Shakespearean Maternities: Crises on Conception in Early Modern England

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Edinburgh University Press, 2008 - Literary Criticism - 304 pages
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This study explores maternity in the ‘disciplines’ of early modern England. Placing the reproductive female body centre-stage in Shakespeare’s theatre, Laoutaris ranges beyond the domestic sphere in which the rituals of childbirth, midwifery and wet-nursing were performed in order to recuperate the wider intellectual, epistemological, and archaeological significance of maternity to the Renaissance imagination. Focusing on ‘anatomy’ in Hamlet, ‘natural history’ in The Tempest, ‘demonology’ in Macbeth, and ‘heraldry’ in Antony and Cleopatra, this book reveals the ways in which the maternal body was figured in, and in turn contributed towards the re-conceptualisation of, bodies of knowledge. The relevance of the maternal to early pedagogical, aesthetic, and scientific disciplines, Laoutaris argues, makes itself felt when crises overturn the desired outcomes of birth and nurture. Instances of tragic intervention - such as disease, bewitchment, monstrosity, and death - expose the potentially destabilising power of maternity, dismantling the epistemological certainties with which the maternal body had been invested in the interests of masculine legitimation. Shakespeare resists a monolithic concept of motherhood, presenting instead a range of contested ‘maternities’ which challenge the distinctive ‘ways of knowing’ these early disciplines worked to impose on the order of created nature. Key Features*Provides a new interpretation of a subject which is becoming increasingly popular among Shakespeare scholars, cultural and medical historians, and feminist critics*Focuses on four of Shakespeare's best-loved plays *Presents striking visual material which forms a central component of the book's critical methodology, including anatomical plates, cabinets of curiosity, early modern follies and grottoes, archaeological discoveries, artefacts of witchcraft and superstition, early natural historical specimens, Renaissance ‘monsters’, ceramics, portraiture, funerary monume

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About the author (2008)


Chris Laoutaris is British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University College London

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