The Empress of Babylon's ‘carbuncles and rich stones’: The Metaphorizing of the Pox in Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon


  • Sarah Scott University of Arkansas



Written in the intense religious and political period following the Powder Treason, Thomas Dekker's anti-catholic and anti-Spanish propaganda play, The Whore of Babylon, bodies forth England's political, social, and religious ills through the image of an alien, pox-riddled female who is depicted repeatedly as an infected and infecting wetnurse and whore. Dekker's provocative rendering of the Empress of Babylon and those she contaminates reflects early modern beliefs that syphilis was first generated and transmitted by women, as evidenced by the treatise The Hunting of the Pox, for example. This article argues that through the pathologizing and gendering of anxieties and fears of the strange existing both from within and from beyond England's shorelines, the play performs the role of social physician as it diagnoses and recommends treatment for that which corrupts national health. Dekker's persistent metaphorizing of the Empress's body and those she contaminates directs audiences to the unsettling idea that immunity from alien penetration and contagion and the careful balance of health and stability are not as easily achieved as his contemporary audience would like to believe.