Seeing and Performing Late Medieval Childbirth

1.  According to Gibson, what parts of the pregnant body and childbearing experience were off limits to the male gaze?

2.  You’ve got to love the Middle Ages:  who was Silence in the Roman de Silence?

3.  Why is “lateral imagining” necessary and what are the types of texts that help historians piece together our knowledge of medieval childbirth?

4.  What do Virginia Woolf, women’s bodies, the patriarchy, and performance have in common?  Work with me here!

5.  How do the ceremonial birthing trays function both as a witness to and mediator of the enclosed birthing rooms?

6.  What do the inscriptions on the birthing tray in the Metropolitan Museum connote?  Does the iconography of the obverse of this salver reinforce the male-female dialectic that we have been discussing in this course?

7.  Discuss the origins of the word “gossip!”  What are the parallels between the midwife and the clergy?

8.  Why was the performance of the Nativity so compelling?  What does Gibson mean by the theological gynecology of Mary as a recurrent spectacle in the N-Town cycle?  In what way is this performance a transgression of gender boundaries?

9.  How does Joseph cross the gender boundaries in art?

10.  What role does the doubting midwife play in the “gender wars?”

11.  In the end, the Virgin’s body remains a contested site, one that experiences true labor pains at the foot of the Cross as she experiences the loss of her son.  Some would argue that all pregnant bodies are  contested sites, privy to certain secrets (the quickening!), etc.  What do you think about the state of pregnancy today?


3 responses

  1. Postpartum confinement and a Count hiding the sex of his daughter? Fascinating!

    I found the origin of “gossip” (the close female friends and relatives that helped during childbirth) to be very interesting. And especially that, slowly but surely, 18th century misogyny had transformed the word to having a negative connotation.

    “We know that our own mother’s bearing of us was a bearing to pain and death, but what does Jesus, or true Mother, go? Why, he, All-love, bears us to joy and eternal life! And he is in labour until the time has fully come for him to suffer the sharpest pangs and most appalling pain possible — and in the end he dies. And not even when this is over, and we ourselves have been born to eternal bliss, is his marvelous love completely satisfied.” (20) Hmm does a gender-bending Christ elevate the status of women or just reenforce already existing roles?

  2. This may be silly, but why is Joseph the only one without a halo in figure three, it seems that, in this one scene, he loses not only his manhood, but also his sainthood. Poor Joseph.

    I think that, unlike most of what we have read, the men in the article are endearing…which is refreshing!

    I, like Kathrine, found the root of the word “gossips” totally fascinating, and its swift move from a nickname to a stereotype equally interesting. It seems that all things kept secret from men become all the more interesting to them! They seem to be jealous of the closeness that comes with the birthing process (I guess hunts just don’t give the same feeling?) and thus, feel a need to become a part of it, be that through science (gynecology) or through a shaming of behavior (redefining gossips).

    I thought it was interesting that, as far as I could tell, there was no child represented on the front of the childbearing trays. The interior environment is totally separated from males, both those outside the doors and those still inside the mother. This division, mother from child, is really interesting and something I would like to discuss.

    I think that the idea of a painless birthing process for Mary, who’s true labor is felt at the cross, is really beautiful! I always love references to stories in the apocrypha because I am so unfamiliar with them.

    As far as I know, Thomas was not harmed in any way by touching Christ’s wounds (no shriveled hands for him), however, in the Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, was made mute when he laughed at his wife’s “mature” pregnancy. I don’t know if this is interesting, but I feel like it might be.

  3. I, like Katherine, was fascinated by the story of Cador Count of Cornwall and his daughter. I just love the line “the transvestite heroine of his conspiracy of patriarchy is named Silence.” (9) It sounds like a juicy lesbian, chick lit, type book that I really want to read.

    I’d like to raise the question of reliability with this article too. Also, both articles require some prior understanding of Catholic doctrine, which I find limiting.

    “The late medieval woman’s space of the birthing room enclosed women’s bodies, women’s discourse, and women’s cultural performance but also existed, first and foremost, to produce the male children that were the essential links in the chain of male order and control.” (11) Interesting!

    Unfortunately, when I finished the article, I was left with the question, “What’s the thesis?”

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