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- Author: Eric Pudney x
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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.
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.