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  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2015

Constructions of Cancer in Early Modern England

Ravenous Natures

Palgrave Macmillan


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Softcover Book USD 23.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 31.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Table of contents (8 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-viii
  2. Introduction

    • Alanna Skuse
    Pages 1-19Open Access
  3. What Was Cancer? Definition, Diagnosis and Cause

    • Alanna Skuse
    Pages 20-39Open Access
  4. Cancer and the Gendered Body

    • Alanna Skuse
    Pages 40-60Open Access
  5. Cancerous Growth and Malignancy

    • Alanna Skuse
    Pages 74-93Open Access
  6. ‘Cannot You Use a Loving Violence?’: Cancer Surgery

    • Alanna Skuse
    Pages 121-153Open Access
  7. Conclusion: ‘Death Is Only Their Desire’

    • Alanna Skuse
    Pages 154-158Open Access
  8. Back Matter

    Pages 159-219

About this book

This book is open access under a CC-BY licence.

Cancer is perhaps the modern world's most feared disease. Yet, we know relatively little about this malady's history before the nineteenth century. This book provides the first in-depth examination of perceptions of cancerous disease in early modern England. Looking to drama, poetry and polemic as well as medical texts and personal accounts, it contends that early modern people possessed an understanding of cancer which remains recognizable to us today. Many of the ways in which medical practitioners and lay people imagined cancer – as a 'woman's disease' or a 'beast' inside the body – remain strikingly familiar, and they helped to make this disease a byword for treachery and cruelty in discussions of religion, culture and politics. Equally, cancer treatments were among the era's most radical medical and surgical procedures. From buttered frog ointments to agonizing and dangerous surgeries, they raised abiding questions about the nature of disease and the proper role of the medical practitioner.


  • Cancer
  • early modern medicine
  • early surgery
  • mastectomy
  • canker
  • canker-worm
  • cancer-worm
  • cancer wolf
  • cancer
  • diagnosis
  • early modern period
  • England
  • English literature
  • growth
  • history
  • surgery
  • British and Irish Literature

Authors and Affiliations

  • Folger Shakespeare Library, USA

    Alanna Skuse

About the author

Alanna Skuse is a scholar of early modern literature and history, who has lectured at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter, UK. She has previously published on early modern treatments for cancer and on the uses of 'canker' in Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Bibliographic Information

Buying options

Softcover Book USD 23.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 31.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)