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'One stroak of his razour': tales of self-gelding in early modern England

Skuse, A. (2020) 'One stroak of his razour': tales of self-gelding in early modern England. Social History of Medicine, 33 (2). pp. 377-393. ISSN 1477-4666

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/shm/hky100


This article examines stories of men who gelded themselves in early modern England. These events, it argues, were shaped and partly motivated by a culture in which castration was seen as both degrading and potentially empowering. Religious precedents such as that of Origen of Alexandria framed self-gelding as a foolhardy activity, but one which nevertheless indicated an impressive degree of mastery over the body and its urges. Meanwhile, judicial and popular contexts framed castration as a humiliating and emasculating ordeal. Instances of self-gelding in this period are rare but nonetheless illuminating. Relayed in medical texts and popular ballads, such actions typically occurred as a response to emotional distress. In particular, men gelded themselves as a means to express feelings of emasculation within heterosexual relationships, and to dramatically renounce their role in the libidinal economy.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:89263
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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