Talk

Capulet Gynecologist, Montague Onanist: Medieval Sex, Renaissance Death, and Romeo and Juliet

An Illustrated lecture with Lois Leveen

Capulet Gynecologist, Montague Onanist: Medieval Sex, Renaissance Death, and Romeo and Juliet An Illustrated lecture with Lois Leveen | Events Calendar


Gowanus

Morbid Anatomy Museum | 424 Third Ave.

Admission: $5

**Copies of “Juliet’s Nurse” will be on sale at this event.

Should it strike us as odd that the world’s favorite love story ends in a pile of corpses (some fresh, some moldering)? That a troubled teen visiting her religious confessor leaves with mind- and body-altering drugs? Or that a family would keep a professional breastfeeder as part of their household, even when their child is almost 14 years old?

Lois Leveen’s new book “Juliet’s Nurse” imagines the 14 years leading up to the events depicted in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In this illustrated talk, Leveen shares the research behind the book, which uncovered unexpected details about how people experienced sex and death in 14th-century Italy.

When plague first came to Italy in 1348, it killed 40% of the population. In the wake of this devastation, many survivors turned to hedonism rather than piety. Even those who flocked to churches found themselves on their knees before eroticized pictures of naked saints, while out on the streets eruptions of gang violence could draw as many as a thousand young men into a single brawl. Families might spend five generations taking bloodied revenge upon their enemies, and young women under pressure to produce viable heirs were subject to superstitious rituals and pseudo-scientific gynecological procedures, from conception through childbirth. Drawing on diaries, court cases, letters, and illustrated medical treatises, Leveen explores a society on the cusp between the medieval era and the Renaissance.

Lois Leveen holds degrees in literature and history from Harvard University, the University of Southern California, and UCLA. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Bitch magazine, The Daily Beast, the Atlantic, the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and on NPR, as well as literary and scholarly journals and in film and performing arts festivals. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with one Canadian, two cats, and sixty-thousand honey bees.