Natural Mothers and the Changing “Character” of Englishness

Trubowitz Rachel

in Nation and Nurture in Seventeenth-Century English Literature

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199604739
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741074 | DOI:
Natural Mothers and the Changing “Character” of Englishness

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This chapter reads Macbeth in relationship to the querelle des femmes. It focuses specifically on two gender-debate pamphlets that characterize “the good woman” as a natural nurturer, in opposition to aristocratic customs, such as wet-nursing. For the pamphlet writers, nature conforms to empirically observable laws; the naturalness of maternal nurture is the key to normative English identity. By contrast, in Macbeth, nature is a mysterious realm, beyond the reach of science and reason, associated with the magic of English kingship. Lady Macbeth's contempt for maternal nurture and her disdain for the mysterious nature of dynastic sovereignty go hand-in-hand. Macduff briefly challenges the mystical–monarchical relations between nature and nurture when he insists, in opposition to Malcolm, that his overwhelming grief for his murdered wife and children is manly. Macduff's new, affective insights into nature and gender overlap with the gender debate's anti-customary associations between maternal nurture and national identity.

Keywords: nature; Englishness; gender; querelle des femmes; maternal nurture; magic; empiricism

Chapter.  12552 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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