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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

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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kind of scepticism that eventually ensures the end of the successful prosecution of the witch’ (The Witch in History, p. 283). Frances Dolan, Dangerous Familiars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), suggests that plays ‘might ultimately have helped to spare women’s lives’ (p. 217). Lisa Hopkins, The Female Hero in English Renaissance Tragedy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), makes the case for The Witch of Edmonton specifically (p. 98), while Greenblatt makes similar claims for Macbeth. 6 Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama scepticism can

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

. The play and the case In The Witch of Edmonton many popular beliefs about witches are ridiculed or shown to be false. In The Late Lancashire Witches, by contrast, everything is true. The powers the eponymous witches are able to command are varied and spectacular: they are able to transform themselves into large cats, summon spirits to impersonate real people, magically steal food from a wedding feast, cause impotence, and make milk pails walk by themselves (this last effect was apparently reproduced on stage in performances). The chief witch, Mistress Generous, is

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

to an examination of any kind. No limits are explicitly set on the powers of witches; there is little in the way of discussion of what they can or cannot do. While Macbeth’s witches recite a list of magical ingredients, like many other stage witches before them, they do not reveal what these ingredients are actually for. Macbeth raises no questions about the nature and extent of witches’ powers in the manner of, for example, The Witch of Edmonton, nor does it present a strong sceptical voice on the question within the play like The Late Lancashire Witches or The

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
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witchcraft both extends and departs from the earlier Restoration plays discussed in Chapter 6. Shadwell’s play has not received much critical attention in the present day, largely because of its author’s poor reputation following Dryden’s attacks on him, but perhaps also because it has often been perceived to be unoriginal. The Lancashire Witches draws on previous witchcraft plays, including The Late Lancashire Witches, The Witch of Edmonton, and The Masque of Queens. The situation of the Shacklehead and Hartfort children resembles that in Lyly’s Mother Bombie, in that the

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

stressing that witchcraft is a credible explanation if and only if certain evidential conditions are met, the authors of these accounts evade the larger and much more difficult problem of demonstrating that witchcraft is possible at all. This reluctance to deal with the larger issues of the possibility, or otherwise, of witchcraft is especially evident in Henry Goodcole’s pamphlet on Elizabeth Sawyer, the witch of Edmonton, a source for the play of the same name. Goodcole stresses his reluctance to 83 Anon., A Tryal of Witches, p. 25. 84 A detailed study of one such case

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

holiness. Hyperius, for instance, regards the sibyls as divinely inspired, and St Augustine went as far as to pronounce the Erythraean Sibyl ‘a citizen of the city of God’ who had prophesied the coming of Christ.85 Lyly also produced a non-classical ‘English’ witch in the title character of Mother Bombie (1589). Mother Bombie of Rochester is a dramatic character, based on a folkloric figure, who may have been inspired by a historical person.86 She is referred to in later plays – Heywood’s Wise Woman of Hogsdon and The Witch of Edmonton – as well as in various other texts

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Defending Cold War Canada

confines of the nuclear family, especially homosexual women and men, were subject to intensive persecution. 37 Although the Canadian Government and public opinion were sympathetic when Canadian scholar and diplomat Herbert Norman committed suicide in Cairo in 1957, for those deemed ‘security risks’ because of their politics and/or sexuality there was much ‘witch hunting’ within the Canadian civil

in Female imperialism and national identity