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The prostitute embodies the figure of the unsettling Other par excellence —paradoxically enough, precisely because she is disturbingly similar. She represents, indeed, everything the representatives of the dominant early modern English discourse i. This is the basic paradox that I will explore in my study with reference to a selection of plays, mainly city comedies, in which the prostitute is a character nearly impossible to omit, belonging as she does to the urban landscape.
I will particularly focus on the speech of the characters embodying, reporting or parodying the dominant discourse, and of the expressions of negation within this speech. The paradoxical result of this attitude is the creation of a new category through the exclusion of other categories one must remember that classifying and labelling constitute the main ways in which the Renaissance mind operates.
The only way to designate this unsettling Other who transgresses the boundaries of known and stable categories is to enunciate what she is not. The prostitute is accordingly first defined as a non-Londoner, and although there were street-walkers within the city, they were repeatedly referred to as dwellers of the suburbs.
The geographical exclusion is often extended, and the prostitute portrayed as non-English, but, first, Welsh or Irish, then from continental Europe France, Italy, the Low Countries , and even from Africa and the Middle-East.
Difference may also extend to religion: the prostitute is recurrently accused of being a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, even an atheist, in short, everything but a Protestant. In the most extreme accusatory speeches, our character is even seen as non-human: she is an object or an animal—or, more disturbingly, a witch or a devil.