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.

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

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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

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

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Edward refers to ‘Dreams, meer Dreams of Witches’ (i.350; cf. The Late Lancashire Witches l. 286). Doubty, on the other hand, is not similar in character or function to Doughty in Heywood and Brome’s play, apart from his name. The changed spelling of the name, however, does seem significant, hinting at the scepticism of the play towards witchcraft. This use of scepticism, I argue, is closely tied to the play’s politics. But while The Lancashire Witches raises serious doubts about the possibility of witchcraft, it ultimately employs this scepticism to encourage

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

), 343–56 (p. 343). 7 Notestein, p. 297. 246 Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama Saducismus Triumphatus takes exception to the views on spirit of materialists such as Thomas Hobbes; ‘nullibists’ like Descartes (whose definition of spirit, according to More, is tantamount to declaring its non-existence); ‘Holenmerians’ (for similar reasons); followers of Spinoza; and ‘psychopyrists’ like Thomas Willis, a founding member of the Royal Society (of which More was also a fellow) who regarded the soul as a kind of flame.8 While More treats his colleague

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4 The Witch of Edmonton Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley’s The Witch of Edmonton (1621) departs from the conventions established in previous witchcraft drama in relation to the depiction of scepticism. Macbeth and Dr Faustus depicted the scepticism and credulity of witches, using the discourse of demonology to illustrate the psychology of witch and devil’s servant – a psychology which is characterised by both inappropriate and excessive credulity (towards the devil) and inappropriate and excessive scepticism (towards God). While the delusions of the

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

’s Masque of Queens (1609), in which the contrast between witchcraft and royalty is built into the dramatic structure – masque versus anti-masque – of the entertainment. Scepticism and belief in witchcraft itself is not always easy to detect directly in the Jacobean witchcraft drama, because it is not often at issue in these plays. The plays are not in any real sense about witchcraft; they are really about kingship and tyranny, or good and bad rule.3 All of the plays seek to draw a line between rightful kings and tyrants, or between order and chaos. Macbeth and the Masque

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

present. The witches that appear in Elizabethan theatre are distanced from those represented in the purportedly factual texts of demonologists and pamphleteers, ensuring that it would have been possible for contemporary audiences to interpret stage witchcraft as fictional, and unrelated to the type of witchcraft they encountered outside the theatre. In consequence, both belief in and scepticism about the phenomenon of witchcraft remain, for the most part, submerged. Nonetheless, latent scepticism about witchcraft – magic carried out by women – can be seen to have shaped

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Editor’s Introduction

even those inspired by anti-communism were cautious about structural integration into Western security strategies. At the beginning of the 1990s, NGOs shrugged off their scepticism for the morality of state power, working more closely with Western military forces. Private and government funding for humanitarian operations increased. With the help of news media, humanitarian agencies boosted their political capital, presenting themselves as providers of public moral conscience for the West. A new political economy of humanitarian aid developed

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs