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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Re: Renaissance Theories about Birth Defects
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 60.  Thursday, 4 February 1993.
 
From:           Louis Schwartz <
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Date:           Thursday, 04 Feb 1993 09:15:31 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: More Rs: Birth Defects; Performance Criticism
 
     Shylock's bit about the parti-colored lambs has more to do
with Genesis then with specifically renaissance ideas about
imagination and birth (though the relationship of renaissance
ideas to Gen. 27 and 30, was not lost on most people who thought
about such things).
     You might, however, find this list from Ambroise Pare's *Des
Monstres et prodiges* (1573) useful:
 
     "I:  On the Causes of Monsters
     There are several things that cause monsters.
     The first is the glory of God.
     The second is his wrath.
     The third, too great a quantity of seed.
     The fourth, too little a quantity.
     The fifth, the imagination.
     The sixth, the narrowness of the womb.
     The seventh, the indecent posture of the mother, as when,
being pregnant, she has sat too long with her legs crossed, or
presses against the womb.
     The eighth, through a fall, or blows struck against the womb
of the mother, being with child.
     The ninth, through hereditary or accidental illnesses.
     The tenth, through rotten or corrupt seed.
     The eleventh, through mixture or mingling of seed.
     The twelfth, through the artifice of wicked spital beggars.
     The thirteenth, through Demons or Devils.
          (There are other causes that I leave aside for the
present because among all human reasons, one cannot give any that
are sufficient or probable, such as why persons are made with
only one eye in the middle of the forehead or navel, or a horn on
the head, or the liver upside down.  Others are born having
griffin's feet, like birds, and certain monsters which are
engendered in the sea; in short countless others which it would
take too long to describe.)"
 
     from, *On Monsters and Marvels*, trans. by Janis Pallister
(U. of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 3-4.
 
     Chapter Nine of the book details cases of monstrosity
resulting from imagination.  The complete works of Pare were
translated into English in 1634 by T. Johnson.  Happy reading!
 
 
Other books that contain information about these things:
 
     1) The Birth of Mankind.  The most important and popular
Midwifery handbook in England up to the 1620's.  First published
in England 1540, translated by Richard Jonas from *De partu
hominis*, itself a translation of a German original.  Revised and
republished in England in 1545 by Thomas Raynald, it went into 13
editions, the last in 1654.
 
     2)  The midwives book, Mrs. Jane Sharp (1671).  This is past
Shakespeare, but contains ideas current during his career.
Interesting as the only midwifery text by a woman based on
reading in anatomy (she has read Pare and others), perhaps the
*only* one by a woman.  Reflects the experience of thirty odd
years of practice (ca. 1640 to ca. 1671).  There's a facsimile in
the Garland Press series Marriage, Sex, and the Family in England
1660-1800, ed. Randolph Trumbach (New York: Garland Publishing,
1985).
 
Louis Schwartz

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