The Fertile Womb

  • Amy Kenny
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


Early modern medical texts privilege scholastic knowledge over lived experience, suggesting female anatomy—epitomized by the womb—was secretive and unknowable. Medical practitioners were uncertain of how to diagnose pregnancy in the early stages, and often diminished the woman’s ability to determine gestation herself since many of the signs were open to interpretation. Even when it progressed to delivery, pregnancy offered a private, exclusively female space in early modern birth rituals, perpetuating its mystery to male observers. This chapter shows how Shakespeare often privileges female, experiential knowledge in a period which attempted to dismiss it outright. During childbirth scenes in Shakespeare’s canon, women become knowledge-bearers on which male characters depend, demonstrating how lineage and paternal identity are reliant on the female body.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Kenny
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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