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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Demonological descriptions of male witches

reputation that demonological texts have as documents of barbarity, superstition, and irrationality. H.R. Trevor-Roper, for example, said of them that To read these encyclopedias of witchcraft is a horrible experience. Each seems to outdo the last in cruelty and absurdity. Together they insist that every grotesque detail of demonology is true, that

in Male witches in early modern Europe

the use of witchcraft in association with, and in contrast to, the idea of divinely ordained monarchy. There are, as I have argued, Elizabethan precedents for this juxtaposition in some chronicle history plays; but they differ from the Jacobean examples considered here. The Jacobean plays’ use of witchcraft is much more stylised, aiming for a clarity of contrast between witchcraft and royalty that is absent in the Elizabethan examples, and they also make more extensive use of learned demonology. These distinctive features are at their most visible in Ben Jonson

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
The idioms and risks of defiance in the trial of Margaretha Horn, 1652

patriachal elite’, whose statements and confessions were simply forced rehashings of that elite’s demonology.1 On the contrary – and despite the fact that power over the trial process lay ultimately with the council – alleged witches were capable of contributing to and of shaping the course of interrogations in idiosyncratic ways. At the same time, however, the trial of Margaretha shows that it was becoming increasingly problematic for women accused of witchcraft in early modern Rothenburg to articulate defiance against their accusers and the council without this defiance

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
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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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The gendering of witchcraft

. tales of erotic debauches, infanticide and cannibalism were revived and applied to various religious outgroups in medieval Christendom. In the process they were integrated more and more firmly into the corpus of Christian demonology. … the powers of darkness loomed larger and larger in these tales, until they came to occupy the very centre of the stage. Erotic debauches

in Male witches in early modern Europe
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A male strategy

, p. 63. See also Ülo Valk, ‘On the Connections between Estonian Folk Religion and Christian Demonology’, Mitteilungen für Anthropologie und Religionsgeschichte 8 (1994) 197. 31 Per Sörlin, Trolldoms- och Vidskepelseprocesserna i Göta hovrätt 1635–1754 (Umeå, 1993), p. 30. 32 RA Stockholm, Justitierevisionens Arkiv, JR, Utslagshandlingar, 31 October 1694, Bunt III, nr. 334. 33 RA Stockholm, Justitierevisionens Arkiv, JR, Utslagshandlingar, 1 December 1756, nr. 3. 34 RA Stockholm, Justitierevisionens Arkiv, JR, Utslagshandlingar, 22 December 1776, nr. 49. 35 See also

in Beyond the witch trials
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called innovative to the conception of the devil, they did alter the ways in which he and his works were perceived, in such a way that they emerged more powerful, more independent, and more obviously present in the quotidian world than before.13 Systematization was the hallmark of scholastic demonology: Aquinas’s great achievement in this field was the creation of a theoretical framework in which the devils of Augustine, Dionysius, and the early Church could comfortably reside alongside their more contemporary kin.14 The mere existence of such a system, though, had an

in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft
witchcraft on the borderline of religion and magic

. I can mention two of these in connection with the material under scrutiny here. One of them is the greater importance accorded to the role of the Devil in Eastern liturgy. In relation to this, in Orthodox Eastern Europe the peasants’ world-views and the popular beliefs of witchcraft are closely related to the church demonology’s concept of the Devil. In Western and Central Europe the heyday of the demonological concept of witchcraft, and

in Witchcraft Continued
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Witchcraft and the symbolics of hierarchy in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland

hierarchy. In Robin Briggs’s view, the sabbath concept can be seen as an anti-fertility rite, representing the opposite of the desirable commonweal.30 In learned demonology, descriptions of Satan, Hell and the activities of witches were characterised by ritual backwardness. The whole cosmic order was inverted, the Devil put in the place of God, and the servants of God on earth – the secular and religious magistrates – displaced. Stuart Clark has linked the notions of the world upside down in learned demonology to a general conception of a polar world, found in many areas

in Beyond the witch trials