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A courtesan is a glorified prostitute, a paramour to the royal, noble and wealthy men of society" 1. A courtesan charges high dollar, yet does much more than entertain the man she is with, rather she will provide companionship at the same time.
By the mid 18th century, courtesans were accepted on some level in society, but prior to this they were persecuted heavily at times, even being accused of witchcraft, which resulted in imprisonment and execution" 1. Thus portraying the societal shifts within the notion of payed sex.
These terms often get confused and misinterpreted. What differentiates the courtesan from the mistress is the notion of companionship and status. A mistress gave away her love, and often had children with her lover, strictly for the purpose of having an affair. A courtesan could seduce a man with her intelligence and her sophistication. Commonly a courtesan would go from one lover to the next.
France was much more open about women and sex, than anywhere else. Although more popular in France, when a courtesan came to England, it was considered scandalous. However, how did one become a courtesan? Knight explains that "these women came from all walks of life. Others were actresses, who continued to perform both on stage and off. Widows, divorcees, even women of the upper classes attempted to search for the courtesan lifestyle.
She may start as an assistant or companion to another courtesan, learning the ways of the trade, or she could simply start out as a mistress to a wealthy man" 1. A very successful courtesan could be extremely wealthy, embellished with jewels, and even entertain parties at places they owned themselves. The Courtesan life was considered a lavish life. What, courtesan! Why, 'tis a noble title, and has more votaries than religion; there's no merchandise like ours, that of love, my sister; and can you be frightened with the vizor which you yourself put on?