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“There is no tongue that moves”


“The method of the science of medicine is, I

suppose, the same as that of the science of

rhetoric.” (Plato,

Phaedrus, as cited in


1970: 123)

“Women . . . were central to health and healing

before 1800.” (Fissell, 2008: 1)

The first half of Shakespeare’s

The Winter’s Tale


tells a

tragic tale, one which begins with a predicament involving two

kings who are old friends: the first, King Leontes of Sicily, fails

to persuade his friend to alter his intention to depart, while the

latter, King Polixenes of Bohemia, gains support from the

words of King Leontes’s wife, Hermione. During their

argument, Polixenes exclaims to his friend and host, King

Leontes: “There is no tongue that


, none, none I’ th’

world / So soon as yours could win me” (1.2.20-21,



), yet in the end of their conversation, ironically, it is

the queen, Hermione, whose tongue wins over and thus,


Polixenes eventually. Here, Hermione’s rhetoric success, rather

than being celebrated, is stigmatized, for her husband later

falsely accuses her of having committed adultery with

Polixenes. Similarly, in the world of early modern European

medicine, the positive influence of female healers is for the

most part unrecognized, even if it is powerfully present in

Hermione’s act of “healing.”

These mute, early modern female medical practitioners,

as we see in the case of Hermione, can be not only silenced,

but jailed, for their magical and benevolent medicine. Attacked

by Leontes’s violent and tyrannical speech, a privileged

discourse given the gender and authoritative status of the

speaker, Hermione responds: “Sir, / You speak a language that


All textual citations taken from

The Winter’s Tale

are based on the Bedford

Shakespeare series, ed. Mario Digangi (Shakespeare, 2008).