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Panel 6.

“Mother, mother, mother!”: Shakespearean (m)others reconsidered (Hamlet, 3.4.8).

In The Symposium, Plato recalls Socrates’s dialogue with the priestess Diotima in which she distinguishes between the “pregnancy of the body” and ‘‘the pregnancy of the soul”. The latter is the domain of the poets who “give birth” to virtue. Diotima is thus using the transformative power of pregnancy to unveil the higher value of mental creation over the raw physicality of actual reproduction (Coe 2013, 32). Plato’s idea of the impassable chasm between the virtues of intellectual pursuits and the vulgar animalism of the feminine biological functions, along with Aristotle’s outright dismissal of femininity, were deeply ingrained in the early modern discourse on pregnancy and maternity. However, despite a wide-spread, but wavering, belief in female inferiority, the early modern period boasts an unprecedented flourishing of midwifery and popular medical books testifying to a growing interest in the so far exclusively female domains of pregnancy and maternity. Analyses of Shakespearean maternities mostly capitalize on the monstrous and destabilizing potential of the maternal influence. Shakespearean mothers seem to be either idealized and silenced (e.g. Hermione) or threatening and corporeal (e.g. Tamora, Gertrude). This panel wishes to address this changing division by investigating representations of and attitudes about the wealth of maternal and paternal in Shakespeare’s drama. We wish to reconsider maternal representation in early modern drama by grounding our discussion in contemporary popular medical discourse as well as gender realities and expectations of the period. Moreover, we look at the shifting conceptualization of the Shakesperean (m)other to the backdrop of early modern and modern crises of subjectivity.


  • Coe, Cynthia D. 2013. ‘Plato, Maternity, and Power: Can We Get a Different Midwife?’ In Coming to Life: Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Mothering, edited by Sarah LaChance Adams and Caroline R. Lundquist, 31–46. New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Plato: The Symposium. 2008. 1 edition. Cambridge, UK, New York: Cambridge University Press.