Prostitutes, courtesans and public morality
in Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue
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Chapter 3 discusses developments in public policy and intellectual attitudes towards prostitution and sexual immorality in early modern Italy. It shows how attempts were made to discipline courtesans and repress concubinage, which were both regarded as greater menaces to good order, marriage and the social hierarchy than was the ordinary prostitute who kept her place. Official brothels fell out of favour and the registration and taxation of prostitutes became more haphazard, though vice districts stayed and were somewhat erratically maintained. Trenchant criticisms were made of the notion that prostitution was a defensible ‘lesser evil’ capable of preserving the public good; in some quarters it was seen as an enemy of marriage and demographic growth, as a stimulus to irresponsible lust rather than a device for controlling it. But writers still defended the regulation rather than the repression of prostitution, even in the face of venereal disease.

Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue

Dishonoured women and abandoned children in Italy, 1300–1800

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