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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: June ::
Re: Miss-Begetting
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0439.  Friday, 2 June 1995.
 
(1)     From:   David Jackson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 01 Jun 95 11:54:01 est
        Subj:   Re: Miss-Begetting
 
(2)     From:   Thomas G. Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Jun 1995 18:27:33 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Mis-begetting
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Jackson <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 Jun 95 11:54:01 est
Subject:        Re: Miss-Begetting
 
Re: Miss-Begetting, at the risk of revealing a woeful ignorance (or, worse,
misinformedness) concerning such things, I recall reading about studies that
indicate that the potential gender of offspring is to some extent
affected by the arduousness of the spermatozoon's journey toward the ovum. In
what some may consider an entirely apt manner, the "male" spermatozoon is more
likely to reach the ovum faster than the "female" over a short distance, but
the latter is far more hardy and has more staying power over the long haul.
 
While not wanting to delve too deeply into the realm of the lurid or graphic,
this suggests that the extent of penetration may affect the relative likelihood
of success of an "X" or a "Y" spermatozoon in combining with the ovum, and
perhaps body temperature may also affect each in different ways, too.  Although
I do not pretend to equate penetration and temperature with vigor or enjoyment
(the unkind comments of certain of my intimates notwithstanding), the
Elizabethans and Jacobeans may well have been onto something with a glimmer of
empirical evidence, which they then subjected to all manner of myths and
interpretations (in a way that we enlightened 20th-century types would never
do).
 
I raise this not to suggest that there is justification for believing that
there is a connection between one's lustiness and the gender of one's
offspring, but rather to suggest that there's often no smoke without fire (even
though in some cases the smoke comes after the fire has died down). In any
event, the experimentation and gathering of evidence was probably a lot more
fun for the Elizabethans than today's researchers with their pipettes and
petrie dishes, even if it produced more spurious conclusions.
 
          David Jackson
          Washington, D.C.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas G. Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Jun 1995 18:27:33 -0400
Subject:        Re: Mis-begetting
 
I don't have the original posting in front of me as I deleted it, but it seems
to me, from memory, that the "fierce quality" theory of copulatory intensity
having a masculinizing effect on the outcome (a version of which is discussed
by Thomas Laqueur, as Daniel Vitkus points out, and which also appears in
Greenblatt's "Fiction and Friction") won't serve to gloss the passage in
question. There, as I recall, the character lamented that his mother's lack of
"will" in his begetting had caused him *not* to become a woman -- from memory
"had my mother given but half her will" etc I might have been a woman. This is
precisely the inverse of the "hot sex" theory. Possibly relevant might be,
however, another ancient theory about copulation -- which may be no more than a
kind of joke or story-starter -- in which the state of mind of the mother could
influence the child. In particular this appears in one of the Greek romances
(and again in ?Tasso?) where a Queen gives birth to a child of the wrong skin
color because in the act of begetting she is looking upon a picture. (I am
remembering this off the top of my head without benefit of book). That sounds
closer to the needed theory to me, and would have been pretty familiar to
Renaissance writers.
 
Cheers,
Tom Bishop
 

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