‘Enough to make a whore forswear her trade’: Prostitution as Woman’s ‘Oldest Profession’

  • Kay Stanton
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


Although many Shakespearean female characters are unjustly called ‘whore’, a few in addition to Doll Tearsheet may be identified as sex workers: the employer and friend of Doll in the Henriad,1 Mistress Nell Quickly; Mistress Overdone and the discussed but not seen Kate Keepdown in Measure for Measure;2 Phrynia and Timandra of Timon of Athens; the Courtesan of The Comedy of Errors; and the Bawd of Pericles, who, with her husband Pander and employee Bolt, attempts to force the virgin Marina into the sex trade. To these may be added the ‘mother’ of them all, Venus of Shakespeare’s narrative poem Venus and Adonis, who will provide a context here but will be treated in more detail in Chapter 6. Bianca of Othello, as I have already argued in Chapter 2, is not a professional sex worker (though much criticism on the play regards her as such) but simply a woman who grants herself the same kind of sexual freedom that Cassio allows himself, so she will not be discussed in this chapter, which will focus on the professional sex workers as related to the ‘poetics’ of the societal milieu of the plays in which they appear.


Venereal Disease Audience Member Early Modern Period Mature Woman Greek History 
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Copyright information

© Linda Kay Stanton 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kay Stanton
    • 1
  1. 1.California State UniversityFullertonUSA

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