Grotesque Body





The Unsound Body




Deviant Women
Portrayed as Animals


Icon of Sin


Grotesque Body


Leaky Vessels


Paradox of Female Body














The above image portrays the grotesque
perception of awoman's body during the
sixteenth century. This particular woman
is pregnant; however, her full figure and swollen breasts are commonly depicted in nude images of women. The
woman's tired and worn face is evidence that she has struggled in her life, and she is exposed and scrutinized to the full extent, similar to how women are treated every day by men. [25]

In addition to the portrayal
of whores as animalistic and sinful, a defining characteristic of a whore is her “grotesque” body due to her lecherous behavior. A prostitute was defined as a woman who lived by her body during early modern England. A prostitute lived through her body differently from any other woman because she reveled in her body, flaunting the grotesque elements of her body. In Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Allwit observes the repulsive indulgences of the gossips who are consuming the food at his table in a vile manner. He reports,

“Now in goes the long fingers that are washed
Some thrice a day in urine—my wife uses it—
Now we shall have such poketing;
See how they lurch at the lower end” [22].

Allwit’s depiction not only comments on the gross consumption and foulness of the gossip women, but it also suggests some sexual allusions to male genitals through the images of “long fingers” cleansed with urine penetrating the food. This greedy consumption of the grimy gossips illustrates the grotesque image of a female’s body.

In his essay, “Sex and Marriage”, Martin Ingram describes the sexual revolution of the seventeenth century as a point when the upper class valued privacy and modesty as opposed to the lower class who “experienced no shame in doing the work of the flesh and were relatively free to use their bodies as they wished and did not need constantly to restrain their sexual and emotional impulses” [16]. Prostitutes were among Ingram’s lower class who indulged in sexuality and embraced the natural misshapenness of their loose bodies. Whores enjoyed the freedom of fulfilling their unrestrained impulses, a behavior chaste or married women were disinclined to do because of societal morals. John Skelton’s “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng” vividly demonstrates the grotesque form of the female body.

“Some huswyves come unbrased,
With theyr naked pappes,
That flyppes and flappes,
It wygges and it wagges
Lyke tawny saffron bagges—
A sorte of foule drabbes
All scurvy with scabbes.
Some be flybytten,
Some skewed as a kitten;
Some with a sho clout
Bynde theyr heddes about;
Some have no herelace,
Theyr lockes about theyr face,
Theyr tresses untrust,
All full of unlust;
Some loke strawry,
Some cawry mawry;
Full untidy tegges,
Lyke rotten egges:
Such a lewde sorte
to Elynour resorte…” [30].

The “huswyves” in this portion of Skelton’s poem are “lewde” prostitutes who come to Elynour Rummyng’s alehouse to drink and reveal themselves to men. The women are described as “unbrased”, their bodies are loose and marked by bites and scabs. These women are untidy, unclean and repulsive in their appearances; however, they do not see themselves as being repellent. In fact, these women seem to glorify their grotesque appearances through the unrestricting movement of their bodies, and they feel no shame in doing so. Gail Kern Paster points out in The Body Embarrassed that the “experience of bodily shame” is a “form of social discipline” during early modern England; therefore, whores, who lack social discipline also do not suffer shamefulness.