The Lancashire Witches
in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681

This chapter studies a specific witchcraft play in depth: Thomas Shadwell’s The Lancashire Witches. The play is shown to be a highly polemical play which uses scepticism about witchcraft in order to establish its favoured characters as rational, lending authority to their unwavering belief in the Popish Plot. The chapter elucidates the play’s anti-Catholicism, and points out the various parallels drawn between Catholics and witches. The play’s extreme Whig position in relation to the succession crisis is established and literary responses by opposing Tory poets are also discussed. The huge irony of the play decrying witchcraft persecution as cruel while encouraging belief in the major witch-hunt of its own time is highlighted.

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