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However, well aware of the traditional (religious,

political and patriarchal) prejudices against alchemy and

midwifery, Paulina must avoid being seen as practicing a sort

of witchcraft in bringing the statue “alive.” On the other hand,

in performing this ritual act she clearly will be acknowledging

that she is using magic, and so she would seem to be caught in

a dilemma. Indeed, this is exactly the situation those early

modern women medical practitioners and midwives found

themselves in. As Doreen Evenden puts it: “[c]losely allied to

the baptismal function, in the opinion of historians, was the

concern that the midwife might engage in witchcraft and place

in jeopardy the soul of the unbaptized infant” (2000: 27).


Paulina’s playful reference to this “unlawful business”

before magically bringing the “statue” to life in front of

Leontes, the representative of patriarchal authority, is more a

witty and ironic reference to the traditional attitude toward

midwifery and witchcraft than a direct challenge to the king.

Even so, her role as midwife does transgress the accepted

boundaries of patriarchal medical authority inasmuch as it

involves the implicit use of magic power, and yet Shakespeare

has the powerful patriarch, Leontes himself, officially declare

that this magic of Paulina’s is just as “lawful” as the natural,

basic need for life.


However, here Evenden continues: “The myth of the midwife as witch,

however, has finally been demolished in a recent scholarly study by David

Harley, who argues that by accepting the evidence of demonologists instead

of examining early modern sources, historians have erroneously

perpetuated the ‘myth’ linking midwifery and witchcraft” (2000: 27).

Deborah E. Harkness holds a similar view. Considering the inadequacy of

the historical medical records which were traditionally based on the stories

told by the physicians of the College and elite surgeons, Harkness adopts

the views of people in the streets, houses, churches, and hospitals of

London city, and concludes that “these Elizabethan women emerge as

competent caregivers. . . . These women were at the very heart of London’s

medical world. . . . Perhaps that is why so many male practitioners found

them so very threatening” (2008: 83-84).