Bicks, Caroline 1966-

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Bicks, Caroline 1966-


Born 1966; daughter of David (a lawyer) and Marian (an admissions assistant) Bicks; married Brendon Thomas Reay. Education: Harvard University, A.B.; Stanford University, Ph.D., 1997.


Office—Boston College, Carney Hall 429, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, educator. Ohio State University, Columbus, former assistant professor; Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, associate professor of English.

Also works as an actress, writes commentaries for National Public Radio, regularly performs at Improv Boston, and appeared in the New York City production of "Afterbirth: Stories You Won't Hear in Parenting Magazine." Previously worked as a high school teacher.


Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2003.

Contributor to books, including Pericles: Critical Essays, 2000.


English professor Caroline Bicks began her educational career at the Brearley School in New York City, a girls' prep school where her mother, Marion Bicks, works as an admissions assistant. After graduating, Bicks went on to study at Harvard University, earning her A.B. and continuing on to Stanford University, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1997. After completing postdoctoral work at Stanford, Bicks worked as an assistant professor at Ohio State University and then went on to work as an associate professor of English at Boston College. While working at Boston College, Bicks authored her first book, Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, which was published in 2003.

Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England is a cultural study of midwives and their role in England from 1534 to 1642. In the book, Bicks discusses midwives' place in early English society by examining Shakespeare's work and other texts from the same time period. In her examination, Bicks provides an interesting look at women's roles in sixteenth-century England. In the first chapter, she discusses midwives' duties, such as their authority in determining paternity, and the belief that when a midwife cut the umbilical cord, they were shaping the length of a baby's tongue and penis. In the second chapter, Bicks discusses the practice of hymen pressing, in which midwives verified virginity. The last two chapters of the book examine the midwives' religious authority. During a crisis, they were able to conduct baptisms and other religious rites. All of these duties gave the midwife a great deal of social power.

Indeed, Michelle Ephraim, reviewing Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England in Modern Philology, noted that "Bicks cleverly demonstrates the endur- ance of the midwife's stories and historical legacy." Ephraim also commented that "Bicks's close readings of historical documents and literary texts offer a new, richly researched angle on early modern women and the stories they generate." Other reviewers have also remarked on the book's value as a scholarly resource. For instance, Albion contributor Michelle M. Dowd stated that "Bicks has produced a fascinating and important study that will transform our thinking about women's role in early modern subject formation." Dowd added that Bicks's "critical reimagination of the public/private divide that has dominated scholarly approaches to early modern women for many years is both timely and groundbreaking."

Bicks was once a professional actress, so her knowledge of the theater is both practical and scholarly, which is perhaps why her historical exploration centers around Shakespeare. Ephraim observed that Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England "provides ample evidence of midwifery's prominence in Shakespeare." Ephraim also stated that "plays such as The Comedy of Errors (1592), Henry VIII (1613), Macbeth (1606), Winter's Tale (1610), and Pericles (1608), with their emphasis on political and sexual legitimacy, offer rich material." Dowd felt that "Bicks' argument is strongest and most lucid when she is writing about Shakespeare's late plays." According to Dowd, the book "argues convincingly that the Old Lady in Henry VIII and Paulina in The Winter's Tale attest to the revisable nature of stories about lineage and paternity."

Clio critic Theresa Krier further discussed the texts that Bicks references in Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England. Krier observed that the selections "vividly exhibit the intimacies, anxieties, figurative richness, narrative potential, and persistent gender politics attendant upon representations of the midwife." Like other critics, Krier commented that Bicks's "study will be useful to scholars coming from literary studies, cultural history, and history of the family." Krier even felt that the book's "notes and citations do a particularly fine job of laying out the present state of scholarship" on the subject.



Albion, June 22, 2004, Michelle M. Dowd, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, p. 297.

British Journal for the History of Science, March 1, 2006, Elaine Hobby, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, p. 130.

Choice, January 1, 2004, D. Pesta, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, p. 905.

Clio, March 22, 2005, Theresa Krier, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, p. 356.

Modern Philology, May, 2006, Michelle Ephraim, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, pp. 529-533.

New York Times, July 13, 1997, "Caroline Bicks, Brendon Reay," wedding announcement.

Reference & Research Book News, November 1, 2003, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, p. 249.

Shakespeare Quarterly, September 22, 2004, Susan Comilang, review of Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England, p. 350.


Boston College Web site, (May 20, 2008), author profile.