Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare’s England: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare’s England

1st Edition

By Caroline Bicks


224 pages

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At the intersections of early modern literature and history, Shakespeare and Women's Studies, Midwiving Subjects explores how Shakespearean drama and contemporary medical, religious and popular texts figured the midwife as a central producer of the body's cultural markers. In addition to attending most Englishwomen's births and testifying to their in extremis confessions about paternity, the midwife allegedly controlled the size of one's tongue and genitals at birth and was obligated to perform virginity exams, impotence tests and emergency baptisms. The signs of purity and masculinity, paternity and salvation were inherently open to interpretation, yet early modern culture authorized midwives to generate and announce them. Midwiving Subjects, then, challenges recent studies that read the midwife as a woman whose power was limited to a marginal and unruly birthroom community and instead uncovers the midwife's foundational role, not only in the rituals of reproduction, but in the process of cultural production itself. As a result of recent changes in managed healthcare and of increased attention to uncovering histories of women's experiences, midwives - past and present - are currently a subject of great interest. This book will appeal to readers interested in Shakespeare as well as the history of women and medicine.


'Caroline Bicks deftly weaves together history, literature, medicine and theology to explore early modern anxieties about midwives' many roles. This book provides a rich new slant on early modern midwives, as keepers, shapers and critics of femininity and masculinity.' Dr. Helen King, Reader in the History of Classical Medicine, University of Reading 'Caroline Bicks's thorough and wide-ranging exploration of the cultural contexts of pregnancy and childbearing in Shakespeare's Britain makes for a fascinating, provocative read.' Professor Elaine Hobby, author of Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing 1649-1688 and Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies, Loughborough University 'The book is broad in scope, treating an impressive array of English and Continental texts. Bicks is especially strong when tracing the cultural paradigms that defined and delimited early modern midwives, in their time and the present.' ChoiceReviews '…a compelling and thoughtful exploration…Bicks offers a well-researched and thoughtful exposition of the midwife's importance to cultural production. She clearly and at times brilliantly elucidates the midwife's participation in subject formation.' Shakespeare Quarterly '… wide-ranging and compelling… a fascinating and important study… a welcome addition to the field of early modern cultural studies, and it should be considered required reading for scholars interested in the history of early modern women.' Albion 'Caroline Bicks has crafted a generous synthesis of pre-modern writings and current scholarship treating of midwives and, more broadly, women members of the birthroom community… Her study will be useful to scholars coming from literary studies, cultural history, and history of the family… one of the gifts of this book is that its interlay of medical with Shakespearean passages allows us to read the latter for the most fleeting iridescent nuances and implications.' Clio '… illuminating analyses of midwifery

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: Midwiving subjects; Lurking in the gossip's bowl: men's tales and women's words; 'Sometimes the midwives break it': pressing maids and making women; 'As God makes, so the midwife shapes': crowning heads and reforming English bodies; Stealing the seal: baptizing women and the mark of kingship; '(Miraculous) matter': Lucina at Ephesus and the churching of women; Epilogue: Lucina in London; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Caroline Bicks is Assistant Professor of English at Boston College. She has published work on women, religious rituals, and childbirth in the early modern period, including an essay in Maternal Measures: Figuring Caregiving in the Early Modern Period

About the Series

Women and Gender in the Early Modern World

Women and Gender in the Early Modern World
The study of women and gender offers some of the most vital and innovative challenges to current scholarship on the early modern period. For more than a decade now, Women and Gender in the Early Modern World has served as a forum for presenting fresh ideas and original approaches to the field. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary in scope, this Routledge series strives to reach beyond geographical limitations to explore the experiences of early modern women and the nature of gender in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. We welcome proposals for both single-author volumes and edited collections which expand and develop this continually evolving field of study.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature