ABSTRACT

In this chapter, I turn to the fi gure of the bleeding child in early modern literature and culture. In my analyses of the bleeding bride and bleeding cuckold, gendered discourses of marriage, sexuality, and domestic ideology determine the meanings of blood onstage; in general, whereas blood itself is not necessarily gendered, the act of bleeding is, and the bleeding associated with domestic rites and relationships is almost always considered feminine. Thus even male blood, when presented in the context of marriage and consummation, emblematizes the vulnerability of the bridegroom, and when presented in the context of cuckoldry, male blood is considered as unwieldy, contaminated, and corrupted as the body of the real or imagined adulteress. In both cases, dramatic literature subverts the expected narrative by evoking the image or fantasy of a bleeding woman without ever showing women’s blood onstage.3 As I argued in Chapter 1, the sight of women’s blood implied a range of negative associations ranging from bodily fi lth and sexual incontinence to popishness and idolatry. It is worth emphasizing, then, that despite the patent misogyny undergirding mythologies of bleeding brides and horned householders, early modern English drama remained somewhat squeamish about staging women’s blood. In part, as I will continue to explore below, this is bound up in the idea that women’s blood is inherently understood as shameful. By consistently inverting narratives that are built upon women’s blood, the plays I have been examining reinforce the idea that masculine bodies and identity are imperiled by their proximity to domestic life and relationships. The home becomes a place in which men bleed as women.