Chelsea Phillips
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‘Rudely stamped’
Supernatural generation and the limits of power in Shakespeare’s Richard III
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The importance of successful, legitimate birth and childrearing to the health of early modern society, from the monarch to the lowest orders, created a strong corollary between the processes of generation (procreation, birth, parenting) and social order. Supernatural influence on these processes, whether divine or malignant, raised cultural anxieties about the limits of supernatural power. From the extra-ordinary but still ‘natural’ process of maternal impression, via the specific malignancy of witchcraft or fairy-taking, to the calamitous monstrosity of personal sin or political upheaval, early modern generation was construed as a natural process intimately entwined with and susceptible to outside influence. This chapter explores how Shakespeare constructs the limits of supernatural power on generation in relation to social, legal, medical, and theological norms familiar to an early modern audience, using Richard III as a central example.

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