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Humanities 2018, 7(4), 120; https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040120

Narrating Pregnancy and Childbirth: Infanticide and the Dramatization of Reproductive Knowledge

Department of English, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
Received: 25 October 2018 / Revised: 10 November 2018 / Accepted: 12 November 2018 / Published: 19 November 2018
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Abstract

In early modern England, infanticide was a crime overwhelmingly associated with women. Both popular texts and legal records depict women accused of infanticide as mothers acting against nature. These figures, however, do not often appear in the period’s drama. Instead, early modern drama includes fictionalized mothers who kill their children beyond infancy and into adulthood. By eschewing portrayals of neonaticide and the trials associated with it, the drama highlights a dependency upon female characters’ verbal narratives of the reproductive body that reinforces pregnancy’s unstable epistemology. I argue that the flexibility of this epistemology allows women, whether female characters in drama or historical women on trial, to distance themselves from the crime of infanticide by reconstructing narratives of both pregnancy and childbirth. Sharing rhetorical devices with the testimonies of women accused of infanticide, dramatic mothers such as Videna in The Tragedie of Gorboduc and Brunhalt in Thierry and Theodoret linguistically sever the biological ties between mother and child, thus disrupting conventional portrayals of reproduction. These parallel strategies position the reproductive female body as a site of resistance to the legal mechanisms designed to interpret it. View Full-Text
Keywords: pregnancy; maternity; infanticide; childbirth; early modern gynecology; drama; reproductive knowledge; women on trial pregnancy; maternity; infanticide; childbirth; early modern gynecology; drama; reproductive knowledge; women on trial
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Steinway, E. Narrating Pregnancy and Childbirth: Infanticide and the Dramatization of Reproductive Knowledge. Humanities 2018, 7, 120.

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