Printer Friendly

Pleasure and danger: measuring female sexuality in 'Measure for Measure.' (William Shakespeare's play)

Despite its initial promise of equity and levity--a balance title and a Folio classification as a comedy -- Measure for Measure delivers what many readers have felt to be a skewed and dismal account of sexual desire. Feminist and psychoanalytic critics, responding to this antifestive comedy's persistent reiteration of the manifold dangers that accompany sexual unions and desires, have usefully considered how female sexuality in particular is linked to "shame" and "contamination"; treated with "disgust" and "deep distrust"; figured as the "original sin that brings death into the world"; reduced to the "bloody associations" of rape and beheading.(1) Ironically, however, feminist responses may also be inhibited by the very centrality of female sexuality to the play's ideology, the unpleasantness of which leads Kathleen McLuskie, in her trenchant essay "The Patriarchal Bard," to deem the play impenetrable to feminist criticism. Although McLuskie demonstrates the inadequacy of monolithic empirical and psychological approaches to an ideologically informed feminist reading of Measure for Measure, she curbs those interventions (her own and others') that could provide new theoretical paradigms, insisting that

feminist criticism of this play is restricted to exposing its own exclusion

from the text. It has no point of entry into it, for the dilemmas

of the narrative and the sexuality under discussion are constructed

in completely male terms.2

McLuskie specifically regrets the exclusion of "pleasure" that results from reading the text against its sexist grain: to reject its tendentious construction of female sexuality is to refuse "the pleasure of the drama and the text," which "focuses the spectator's attention and constructs it as male."(3)

Yet, as Jean Howard and Stephen Orgel have persuasively argued, the London theater allowed many women to become desiring spectators despite the fact that it ideologically objectified them as desired spectacles and materially excluded them, as McLuskie notes, from being "shareholders, actors, writers, or stage hands."(4) In " Scripts and/ versus Playhouses," Howard provocatively asks: "Is it possible that in the theatre women were licensed to look--and in a larger sense to judge what they saw and to exercise autonomy--in ways that problematised women's status as object within patriarchy?"(5) Unravelling Stephen Gosson's prescriptions on the female playgoer, Howard stresses the complications that arise in considering the female spectator not only as an endangered object of the male gaze, but as a gazing subject who endangers patriarchal control. Orgel briefly surmises in "Nobody's Perfect" that women enjoyed the "liberating theatrical freedom" not only of attending the London playhouses but also of seeing there the enactment of female liberty in the subjects of "love matches and cuckoldry. "' In his subsequent paper "Call Me Ganymede," Orgel, first questioning the standard notion that women were officially "banned" from the stage, develops this argument regarding the London theaters' pleasurable representations of female power. He finds that the powerful side of cuckoldry plots from the woman's perspective is the conviction that her sexuality is powerful and attractive, threatening to husbands, and under her own control," and he adduces Portia's and Nerissa's ring trick at the conclusion of The Merchant of Venice as an example of a theatrically constructed "fantasy of female sexual power."(7)

If we take into account Howard's and Orgel's historicization of the female spectator's pleasure, might we not find that Measure for Measure likewise constructs a position that may elicit a female (or, in our age, feminist) subject's pleasure? Might not that pleasure come precisely from reading oppositionally, with the purpose of discovering the kind of female agency those "male terms" would exclude and restrict? In pursuing such a reading here, I will argue that the relentless definition and manipulation of female sexuality in Measure for Measure is the graphic symptom of male anxiety about female agency: to unravel male-constructed meanings for erotic pleasure, pregnancy, and abortion is to discover a fear of the dangers thought to ensue from a woman's control over her own body. Because it measures the perceived cost of a woman's autonomy in marital and reproductive affairs, Measure for Measure foregrounds female sexual desire only to deny the desirability of seeking pleasure for pleasure's sake. Paradoxically, the central emblem of this dangerous desire is the pleasure-seeking body of a woman who is excluded both from the personae of the drama and from the pages of critical texts: Mistress Elbow.(8)

Mistress Elbow, as one might well not recall, is the only legal wife in the play. In order to understand the significance of her status, we must first determine what is at stake in play's implicit and explicit allusion to the commonplace Renaissance marital paradigm--maid/ wife/widow--whose central space is occupied by Mistress Elbow alone.(9) Mariana, who is nothing," according to the Duke, because neither maid, widow, nor wife," frustrates but does not subvert the paradigm, as McLuskie notes, for the logic of comedy ultimately maneuvers her into the central slot.(10) Nevertheless, in privileging the coherent maleness" of the maid/wife/widow paradigm to which the Duke heavy-handedly directs (male?) attention, McLuskie loses the opportunity to demonstrate the paradigm's failure as an ideological measuring device.(11) As Lucio observes, the Duke's seemingly comprehensive list of female socio-sexual roles is incomplete: "My lord, she may be a punk; for many of them are neither maid, widow nor wife" (5.1.180-81). Likewise, a reading that places pressure on the conventional system can superimpose upon the Duke's tripartite measure of marital status a parallel and more problematic measure of sexuality. What I am calling the measure of female sexuality would account for the number and kind of a woman's sexual partners: the virgin (none), the wife (one/legal), and the whore (more than one/ illicit). Following this line of inquiry allows not only the examination of an early modern discourse surrounding and constructing the barren or pregnant female body, but a reexamination, through Mistress Elbow, of the normative category of wife," the middle term of both systems, as inherentlv unstable and challenged.

It is crucial to maintain the analytic distinctiveness of these two "measures," even while noting their areas of overlap or intersection. We then realize that, before her marriage, Mariana threatens order not only because she disrupts the maid/wife/widow paradigm, but because she simultaneously and equivocally occupies the sexual position of wife" in the virgin/wife/whore paradigm. Juliet, before she legally becomes a wife, occupies the sexually charged space between "wife" and "whore." And Isabella occupies the space of resistance and loss between "virgin" and "wife"--a space that is collapsed by the apparently seamless passage from "maid" to "wife." Such ideological gaps between fixed, normative roles and shifting, unruly sexualities are smoothed over by Carol Thomas Neely's argument that "women are defined and contained through their place in the marriage paradigm. .. These roles are in turn defined by the mode of sexuality appropriate to them: virginity for maidens, marital chastity for wives, and abstinence for widows."(12) Because it attaches an "appropriate" sexuality to the marital roles through which women are always already defined, this formulation does not acknowledge that the marital paradigm, with its chronological progression of essential roles in which the "wife" can never be a "maid" or widow," itself obscures the resistances that Mariana, Isabella, and Juliet pose to its containing and defining strategies--the resistances posed in the overlapping and contested spaces between virgin and wife, between wife and whore.

As the only wife in the play, Mistress Elbow most powerfully and paradoxically represents the unruly resistance within marital sexuality: the possibility of the wayward wife, who is at once promiscuous (like the stereotypical widow), and, as I hope to show, opposed to fertility (like the maid). The logic of comedy may require that Isabella, Mariana, and Juliet progress from their unstable marital roles and sexualities into the nominally stable marital role and sexuality of the "wife." Yet Mistress Elbow demonstrates that such a resolution is fictive, for she provokes, instead of dispelling, the anxieties that surround and interpret (Juliet's) active sexual desire on the one hand and (Isabella's) virginity on the other. Since female sexuality in Measure for Measure is tendentiously "read" through specific bodily characteristics, the gross characters" inscribed in Juliet's pregnant, ideologically whorish body reveal "all th'effect of love" and incite others volubly to evaluate all the causes. Isabella's virginal body, by contrast, allows others (and herself) only veiled, sublimated, allusions to a deferred sexuality that will blossom with ripe time. I will assess the male anxieties that construct Juliet's and Isabella's bodies before demonstrating how they converge to construct Mistress Elbow's equivocal body, which, absent and silent, is the cipher onto which various meanings for female sexuality are projected, and through which feminist criticism can make the crisis of marriage intelligible. I begin with a reading of Juliet's indelibly pregnant body, the first text from which differently-interested readers--the bawds, Claudio, Duke Vincentio, Angelo--disseminate the signifieds of female sexuality.

Preparing us for the dramatic procession in which Claudio and Juliet are publicly humiliated, Mistress Overdone and Pompey initiate a central concern of the play: the observation and classification of the woman through her body, which is "credulous to false prints" (2.4.129). Pregnant, marked with the prints of sexual intercourse, Juliet's excessive body is, appropriately, read cumulatively: male judgments of what her belly reveals--sexual appetite, uxorial docility, ethical and theological shame, legal infraction--amass charges of culpable agency and carnal passivity. When Mistress Overdone asks if Claudio has gotten a "maid with child by him," Pompey deftly responds, "No: but there's a woman with maid by him" (1.2.84-85). Mistress Overdone is sensitive to how sex has altered the (former) maid's body; Pompey insists on naming her new status as the specifically non-maiden, and woman" is all he has available to him. Juliet's intermediate marital status may confer no fixed name, but her body sufficiently indicates the sexuality which has marred her reputation. Lisa Jardine notes that due to the absence of effective contraception, "sex and pregnanancy went hand in hand in the Renaissance imagination"; hence, "the pregnant woman is the Renaissance image of female sexuality."(13) Moreover, the popularity in England of a Galenic view of conception produced, according to Angus McLaren, "a common culture of procreational knowledge in which women's sexual pleasure was seen both by laymnen and doctors as necessary for fecundity. "(14) The pregnant woman is therefore an image of her own fulfilled sexuality, her belly an eloquent narrative of her illicit desires.(l5) Juliet's expressive body, which is both the ritual object of public scrutiny and the subject of Claudio's discourse, explains the silence of her tongue.

Even as he insists that their relationship is "mutual," Claudio reigns in Juliet's expressive and expansive sexuality when he reclaims her body as his personal property. Retaining the liberty of speech denied Juliet, who only later and under the Duke's prompting admits that her sinful act was mutually" committed (2.3.27), Claudio defends his sexual indiscretion by insisting that "she is fast my wife" (1.2.136). He resents not only the law's regulation of his sexuality but its usurpation of his rights as a true husband who "upon a true contract . . . got possession of Julietta's bed" (1.2.134-35). As a husband, he would indeed have control of his wife's property, including her bed, but his legalistic use of synecdoche reduces Juliet's loose sexual energies to the status of an object that can be bound "fast" to the conjugal bed. Peter Stallybrass observes that "woman" is produced as a property category in early modern England not only in such legal discourse, but also in economic discourse, as the fenced-in enclosure of the landlord."(16) For example, as the spokesman of the conservative aristocracy in Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl, Sir Alexander pronounces upon the occasion of his son's marriage that the best joyes, / That can in worldly shapes to man betide, / Are fertill lands, and a faire fruitfull Bride."(17) Likewise, if Lucio's description of Juliet's impregnation invokes what Marjorie Garber calls a fruitful and productive value of sexuality" otherwise absent in the play, it also casts Claudio in the role of the laborer who produces fair fruit from fertile lands:(18)

Your brother and his lover have embrac'd,

As those that feed grow full, as blossoming time

That from the seedness the bare fallow brings

To teeming foison, even so her plenteous womb

Expresseth his full tilth and husbandry.


Though Juliet at first resembles one who satiates herself with food, she is finally shown to provide the "bare" material upon which male sexual labor generates the female labor of childbirth. The pander in Pericles clearly exposes the violent overtones of this commonplace view of female passivity when he threatens to rape Marina: "An if she were a thornier piece of ground than she is, she shall be ploughed" Pericles, 4.6.136-37). Juliet is a less thorny piece of ground and Claudio is a gentler plower, but he similarly considers the female body as the available site of male inscription: "The stealth of our most mutual entertainment / With character too gross is writ on Juliet" (1.2.143-44).(19) While "gross" is relevant in that it means large, letters, clear evidence, or ripe fruit, it also associates the woman's reproductive body with the uncontrollably grotesque body of an unruly Falstaff, "a gross fat man" (1 Henry IV, 2.4.486).- Despite the pleasure, then, that Juliet may have experienced in her sexual "entertainment" with her lover, both Lucio and Claudio, by stressing her body's compliance to male instrumentality, attempt to control its boundless sexuality.

Given Claudio's putative dominance in erotic agency, it is ironic that the Duke finds Juliet more blameworthy for the couple's sexual indiscretion. Even though Juliet has apparently done no more than passively express Claudio's "husbandry," the Duke requires her to acknowledge a greater share of guilt in the pregnancy. By disguising himself as a religious father and addressing Juliet as a daughter, the Duke can re-establish the authority of the paternal birch-rod, previously "more mock'd than fear'd" (1.3.27). He succeeds in this project by encouraging Juliet to confess her legal infraction as an ethical and theological one: a "most offenceful act" (2.3.26). When he asks,"Repent you ... of the sin you carry?" (2.3.19), the Duke equates the content of Juliet's protruding belly with the illegal act that caused it; her offending body thereby becomes an index of her moral and spiritual degeneration. She avows her repentance and her willingness to "bear the same most patiently" (2.3.20). As Lisa Jardine astutely remarks, Juliet will "bear it-- carry it to term, support the shame, and give birth in the pain which is woman's punishment for the concupiscence she acquired at the Fall.(21) And doubtless, she is "groaning" in prison with the pain of her labor (2.2.15).22 Because both Duke Vincentio and Juliet accept the ideology which posits a woman's chastity as her essential virtue, they agree that Juliet's sin is of "heavier kind" than Claudio's (2.3.28), despite the fact that the law will punish him more severely, with death. Furthermore, Escalus, Lucio, and the Provost all regard Claudio's fornication as a trifle, which merely proves that he has natural masculine instincts. Juliet, however, is always said to have ruined her reputation: she must bear the unequal weight of social censure for the mutual action in which Claudio left his impression on her heavy body.

The Duke's focus on Juliet's unborn child as a "sin" implies that even after their marriage, in which Claudio is instructed to "restore" his wronged wife (5.1.522), her reputation will be stained with a child unlawfully begotten if not unlawfully born. Angelo, legally precise in his categorization, describes Juiet in neither the Provost's class terms as "gentlewoman" nor the Duke's disturbingly physical terms as "fair one" (2.3.10, 19), but as the "fornicatress" (2.2.23), thus investing her far-from-airy nothing with a local habitation and name, (which Pompey was unable to do). The punitive zeal which seeks Claudio's death seeks to over-write Juliet's reputation with gross characters. Therefore, the Provost's claim that Juliet has "blister'd her report" by "falling in the flaws of her own youth" (2.3.11-12) shows more than his mastery of metaphor. His image of a painful imprint on the body aligns Juliet with another "fallen woman": the prostitute who was branded on the forehead by the state or who carried the syphilitic blister.(23) Consequently, Juliet's body shares the "shame" imputed to the common body, of the whore (2.3.36), if not the actual mark impressed upon it.

Through the example of Juliet' one sees that patriarchal ideology constructs two positions for active female sexuality: either its confinement within the "outward order" of formal marriage (1.2.138), or its whorish transgressiveness, which threatens marital values. On the other hand, the virgin is threatening for her very lack of sexuality, for her denial of normative sexual functions and gender roles. If Juliet can be identified as a "fornicatress" by the blossoming of her womb, then the true virgin, the unplucked rose, can also be recognized by outward signs. Thus Lucio addresses Isabella: Hail, virgin, if you be -- as those cheek-roses / Proclaim you are no less" (1.4.16--17). While the deceptiveness of appearances is an anxiety which the play--and playing itself--brings sharply into focus, Isabella's unsullied hue convinces Lucio that she indeed is a virgin. But against what standard is Lucio quantifying and measuring her virginity? What would it mean to be proclaimed "less" than a virgin?

Angelo's attempt to define Isabella's sexuality provides a significant answer. In contrast to the corporeal language used to identify Juliet, Angelo's language profits from a rich use of the essential ideological verb "to be," which appears seven times in the first three lines of Angelo's demand that Isabella submit to his desires.(24) In his exasperation at Isabella's refusal to understand the exchange he offers her, Angelo bluntly articulates the burden of her sexual destiny:
    Angelo:                 Be that you are,
              That is, a woman; if you be more, you're none.
              If you be one--as you are well express'd
              By all external warrants--show it now,
              By putting on the destin'd livery.

Isabella: I have no tongue but one; gentle my lord,

Let me entreat you speak the former language.


According to Angelo's logic, being more than a woman is taking womanly chastity to its extreme of virginity, which paradoxically thrusts her past the boundaries of dependent womanhood into the realm of the self-sufficient saint. Angelo's corrective requires that she act more like the "woman" her appearance proves she "is" and less like the virgin that in making her more than a woman, makes her less human.(25) For both Lucio and Angelo, the category "virgin" is more rarified than that of "woman," making the maid an "immortal spirit" instead of an impressionable piece of flesh (1.4.35). David Sundelson argues that in this scene of "female potency" Angelo "fears that Isabella may really be a man."(26) Far from this, however, Angelo's doubt, discovered in his evasive grammar, reveals an anxiety about female autonomy (as the super-feminine virgin) and its threat to male desires for ownership and control.

Isabella tempers this meditation on female ontology by asserting the honesty of her tongue, which metonymically proclaims her sexual "honesty" or chastity. Her simple reply that she has "no tongue but one" further implies that Angelo's slippery discourse reveals more about his own hypocrisy than about her need to "be one" woman. Ending the guessing game, but still hiding his larger meaning in equivocal language, Angelo commands: "Plainly conceive, I love you" (2.4.140). To be "a woman," Isabella must conceive, become pregnant. If she will show her essential femininity "plainly" (or, punning on the French plein, "fully"), she needs to exhibit more "external warrants" than mere attire and complexion. In an earlier speech on the nature of justice (2.1.17-31), Angelo uses "pregnant" in its sense of "obvious," a usage deriving from the Latin premere, to press. That Juliet's pregnant body registers "pregnant" evidence of pressing makes her subject to the Duke's fornication law. By requiring Isabella to become pregnant, Angelo directs her into a similar position of sexual lucidity he can understand and manipulate.

Unlike Angelo, Duke Vincentio understands Isabella all too well; instead of battering her with essentialist definitions of "woman," he works underhandedly to transform her virginal body into a womanly one. The Duke's ostensible aim in arranging the bed-trick is to have Mariana express "all th'effect of love" (5.1.198), the condition that we see in Juliet, and that Angelo yearns to see in Isabella. But because he conceals his desire more carefully than does Angelo, the language of the Duke's interchange with Isabella is loaded with double entendre that hides personal interest under the cloak of fatherly beneficence:
    Duke:       The maid will I frame, and make fit for his
                attempt. If you think well to carry this as you
                may, the doubleness of the benefit defends the
                deceit from reproof. What think you of it?
    Isabella:   The image of it gives me content already, and
                I trust it will grow to a most prosperous
    Duke:       It lies much in your holding up.

(3.1.256-62) Strangely here, but not in light of the Duke's later proposal to Isabella, the language of pregnancy is ascribed to her part in the deceit: if she can "carry" and "hold up" her part, his idea will "grow" to a successful end, its "image" giving her "content," or substance.(27) Impressed by his authority, Isabella reactively takes up the Duke's sexual puns in what may be considered a passive, and therefore "prone and speechless dialect" (1.2.173). What the Duke offers in return for her prone complicity in his plot is a supine sexual position--"'Tis well borne up," he later assures her (4.1.48). In the context of this suggestive passage and the later one in which Isabella promises to meet Angelo "[u]pon the heavy middle of the night" (4.1.35), "doubleness" may refer not only to the advantage accruing to each woman's honor, but to the swelling of her belly. Likewise, "benefit" may refer to this double belly's being well made (L. bene + facere) by the man for whom her frame has been made "fit," producing "perfection" (L. per + facere). Recalling Elbow's misplacement of his "two notorious benefactors" for malefactors" (2.1.50-52), the equivocal language of this passage blurs the distinction between the legal malefaction of Claudio and Juliet and the moral benefaction of the Duke, given his intentions to fit Isabella to his own attempt. The Duke himself realizes the suspiciousness if not the culpability of his plan. In asking the provost to leave, the Duke anticipates an accusation of sexual motive and defensively proffers his disguise as a guarantee of his good intentions: "Leave me a while with the maid; my mind promises with my habit no loss shall touch her by my company" (3.1.175-77). No loss, but perhaps a tangible gain.

As the Duke's interpellation of Isabella through metaphors of growth indicates, female sexuality becomes intelligible (hence manageable) not only by the identification of the virginal or the whorish body, but also by the measurement of that body's movement along a temporal scale. Women accomplish a physiological progression through three stages, which are analogous to stages of botanical growth: the young "fresh" virgin becomes the "ripe" wife and/or the old "rotten" whore. In the different but parallel economy of the brothel, the epithet "fresh" is reserved for the healthy and young, "rotten" for the diseased and experienced.(28) Lucio refers to "your fresh whore and your powdered bawd; an unshunned consequence; it must be so" (3.2.57-58). The young prostitute inevitably becomes the old bawd with powdered hair, who soaks in a sweating-tub that resembles the beef-powdering tub. More generally, Shakespeare's whores are punningly called "hoar" or merely "old": Lucio refers to Kate Keepdown as "the rotten medlar a fruit rotten before ripe (4.3.171-72).(29)

Given the above constructions, the language of "fit time" or "ripeness" which in several of Shakespeare's plays is connected with Christian patience and trust in providence has special figurative relevance in Measure for Measure, regarding the age of marriage and term of pregnancy. Ripeness refers to marriageable age for a young woman; Juliet Capulet will be "ripe to be a bride" at sixteen years of age(Romeo and Juliet, 1.2.11). When Isabella conventionally addresses the heavens, "Keep me in patience, and with ripen'd time / Unfold the evil which is here wrapt up / In countenance" (5.1.119-21), she is unaware that her words apply to her own ripeness to be plucked by the Duke in his comic finale. Even more problematic, because decidedly anti-comic, are the text's images of abortion, the fatal delivery of unripe fruit. In a treatise called The Byrth of mankynde, the physician Thomas Raynalde describes abortion (miscarriage) in these terms: "Aborcement or untimely birth is, when the woman is delyvered before due season, and before the fruite be rype."(30) His metaphor of the woman's biological time as a harvest recalls Lucio's ploughing image, in which "blossoming time" brings the "bare fallow" to "teeming foison" (1.4.41-43); the connection is significant since ideology makes biological reproduction and nurturing the woman's "natural" role in the socio-economic system. It is worth noting in this regard that Mariana had a brother who miscarried" at sea, thus losing her marriage dowry and her opportunity to participate in the processes of marriage and reproduction (3.1.210). The image of Juliet as a ploughed field bursting with life equates the productivity of female generative labor with that of economic labor; conversely, the image of the shipwreck as a miscarriage equates the untimely destruction of the "perished vessel" with that of the fetus in the aborting female vessel (3.1.217).(31)

The play's allusions to abortion repeatedly evoke the unnaturalness of denying or disrupting this reproductive economy. Oddly, however, most of these allusions are associated with men--Angelo and the Duke--whose legal power to kill is linked to women's unique power to abort. The effect of the homology between female and male control over life is not to empower the men (by their appropriation of "the feminine") but to indict them for their association with a monstrously destructive prerogative. Whereas in Love's Labor's Lost Berowne compares an "abortive birth" to the unseasonable appearance of a rose in winter or snow in May (Love's Labor's Lost, 1.1.104), Angelo goes further in figuring illegitimate children as "evils" that must be aborted before they are "hatch'd. " He praises the newly-awakened law which:

like a prophet

Looks in a glass that shows what future evils,

Either new, or by remissness new conceiv'd,

And so in progress to be hatch'd and born

Are now to have no successive degrees,

But ere they live, to end.


Angelo's law will destroy those who "coin heaven's image / In stamps that are forbid" as easily as he could stamp out the life of a fertilized egg (2.4.45--46). Calling the deputy a "motion ungenerative" and an "ungenitured agent" (3.2.108, 167--68), Lucio implies that he has neither genitor nor genitals, that he represents a freakish rupture in a procreational chain. Angelo himself articulates in the language of abortion the self-destructive consequences of his supposed rape of Isabella: "This deed unshapes me quite; makes me unpregnant / And dull to all proceedings" (4.4.18--19). Through its corruptness, the act by which he impregnates another is not life-affirming but annihilating: it destroys his honor, his "grace," and his unified subjectivity--"Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not" (4.4.32).

In Angelo's sterile legalism the product of sex is death, but sex and death are conflated in the Duke's original law and in the means for fulfilling it, the executioner Abhorson. David Sundelson, among others, comments on the components of "his highly suggestive name ('abhor,''whore,''whoreson')," but not on the fact that the entire name is a virtual homonym for "abortion."(32) In his Breviarie of health, for instance, Andrew Boord uses the almost identical form "abhorsion."(33) The Renaissance pun on "to die" as the moment of sexual climax is anthropomorphized in Measure for Measure: the former bawd who facilitated sexual unions must as executioner's aide destroy "fornicators"; conversely, the executioner himself is symbolically associated with the destruction of the product of sexual union.(34) If the literal execution of the law is figured as abortion, then the Duke's obsession with "fit time" can be seen as a desire to deflect attention away from the abortive, deforming justice of his "most biting laws" onto his theatrically deferred display of mercy (1.3.19). Assuring Mariana that his bed-trick will grow to a prosperous conclusion, the Duke echoes the harvest metaphor with which Lucio announced Juliet's pregnancy: Our corn's to reap, for yet our tithe's to sow" (4.1.76). By withholding certain information which he then dispenses at carefully engineered moments, the Duke establishes himself not as the guarantor of an evil law "by remissness new-conceiv'd" but as the one figure who can reveal truth in ripe time.

That abortion is figuratively linked in Measure for Measure with costly destruction and with an unnaturally harsh law that measures out untimely death for sexual activity indicates what is at stake in a wife's regulation of and responsibility for her "ripe time." Far from being the rational choice of a woman who desires to control her fertility, abortion is intelligible only as the consequence of the dangerous desires of a pregnant wife, Mistress Elbow. Named after a bodily joint, Mistress Elbow is the pivot on which turn the male anxieties directed at the fertility of Juliet's body and the infertility of Isabella's body. Her pregnant body, like Juliet's, is legible as a signifier of sexual desire, but Mistress Elbow's threateningly misplaced sexuality leads her to seek pleasure in a dangerous place promoting "fornication, adultery, and all uncleanliness," including, I would argue, abortion.

The copiousness of the whore and the barrenness of the virgin are presented as ideological counters in Measure for Measure, against which the exclusive closure of the chaste wife ("won" by and "one" for the husband) should be posited as the ideal measure. Although the wife's only doubleness should come from the stamp of the single man, the play's only wife generates a crisis of sexual and linguistic doubleness, indeterminacy, and "misplac[ing]" (2.1.87):
    Elbow:      My wife, sir, whom I detest before heaven and your
    Escalus:    How? Thy wife?
    Elbow:      Ay, sir: whom I thank heaven is an honest woman-
    Escalus:    Dost thou detest her therefore?
    Elbow:      I say, sir, I will detest myself also, as well as she, that
                this house, if it be not a bawd's house, it is pity of her
                life, for it is a naughty house.
    Escalus:    How dost thou know that, constable?
    Elbow:      Marry, sir, by my wife, who, if she had been a woman
                cardinally given, might have been accused in fornication,
                adultery, and all uncleanliness there.
    Escalus:    By the woman's means?
    Elbow:      Ay, sir, by Mistress Overdone's means; but as she spit
                in his face, so she defied him.


Despite his misplaced readings of his wife's misplaced body, Elbow manages to affirm that the "woman's means" is Mistress Overdone's intermediary or bawd, Pompey; but as Frankie Rubinstein notes, Escalus's vague query carries a more general meaning.- The "woman's means" may be synonymous with what the Bawd of Pericles calls "the way of womenkind" (4.6.141), the inherent feminine wantonness that marital sexuality may actually encourage. For instance, a flustered Isabella deduces from her brother's behavior ("a kind of incest") her mother's infidelity to her father, whose blood could not have produced such a warped slip of wilderness" (3.1.138, 141). She displaces her disgust at illicit familial sexuality away from both men and onto the untrustworthy mother.

36The irrational mother is also targeted when

Pompey connects Mistress Elbow's being "great with child" with her "longing . . . for stewed prunes," which were commonly served in brothels (2.1.88-89).(37) And his bawdy description of Froth's "cracking the stones" of the two remaining prunes reveals a crude male view of what pregnant women want (2.1.107). In response to the justice's exasperated attempt to determine "what was done to Elbow's wife, once more?" Pompey asserts, "Once, sir? There was nothing done to her once" (2.1.138-40). Elbow may indeed be anxious to know what his wife did with Froth, a name Rubinstein glosses as both semen," and (from "frot") sexual rubbing, but Pompey answers equivocally, implying that nothing was done to her at all or that nothing was done to her merely once, but rather, repeatedly.- Pompey appropriately expresses his innuendo by a grammatical construction known as "negative pregnant," which the OED defines as "a negative implying also an affirmative." Seemingly denying that anything was done to Mistress Elbow, he in fact affirms that something was done to her.

In this scene, male suspicion and misunderstanding of female sexuality translates the expansiveness of pregnancy into moral negativity. The wife's being "great-bellied" proves that something was done to her at least once, but also makes her susceptible to the charge that nothing was done to her only once: she was either "respected" (that is, suspected) with her husband before marriage (2.1.172), or "overdone" by Froth after marriage. Though the justices' interrogation cannot determine what the wife wanted or what Froth did, Mistress Elbow's presence in a bath-house brothel merely confirms the recklessness imputed to the pregnant woman. Elbow claims that his wife was discovered in a "hot-house" run by Mistress Overdone 2.1.65)." J. W. Lever, who believes that Overdone ran a tavern, takes Elbow's claim as "a mere gag." However, Lever concedes that bath-houses "were notoriously blinds for houses of ill fame; hence the word 'stews,'" and he cites Jonson's Epigram 7, "On the New Hot-house," in support of this connection (2.1.65n):

Where lately harbour'd many a famous whore,

A purging bill, now fix'd upon the dore,

Tells you it is a hot-house: So it ma',

And still be a whore-house. Th'are Synonima.

Given this corroboration and Elbow's manifest anxiety, it seems unlikely that Elbow is making a "gag" about the brothel, which is euphemistically described as a "common house" and a "tap-house" but never called a "tavern" (2.1.43, 206). Furthermore, the allusions to stewed prunes and the sweating "tub" (3.2.55), the suggestive names "Overdone" and Froth," and the Duke's complaint that he has seen corruption boil and bubble / Till it o'errun the stew" all add weight to the reading of the brothel as a bath-house (5.1.316--17). Mistress Elbow's presence in a hot-house would be especially threatening because, according to Thomas Raynalde, pregnant women should "exchewe much bathing or going to the hot houses in their teemyng, for that may do hurt three wayes": the extreme heat can variously work to force the child out of the womb prematurely.(40) Because of an irrational maternal desire for stewed prunes--a "thirsty evil"?- Mistress Elbow risks not only her and her husband's reputations, but the life of their unborn child.

Moreover, another reading could see Mistress Elbow's seemingly reckless visit to the stews as an informed and deliberate decision. In an examination of birth control practices in early modern England, Angus McLaren concludes that married women employed several methods and justifications for abortion: they "were not passive in relation to their fertility; they wanted to control it and were willing to go to considerable lengths to do so."(41) Fearful of such autonomy, Andrew Boord refuses to list certain purgatives in his treatise lest any "light woman" willfully use them to induce abortion.(42) Such light women are the objects of Ben Jonson's satire in Epicoene, in which the following exchange takes place between the inquisitive young wife and the leader of the amazonian Collegiates:
    Epicoene:    And have you those excellent receits, madame, to
                 keepe your selves from bearing of children?
    Haughty:     0 yes, Morose. How should we maintayne our youth
                 and beautie, else? Many births of a woman make her
                 old, as many crops make the earth barren.(43)

The passage is striking in that Haughty uses the botanical metaphor of women's time to link ripeness directly to sterility--too much fertility accelerates barren aging--while she blithely articulates the double threat of a self-imposed barrenness: its interminable justification (feminine vanity) and its immediate availability. As long as city wives are vain about their appearance, the passage implies, so long will such "excellent receits" be in demand. Like Jonson's presentation of the domineering Haughty, Shakespeare's presentation of Mistress Elbow, dangerous in either her feverish irrationality or her cold calculation, provides ammunition for male fears about a woman's power in pregnancy.(44)

The sole depiction of conjugal relations within the play, the scene concerning Mistress Elbow adds the wife to the virgin and whore as a focus of male anxiety about female sexuality. The marriage itself, a microcosm of all the marital problems the play treats, violates on several counts the ideology of the Elizabethan "Homily on Matrimony," which held that the "original beginning of matrimony . . . is instituted of God, to the intent that man and woman should live lawfully in a perpetual friendly fellowship, to bring forth fruit, and to avoid fornication."(45) In this marriage, the fruit of the union risks untimely delivery, the wife is implicated in fornication, and the husband's parapraxis that he "detest[s]" his wife reflects ironically on the "friendly fellowship" they are supposed to maintain. If the intermediate position of the betrothed creates confusion, so does the marriage towards which the betrothed, and the logic of comedy, move. Constructed as the scene of a sexual ripeness that must be controlled, marriage becomes the unstable middle term between the self-repressed sexuality of maidenhood and the publicly-monitored sexuality of prostitution. The ripe wife is uneasily situated between the rottenness of the oversexed prostitute and the barrenness of the childless maid.

Previous criticism is clearly mistaken, then, in relegating Elbow and his wife to the harmless irrelevancy of a bawdy "subplot." Since this scene of conjugal discord accentuates and epitomizes those issues of female sexuality that permeate the entire play, its concerns significantly inform the four marriages of the comic finale. Because none of the couples which crystallize at the end demonstrate mutual affection and commitment, they are no more the heralds of a renewed, redeemed society than Elbow and his wife. Instead, like the Duke's unanswered matrimonial "motion" to Isabella (5.1.532), the motion of the final scene constitutes a deferment of resolution, a suppression of the dangers of unsanctioned pleasure through an institution which poses dangers of its own.

The four women who become wives at the play's end move from their marginal positions along the virgin (none)/wife (one)/whore (more) spectrum into the central, nominally stable, position. Yet the problems this transition brings are not limited to the lack of Compatibility and mutuality the couples demonstrate. The dialogue concerning Mistress Elbow strongly implies that marriage displaces male anxiety about female sexuality away from the virgin and whore figures onto the wife-mother figure itself. Each woman occupying the normative position of "wife" may be economically and legally subject to her husband ("one"/"won"), but her sexuality--as Luce Irigaray would have it, the sex which is not one"--slips away from his control. It is precisely the play's harsh focus on what Irigaray affirmatively calls the "multiplicity of female desire," the plurality of female sexuality, that opens the way for a feminist reading of female pleasure and the dangers it poses to male rule.(46)

As a result of the unruliness of the wife's sexuality, the fit time" of comic marriage activates a new measure of sexual suspicion that demonizes women's time. At one pole, the wife, emulating the whore's promiscuity, escapes the husband's control through her excessive pleasure. Here, the ripeness of time becomes the ripe womb that certifies not only the husband's sexual stamp but the wife's sexual pleasure, and her likely search for further gratification. The double belly, a double signifier of avaricious gastronomic and libidinal appetites, compels Mistress Elbow to satiate its hunger for "stewed prunes," a signifier of food and sex. In other words, Juliet's pregnant body signifies her ability to satisfy her own desires--"as those who feed grow full," says Lucio--rather than her obligation to express and fulfill Claudio's "husbandry." At the other pole, the wife, emulating the virgin's barrenness, defies the husband's control through her dangerous autonomy. Here, the anticipation of fit time becomes the woman's power to truncate life in abortion. Ignoring the authority of both physician and husband, Mistress Elbow enters a hot-house "before due season," an action which could lead to premature birth. As for the main couple of the comic finale, there's at least reason to surmise that Isabella will be particularly open to suspicions of this nature, given that her history of homosocial independence and cherished virginity suggests her likely resistance to marriage and pregnancy. And the Duke, for his part, is particularly liable to suspect such behavior, considering his past experience in observing and circumventing the abortive deeds of an "unpregnant" subordinate.


I borrow my title from the collection of essays edited by Carole S. Varice entitled Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (London: Pandora, 1989). The essays arose from the Scholar and the Feminist IX conference, "Towards a Politics of Sexuality held on 24 April 1982 at Barnard College. This essay has immeasurably profited from the patient and incisive readings of David Scott Kastan and Jean E. Howard. (1) The quotations come respectively from Carol Thomas Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1985), 101, and "Constructing Female Sexuality in the Renaissance: Stratford, London, Windsor, Vienna," in Feminism and Psychoanalysis, ed. Richard Feldstein and Judith Roof (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 225; Richard Wheeler, Shakespeare's Developement and the Problem Comedies: Turn and Counter-turn (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1981), 96 and 114; Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest (New York: Routledge, 1992), 87; Meredith Skura, "New Interpretations for Interpretation in Measure for Measure," Boundary 2 7 (1979): 52. Many psychoanalytic critics of the play have discussed how sexuality is feared, loathed, regulated, and ultimately linked with corruption and death. Skura notes that sex "threatens only the males with death," and "is always a trap" for them (51). Wheeler examines how imagery presents sexual impulses as "self-devouring and self-contaminating" (109). Neely posits that "the first half of the play moves towards the substitution of death for sexuality," until, following the Duke's lecture to Claudio, . sexuality is substituted for death, marriages for executions" (Broken Nuptials, 99); in "Constructing Female Sexuality" she finds that the play represents male sexuality as . unrestrainable and degrading," and female sexuality as "paradoxically essential and fatal, voluntary and enforced, central and subordinated" (225 and 229). Adelman, who believes that, to the Duke, "sexual touch per se is abominable and beastly," traces characters' effacement of and disgust at "sexual origin and maternal dependence" (87-88). Dollimore, a cultural materialist, argues that the State constructs a negative view of sexuality: "Diverse and only loosely associated sexual offenders are brought into renewed surveillance by the State; identified in law as a category of offender (the lecherous, the iniquitous), they are thereby demonised as a threat to law" ("Transgression and Surveillance in Measure for Measure," in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield [London: Manchester Univ. Press, 1985], 73). (2) Kathleen McLuskie, "The Patriarchal Bard: Feminist Criticism and Shakespeare: King Lear and Measure for Measure, " in Political Shakespeare (note 1), 97. (3) McLuskie (note 2), 97 and 96. My critique here resembles that of Lynda E. Boose: "To be a feminist in McLuskie's terms is to renounce completely one's pleasure in Shakespeare and embrace instead the rigorous comforts of ideological correctness. . .If Shakespeare can be accused of participating in the reification of patriarchy by his reproduction of it, then surely McLuskie has here likewise participated in the reproduction of--if not the production of--the feminist exclusion upon which she insists" (724). See "The Family in Shakespeare Studies; or--studies in the Family of Shakespeareans; or--The Politics of Politics," Renaissance Quarterly 40 (1987): 707-42. (4) McLuskie, 92. (5) Jean E. Howard,"Scripts and/versus Playhouses: Ideological Production and the Renaissance Public Stage," in The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991), 225. (6) Stephen Orgel, "Nobody's Perfect: Or, Why did the English Stage Take Boys for Women?" in Displacing Homophobia: Gay Male Perspectives in Literature and Culture, ed. Ronald R. Butters, John M. Clum, and Michael Moon (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1989), 19. (7) Stephen Orgel, "Call Me Ganymede: Shakespeare s Apprentices and the Representation of Women," unpublished conference paper, 13 and 14. I would like to thank Professor Orgel for making this paper available to me. (8) In "Measure for Measure, New Historicism, and Theatrical Power," Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 328-41, Anthony B. Dawson accords unusual attention to Mistress Elbow. He notes that she "is defined chiefly by her desire for stewd prunes, but that simple desire leads to a tangle of contradictory and vagrant meanings" (336). 1 agree with his assessment that Mistress Elbow challenges stable meaning. but not with his feeling that her challenges are tonally "comic," as opposed to the "more threatening" epistemological and political challenges offered in the Angelo-Isabella scenes. (9) For a thorough discussion of this paradigm in the literature of the period, see Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1984), especially 84 and chapter 9. Carol Thomas Neely asks "what room for maneuvering there was within these definitions of women" in Shakespeare's society and in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Measure for Measure ("Constructing Female Sexuality" [note 1], 213). (10) Measure for Measure, 5.1.178-79. All references to Measure for Measure are from the Arden Edition, ed. J. W. Lever, (New York: Routledge, 1988). and will be subsequently given in the text. References to other plays will be from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Alfred Harbage (New York: Viking-Penguin, 1977). (11) McLuskie (note 2), 97. (12) Carol Thomas Neely, "Constructing Female Sexuality" (note 1), 213. (13) Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Woman and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia Univ. Press-Morningside, 1989), 130-31. Dorothy McLaren ("Marital Fertility and Lactation 1570-1720," in Women in English Society 1500-1800, ed. Mary Prior [New York: Methuen, 1985)) shows, however, that women could increase intergenesic intervals by breastfeeding. While prolonged lactation generally lead to lower fertility, the "extent to which this was consciously controlled is not known" (43). (14) Angus Mclaren, Reproductive Rituals: The Perception of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century London: Methuen, 1984), 21. In this regard see chapter five ("Sexuality and Conception") of Audrey Eccles. Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Croom Helm, 1982); and Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," Representations 14 (1986): 1-41. (15) In a reading of characters'"attempts to make the flesh word" against the "pervasive refusal of the flesh to acquiesce in the imagination's plots and compacts," Ronald R. Macdonald ("Measure for Measure: The Flesh Made Word," Studies in English Literature 30 [1990]: 265-82) similarly sees the "mute spectacle" of Juliet's pregnant body as "more eloquent finally than any of the sermons and bookish theories offered by other characters in the play" (279). (16) Peter Stallybrass, "Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed," in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), 127. (17) The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1958), 3:5.2.202-4. (18) Marjorie Garber, Coming of Age in Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1981), 13I. (19) In "The Politics of Style: Discourses of Law and Authority in Measure for Measure, Style 16 (1982): 22-37, David Aers and Gunther Kress posit that lower class characters use a kinetic discourse--"verbal, concrete, active, I-centered" (33)--to challenge authority, while the language of the powerful is static, "marked by a prevalence of nominal forms," "agentless passives," and synecdoche (32). Aers and Kress consider Claudio's speech heavily static with its nominals ("stealth," " entertainment," "characters") and passives ("is writ on Juliet"). Their conclusion accords with my argument about Claudio's relationship to Juliet: "Here the experience of (sexual) love is pressed into the forms of the static, alienating discourse, with ugly results: human love is presented in terms of contracts, possession of a bed, which seem of the same order as denunciation of outward order, or propagation of a dower" (35). (20) In a psychoanalytic reading of the Henriad, Valerie Traub ("Prince Hal's Falstaff; Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body," Shakespeare Quarterly 40 [1989]: 456--74) argues that Falstaff " represents to Hal not an alternative paternal image but rather a projected fantasy of the pre-oedipal maternal whose rejection is the basis upon which patriarchal subjectivity is predicated" (461). She notes that Falstaff's body, with its "increasingly feminized" belly (463), demonstrates the grotesque corpulence and openness that early modern societies attributed to the maternal body. (21) Jardine (note 13), 133. (22) Keith Wrightson notes in English Society: 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1982) that "death in childbed was common enough. Quite apart from the risk of death, suffering in childbirth could be appalling in an age lacking either anaesthetics or gynecological sophistication, and in which the aid of the village mid-wives could be as much an additional danger as a help" (105). (23) See Frankie Rubinstein, A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and Their Significance, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1989), 26. Compare Joseph Swetnam, The Araignment of Lewd, idle, froward and unconstant women: or, the vanitie of them; chuse you whether (London, 1615): "Againe, Lust causeth you to doe such foule deedes, which makes your foreheads for ever afterwards seeme spotted with blacke shame and everlasting infamy, by which meanes, your graves after death are closed up with times scandall" (sig. El). (24) I am thinking here of Aers's and Kress's (note 19) claim that in the static discourse of power "the verb to be appears frequently, in ideologically prominent speeches" (32). (25) In "Sexuality in the Reading of Shakespeare: Hamlet and Measure for Measure" (Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis [New York: Routledge, 1988]), Jacqueline Rose finds in Angelo's statement "the more and less that the woman becomes when she fails to contain for the man the sexuality which she provokes" (97). (26) David Sundelson, "Misogyny and Rule in Measure for Measure," Women's Studies 9 (1981): 83-91, especially 85-86. (27) Elizabeth Sacks also discusses in Shakespeare's Images of Pregnancy (London: Macmillan, 1980) the sexual imagery of this and other passages in the play. Her method, however, which depends upon locating "literal" and "figurative" images of pregnancy in Shakespeare, leads to this unhelpful appraisal of Measure for Measure: "[1t] portrays the world realistically, devoid of illusions, as its equivalent spiritual and physical terminology makes quite clear" (61). (28) See Pericles, where "fresh ones" must replace those whores who With continual action are even as good as rotten" (4.2.10-11). Also, As You Like It: "And so, from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, / And then, from hour to hour we rot and rot" (2.7.26-(29). See Rubinstein (note 23), 177. (30) Thomas Raynalde, The Byrth of mankynde, otherwise named the womans booke (1545; London, 1560), folio 82, sig. N5. (31) For a discussion of beliefs about and images for pregnancy and miscarriage in early modern Europe (especially France), see Jacques Gelis, History of Childbirth: Fertility, Pregnancy and Birth in Early Modern Europe, tran. Rosemary Morris (Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press, 1991). Chapter five, "The Body in Pregnancy," examines botanical metaphors for fetus and womb; chapter sixteen, "The Falling of the Flower," deals with miscarriage, and chapter seventeen, "The Unripe Fruit," with premature birth. (32) Sundelson (note 26), 84. (33) Andrew Boord, The Breviarie of health: wherin doth folow, remedies,for all maner of sicknesses & diseases ... (1547; London, 1598), page 7, sig. A7. (34) Many critics have noted the play's "literalization of the pun that identifies death and orgasm" (Adelman [note 1, 87). No critic, to my knowledge, has connected this central pun to abortion/Abhorson. (35) Rubinstein (note 23), 156. (36) Jacqueline Rose (note 25) similarly reads Isabella's fantastic reconstruction of her mother's sexual crime" (108). Adelman (note 1) discusses this scene at length, concluding: "Threatened by identification with the mother who can exist for her only as a site of corruption, Isabella responds by invoking the protective image of a pure father who can serve as a buffer between her and the maternal legacy that both Angelo and Claudio bid her to assume" (97). (37) Jacques Gelis (note 31) describes the dangers that the mother's irrational "cravings and imaginings" were believed to pose to the unborn child (53-58). (39) Rubinstein (note 23), 106. The OED'S primary sense for "hot house" is "a bathing-house with hot baths, vapour-baths, etc."; the second sense is "a brothel." (40) Raynalde (note 30), folio 85, sig. N8. On the various precautions recommended for reducing the chances of "spontaneous abortion," see Linda A. Pollock, "Embarking on a rough passage: the experience of pregnancy in early-modern society," Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial England, ed. Valerie Fildes (New York: Routledge, 1990). (41) Mclaren (note 14), 111. See his chapter, "Abortion as birth control," which attempts to demonstrate, "first, that concerns for health and family well-being could have led many to contemplate abortion; second that there existed a wide range of techniques that were believed to be effective in precipitating miscarriages; and third that the concept of'quickening' permitted women to consider the action as legitimate. For these reasons we have to conclude that abortion played a far more important role in the regulation of fertility in past generations than bas usually been believed" (111). Dorothy McLaren (note 13) argues that rich women who desired to breastfeed, perhaps to reduce their fertility, may have had to negotiate or battle their decision with husbands and friends (27-28). (42) Boord (note 33), sig. A8. (43) Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1954), 5:4.3.57-61. (44) A striking parallel to the male anxieties inscribed in the mistrust of Mistress Elbow's sexuality appears in Carol Smith-Rosenberg's account of the abortion movement in Victorian America. In their anti-abortion campaign, male physicians of the AMA constructed a mythic figure of the "autonomous bourgeois wife, [who] by rejecting the domestic and maternal role bourgeois men had constructed for her" deceived both husbands and doctors. "The AMA linked doctor and husband as the equally wronged and innocent parties. The aborting wife, in contrast, was unnaturally selfish and ruthless" (236). In the AMA ideology, as in Andrew Boord, "the mother was potentially lethal and insane; only the male physician could protect the male fetus" (242). 1 thank David Scott Kastan for drawing to my attention Smith-Rosenberg's Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985). Homily on the State of Matrimony," in Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908), 534. (46) Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, tran. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), 30.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Johns Hopkins University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Digangi, Mario
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:Whose god's on first? Special providence in the plays of Christopher Marlowe.
Next Article:The interested heart and the absent mind: Samuel Johnson and Thomas Otway's 'The Orphan.'

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |