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“There is no tongue that moves”



If this be magic, let it be an art

Lawful as eating. (5.3.110-11)

Here the female practice of magic, of witchcraft, becomes

elevated from an “unlawful business” to an


that is natural

and thus lawful, and so various traditional boundaries

as well

as boundaries between the past and present, living and


are being crossed.


That is, this “magical” female

medicine is now seen as also being natural and thus lawful and

necessary, a proper part of the medicinal order.

Shakespeare’s positive and sympathetic presentation here

of female medicinal power, specifically midwifery, clearly

shows his approval. Perhaps this can even be one of those

“uncritical acceptance accounts” (Evenden, 2000: 1) compiled

by Percival Willughby,


a prominent male midwife in the

seventeenth century, who admitted at one point the significant

role that female midwives had played in the history of early

modern English childbirth. In his complex treatise

Observations of Midwifery

(1672), some ninety thousand

words in length, Willughby related many case histories of

midwifery and claimed, contrary to the dominant belief at that

time, that female midwives were very capable and even

preferable to male midwives. As Adrian Wilson puts it:

Just as very few mothers asked him to play the role of

midwife, so too Willughby himself

for all his


The idea of


presented here does not appear to contradict Perdita’s

distaste for art earlier in her conversation with Polixenes, where she refers

to art more as a form of artificiality and thus falsehood. Here, however,

both to Leontes and Paulina, art denotes the act of creation of new life.


Evenden remarks that “[t]he single most influential source in the

historiography of English midwifery has been Willoughby’s

compilation of

some 200 midwifery cases selected from his own forty-year practice” (2000:

1). Republished in 1863, Willughby’s seventeenth-century manuscript has

been a significant source for historians dealing with early modern English