Author: Eric Pudney

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.

Eric Pudney

1 Scepticism in the Renaissance Scepticism has long been acknowledged to be a vital feature of Renaissance thought, and one which has been said to distinguish the period from the Middle Ages. Conventionally, Renaissance scepticism has been seen as part of what puts the ‘modern’ into ‘early modern’: the questioning of old certainties which ultimately helped to usher in the Enlightenment. This view understates the importance of sceptical attitudes within the medieval period; as early as the fifth or sixth century, Pseudo-Dionysius was emphasising the unknowability

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
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-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires’ ( Aravena, 2016 : 3–4). It was the last week before the Biennale closed for the season, and I had, over the previous summer, read a great deal of enthusiastic commentary on the event and its explicitly humanitarian intentions. I was keen to see the exhibits, especially given my long-running scepticism about the ability of architects to play a useful role in humanitarianism. However, after walking through the many

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Jonathan Barry, Witchcraft and Demonology in South-West England, 1640–1789 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) summarises the key issues (p. 5). 2 Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama description of what a witch was, only a description of what a given person or group of people imagined a witch to be. Assuming that witches did not exist in the sense that they were often believed to, it is hardly surprising that early modern society did not reach a consensus on what witchcraft was; the subject was debated for centuries and eventually faded from public

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
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). On the other hand, there are those (including Brian Barry) who endorse the conclusion that what follows from the reasonableness of pluralism is the injustice of imposition, but argue that this must be underpinned not by the method of avoidance, but by scepticism. MCK2 1/10/2003 40 10:19 AM Page 40 The reasonableness of pluralism We begin with Barry’s sceptical argument (in the next two sections). In the first of them we argue that in presenting the case for scepticism and against epistemological restraint, Barry misrepresents epistemological restraint

in The culture of toleration in diverse societies
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5 The Late Lancashire Witches The pioneering journalist and poet Joseph Addison once commented on the subject of witchcraft. Directly addressing the question of belief and scepticism, Addison wrote: In short, when I consider the Question, whether there are such Persons in the World as those we call Witches? my Mind is divided between the two opposite Opinions; or rather (to speak my Thoughts freely) I believe in general that there is, and has been such a thing as Witchcraft; but at the same time can give no Credit to any particular Instance of it.1 Addison does

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681