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“There is no tongue that moves”


Paulina) in Shakespeare’s

The Winter’s Tale

in the way I will do

so here, by placing them in the context of historical female

practitioners via the theories of Paracelsus. Here then I will be

looking at these women’s ability to overcome their

traditionally limited gender (sexual), social and political roles

and become therapeutic instruments or forces for the “healing”

or “curing” of infected (though still powerful) male subjects

and of their malevolent language.

I. The Early Modern Women Healers in England

Women healers in England in the early modern period

were commonly barred from entering the orthodox medical

society, as they were mostly unlicensed and unrecognized, yet

their importance has been shown in relatively recent research.

For example, Margaret Pelling and Charles Webster,



pioneers in the study of early modern medical practices in

England, claim that “[w]omen play a substantial part in

medicine in sixteenth-century London” (1979: 186).

According to them, there were three main medical groups in

London at this time: the College of Physicians, the

Barber-Surgeons’ Company, and the apothecaries; however,

“[a]t the fringe of official medicine were the midwives” (1979:

179). Moreover, “[t]he College of Physicians had general

authority over physicians, surgeons and apothecaries” (Pelling

& Webster, 1979: 179), as well as over the midwives or


For all the studies of early modern English medical practitioners, the most

influential scholars are Margaret Pelling and Charles Webster, as

demonstrated in their monumental article, “Medical Practitioners.” See

Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century

(1979). Their major

contribution to the history of medicine remains in both scholars’ initial

research on the abundance of the College of Physicians weighty manuscript