successful ones, those experienced midwives who follow the
empirical practice of Paracelsian iatrochemistry. Paulina is a
memorable embodiment of the early modern “mankind witch”
and midwife in the best sense, both in her compassion and
genuine desire to heal others and in the positive, life-giving,
supernatural power of her alchemy.
By representing and giving us some sense of the great
achievements of actual early modern female medical
practitioners, these two Shakespearean characters may help to
rectify the fact that most of the historical women healers’
achievements are absent from (male) historians’ records and
from the works of prestigious (male) writers, for their practice
had been largely prohibited by the patriarchal society and
medical establishment. If
The Winter’s Tale
modern women healers as having positive mystical powers,
also demystifies the supposed rationality and power of
patriarchal males (including kings), just as it demystifies the
common association of midwifery and witchcraft with the
forces of evil.
On the other hand, Kerwin remarks that “Many early modern authors
employ the mythological figure of Medea in ways that complement the
widespread process of cultural marginalization of women healers that
defines the early modern medical culture” (2005: 64).