ABSTRACT

This article investigates the early modern fluidity of pregnancy and instability of the reproductive health discourse in order to reconsider Moll’s “green-sickness,” her embodiment and agency in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Taking an (eco)feminist and phenomenological perspective, I argue that Moll has been misdiagnosed by both the play’s characters and critics who failed to recognize her sexual responsiveness to a suitor of her choice. In what follows I look at Middleton’s treatment of contemporary medical knowledge on female health, pregnancy, and labor in order to illuminate a pervasive erasure of female sexual agency in the period. Although Middleton’s characters follow contemporary medical advice, they use it chaotically, contributing to a momentary collapse of virgin/whore, fertile/barren labels—capturing a sex-gender system in flux. The play’s glimpse into maids’ realities problematizes rather than confirms the precepts of humoral medicine.

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