“There is no tongue that moves”
they were not expendable. Perhaps that is why so many male
practitioners found them so very threatening” (2008: 84). It is
plausible that these women played a central role in the
“delivery of nursing, medical, pharmaceutical, and surgical
services throughout the city” (Harkness, 2008: 56), and were
therefore crucial to the health of most early modern Londoners.
Pelling and Wester’s observation that from 1581 to 1600 “the
College of Physicians prosecuted 21 women practitioners,
leaving 39 to be accounted for” (1979: 183) reveals the
political dominance of the patriarchal College of Physicians in
the field of medicine, and the high risk of indictment faced by
female practitioners. Elsewhere, Pelling has pointed out that
the members of the College of Physicians endeavored to clearly
distinguish themselves from other practitioners,
targeting those literate women healers “who competed for the
same urban clientele as that of the university-trained doctors”
(Ehrenreich, 1973: 54).
These women healers were caricatured,
and demonized as practicing witchcraft when they seemed to
be using magic in their therapies. Needless to say, the
accusation that women healers were witches led to the most
extreme forms of suppression and their exclusion from medical
history and the medical professions. “Women healers in
particular were vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft”
See Margaret Pelling, 2003. For Pelling, the College of the Physicians was
seen by the Londeners as a ‘potential resource in the management of their
own affairs’ (2003: 84).
Here we may think of Hermione’s success in persuading Polixenes to say
longer, and Leontes’s concealed and displaced envy of her communicative
skills, as if he and she had been in competition.
Thomas Gale ridiculed, to quote from Pelling and Webster, “three score
women, that occupieth the arte of phisick and chirurgerye. These women,
some of them be called wise women, or holy and good women, some of
them be called witches, and useth to call upon certaine spirits, and some of
them useth plain Bawderie, and telleth gentlewomen that cannot bear
children how they may have children” (1979: 187).