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Shame and the subject of women’s bodies
in Practising shame
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This chapter begins by using the subject of women’s preuytees (or shamefuls, as genitalia might also be termed in Middle English) as a gateway to examining the relationship between shame and the embodied nature of female honour in medieval English culture, focusing on the links between postlapsarian shame and the body in the medieval imagination. It then considers how postlapsarian shame contributed to medieval understandings of pain and shame as universal features of women’s experience of childbirth. Finally, it explores how the prologue of one version of the mid fifteenth-century gynaecological treatise now known as The Sickness of Women, as well as the prologue of The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing, employ strategies to mitigate the social and emotional risks women faced in exposing their bodies even for the ostensibly innocent purposes of medical diagnosis and treatment. While they perhaps inevitably replicate the gestures of concealing and revealing that characterize the practice of female honour, these prologues also present women’s shamefastness as something deserving of sympathy, respect, and protection.

Practising shame

Female honour in later medieval England


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