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7 The Lancashire Witches By far the most surprising and controversial use of witchcraft as a dramatic symbol came towards the end of the Restoration in Thomas Shadwell’s play The Lancashire Witches (1681). This play was staged at a time of political crisis, with Charles II’s regime struggling to contain the so-called Popish plot and the increasingly rancorous debate about the succession to the throne which grew out of the plot. The Lancashire Witches is above all a political play – perhaps inevitably so, given its immediate context – and one whose use of

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

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.

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phenomena, are particularly well represented in the theatre of the second half of the seventeenth century. The final chapter focuses on Thomas Shadwell’s play The Lancashire Witches in detail. While this play is not based on a recent case of witchcraft, as were The Witch of Edmonton and The Late Lancashire Witches, it is certainly a play with great topical relevance. It is also a play which engages with witch-hunting in the broader sense, as well as with witchcraft. Previous book-length studies of witchcraft in English drama have often touched on the question of

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

witches, poisoners were said to have been taught ‘cunning’ by the devil during the Overbury trials.90 In the trial of Frances 86 Quoted in Bellany, p. 181. 87 Bellany, p. 63. 88 Bellany, p. 192. 89 Bellany, pp. 185–91. The real and perceived threat of various ‘Popish plots’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries connects with the history of witchcraft drama both at this time and in the case of Thomas Shadwell’s The Lancashire Witches (1681) – see Chapter 7. 90 State Trials, p. 912. Witchcraft in Jacobean drama 167 Howard’s accomplice Anne Turner, magical

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
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other extant play from the period in that it portrays a character matching the stereotype of the village witch, a character who can reasonably be regarded as plausible in terms of her psychology. Prior to The Witch of Edmonton, there are sceptical plays depicting tricksters in a more or less realistic fashion (The Wise Woman of Hogsdon), and there are plays showing witches as lurid, supernatural agents of the devil (Sophonisba, The Witch). After it, there are two-dimensional comic witches (The Late Lancashire Witches, The Lancashire Witches). But Elizabeth Sawyer is

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

which inspired the plot of the play. Given the evidence of scepticism towards the specific accusations against the Lancashire witches and the play’s acknowledgement of scepticism about witchcraft in general, it is striking that The Late Lancashire Witches seems in some respects to be so credulous, especially when compared to the relatively sober account of witchcraft given in The Witch of Edmonton.70 The change in the representation 65 Thomas, p. 579. 66 Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome, The Witches of Lancashire, edited by Gabriel Egan (London: Nick Hern, 2002), p

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
The discourse of spirits in Enlightenment Bristol

Present 133 (1991) 31–66; Michael MacDonald (ed.), Witchcraft and Hysteria in Elizabethan London (London, 1991); J. Swain, ‘The Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612 and 1634 and the Economics of Witchcraft’, Northern History 30 (1994) 64–85; Malcolm Gaskill, ‘Witchcraft and Power in Early Modern England: The Case of Margaret Moore’, in Jenny Kermode and Garthine Walker (eds), Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England (London, 1994), pp. 125–45; Anne de Windt, ‘Witchcraft and Conflicting Visions of the Ideal Village Community’, Journal of British Studies 34 (1995

in Beyond the witch trials

, The Discoverie 56 London, British Library, Harley MS 2302, fol. 77r. The author also criticises Scot’s readings of other theologians, such as Chrysostom (fol. 80r), but returns most frequently to Calvin (e.g. fols 84r–84v). 57 Bodin, p. 216. 58 Thomas Shadwell, The Lancashire Witches, edited by Judith Bailey Slagle (New York: Garland, 1991), ii.415–17. 28 Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama of Witchcraft did not end that debate.59 Clearly, it was possible for some early modern people to dismiss stories like Bodin’s as absurd, just as it is for

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