much detected for women; he was not inclined that way.” Even Lucio claims “he’s now past it” (1.3.8, 3.1.385, 4.3.137).27 Visual clues such as baldness, along with costuming and gesture, would provide additional evidence of old age. At one point in the play, the Duke makes the comment that “there is so great a fever on goodness that the dissolution of it must cure it” (3.1.481), which may serve as a nostalgic reminder to many in the audience of the dissolution of the monasteries and convents, which had given rise to the perils of Puritan zeal. In the England of 1604 there were no convents and Isabella represents the dilemma facing many young, devout English girls at this time, particularly those brought up on a diet of fear and shame, such as Dionys Fitzherbert (b. 1580), who was so fearful of damnation that she longed like Isabella, “to be a papist, and so to live the strictest order whereby I might be saved.”28 Measure for Measure shows a lot of sympathy for pious and conflicted young girls such as Dionys, and suggests they are manipulated by religious reform into an unhealthy fear of their own bodies in their pursuit of salvation. One issue rarely raised is where Isabella first learned such unforgiving religious values. The answer has to be from the dead father she idolizes. When her brother claims he will face death bravely and with pleasure—“If I must die / I will encounter darkness as a bride / And hug it in my arms,”— her response is to praise him as true to their father: There spake my brother, there my father’s grave Did utter forth a voice. Yes, thou must die: Thou art too noble to conserve a life In base appliances. (3.1.80–83)

Yet when he seeks to persuade her that the sin she commits to save his life is not a sin but a virtue, she turns on him in the same manner as many fathers in drama turned on disobedient daughters or sons. Their disobedience is a stain on their mother’s fidelity: Oh you beast! Oh faithless coward, oh dishonest wretch! . . . What should I think? Heaven shield my mother played my father fair, For such a warped slip of wilderness Ne’er issued from his blood (3.1.136–43).


Such paternal reactions are common in Shakespeare’s work. For example, Lear having been denied hospitality by one daughter, turns to his other daughter, Regan, confident she will welcome him, otherwise: “If thou shouldst not be glad / I would divorce me from thy mother’s shrine, / Sepulchring an adultress,” and Leonato, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598), distances himself from his daughter’s shame: “This shame derives itself from unknown loins.”29 This disclaimer of paternity is a cliché in early modern drama. In The London Prodigal (ca. 1605) Flowerdale is horrified at his son’s riotous behavior and his immediate response is to question whether this is his child: But that I knew his mother firm and chaste My heart would say my hed she had disgrast Else would I sweare, he never was my sonne But her faire mind, so foule a deed did shun.30

In The Second Maiden’s Tragedy (1611), Middleton stages a virtuous daughter refusing to prostitute herself for her father’s ambitions, so his response, “How now baggage, / Am I in question with thee?” is pure comic irony.31 For Andrew Lynch, Isabella’s outburst signals her adoption of the patriarchal role in the family, for the benefit of family honor, and which endows her with positive and virtuous authority.32 Yet for Shakespeare to introduce the dead father’s authority at this stage as guiding Isabella’s principles tends to suggest that yet another misguided father has taught his daughter to value family honor and her chaste reputation over life itself. She is well armed with virtues, principles, and eloquence, but she has been shielded from life experiences, experiences she would never find in a convent. In the final play to be discussed, that is Milton’s masque, Comus, the value of experience in preparing a daughter for adult life is developed into a major theme. For Shakespeare, experience was essential to the development of sound judgment. By exposing Isabella to the evils of society, Shakespeare has prepared her for public life. For Milton such exposure to the evils of society was equally essential to the development of a sound Christian faith: He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race.33

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Milton’s masque seems intended to deal with exactly this issue of preparing a daughter to arm herself against secular temptations and not lose her faith in the religious value of chastity. As Leah S. Marcus perceptively observed, Alice Egerton, who played herself as The Lady in the masque, “stands in for every virtuous woman who has ever been thrown into a situation for which nothing in her past could prepare her.”34

Milton’s Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634) Milton was commissioned to write this masque for John Egerton, the Earl of Bridgewater, for the occasion of the Earl’s inauguration as Lord President of Wales in September, 1634. The masque is well known (and has been criticized) for its singular support of chastity as the greatest vir­ tue in combatting vice, to the point of upholding a chaste mind and body as invincible against rape. The inescapable context for those watching this masque was evidence to exactly the contrary. Just three years earlier, the Earl of Egerton’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Castlehaven, had been arraigned, convicted, and executed for the crimes of sodomy, rape, and incitement to rape of his own wife and his eleven-year-old step-daughter. Most critics agree that the masque can be understood as addressing this contextual history.35 Irrespective of its historical context, it is yet another dramatic piece focused on the healthy transition of the young female body from pre pubescence to sexual maturity, and lends itself to interpretation as a “rite of passage” performance for its fifteen-year-old star performer as she learns to withstand the secular world of sensual temptations. In many ways, Comus resembles a medieval interlude or morality play, an allegorical work in which characters personify vices and virtues and preach a message of redemption through virtue and chastity. Some critics have looked for an autobiographical reading of the sexual and religious issues underlying Comus but, as William Hunter has argued, masques were generally written to order for their patrons. In this case it seems the Earl of Bridgewater and his family not only chose the subject matter but instructed Milton that three of their children would be active participants, including their fifteen-year old daughter, Alice. 36 Milton clearly rose to the challenge, but it must have been the Earl who determined the rationale. Alice had danced in court masques previously, but to ask a teenage daughter to perform on stage with a lengthy part in a formal semipublic gathering was an act of confidence by her father, not just in his


daughter’s poise and rhetorical abilities, but in her personal reputation as a chaste and virtuous young woman. To then have chastity as the masque’s overriding theme suggests Egerton intended to present his audience with his daughter’s formal rite of passage from girlhood to ripe maidenhood, a form of coming out. For Alice herself it may also have been intended to evoke the experience of evil, and through performance to convince her she had the virtues and qualities necessary to overcome evil. In acting out the power of chastity to overcome worldly temptations, her role may have operated to reassure her in her strong religious faith (Puritanism) but also, and equally significantly, in her bodily health. Some twelve to eighteen months previously, Alice had been diagnosed with suffocation of the mother, occasioning lengthy and ongoing treatment by Richard Napier, including several weeks in residence with him together with her sister (like the two sisters in The Hollander). Alice’s symptoms, which included rising of the mother and choking , continued well over a year and must have been very debilitating. At one point Napier noted that she had “the mother with convulsive fits half a yere 20 fits in a day.” Not surprisingly, Alice lost weight, becoming very lean, suggesting either an eating disorder (common to green sickness) or severe fasting which could manifest as a form of religious anorexia. Alice’s strange fits had caused her mother, the Countess of Bridgewater, to wonder whether, rather than stemming from natural causes, they might be due to “the malediction of some evill disposed body.” 37 Napier apparently had his doubts, but it was not uncommon for patients to initially ascribe their symptoms to suffocation of the mother, and when they failed to recover, bewitchment became a possibility. 38 Alice was back under residential care with Napier for six weeks in April 1633, after which she returned home and it seems she recovered without further medical attention from Napier, who died in April 1634 just six months before the masque was first performed. The formal occasion of the masque was, as previously stated, to mark the Earl of Bridgewater’s installation as Lord Lieutenant of Wales, on Michaelmas Day, September 29, 1634, but it must have been evident to all in attendance that a secondary function was to celebrate Alice’s return to health. The medical allusions in the masque are too explicit to be ignored, leading to a conclusion that Milton was instructed to produce a drama on a medical theme.39 Alice played herself, “The Lady,” who becomes separated from her two brothers as they wander in the woods in the evening. These two boys, aged eleven and nine, also played themselves, which would have

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constituted a learning experience in performance and in moral philosophy for both boys. Their parts provide contrasting means of dealing with fear. “But O that hapless virgin, our lost sister” (line 350),40 cries the younger brother, who allows his imagination free rein to picture the evils that could befall her The elder brother chides him for his unfounded fears and for looking on the dark side, a consequence of allowing the imagination to rule, and he takes comfort from his sister’s calmness of mind and radiant virtues which he claims will light her way (whether metaphorically or not is unclear) to “sweet retired solitude” (line 376). The elder brother plays the role of moral philosopher, drawing on classical precedents and intellectual arguments, certain of the power of faith and chastity to transcend and control human nature. His younger brother is less sure of the efficacy of such faith, too young to arm himself against natural fear, and yet astute enough to question whether his brother is himself beguiled by his own philosophy: “How charming is such philosophy” (line 475). With poetic eloquence and romantic imagery, the elder brother expounds at length on his sister’s hidden strengths: ’Tis chastitie, my brother, chastitie: She that has that, is clad in compleate steele,41 And like a quiver’d nymph with arrowes keene May trace huge forrests and unharbour’d heaths, Infamous hills and sandie perillous wilds, Where through the sacred rays of chastitie, No savage fierce, bandit or mountaineere Will dare to soyle her virgin puritie. (lines 435–41)

He concludes with two pagan examples of chastity (Diana and Minerva) dashing brute violence. His faith in chastity’s transcendent powers and his two examples echo Vives, who also used Diana and Minerva to prove that virgin purity was capable of disarming intended rapists. Vives drew his evidence from literature: “We read that very often abducted women were released by arrogant soldiers, solely out of respect for the name of virgin, because they had declared themselves virgins. . . . Even lovers blind with passion and mad with desire hesitate [before virgins].” 42 Fletcher repeatedly discredits this: “’Tis not the name of Virgin shall redeem ye, / I’ll change that property,”43 threatens the outlaw Roderigo once he finds the fifteen-year-old fugitive Alinda. Particularly significant is Fletcher’s allusion in The Maid in the Mill (1623) to the Spanish as violent towards their women:


Oh force her, force her, Sir, she longs to be ravish’d Some have no pleasure but in violence; To be torne in pieces is their paradise: ’Tis ordinary in our Country, Sir, to ravish all; They will not give a penny for their sport Unlesse they be put to it, and terribly.44

Fletcher draws on English stereotyping of a violent Spanish male culture towards women, one which is likely to have shaped the Spaniard Vives’s pedagogy for the containment of girls. Or this may be a parody of the violent punishments Vives lists for girls who transgress (which included being torn to pieces by a starving stallion). Vives either believed or wanted to believe that virginity was a visible virtue, detectable in the face: “Corporal virginity, which all carry about in their eyes, . . . gains the respect even of immoral men.”45 In 1634 at Ludlow Castle, staging such claims for the protective power of chastity is inextricably compromised by the family’s historical evidence to the contrary. Neither Milton nor the Earl of Bridgewater could provide any credibility, but they could mythologize the power of chastity to exorcise the demons of history, as suggested by a possible allusion to the trial of the Earl of Castlehaven in the Elder Brother’s statement: This I hold firm Vertue may be assail’d, but never hurt, Surpriz’d by unjust force, but not enthrall’d; Yea even that which mischiefe meant most harme, Shall in the happie triall prove most glorie. But evill on it selfe shall back recoyle And mixe no more with goodnesse, when at last Gather’d like scum and setl’d to it selfe, It shall bee in eternall restlesse change Selfe fed and selfe consumed. (lines 602–11)

Like scum (associated with corrupted humors), the evil Earl of Castlehaven is now suffering his punishment in eternal Hell. Comus, a magician drawn from the Circe story who rules over a dissolute palace, is the vice figure whose function is to seduce and corrupt The Lady with temptations from the sensual world (wine, food, music, dancing, and the pleasure of Venus). As he and his hedonistic cohorts revel in the woods, he senses the presence of “some chaste footing near about this ground . . . / Some virgin sure / (For so I can distinguish

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by mine art)” (lines 160–63), and prepares to beguile her into his trap under disguise of a harmless villager. The Lady is by now fearful, beset by a thousand fantasies prompted by memories of myths, fairy tales and the supernatural (as with the younger brother, the imagination is culpable), but she rallies her courage by calling on the three virtues of faith, hope, and chastity (which may have appeared as tableaux).46 She has faith, chas­ tity, virtue, and a clear conscience, but she lacks experience, and thus when Comus in his disguise as a villager offers to guide her to her two broth­ ers, she trusts him on the understanding that honesty is more often found in lowly sheds than in princely courts. Her first lesson is not to trust to appearances. Finding herself trapped in his palace of pleasures and immo­ bilized by a spell in an enchanted chair, she defiantly holds to her faith: “Thou canst not touch the freedome of my mind / With all thy charms, although this corporall rind / Thou hast immanacl’d, while heav’n sees good.” (lines 676–79). Comus employs carpe diem reasoning and arguments that The Lady transgresses nature by withholding her natural gifts, including drawing on medical precepts of surfeit producing disordered bodies such as disordered wombs. “And strangl’ed with her wast fertilitie” does resonate, as Brogdon argues, with strangulation of the mother from a lifestyle surfeit.47 However, just like Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet, The Lady is well armed in strong proof of chastity. Her eloquence, her steadfast faith and her passion send a cold shiver through Comus as he recognizes a superior power. Fearful of failure he attempts to interpret her rhetoric as “mere morall babble” (similar to Capulet’s dismissal of Juliet’s opposition to marriage as “chopp’d logic”) and to reason that her resistance is of a biological nature (again similar to Capulet), “’tis but the lees / And setlings of a melancholy blood” (lines 809–10), in other words a womb disordered through unpurged menstrual blood. This clichéd medical diagnosis was possibly intended to raise a laugh in the audience or at least to reassure them Alice is fully recovered. A further allusion to the womb comes in the enchanted chair she is glued to, which is described as “Smear’d with gums of glutinous heat” (line 917) suggesting the hot and sticky secretions of lust. The moral implications of glutinous were used by Ben Jonson to describe dissembling, libidinous and soft-bodied courtiers: “We have no shift of faces, no cleft tongues, / No soft and glutinous bodies that can stick / Like snails on painted walls.”48 Brogan even suggests her paralysis was representative of syncope, or coma, which was another symp­ tom associated with fits of the mother and green sickness.49 As with overheated wombs, cooling, moist treatment is the answer, provided by the


cool, moist palms of Sabrina, goddess of the river Severn. A further possibility is demonic possession. In Middleton’s The Phoenix (1603), Tangle, a corrupt figure, believes himself bound fast by demonic possession, “Yea, is my cause so muddy? Do I stick? Do I stick fast?”50 Since Alice’s mother at one point considered witchcraft, rather than suffocation of the mother, to be the cause of her daughter’s ill health, demonic possession offers an alternative diagnosis.51 It is quite possible the Earl of Bridgewater instructed Milton to include both options. The masque comes to its conclusion with two songs and dances, one of which accompanies the presentation of the three children to their parents: Here behold so goodly grown Three faire branches of your own. Heaven hath timely tried their youth, Their faith, their patience and their truth; And sent them here through hard assays With a crown of deathless praise, To triumph in victorious dance O’er sensual Folly and Intemperance. (lines 968–75)

These closing lines present the performance as an educative exercise, and a figurative experience of confronting vice with virtue, together with the triumph of chastity over the senses and of course the visual triumph of health over sickness. The emphasis on chastity as The Lady’s, and therefore Alice’s, greatest virtue, is entirely plausible within a medical context. In his article on the medical background to Comus, Boyd Brogan makes the point that Alice’s disease provided proof of its victim’s chastity. This is a feature of the disease that surfaces so often in drama where a father’s fear of green sickness in his daughter also serves as a badge of family honor. Brogan’s reading of the masque is driven by his identification of a broad range of medical allusions in Comus, such as coma, tickling the womb, and witchcraft, all of which offer interesting possibilities.52 William Hunter also provides some intriguing analysis of scriptural allusions in the masque, associating them closely with the religious calendar of the time. Once again, the young female body on stage is faced with the dichotomy of a corrupting sensual world and a spiritual world which transcends the body. Once again the challenge is to negotiate a healthy transition from puberty to sexual maturity through the twin minefields of medical counsels and religious doctrine.

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In Comus, the Elder Brother’s visionary image of his sister’s “unpolluted temple of the mind” metamorphosing into the soul’s essence and immortality is as implausible as Fidamira’s attempts in The Shepheard’s Paradise to refine herself into an idea abstracted from the flesh. Plays like Measure for Measure and The Shepheard’s Paradise not only dispel the notion of a cloistered life as the path to true virtue, they also mock images of ethereal maids whose minds are “dedicate to nothing temporal.”53 The domestic reality is far more confronting, documented in the historiographies and records of emaciated young girls suffering for their faith. Donne’s eulogy to fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Drury tries to praise her as “One, whose cleare body was so pure, and thin, / Because it neede disguise no thought within,” but this image of pure transparent innocence barely conceals the anorexic child the parents grieve for.54 In a sonnet Milton wrote in support of one young daughter intent on becoming a bride of Christ, against the wishes of her family, he exposes the domestic difficulties she faces in her quest: Lady that in the prime of earliest youth Wisely hast shunn’d the broad way and the green, And with those few art eminently seen That labour up the hill of heavenly Truth: The better part with Mary and with Ruth Chosen thou hast; and they that overween, And at thy growing virtues fret their spleen, No anger find in thee, bit pity and ruth. Thy care is fix’d, and zealously attends To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light, And hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure Thou, when the Bridegroom with his feastful friends Passes to bliss at the mid-hour of night, Hast gain’d thy entrance, Virgin wise and pure.55

She is young, in the prime of earliest youth, perhaps no more than fifteen like Alice Egerton. She is twice noted as wise, with a calmness of mind (no anger), suggesting a wisdom beyond her years, but her zeal is causing the family distress, which would commonly have been for excessive fasting (religious anorexia) and withdrawal from society and/or resistance to marriage. The “hope that reaps not shame” implies an aversion to marriage and conjugal relations. The sonnet’s tone reflects admiration for this young girl’s determination and respect for the path she has chosen, but there is no joy in it, rather misgivings in one so young being so wise, and we are left wondering whether she survived this stage of her life. So many like her did not.


NOTES Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman (Beauchamp et al.), p. lxv. See Sensabaugh, “Love Ethics in Platonic court Drama 1625–1642.” 3 Montagu, Shepheard’s Paradise, pp. 16; 5–6. 4 Chapman, Humerous Dayes Myrth, pp. 17–18; 29. 5 Leade, Fountain of Gardens, p. 441. 6 Calvin and Norton, Institution of Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 1, Folio 72. This quotation from Calvin is also cited by Massaria and Turner, De Morbis Fœmineis. 7 Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman (Beauchamp et al.), p. 66. This contradicts Vives’s prime argument that purity of the mind is key to purity of the body. 8 Shakespeare, “King Lear,” 5.3.163. 9 See Potter, “Trauma of Puberty” and “Menstruation and Coming of Age.” 10 Isham, Book of Rememberance, p. 32r. 11 Middleton, The Mayor of Queenborough, 3.3.293–307. 12 Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (Gibbons). Text references are to act, scene, and line. 13 Fletcher, “Tragedy of Valentinian,” 3.1.103. 14 Marston, The Fawne (Hoeniger), 3.1.28–30. 15 Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, p. 93. 16 Garber, Shakespeare After All, p. 193. 17 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), pp. 120–24. 18 Brathwait, English Gentlewoman, p. 125. 19 Havers, Discourses of the Virtuosi of France, pp. 429–31. 20 Pudsey, Commonplace Book, p. 88. 21 Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (Gibbons), Introduction pp. 25, 37. 22 Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure” (Evans), 2.2.159. 23 Potter, “Menstruation and Coming of Age,” pp. 191–94. 24 Fletcher and Beaumont, Maid’s Tragedy, 2.1.285–89. 25 Blanning, “Measure for Measure,” ANZSA paper Melbourne 2018. 26 Oliver Ford Davies, Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters, p. 92. 27 This assertion, admittedly, comes in his own defense against Lucio’s libelous comments, but there is no reason to disbelieve it. 28 Fitzherbert, Women, Madness and Sin, p. 213. 29 Shakespeare, “King Lear,” 2.2.302–4; “Much Ado About Nothing,” 4.1.136. 30 Anon., London Prodigal, D2. Disgracing the head with cuckolds’ horns. 31 Middleton, Second Maiden’s Tragedy. 32 Lynch, “Virginity and Emotion,” p. 55. 33 Milton, Areopagitica (1644). room/areopagitica/text.html. 34 Marcus, “John Milton’s Comus,” p. 248. 1 2

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Creaser, “Milton’s Comus: The Irrelevance of the Castlehaven Scandal,” p. 27. Creaser argues that the theme of chastity was “best calculated to please the young lady’s parents and friends” and not address the scandal. 36 Hunter, Milton’s Comus, pp. 4–5. 37 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” pp. 9–15. 38 Bonzol, Judith. “Supernatural Illness in Early Modern England,” p. 130. 39 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” p. 24. 40 Milton, Milton: Comus and other Poems. Text references are to line numbers. 41 Dr. Beverley Sherry suggests this evokes Spenser’s warrior heroine Britomart, in The Faerie Queene, who is invulnerable to the wiles of Malecasta (“bad chastity”) and the evil Busirane. Britomart is Spenser’s ideal of chaste married loved. I am indebted to Dr. Sherry for generously sharing her insights. 42 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), p. 83. 43 Fletcher, “The Pilgrim,” 4.2.17–18. 44 Fletcher and Rowley, “Maid in the Mill,” 3.3.124–29. 45 Vives, Education of a Christian Woman (Fantazzi), p. 82. 46 Hunter, Milton’s Comus, “A Tentative Prompt Book for Comus,” pp. 61–94. 47 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” p. 25. 48 Jonson, Seianus His Fall, 1.1.8. 49 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” pp. 22–23. 50 Middleton, “The Phoenix,” Sc. 15, lines 300–50. 51 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” pp. 11–12. 52 Brogan, “Masque and the Matrix,” p. 6. 53 Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure” (Evans), 2.2.159. 54 Donne, “A Funerall Elegie” (1611), image 15. 55 Milton, Comus and Other Poems, p. 92. 35



HE PRECEDING CHAPTERS HAVE revealed a growing interest in women’s health and the womb which rules it in English drama. Starting in the 1560s with a clinical explanation in The Bugbears of a condition that was clearly unfamiliar to its audience, and moving to green sickness as a common plot device for domestic discord over pubertal daughters in the early 1600s, dramatists then turned to satirising the medical profession’s exploitation of the disease of virgins, and of sexual frustration as a diagnosable condition. By the 1630s, the influence of religion on sexual relations had become increasingly evident as dramatists engaged with the concept of chaste love between husband and wife. Religion has rarely been absent from any of the plays discussed and its influence in shaping attitudes towards the womb can be seen in virtually every play. This is most obvious in the very earliest play, The Bugbears (1560–1570) which can be read as an attempt to deny a connection between women’s biology and the satanic by the substitution of a clinical condition for demonic possession. This play was ahead of its time, anticipating by some thirty years the sort of controversy which arose between religion and medicine in 1602 in the witchcraft case of young Mary Glover, and which resulted in Edward Jorden in 1603 publishing a medical explanation, A Disease called the Suffocation of the Mother (see figure 2). No other play after The Bugbears would be quite so decisively clinical in its discussion of green sickness, although The Fawne, staged in 1604 shortly after the Glover case, comes close by arguing for an understanding of the womb as entirely natural and a healthy sex life as women’s due. In The Taming of the Shrew (ca. 1592) the issue of demonic possession is broached obliquely in the numerous (no less than ten) assertions by various men in the play (notably anxious male characters and not the confident Petruchio) that Kate is possessed, such as “Why she’s a devil, a devil, the devil’s dam” and “Thou hilding of a devilish spirit!”1 In Romeo and Juliet (1594–1595) a religious resolution to this erotically-driven

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hasty love is sanctioned by the Friar in opposition to Capulet’s medical diagnosis. Hamlet (1601) can also be understood as a play with a keen interest in the impact of religious reform on the mental and emotional health of young minds, explored through Hamlet’s melancholy, misogyny, and wavering faith, and through the total absence of any spiritual support for Ophelia, and her subsequent descent into sickness and suicide. It could be argued this is a play which explores the vacuum created by the loss of Catholic support systems for the young and vulnerable. In The Fawne (1604), where spiny, emaciated women suffer not from religious zeal but from abstinence due to neglect by husbands, Marston’s silence on the issue of religion may have been a judicious decision in the shifting religious cul­ ture of its time, with James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England and head of the Church of England. As mentioned, this was a play Tiffany Stern has identified as at risk of being considered seditious. By the time The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) was written, the effect of religious anxiety on women’s health had become more apparent in both medical records and women’s diaries. Fletcher and Shakespeare expose the problems posed by virginity in a culture that pits religious guilt over the sensual body against the medical dangers of chastity. Despite the satire directed at fears of hell and damnation voiced by the jailer’s daughter, her apprehension derives from a truly fearful doctrine of salvation in Protestant England. In The Maid’s Tragedy (1611–1613) religious constraint in a sexually pro­ miscuous court is notable by its absence, and in A Faire Quarrel (1617) religion plays second fiddle to medical authority in the field of women’s health. By the 1630s the conflict between religious doctrine and medi­ cal uterine theories is brought into full view in The Hollander (1634) in the shape of Dalinea’s debate over chaste love. That Glapthorne chose to use the daughter of a doctor (albeit an unqualified one) as an exemplum of chaste love, argues he intended to emphasize opposing religious and medical perceptions of women’s biology, which, as I have suggested for Dalinea’s characterization, points to green sickness as a possible product of this opposition. Green sickness is commonly presented in drama in a secular context, an issue for parental authority or medical consultation, yet its relationship with religion can be surmised through its occasional pairing with chaste love or convent-life as the only alternative means of controlling a frustrated womb. This suggests green sickness may have been the product of conflicting religious and bodily urges in vulnerable young women. In one of the earliest literary mentions of green sickness, Mamillia (1583)

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by Robert Greene, chaste love and green sickness appear paired when Mamillia’s father fears his daughter will develop the disease unless she is married, but her lover, Florion, exhorts her to renounce fleshly desire.2 The pairing becomes more obvious in later plays, such as Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase (ca. 1621), where everyone is aware that for ripe and lively Lillia-Bianca and Rosalura “Husbands they must and will have; / Or nunneries and thin collations / To cool their bloods.” 3 Like Isabella in Measure for Measure, these two girls are at the mercy of their full, ripe bodies. Their condition is not glossed as green sickness, simply because it was unnecessary to spell it out for a contemporary theater audience who understood that they are not sick yet but that this was what awaited them if they remained virgins too long. The only sanctioned means of gratifying the womb was through marriage; all else was sinful. The only reason the jailer’s daughter in Two Noble Kinsmen will not give up her virginity outside wedlock is for fear of damnation. The same argument underpins Thomas Campion’s poem of a “longing” maid: Fain would I wed a fair young man that day and night could please me, When my mind or body grieved, that had the power to ease me. Maids are full of longing thoughts that breed a bloodless sickness, And that, oft I hear men say, is only cured by quickness. Oft have I been wooed and prayed, but never could be moved; Many for a day or so I have most dearly loved, But this foolish mind of mine straight loathes the thing resolved. If to love be sin in me that sin is soon absolved. Sure, I think I shall at last fly to some Holy Order; When I once am settled there, then can I fly no farther. Yet I would not die a maid, because I had a mother: As I was by one brought forth, I would bring forth another.4

This poem is rich with allusions to the physiology of green sickness: an affliction of body and mind, characterized by amenorrhoea, cured by pregnancy, but held hostage to an obsessive fear of sinning. The maid’s foolish (immature) mind straight loathes the thing resolved, and however much

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her body wants love, conjugal love, her mind tells her it will imperil her soul. Thomas Campion may have had a real example prompting this poem in Elizabeth Drury who died aged fourteen. His elegy to her indicates she fasted to excess, fearful of the “poisonous tincture, and the stayne of Eve” (menstruation and original sin) and seeking escape from womanhood. Her body becoming almost translucent.5 Her death inspired several poems including John Donne’s eulogy, which was unequivocal as to the reason for her self starvation—fear of womanhood and marriage: “For mariage, though it doe not staine, doth dye. / To scape th’infirmities which waite upone / Woman, shee went away, before sh’was one.” 6 For girls like Isabella religious arguments fueled their attempts to retreat from a secular world, motivated by promises of spiritual freedom as a Bride of Christ and with dire warnings of marriage as a state of subjugation and contamination. Such warnings came with considerable authority. In a treatise written by Erasmus early in the sixteenth century for a community of nuns in Germany, he repeatedly contrasts the bliss of spiritual freedom and union with Christ with the thraldom of secular marriage. This tract was translated into English in 1537 by Thomas Paynell for use by the canon of Merton Priory and dedicated to the Lord Prior of Merton. Entitled The comparation of a virgin and a martyr, it reads as a rather desperate appeal to nuns to maintain their vocation in the face of complaints about the restraints imposed by conventual life, and was probably intended to stem poor retention rates. Erasmus uses fear of the alternative—that is marriage—as the stick, and spiritual freedom as the carrot. With the dissolution of the monasteries and convents such published exhortations should have become redundant, but their afterlife continued in conduct books such as Vives’s The Instruction of a Christen Woman, whose statements on virginity, such as that even fierce and cruel soldiers forbear to rape virgins, or that virginity was visible in the eyes of a virgin, could well have been taken from this text by Erasmus: O good virgin, interpretate what thing thy veyle betokeneth, it is the sygne of a kyngdome, and not of bondage. They that are veiled and covered for theyr husbandes pleasures, doo professe a worldly bondage. Nor the commaundement of maryed men, good virgins, is not always lyghte and easye. Often tymes where you wende to have had husbands, you chaunce upon maisters harde to please, upon such as are froward and never contented, upon such as be curst and knavishe, upon dycers, drunkerdes, riottous spenders, upon suche as be greatly indetted, upon suche as be scabbed and scurvy,

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upon frantycke felowes, and upon fyghters, besides many other more grievous and wycked condicions or diseases, which I speake not of. More over there foloweth care of the householde, care of children, busyness of kynsfolke and frendes, stryfe in the worlde, lack of children, buryenge of husbands. For why the afflictyion of the fleshe is of noo simple sorte, the whiche sayncte Paule signifieth unto them, that woll rather chose wedlock than virginitie.7

Such representations of marriage as a state of perilous thraldom are so forceful it is not surprising if such tactics proved effective with young girls making choices for their future. They continued to be urged from pulpits and in devotional tracts and prayer guides throughout the seventeenth century, as in Francis Rouse’s guide Mystical Marriage which bluntly claimed that “under the shape of an husband is a cruelle enemy and a very murtherer of the soule.”8 Green sickness, therefore, may have been the product not just of religious anxiety towards the sexual body, but of fear of the physical, emotional, and spiritual perils attached to the state of marriage. In a world which did not offer monastic seclusion, the disease offered a way out of having to make a choice, a retreat from decision making, even a retreat into immaturity. Intriguingly, in seventeenth-century religious usage green sickness was used as a simile for immature judgment and weak faith. In a sermon preached at Paules Cross in 1609 William Whately compared those who do not follow religious virtue “like as one that hath the greene sicknesse, or some other such disease, will leaue the best meat, to feede on salt, oat-meale, or some such like vnwholesome thing : so the pallate and stomacke of his soule is in that measure disordered.”9 Sir Kenelm Digby used the simile several times when writing on the immortality of the soul, to signify poor judgment.10 In The Doctrine of Faith (1627) green sickness is repeatedly used as simile for a weak faith: It is a blemish to have a weak faith. . . . As if two were to goe a mile up hill, one very able bodied, good lungs and pectoralls; the other weake and troubled with the greene sicknesse, stopt in the liver and splene, or having ill lungs and in a consumption. one goeth up stoutly and not much bloweth, but holds out strongly; the other ere he have gone a quarter the way, pants as if heart would burst, lookes pale as if he would fall downe; goes a while and sits downe, feares hee shall never get up, then creepes on hands and knees.11

The breathlessness, the paleness, the weakness and fatigue, consumption, are all symptoms of green sickness used here within a religious context.

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The real significance of this usage lies not in its role as a simile, but in its function as a medical definition of a weak faith. In religious contexts the usage is so frequent and so consistent it argues for green sickness as a physical condition brought on by weak faith. This would be consistent with its emergence in a period of intense religious insecurity and its notable rise under Protestant doctrine. While the condition was not unknown in other countries, it never grew to such epidemic proportions as it did in England and it is rarely mentioned in medical treatises from the continent. In two continental treatises on women’s health, green sickness appears to have been added by the translator for the English context. One is Alessandro Massaria’s treatise on women’s medicine (written 1591–1593) which was translated and published in English in 1657. The translator took the opportunity to add a small treatise on dropsies (tympanies) for his English readers, in which he also listed green sickness.”12 The second is a 1664 translation of A General Collection of Discourses of the Virtuosi of France (which ranges over melancholy, chastity, sexual diseases, feigned diseases, and demonic possession among others). Again, the section on green-sickness appears to be an additional entry right at the end.13 The idea of the disease as an English condition seems to have remained well into the nineteenth-century. In a well-known guide to women’s health, the American author, J. H. Kellogg, made the point that chlorosis, as green sickness became known, was a very common disease among English girls.14 The best evidence for a link between religion and green sickness remains its chronological rise in tandem with the Reformation and the complex and often contradictory doctrinal debates this generated for the following century. This relationship between adolescent eating disorders and religious faith remains a dynamic field of international research today, as clinicians seek further insights into the psychopathology of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.15 Beyond the religious contexts however, the most rewarding lessons to be learned from this study of unruly wombs in early modern drama, are not those dealing with the etiology of green sickness but with early modern theater and its gendered perceptions of the womb as a powerful female attribute. While dramatists took to the stage to argue the case for sexuality as healthy and natural in women, or to prove the impossibility of chaste love, the real value for a playwright of a condition such as green sickness was that it provided an entry point for exposing male attitudes to women’s sexuality. Every one of the plays discussed here presents its audience with images of women’s sexuality as seen through the eyes of men, their fears,

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anxieties, disgust, preconceptions, and the myths and misinformation surrounding the womb. As these plays demonstrate, their authors had a talent for identifying fruitful material for dramatic treatment, and green sickness must have been one of the most satisfying given the multiplicity of possibilities it offered in exploring the sexual development of daughters from so many angles: religious; medical; psychological; emotional; domestic; age for marriage; parenting practices; doctor-patient relations; women’s duplicity. This study has looked at only eleven plays in any depth and drawn on a score or more for supporting evidence. In the process it has identified a wealth of stage markers, or what I have referred to as a system of coding, to convey the sexual health of a female character on stage without necessarily spelling it out. Of these codes, the most consistent is any reference to a birthday. I have yet to come across a birthday reference to a male character, or for that matter to any female character older than fourteen or fifteen. Birthday references are often inserted in dialogue in passing (being left to the actor whether to emphasize or not), but their meaning is crystal clear: the character concerned has reached sexual ripeness and any number of behaviors can be expected, as can any number of paternal responses. Another common means of conveying a character’s sexual status in drama is blushing. In an article entitled “Fertile Complexions in Shakespeare’s Plays,” Victoria Sparey has argued that early modern performances asked their audiences to view the actor’s body in a way that manufactured culturally-recognized signs of adolescence and she identifies blushing in particular as a sign of a girl’s increasing womanliness.16 In two plays by James Shirley the heroine’s complexion discloses not only her virginity but an active womb. In The Gamester (1633), under a discussion on maidenheads, Will Hazard, the protagonist, bluntly informs the maiden Penelope that “by your complexion, you have your’s still; / Away with’t, and in time.” 17 Similarly, in The Opportunity (1634), the character Pisauro is surprised that young Cornelia, living at court, is still a virgin: “With all this youth / And handsomeness you are a maid, and live / At court too” and he then comments “this, I hope it’s not ordinary.” “Ordinary” here, as I read it, means “I hope it’s not make-up” on your rosy cheeks 18 (a self-referential joke given the young actor must have been wearing make up). He is responding to her facial color. Her indignant reaction leads him to declare that she is “sound”—i.e. her virginity is healthy.19 What do these men read in a girl’s face that identifies her as a sexually ripe virgin? The answer is red cheeks, a sign of the hot

222  Conclusion

blood pulsing through her veins and stirring the womb, and which, if not purged, can lead to plethora and sickness. As outlined in the Introduction, the art of reading faces— physiognomy—was a highly prized skill, in particular in medicine, and much exploited in drama. Men in particular liked to think they could read a woman’s inner bodily state and her emotions through her complexion. In Fletcher’s Love’s Pilgrimage (1616) we find Philippo reading the changing complexion of a young Leocardia: I have read you through, And with wondring pity, look’d on you; I have observ’d the method of your blood, And waited on it even with sympathy Of a like red, and palenesse in mine own; I knew which blush was angers, which was loves, Which was the eye of sorrow, which of truth; And could distinguish honour from disdain In every change. And you are worth my study.20

Not all cheeks are pale or rosy; some are green (green sickness) and some are yellow. References to a yellow complexion (and a yellow hymen)21 are a clear signifier of sexual frustration in a married woman, usually because yellow bile is the humor which dominates her jealous husband, as was the case for Lady Yellow in The Hollander. Listed in one of Henslowe’s costume inventories dated around 1598 is a yellow silk gown.22 We do not know which female character/s wore it but we can assume the audience would have recognized the significance. An obvious candidate for a yellow gown would have been Isabella, the young, sexually-frustrated bride in Middleton’s The Witch (1613), which is thought to allude to Frances Devereux’s unconsummated marriage. It seems evident that, in addition to the various codes already identified here, there must have been many more, whether spoken, performed or visually staged, which were available for dramatists to draw on. The point has been made before that we need to treat the plays as theatrical scripts rather than literary texts, if we hope to explore more fully their meanings and to confront problems hidden from the reader: When plays are bodied forth through the voices, limbs, and costumes of actors, both theatrical and academic professionals become aware of features that would have been taken for granted by the original dramatist, players, and spectators but are lost or obscured today (e.g. stage conventions of various kinds, including emblematic costumes and properties).23

Conclusion  223

One example of props with implications for complexions on stage, can be found in The Wit of a Woman (1604), a comedy for performance by a boys’ troupe. It includes four aged fathers each with a daughter, two of whom wish to marry another’s daughter and have to resort to aids to keep them looking young. In this case one of them turns to a young artist (a son in disguise) for help: “but I pray you have you any complexion heere about you?” In response the artist produces two boxes of paint, one white, the other red which he is willing to sell for the substantial sum of eight crowns a box.24 One of the risks in conducting this type of research which depends on interpreting textual allusions, is to overstate the role of the womb. Distinguishing which women are characterized with unruly wombs becomes a matter of individual interpretation. One example of this difficulty is Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (1598). On the morning of Hero’s wedding Beatrice’s usual wit and verve have left her; she is sick: “Why, how now ? Do you speak in the sick tune?” asks Hero, and she responds “I am out of all other tune, methinks.” Margaret asks her to sing a wedding song but she declines, confessing “By my troth, I am exceeding ill; heigh-ho!” and a few lines later “By my troth, I am sick.” Margaret identifies Beatrice’s illness as love-sickness for Benedick, “Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus, and lay it to your heart: it is the only thing for a qualm.” Beatrice implies she has a cold, “I am stuffed, cousin, I cannot smell,” providing an excuse for rejecting the usual fumigation therapy for qualms. On the surface Beatrice would not seem a candidate for womb furor and the play is not included in the Appendix. That said, however, what Shakespeare seems to be doing is offering his audience a parody of bride-envy sickness (discussed in Romeo and Juliet), which the context discounts, but which is perhaps thrown in as a comic token gesture to the expectations of its Elizabethan audience.25 If this were the case, then it confirms just how significant the role of the womb is on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. By uncovering more such information about past practices we are responding to the challenge Tiffany Stern has laid down, that theater history is a crucial aspect not simply of context—secondary, background information—but of text itself, with all the excitements, and all the interpretative possibilities, that that entails.26 The accompanying Appendix provides a chart listing about fifty further plays which in one way or another comment on women’s biology. Some have the briefest of remarks in passing, others dwell at length on symptoms, or behavior, diet, blood, sexual frustration (usually due to jealous husbands), and some on methods of treatment. Treatment is perhaps the most interesting feature. Virtually every play will concur in

224  Conclusion

agreeing on marriage as the natural cure, but several recognize the role of psychology, and meta-theatrical techniques, in addressing the patient’s mental state before recommending sexual consummation. Several hint at the danger of Puritan doctrine on women’s health. This list is by no means complete and is intended as a guide for further research in this fertile field. Hopefully, this book will serve to encourage others to explore Restoration drama and female playwrights for what their work can tell us about patient-doctor relationships, about green sickness, which by then had become so common it was no longer confined to elite daughters but diagnosed in rural communities and appropriated by chamber maids in drama, 27 and about the relationship between religion and medicine in defining the role of the womb in women’s biology. NOTES Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew (Thompson), 1.1.66; 1.1.88; 1.1.105–20; 2.1.16; 2.1.147; 3.2.146. 2 Greene, “Mamillia,” p. 36. 3 Fletcher, Wild-Goose Chase, 5.1.21–23. 4 Campion, Book of Airs, XXIV, p. 74. My italics. 5 Campion, Book of Airs, XXIV 341, 334, 348. 6 Donne, “A Funerall Elegie,” image 15. 7 Erasmus and Paynell, Comparation, p. 34 E. 8 Potter, “The Trauma of Puberty,” p. 82. 9 Whately, Caveat for the Covetous, image 12. 10 Digby, Observations Vpon Religio Medici, image 36. 11 Rogers, Doctrine of Faith. This book is addressed to women. 12 Massaria, De Morbis Feomineis, the Woman’s Counsellour; appendix. 11. I am most grateful to Helen King for checking and confirming this addition by the translator. 13 Havers, Discourses of the Virtuousi of France, pp. 575–77. 14 Kellogg, Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease, p. 516. For the history of changing terminology for green sickness, see Read in Menstruation and the Female Body, pp. 65–81. 15 Worldwide studies undertaken in recent years, which look into the relationship between religion and eating disorders offer some evidence for strong faith as protective against eating disorders, while a weak faith serves to increase vulnerability, Daniel Akrawi, Roger Bartrop, Ursula Potter and Stephen Touyz, “Religiosity.” 16 Sparey, “Performing Puberty: Fertile Complexions in Shakespeare’s Plays,” pp. 459–63. 1

Conclusion  225

Shirley, “The Gamester,” 3.1.226. “ordinary Painting. Pigement,” Cockeram Dictionary, 1623. 19 Shirley, "The Opportunity," p. 411. 20 Fletcher, Love’s Pilgrimage, 5.4.24–32 21 Fletcher, The Tamer Tamed, 1.2.93. “Pardon me yellow Hymen, that I meane / Thine offrings to protract.” 22 Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, p. 195. 23 Dessen, Modern Productions and the Elizabethan Scholar, p. 205. 24 Anon., The Wit of a Woman, line 972. 25 Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing,” 3.4.38–70. 26 Stern, “The Study of Historical Performance,” p. 4. 27 Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain, pp. 109–10. For example, Cavendish’s The Religious (1658) and D’Urfey’s The Virtuous Wife (1679). 17 18

Author John Heywood Brooke

Anon George Wapull Robert Wilmot Shakespeare


Title / genre

The Foure PP satirical dialogue

Romeus and Juliet Dramatic poem

The Bugbears Terentian comedy

The Tide Tarieth for No Man

Tancred and Gismund Tragedy

Taming of the Shrew Comedy

Romeo and Juliet Tragedy









daughter, 14

elder daughter

young widow

daughter 14

pregnant daughter

daughter 16

a fair young woman

Category of woman


Pale, weeping, irrational behavior, aroused libido, misdiagnosed as green sickness.

Feisty, rebellious, violent. Dolus ad bonum treatment: deprived of food, sleep, heat, wedding night abstinence.

Sexual frustration.

Defiant behavior; considers herself ready for marriage.

Tympany, dropsy, melancholy, misdiagnosed as green sickness, physician called.

Pale, weeping, strange behavior no meat, drink, or sleep, careless of dress, misdiagnosed as bride envy.

Promiscuity, swoons, falling sickness genetically inherited, tampon.

Symptoms / diagnosis

A selection of plays representing women’s health in English drama 1540–1640




ca. 1604





The Wise Woman of Hogsdon Comedy The Honest Whore II Comedy The Fawn, Comedy

pining mistress

female patients

jilted daughter

a homely maid

pining mistress

Category of woman



Thomas Heywood

Angry, anorexic, barren.

neglected wives

daughter 15

Fits of the mother: heaving, swelling stomach, cramps, violent behaviour, sexual frustration. Aroused libido, fearful of green sickness.

Father fears greensickness.

Sexual frustration.

Anorexic, yellow jaundice.

Trauma, delirium, hallucinations, sexual frustration, grief, suicide. Doctor treating women’s diseases including green sickness. Anorexic, fits, breathless, sexual frustration.

Green sickness looks; cured by shame and fright.

Lustful fantasies.

Symptoms / diagnosis

shrewish wife

wife with jealous husband daughter

Dekker/Webster pining mistress




William Kemp


Every Man Out of his Humour Comedy Kemp’s Nine Days Wonder Dramatic poem Hamlet Tragedy Family of Love Comedy The Honest Whore I Comedy Westward Ho Comedy




Title / genre




Shakespeare Heywood

Dekker/Webster citizen’s wives Jonson, Chapman, Marston Chapman

Wit of a Woman Comedy

Measure for Measure Comedy

The Wise Woman of Hogsdon Comedy

Northward Ho Comedy

Eastwood Ho Comedy

Monsieur D’Olive Pastoral






Sighing, virgin’s melancholy.

unmarried sister


Wilful, melancholy, sexual frustration.

Lustful fantasies.

Feigned fits of the mother, trembling flesh, rising stomach, sleep walking, sexual frustration.

Threat of greensickness used as carpe diem tactic.

neglected wife with jealous husband

pining daughter


Rosy cheeks (ripe body), fear of sex as sinful, seeks ascetic means of controlling libido.

Qualms when fasting.

a maid pious maid

Melancholy, father fears greensickness, breathless, eating disorders, stitch, fits.

4 daughters

Sexual frustration, fear of damnation.

young wife with jealous husband


Sick eyed, pale, fits, poor appetite, ague, feigns greensickness. Diagnosed by lovers as either virgin’s disease or excess of sex.



A Mad World Comedy


Author Fletcher

Dekker Fletcher / Beaumont Middleton Shakespeare/ Fletcher

Title / genre

The Tamer Tamed Comedy

The Roaring Girl Comedy

The Maid’s Tragedy Tragedy

A Chaste Maid Comedy

Two Noble Kinsmen Tragicomedy








Aroused libido, bawdy, raving, suicidal, weeping, thirsty, loss of appetite, insomnia. Physician diagnoses thick melancholy, dolus ad bonum treatment. Breathless, attachment to girlhood, aversion to heterosexual relations.

love sick daughter 15

Emilia (Amazonian) 14 or 15

Weeps, dull eyed, drossy spirited. Mother diagnoses greensickness.

Sexual addiction.

king’s mistress daughter

Love sick, pale, expected to die.

jilted daughter

Shrewish, stomach pains, qualms, pulse, sexual frustration.

Fears a yellow hymen through self-imposed abstinence.

virgin bride neglected wife

“Minc’d passions,” the sullens, feigns green sickness, father fears she is “a little crop-sick.”

Symptoms / diagnosis

daughter with old suitor

Category of woman

Feisty, feigns raving, delirium, wedding songs, tears, coma, sexual frustration. Ripe, feisty, mood swings, fits, sexual frustration.

daughter 18 2 daughters

Fletcher/ Beaumont Fletcher/ Beaumont Middleton

Fletcher Middleton/ Rowley Webster

The Scornful Lady Comedy

The Mad Lover Comedy

The Mayor of Queenborough Tragedy

Women Pleas’d Comedy

A Fair Quarrel Comedy

The Devil is an Ass Comedy

The Wonder of a Kingdom Dekker Comedy

The Wild Goose Chase Comedy








ca. 1621


pining daughter

Fletcher/ Beaumont

Cupids Revenge Tragedy

grieving daughter

pregnant daughter

neglected wife miserly husband

virgin mistress

young princess

proud virgin

daughter 20


Heaving stomach, masturbation, sexually ripe.

Feigns green sickness.

Father fears greensickness, physician arranges secret birth, attempts blackmail for sex.

Angry, deprived of food, sexual frustration.

Excessive piety; pale, bookish, interpreted by others as green sickness, believes only virgins enter heaven, chaste love theme.

Lovesick, “first maiden doting” considered fatal if not satisfied.

Peevish, nettled, sexual frustration.

Extreme behavior, swings from puritan zeal to insatiable lust for a dwarf, dies of sexual frustration.

Melancholy, distracted, blushing.

thin younger sister


Angry, peevish, full of passion, itches, sexual frustration.

plump young widow

Fletcher/ Beaumont

Wit Without Money Comedy

ca. 1614

Author Fletcher / Beaumont Dekker / Ford? Webster Fletcher

Fletcher / Beaumont Fletcher Ford



Title / genre

The Pilgrim Comedy

Welsh Ambassador Comedy

A Cure for a Cuckold Comedy

Rule a Wife and Have a Wife Comedy

A Wife for a Month Comedy

The Elder Brother Comedy

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore Tragedy

The Magnetick Lady Comedy

Covent Garden Comedy