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above all the latter which feared these magical cures were

increasingly being seen by peasants as potent, and thereby had

the potential to allow the midwives’ to exert control over the

male-dominated medical world. Therefore, as part of the

official reaction, licensing authorities increasingly linked

midwifery to witchcraft and refused to sanction midwives. The

government and Church also claimed that midwives were

responsible for infants’ illnesses and deaths, and for any other

mishaps that occurred during the birthing process. Midwifes

were thought, in other words, to threaten one's life and health,

particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in

Europe when witch trials were at their peak. “Feared as

transgressors in the realms of paternity, sexuality, and religion,

midwives were magnets for a wide range of anxieties” (Kerwin,

2005: 70). The licensed male medical practitioners in the

College of Physicians increasingly feared losing patients to the

midwives, and this again accounted for the increasing

persecution and execution of witches (at the “witch trials”) and

for the gradual elimination of female medical practitioners.

The female medical practitioner in

The Winter’s Tale


Paulina, dispelled and cursed by King Leontes as a man-witch

(“A mankind witch!” 2.3.68) and driven away by him,

nonetheless helps him to heal with her therapeutic language,

and “revives” or gives new life to the queen, long presumed

dead. Like other early modern wise women, Paulina seems to

struggle in her role as a woman practitioner, as she is accused

of being a witch and threatened with persecution; however,

her words “freed” the king from his prison of jealousy and

“enfranchised” him (2.2.61), leading him to repent and to ask

the re-animated queen for forgiveness. Paulina is playing the

role of a midwife here, giving birth to the “newborn” queen

and retelling the sad tale of the dead prince Mamillius


sad tale’s best for winter” (2.1.25)

as a fairy tale, an old

wives’ tale, with her therapeutic and magic words.