This book situates witchcraft drama within its cultural and intellectual context, highlighting the centrality of scepticism and belief in witchcraft to the genre. It is argued that these categories are most fruitfully understood not as static and mutually exclusive positions within the debate around witchcraft, but as rhetorical tools used within it. In drama, too, scepticism and belief are vital issues. The psychology of the witch character is characterised by a combination of impious scepticism towards God and credulous belief in the tricks of the witch’s master, the devil. Plays which present plausible depictions of witches typically use scepticism as a support: the witch’s power is subject to important limitations which make it easier to believe. Plays that take witchcraft less seriously present witches with unrestrained power, an excess of belief which ultimately induces scepticism. But scepticism towards witchcraft can become a veneer of rationality concealing other beliefs that pass without sceptical examination. The theatrical representation of witchcraft powerfully demonstrates its uncertain status as a historical and intellectual phenomenon; belief and scepticism in witchcraft drama are always found together, in creative tension with one another.
This book has been the work of several years, over which time I have benefited from the assistance and encouragement of a great many people. The initial research for this project was made possible by a postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Irish Research Council from 2010–12. I am very grateful to the Council for this funding, and to the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, which hosted me for the duration of my fellowship. My dear friend and former Ph.D. supervisor, Ian Campbell Ross, generously mentored me during this fellowship and over the course of the project as a whole. My particular thanks are due to him for his unfailing support of my scholarly endeavours over the years.
Research for this project was further enabled by teaching relief provided by the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Limerick (UL) in spring 2015. I am thankful to the School for this opportunity. Thanks are also due to my wonderful colleagues at UL, conversations and research collaborations with whom have undoubtedly strengthened the arguments presented here. I particularly want to acknowledge David Coughlan, Mike Griffin, Meg Harper, and Elaine Vaughan in this regard. I owe, moreover, a debt of gratitude to the members of an informal writing group that met occasionally to critique works-in-progress with coffee cups and chocolate bars in hand: my thanks to Cathy McGlynn, Patricia Moran, Maggie O'Neill, and Michaela Schrage-Früh. I am further indebted to colleagues outside of UL who have selflessly read, commented upon, critiqued, and helpfully discussed elements of continuing research over the years. These include – but certainly are not limited to – Graham Allen, Norbert Besch, Claire Connolly, Marguérite Corporaal, Aileen Douglas, Niall Gillespie, Moyra Haslett, Jarlath Killeen, Ed Larrissey, Barry Monahan, Orla Murphy, Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Jim Shanahan, and Julia M. Wright. The late Diane Long Hoeveler was a real source of inspiration throughout this project, and it is only right that I remember her generous collegiality and groundbreaking research here.
Friends and family across the world have offered absolutely invaluable support – moral and otherwise – over the course of this project. Dani Blaylock, Dominic Bryan, Thérèse Cullen, Meg Hoyt, Ruth McCullough, Eveline Masco, Agnes Masengu, Jaele Rollins-McColgan, and Sara Templer have propelled me on through various stages of my research and have never, ever asked, ‘Is the book finished yet?’
My most sincere thanks are reserved for Bruce Harper, who may well be able to recite this book from memory so permanent a feature has it become in our household. For good humour, continued interest (feigned and otherwise), technical assistance with ‘graphs, maps, and trees’, and long Sunday afternoons spent amusing Grace and Ryan while Mommy was at the library, I am deeply grateful.
Material originally printed in earlier versions in the collections Christina Morin and Niall Gillespie (eds), Irish gothics: genres, forms, modes and traditions, 1760–1890 (2014) and Marguérite Corporaal and Christina Morin (eds), Traveling Irishness in the long nineteenth century (2017) is republished here with permission from Palgrave Macmillan. Reworked forms of arguments presented in the European Romantic Review and the Irish University Review are also reproduced here with permission from the editors. The full publication details are as follows:
- ‘Theorizing “gothic” in eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Christina Morin and Niall Gillespie (eds), Irish gothics: genres, forms, modes and traditions, 1760–1890 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 13–33.
- ‘Irish gothic goes abroad: cultural migration, materiality, and the Minerva Press’, in Marguérite Corporaal and Christina Morin (eds), Traveling Irishness in the long nineteenth century (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 195–203.
- ‘ “At a distance from [my] country”: Henrietta Rouvière Mosse, the Minerva Press, and the negotiation of Irishness in the Romantic literary marketplace’, European Romantic Review 28.4 (2017), pp. 447–60. See www.tandfonline.com.
- ‘Forgotten fiction: reconsidering the gothic novel in eighteenth-century Ireland’, Irish University Review 41.1 (2011): 80–94.