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Gender, sexuality and illness in early modern exorcism

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Rachel E. Holmes.

In 1585, in the village of Denham in Buckinghamshire, a group of undercover Catholic priests exorcised five young people who appeared to be possessed by demons. What followed was remarkable for a number of reasons: a woman was raped with saints’ relics, a man claimed to have a womb, and almost all of them believed themselves to be suffering from an illness known as ‘suffocation of the mother’. Later a satirical book about these events exerted a strong influence on Shakespeare’s King Lear. This talk will ask what the Denham exorcisms can tell us about how people in this period imagined bodies and diseases to be gendered, and about the relationship between demonic possession, sexual difference and sexuality.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society talks series.

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