chapter  3
‘A meer chaos’: moles, abject bodies and the economy of reproductive discourses
Pages 16

At the end of The Changeling, Beatrice-Joanna re-presents herself as the abject part of blood standing between Vermandero and his ‘better health’ (V.iii.151), between a father and further honourable male versions of himself. Significantly, the evacuation of this contaminated and contaminating female ‘matter’ paves the way for the final mirroring of the father in the newly acquired ‘son’ (V.iii.216). It ensures – although, as shown earlier, not unproblematically – that the ‘name’ (V.iii.180) of the father, unlike Beatrice’s, be not ‘blotted out’ (V.iii.182) but passed on to a male heir. Also, it guarantees that the ‘illegitimate’ female child – one of the changelings of the play – be replaced by a ‘legitimate’ male child.1 In Cymbeline, after Iachimo produces a ‘corporal sign’ (II.iv.119) as indubitable evidence of Imogen’s supposed betrayal, Posthumus indulges in the fantasy of dismemberment typical of early modern scenarios of male sexual jealousy: ‘O that I had her here to tear her limb-meal’ (II.iv.147).2 He then asks himself: ‘Is

there no way for men to be, but women / Must be half-workers? We are all bastards’(II.v.1-2).3 To Posthumus, woman’s contribution to the genesis of men cannot but threaten to adulterate what might have been a perfect and ‘legitimate’ doubling of the father in the son. Hence, his strenuous attempt to locate that ‘woman’s part in [him]’ (II.v.20) he conceives as the inevitable, if deleterious, result of this contribution.4 In Hamlet, as Patricia Parker observes, the melancholic prince notably juxtaposes ‘woman’ (‘O most pernicious woman’ [I.v.105]) to ‘baser matter’ (I.v.104). This is the ‘matter’ of previous inscriptions he endeavours to ‘wipe away’ (I.i.98), so that his father’s ‘commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of [his] brain’ (I.v.102-3).5 For Parker, this female ‘matter’, which can be etymologically related to mater or matrix, ‘undermines and adulterates the perfect copying or reproduction of parthenogenesis …, the generative reproduction of a paternal original in a son who might be a faithful copy or representative, perfect instrument of a father’s will.’6