This thesis mainly considers the female body in early modern society. The female body has been the object of study in drama on the one hand and the object of surveillance both in the family and in the theater of anatomy on the other hand. It has been regarded as the object of fear, which is always the disruptive power to the family and society. While it is regarded as what Bakhtin calls the grotesque body, which always transgresses its prescribed limits, the continuance of the family and the principle of primogeniture hinge on the female version of what Bakhtin calls the classic body. The duplicity of the female body initiates my reading of the female body in The Duchess of Malfi and in The Revenger’s Tragedy.
Chapter one reviews three historicized accounts of the body, as it was understood in early modern society: M. M. Bakhtin’s classic and grotesque bodies, G. M. Paster’s humoral body and Thomas Laqueur’s one-sex / one flesh model. In addition, I discuss the performance of the female body in the theater of early modern anatomy with a view to understanding how the female body becomes the object of knowledge and how the pursuit of that knowledge is related to the place of the female body in the familial and social structures.
Chapter two argues that the lying-in chamber serves as the site of inversion of the patriarchal prerogatives. I read the childbearing scene as the scene in which the classic body is transformed into the grotesque body. Chapter three discusses the dead female body in relation to the family integrity. I argue how the female body, though dead, serves to authorize male epistemology and how that epistemology functions to protect the family integrity.
The thesis concludes with a discussion of the relation between the theatrics of the public anatomical demonstration and the dramatics of tragedy. While the fragmented female body on stage challenges its audience to know who it is, it continues to confuse them. While the man who displays it attempts to transform it into “the corpus of mental categories,” it acts its own part, telling what is so special about both his body and hers in the two plays.