Deceitful Bodies: Ideas, Performance and the Physicality of Bodily Fraud, 1540 - 1750
Allen, Stephanie Fern
In early modern England it was believed that many people possessed the ability to alter and thereby mispresent their bodies. Various texts claimed that they were able to do so by either creating or restoring different aspects and features of the body. This dissertation investigates the defective and deceptive body in early modern England. It considers how bodies like these and the methods used by people to manipulate the body were portrayed in medical, religious, literary and popular works to the early modern populace. In considering attitudes towards bodily fraud and deceit it assesses early modern attitudes towards deformity and its causes. The dissertation argues that people were aware that defective and deceptive bodies existed and were visible in a range of printed texts and in everyday life. It examines the extent to which cultural representations of criminal and dishonest behaviour fuelled anxieties about fraud and duplicity. It considers the ways in which writers and readers connected and distinguished between bodies, that while all deceptive, were not all fraudulent. By establishing the origins of deformity, such as birth, injury and illness, this dissertation shows how some of these contexts were used by fraudulent beggars to invoke sympathy or were concealed by individuals who wished to hide the extent of their bodily defect to minimise their social and economic exclusion. Different types of deceptive behaviour were motivated by economic factors. Those who wished to conceal their defective body did so to promote work and marriage opportunities increasing their chances of financial stability in the long term. Fraudulent beggars reshaped their narratives and manipulated their bodies to appear deserving of charity and it was believed that women were able to recreate their virginity to please a new husband or to increase profit from prostitution. Overall this dissertation demonstrates that regardless of the context, defective and deceptive bodies were profitable socially and financially.
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