Gender, bodies, and labor in early modern art and literature

Authored by: Karen Raber

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:


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In this essay, I examine both visual and literary examples that reflect anxieties arising out of the intersection of the two kinds of labor early modern women provided: in kitchens, women turned animals into consumable meat, a productive if disturbingly carnal activity, while through sexual reproduction, women bred another kind of flesh. I argue that the potential overlap of these two domains of gendered labor, an overlap involving the child’s potential role as consumable flesh, is recognized in Dutch and Flemish paintings that depict the domestic preparation of meat. In England, where no similar tradition of visual art is available, the English theater instead took on the task of exploring the lurking specter of paedophagy. Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside acknowledge that women’s labor happens in a potentially dangerous ecosystem where multiple kinds of appetite collide and interact. The essay assembles literary accounts of Thyestean banquets, histories of infanticide, blood libel tales, and the symbolic meanings of specific animal species to excavate occluded cultural narratives involving the interchangeability of animal and infant human flesh.

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