When her words become too extreme for his plagued and
swelling ego, Paulina’s “boundless tongue” whips Leontes and
provokes him into calling her a “mankind witch”
derogatory term for women who used bold language during this
period. However, when the king threatens to burn her like a
witch, she replies fearlessly:
Leo. I’ll ha’thee burnt.
Paul. I care not.
It is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in’t. (2.3.113-116)
Defiant, unyielding, confident, Paulina reminds us of the
historical woman healer Thomasina Scarlett (1550-1640),
Shakespeare’s contemporary, in late sixteenth-century England.
Scarlett was accused repeatedly yet refused to desist from
practicing her medical art and come under the college’s control.
According to the historical records of the censorial hearings,
Scarlett had been summoned to the courtroom seven times,
from 1588 to 1610 (she practiced medicine from 1578 to
1610), and was imprisoned as a result of several cases.
Scarlett’s example testifies to the historical healers who were
prosecuted, and more importantly to her defiance.
Thus according to an account of her first trial: “S
appeared and confessed to having given purgatives to Duck
and Hodskins. She admitted that she often gave emetics and
had given medical advice to 100 other people. She was asked
to give a bond against future practice. She agreed and went
away.” A much clearer account of her resistance is found in the
entry for February 12, 1595, only several days after she was
denied release in spite of the “letters” from outside requesting
and favored survival of the body at the expense of the flesh” (1965: 106).
The documents regarding the censorial hearings, initially from the “Annals
of the College of Physicians,” see Scarlett (n.d.). The following citations of
Scarlett’s hearings are all from the above source.