Common Woman to Commodity: Changing Perceptions of Prostitution in Early Modern England, C. 1450-1750
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The study of prostitution in early modern England is often informed by incorrect terminology. The modern historiographical use of the term “prostitute” is misleading, as the term did not appear until the sixteenth century, and the act of selling sex did not come to dominate understandings of whoredom until many years later. This thesis examines the etymological history of the term “prostitute” and its cognates, and their changing legal, economic, and cultural meanings. This thesis investigates the intersection of late medieval and early modern conceptions of illicit sex with the rise of commercial capitalism to track the conceptual development of transactional sex as a commodity. Despite the influence of commercial capitalism on aspects of sexual immorality and developing conceptions of difference between paid and unpaid illicit sex, the primary division remained between chaste and unchaste women throughout the whole of the early modern period.