The chapter opens with a discussion of Elizabethan attitudes to witchcraft,
arguing that a gender gap in credibility between male and female users of
magic was something that proponents of witchcraft persecution had to
overcome. The supposed absence of witches in Elizabethan drama is discussed,
and this perception is ascribed to the way in which female magic users are
represented before 1603 – they tend to be modelled on classical witches such
as those of John Lyly and Robert Greene or (male) magicians rather than
popular ideas about witches. An example of witchcraft without witches is
also examined: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the context of its
source, The Golden Asse. Some exceptions to this rule are also examined, and
it is argued that the first properly demonological witch to be represented
on stage is Marlowe’s Dr Faustus.
This chapter presents the evidence for King James I’s immediate impact on
witchcraft plays, arguing that the theatrical representation of witchcraft
is much more clearly influenced by demonology after his accession to the
throne. The Jacobean period produces an elite mini-genre of witch plays such
as Sophonisba, Macbeth, and The Masque of Queens which represent monarch and
witch (or witch’s client) as opposites. These plays are interpreted within
the context of the court and its concerns. Eventually, however, growing
dissatisfaction with the new monarch and his notoriously corrupt and
licentious court came to a head with the scandal surrounding the murder of
Sir Thomas Overbury. Thomas Middleton’s play The Witch exploited the
resulting public outrage in a daring parody of this genre.
This chapter discusses the growing importance of spirits, and growing
interest in precisely what spirits are and how they supposedly interact with
the physical world, during the Restoration. This interest in spirits, always
of great underlying importance within the debate on witchcraft, enters into
this debate more openly during the Interregnum and Restoration periods. A
number of dramatic treatments of witchcraft during the Restoration are
discussed, many of which bear traces of this increasing interest in the
connections between the spiritual and physical realms, and all of which tend
to suggest increasing scepticism towards witchcraft. Particularly striking
in this regard are the Shakespeare adaptations of Richard Davenant, whose
versions of Macbeth and The Tempest exemplify much greater interest in the
workings of the spiritual world than Shakespeare’s originals.
Pastoral is one of the few literary modes whose genesis can be clearly traced. While poems reworking pristine rustic experience might have existed earlier, the pastoral mode as now recognized originated with the Greek poet Theocritus in the third century BCE. More correctly put, Theocritus provided a model that others followed to create the mode.
Elizabethan writers frequently complained about what we call ‘close reading’,
i.e., that their readers imputed seditious and/or scandalous intentions to
the author. We take a close look at this practice, and how it should
influence our reading of Shakespeare today.
Shakespeare’s M.O.A.I. riddle in Twelfth Night has been his most
intractable crux. This chapter provides the solution, and explains how a
mis-translation concealed the truth from scholars for 400 years.
This chapter explains that Christopher Marlowe was the inspiration for Jaques
in Shakespeare’s As You Like It – and that Shakespeare wrote the play
to commemorate the seventh anniversary of Marlowe’s death. We take a close
look at how Shakespeare felt about his rival, mentor and friend.