Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Early Modern Controversies about the One-Sex Model

Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Early Modern Controversies about the One-Sex Model

Article excerpt

This essay traces the opposition to the Galenic notion of a homology between male and female genitalia (the "one-sex model") and identifies the French physician Andr[acute{e}] Dulaurens as the first outspoken apponent. After Dulaurens, the German physician Johann Peter Lotichius makes the opposition to that model more clearly an argument that may he called "feminist."

Some medical notions, in their emergence, critique, and decline, are of great interest to the literary historian. Book-length studies of humoral physiology and literature would fill an entire room -- I myself have contributed a book. When did hysteria cease to be considered exclusively a woman's disease? How could it happen that in the early modern period so many cases of chlorosis were observed (and poems about young women in the grips of green sickness written) when today the condition is unknown to the medical practitioner? To ask these questions is not to promote a simplistic view of literature reflecting science, of science and imaginative literature marching in lock-step, or even of literature outpacing medicine (that is, of poets first intimating what modern psychologists hold true). But any genuine attempt to answer them will lead to a more complex sense both of the development of medicine with its controversies and of its relationship to literature.

In writings about the history of gender in the early modern period, few notions have had an impact so immediate and general as that of the so-called one-sex model," the idea of an equivalence or rather homology between male and female reproductive organs. Described for the general public by the historian Thomas Laqueur and masterfully applied to English literature (particularly Shakespeare) by Stephen Greenblatt, the term "one-sex model" has won almost universal acceptance. In seminars and conferences, it serves as a code to historicize and to express a nexus of ideas deriving from Galenic anatomy in which the woman's organs are an interior version of the mans genitals; they correspond to the man's genitals except that a lack of heat has failed to turn them outside. [1] For this reason, Renaissance medical accounts of these matters tend to conclude by talking about gender change, giving instances of women who (often at the moment of strenuous physical activity) push out their organs and turn into men.

With so much unanimity, there may, however, be grounds for suspecting a new orthodoxy, a suspicion that has recently led Janet Adelman to challenge the general acceptance of the idea in England. [2] Possibly impelled by her intuitive conviction that what informs a play like Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is not simply a one-sex model (which would imply that a woman is somehow a deficient male), Adelman, on the basis of medical works in the period available in England, doubts that the homological scheme ever had the dominance which has been claimed or implied. She looks at John Banister's compilation The Historie of Man (1578), a collection of questions called The Problemes of Aristotle (1597), and Thomas Raynold's gynecological The Byrth of Mankynde, otherwyse named the Womans Booke (1545 and later editions) and finds that comments about correspondence are at most occasional. If they occur at all, as in Raynold, they are "not in the service of an argument about homology, but in the service of an argument about function" (33). She finds that while the texts in English in the sixteenth century seem for the most part ignorant of the one-sex model or not interested in it, Helkiah Crooke's Microcosmographia. A Description of the Body of Man (1615) specifically mentions it, but oddly enough only in order to argue against it. "This puts him in the curious position of being simultaneously the model's best -- indeed perhaps its first -- full expositor in English and its severest critic" (36).

It seems that by her systematic doubt of critical orthodoxy Janet Adelman has done us a great service. …

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