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“There is no tongue that moves”

35

on texts and theory, and thus was limited and futile. Hence,

they are scorned in

Macbeth

: “Throw physic to the dogs!”

(Shakespeare, 1984: 148). As Marjorie Garber observes:

“[T]here are some Shakespearean characters who do appear

onstage and perform acts of restoration and healing seemingly

beyond those of professional physicians. Perhaps significantly,

all of these powerful figures are women” (1980: 107).

In this late romance, Shakespeare never mentions male

medical authorities but only appeals to his female practitioners,

who are portrayed as being able to heal, or save, the soul as

well as the body. Of the two women healers discussed in the

play, Paulina most resembles the remarkable female

practitioners of sixteenth-century Bologna. “While it is clear

that women healers were excluded from the professional

practice of medicine,” Gianna Pomata informs us, “it should be

noted that several female figures were prominent among the

saints to whom the citizens of Bologna appealed in their

pressing need” (1998: 79). Pomata continues: “[i]n addition to

the Virgin Mary, whose cult left a long record of healing

miracles in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Bologna, other

women saints were paramount among the city’s supernatural

healers” (79). All these women healers have distinguished

themselves through their use of practical knowledge, empirical

experience, openness to the spiritual or supernatural world,

and human kindness. On Shakespeare’s stage they also wielded

the power of compassionate and witty language.

Sustained by its two women healers

Hermione and

Paulina

The Winter’s Tale

shows us both the problematic

status of, and the significant role played by, women healers in

history. These two female characters possess quick wits and

powerful rhetoric, and their own actions seem, like those of

historical women medical practitioners, to be unlicensed and

unbound. Hermione can represent all the silenced and

prosecuted women healers and Paulina the strong and