Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660
Magic and the Supernatural
Since the middle of the twentieth century, when scholars at the Warburg Institute in London first began exploring the influence of neoplatonic and hermetic ideas on Renaissance magic, the study of magical and supernatural elements in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries has become an increasingly important field. An interest in magic and the supernatural ran through all classes of Tudor and Stuart society. At the most sophisticated and specialized level, the occult formed a substantial part of the intellectual background in which the leading scholars, doctors, and theologians operated. For them, the Renaissance goal of extending the boundaries of human knowledge by examinating Greek and Latin texts raised questions about the ultimate nature of the universe, man's ability to control natural phenomena, and the limits placed on human understanding. At the popular level, by contrast, ancient pagan beliefs and later medieval traditions survived throughout the British Isles to inform a rich local folklore that manifested itself in such creations as Queen Mab (Romeo and Juliet) and Robin Goodfellow (A Midsummer Night's Dream). This mentality, however, also helped to engender the brutal witchcraze throughout Europe, which resulted in the death of many thousands of women who were believed to have abandoned Christ for Satan. The literary arts, especially drama, have been seen by modern scholars as having mediated between the specialized, philosophical theories of magic and the supernatural beliefs of the popular tradition.
During the Renaissance, the question of magic was inseparably linked with the question of human knowledge. Whereas the Church in the Middle Ages had denounced all magic as evil, the neoplatonist philosophers of fifteenth-century Florence adopted the term "natural magic" to connote the activity by which man gains knowledge of the universe's secrets through the aid of celestial spirits. For the philosopher Pico della Mirandola, man's potential was unlimited: "It will be within your power to rise, through your own choice, to the superior of divine life" [Oration on the Dignity of Man]. Since this conception of the "divine life" rested ultimately on an understanding of the way in which the universe had been ordered, magical thought became closely allied with such pursuits as astronomy, astrology, medicine, alchemy, and mathematics, and the distinctions between what modern thought would describe as the "scientific" and "unscientific" elements of these disciplines became blurred. In Shakespeare's England the ambiguity of magical thinking can be seen in the figure of John Dee (1527-1608), who was a mathematician, magician, alchemist, philosopher, consultant to the navy, and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. It is significant to note that after Dee had constructed a mechanical flying beetle for a production of Aristophanes' Peace at Cambridge University, he was regarded by some as being in league with demons.
While modern scholars have maintained that the image of the magician, or magus, portrayed by the Marlowe in Dr. Faustus and Shakespeare in The Tempest owes much to such historical figures as Dee and the continental philosophers Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) and Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), critics have emphasized the extent to which the magical and supernatural motifs in the English drama were equally derived from folkloristic and literary sources. According to Barbara Howard Traister (1984), most significant among these is the tradition of the medieval romance narrative, exemplified in such works as Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Traister notes that the essential purpose of the romance magicians is to facilitate plot development and to provide entertaining and fantastic effects. It is here that the legacy of the medieval literary tradition asserts itself in the literature of the English Renaissance, beginning with Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene and culminating in The Tempest. Indeed, the character of Prospero has been viewed by critics as European drama's most successful fusion of the neoplatonic ideal of the magician who attains divine knowlege and the popular magician who is able to achieve his ends through the performance of miracles and spectacles.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 25695
Barbara Howard Traister (essay date 1984)
SOURCE: "Literary and Philosophical Background," in Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama, University of Missouri Press, 1984, pp. 1-31.
[In the following essay, Traister examines religious, philosophical, and popular attitudes toward magic in the Renaissance that resulted in the literary and dramatic representation of the magician in the works of Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, and Shakespeare.]
Doctor Faustus, The Tempest, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay— these very different plays have in common a major character who is, or claims to be, a magician. Scores of less well known plays from the Tudor and early Stuart period also have in their casts of characters a magician. Indeed, for some thirty years, the magician was a familiar stage figure; then, quite suddenly, he vanished from the stage, reappearing only in a few court masques or as a parody of himself, as a pseudo-magus. Exploration of this abrupt rise and fall of the stage magician forms part of the subject of this study.
The magician filled a symbolic role in many plays. He functioned as a man whose horizons were both limitless and limited, a self-contained paradox. The convergence of two views of the magician—one, popular and literary, perhaps most clearly expressed in the medieval romances, the other, elitist and philosophical, best studied in the writings of the Italian neoplatonists—led to an ambivalence that made the magician a potentially fascinating stage character. Brief exploration of these traditions of magic leads to an understanding of how the magician functions in individual plays and provides some background for examining his association with magical competitions, sensual delights of all sorts, and a master-of-ceremonies image.
Interest in magic ran high during the Tudor and early Stuart period. It is important to understand both the pre-conceptions the audience was likely to have had about magicians and what the playwrights themselves might have known and felt about magic and the men who practiced it. The subject was seriously discussed in the court circles of Elizabeth and James, in the English law courts, in church, and in philosophical works imported from the Continent. Thanks largely to pioneering studies of neo-platonic and hermetic magic emanating from the Warburg Institute, since the 1950s literary scholars have become increasingly aware of the influence of magic on Renaissance thought. A somewhat different line of inquiry, not yet as well explored, concerns how—if at all—that influence was translated into literary, fictive creations.
In this spirit of inquiry, then, I examine both the historical and literary climate of Renaissance magic in preparation for close analysis of several important stage magicians. It is impossible to claim direct influence, except in a few unusual cases, of the literary and historical materials on specific plays or specific dramatists. However, the conflux of magical traditions in the early Renaissance helps explain how, for a few playwrights, the magician figure focuses issues of human potential and limitation and raises the question of how much man is permitted to know.
Religious and philosophical attitudes toward magic were varied and complex. Until the thirteenth century—and, officially, much later than that—the medieval church's position was simple and straightforward: magic was to be avoided by God-fearing men. God permitted magic partly to demonstrate, by its overthrow, his own miraculous powers, and partly as one of the pitfalls that appeared in the world as a result of original sin.
But difficulties arose from such a sweeping condemnation of magic, and uneasy perceptions of problems produced by the complete rejection of magic appear in the writings of men such as Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon. Of primary concern was the impossibility of drawing any clear line between magic and science. To experiment, to inquire into the secrets of the universe, was to come very close to involvement with magic. Medicine and astronomy, for example, were frequently associated with magic. Was the doctor practicing magic when he prescribed herbs to be taken at the full moon? Was the man who predicted the stars' influence on one's life or one's harvest a magician? Already uncomfortable questions in the thirteenth century, they grew increasingly vexing in ensuing centuries as the demand for scientific experiment increased.
Physician, alchemist, professor all then wore the same long robe, which might mark either the scholar or the magician. And when so much of what was new in science was concerned with the very frontiers of knowledge, and dealt with almost unimaginable problems of the organisation, complexity and harmony of Nature, scientists themselves were puzzled to know certainly where natural philosophy stopped and mystic science began.
Some philosophers attempted to clarify the issues by distinguishing demonic magic from what became increasingly well known as natural magic (magia naturalis). Writers as early as Roger Bacon distinguished between demonic ("not human") magic and natural wonders, though most did not yet call the natural wonders "magic":
Nam licet naturae potens sit et mirabilis, tamen ars utens natura pro instrumento potentior est virtute naturali, sicut videmus in multis. Quicquid autem est praeter operationem naturae vel artis, aut non est humanum, aut est fictum et fraudibus occupatum.
Granted that nature is powerful and wondrous, nevertheless, by using nature as its instrument, art is stronger than natural power, as we see in many things. Moreover, whatever is beyond the operation of nature or of art is either not human, or is invented and usurped by fraud.
Gradually the linguistic distinction between natural and demonic magic became familiar (though the church never officially accepted it), and when, in the mid-sixteenth century, Giambattista della Porta used the phrase magia naturalis to title his collection of remedies and superstitions, it was a well-known phrase.
But the verbal distinction between natural and demonic magic created new difficulties: how was the natural magician to be regarded? A familiar example of the problem arises from the biblical account of the three magi visiting the Christ child. The magi foretell the birth and then confirm its occurrence by reading the heavens; yet they are clearly positive figures. Writers against magic were always rather embarrassed about this passage and developed numerous ingenious ways of getting around the problem. Albertus Magnus turned to etymology to solve the difficulty and at the same time worked in his distinction between good and evil magicians:
Magi enim grammatice magni sunt.… Nec sunt Magi malefici sicut quidam male opinantur. Magus enim et Mathematicus et Incantator et Maleficus sive Necromanticus et Ariolus et Aruspex et Divinator differunt. Quia Magus proprie nisi magnus est, qui scientiam habens de omnibus necessariis et effectibus naturarum coniecturans aliquando mirabilia naturae praeostendit et educit.
For Magi are, grammatically speaking, great men.… Nor are Magi evildoers, although they are often thought ill of in this way. For a Magus and a Mathematician and a Charmer and an Evil-doer, or a Necromancer and Seer and Haruspex and Diviner all differ. Since a Magus is surely nothing unless a great man, knowledgeable and making guesses about nature from all its requirements and effects, he often demonstrates and teaches nature's wonders.
But such distinctions had to be repeated by each writer who dealt with magic. Interestingly, no one seems to have doubted that there was demonic magic. Rather, all efforts were directed at proving that "good" or natural magic did, or did not, exist.
As late as the mid-seventeenth century some writers were still trying to define magic and magus and distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable types. But many Renaissance commentators seemed confident in the treatment of natural magic:
Magick is taken amongst all men for Wisdom, and the perfect knowledge of natural things: and those are called Magicians, whom the Latines call Wise-men, the Greeks call Philosophers.… There are two sorts of Magick: the one is infamous, and unhappie, because it hath to do with foul spirits, and consists of Inchantments and wicked Curiosity; and this is called Sorcery … [which] stands meerly upon fancies and imaginations, such as vanish presently away, and leave nothing behinde them.… The other Magick is natural; which all excellent wise men do admit and embrace, and worship with great applause; neither is there any thing more highly esteemed, or better thought of, by men of learning.
Words like worship as Porta's anonymous translator used it in the statement above (Porta himself used the phrase excipit, colit, & veneratur) had the potential to get their author into a good deal of trouble with the church, but such effusions demonstrate to what heights admiration for natural magic rose in some circles.
In theory, demonic and natural magic were distinguished by a single incontrovertible difference—demonic magic was performed with the aid of spirits; natural magic was not. But in time, natural magic became a more general term, covering more territory than had originally been permitted it. The people most responsible for the alterations in the meaning of natural magic were a group of Italian philosophers who revived neoplatonism during the latter half of the fifteenth century. The magical theories of this group had some influence on the way magic is portrayed in English Renaissance literature.
The revival of neoplatonism provided its adherents with a belief in a general animating spirit (spiritus or anima mundi) operative in the universe. This spirit in turn in-fused souls or spirits into other parts of the creation, usually the planets and other heavenly bodies. This belief probably originated from Plato's Timaeus:
[And when he framed the universe he distributed] souls equal in number to the stars, and assigned each soul to a star; and having there placed them as in a chariot, he showed them the nature of the universe, and declared to them the laws of destiny, according to which their first birth would be one and the same for all.
As this doctrine of world soul emerged, having been filtered through Plotinus and influenced by hermetic writings, it was seen as a source of tremendous cosmic energy and wisdom that man, under very special conditions, might be permitted to tap. Neoplatonists had individual theories about how one might tap into this suprarational wisdom and power, but most subscribed to the general idea that, by purifying himself of earthly ties and steadily pursuing wisdom and knowledge, man could lift himself above the concerns of the sublunar world and participate in knowledge of cosmic affairs. One of the most famous expressions of belief in man's ability to ascend to a semidivine state is Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man: "It will be within your power to rise, through your own choice, to the superior orders of divine life." An d Giordano Bruno, often far less restrained than Pico, sang in the poem that introduces On the Infinite Universe and Worlds:
Henceforth I spread confident wings to space;
I feel no barrier of crystal or of glass;
I cleave the heavens and soar to the infinite
And while I rise from my own globe to others
And penetrate ever further through the eternal
That which others saw from afar I leave far
Not only is this an expression of Bruno's cosmography; it also suggests the potential that Bruno believed man had to transcend his own globe and mentally explore "far other worlds and other seas."
But, of course, it was not granted to every man to gain such wisdom. Like other writers on magic, the neoplatonists jealously guarded their magical secrets, carefully limiting those who could be expected to attain communication with the heavens to a select group of initiates. Certainly not all neoplatonists subscribed to Pico's ideas about magic or even to Marsilio Ficino's milder views. But those who did concern themselves with magic usually believed that only the magus, the rare wise man, could accomplish contact with the infinite: "As the farmer weds his elms to the vines, so the magus weds earth to heaven—the lower orders, that is, to the endowments and powers of the higher," stated Pico in the Oration.
Neoplatonists called magic that performs the synthesis of the earthly with the heavenly natural magic but gave the term a significance at odds with its original meaning. If man's ascent to divine wisdom was purely the result of his goodness and intense study, then the meaning of the term remained essentially unchanged. But most neoplatonists, not content to have man do all the work, felt the need for means to attract (or even to compel) the planetary spirits to visit the magician. Ficino, for example, developed theories of how to attract planetary daemons (to be carefully distinguished from "demons," evil spirits) by the use of music, particular words similar to incantations, special colors, and perfumes. These sensual lures were designed to draw spirits that a recent commentator on Ficino's magic, D. P. Walker, described [in Spiritual and Demonic Magic, 1958] as "like men without earthly bodies who live in the heavenly spheres; they perform the function of transmitting celestial influences; they can, being both soul and spirit, act both on man's spirit and his soul." The major difference between such "spiritual magic" and truly demonic or devilish magic seems to be that Ficino intended to attract benign angelic spirits to influence his own disposition rather than evil spirits who would perform malevolent feats or interfere with the lives of other people.
Of the writers who shared Ficino's belief in planetary daemons or held more extreme beliefs, a few admitted to something more in their art than natural magic. Agrippa distinguished between natural and "ceremonial" magic, the latter involving rituals and special ceremonies for getting in touch with spirits. All ceremonial magic is dangerous, he warned, but he went on to distinguish two kinds—"goetic" and "theurgic." Goetic magic, the calling up of evil spirits, is, he admitted, truly commerce with the devil and is as reprehensible as the opponents of magic claim. Theurgy, on the other hand, is the calling of angelic or planetary spirits and, though dangerous, is very attractive. Tommaso Campanella, writing in the seventeenth century and thus possessed of a latecomer's perspective on the changes in theories about magic, distinguished [in "On the Sense and Feeling in All Things and on Magic"] three kinds: diabolic, natural, and "divine," the last a kind of heavenly gift to those who have practiced natural magic in a spirit of reverence and piety.
Now I affirm that there is divine magic: magic that man can neither understand nor employ without the grace of God.… There is natural magic, as that of the stars, and that of medicine and physics, with religion added to give faith to those who hope for favors from these sciences; and there is diabolical magic for those who, by the art of the devil, seem, to those who do not understand, to do marvelous things.… Natural magic, then, stands between: and those who exercise it with piety and reverence for the Creator, frequently come to be elevated to the supernatural kind of magic, thus participating in magic of a higher form.
As must be evident, the study of Renaissance magical theory is enormously complicated by the imprecision of terminology and by variations in kinds of magic, many of which seem to overlap or duplicate one another. Discussions of magic are further obfuscated by a deliberate vagueness on the part of philosophers about their specific beliefs. Contemporary examples of the church's power over heretics warned writers against being too outspoken about their magical ideas. So magicians denied or apologized for their magical theories, shrouding their ideas in seemingly innocuous contexts. D. P. Walker has commented on the difficulty of deciphering what Ficino actually believed about magic from the extremely cautious and often ambiguous way in which he wrote of it; Agrippa apologized for and virtually retracted his most outspoken book on magic, De occulta philosophia, even before he published it. The book was completed in 1510, the year Agrippa visited England, but circulated in manuscript until published in 1533. In 1526, evidently as a precaution against charges that might be made against the positive comments about magic in De occulta, Agrippa published De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum declamatio inuectiua, which repudiated many of the views on magic contained in the yet-to-be-published De occulta. Bruno's allegorical obscurity is undoubtedly also due in part to his fear of being too outspoken. To some degree, of course, magical theorists used deliberate obscurity as a tactic to keep from the uninitiated wisdom that they neither deserved nor could handle. These philosophers were not disposed to cast their magical pearls before swine.
Adding to the confusion surrounding magic is the adoption by leading neoplatonists of much theory that was not neoplatonic in origin. Ficino, one of the earliest and perhaps the most influential of the philosophers who espoused neoplatonism, was deeply influenced by hermetic material that he translated and published at the behest of Cosimo de Medici. Thought to be ancient Egyptian writings antedating Moses, the assorted occult treatises ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus influenced theories abut magic, medicine, and astronomy for nearly two centuries until Casaubon revealed their spurious nature in the mid-seventeenth century. Thus, even in Ficino's best-known work, De triplici vita (1489), his neoplatonism was adulterated by occult material from other sources. Similarly, Pico della Mirandola added to the neoplatonic elements of his magical theory a good deal of cabalistic belief in the importance of words and language for contacting spirits. This cabalistic element was passed to later writers mixed with Pico's neoplatonic beliefs. Clearly, to talk of neoplatonic magic is to talk of a general magical theory—philosophically based, seeking wisdom and knowledge, recognizing the existence of extraterrestrial spirits whose influences may be felt and, to an extent, controlled by man—not of a rigid set of beliefs conforming strictly to the tenets of neoplatonism.
With his discussions of how to attract planetary spirits, Ficino was at first the most important theorist of neoplatonic magic. But he did not go far enough with his magic to qualify even as a theurgic magician. Ficino's theory involved no compulsion. He merely wanted, through various ceremonies, to prepare the operator to be receptive to planetary spirits and perhaps to attract—never to compel—the spirits to visit the anxiously waiting operator. It was the revision of Ficino's ideas by such men as Agrippa and Paracelsus, who added cabalistic and expanded already present hermetic elements, that gave the magician not only attraction for but also power over both good and evil spirits and produced the strong and notorious kinds of magic. Ficino's reputation in his own time does not seem to have been that of a magician, and he was not persecuted by the church for heretical practices. Agrippa and Paracelsus, on the other hand, were known primarily as magicians and only secondarily as philosophers. What is so attractive and so dangerous about the strong magic of someone like Agrippa is the power it grants to man, who is able, if he is a properly initiated magus, to compel spirits to obey him. Agrippa would have quickly emended the preceding sentence to read: "the good, angelic spirits to obey him," but clearly the emendation was often forgotten by Agrippa's contemporaries. The line between goetic and theurgic magic was often blurred or omitted. Campanella, commenting on Agrippa, said that he reject ed magic that subjects man to the devil but kept the magic by which man subjects the devil and constrains him to do his will. And Pico, making the distinction between magicians who are controlled (having made a pact with or a promise to evil spirits) and those who control, made a similar claim for the magician's power over evil spirits: "For just as that first form of magic makes man a slave and a pawn of evil powers, so the second form makes him their ruler and lord." This promise of rule over spirits, whether angelic or demonic, tantalized philosophers and dramatists alike, and much of the magic discussed in the Renaissance involved the compulsion of spirits, a far cry from Ficino's original, mild theories of daemonic attraction.
What is important in all this is to recognize the very real philosophical concern with magic in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Philosophers who were, at least to some degree, known and respected were writing seriously about magic and, under the label natural magic, were talking positively about a magic that involved communication with spirits. The magus, in some circles, was regarded as a man of great wisdom, to be respected as a superior man among men. Indeed, the magus became in some writers' minds a symbol for the infinite possibilities that then seemed open to man. Through magic, some felt, man could climb to God (granted divine grace, of course) rather than simply mark time waiting out a weary life on earth. Eugenio Garin [Science and Civic Life in the Italian Renaissance, 1969] summarized this view of the magician as possessor of tremendous potential:
True magic was defended because it was work which made use of the given forms in order to construct an ascending chain of Being. Ceremonial magic, on the other hand, was attacked because it was work which led into the abyss of sin and chaos. In both cases, however, the ambiguous reality of man consisted in the fact that he was a possibility, an opening through which one could rejoice in the inexhaustible richness of Being. He was not a being, defined once and for all, immobile and secure, but was always precariously balanced upon the margin of an absolute risk.
The magician could damn himself, as Faustus does, but there was also a possibility that he could lift himself into the sphere of immortal spirits or at least call some of those spirits down to him. A character with such potential might well prove attractive to a dramatist.
Nonetheless, little evidence has been offered that this philosophical view of magic, based primarily in Italy, had any effect on the writers of sixteenth-century England. Though England was not in the mainstream of the neoplatonic revival, the movement clearly had some influence on English letters. Many of the seminal magical texts had been translated into English by the end of the sixteenth century, and others were available to English readers in their original languages. In addition to the written word England had other contacts with philosophic magicians. As evidence of this, I would like to look briefly at three men—Agrippa, Giordano Bruno, and John Dee—all three magicians or magical theorists, all deeply influenced by neoplatonism, and all well known or active for a while in England.
The earliest of the three is Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), a German physician, a correspondent of Erasmus, and contemporary with the Englishmen Thomas More and John Colet (who was for a short time Agrippa's teacher). The question of Agrippa's contribution to the history of magic and science is much debated—Thorndike, for example, labeled him a "wayward genius" and "intellectual vagabond," whereas Charles Nauert [in Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought, 1965] maintained that he was a vital and influential figure in the history of magic. What seems agreed upon, however, is the breadth of his reputation and the popularity of his works, attested to in part by numerous editions of his De occulta philosophia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
While Agrippa was not wholly a neoplatonist and, indeed, leaned rather more toward Aristotelianism in his later years, he did base much of his magical theory upon the neoplatonic magic set forth by Ficino (passages from De Triplici Vita are sometimes quoted verbatim by Agrippa, though with no acknowledgment given to Ficino) and also borrowed much, including some cabalistic elements, from Pico. He believed that the magus was able to gain contact with angelic spirits through the construction of images, but he added that such images were useless "unless they be so brought to life that either a natural, or celestial, or heroic, or animistic, or demonic, or angelic power is present in them or with them." Nauert explained, "The soul of the magician who employs these images draws its ability to use them not from reason but from a mystical ascent aided by ceremonial preparation and dependent for its consummation on divine illumination."
Despite numerous denials that he advocated theurgic magic, Agrippa could not hide his interest in it. In the middle of a stern warning about the dangers of ceremonial magic, Agrippa gives himself away by breaking into the first person as he speaks of the power of theurgy:
Many thinke that Theurgie is not prohibited, as who saithe it were gouerned by good Angels, and by the diuine power, whereas yet oftentimes vnder the name of God, & the Angels it is bounde with wicked deceites of the Diuels, for not onely with naturali forces, but with certaine solemnities & ceremonies also, we winne and drawe vnto vs heauenly thinges, and thorowe them the diuine verrues.
Perhaps it is not surprising that, despite his attempts to disapprove of all ceremonial magic, Agrippa's reputation as a black magician grew.
Agrippa's influence was perhaps felt more in the worlds of art and literature than in the work of his fellow philosophers (which may in part account for Thorndike's scorn). For example, Erwin Panofsky [in The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer] has suggested that Agrippa's brand of neoplatonism in De occulta is the primary literary source for Albrecht Durer's famous Melancholia I. In England, Agrippa's name was well known to men of letters. In 1510, the year in which he completed the manuscript of De occulta, Agrippa visited England, and this trip may have helped to spread his reputation in that country. By 1569 his De vanitate had found an English translator who attests to Agrippa's magical reputation in his preface: "For it is saide, and his workes testifie the same, that he exercised the Arte Magicke, and therein farre excelled all other of his time." John Dee, whose seven-thousand-volume library was perhaps England's best, owned two editions of the De occulta: the 1533 first edition and the 1550 edition, which had appended a spurious fourth book that made Agrippa seem a much more radical and goetic magician than the original three books suggest. Dee was evidently not only an owner but also a reader of Agrippa's book, since he cited it on at least one occasion. Among many English literary references to Agrippa is Thomas Nashe's portrayal of him as a trickster [in "The Unfortunate Traveller"]: bringing back Tully for Erasmus to see, showing the Earl of Surrey his love in a magic glass, and displaying perfect memorization of a two-thousand-book library. The most famous reference to Agrippa occurs, of course, in Marlowe's picture of the goetic magician:
'Tis magic, magic, that hath ravish'd me.
Then, gentle friends, aid me in this attempt,
And I, that have with concise syllogisms
Gravell'd the pastors of the German church,
And made the flowering pride of Wittenberg
Swarm to my problems as the infernal spirits
On sweet Musaeus when he came to hell,
Will be as cunning as Agrippa was,
Whose shadows made all Europe honour him.
Agrippa's reputation seems to have been twofold: he was known as a goetic magician and a learned philosopher. Sidney, who used Agrippa's De vanitate in his Defense of Poesie, seems to regard him as a philosopher and makes no mention of him as a magician. The duality of Agrippa's reputation appears in Sanford's preface, in which he first remarks how much Agrippa knew and how wise he was and then goes on to recount the story of Agrippa's black dog, a demon disguised, which Agrippa on his deathbed accused of having damned him and which then promptly ran and drowned itself in the river. A similar ambivalence between philosophical and practicing magician marks many of the magicians who appeared on the Elizabethan stage.
Thus, while there is little evidence that English writers were familiar with the magical theories of Ficino and Pico, a goodly number of them had probably heard of Agrippa. If neoplatonic magic had not already found students in England, Agrippa's works and the later visit of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) may have aroused interest in philosophical magic.
Bruno's visit to England in 1583 seems to have been more of an event than Agrippa's earlier sojourn. While there, he published two books, one dedicated to the French ambassador and the other to Philip Sidney, and participated in a philosophical debate at Oxford, where—one spectator scornfully noted—he quoted great chunks from Ficino without giving him any credit. The debate left Bruno contemptuous of the Oxford "pedants" and apparently did not give the faculty there a much higher opinion of him. More positive, however, was his acquaintance with Sidney (who seems involved in one way or another with several magicians, for he was a friend of John Dee and a participant in his study circle, the subject of which was probably neoplatonism). There is no evidence that Dee and Bruno ever met, but Sidney must have provided a mutual contact, so that they were at least aware of one another's interests. Though Sidney undoubtedly knew some of Bruno's works, there is no certainty that he knew much or anything about his magic, since Bruno's treatises specifically on magic, De magia and De vinculis in genere, were probably not composed until after Sidney's death and were not published until the nineteenth century.
Perhaps partly for this reason, Bruno did not have the same magical reputation as Agrippa, and only in fairly recent scholarship have his magical interests received emphasis. Much of Bruno's magic derived from Agrippa's De occulta, though he omitted the angels that Agrippa insisted can be summoned by theurgic magic. Instead Bruno envisioned an ascending scale for the magician to mount: "From sense to elements, demons, stars, gods, thence to the soul of the world or the spirit of the universe, and from thence to the contemplation of the one simple Optimus Maximus, incorporeal, absolute, sufficient in itself." Since reaching the demons is one of the early steps in the ascent, Bruno seems to believe unabashedly in demonic magic.
How much of Bruno's magical belief was in evidence to his English friends cannot be determined. Some scholars believe that Bruno's English contacts were limited to a small circle and that his works were little known in En gland until years after his visit. Others seem almost over-anxious to find evidence of his influence in literary works of the period. Yates has speculated that the character Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost is modeled on Bruno, and A. W. Ward in his 1887 edition of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay suggested that the magical contest in that play may reflect Bruno's Oxford debate. Such conjectures are interesting but speculative. What can be ascertained is that Bruno, an outspoken believer in neoplatonic magic, was present and publishing in England and evidently acquainted with English literary figures. He provides another means by which knowledge of neoplatonic magic may have entered England.
Even more familiar to English writers might have been their countryman John Dee (1527-1608). Philosopher, scientist, book collector, consultant to the royal navy, adviser to Queen Elizabeth, and acquaintance of Philip Sidney, Dee was also a practicing magician and alchemist. In fact, he left written transcriptions of conversations with angelic spirits whom he had summoned with the help of the medium Edward Kelley.
Dee was a neoplatonist, though his theories contained elements from other philosophical schools as well. Certainly his ideas on the intellectual quest for wisdom sound familiar.
Thus, can the Mathematicall minde, deale Speculatiuely in his own Arte: and by good meanes, Mount aboue the cloudes and sterres; And thirdly, he can, by order, Descend, to frame Naturali thinges to wonderfull vses: and when he list, retire home into his owne Centre: and there; prepare more Meanes, to Ascend or Descend by: and all, to the glory of God, and our honest delectation in earth.
Dee's library contained works by both Pico and Ficino, and his writings show evidence of their influence, yet his magic most resembles that of Agrippa. Like Agrippa, Dee believed that to practice the highest form of magic, "Thaumaturge or divine magic," one must seek "communion with goode angels by purifyinge of the soul." What is unusual about Dee is his interest in doing what he theorized about. Notice in the excerpt quoted above that there is a descent mentioned as well as an ascent, and all is for our "delectation in earth." Dee evidently intended that the wisdom gathered from the mystical ascent would be put to use in the natural world. Eugene Rice in The Renaissance Idea of Wisdom speaks of a debate over two conflicting views of wisdom: sapientia or contemplative wisdom and scientia or practical, utilitarian wisdom. Dee seems to combine these two views of wisdom in ways the Italian theorists did not. (Ficino is something of an exception, perhaps, for he hoped to use the wisdom he gained from spiritual communications in his medical practice.) Dee's journals and diary indicate that he tried and believed he had succeeded in communicating with the spirits, something other magicians had theorized about but left no record of actually trying. In addition, Dee committed himself and his family to several years in Europe, primarily at the court of Rudolph II , by whom he was hired for the express purpose of producing the philosopher's stone. Though the visit was ultimately a fiasco, Dee's initial commitment to it suggests his confidence in his ability to produce material good from his magical activities.
Until recently, Dee's reputation rested largely on tales of his communication with angels, and often the other sides of his varied career were ignored. He was first suspected of being a conjuror after he staged Aristophanes's Peace, in which an elaborate mechanical beetle appeared to fly. The stagecraft was so ingenious that his audience was convinced he had used magic, and from then on his reputation spread. His relationship with Elizabeth dates from the time she was a princess and out of favor during her sister Mary's reign. Dee apparently cast favorable horoscopes for her, predicting that she would one day rule. However, Dee's prognostications caught up with him. He was suspected of conspiring with Elizabeth to do away with the queen by sorcery and formally accused of sorcery against Mary, though acquitted by the Star Chamber in 1555. During Elizabeth's reign, Dee seems to have been called in for occasional consultations by the queen, and his diary records visits by her to him at his house at Mortlake. Other entries in the diary suggest that he was kept busy casting horoscopes, teaching and advising friends, and at various times performing jobs for the queen or traveling at her request. In addition, Dee wrote treatises on a number of different subjects, though none specifically on magic. Dee conducted a number of scientific experiments, invented useful navigational devices, and was reputed to be an excellent mathematician. He was, all told, one of England's best examples of the "Renaissance Man " and deserves F. A. Yates's succinct observation [in Theatre of the World, 1969] that "no more complete mirror of the Elizabethan age could be found than John Dee." True to Pico's symbol, this Renaissance man was, in addition to all his other attributes, a magician.
Yet many of his fellow Englishmen feared Dee as a conjuror, a spirit-summoner, and this reputation greatly distressed Dee, partly because it was dangerous to be suspected of conjury in England at that time, and partly because Dee was apparently horrified to be suspected of commerce with the devil. Several of his later writings contain long complaints about the pillage of his library (which seems to have been a deliberate act of destruction against the "conjuror" carried out while Dee was abroad) and about the rumors that he was a "Caller of Deuils" and "Arche Coniurer, of this whole kingdom." Dee wanted to make the distinction between a philosopher who experimented (which he considered himself to be) and a conjuror (which he was reputed to be). In the following warning, however, Dee, like many writers on magic, struck a note of condescension toward the vulgar and unlearned who presume to judge his activities:
Let all such, therefore, who, in Iudgement and Skill of Philosophie, are farre inferior to Plinie (who called Moses a magician) take good heede, leaste they ourshoote them selues rashly, in Iudging of Philosophers straunge Actes, and the Meanes, how they are done. But, much more, ought they to beware of forging, deuising, and imagining monstrous feates, and wonderfull workes, when and where no such were done: no, not any sparke or likelihoode, of such, as they without all shame, do report.
But Dee's protestations had little effect, and as an old man in 1604 he was still petitioning King James to clear his name of the label of conjuror. Despite all Dee's un-happiness with his image, he is remembered primarily as a magician, thanks in good part to Casaubon's publication in 1659 of parts of Dee's journals. His magical paraphernalia—his table, crystal globes, and the black obsidian mirror cherished by Horace Walpole as the "Black Stone into which Dr. Dee, used to call his Spirits"—are housed in the British Museum for all to see, evidence that Dee was an operator as well as a theorizer about magic. To his contemporaries he must have been an obvious example of a magician, perhaps more useful as a model than Ficino or Pico because he actually practiced what he wrote about.
Turning theory into practice, however, changed philosophical magic. What had been for Pico a symbol of man's potential, and for Ficino a theory of how to obtain infinite wisdom, became for Agrippa and Dee an increasingly concrete and practical way of operating in the world. The uninitiated and uninformed misperceived this magic and, through rumor, transformed it into cheap tricks. Writing of the medieval church, J. Huizinga commented [in The Waning of the Middle Ages]:
But was she able to stand against this strong need of giving a concrete form to all the emotions accompanying religious thought? It was an irresistible tendency to reduce the infinite to the finite, to disintegrate all mystery.… Even the profound faith in the eucharist expands into childish beliefs—for instance, that one cannot go blind or have a stroke of apoplexy on a day on which one has heard mass.… While herself offering so much food to the popular imagination, the Church could not claim to keep that imagination within the limits of a healthy and vigorous piety.
Such making tangible of the intangible Christian mysteries is similar to what happened to spiritual magic as it filtered down to broader public awareness. The vulgarization of spiritual magic merely added to the continuum of varieties of magic from which the writer of Elizabethan and Jacobean England could draw.
What contemporary philosophical magic made available to the dramatist was a climate of interest in the magician. Despite the strictures of the church, the dramatist had the possibility of presenting "white" or "natural" or "spiritual" magic as a positive force. In addition, he could develop the magician as a fully fleshed character: wise, intellectually oriented, using verbal rituals, music, perfumes, and special clothing to accomplish his ends. The magician could be as human as, though a good deal more exotic than, the village shoemaker; that is, he could be treated realistically within the drama.
What contemporary magic could not have provided, however, was much for the magician to do. Philosophic magicians did not, after all, perform tricks, heal the sick, or assist those in trouble. They read, they meditated, often they advocated severing all ties to the world around them. Even John Dee's angelic conversations—perhaps the most sensational action reported by a philosophical magician—are hardly the sort of material a dramatist could use for plot.
But there were other traditions of magic, literary ones, to which dramatists could have turned for help in motivating their magicians and involving them in plot action. The most fruitful of these traditions to examine for examples of "literary" magic seems to me to be the medieval narrative romances (their possible link with the drama is clear when we remember that English stage magicians appeared first in dramatic romances, which were often clumsy adaptations of longer narrative romance materials). Filled with magic and with stereotyped, unrealistic characters, romance had no need to correspond closely to the real world. Thus, the medieval romances took a relaxed, un-concerned attitude toward magic. It exists everywhere in the romance world and is good or bad according to the motives of the magician or the effect it has on plot.
The magician as a character in romance is quite different from the character suggested by the writings of the neo-platonic philosophers. The romance magician, who can be either male or female, is usually set apart from the other characters by some physical or spiritual peculiarity: Merlin is unnaturally hairy and has a devil rather than a human for his father; Clinschor (in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival) has been castrated; Morgan le Fay (Gawain and the Green Knight) and Cundrie (Parzival) are incredibly ugly. Rarely does a magician have a family, close friends, or a lover. Merlin, in his several romances, is something of an exception, but even so—since his relationship with his mother receives little emphasis after he grows up, and his mistress shuts him up forever in a rock—he can hardly be seen as part of a warm familial group. In a genre much interested in reconciliations between long-lost families or lovers, the magician generally remains apart and aloof.
In the narrative romances, magicians generate their own magic; they have no need to employ spirits or to perform elaborate ceremonies. Occasionally a magician—such as Malory's Morgan le Fay, Cundrie in Parzival, or the Clerk in Chaucer's "The Franklin's Tale"—is learned or uses books, but such references are always casual. There is none of the association between magic and learning mandatory in theories of philosophic magic. Most magicians seem born to their trade, whether—like Merlin—because of a nonhuman or magical relative, or because of a prediction that they will have magical skill. The romances spend little or no time explaining the motivation for or methods of magic; what is important is the effect the magician has on the plot. On the stage, such undeveloped, unexplained magic occasionally occurs in plays, like The Birth of Merlin, that seem directly derived from narrative romance.
Much of the magic in the romances has no particular source. Magical rings, enchanted springs, deadly beds, and magical potions abound, and often the writer makes no effort to explain how they came to be enchanted. Examples of romances containing such magical effects include Floris and Blancheflour (with its magic ring and a stream to detect adulterous maidens); Chretien de Troves's Yvain (protective rings and an enchanted spring); Sir Launfal (magic purse, horse, and dwarf); and Sir Tristrem (magic potion). Whole faerie or magical worlds may exist (as in Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal) without explanation of their origin. No magician need be involved in creating them. But sometimes a specific magician is responsible for providing characters with invulnerable magical props (as Clinschor creates the enchanted bed in Parzival). In such cases, however, emphasis is invariably on what magic accomplishes rather than how it is performed.
The magical equipment associated with romance magicians is varied. Sorceresses seem to favor magic potions, rings, and swords, while male sorcerers often prefer larger projects—enchanted castles, magical beds, or invulnerable battle dress. The variety itself is informative, however, because it suggests there is no required or mandatory equipment for performing magic. The magician is usually self-sufficient and needs little help from spirits or objects to produce his effects.
What magicians in narrative romance do is facilitate plot action and provide spectacular effects. A miraculous transformation is their most usual way of producing results. Merlin, for example, is fond of changing the weather, raising fogs or mists to bewilder the enemy. The Green Knight is a shape changer, changing from the host to the Green Knight with apparent ease. Merlin, too, has vast shape-changing powers. His most famous change, of course, is the transformation of Uther Pendragon into the likeness of the Duke of Tintagel so that Uther may sleep with Tintagel's wife and beget King Arthur. Not all Merlin's shape changes are so utilitarian. He frequently appears to his acquaintances in disguise for no reason other than his apparent joy in bewildering others and in variety. This delight is frequently carried beyond all reasonable bounds, as when, to attract Julius Caesar's attention, he transforms himself into a stag and goes running through the palace of the emperor. Although Merlin is by far the most ubiquitous romance magician, his powers are fairly typical of those possessed by less well known magi.
The production of surprising effects and spectacle, as well as of disguises, has implications that are carried further in dramatic literature. The disguises, of course, are associated with role-playing; in many ways the magician is an actor. Even more, however, he is a director, a presenter of spectacular shows for the discomfort, edification, or entertainment of spectators. Although these qualities of the magician are only suggested, and never carefully developed, in the romances, they do exhibit the potential available to a writer to portray the magician as director or as creative artist. Merlin and his counterparts "create" illusion; their magic produces temporary changes that affect man's senses but eventually dissolve back to reality. In medieval romance, then, more than in contemporary magic, the Tudor-Stuart dramatist could have found the association between the magician and the artist, the magician and the director of spectacle.
A traditional function of magicians that receives emphasis and development in romance is prophecy. E. K. Chambers has gone so far as to suggest that Geoffrey of Mon-mouth invented Merlin solely as a mouthpiece for prophecy. Whether or not Chambers is right, romance authors repeatedly fall back on the device of the enigmatic prediction to hold the reader's attention. In the Merlin romances, for example, Merlin is apparently tricked into predicting three different deaths for the same man (who keeps disguising himself as part of an effort to discredit Merlin); all of the death predictions are, of course, fulfilled. Nearly all romance magicians, villains or heroes, have similar prophetic powers, though evil magicians are necessarily blind to their own downfall.
Evil magicians are fairly generously scattered through the medieval romances. Good magicians appear more rarely, and when they do they are usually paired with an evil magician. This scarcity of good magicians apparently results more from problems of plotting and suspense than from any feeling about the impossibility of good magic. A villainous magician provides a worthy opponent to a hero; victory over the magician's special powers enlarges the hero's triumph. Thus, Clinschor's magical traps in Parzival make Gawan's adventures exciting as he manages to defeat the evil magic. But the entrance into a romance of a powerful good magician requires some magical competition just to keep the plot alive. In the Merlin romances, Fortager's wise men compete with Merlin for the king's patronage. Once they are defeated, Merlin interests us because he is on the side of the underdog, working against overwhelming odds. After Arthur is crowned king, these romances lose much of their interest and become little more than a series of battles, ingeniously led and won by Merlin. Merlin's role throws Arthur into deep shadow; although he is a king, Arthur is apparently incapable of making an intelligent decision without Merlin. Probably Thomas Malory foresaw this difficulty when he constructed his tales, for he shut Merlin up in a rock very early in the narrative. An active Merlin would prevent Arthur's emergence as a hero. And for the short time that Merlin is active, Malory provided him with a rival: Morgan le Fay, constantly plotting against Arthur, gives magical assistance to his enemies. Merlin is finally defeated by the magic of Nyneve, the beautiful woman to whom he has taught his own art. Good magicians threaten to diminish plot interest unless they are provided with worthy challengers, and thus they appear more rarely than villainous magicians, both in the romances and, later, in drama. Like the romancers, dramatists who do create good magicians almost always give them magical competition (as in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, John a Kent and John a Cumber, and The Tempest, where Prospero's magic is stronger than that of Sycorax).
Finally, romance magicians are generally amoral. Though they are heroes (and therefore good) or villains (and therefore bad), ordinary moral or religious standards are usually not applied to them. Despite the malice of Clinschor, for example, nothing indicates that he is the agent of any diabolic power. Merlin, though fathered by the devil, is clearly on the side of good. Yet in all versions of his story he does some fairly immoral things. In arranging for the begetting of Arthur, for example, Merlin acts as the manager of an adultery; he frequently serves as a pander in the romances. Malory, as is frequently the case, followed his source and made Merlin seem even less attractive: Merlin orders Arthur to destroy all children born to lords and ladies on Ma y Day in an effort to kill Mordred, Arthur's bastard, who will one day be his murderer. This action is reminiscent, of course, of Herod's slaughter of the innocents, and just as futile—a good reminder that magical counsel is not always infallible. Although Merlin is generally on the right side, moral and religious issues run a poor second to interests of plot.
Missing from romance treatments of the magician is any sense that he has entered into an agreement with the devil in order to obtain his powers. Indeed, the only conjuring in the romances I have read is done not by a magician but by a "good man [who] toke a stole aboute hys neck and a booke, and than he conjoured on that booke. And with that they saw the fyende in an hydeous fygure, that there was no man so hardéherted in the worlde but he sholde a bene aferde." Here the "good man" merely wants to know if a priestly colleague who has been killed is damned or saved; the devils are being asked to provide information (as are the spirits who are summoned in Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois), not to perform any evil acts. Occasional references indicate that authors were well aware of the possible identification of magicians and devils: Malory has a sorceress who, when her temptations fail, disappears, only to be identified as the devil himself. Here and in similar references, however, the tone is casual. The romances are not anxious to explore the moral implications of magic or to characterize it as "white" or "black," natural or demonic.
What is important to notice is the possibility of good—or even merely "neutral"—magic in medieval literature. In this respect romance magic is similar to the magic of the later philosophers: good magic can exist and, indeed, be a desirable attribute. Of course, both traditions also acknowledge the existence and danger of bad magic, but neither sees magic as exclusively bad.
Where the two sorts of magic differ radically, however, is in their emphases. The medieval romances show little or no interest in theories of magic. Instead, they develop the magician for literary use. Competition between magicians, magical prophecy to provide suspense or foreshadowing, humor and practical jokes arising from magical powers, and plot interest heightened by miraculous occurrences were all useful in the romances. Many of these same techniques were also used by dramatists in the portrayal of stage magicians.
The combined influence of these two traditions of magic, the fictive and the philosophical, perhaps first appeared in a nondramatic form, the romance epic. Boiardo, Tasso, Ariosto, and Spenser all included magic and magicians in their epics. Their magicians generally resemble medieval romance magicians: they move the plot; they create and use magical equipment; they frequently compete with one another; they prophesy. But these characters also show certain differences from magicians found in medieval romance.
For example, epic magicians are clearly learned in a way romance magicians are not. All of Spenser's magicians are dependent on books for their magic: Busirane and Merlin work from texts and write "straunge characters" that seem to be some sort of magical hieroglyphics (3.3.14; 3.12.31). Archimago, in his deception of the Red Cross Knight, goes into his study to search his magic books; after his first attempt fails, he "searcht his balefull bookes againe" (1.2.2).
A similar association of magic with books appears in the Italian epics. Ariosto carried his portrait of the bookish magician almost to absurdity when he portrayed Atlantes astride the flying hippogryph, his magic shield on one arm and his open book in the other hand, reading aloud magical incantations. In fact, Bradamant defeats Atlantes partly because the magician has carelessly left his book behind:
That wretched man, the volume by whose aid
He all his battles fought, on earth had laid.
This growing reliance on books and stress on learning suggest that philosophic magic was influencing Renaissance writers' conception of the magician.
A second important change is the almost formulaic association of the magician with spirits or demons. The most famous Spenserian lines suggesting this connection are those on Archimago's flies:
And forth he cald out of deepe darknesse dred
Legions of Sprights, the which like little flyes
Fluttering about his euer damned hed,
A-waite whereto their seruice he applyes.
But Merlin, too, has legions of "sprights" working underground, and his strange writing serves a purpose: "With … [it] the stubborn feends he to his seruice bound" (3.3.10-14). These associations are not only Spenser's. At one point in Orlando Furioso, Melissa, a magical assistant to the dead but still vocal Merlin, calls up a parade of demons, but only after drawing a circle around Bradamant and tying a pentacle to her head to protect her from the spirits. In Jerusalem Delivered, Tasso tried to distinguish between evil and good magicians in terms of their demonic associations. The great magical feat in the poem is Ismen's creation of the enchanted forest, which he accomplishes by assigning a demon to every tree and bush. The conjuration scene, described in great detail, produces "legions of devils." To balance this overtly demonic magic, Tasso portrayed a hermit, a good magician, who practices only natural magic:
Nor yet by help of devil or aid from hell
I do this uncouth work and wond'rous feat;
The Lord forbid I use or charm or spell
To raise foul Dis from his infernal seat;
But of all herbs, of every spring and well,
The hidden power I know and virtue great,
And all that kind hath hid from mortal sight,
And all the stars, their motions and their might.
Yet this hermit, conspicuous in his disclaimer of demonic magic, is the exception. Most epic magicians had passed beyond strictly natural magic and unabashedly employed demons, whether they themselves served God or the devil.
Increased dependence on books and demonic aid is important not only as an indication of the possible influence of philosophical magic on the literary conception of the magician but also for his development as a character. The need for books and for assistance from spirits moves the magician closer to the ordinary man. If—like most romance magicians—he is granted special powers from birth and is thus able to work magic with no help, then he is a creature set apart from the rest of mankind. But if his magical ability comes from study and if his magical acts are actually performed by spirits, then the magician can be human.
Peopled as it is by stereotypes and allegorical characters, the romance epic is hardly the place for realistic character development. But the beginnings of a more human magician can be seen in a character like Spenser's Archimago. Far from infallible, Archimago constantly reveals human weaknesses, despite his considerable magical ability. Having created the false Una, for example, "The maker selfe [Archimago] for all his wondrous witt, / Was nigh beguiled with so goodly sight" (1.1.45). Archimago is no more able to detect deceptive appearances than the good characters and is fooled by Braggadochio's fine armor into choosing him as a worthy foe to Guyon and Red Cross Knight. Archimago is sensually tempted and easily fooled because, like all of Spenser's heroes (with the exception of Arthur), he is subject to human failings. Far from being the devil personified, Archimago is a man, as dedicated to evil as Gloriana's knights are to good, but as prone as they to fall short of his goal. Similar fallibility coupled with magical ability is seen repeatedly in stage magicians; indeed, it becomes part of a stock formula for both good and evil magicians.
Another element of this stock formula that found early development in the romance epic is the portrait of the magician as artist, as creator and director of spectacle, pageant, and masque. Commenting on Archimago, Donald Cheney remarked, [in Spenser's Image of Nature] "Spenser directs his emphasis in particular toward the suggestion of a demonic figure of the artist. He is repeatedly the victim of his own art."
Magicians specialize, as do artists, in the creation of illusion, and it is not surprising that the one becomes a symbol for the other. Though the Italian epics also have creative magicians, the best example of the magician as artist is Spenser's Busirane. Creator of the enigmatic Mask of Cupid and apparently chief curator of his house filled with lovely works of art, Busirane exercises a power that resides not in his "vile" self but in his artistic creations. Despite his frequent identification with Lust, Busirane has not built another Bower of Bliss that tempts by direct physical sensuality. Rather his house is a temptation through carefully selected art, a temptation to believe the didactic message that tapestry, statuary, and masque all convey: Love is cruel and painful as well as erotic. But Spenser, supremely aware of the dangers of illusion, foils Busirane with a heroine who pushes beyond the art to its source: "Bold Britomart… / Neither of idle shewes, nor of false charmes aghast," pushes through to the plain third room, not meant to be seen, from which the magician operates.
Busirane is, in many ways, typical of the Renaissance magician as he will develop onstage. The magical creation of pageant and masque will recur repeatedly (Prospero's wedding masque and Faustus's necromantic pageants are simply the two most obvious examples). As a creator, the magician can be compared to other creators, and new realms of possible significance attach to him. From a religious perspective, for example, creation is an imitation of God, and to create sensual lures is to rival God and to work against his purposes. So in the Faerie Queene all the "bad" magical figures (Archimago, Busirane, Acrasia, and the witch) create illusions or false duplicates of real characters. But Merlin, the good magical figure, creates a mirror that reveals truth and a shield before which everything false or illusory crumbles.
From another perspective, the creator is also the artist, and Busirane is very much the dramatic artist, directing all from behind the scenes. The pageant he creates is described in clearly dramatic terms:
[Ease appears] as on the ready flore
Of some Theatre, a graue personage,
That in his hand a branch of laurell bore,
With comely haueour and count'nance sage,
Yclad in costly garments, fit for tragicke Stage.
In Spenser's moral framework, such dramatic illusion can only be negative. But in other contexts, the metaphor of magician as artist can be (and is) exploited more positively. Busirane's connection with masque is only an early example of the magician as artist. The tradition of associating masque and magician, and the verisimilitude of stage illusion to magical illusion, strengthens as the drama develops.
The changes in the portrayal of the magician in the romance epics open up a series of new and complex possibilities for the magician as a character. How will he use his abilities? At what price comes his power over spirits? How do his contacts with the world of spirits change his life on earth? Will human weakness limit his magical power? The conflicts with which it is now possible for the writer to endow the magician pave the way for his development as an interesting stage character. While in some plays he remains a set piece, a conventional, undeveloped figure, in others he is a complex, often morally perplexed man.
John S. Mebane (essat date 1989)
SOURCE : "Magic, Science, and Witchcraft in Renaissance England," in Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, pp. 73-112.
[In the essay below, Mebane provides an overview of the debate over rival theories of the natural and supernatural worlds in Renaissance England.]
The immediate context of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays on magic was an intense and wide-ranging controversy concerning the uses of knowledge, the status of traditional authorities, and the limits of the human personality. In addition to those who were influenced directly by the works of Ficino, Pico, and Agrippa, there were technologists, mathematicians, Paracelsian physicians, and many others who argued throughout the sixteenth century that received opinion should be tested by the light of experience, in order that a more firm foundation be established for progress in both theoretical and practical knowledge. Social and economic conditions favorable to the development of science intensified in the 1580s, after the return of Francis Drake's treasure-laden ship from its remarkable voyage around the globe encouraged Englishmen to envision the possibility of a British Empire which would rival that of the Spaniards in wealth and power. Militant Protestants such as the earl of Leicester, Christopher Hatton, and Walter Ralegh offered patronage to those whose knowledge of navigation, munitions, and geography promised to give England an advantage over its Catholic rival. After the Armada, the possibilities seemed boundless.
The study of the debates over magic and science in the Renaissance reveals the vigor and the diversity of the forces which were pressing for intellectual and technological change, as well as the power and variety of the conservative and reactionary forces. There were, on the one hand, members of dissenting sects who embraced occult philosophy because they readily perceived its subversive potential; on the other, there were monarchists like John Dee who wished to buttress the political and social status quo and who failed to comprehend their opponents' fears that the overthrow of authorities in natural philosophy could result in the undermining of social, political, and religious authorities as well. Mathematics in general was sometimes suspected of being associated with evil conjurers and antisocial forces, and it was fairly common in the sixteenth century for unfamiliar and impressive mechanical devices, such as the flying Scarabeus which Dee constructed for a Cambridge production of Aristophanes' Pax, to be regarded as products of demonic aid. At the same time, there were individuals who comprehended the possibilities of applied science and who could distinguish between advanced mathematics or technology and the apparent illusions of magic. In short, although we can be certain that magic was an important and volatile issue, we can posit no one attitude which would be typical of an Elizabethan audience. By exploring the various opinions which existed concerning magic and science in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, we can, however, illuminate the historical and philosophical issues to which Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare, and other authors were responding, and we can identify, in some cases, specific influences upon individual dramatists.
Assertions that experience is an important teacher exist throughout the Middle Ages. "Experience though noon auctoritee / Were in this world is right ynogh for me," Chaucer's Wife of Bath tells us, and questions concerning the relative value of experience, as opposed to book learning, occur frequently in The Canterbury Tales, as in other medieval literary works and philosophical treatises. Explicit confrontations between experience and authority, however—including assertions that inherited opinions must be questioned so that human knowledge can be entirely reformed—begin to multiply quite notably in the mid-sixteenth century in England and intensify until the movement reaches its climax in Francis Bacon. Although the general notion of a reformation of knowledge and the rejection of the absolute authority of Aristotle has roots in humanism, the most outspoken criticism of received authority in sixteenth-century England seems to have developed among practical technologists and physicians, many of whom were influenced by the Hermetic and Neopla-tonic traditions.
In 1551, for example, Thomas Rainold argued in a medical treatise that in his own lifetime God had aroused "excellent uertuous witts" who have examined all doctrine of the ancients so rigorously that in a few years, "science wil be so renuid, refreshid, and purgid, that thei which hitherto haue boren al the bruit, & haue obtained al autorite, wil leese a greate portion of there credit." Interestingly, Rainold is a student of alchemy who is critical of the grandiose claims of some practitioners of the art. Although he gives directions for the preparation of an alchemical medicine which will concentrate the "spirites, life, and … verrue" of natural substances, he is skeptical of the idea that anyone could concoct an "elixir of life" which would cure all diseases.… Even though Rainold's assumptions concerning natural philosophy are in many ways those of an occult philosopher, he is aware of the relatively new tendency to examine critically the received opinion which has been handed down through books, and he is highly enthusiastic about the renovation of learning: the current revolution in knowledge, Rainold asserts, promises to renew virtually all of the arts and sciences, and in a relatively short period of time many of the ancients will be regarded as having good intentions, but thoroughly outdated. Rainold is aware that some "excellent wits" are afraid to publish their findings, since they fear being criticized by reactionaries, but he admonishes us to remember that contributing to human knowledge, especially in medicine, is an act of Christian charity.…
One of the most influential mathematicians of the sixteenth century was Robert Recorde, who was employed by the Muscovy Company to study applied mathematics and navigational technology, and who gave lectures to the company's seamen. Although Recorde died in 1558, his textbooks on mathematics and astronomy were widely used throughout the century, and in these works he promoted the idea that through diligence in the pursuit and application of knowledge Englishmen could affirm human dignity, procure wealth, and improve the quality of human life. The illustration for the title page of the 1556 edition of The Castle of Knowledge illustrates Recorde's belief that knowledge could give humankind a degree of control over its own destiny. On the right is a blindfolded figure, standing on an insecure sphere and apparently turning Fortune's wheel, with the motto, "The wheele of Fortune, whose ruler is Ignoraunce." On the left, in contrast, is a figure holding a pair of compasses and standing on a secure cube, holding "The Sphere of Destinye, whose governour is Knowledge." The textbook itself provides more than one commentary on the emblem. Recorde suggests, first of all, that we can, to some extent, control the course of our own lives through various applications of mathematics and astronomy, including navigation, medicine, and other arts. In order to accomplish this goal, however, we must subject traditional authorities such as Ptolemy to the tests of experience and logical analysis: "Be not abused by their autoritye, but evermore attend to their reasons, and examine them well, ever regarding more what is saide, and how it is proued, then who saieth it: for autoritie often times deceaueth many menne." These progressive and enlightened attitudes exist side by side with a prominent interest in astrology, and Recorde also argues that knowledge of the stars enables us to control our destinies by allowing us to plan the conduct of our affairs in auspicious astrological circumstances. He who understands the heavens
shall be able not only to avoide many inconveniences, but also to atchive many unlikely attempts: and in conclusion be a governoure and rulare of the stars accordynge to that vulgare [i.e., commonly known] sentence gathered of Ptolemye:
Sapiens dominabitur astris
The wise by prudence, and good skyll,
Maye rule the starres to serve his will.…
Recorde is well aware that mathematics, astrology, and technology are often suspected of being diabolical, especially when striking feats are performed by mechanical or other scientific means. He acknowledges that Roger Bacon, the pride of English scientists, was accused of being a necromancer who conjured with evil spirits, but Recorde insists that the accusation cannot be supported by evidence. Repeatedly he defends the study of astronomy as consistent with piety, pointing out that contemplation of the incorruptible and constant heavens uplifts the mind and inspires us with respect for God's creative power. As an epigraph for the preface of The Castle of Knowledge Recorde provides the following verse:
If reasons reache transcende the Skye,
Why shoulde it then to earthe be bounde?
The witte is wronged and leadde awrye,
If mynde be mar[r]ied to the grounde.
In the 1580s and 1590s intensified aspirations for wealth, military success, and empire generated an increased demand for research and instruction in what we would now call the applied sciences. Francis Drake himself, as well as Richard Hakluyt, William Gilbert, John Dee, Walter Ralegh, and others, insisted on the need for training programs in navigation, geography, cartography, and gunnery. Gilbert's proposal for a new academy in London recommends that "there shalbe placed two Mathematicians, And the one of them shall one day reade Arithmetick, and the other day Geometry, which shalbe onely employed to Imbattelinges, fortificacions, and matters of warre, with the practize of Artillery, and vse of all manner of Instruments belonging to the same.… The other Mathematician shall reade one day Cosmographie and Astronomy, and the other day tend the practizes thereof, onely to arte of Nauigacion, with the knowledge of necessary starres, making vse of Instrumentes apertaining to the same." Richard Hakluyt praised Sir Walter Ralegh for perceiving the importance of such instruction and for employing Thomas Harriot, "a man pre-eminent in those studies," to instruct him and his sea captains. "This one thing I know," Hakluyt told Ralegh, "and that is that you are entering upon the one and only method by which first the Portuguese and then the Spaniards at last carried out to their own satisfaction what they had previously attempted.… There yet remain for you new lands, ample realms, unknown peoples; they wait, yet, I say, to be discovered and subdued, quickly and easily, under the happy auspices of your arms and enterprise, and the sceptre of our most serene Elizabeth, Empress—as even the Spaniard himself admits—of the Ocean."
Eventually Gresham College was established to provide the research and instruction for which Hakluyt, Gilbert, Drake, and others had called, with instructors such as Henry Briggs, an acquaintance of Ralegh and Harriot, and Matthew Gwinne, who had come to know Giordano Bruno. The Muscovy Company continued for decades to instruct its own seamen, with John Dee serving the company in much the same capacity as Robert Recorde had in previous years. Contacts among those who taught at Gresham and those who worked for private companies or for Ralegh were frequent, and the scientific community in London was much more receptive to new ideas than were other segments of Elizabethan society. Copernicanism, atomism, and the concepts of the infinity and homogeneity of the universe, first interrelated by Giordano Bruno, found a favorable reception in these circles; and Jean Jacquot has argued convincingly that the transition from Bruno's magical philosophy to genuine science was effected in part by Thomas Harriot, Nicholas Hill, Walter Warner, and other researchers who were patronized by Sir Walter Ralegh and the earl of Northumberland. Jacquot points out that some of the new philosophical concepts which were conducive to the development of genuine science tended to stimulate the theological heresies of which Harriot, as well as his acquaintance Christopher Marlowe, was frequently accused:
According to one Mr. Haggar, who was a mathematician and well acquainted with Harriot, [Harriot] could not believe in the story of Genesis, and would say ex nihilo nihil fit. Torporley considered that the dogma of Creation was at stake in the controversy of atoms, and sought to prove the contrary maxim: ex nihilo omnia. Ancient atomism offered the model of a universe indefinitely extended in space and time, where everything was subject to generation and decay but was made up of indestructible particles of matter. This view could fit neither with Christian eschatology nor Aristotelian cosmology. But such a universe could be conceived as homogeneous, all its parts being subject to the same physical laws. And this suited the purpose of the new astronomy which tended to dispense with qualitative distinctions between different regions of the cosmos.
Denial of the existence of heaven and hell, questions about the Creation, and the rejection of traditional scientific and religious beliefs in the interest of gaining control over nature and obtaining wealth and military power are the heart of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus. The remark attributed to Marlowe by Richard Baines, that "Moyses was but a Jugler & that one Hariots being Sir W Raleighs man Can do more then he," suggests that the playwright was familiar with the theory that Moses performed his feats of magic through practical Cabala (or, perhaps, that Moses' feats were merely illusions) and that Marlowe knew that Harriot's scientific knowledge was more genuine—and consequently more potent—than that of his predecessors in the quest for control of nature. Thomas Ky d listed "Harriot, Warner, Royden, and some stationers in Paules churchyard" as those with whom Marlowe had discussed his heretical religious beliefs, and "Warner" is almost certainly the scientist Walter Warner, the close associate and colleague of Harriot's whose philosophy Jacquot has shown to have been extensively influenced by Giordano Bruno and whose research on biology, psychology, and other aspects of natural philosophy in turn influenced Thomas Hobbes. Although Harriot avoided making explicitly heretical statements in print, he was accused throughout his life of asserting that heaven and hell were merely fictions designed to enforce obedience to the state, of denying the immortality of the individual soul, of questioning the biblical account of the Creation, and of conjuring. In a list which he compiled of printed references to himself, Harriot confirms that he feels himself to be the so-called "conjurer" whom Robert Parsons said was the "Master" of Sir Walter Ralegh's "School of Atheism," and at Ralegh's trial for treason in 1603 Chief Justice Richard Popham is recorded to have admonished Ralegh by saying, "An d lett not Heriott nor any such Doctor persuade you there is no Eternity." At the inquiry into Ralegh's alleged atheism in 1594, Nicholas Jefferys testified that Harriot had been questioned by the Privy Council concerning his denial of the resurrection of the body, and it is possible that this questioning occurred as a part of the Privy Council's investigation of Marlowe in 1593.…
There is, in fact, a remark in Harriot's A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia which suggests that he regarded the doctrines of salvation and damnation as an effective means of regulating behavior. In discussing the Indians' religion he describes in considerable detail their conceptions of heaven and hell, and he then remarks that "what subtilty soeuer be in the … Priestes, this opinion worketh so much in manie of the common and simple sort of people that it maketh them have great respect to their Gouernours." Although it cannot be proved that any of these men were atheists in the modern sense of the term, it is clear that Harriot, Walter Warner, Nicholas Hill, Ralegh, and Marlowe engaged in serious criticism of many traditional beliefs and institutions; what they shared was not a single set of beliefs, but rather a willingness to subject all opinions to rigorous logical analysis. Ralegh was loyal to Christianity, but he struggled with the question of whether religious doctrine could be supported through rational argument, and the evidence brought forward at the Cerne Abbas hearing demonstrates that he frequently engaged in much more open-minded discussion of religion than most of his contemporaries could tolerate. Ralegh, Harriot, and Marlowe differed in many important respects, but they shared a resentment of the attempts of rulers to impose uniformity of belief upon the populace. The use of established churches as a means of enforcing obedience to the government was, of course, an obvious fact of life in the Renaissance; what is remarkable is not that Marlowe or Harriot perceived the situation accurately, but that they had the courage even to hint at it in print or on the stage. Of central importance for the present study is the fact that Marlowe was in contact with several of the most advanced and open-minded scientists and philosophers in Europe, and he was intensely and no doubt uncomfortably aware that among the tools used to suppress freedom of inquiry were accusations of atheism and witchcraft. As I shall argue in detail in the next chapter, the ambivalence of Dr. Faustus is in part the product of Marlowe's strategy for questioning his society's condemnation of independence of mind as sinful, while at the same time concealing the playwright's own heterodoxy within the framework of an ostensibly orthodox morality drama.
Ralegh studied occult philosophy extensively, and in the philosophical sections of his History of the World he consistently defends the opinions of "the Platonists," including Pico, Ficino, and Plotinus, and the "ancient theologians," such as Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster. In book 1, chapter 1, entitled "O f the creation and preservation of the world," Ralegh draws directly upon the Hermetic books and on the Bible, as well as on the works of Ficino, Pico, and other theologians, to support his belief that the nature and powers of God are revealed in the created world. In his preface he quotes Ficino's description in the Theologia Platonica of a realm of eternal Ideas, created by God as the archetype of the physical universe, and in his discussion of human nature Ralegh emphasizes that we are endowed by our Creator with an intuitive faculty, the Mens, or pure understanding (Works, 2:lii, 48-54, 59). His section entitled "Of the free power which man had in his first creation to dispose of himself" is based primarily upon Pico's Oration:
God gave unto man all kind of seeds and grafts of life, to wit, the vegetative life of plants, the sensual of beasts, the rational of man, and the intellectual of angels; whereof whichsoever he took pleasure to plant and cultiv[at]e, the same should futurely grow in him, and bring forth fruit, agreeable to his own choice and plantation. This freedom of the first man Adam, and our first father, was enigmatically described by Asclepius Atheniensis, saith Mirandula, in the person and fable of Proteus, who was said, as often as he pleased, to change his shape. (Works 2:62)
Chapter 11 of the first book of Ralegh's History is devoted to a defense of magic. Magic is an "art, saith Mirandula," which "few understand, and many reprehend: … As dogs bark at those they know not; so they condemn and hate the things they understand not" (2:381). Although the name "magic" has sometimes been applied to the practices of witchcraft, the true magician is a servant of God. Magic "containeth the whole philosophy of nature; not the brabblings of the Aristotelians, but that which bringeth to light the inmost virtues, and draweth them out of nature's hidden bosom to human use" (2:384-85). Ralegh accepts astrology and alchemy, but he regards theurgy as an illusion, denying that any magical ceremony can compel either devils or angels. In chapter 6, section 7 (2:181), he quotes Pico's third Orphic Conclusion, explaining that the names within the Orphic Hymns refer to "natural and divine virtues," not demons. Here, as elsewhere, he struggles to reconcile his defense of the occult tradition with his understanding of the Bible. He respects the Cabala, for example, as a tradition based on secrets given by God to Moses and handed down in an oral tradition, but he denies that Cabalisi explication of the Scriptures in any way cancels their literal truth (2:72-75, 152-54). Furthermore, he admits that the devil may take advantage of the ambitions of those who pursue even the lawful kinds of magic; Satan has the power to disguise himself as an angel of light and attempt to lead the magus into idolatrous practices such as worshipping the stars, "teaching men to esteem them as gods, and not as instruments" (2:391). Similarly, it is permissible and even pious to utilize the occult virtues of natural objects, but the devil seeks to corrupt legitimate magic by teaching people to believe superstitiously in "the strength of words and letters; (which without faith in God are but ink or common breath)" (2:392). Although many have rejected natural philosophy and mathematics because of these dangers, Ralegh continues, we should not abandon our quest for truth because of the difficulty of separating science from idolatrous superstition; if we permit ourselves to be hindered from practicing benign arts merely because they could be corrupted, "we shall in a short time bury in forgetfulness all excellent knowledge and all learning, or obscure and cover it over with a most scornful and beggarly ignorance" (2:395).
In chapter 3 of book 1 of the History (2:84), Ralegh remarks that ancient philosophers, reflecting upon the power of the censors, often feared to express their religious beliefs explicitly. One might be tempted to infer from this remark that Ralegh himself at times expresses his own unorthodox ideas in an indirect fashion. It should be emphasized, however, that regardless of what Ralegh may have believed concerning religious and political institutions or concerning magic, he devotes hundreds of pages in the History to reconciling his opinions on occult philosophy, the Creation, and other subjects with his obviously firm belief in the literal truth of the Scriptures. Although he is fascinated by magic and heavily influenced by Renaissance Neoplatonism and the Hermetic/ Cabalisi tradition, he does not hesitate to criticize those Cabalists who imply that the Bible is purely allegorical. Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of the History is the conflict between Ralegh's fervent desire to affirm learning—including magic—and his anxiety concerning the manner in which the quest for truth can be corrupted by excessive pride and selfishness. Despite his inquiring mind and his admiration of the descriptions of human dignity, freedom, and power which he has found in the occult tradition, Ralegh never extends his criticism of traditional authorities to the Bible, nor does he entirely abandon the biblical conception of the frailties of fallen human nature. The devil creeps into the minds and hearts of human beings, he tells us, and "sets before them the high and shining idol of glory, the all-commanding image of bright gold. He tells them that truth is the goddess of dangers and oppressions; that chastity is the enemy of nature; and lastly, that as all virtue, in general, is without taste, so pleasure satisfieth and delighteth every sense: for true wisdom, saith he, is exercised in nothing else than in the obtaining of power to oppress, and of riches to maintain plentifully our worldly delights" (2:186).
Ralegh's assertion that the devil tells us that truth is "the goddess of dangers and oppressions" is challenging and enigmatic. Does the remark express Ralegh's commitment to truth despite the "dangers and oppressions" which he himself faced while in prison composing his History? Could it refer to the belief, attributed to Harriot and Marlowe, that religion was merely a tool of oppressive governments? If so, is Ralegh expressing his disapproval of opinions which he has heard expressed by his associates? Regardless of how one might answer these questions, Ralegh's History reveals the profound self-examination of a man who had sought truth, both through his own studies and through his patronage of scientists and intellectuals, and who came to know that he himself was subject to the passions which make us vulnerable, as he suggests in the passage just quoted, to the wiles of the devil.
Ralegh was a major participant in the cult of Elizabeth which described the Virgin Queen as a reincarnation of the mythical virgin Astraea, the goddess of justice who had returned to earth in order to revive the Golden Age. The rhetoric of universal reform that was developed by Ralegh, Dee, Spenser, and others as an idealistic rationale for the British Empire was influenced in part by the emphasis on the purification of humanity and of the fallen world which lies at the heart of the occult tradition. Much of the Cabala and several of the ancient Hermetic and pseudo-Hermetic treatises contain Messianic elements which eventually became a significant force behind many of the most important Utopian and millenarian movements of the period, including those which contributed to the English Revolution. As I mentioned in my previous discussion of Pico della Mirandola, many of the Jewish Cabalists believed that God originally had intended for the earthly Adam to complete the process of creation which had been interrupted by the catastrophic "breaking of the vessels" in which the divine light emanating from Adam Kadmon had become scattered and confounded with matter. The terrestrial Adam had failed to complete the harmonious order of creation only because of his own sin, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries both Jewish and Christian Cabalists placed increasing emphasis on the idea that any individual who refused to repeat Adam's fall could still contribute to the process of Tikkun, or restoration. Many of them believed that magic performed by individuals could actually hasten the onset of the Messianic age. The Cabalists' doctrine was one of many variations upon the Gnostic version of the myth of loss and restoration: the archetypus mundi had been fragmented, but enlightened and virtuous individuals who have become aware of their divine origins can help to reassemble it. The myth was transformed in numerous intriguing ways in the various branches of the occult tradition, but one central belief always remained intact: the world would become perfect when humanity regained the knowledge and power it had lost through original sin.
One of the most prominent of the sixteenth-century reformers whose vision was inspired by the Cabala was Guillaume Postel. In 1552 Postel felt himself to be reborn through the descent of the Holy Spirit, and thereafter he considered himself to be the prophet and herald of a new age in which religious harmony would be restored and all traces of sin and imperfection would be eradicated from human nature. He planned a missionary effort to convert the entire world to Christianity, and he believed that once all of humankind was truly enlightened, the Messianic Age would begin. He ingenuously described his program to the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I, in 1560: "Led by the mater mundi, who is right reason, I have proposed a method by which the Christian Republic may be preserved uninjured and undisturbed. This is to be accomplished by a universal empire, which will enable the teachings of the Christian religion, confirmed by right reason, to be set forth. In this way, Christ will be seen to restore as much as Satan has destroyed, and it will be as though Adam had never sinned."
Postel centered his hopes primarily on the French monarchy, and the research of R.J.W. Evans, Frances Yates, Peter French, and others has demonstrated that ideas derived from Cabalisi and Hermetic sources were also influential in stimulating the cult of mystical imperialism which surrounded Queen Elizabeth. John Dee … , one of the most influential spokesmen for Elizabethan imperialism, met Postel in 1550 in Paris, where the young English scholar was lecturing on mathematics; and upon his return to England Dee embarked on a lifelong career of occult studies and promotion of his belief that the English had been chosen by God to renew human knowledge, purify religion, and unite the world in a new Golden Age. As early as 1564, Dee proclaimed in his Monas Hieroglyphica … that a successful adept who mastered occult philosophy could help restore to humankind the knowledge and power which had been lost since "the first age of Man" ("vsque ab ipsa prima Hominum aetate"). Al though it is uncertain whether Dee's phrase "prima Hominum aetate" refers to the ancient world or to the Garden of Eden, he clearly implies that those few magi who have been granted "great wisdom, power over other creatures, and large dominion" (217) have undergone a process of transformation and self-purification similar to that described by Pico della Mirandola in his Oratio and Conclusiones. Subsequently, in his Mathematicall Preface to Sir Henry Billingsley's translation of Euclid's Elements of Geometrie, Dee asserts that the human soul is a microcosm which "participateth with Spirites and Angels: and is made to the Image and similitude of God." By the 1580s Dee had begun to use the techniques of Agrippa's Occult Philosophy in order to summon the angels and learn from them the secrets of the universe; actual transcripts of the seances make clear that Dee believed himself to have been chosen to purify the church and put an end to religious strife in Christendom. His medium in the seances was Edward Kelley, through whom the angels presumably spoke, and who probably deceived him. Dee approached these experiments in the pious spirit of a man who hoped to be granted a closer relationship with God, but he also planned to use the knowledge he gained from his occult studies and his communion with the angels for practical purposes. The ascent to knowledge of divinity and the subsequent descent to practical technology were, for Dee, two sides of one coin: "The Mathematicall minde, [can] deale Speculatiuely in his own Arte: and by good meanes, Mount aboue the cloudes and sierres [i.e., to the intelligible world]: And thirdly, he can, by order, Descend, to frame Naturali thinges, to wonderfull vses: and when he list, retire home into his own Centre: and there, prepare more Meanes, to Ascend or Descend by: and, all, to the glory of God, and our honest delectation in earth." (Mathematical Preface, sig. C3v; my emphasis). Dee believed it was his sacred duty to harness the occult forces of the universe (which he thought of in mathematical terms) in order to ameliorate our earthly condition. This amelioration involved extending to all humankind the benefits of the just rule of Queen Elizabeth and the true religion of English Protestantism (tempered with Dee's Hermeticism), and he therefore placed his knowledge of applied mathematics, navigation, and geography at the service of Elizabeth's armed forces.
The modern student may find it paradoxical that Dee's vision of world peace under a united and reformed Christendom served to justify what many of us would now regard as the ruthless conquest of "heathen peoples," an activity which Dee felt to be the duty of every Christian ruler.… We also may question Dee's belief that imperialist ventures ought to make England wealthy while at the same time spreading the light of true religion. These contradictions apparently never bothered Dee, who firmly believed that one could procure wealth and political advancement for oneself and one's country while simultaneously pursuing an idealistic mission. Whether Elizabeth herself fully shared Dee's grandiose vision we cannot say, but we do know that she allowed him to play an important role is building up the "Tudor myth" which she used so skillfully in strengthening her ancestral claim to the British throne. In fact, Dee's significance in Renaissance history may derive more from his success as a propagandist than from his contributions to science and technology. The theory that the Tudor monarchs were descendents of the legendary Arthur and ultimately of the Trojan Brutus received considerable support from Dee's antiquarian studies, and he also argued that British title to newly discovered lands was justified by King Arthur's ancient conquests. Both at court and in his own home he discussed his theories of history and his knowledge of geography with the earl of Leicester, Francis Walsingham, Christopher Hatton, Walter Ralegh, Edward Dyer (who was godfather to Dee's son Arthur), and the queen herself. Dee served Elizabeth as an astrologer and, on at least one occasion, as a physician, and his theories about imminent reform in Christendom helped to shape the vision of militant Protestantism which influenced Elizabeth's foreign policy.
In 1583 the Polish prince Albrecht Laski (or Alasco) visited England and was received by Sir Philip Sidney and the earl of Leicester. Sidney and Laski were present at the famous confrontation between Giordano Bruno and the dons of Oxford, and after the debate Sidney took the Polish prince to visit Dee. When Laski returned to the continent later in the year, both Dee and Edward Kelley accompanied him. From Laski's home in Poland Dee and Kelley travelled to the court of Rudolf II , where they came into contact with other occultists who shared Dee's reformist impulses. In Bohemia Dee and Kelley conducted seances which confirmed Dee's belief that he had been chosen to lead a universal religious reform; Dee never fully gained Rudolf II's confidence, however, and eventually the Catholic authorities, convinced that Dee was a conjurer who had been deceived by evil spirits, had him expelled from Bohemia. On his way back to England in 1589 Dee travelled through Germany, and Frances Yates has suggested [in Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 1964] that important ties were at that time established between the English monarchy and the German Protestant princes. Yates also mentions that in 1586 an alliance was formed between Elizabeth, Henry of Navarre, and the king of Denmark, and she believes that Navarre may well have been influenced by Bruno, who had returned to France from England the year before the alliance was formed. Yates's suggestion that Dee may have been authorized by the queen to conduct affairs on the continent is speculative, but the research of C. H. Josten has verified [in "A n Unknown Chapter in the Life of John Dee," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 28 (1965)] that in Dee's own mind the journey was connected with the English magician's hopes for universal reform. Ben Jonson alludes prominently to Dee and Kelley's trip to Bohemia in The Alchemist, and the context of the allusions suggests that Jonson is aware of the connection between the occultists' prophecies of reform and the political ambitions of various monarchs—including Elizabeth. The fact that the occultists' prophecies concerning the renewal of human society were used by political leaders as propaganda for their own nationalistic ambitions casts the magicians' optimism about human nature in a peculiarly ironic light, and Ben Jonson was not the only playwright to notice that irony. Despite the important differences among the plays by Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare, the feeling that the magicians' idealism about human nature has been undercut by the ruthless actions of those who seek political power is a major thread which ties together Dr. Faustus, The Alchemist, and, to some extent,The Tempest.
While Dee was on the continent, Giordano Bruno remained in London at the home of the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau de Mauvissière, and in 1583-85 he pub lished several of his most important works, two of which were dedicated to Philip Sidney. Some of the writings which Bruno published in London—particularly Spaccio della bestia trionfante (The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast), De gli eroici furori (The Heroic Frenzies), and Cena de le ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper)—describe an essentially Gnostic religious experience in which the individual purifies his or her personality by expelling vice and corruption and becoming fully aware of the human soul's innate divinity. Although Bruno's works are often allegorical and at times obscure, apparently he entertained a desperate hope that by promulgating a purified Hermetic religion which transcended the dogmatic sectarianism of both Protestantism and traditional Catholicism, he could contribute to the reformation of human society and the elimination of religious warfare. Yates has argued that Bruno's magical philosophy contributed to the Utopian dreams of some Elizabethans, and she sees evidence in The Heroic Frenzies that Bruno hoped that Elizabeth would play a role in effecting universal reform. Professor Werner's research has shown that if Bruno did want to promote a conciliatory atmosphere and religious toleration, he was somewhat less successful with such militant Protestants as Philip Sidney, Francis Walsingham, and the earl of Leicester than he wished. As I have suggested above, however, he exerted considerable influence upon important scientists and philosophers, as well as poets, and his notoriety in England undoubtedly intensified the controversies in which magic was the central, symbolic issue. As a result of his publications and his debate at Oxford, Bruno gained a reputation as a conjurer, a bold defender of Copernicus, and a heretical religious thinker who trusted in his own intellect rather than traditional authorities. He had publicized openly his conviction that through heroic exertions of intellect and will the individual could release the divine, magical powers of the soul and thus gain the power to contribute to a reformed world order. In the following passage from The Ash Wednesday Supper, Bruno boldly describes himself as the prophet of the new era:
The Nolan [i.e., Bruno himself] … has released the human spirit, and set knowledge at liberty. Man's mind was suffocating in the close air of a narrow prison house whence only dimly, and, as it were, through chinks could he behold the far distant stars. His wings were clipped, so that he might not soar upwards through the cloudy veil to see what really lies beyond it and liberate himself from the foolish imaginations of those who … have with many kinds of deceit imposed brutal follies and vices upon the world in the guise of virtues, of divinity and discipline, quenching the light which rendered the souls of our fathers in antique times divine and heroic.… Behold now, standing before you, the man who has pierced the air and penetrated the sky, wended his way amongst the stars and overpassed the margins of the world, who has broken down those imaginary divisions between spheres—the first, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, or what you will—which are described in the false mathematics of blind and popular philosophy.
As Yates has demonstrated in her analysis of The Ash Wednesday Supper, the new light which Bruno claims to have brought to humankind is the ancient magical philosophy, and the "fools and sophists" who have "imposed brutal follies and vices upon the world in the guise of virtues, of divinity and discipline" are the conservative theologians and philosophers who reject magic and pagan philosophy as Satanic.… Moreover, in a very striking section of the first dialogue of the Cena de le ceneri, one of the speakers points out that most people are so thoroughly indoctrinated with the traditional beliefs of their own nation that they believe it to be an act of piety to oppress, conquer, or assassinate those who believe differently. To the question of whether anyone who has been misled by custom and tradition can ever be receptive to an unorthodox truth, Theophil, who speaks for Bruno, replies simply that the capacity to accept revolutionary insights in science or religion is a gift of the gods. In view of passages such as this one, it seems likely that Bruno—who was executed as an unrepentant heretic in Rome in 1600—would have appealed to thinkers such as Harriot or Marlowe not only because of the specific ideas which he asserted, but also because of his courageous, and tragically self-destructive, independence from traditional authorities.
Although Bruno was an important influence upon individual philosophers, scientists, and poets, a much more pervasive revolutionary force was exerted in England by Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim—who apparently called himself "Paracelsus" in order to suggest his superiority to Celsus, the legendary Roman physician. Ralegh, Harriot, and Dee were monarchists who identified their own interests with the establishment of the British empire, and although their critique of traditional authorities in science ultimately contributed to the overthrow of authoritarian casts of mind, they tended to express their unorthodox religious and political ideas either in private or, when they committed themselves to print, equivocally. In Cornelius Agrippa's De vanitate we see clearly an assault upon the social, political, and intellectual establishment, but when challenged by the authorities whom he had criticized Agrippa was willing to protect himself by claiming to be a satirical railer whose strident criticism of society was not meant to be taken seriously. When we encounter Paracelsus we are confronted with a degree of boldness and self-assertiveness in challenging the existing order which is unsurpassed in all of Renaissance history. He not only condemned vehemently the standard medical and scientific authorities of his day, such as Galen, Aristotle, and Avicenna, but he also presented himself to the world as a prophet chosen by God to initiate a new age of social revolution and universal enlightenment. Whereas Bruno still regarded gnosis as available only to a spiritual elite, Paracelsus predicted that genuine enlightenment would spread throughout the working classes, whose practical experience, he asserted, brought them a more intimate knowledge of reality than could ever be attained through conventional, formal education. Conservatives and reaction-aries who were threatened by the revolutionary currents of Renaissance thought found in the life and works of Paracelsus a more than ample justification for their fear that a challenge to the reigning authorities in natural philosophy would lead inevitably to the overthrow of existing social, political, and religious institutions. Consider, for example, Paracelsus' preface to "The Book Concerning the Tincture of the Philosophers":
From the middle of this age the Monarchy of all the Arts has been at length derived and conferred on me, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Prince of Philosophy and of Medicine. For this purpose I have been chosen by God to extinguish and blot out all the phantasies of elaborate and false works, of delusive and presumptuous words, be they the words of Aristotle, Galen, Avicenna, Mesva, or the dogmas of any among their followers. My theory, proceeding as it does from the light of Nature, can never, through its consistency, pass away or be changed: but in the fifty-eighth year after its millennium and a half it will then begin to flourish. The practice at the same time following upon the theory will be proved by wonderful and incredible signs, so as to be open to mechanics and common people, and they will thoroughly understand how firm and immovable is that Paracelsic Art against the triflings of the Sophists: though meanwhile that sophistical science has to have its ineptitude propped up and fortified by papal and imperial privileges.
Paracelsus goes on to say that he has a treasure—apparently the philosopher's stone—which neither Pope Leo X nor the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V could purchase, despite their wealth and power. In the present treatise he will explain how to prepare the "Tincture of the Philosophers," so that those who love truth may enjoy its benefits. "B y this arcanum," he concludes, "the last age shall be illuminated clearly and compensated for all its losses by the gift of grace and the reward of the spirit of truth, so that since the beginning of the world no similar germination of the intelligence and of wisdom shall ever have been heard of" (1:20).
Paracelsus insisted that the search for occult virtues—the arcana, as he termed them—must proceed primarily through practical experience, guided and illuminated by divine grace. Ficino, Pico, and Agrippa (in De occulta philosophia) all had retained a deep respect for books, especially the revered classics of the Neoplatonic and Hermetic traditions; the authorities they invoked were often different from the conventional ones, but never did they go so far as Paracelsus in affirming that actual laboratory experiment is of primary importance. One must actually labor at the furnace, prepare one's own medicines, and learn through first-hand observation the properties of various chemicals, Paracelsus insists, if one is to be an effective alchemical physician. Furthermore, one must explore the natural world in order to discover the virtues of plants and herbs, be willing to learn from the practitioners of folk medicine, and, in addition, deal more directly with one's patients than was popular at the time among most university-trained physicians, who generally assessed the symptoms of a disease and left orders for actual treatment with their subordinates. As for traditional medical authorities, Paracelsus' attitude was dramatized during his understandably brief tenure as a professor of medicine at the University of Basel in 1527 when he threw the revered Canon of Avicenna into the St. John's Day bonfire.
Paracelsus continually reminds us that alchemy is essentially redemptive: transforming base metals into gold is simply one of many processes which seek to remove the impurities and corruptions of fallen nature. Alchemy is an art which God granted to humanity so that we may ameliorate our fallen condition. We may learn to extract elixirs, tinctures, or quintessences from plants or metals, for example, and utilize them to eliminate diseases and impurities from our bodies and to lengthen our lives. The fact that knowledge of these arts was increasing in the sixteenth century, Paracelsus believed, was a sign of the approaching Millennium: God intended for the Elect to advance steadily in knowledge and power until they eventually overthrew the ignorant who oppose them and who now occupy the seats of power. Human nature itself was to be purified, as our divine potential freed itself from corruption. Alchemical adepts shall become God's agents in reforming not only the physical world, but also society and religion. Although Paracelsus apparently never associated himself formally with a specific Protestant denomination and his relation to the Roman Catholic church remains ambiguous, he did compare his own renovation of medicine and science with Luther's attempts to reform Christianity, and throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Paracelsus' followers compared their innovations in science—which they described as the recovery of the knowledge which had been lost at the Fall of humankind—with the reform of religion. This Protestant strategy for justifying the renovation of natural philosophy and the overthrow of received opinion was especially common in England, where it was used by Anglicans such as Francis Bacon as well as by adherents of the radical sects.
Some of the English Paracelsians were interested purely in the practical advantages of Paracelsus' chemical medicines and were either indifferent or hostile to the radical social, political, and religious implications of his philosophy. To varying degrees, however, many of them regarded it as their duty to insist that received opinion should be tested through practical experience. John Hester, an apothecary, published translations of a number of Paracelsian treatises in London in the 1580s and 1590s, and Hester's prefaces, as well as the treatises themselves, emphasize that relying upon experiment and questioning received traditions could enable us to contribute to the renovation of knowledge which Paracelsus and others had initiated. In an epistle to Sir Walter Ralegh which prefaces A Hundred and fourtene experiments and cures of the famous Phisition Philippus Aureolis Theophrastus Paracelsus (c. 1583), Hester proclaims that the pursuit of knowledge has no limit because the mind of humankind is insatiable. In another dedicatory epistle in 1590 he decries the practice of blindly revering ancient authorities, accepting their conclusions without examining their proofs; we naively assume that a mere ipse dixit has the weight of genuine evidence. We should not "peevishly distrust our owne wittes, furnished with so many helpers, and apishly admire other mens, onelie for theyr antiquitie: this were to tie God to times and seasons, & to play bopeepe in a secure shroude of idlenesse, utterly dis-franchising our selves of the free legacie, Dii laboribus dona dant sua [the Gods grant their gifts to those who labor]."
Following Hester's death in 1593, his edition of The Pearle of Practise was completed by James Forester, an enthusiastic Paracelsian and friend of Hester's, and the book was published in 1594 by Richard Field, a native of Stratford who printed Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece in the same year and who had published Venus and Adonis in 1593. Charles Nicholl has noted [in The Chemical Theatre, 1980] this connection and speculated that Shakespeare may have known Forester; Nicholl also notes the interesting fact that Forester's Pearl of Practise was dedicated to George Cary, son of Henry Cary, lord chamberlain and patron of Shakespeare's theatrical company. Although Nicholl may very well be correct, we need not rely solely upon evidence of personal relationships with Paracelsians to establish the fact that Shakespeare—or any other dramatist—had access to Hermetic and alchemical treatises. As Nicholl's very thorough research has shown, the resurgence of interest in alchemy and related subjects in late-sixteenth-century England was of such magnitude that one may fairly say that no literate Londoner could be unaware of it. Many of the city's apothecaries, in addition to some of England's most advanced scientists, were heavily influenced by the movement. In addition to books and pamphlets by Paracelsians and Hermetic philosophers such as John Dee, Thomas Tymme, and Samuel Norton, there were new editions of works by medieval alchemists, including several works attributed to Roger Bacon. The growing scientific community in London stimulated renewed interest in investigating alchemical theories and procedures, and the language of alchemy, with its emphasis on the purification of nature and the human personality, struck a responsive chord in the minds and hearts of those who saw the era as one which was about to witness the final purification of religion, the triumph of the arts and sciences, and the full control of humankind over its environment.
In 1585 R. Bostock published a detailed defense of the entire Renaissance occult tradition ["The Authors obtestation to almightie God"]. He argues that Paracelsus and his followers were restoring to humankind the knowledge which God had granted to Adam but which had become lost or corrupted in the course of human history; this restoration correlated with the purification of religion, and it would occur only when the reigning authorities in natural philosophy were no longer protected by the authority of governments. According to Bostock, the truths of natural philosophy, medicine, and religion were passed down through Adam's children to Abraham, who conveyed them to certain Egyptian priests. Although some of the Egyptians confounded these truths with idolatry, others retained a purer understanding, and Bostock thinks it likely that among these superior priests were the teachers of Moses. Not long after the time of Moses was born Hermes Trismegistus, author of Asclepius, Pimander, and other works containing genuine religion and philosophy. The Greeks, in general, had no independent revelation; but Plato, Pythagoras, Aesculapius, and others travelled to Egypt, Judea, or other nations where the ancient wisdom was remembered. Hippocrates wrote down a somewhat corrupted version of the ancient physic; a more serious departure from the truth occurred when Galen, in his commentary on Hippocrates, departed from his master's doctrine by erroneously attributing the causes of diseases and their cures to "bare dead qualities of heat[,] could, &c , which be caused and not causes. And so our later Phisitions, following their Prince and Captaine Gallen, that heathen and professed enemy of Christ, in steade of Phisitions and healers or curers of sicknesses and griefes, are become warmers, or coolers and bathers, whereas Hypocrates teacheth plainly and expressely that diseases are not caused nor cured by the bare dead qualities of heate and cold, &c , but by such things that have power to worke".… Similarly, Aristotle, motivated by envy and vainglory, dissented from Plato's teaching and attempted to attribute all effects to purely natural causes, rather than to the occult virtues through which God's spiritual power is infused into all living creatures.… Just as the Roman Catholic religion is a mixture of the pure and the impure, relying on outward ceremonies and traditions which are a hindrance to genuine spirituality, Bostock argues, so are the medicines of the Galenist gross and impure, when compared to those whose spiritual power has been purified by fire.…
Bostock's detailed history of the occult tradition is designed to show that Paracelsus is a reformer who is restoring medicine to its ancient purity, just as Wycliffe, Luther, and Calvin have restored the purity of the church and Copernicus has restored the ancient knowledge of the movements of the heavens.… Although Bostock is incorrect in his assertion that Copernicus's contribution to astronomy consists purely of the recovery of Ptolemy's original teachings, which had suffered centuries of corruption, it is true that Copernicus developed De revolutionibus as, in many respects, a revision of Ptolemy's Almagest in the light of ancient Pythagorean philosophy, as well as his own mathematical calculations; both Bostock and Copernicus himself are prime examples of the fact that in the sixteenth century, the most radical ideas were often defended by the assertion that centuries of corruption had obscured an ancient truth.
Although Bostock believes that the present age has seen magnificent progress toward the renovation of knowledge, he is nonetheless concerned that progress is hindered because "in the scholes nothing may be received nor allowed that savoreth not of Aristotle, Gallen, Avicen, and other Ethnickes, whereby the young beginners are either not acquainted with this [Paracelsian] doctrine, or els it is brought into hatred with them. And abrode likewise the Galenists be so armed and defended by the protection, priviledges and authoritie of Princes, that nothing can be allowed that they disalowe, and nothing may bee received that agreeth not with their pleasures and doctrine." One may wonder whether Bostock is using the term "abrode" to mean "at large in the world" or "in foreign countries"; although England was not as consistently reactionary as some other nations, English universities and the Royal College of Physicians tended to regard Paracelsianism, like other forms of magic, as subversive of authority. Although some English physicians were able to incorporate aspects of Paracelsian medicine into their practice while remaining socially and politically conservative, Paracelsus' proclamation that practical experience and divine favor often conferred advanced knowledge on the working classes eventually contributed to the growth of revolutionary attitudes. In the seventeenth century, members of the dissenting sects whose doctrines had the most radical political and social consequences, such as the Anabaptists and the Family of Love, quite often found in Paracelsianism an ideology which supported their cause; and during the Puritan revolution many of the radicals claimed that Paracelsus had been a true prophet whose predictions were coming true in seventeenth-century England. When the sects felt increasingly free to express their ideas during the Interregnum, an unprecedented flood of Hermetic and alchemical works was published, and many of the treatises have a strong Utopian or millenarian emphasis. Some of them propose such measures as community of goods and complete political egalitarianism, and at times even Oliver Cromwell found it difficult to maintain control of the more radical elements within his own army. Although progress in science and technology initially served the ends of the established monarchy, and the rhetoric of the return of the Golden Age was at the heart of the propaganda of the British Empire, one of the long-range effects of the assault upon authorities in natural philosophy was an awareness that authorities in other spheres of life could also be challenged. The movement ultimately contributed to the forces of intellectual, social, and political change in ways which Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, or John Dee could not have anticipated.
Studies of the witchcraft persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have often suggested that the witch-hunts were a means of suppressing virtually all forms of heresy and social deviation, including those generated by attempts at radical religious and social reform. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Norman Cohn, and others have documented the connection between the witchcraft trials and the efforts to destroy heretical sects such as the Waldensians, and Trevor-Roper further pointed out that witchcraft persecutions intensified after the Reformation, as various parties in the religious conflicts of the era felt the need to cast their enemies in the role of servants of Satan. In addition, Trevor-Roper argues that Renaissance Neoplatonists and Paracelsians were, in many respects, progressives who often opposed the witch-hunts and who consequently were identified by the authorities as allies of Satan. In The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, Frances Yates has gone much further: she argues that the Hermetic/Cabalist philosophy was the dominant school of thought among advanced thinkers in the English Renaissance; the witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were, in her view, primarily a reaction against the progressive and revolutionary forces which were associated with the occult tradition. In order to support these generalizations, Yates departs from her earlier conception of the relationships among occult philosophy, humanism, and the Reformation. In Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition she had seen humanism as generally conservative in its conception of human nature and its attitude toward social and religious reform, and she regarded the Hermetic/Cabalist tradition as progressive. In The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, she asserts that the Cabala itself was at the heart of the new learning promoted by the humanists. Because Cabalisi exegesis sought to find new depths of meaning in the Scriptures, she argues, Cabalisi studies, as well as humanist scholarship, contributed to the reform movements in both Roman Catholic and, subsequently, Protestant circles. She cites the reaction of conservatives against Johannes Reuchlin's Judaic studies and his interest in the Cabala as evidence that occult philosophy and humanism were allies, both of them opposed to the Aristotelian scholasticism which the existing authorities had chosen as the only sanctioned philosophy. She sees Reuchlin as a precursor of Martin Luther. Both the occult movement and the counter-reaction intensified in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Yates points out, and she emphasizes that the efforts of John Dee, Walter Ralegh, and others to promote technology—which they regarded as "natural magic"—are precisely contemporaneous with the most intense period of the European witch-hunts. She credits Jean Bodin, who visited England during the 1580s and whose works were influential there, with intensifying the witch hunts through his De la démonomanie des sorciers, in which he condemns Pico and Agrippa for attempting to use Cabala for transitive magic. She also cites Martin Del Rio's Disqvisitionum magicarum libri sex (Louvain, 1600), a work utilized by Ben Jonson in The Alchemist, as evidence that reactionary activity intensified around the turn of the century and that conservative thinkers perceived occult philosophy as one of the most significant threats to the intellectual and political establishment.
Certainly it is true that the efflorescence of occult philosophy, the increase in challenges to traditional authorities, and the intensification of the witch persecutions occurred simultaneously. The studies of Trevor-Roper, Cohn, Alan Macfarlane, Keith Thomas, and Christina Larner, however, have demonstrated that the witch-hunts served a variety of sociological and psychological functions, and to assert that the intensification of the witch-hunts in the Renaissance was primarily a response to humanism, occult philosophy, or the new science is much too broad a generalization. At the same time, an examination of the treatises on witchcraft which were influential in late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century England reveals that Ficino, Pico, Agrippa, Paracelsus, and others who dissented from authorized versions of natural philosophy were often among the major targets of those who promoted the witch trials. The papal bull which prefaces the inquisitors' manual, Malleus maleficarum, reminds us that witches were, first and foremost, arch-heretics, and once the official beliefs about witchcraft were firmly established, they could readily be invoked whenever any form of dissent became a threat. Professor Larner has argued effectively [in Enemies of God, 1981] that the persecution of witches was a form of social control; the witch-hunts attempted to eliminate any form of social deviation and to demonstrate the presumed efficacy of the authorities in morally cleansing society. Such persecutions became prominent during the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation because there was an intensified effort to impose ideological unity: the witch became "a personification of all forms of deviance and revolt," and a high percentage of the accused were women who failed to conform to traditional stereotypes of feminine behavior. Although Professor Larner is concerned primarily with the connection between witchcraft and antifeminism, there is considerable evidence that accusations of witchcraft were also used to suppress innovations in natural philosophy, especially when those innovations were perceived as being allied with subversive religious or political beliefs. To Jean Bodin, Martin Del Rio, and King James I, the religious, intellectual, and scientific ferment of the Renaissance was a sign of an increase in monstrous alliances with Satan. Numerous authorities agreed that while some witches were motivated to ally themselves with the devil out of greed, lust, or a desire for revenge upon their enemies, others were prompted by a damnable intellectual curiosity.
We must remember that what was orthodox in one community was heresy in another, and different authors' conceptions of what must be defended and what forces were subversive sometimes varied considerably. Peter Burke [in The Damned Art, edited by S. Anglo, 1977], for example, in his analysis of Strix, by Gian Francesco Pico (the nephew of Giovanni Pico, the famous Cabalisi), has provided interesting support for the idea that witch persecution was in some cases a reaction against the revival of classical literature and philosophy. Burke points out that the witchcraft ceremonies described and condemned in the younger Pico's treatise strongly resemble pagan religion, and he argues that Gian Francesco Pico feared that humanism and occult philosophy would revive the worship of those Greek and Roman gods whom the orthodox often believed to be devils. Gian Francesco also wrote a widely read biography of his uncle, translated into English by Thomas More, which emphasized the elder Pico's repentance of his excessive pride in learning and his subsequent asceticism; in both the biography and in Strix G. F. Pico is critical of the revival of ancient learning, and he strongly reasserts otherworldly values and traditional Roman Catholic orthodoxy.
Jean Bodin, in contrast to Gian Francesco Pico, was a Judaizer who accepted contemplative Cabala, as well as some of the beliefs of the pagan mystery religions, and he therefore would have been regarded by the younger Pico as a dangerous heretic. Bodin condemns the transitive Cabala, which attempts to utilize spirits to perform magical operations, and he explicitly accuses Giovanni Pico and Cornelius Agrippa of witchcraft. The Orphic hymns commended by Pico, Bodin asserts, are in reality addressed to the devil. Bodin seems motivated primarily by genuine fear of the dangerous threat which he feels witchcraft poses to the commonwealth, and he asserts that diabolical practices have at times become so widespread that they have resulted in wholesale rebellion.… Interestingly, he also emphasizes that the devil has loyal subjects in all estates, and popes, emperors, and princes have at times fallen under Satan's dominion … , an opinion which we shall also encounter in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus. Bodin seems fearful of any attempt to control nature, and he associates genuine piety quite closely with the confession of the extreme limitations of the human mind: "All human science," he tells us, "is filled with ignorance".… This reaction against learning and intellectual presumption is a common thread which runs through many of the witchcraft treatises, even though they sometimes differ in some of their religious and political assumptions. While some of the works on witchcraft react against all learning and all science, others affirm traditional natural philosophy and direct accusations of witchcraft solely against those who are guilty of innovation.
Although the influence of De la démonomanie in England was significant, Bodin had many predecessors and contemporaries who similarly argued that the quest for occult wisdom was the epitome of intellectual pride and inevitably led to a pact with Satan. In 1561 Francis Coxe published what he claimed to be his personal confession as a convicted conjurer [A short treatise declaring the detestable wickednesse of magical sciences] who had received clemency from the Privy Council and who now felt it his duty "to declare and open the wickednes[s] of those artes and sciences, which hath of late time to [the] provocation of God[']s wrath and almightie displeasure, ben had in suche estimation." Astrology, geomancy, and all forms of prophecy or magic are unlawful and impious inquiries into realms of knowledge which God has reserved to Himself. Included in Coxe's list of conjurers who have been seduced by evil spirits to seek forbidden powers is Roger Bacon, who Coxe says was starved to death as punishment for his crimes, and he also condemns Cornelius Agrippa, whose works, Coxe asserts, are widely circulated and debated.… Eight years after the publication of Coxe's pamphlet, Agrippa's own confession in De incertitudine et vanitale scientiarum atque artium was translated into English by James Sanford. Agrippa's De vantiate was undoubtedly one of the most influential documents in the English Renaissance in promoting the idea that magic is a natural consequence of excessive intellectual pride and that it leads the practitioner to fall into the clutches of the devil. Here was the confession of one of Europe's most infamous conjurers … Agrippa describes his own misguided and sinful involvement in occult sciences as the product of his vanity, greed, and social ambition. Elizabethan readers found De vanitate an important, unsettling treatise, and it is interesting to notice the ways in which various readers misinterpret the work by accepting only those aspects of Agrippa's critique of pride and worldliness which do not touch them personally. English Protestants, for example, readily accepted Agrippa's criticism of monasticism and the papacy, but they sometimes argued that his condemnation of all of the arts and sciences was merely satirical railing and not to be taken seriously. Although Agrippa acknowledges that witchcraft is a reality, his true account of his defense of an innocent woman who was accused of the crime underscores the fact that his major criticism is directed against the moral corruption of those who seek, or who already possess, worldly power. Despite the complexity of Agrippa's treatise and the varying responses of some Elizabethan readers, it must have been uncomfortably clear to many of them that Agrippa felt it much more likely that the devil would possess the heart of a king than the soul of a humble peasant.
Much more defensive of existing political institutions and fearful of antiauthoritarian forces was Thomas Erastus, whose Dispvtationvm de medicina nova Philippi Paracelsi (Disputations on the New Medicine of Philippus Paraclesus) was the only detailed discussion of Paracelsus' philosophy which circulated in England prior to the 1580s. Erastus was a professor of philosophy, theology, and medicine at the University of Heidelberg, and he is best known for his defense of the principle that secular rulers have the authority to oversee the purity of the church and the moral and spiritual life of the populace. In his dedicatory epistle to the elector of Saxony, Erastus says that his motive in the Disputations is to stem the rising tide of Paracelsianism and to prevent the further spread of Paracelsus' errors and blasphemies. He is particularly incensed by Paracelsus' claim to unique revelations and his assertion that the common people possess more wisdom than the educated classes. Erastus' intense loyalty to certain features of Renaissance humanism is underscored by his complaint that Paracelsus' works are not only filled with ignorance, self-contradiction, and false doctrine but are also written in an utterly barbaric prose style.… He often charges Paracelsus with ignorance of the classics, and it is obvious that Erastus is personally affronted by this commoner who dares to question the wisdom of established university professors.
Erastus' conception of the canon of true authorities is determined largely by his strict Lutheranism. Although he deeply respects Aristotle and Galen, he is sometimes critical of the Scholastic interpreters of Aristotle, and he prefers above all else the evidence of the Scriptures and, secondarily, the early church fathers. In several instances he is even willing to subject Aristotle himself to the test of experience, and occasionally he finds him wanting (e.g., Dispvtationvm, pars prima, 25-28, 74, 123). At first it might seem that Erastus and Paracelsus would agree on the primacy of the Bible and of experience, but Erastus perceives quite correctly that Paracelsus' interpretations of Scripture and his natural philosophy are strongly influenced by ideas ultimately derived from Gnosticism, whereas Erastus himself relies primarily upon those traditional academic authorities whose works are still acceptable to the Lutheran church.
Erastus begins his disputations by explaining that Paracelsus' philosophy is similar to the accursed doctrine of the monstrous Gnostic heretics. He points out that Paracelsus' view of the creation of the world resembles the Gnostic idea that the material world and humankind were both created by subordinate deities, or demiurges. If we are tempted to believe the false tales of Paracelsus' marvellous cures and, consequently, to question traditional medical authorities, we should remember that Galen had never been so irrational as to develop so base a conception of the origins of humanity as we find in Paracelsus' works; certainly Galen, whose thought is consistent with Christianity, is to be trusted more than a palpable heretic such as Paracelsus. Furthermore, Paracelsus, like most of the Platonists, erroneously believes that earthly forms, whether natural or artificial, can participate directly in the powers of spiritual forces whose influence is mediated by the heavenly bodies and by the anima mundi. Erastus seeks to destroy this claim, which is fundamental to the theory of natural magic, by asserting that both Aristotle and our own experience should convince us that the heavens exert an influence on the lower world only through light and heat; all objects are thus affected uniformly, and nothing on this earth receives a unique, occult virtue from the stars.… Words, Erastus also asserts, are merely the natural creations of the human mind, and they are not connected with the exemplars of creation, as the Platonists claim. The human mind, which creates language, cannot be directly influenced by the heavens, and Ficino merely revived the ancient heresy of Plotinus when he imagined that earthly events were caused by occult forces.… Having adduced evidence at great length from Aristotelian physics, Galenic and Hippocratic medicine, and the test of experience (interpreted in the light of orthodox religious doctrine) to the effect that all charms, spells, images, songs, characters, or other devices of magicians are utterly without effect, Erastus concludes that any observed result of a magical procedure must come from one of two sources: either evil spirits have deceived the senses of the observers and produced an illusion, or else God has permitted the sorcerers such powers as may suit His purposes. The Lord may sometimes permit magicians to perform such things as will result in punishment for their idolatry, or He may permit the devil to create trials for the spiritual benefit of the virtuous, as He did in the case of Job. In response to the question of whether some magicians may not simply learn their magical procedures through books, without entering a pact with Satan, or whether indeed it might be possible to control evil spirits, Erastus asserts that, as he has already shown, no magical effect can be wrought without the aid of devils, and any such use of demons, even if we pridefully deceive ourselves into thinking we can control them, constitutes an alliance with the infernal powers.… Given the major premise that the traditional science of Aristotle and Galen can be supported through references to the Scriptures and orthodox theologians and is therefore God's truth, and the minor premise—established easily enough—that the Paracelsians and the Renaissance Neoplatonists dissent from this doctrine, Erastus draws what he sees as the only valid conclusion: all such dissenters are the servants of Satan.
Controversies over magic, science, and witchcraft were especially intense from the 1570s through the early years of the seventeenth century, and in many treatises one can see various authors struggling to defend their religious beliefs while also endeavoring to respond in some systematic way to the innovations in natural philosophy which have threatened the coherence of their world views. Lambert Daneau, whose book on the relation between religion and science was translated as The wonderfull woorkman-ship of the world by Thomas Twyne in 1578, argues that the study of nature can enhance our reverence for the Creator, and yet Daneau decries the diversity of opinions which have arisen concerning the creation ex nihilo and other aspects of natural philosophy. This distressing variety of theories has evolved, Daneau says, because scholars have too curiously inquired into heathen philosophy and have failed to regard the Bible as the ultimate test of truth. At times Daneau quotes classical authors to support his own opinions, but he insists that the Scriptures alone are infallible. In a passage which seems designed as an ironic allusion to Hermes Trismegistus' exhortation to explore with our minds all levels of the cosmos, Daneau admonishes the reader that we cannot understand all the secrets of the universe, "either bicause they bee higher in heauen than our vnderstanding is able to attain unto them, or perhaps are in vnhabitable regions of the earth: or lie hidden very low in the bottom of the deapths." In A Dialogue of Witches, published in London in 1575 in a translation sometimes attributed to Thomas Twyne, Daneau makes clear that the increase in learning has undermined religious dogma and consequently contributed to the spread of witchcraft. Although many of the lower classes are won over to Satan because they hope to escape poverty or gain sufficient power to exert some control over their lives, there are many scholars who become Satan's vassals because they are proud of their presumed intellectual gifts and cannot accept the limitations imposed by the Almighty on the human understanding. Such scholars imagine that the devil can grant forms of knowledge which are, in fact, denied to mortals, or that Satan can grant them power to perform feats which are normally beyond human skill. Explaining why he will not inquire into the details of magic or engage in subtle proofs of his assertions, Theophilus, one of the two major speakers in the dialogue, expresses his fear of becoming subject to that vanity which leads to scholarly debate and dissension: rather than fall prey to such intellectual curiosity, one should "imitate the auncient Christians, who utterly banished all kynde of curious knowledge out of their scooles and assembl[i]es, and threwe their unprofitable bookes into the fire".… Those who wander beyond the bounds of doctrine are always seeking but never learning, always doubting and never determining the truth. Daneau explicitly condemns both the "Schoolmen" and the Platonists, and he asserts that magic, although common among idolaters of all ages, has increased in the present age because the intensified study of pagan authors has begotten increasing diversity of opinion. God permits Satan to seduce heretics into witchcraft in order to punish them for their apostasy, and in recent years the study of unorthodox philosophy has, lamentably, caused an increasing number of scholars and natural philosophers to abandon ancient truths and to imperil their souls by seeking in vain for new knowledge.…
Accusations of witchcraft were powerful political weapons. An assault upon the social and political hierarchy, such as Agrippa's, was likely to contend that Satan's influence was strongest in the seats of power; on the other hand, those who wished to defend the status quo associated witchcraft with rebelliousness and discontent among the lower classes and/or among those who dissented from government-sanctioned religion and natural philosophy. Until the early years of the Interregnum, when censorship was temporarily relaxed and fear of reprisal diminished, conservative ideas are, of course, dominant in printed books and pamphlets. Treatises which emphasize the social and political implications of witchcraft doctrine often assert that the world is divided into two kingdoms, the servants of God and the slaves of Satan, and the Kingdom of Darkness is described as a demonic parody of the Kingdom of Light. In 1590 Henry Holland [in A Treatise Against Witchcraft] characterized Satan as a "tyrannical usurper," and the language of Holland's treatise is heavily laden with images of rebellion and conquest, reinforcing the idea that salvation lay in subjection to proper authorities. In reminding his readers of "the divine maiestie and powerfull might" of the Gospel, Holland emphasizes that "a man must be, as it were conquered [by true religion] before he doe yeelde sincere and sound obedience unto Christ. And certen it is, that before men be brought downe to that subjection, they fall often into daungerous errours in minde." William Perkins, who began his career as a popular and influential preacher and professor of theology at Cambridge while Christopher Marlowe was a student there, asserted [A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft] that Satan's kingdom is upheld by witches who fall prey to two major categories of temptation: first, there are those who are unwilling to accept their subordinate social status and who wish to use magical powers in order to attain wealth and political power; the second major category includes those who are dissatisfied with the limitations of the human mind and who feel an inordinate thirst for knowledge. Perkins includes in this category all occult philosophers, and he conducts a detailed refutation of the theory used by Pico, Agrippa, Paracelsus, and others as a rationale for what they claimed to be a benevolent form of magic. Perkins bases his argument on the premise that the heavens act upon all areas of the earth uniformly, so that no earthly substance possesses a specific occult virtue. Consequently, all astrology is vain, and charms, spells, amulets, and exorcisms all have no inherent efficacy. Magicians derive whatever actual powers they may possess from the superior scientific knowledge of the devil, who may indeed enable his followers to perform certain feats, either by natural means or through illusions, in order to win himself a following among foolish worldlings. Perkins combines his critique of Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy with an assault on the village "cunning men" or "wise women" to whom the ignorant populace frequently turn instead of relying upon genuinely learned and properly licensed physicians. Perkins approves of the use of drugs and other cures when they are provided by university-trained doctors of physic who are loyal to the established medical authorities, but he regards the practitioners of folk medicine, whom Paracelsus had defended, as not merely superstitious or misguided, but as servants of the devil. All who consult them stand in peril of their souls. Perkins' treatise is one of the most detailed and systematic discussions of witchcraft to appear in Renaissance England, and it is clear that, in his opinion, there were three classes of persons who are most likely to become witches: Catholics, whose idolatrous worship, exorcisms, and spurious miracles are all effected by Satan; learned magicians, whose intellectual pride has led them to adopt a fallacious pagan philosophy and to fall prey to Satan's temptations of fame, wealth, and power; and members of the uneducated classes who are presumptuous enough to attempt to compete with trained physicians or who simply wish to escape the humble lot to which God has assigned them.
King James I assumed a leading role in witchcraft persecution largely because of his vision of himself as a philosopher-king and religious teacher. Witches were the ultimate traitors to both God and the state, and their ranks constituted a counter-kingdom of perversion and disorder. James believed that witches' powers diminished in proportion to the hierarchical status of the official who prosecuted them, and his personal involvement in the witch trials, as well as his publication of Daemonologie, enabled the king to perform the role of a divinely ordained spiritual and temporal leader. In the published account of the North Berwick case [in Newesfrom Scotland] in which a sorcerer named Dr. Fian and his followers were accused of attempting to shipwreck the king as he sailed from Denmark to Scotland, one of the witches is reported to have testified that the devil had a special enmity to James because "the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the worlde".… The pamphlet describes the interrogation of the accused by the king himself, the means by which they were tortured, their confessions, and their final sentencing to be burned at the stake. It concludes with a paragraph affirming James's heroic courage and his steadfast faith; in the future, as in the past, the reader is assured, the Lord will protect his anointed against the enchantments of Satan's followers.
James's Daemonologie is of special interest because of the manner in which the king apparently projects onto learned magicians his own feelings of guilt with regard to intellectual pride. Early in the treatise he explains that the devil appeals to witches through greed, desire for revenge, or an excessive desire for knowledge, and he devotes most of book 1 to the problem of insatiable intellectual curiosity. He sets out to refute the claims of the Renaissance occult tradition and to expose the dangers of those arts and sciences which he terms "the devil's school." James does not condemn all astronomy or mathematics as sinful, as many of the popular demonologists had done; the dangerous branch of the art, he says, is judicial astrology, through which those who have already mastered legitimate knowledge seek to transcend human limitations by learning to predict the future. At first this study seems lawful to them, but "they are so allured thereby, that finding their practize to prooue true in sundry things, they studie to know the cause thereof: and so mounting from degree to degree, upon the slipperie and vncertaine scale of curiositie; they are at last entised, that where lawfull artes or sciences failes, to satisfie their restles mindes, even to seeke to that black and vnlawfull science of Magie" (Daemonologie, 10). That James feared his own intellectual aspirations is strongly suggested by a close reading of Daemonologie in conjunction with Sir John Harrington's account of his personal interview with the king, reprinted by Professor Harrison in his edition of James's treatise. Evidently much of the conversation centered upon James's opinion that "a Kynge should … be the best clerke in his owne countrie," and he took great pains to assure himself that his subjects adequately respected his intellect (Daemonologie, vii-viii). The most important revelation is that James himself had sought the power of prophecy:
His Highnesse tolde me [the queen's] death was visible in Scotlande before it did really happen, being, as he said, 'spoken of in secrete by those whose power of sighte presentede to them a bloodie heade dancinge in the aire.' He then did remarke much on this gifte, and saide he had soughte out of certaine bookes a sure waie to attaine knowledge of future chances. Hereat, he namede many bookes, which I did not knowe, nor by whom written; but advisede me not to consult some authors which woulde leade me to evile consultations. (Daemonologie, viii)
In the Daemonologie itself James dwells at length upon the fact that scholars who indulge their "curiosity" with regard to foreseeing the future have taken the first step toward crossing the boundary between lawful and unlawful arts. Perhaps he felt that as God's anointed he was privileged to explore with impunity those subjects which would endanger the souls of lesser mortals. It seems likely, however, that just as the typical demonologist projected his own lust onto the presumably insatiable women whose carnality made them easy prey for the devil, so James's attack on the dangerous presumption of scholars grows from his fear of his own desire to gain forbidden knowledge. Having warned his listener that the devil seduces us by appealing to "passiones that are within our selues" (8), Epistemon, who speaks for King James in the dialogue, expresses profound anxiety over the dangers of learning about prophecy, charms, and conjurations, the rudiments of the devil's school. When asked for further information about these matters, he prefaces his discussion with the comment, "I thinke ye take me to be a Witch my selfe" (16; cf. 8-18). On the one hand, James believed that the king should assume the role of teacher and spiritual guide to his people; on the other, he felt the danger of seeking to be godlike in knowledge and in power. Perhaps an awareness of this mixture of pride and fear in King James may help us to understand how the royal demonologist who had so vehemently denounced intellectual magic could subsequently identify with Prospero, the benevolent royal magician of The Tempest, which was performed before the king on November 1, 1611, and again during the winter of 1612/13. It is possible that James had grown somewhat more tolerant as he was influenced by the growing skepticism of the period with regard to witchcraft, but it seems likely that the most significant factor was political: one could write a play about a magician so long as the proper authorities were reaffirmed, rather than challenged.
During the years when plays on magic and witchcraft flourished on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, actual practitioners of the occult arts, of chemistry, and of tech nology continued to test the theories of alchemists and Hermetic philosophers, and increasingly they dismissed the more grandiose claims of the Hermetic/Cabalist tradition and began to find genuinely reliable methods of investigating nature. As Hugh Plat complained in 1594 [in The Jewel House of Art and Nature], the progress of genuine knowledge was hindered both by credulity and by unreflective, dogmatic reaction against all "natural magic," and what was needed was a willingness to test the speculations of the Paracelsians and other natural philosophers with a rigorous method of experimentation. As credulity gradually began to wane, alchemists and Hermetic magi increasingly became the objects of ridicule rather than fear, and satirists such as Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Lodge, and Ben Jonson mocked the occultists as hypocritical charlatans or deluded fools.… But the boldest voice in England prior to Francis Bacon was that of Reginald Scot, a justice of the peace who was sufficiently horrified by the torture and execution of alleged witches to publish a detailed refutation of the belief that any mortal could command either benevolent or evil spirits or in any way obtain supernatural powers. In A Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) Scot asserts that the age of miracles has passed, and consequently all accounts of supernatural feats performed by witches or benevolent magi are based on false confessions and fallacious hearsay, or, in some cases, are records of tricks performed by legerdemain—mere "juggling." Anticipating some of the modern explanations of the witchcraft phenomenon, Scot asserts that people need tangible villains to blame for their misfortunes, and by projecting their guilt onto presumed witches they can avoid admitting that adversity may be a punishment for their own sins. Occasionally an old woman who cursed a neighbor who had done her a disservice might be deluded enough to think that she indeed caused whatever ailment or other affliction subsequently befell the family, but more frequently the accused simply break down under severe torture and are willing to confess anything.
Scot demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Renaissance occult philosophy, and he refutes the claim that the magus, emulating God, can purify or renew the fallen world. For "we ought not to take upon us to conterfet, or resemble him, which with his word created all things. For we, neither all the conjurors, Cabalists, papists, soothsaiers, inchanters, witches, nor charmers in the world, neither anie other humane or yet diabolicall cunning can adde anie such strength to Gods workmanship, as to make anie thing anew, or else to exchange one thing into another".… Drawing upon Agrippa's De vanitate, he denies that our knowledge of the influence of the heavens is sufficient to provide a foundation for judicial astrology or other, related occult arts which claim to foretell the future.… Scot believes, however, that there is a form of "natural magic" which investigates the virtues and qualities of natural substances, and such science, being totally free of supernatural forces, is lawful; the most obvious example of benevolent use of our knowledge of natural properties is medicine, but Scot also believes that there may be other instances of "natural magic" which experience may prove to be legitimate and beneficial to human-kind.… Scot also describes in great detail the manner in which some persons who possess genuine knowledge of nature can—sometimes with the aid of legerdemain—produce feats which the ignorant will attribute to witch-craft. Lamentably, "we are so fond, mistrustfull & credulous, that we feare more the fables of Robin good fellow; astrologers, & witches, & beleeve more the things that are not, than the things that are. And the more unpossible a thing is, the more we stand in feare thereof; and the lesse likelie to be true, the more we beleeve it. And if we were not such, I thinke with Cornelius Agrippa, that these divinors, astrologers, conjurors, and cousenors would die for hunger".… Although Scot concedes that God chose to work through miracles in the Apostolic era, he denies virtually all supernatural influence in subsequent periods of history, believing firmly that the Creator chooses to work through natural law.
In the preface to Daemonologie, King James says that his book is written principally against two damnably misguided authors: Johann Wier, whose defense of witches as mentally ill plainly reveals that he himself was of their profession, and "one called SCOT an Englishman, [who] is not ashamed in publike print to deny, that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft: and so mainteines the old error of the Sadducees, in denying of spirits" (Daemonologie, xi-xii). One wonders how many Elizabethans may have shared Scot's skepticism with regard to witches and spirits, as well as his faith in the order of nature, but refrained from expressing themselves out of fear of persecution. Only when Francis Bacon convinced a significant percentage of his countrymen that innovation in natural philosophy need not undermine the traditional authorities in politics and religion could the nation commit its resources to scientific and technological endeavors. Bacon adopted from the occult and alchemical traditions the belief that civilization was on the eve of a renewal of knowledge which would restore to humankind the powers with which God had originally endowed us: "For man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences." The humanist conviction that knowledge must issue in virtuous action had been carried to its logical extreme in occult philosophy and ultimately contributed to Bacon's vision of a society in which science would improve the lot of all social and economic classes. Among the many aspects of occultism which Bacon rejected, however, was the idea that knowledge could be perfected through the vision of an inspired, self-reliant individual. For Bacon and his followers in the Royal Society, science progressed through controlled experimentation and the combined labors of a large community of researchers who replicated each other's findings, and to a considerable extent it was this emphasis upon the limitations of the individual which made it possible for scientists to form an alliance with traditional political and religious authorities. Although the theoretical basis of this alliance has proven acceptable to many of Western civilization's most influential thinkers, there have always remained compel ling reasons for some religious and ethical thinkers to question any form of magic or science which sought to compel nature to serve human purposes. As Sir James Frazer pointed out in The Golden Bough, miracles wrought by prayer in an orthodox religious context result from an attitude of submission; works accomplished either through magical ceremonies or as a result of genuine science and technology are typically an assertion of human power, of our daring to assert control over our own destiny.
Although we are no longer engaged in debate over the technical details of magical procedure or the existence of witchcraft, many of the fundamental intellectual, social, psychological, and spiritual problems which gave rise to the controversies and the officially sanctioned violence of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are still very much with us. We continue to be threatened by the confusion of religious sincerity with dogmatism and self-vindication, and it would be naive indeed to flatter ourselves that rationality and openmindedness have entirely triumphed in the twentieth century over the need to defend those personal biases which are, in large part, the result of one's economic and social status. Moreover, as the research of Professors Cohn, Larner, and others has reminded us, the desire to destroy entire classes of human beings who are imagined to constitute a subversive counter-society, and onto whom the guilt and the sense of failure of others can be projected, is not merely a characteristic of sixteenthand seventeenth-century Europe, or of other cultures distant from us in space or time. The psychological roots of such intolerance lie deep within the human personality, and the social dynamics which bring such forces to the surface threaten to appear in virtually all human societies. Science and technology, while capable of bringing incalculable improvement of the quality of human life, have also made it possible for us to witness the destructive consequences of human fear and hatred on a scale which makes the European witch-hunts, as appalling as they are, appear relatively limited by comparison. The history of the twentieth century has intensified, rather than diminished, the perennial questions concerning the limitations of human nature and its potential for benevolence and for destruction. That fact is one of the most compelling reasons for the enduring power of the plays by Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare.…
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 26146
Wayne Shumaker (essay date 1972)
SOURCE : "Witchcraft," in The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance: A Study in Intellectual Patterns, University of California Press, 1972, pp. 60-107.
[In the following essay, Shumaker traces the course of the persecution of witches in Europe from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries.]
I. The human impact
Of all the varieties of occultism, witchcraft has the most depressing history. The expenditure of human energy and wealth in the alchemist's search for the Stone or the Elixir, although sobering, is trivial in comparison to the torture and execution of supposed witches. And this suffering reached its height not during the Dark Ages but in the High Renaissance.
The Renaissance persecutions of witches, conducted in Catholic Europe at first by the Inquisition and other ecclesiastical courts but later, as in England, by the secular authority, for the sake of convenience may be said to have been initiated by the promulgation on December 5, 1484, of Pope Innocent VIII's bull, Summis considerantes affectibus, which called upon both the Church and the secular power to aid the Inquisition in extirpating witch-craft. The same bull appointed Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer (or Institoris), subsequently to become famous as authors of the Malleus maleficarum, or "Hammer Against Witches," as "inquisitors of those heretical practices." The trials continued throughout the sixteenth century and most of the seventeenth, rising sometimes to horrifying crescendos. In Lorraine a single judge, Nicolas Remy, with his assistants sent no fewer than 800 persons to death in sixteen years; and Daemonolatreiae libri tres (1595), the treatise in which he explained his legal assumptions and procedures, for a while replaced the Malleus as the most authoritative textbook on the subject. In Westphalia, about 1630, another judge was responsible for nearly 500 executions. According to Henri Boguet, writing about 1590 concerning trials in Burgundy, Germany was "almost entirely occupied with building fires for [witches]. Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travellers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound."
Estimates of the total number of victims in Europe between 1484 and the gradual dying down of fanaticism toward 1700 run as high as 300,000. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, an authoritative work by Rossell Hope Robbins, suggests 200,000 as a conservative figure. The number of deaths in England is estimated at numbers running from 1,000—perhaps approximately accurate—to 70,000. Contrary to widespread opinion, trials appear to have been more numerous under Elizabeth than under James I, who expressed severe views in his Daemonologie (1597) but gradually became skeptical about specific accusations. The practical meaning of these figures for everyday life is suggested by a remark in George Gifford's A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes (1593) to the effect that a white witch at "R . H.," whose trade was the removal of charms by counter-magic, "by report hath some weeke fourtie come vnto her, and many of them not of the meaner sort." At a time when England was still thinly populated, enough persons in a country village might think they were bewitched to provide full-time work for a "wise-woman."
Witches, indeed, were suspected everywhere—on the next farm, in the village, within the family, among the clergy. Cardinal Wolsey was accused by Tyndale of having "bewitched the king's mind, and made the king dote upon him more than ever he did on any lady or gentleman." The Scottish Earl of Bothwell, who might have claimed the throne of Scotland if James VI had died without an heir, was implicated in an attempt to wreck James's ship by raising a storm as the King returned from his wedding to Anne of Denmark. An attempt of the Countess of Somerset to procure her husband's impotency by charms and drugs, made public by a sensational trial in 1616, clearly involved sorcery, often thought to depend on an implied and perhaps unconscious pact with the Devil, and suggests the prevalence of superstition in high places as well as in the populace. The history of witchcraft has, however, often been written, and I do not intend to repeat it here. My concern is rather with the intellectual habits which made the long frenzy possible.
Of course not everyone shared the common delusions. In the contemporary literature of the subject attacks are sometimes made on skeptics, and a number of treatises, although never, so far as they can be judged by explicit assertions, totally incredulous, show a healthy tough-mindedness. One of these, the Cautio criminalis (1631), by Friedrich von Spee, a Jesuit confessor of accused witches whose hair is said to have been turned prematurely white by his experiences, is worth looking at because it offers appalling insights into the unreliability of the evidence used to convict.
Who, von Spee asks, would not confess to witchcraft if put in the prisoner's place? Torture Capuchins, Jesuits, religious of all orders; if they refuse to acknowledge their crimes at once, exorcize them, shave all the hair from their bodies lest they protect themselves against pain by a hidden charm, and have at them again. In the end all will confess. Do the same to prelates, canonists, professors of theology, and the same thing will happen. Ultimately, we will all turn out to be witches. He himself is so unable to endure physical suffering that he would accuse himself of anything if tortured, all the more because theologians agree that in those conditions the sin is not mortal. It is said that many prisoners are insensible to torture and laugh at it, but this is nonsense. If the victim endures the pain with clenched teeth, contorted lips, and held breath, witnesses cry out that she feels nothing but amusement. When the apparent insensibility called "sleeping" under torture is not a faint it is, in fact, the result of a stiffening intended to assist endurance. "This is what the poets meant in their stories about Niobe, when they say that because of her suffering she hardened into stone." How terrible the agony was is suggested by the discovery that when a confession is said to have been obtained without torture the accused has sometimes been subjected "only" to a broad iron press with sharp teeth which crushed the shinbones to the point where blood spurted out on both sides and flesh was mangled. "And yet they call that 'Confessed without torture! …' What kind of insight can those have who lack all understanding of such pains? How can outstandingly learned men judge and discriminate when they cannot understand the language, the specialists' jargon, of the inquisitors?"
What made the situation hopeless for the accused was the lack of any means of proving innocence. A failure to confess was an indication of guilt, for without magic the witch would have been unable to stand the suffering. What purpose, von Spee inquires, does the torture serve if the prisoner is equally guilty no matter how she behaves under it? And why, if some of the accused may conceivably be innocent, may not God instead of the Devil have strengthened them? Anyhow, if no merely human resources could have availed her, the torture must have been illegally cruel; and that it was so the claim that she must have had supernatural help itself testifies. How, indeed, can the accused not be executed? Von Spee once heard the question put to a group of court officials: how can an innocent prisoner be released? After reflecting for some time, the officials said finally that they would think about the matter overnight. But in fact no answer was possible: "I f anybody thinks he has found a means, he reveals that he knows nothing about what goes on." Evidently judicial methods were especially tyrannical in Germany, for Remy says that nearly as many as the 800 he condemned "saved their lives by flight or by a stubborn endurance of the torture."
What actually happened in the proceedings which von Spee witnessed can be summarized as follows. The accused person, usually but not always a woman and often elderly, was called before the inquisitor and informed of the charges; she denied them, and was told to go back to her cell and consider for a couple of hours whether she wished to hold to her lie—all this "as if she had spoken to the wind or told stories to stones." Upon being brought back she was asked whether she still intended to be obstinate and tell falsehoods. If the answer was in effect "Yes," she was led off directly to the torture chamber. Once she was there her guilt continued to be taken for granted, and often the executioner's assistants informed her what she was expected to say, telling her things would go easily with her if she made the same admissions as others who had already been tortured. "Thus it comes about that in the end she makes known the same particulars that others have confessed earlier." Eventually it turned out that what the torturer wished to be true was true.
Even then the cruelty was not intermitted, for the desire of pious princes and churchmen to "root out" the terrible iniquity of witchcraft made them wish her to implicate others. "Don't you know Titia too? Haven't you seen her at your witches' Sabbats?" If the answer was "No," the examiner said to the hangman, "Tighten the ropes." When at last, by unbearable agony, a "Yes" was drawn from the victim, the next question was about Sempronia; and so on until three or four were implicated. "The reader may himself judge how it comes about that we have so many witches in Germany." In the same way the prisoner was told what crimes she had committed—what cows she had caused to run dry, what crops she had destroyed by hailstorms, what children she had killed and eaten. And so on in every detail, with the result that the testimony of various witches coincided to produce the irrefragable evidence of evildoing so triumphantly cited by the theorists whose writings we shall examine.
The admissions so extorted usually stuck. A confessor sent to the condemned heretic—for on the continent the basic charge included heresy as well as crime—would tell the witch that she could not be shriven preparatory to her burning until she had released from danger those against whom she had brought false charges. The reply was usually that she could not for fear of facing additional torture; and when the confessor urged that she would incur eternal damnation if she left innocent persons under suspicion, she might say that she would help the guiltless in any way except by risking more suffering—and this despite her realization that going to death with lies on her soul would mean endless Hell fire. To von Spee, who because of his noble compassion must have been confided in more than most priests who undertook this unhappy ministry, it seemed that out of fifty who went to the stake scarcely five—indeed, scarcely two—were guilty. At several points he appears to be on the verge of denying the very possibility of guilt, for he hints at the possession of a secret he dares not tell; but the official theory was too strong for him, and in his first quaestio he admits that witches exist.
Sometimes—apparently rather often—a confession evoked by torture would be denied when the ropes or screws were loosened, and the denial itself, perhaps, retracted when torture was renewed. This tendency did not, apparently, suggest to many theologians or legal philosophers the unreliability of statements wrung from prisoners under duress, although some show awareness of the problem. The most succinct comment is that of Johann Georg Godelmann, rather a fair-minded legal theorist than an extraordinarily empathetic person: "He lies who can endure much, and he who can endure nothing. The former does not want to confess what he has done, and the latter confesses he has performed more things than he ever dreamed of." The usual view was that the relaxation of torture had encouraged a resurgence of impudence; so the witch was again submitted to the engines. How many times this practice might be repeated was a subject of dispute, but in general it appears that after the third repetition of torture—which von Spee thought to become more exquisitely agonizing as the body was further broken—no further effort to renew the confession was proper. (A convenient fiction that the torture was being "continued" instead of "renewed" offered a way out of the difficulty.) Since conviction for heresy required an admission of guilt, judges not especially eager to condemn might then discharge the sometimes permanently maimed prisoner. More often the charge of criminal acts was thought to have been proved, and the accused was "relaxed" to the secular authority for execution. If, however, repeated torture evoked a second or perhaps a third confession and the witch once again professed innocence before she was led to the faggots, she was regarded as "relapsed" and was refused the preliminary strangling earned by acknowledging guilt. In general, although not always and everywhere, it was felt, as Parrinder has remarked, that "The confessions proved that the Church was right, and so exculpated her from charges of cruelty": exactly the motive for similar practices in certain Communist states in our own century.
In England, where except in cases involving treason torture was illegal, the proceedings were of course milder; and after the breach with Rome in the 1530s the Inquisition, which had never persecuted English witches, had no further opportunity to act. Also, the proportion of executions to indictments was lower: according to Parrinder, "the percentage of hangings to accusations never passed forty-two per cent in England, and was usually about half that figure." It should not, however, be assumed that from 58 to 79 per cent were cleared, for we often hear of reputed witches escaping before or during imprisonment; some died in their cells or committed suicide; others were given lesser punishments; and a released suspect might later be retaken and executed. Also, treatment just short of torture was not unusual. Matthew Hopkins, an infamous witch-finder of the 1640s, admitted having kept witches awake for two or three nights running. The cells were often freezingly cold, the food might be inadequate, and severe psychological pressures were exerted. The age was pre-humanitarian. Although a few persons might think that physical suffering was the worst of all evils, in general people were less tender-minded than now. Jean Bodin spoke for many when he said that although witches are burned, "the punishment is far lighter than that which Satan causes them in this world, not to speak of the eternal punishments which are prepared for them." The Italian Francesco Guazzo was able to say that a man who had often publicly blasphemed the Virgin Mary was "mercifully" punished when Mary touched him while he slept, so that when he awoke "he found himself without hands or feet, lying there wretched, maimed and useless.… He was thus mercifully punished for his blasphemy; for so do the Blessed Saints mete out gentle punishment."
The severity of the persecutions on the continent was justified by legal arguments to the effect that witches had to be treated more harshly than other evildoers because witchcraft was treason to God as well as to the state. The Malleus maleficarum of Sprenger and Institoris laid down the basic premises as early as 1484. Various deceits might be practised. The judge might promise that he would be merciful, "with the mental reservation that he means he will be merciful to himself or the State." He might arrange for some friend or patron to spend the night with the accused on the excuse that it was too late to go home, and hidden spies would take notes of the conversation. Again, the authors say, let her be put in a castle and told that the castellan is going on a journey, and then let the visitors promise her freedom if she will teach them some of her magical practices. More important, witnesses who were ordinarily barred by law from testifying might give evidence against a witch: excommunicated persons, accomplices, notorious evildoers and criminals, heretics, the wife, sons, and other kindred of the accused, her servants, and repentant perjurers. Although the usual requirement for proof was the concurring testimony of two or more witnesses to the same action or fact, in cases of witchcraft the evidence of six or eight or ten persons who concurred that the prisoner was a witch—one might say, "She bewitched my child," another "She bewitched my cow"—might be accepted as conclusive provided the witnesses were not mortal enemies of the accused, she was generally reported to be a witch, and there was some visible or tangible evidence. It was not required that the witnesses be identified to the accused. Counsel for the defense, if one was admitted, was not to use "pretentious oratory," introduce any "legal quirks or quibbles," bring any counter-accusations, or defend heresy. (Doing so would make him not merely himself a heretic but a heresiarch.) Much of this was regularly justified on the ground that since witch-craft is practised in secret or among other malefactors no condemnations could be obtained without a relaxation of the customary legal safeguards against injustice. The propriety of concealing the identity of witnesses, however, was defended, not altogether insincerely, by the principle that the names of accusers might be kept secret when a likelihood existed that the prisoner might take revenge on them. Witches were especially malicious and might be assumed to possess extraordinary means of retaliating.
Much subsequent writing about witchcraft was aimed at supporting, extending, or qualifying these principles. Only a few documents can be mentioned here, and those only as illustrative. Boguet's Examen of Witches (1590) described "the procedure necessary to a judge in trials for witchcraft" in seventy "Articles" which, according to Montague Summers, were "actually adopted in general practice by most local Parliaments and puisne (petty) courts." Imprisonment might follow upon a single accusation or upon common rumor, "for this is almost infallible in the matter of witchcraft" (Art. III). Stool pigeons might give false testimony or pretend also to lie under the same charge in order to induce confession (Articles XI I and XVIII) . A presumed witch might be tortured even on a holy day (Art. XXV) . Child-witches too should be executed, but more gently than adults, as by hanging (Art. LXIII). Jean Bodin, in other areas a rather advanced thinker, in Daemonomania, also a work which had considerable influence, asserted that every witch might be assumed to be a parricide, since witches do murder, and that the murders were all malicious, since it could be taken for granted that "sorcerers have done nothing by mistake, but always by malice and impiety." Indeed, it was to be supposed that every sorcerer had committed every possible kind of depravity. "When a woman is reported to be a witch (sagam), there is a most grave presumption that she is one"; hence she might be put to the torture if there was any corroborating evidence, although this was not to be allowed if the case was not one of witchcraft. Moreover, the special severity of the punishment meted out to witch es was not aimed primarily at castigating vice but at mollifying God's wrath, since the crime was against His majesty. It was further aimed at bringing God's benediction upon the whole land and at striking others with fear and terror, so that the number of the wicked would be diminished and good men might pass their lives in security. Indeed, no punishment could be great enough for witches, since they were guilty of many crimes which singly merited death: they denied religion, blasphemed, gave faith to the Devil, consecrated their children to Satan, sacrificed infants to the Devil, invoked the Devil and swore by him, committed incest and murder, ate human flesh, killed secretly by poison and fortune-telling (sortilegiis), and so on through a list of fifteen items. Yet Bodin takes some pains to be scrupulous and reminds his readers that the concurring testimony of fifty people that Peter was charmed to death could be refuted by the appearance of Peter alive and well.
Such principles of course met some resistance. In Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), which along with Jean Wier's De prestigiis daemonum et incantationibus ac veneficiis (1564; French translation, 1579) is an early retort from what seemed to the orthodox to be the Devil's party, Bodin's procedural advice is treated with contempt. Johann Godelmann, however, because although a Protestant he came nearer to sharing the legal pre-assumptions of Bodin, Boguet, and the Malleus, was more likely to effect reforms. He begins by acknowledging in a preface that crimes of lèse-majesté, among which blasphemy, heresy, magic, hurtful incantations, and divinatory predictions and consultations are to be reckoned, "offend eternal majesty far more gravely than temporal," and he agrees that the punishment for injury caused by enchantment is death. The purpose of his treatise, however, is to secure a more faithful observation of existing laws, and he proceeds to draw careful distinctions. Ordinary criminal procedures should be followed, not extraordinary. The accuser should be questioned and required to show evidence and give reasons for his suspicions. The proofs should be liquidissimae and luce, sicuti dicitur, meridiana clariores, quite transparent and clearer than noonday light. The significance of the Devil's mark, thought to have been made by his claw at the time the pact was entered into and strongly emphasized by Bodin, is denied: "These indications are empty, absurd, and frivolous and are to be rejected, not admitted, as contrary to our laws." Imprisonment ought to follow, not precede, the examination of witnesses. The accused should be allowed counsel (procurator). A confession of impossible actions proves nothing. The implication of others by confessions is not always to be believed, and the confessions extracted must be made seriously (serio, non autem iocose), circumstantial (specialis), and confirmed by two witnesses. Although a long road had yet to be trodden toward justice, a few preliminary steps had been taken.
The effectiveness of such tracts as Godelmann's is hard to estimate. Many later treatises which were frequently reprinted and accepted as authoritative—for instance, Remy's Demonolatry and Martin Delrio's Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex (Louvain, 1599)—continue to show horror at the enormity of witches' crimes. That procedures remained improper in some areas, at least, is clear from von Spee's Cautio (1631), at which we have glanced. No doubt individual judges on the continent too sometimes did their best to be scrupulously fair and pronounced adverse judgments sorrowfully, as in the famous Lancashire trials of 1612. Nevertheless the situation of any person accused by malicious neighbors was regularly desperate. As C. H. Lea has said, all too often the only real defense was to show that the witnesses were mortal enemies and therefore disqualified from giving testimony. Often, however, they were not identified; or, if they were to be named, the investigator might very early ask whether the prisoner knew them, and, if he did, whether they were friends or enemies. If the answer was "Friends" because as yet no ground for enmity was known, no later claim of mortal enmity was possible.
The courts seem usually to have had fixed ideas about incriminating indicia. In the trials at which Hopkins co-operated a special emphasis was placed on the witches' "teats," bodily abnormalities at which a devil was thought to have sucked blood, and on the Devil's mark, any peculiar area of skin which appeared to be insensible to pain. (We do not hear much of teats on the continent.) Boguet, in his Examen, regards as virtual proof of guilt an inability to weep and a tendency to keep the eyes on the ground. Almost anywhere the discovery in the witch's house of unguents, clay images, or other implements of sorcery told heavily against her, as did also, in England, the ownership of pets which might be thought familiar spirits. Although certainly many of the victims used charms and some thought themselves to be witches—what proportion it is impossible to estimate—von Spee's belief that their confessions were not to be trusted is confirmed by regional differences in expectations. The witches condemned by Remy almost all admitted that when they entered houses to spread poison they took the form of cats, a detail not common elsewhere; and whereas in England the rare witches' Sabbats were presided over by Satan himself, often in the form of a black goat, in certain parts of the continent the chief figure was regularly a woman, the Donna, identified as Diana or Herodias.
The modern reader of the treatises is further afflicted by their cool, reasonable tone and by clear implications that the authors were not abnormally evil men. In general, they reason cogently according to their lights and aim not at producing maximal human suffering but at the relief of mankind from a grievous plague. How their minds worked we shall attempt presently to see; but first it will be useful to suggest what kinds of persons were accused and the reasons why they were indicted. Here again there is a significant difference between England, where the typical witch was poor and illiterate—of 590 suspects in the home counties during one period all but four were laborers or tradesmen or, usually, their wives—and the continent, where the property of a condemned witch was confiscated by the court. The English witch, at whom we shall look shortly, was typically a woman, poor, uneducated, something of a social outcast, "queer" and perhaps partly demented, and usually old. The presumption that she was a sorceress was enormously strengthened if she was also physically repulsive, afflicted by some such evident abnormality as a drooping or crooked eye, and given to unintelligible but ominous muttering.
Exactly such a description is offered by Scot. "One sort of such as are said to bee witches, are women which be commonly old, lame, bleare-eied, pale, fowle, and full of wrinkles." Being ignorant and stupid and consequently unable to provide adequately for themselves, they go from house to house asking "for a pot full of milke, yest, drinke, pottage, or some such releefe; without the which they could hardlie live"; and when they are refused they may utter curses on "the maister of the house, his wife, children, cattell, &c. to the little pig that lieth in the stie.… Doubtlesse (at length) some of hir neighbors die, or fall sicke; or some of their children are visited with diseases." The mutterings are remembered, and an accusation follows. This is the basic situation, illustrated by hundreds or thousands of stories in the contemporary literature of witchcraft—for the neighbors too are often illiterate and suspicious, unaware of the nature of actual causality and ready enough to lay to the charge of an enemy any of the innumerable misfortunes to which people who live constantly on the verge of disaster are subject.
A case history or two may be useful, for I am attempting to describe the implications for real human beings of the theory of witchcraft soon to be examined. For example, the son of John Ferrali, vicar of Brenchlie in Kent, according to Scot passed one day by the house of a certain Margaret Simons, and by chance her little dog barked at him.
which thing the boie taking in evill part, drewe his knife, & pursued him therewith even to hir doore: whom she rebuked with some such words as the boie disdained, & yet neverthelesse would not be persuaded to depart in a long time. At the last he returned to his maisters house [he was apprenticed to a clothier], and within five or sixe daies fell sicke. Then was called to mind the fraie twixt the dog and the boie.
The boy's father, as it happened, already suspected the presence of a witch in the parish, because "when he desired to read most plainlie, his voice so failed him, as he could scant be heard at all. Which hee could impute, he said, to nothing else, but to hir enchantment." Actually, Mrs. Simons told the author whose report we are following, "at all times his voice was hoarse and lowe," so that he was suspected to have the French pox and "divers" parishioners refused to take communion from him until he produced a certificate from two physicians which said that he suffered from lung disease. Happily, the case was dismissed.
In some such way as this suspicion was aroused, and if at the time the magistrates were proceeding actively against witchcraft in the region an accusation might be made and the trial begun, with results of the kind already suggested. A sow might die, a promising crop come to nothing, two cows fall sick, the butter not come, and too often some reason was found to lay the blame on a neighbor. In George Gifford's Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes (1593, 1603), another skeptical document, a man called Samuel, when asked about his health, replies that he is pretty well but "me thinke my meate doth me no good of late." Having heard of the activities of witches in the neighborhood, he is afraid now and then when he sees a hare stare at him, or a weasel run across his yard; and "there is a foule great catte sometimes in my Barne, which I haue no liking unto." One old woman especially makes him uneasy. Moreover, an apparently well hog has died suddenly, and "M y wife hath had fiue or sixe hennes euen of late dead." He is thinking of seeking the help of counter-witchcraft. Later, when the discussion is continued in Sam's house, his wife says that another hen has died, the good woman R. last week couldn't make the butter come until she used charms, and this morning an old woman looked "sowerlie" on her and mumbled.
Thus it went. A peddler might be mumbled at because he refused to undo his pack to sell a few pins. A bored husband might find himself impotent. A boy coming home late with the cows might invent a story about having been delayed by witches in the form of animals. The image gradually produced in a modern mind is that of impoverished communities of jealous and surly countryfolk given to backbiting and predisposed by their ignorance—like savages—to believe that every natural misfortune was willed.
II. The theory of witchcraft
Innumerable stories could be cited to support this generalization. When the witchfever was on a community, every misfortune might be laid on a witch: "adversitie, greefe, sicknesse, losse of children, corne, cattell, or libertie.… a clap of thunder, or a gale of wind is no sooner heard, but either they run to ring bels, or crie out to burne witches; or else burne consecrated things, hoping by the smoke thereof, to drive the divell out of the aire." Suspicion generated suspicion, and shortly the whole area was in an uproar. Scot, who has just been quoted, is one of the atypical doubters: "But if all the divels in hell were dead, and all the witches in England burnt or hanged; I warrant you we should not faile to have raine, haile and tempests, as now we have.… I am also well assured, that if all the old women in the world were witches; and all the priests, conjurers: we should not have a drop of raine, nor a blast of wind the more or the lesse for them." Few contemporary writers even among the skeptics would have risked so sweeping a generalization, for there were—it seemed—all too many solid reasons for believing that witchcraft existed and was sometimes, however rarely, practised. We turn now to the intellectual processes by which the belief was established, attempting, as far as possible, not to let modern convictions interfere with an understanding of earlier thought-ways however detestable they may seem to us.
Especially, but not merely, in Protestant countries, total skepticism usually foundered on Scripture. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18): this most quoted of all Biblical texts left little ground for maneuvering. True, Scot attempted plausibly to show that the Septuagint's [pharmakous] for the Latin veneficos or maleficos, meant not "witches" but "poisoners"; and he quoted "Josephus an Hebrue borne" as having said that the word designated a person who possessed "any poison that is deadlie, or prepared to anie hurtfull use." Such a person should "suffer that which he meant to doo to them, for whom he prepared it." For the most part, however, even those most passionately opposed to the executions acknowledged the reality of witchcraft and confined their arguments to the thesis that many or most of those convicted were innocent and the legal practices unjust.
Many other Biblical texts contributed to the admission. The visit paid by Saul to the Witch of Endor, who raised or—as others thought—pretended to raise the spirit of Samuel is almost as frequently cited. And what could be urged against the many passages in the Gospels which described the casting out of devils by Christ? "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils" (Mark 16:17). The long argument about "transvection," or the ability of demons to transport witches through the air to their Sabbats, was sometimes, as in the Malleus, decisively resolved by the question, "Did not the devil take up Our Saviour, and carry Him up to a high place, as the Gospel testifies?" Leviticus 20:6 declared that the Lord would set His face against "the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits" and would "cut him off from among his people"; and the twenty-seventh verse of the same chapter said flatly, "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them." The prescription of means was ignored, the sentence of death honored.
Many other passages encouraged the popular superstition. Sorcerers are mentioned in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 along with whoremongers, murderers, idolaters, and liars. The mention in Ephesians 2:2 of "the prince of the power of the air" might, with a little violence, be interpreted as meaning that power over the air is given to demons. Job 41:33, written of the Leviathan, could be cited as proof that efforts to make innocent use of demonic power were hopeless: "Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear." The Devil was certain to get the better of any mortal who tried to control him. Psalm 78:49, "He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them," supported a generally accepted doctrine that all the evil performed by devils was done either with God's permission or by his explicit order. Leviticus 18:3 (Leviticus was an especially rich source), "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do," could be understood as referring to the magical operations to which those abominable peoples were addicted. But indeed any literalist reading of Scripture necessarily entailed a belief both in the unceasing evil machinations of devils and in sorcery. The miracles of Christ, so often described as involving the casting out of devils, alone would have sufficed to produce a conviction that demons often "possessed" human beings. From this incontrovertible truth to a belief that the Devil might bargain with mortals and promise them effective enchantments in exchange for their souls after death was so easy a step that theorists often seem not to have realized they took it.
For witchcraft, it is important to recognize, was everywhere and always understood to involve a pact with the Devil. The pact, indeed, was its defining characteristic. Conjuring without demonic assistance belonged in a different category which cannot be described more than roughly in the present context. On one level, white magic was no more than a primitive physics and chemistry which utilized real but occult forces hidden in nature itself. Much that appeared wonderful to the uninitiated might be performed by it. On another but overlapping level was a magic or science which appears superstitious to moderns but in the Renaissance might be indistinguishable from the former. This is described by Guazzo as "no more than a more exact knowledge of the secrets of Nature, which by observing the courses and influences of the stars in the heavens, and the sympathies and antipathies subsisting between separate things, compares one thing with another and so effects marvels which to the ignorant seem to be miracles or illusions." Between both these kinds of oper ations and witchcraft was something else which might either be condemned as witchcraft or exalted as the highest level of active wisdom. This involved the powers not of devils … but of daemons.… The existence of such spirits, intermediate between men and gods, had been vouched for by the newly recovered Hermetic corpus, but the spirits were in fact vestigial from paganism, which had sensed numina everywhere, and perhaps the Christian consciousness had never totally lost contact with them. Such daemons might be friendly, indifferent, or hostile, the hostile ones being no doubt identical with the fallen angels or devils, the friendly ones good angels (for example, the Intelligences or tutelary angels of the planets), and the indifferent ones quasi-automatic forces which differed from the natural energies known to modern science chiefly in being somewhat personalized. Whether attempts to constrain the help of good or indifferent daemons were licit was vigorously debated, but traffic with the unfriendly daemons was almost universally condemned as goëtia, or black magic. No matter what protestations of innocence might be made by the black magician, the consensus of informed opinion was that he entered into an implicit pact with the Devil, however unwittingly, just as the white witch or "wise-woman" did. If so, he too was a witch. Usually, however, the witch made an explicit pact, agreeing to yield his soul ultimately to the Devil in exchange for extraordinary powers during his lifetime.
The connection between witchcraft and the pact is, so far as I know, accepted by all modern students of the subject and is such a commonplace in the Renaissance treatises that no purpose would be served by massive documentation. "Magicians use superstitious and diabolical arts and add the evocation of demons to their practices, as Proclus has witnessed." Or, again, in an especially comprehensive and authoritative tract, prohibita Magia is defined as "a faculty or art by means of which, through the force of a pact entered into with demons, wonders are performed which surpass the common apprehension of men." And so everywhere. To be sure, complications are created by technicalities in the vocabulary. Such words as magi, lamiae, sagae, praestigiatores, fascinatores, striges, venefici, and malefici vary in significance from tract to tract, so that attention must be paid to the ways in which they are differentiated. The link between the witch and the Devil, or a devil, is, however, regularly taken for granted and was the chief basis for the savage attempts made to destroy the offenders against God and men.
No understanding of the way minds worked over the subject is possible without some realization of what scholarship was like in the Renaissance. The unexceptionable authority of the Scripture has been noticed; what remains to be considered is the nature of non-Scriptural "proof."
First, many of the authors of treatises on witchcraft are extremely learned men, but learned in a way that requires description. To the modern scholar it may at first appear that Renaissance savants had limited responsibilities which he may contrast enviously with his own. For them Latin did duty also for German, French, Italian, and English, or whichever of these languages were not native to them, and because they paid little attention to secular literature (except the classics) they felt no need to study such historical vernaculars as Old French, Middle High German, Anglo-Saxon, and Middle English. Further, whole areas of intensive modern research were unknown to them—for example, psychology in its modern forms, the exact sciences apart from a rather elementary mathematics, even history as that is now understood. Most important of all, they were necessarily unaware of whatever has happened since the Renaissance, to which modern students must devote an immense proportion of their schooling. We realize, of course, that their mastery of Latin was far greater than ours; we know that Greek had come in (though real competency in it was less widely diffused than is generally thought); and we are aware that theology and the scholastic philosophy were complex, if possibly not very rewarding, disciplines. Specialists have learned also that Hebrew and Rabbinical studies were beginning to be undertaken.
What we cannot know until we actually immerse ourselves in the Neo-Latin writings of the period is how enormous the literature was and how thoroughly, in course of time, ancient and medieval texts were combed for citations bearing upon special interests. A typical list of "authorities"—many, no doubt, second or thirdhand—may help to suggest both the gradual accumulation of scholarly resources and the impact upon modern readers. Leonardo Vairo, in an interesting and ultimately rather skeptical document about enchantments (including the evil eye) called De fascino libri tres (1583), supports his assertions that "nearly all authors, not merely Latins and Arabs but also Greeks," accepted the reality of fascinum by citing Aristotle, Alexander Aphrodisiensis, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Isigonus, Pliny, Nymphodorus, Apollonides, Philarchus, Algazel, Avicenna, Pomponatius, Solinus, Philostratus, Virgil, Ioannes Franciscus Ponzinibius, and Petrus de Tarantasia at one burst before slowing down in order to bring in others more at leisure. The list is in no way unusual. According to H. C. Lea, Guazzo's Compendium, already several times quoted here, cites 322 sources. Scot cites 224 "forren authors" and 23 English. Jean Wier's De prestigiis cites 342 authors. In reading a treatise by Delrio or Bodin or Lavater or Remy one has the impression of following the processes of a mind which is not only (usually; Remy is perhaps an exception) highly intelligent and responsible but also impressively well-read.
What marks a critical difference from modern scholarship is a set of distinct presumptions about evidence. In part the Renaissance scholar used his sources exactly as his modern counterpart does, balancing one set against another or supporting his own views by multiple citations of writers who agreed with him. Again as in modern scholarship, references might be given in the text (secundum Isidor. 8 Ety. c. 9) or put into the margin (Aug. Civ. Dei XIV cap. iij); or they might be general—for instance, "I f you read Artemidorus," or uti Peripatetici asseruerunt, or the remark that although the origin of magic is often ascribed to Zoroaster there were several men of that name—four (Arnobius), five (Suidas), or six (Pliny). Nothing of this causes the modern student acute intellectual distress despite the fact that he would often appreciate a more exact reference, is unable to expand the abbreviations, or feels a galling sense that he is expected to be far more learned than he is. The real differences lie elsewhere.
One simple, although inadequate, explanation would be that the modern historical scholar tends rather to use the assertions of remote authors as source materials for an understanding of their periods than to think of basing his own serious opinions on them. In the search for objective truth his ultimate commitment is not to distinguished minds but to the empirical evidence on which they have based their conclusions. In the Renaissance too some weight was given to "experience." Indeed, many of the tracts on witchcraft put primary emphasis on what someone claimed to have witnessed directly. What is lacking is the concept of controlled experiment; and, for the rest, statements were taken seriously that the twentieth-century mind would not dream either of believing or of finding it necessary to refute. The two halves of this sentence may be developed briefly, the latter half being considered first.
The taking of an opinion seriously does not, of course, require agreement with it. When Delrio denies to rings, seals, "characters," and images a magical power attributed to them by Ptolemy, Porphyry, and others he does nothing in the least unusual. After all, views were often contradictory, and it was impossible then, as now, to credit all of them. In the same way the assertions of more recent men are often denied, as when the same writer advises us to be wary of Cornelius Agrippa, the unknown author of the Picatrix, Paracelsus, Roger Bacon, the Arabian alchemist Geber, Raymond Lull, Arnold of Villanova, Thomas Bungey (sic.), and George Ripley. And yet the faith given to mere statement is not merely astonishing but sometimes shocking. Although the Renaissance intelligence might be sharply critical, its grounds of belief were not those accepted today.
How this worked can be seen, for example, in Gian-Francesco Pico's La Strega, ovvero Degli Inganni de' Demone, a work written in Latin but now hardly accessible except in translation, where a discussion of the possibility that a witch might copulate with a demon is settled by a reminder that Anchises, Semele, Tiresias, and others were punished for having had sexual union with pagan gods. Similarly, Ulric Molitor, in De lamiis et phitonicis mulieribus, gives as evidence for the power of witches to transform men into animals the turning of Ulysses' men into beasts by Circe and the metamorphosis recorded in The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius. If the treatises were self-consciously belletristic one might imagine such citations to be intended as mere showmanship or perhaps as wit or irony, but they often stand side by side with equally incredible evidence drawn from popular rumor or the lives of the saints and appear to be similarly credited. Sometimes the use of an authority is curious in a different way, as when Boguet, in a passage about the lenient treatment of a young witch, says, "This is in agreement with the words of Lucan: 'But we forgive him for his tender age.'" Is this no more than a rhetorical flourish? Apparently not; the consideration that Lucan was a pagan, a poet, and no "authority," for any reason that can readily be imagined, in matters pertaining to ethics or the law is apparently thought to be irrelevant.
It does not, I think, follow that for Renaissance scholars poetry was indistinguishable from factual history or that because they accepted the reality of witchcraft they must have had literal faith in everything Apuleius and Homer and Virgil had written. The epistemological situation was a good deal more complex. A hint of the contemporary attitude toward such citations is given us by Pico when, toward the end of his dialogue, he causes his skeptical disputant, Apistio or Faithless, to come round to a better conviction with these words: "D o you think that I believe to be mere jests what is agreed on by all the ancients and moderns, to which assent is given by poets, rhetoricians, stoics, jurists, philosophers, theologians, prudent men, soldiers, and peasants, and taken also from experience?" Although by themselves such pagan fictions might have proved little, they corroborated other evidence and hence in some degree contributed to persuasion. Even in this diminished role, however, they had an importance which would be denied them by modern thought. And authors like these are quoted often enough without external parallels to qualify somewhat the degree of skepticism toward them which has just been implied.
The other difference from modern scholarship, that having to do with the weight accorded first-hand observation, is also complex. As has been said, the importance of experience is granted, especially by Sprenger and Kramer, Boguet, Remy, and others who drew on a rich fund of testimony given at actual trials. Guazzo is particularly full of stories—so much so that for the student of literature his treatise is likely to be the most interesting of all, partly but not merely because it contains parallels for incidents encountered elsewhere—for example, in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Like the citations of "authorities," however, the arguments from experience would carry little or no conviction in a modern court of law.
The reason is that the evidence is seldom critically evaluated, or not carefully enough questioned to satisfy the modern intelligence. So far as I can recall, the only attempts at a real experimental corroboration involved the observation of sleeping witches to see whether they actually left their beds at times when they reported having attended nocturnal Sabbats. (It was regularly discovered that they did not.) For the rest, when it was not limited to seeing—for example—whether a prisoner really had an odd patch on her skin or the patch really was insensitive to pain, "proof" often consisted in accumulating additional stories of a similar kind, the assumption being that where there was a great deal of smoke there must necessarily have been fire.
One explanation of the tendency to avoid tests no doubt is to be found in the illicit and horrible nature of the witch's magical practices. It was unthinkable that an inquisitor should smear himself with a salve which was said to permit flying through the air, sometimes in the form of an animal, or perhaps even that he should try out on a cat the effect of an allegedly magical powder made from the body of a murdered child. But, indeed, the Baconian method had not yet been distinctly formulated during much of the period, and when it was clearly stated it had to wait a long time for acceptance. So the accusations of hysterical or malicious or superstitious neighbors were allowed to pile up until they created a presumption of guilt encouraged by the whole tenor of theological and scholarly thought and sealed finally by a confession wrung from the prisoner by torture or other pressures. "Experience" thus consisted largely of old wives' tales, the marvels connected with the immediate situation being accepted as probable because they resembled others reported by the "authorities" from different times and places.
An extreme illustration appears in the relatively early Malleus, where we read that "as William of Paris says in his De Uniuerso, it is proved by experience that if a harlot tries to plant an olive it does not become fruitful, whereas if it is planted by a chaste woman it is fruitful." Here, surely, experimentation could have done no harm; but no disposition appears to test the belief by watching, let us say, twenty trees set out by known harlots and twenty others set out by women in whose virtue trust was felt. Reiterated report is enough. The same author offers as proof that devils can produce visual illusions a commonplace story originally told by St. Gregory of a woman who thought she was eating lettuce but instead ate a devil in the form of a lettuce or, possibly, invisible within it. Here a generalization is corroborated by a case history, reassurance being supplied to the incredulous by an acknowledgment of the source (St. Gregory's first dialogue). The doubter could check the story for himself. He was not expected to ask "How do you know it was the lettuce?" or "May she not merely have been crazy?" If one such story was thought insufficient, a second and third and fourth were added, until at last acceptance could no longer be withheld. When the emphasis was on modern instances the scholarly method was similar. Guazzo illustrates the Devil's habit of giving his votaries money which changes into coal, or charred clay, or pig's dung, or a rusty pebble by four stories dated 1586, one dated 1585, and one dated 1587, all six being vouched for, he says, in the courts of justice. For the rest, "experience" is sometimes claimed as the basis for a truism: "It is also a matter of common experience that the tongue of one prudent man can subdue the wrangling of a multitude." No wonder the Archduke Sigismund of Austria, one of the speakers in Molitor's De lamiis, preferred argument to evidence: "I myself do not believe in public rumors, for common people easily credit whatever is said." He asked that the existence of witches be "demonstrated by authorities and by the force of reason, since a well-handled discussion ought to lead to a rational conclusion." Alas, "authorities" and "proofs from experience" were all too often ultimately indistinguishable because the latter included stories borrowed trustingly from the former.
What has been said should not be understood to imply that no skepticism can be found in the documents. On the contrary, there is a great deal: so much, in fact, that one realizes only a sound investigative method was needed to initiate an era of brilliant intellectual progress. And that was to come, but not quickly. In the meantime, the writers on witchcraft might be placed fairly accurately on a scale ranging from very credulous to hard-headed. At one end we find, for example, Guazzo, who was capable of writing, "We often find lying about the shrines of the Saints fragments of thunderbolts which are believed to have been wielded and hurled by some demon." In the same half of the spectrum appear Sprenger and Kramer, Boguet, Remy, Bodin—despite his distinction in other intellectual areas—Gian-Francesco Pico, who nevertheless wrote a slashing attack on astrology, and Hopkins. In the other and more honorable half are von Spee, Vairo, Johann (or John, or Jean) Wier, George Gifford, and Reginald Scot. Somewhere between come James I of England, Giovanni Anania, Delrio, Thomas Erastus, Joseph Glanville, Godelmann, Lavater, and Molitor. Not-withstanding what now seem to have been lapses into fideism, the members of the intermediate group often show intellectual power, and some of them are attractive writers. The tonality of many, as has been said, is cool and reasonable. Attention must be paid to the intellectual milieu when rendering moral and intellectual judgments. Not even the most bloodthirsty—the authors of the Malleus, Remy, Boguet, Bodin—appear to me, at least, as benighted as the Rev. Montague Summers, who although a modern was ready to credit almost any story, no matter how absurd, which tended to justify his spiritualistic preassumptions. The worst is Matthew Hopkins, the notorious witch-finder; but since his interest was financial, his intellect hardly comes into question. How the skepticism operated will become clear as we proceed.
The means to the acquisition of magical powers, as has been said, was the making of a pact with the Devil, who might appear, in theory, because he was invoked, as in the Faust legend, but who in the documents himself almost always initiated the conversation. What the pact involved is explained with special fullness by Guazzo. The witches (1) deny Christ, (2) undergo a mock baptism, (3) receive a new name, (4) deny their godparents and are given new ones, (5) give the Devil a piece of their clothing, (6) swear allegiance to him, (7) pray to be struck out of the book of life and inscribed in the book of death, (8) promise sacrifices to the Devil, (9) make yearly gifts to him, (10) receive his mark—at least many do—and (11) vow not to honor the Eucharist, to blaspheme, to abstain from holy water and blessed salt, and to attend the Sabbats. All this is prepared for by "some sympathy in wickedness between the witches and the devil."
Other descriptions, when not briefer, vary in detail but agree in essentials. According to Godelmann, for instance, magicians (a common synonym for "witches") "knowingly turn to daemons, enter into a pact with them, worship them as GOD, beg their help and counsel, and evoke and attract them by magical ceremonies and the recitation of words, whether barbarous and meaningless to them or understood by them, together with monstrous figures (characteribus), images, prayers, and execrations." In making the pact the witch must "First, horrible though it is to say, renounce GOD his Creator and rescind the treaty made with Him in holy baptism, deny the Son of God, curse His good deeds (beneficia), attack His name with blasphemies, reproaches, and contumely, adore the Devil alone, place all faith and hope in him, follow his commands zealously, and use things created by GOD only for the injury and destruction of men. Afterwards, having died at the appointed time, he must grant his body and soul to the Devil: some swearing all this by the name of a familiar demon, whereas others are driven to make the promise in handwriting, using their own blood." The Devil, in return, agrees to come when called, give counsel, offer help in wrongdoing, answer questions, free his follower from dangers and prisons, give him riches, satisfy his desires, and, finally, serve his will like a slave, doing diligently whatever is required. Once the ceremonies are completed the Devil instructs his new convert either himself or through practised magicians and books, revealing to him how he should perform his operations, draw monstrous figures, carve seals (sigilla), fashion images of wax and metal, and make evil uses of roots, stones, metals, earths (terras), bones, hairs, and the like. As was said earlier, the pact might be implicit instead of explicit. A magician who thought he had used the Devil might find in the end that the Devil had used him, that in accepting help he had unknowingly made a commitment of his soul. In one form or another, however, the pact was an—indeed, the—essential part of witchcraft.
Curiously—the discovery may be quite unexpected—the greater the theorist's skepticism the more emphasis he is likely to put on the Devil's part in all the mischief. Thus Vairo, who makes a sudden change of direction in Book II after seeming almost inimitably credulous in Book I ("I would have fallen into the reader's hate and ill will if on the threshold of this work I had wished to call into doubt an opinion of enchantment accepted by men, including common people"), affirms that everything is done by demons and nothing at all by any other power. What makes this possible is the demons' exceptional knowledge: "They have very great understanding of all things, for they are acquainted with the virtues of the heavens, the stars, birds, fish, trees, plants, metals, stones, and especially the elements and are aware what can help or injure man.… Thus the demons do by means of natural poisons what the enchanters think they accomplish by means of their eyes or other instruments." Similar explanations appear in other treatises. Such skills, we are assured, result from the devils' former status as angels and from their studies of the universe during the long ages since their fall. In this way magic becomes a kind of natural science which produces its effects not by mumbo-jumbo but by expert manipulation of the hidden properties of objects.
The appearance of the Devil, whether invoked or voluntary, might be in the form of a speaking animal—a dog, a goat, a cat, or some other—but more usually was that of an imperfect man. According to Remy, his features were dark and shapeless, his eyes deep-set and flashing, his mouth wide and smelling of sulphur, his hands and feet deformed: "for Demons can never so completely ape the human shape but that the deception is apparent to even the most stupid." The hands may be claw-like, the feet hoofs. Their voices, we are told by the same expert, are thin and indistinct. A witch's testimony taken on March 28, 1588, was that they spoke "as if their mouths were in a jar or cracked pitcher." One reason is that they must manipulate air without the use of lungs, throats, palates, or "sides"; but they always speak idiomatic vernacular. We are sometimes informed that the indistinctness is deliberate, its purpose being the same as the ambiguity of oracular pronouncements. The stench is said by Remy to be invariable, and he adds that witches are instructed to avoid cleanliness and not to wash their hands lest the efficacy of their incantations be obstructed. Indeed, handwashing is often an effective protection for an intended victim.
The existence of demons and their motives for tampering with men are usually taken for granted in the treatises but occasionally explained. Anania, in Natura daemonum, gives in some detail particulars which were too well known to need constant repetition. In the beginning all the angels were created on the first day along with the heavens (sub caeli nomine), as is shown by the text quando facta sunt sydera, laudauerent me angeli. All the angels were perfect and all were content; but they differed among themselves in qualities without any of them suffering from insufficiency of a kind to induce a fall. Of the three classes, none was so inferior to the others in excellence, wisdom, or freedom of the will that it was unable to stand. The fall therefore was voluntary. Moved by instability of mind and swollen with pride, Lucifer said, "I will place my seat in the north, and I will be like the highest." His sin was the most execrable of all possible sins because it was committed wholly without occasion. A battle ensued, Michael acting as leader of the good angels, though where it was fought, or how long, is uncertain. The event was the expulsion of the demons from heaven. Some fell to Tartarus, but others of greater strength (pars uero altera eaque potior) to "this dark and icy air which surrounds us." Hence the Devil's temptation of Eve and Adam in the form of a serpent and the constant interference of demons in human affairs ever since. The story is familiar to students of English literature from Milton's Paradise Lost and would not require even a quick summary if in this age of secular education and a dying, "existentialist" Christianity knowledge of it was not rapidly disappearing—even, one fears, among the clergy.
In a longer discussion it would be interesting to follow with some care theories of the beginnings of human magic—magic, it will be remembered, being often synonymous with witchcraft. Here space allows only the offering of a few hints. Wier attributes the earliest practice of sorcery to Mizraim, son of Ham, whom Noah had cursed after having been seen naked in his drunkenness. Mizraim was "the first who discovered the impiety, full of blasphemies, of an execrable magic," and from him the black art descended to the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Persians. The Malleus quotes Vincent de Beauvais as having reported in his Speculum historiale that Zoroaster, "who is said to have been Cham, the son of Noe," was the first magician and astrologer. Other authorities emphasized the importance of Moses, who according to the Cabala had been given esoteric knowledge as well as the Law on Mt. Sinai, or, in another version, learned magic of the Egyptians, known from the story of their competition with Moses before Pharaoh to have been able to perform marvels. In either account it was assumed that Moses's magic was white and that the perversion of it came later. King James, who in his Daemonologie often reasons shrewdly, rejects vigorously the opinion that the mature Moses practised forbidden magic.
For first, that that generali proposition; affirming Moyses to be taught in all the sciences of the Ægyptians, should conclude that he was taught in Magie, I see no necessity. For we must vnderstand that the spirit of God there, speaking of sciences, vnderstandes them that are lawfull.… Secondlie, giuing that he had bene taught in it, there is great difference, betwixt knowledge and practising of a thing (as I said before). For God knoweth all thinges, being alwaies good.… Thirdlie, giuing that he had both studied and practised the same (which is more nor monstruous to be beleeued by any Christian) yet we know well inough … that suppose he had beene the wickeddest man in the worlde before, he … became a changed and regenerat man.
In one way or another the beginning of magic is, however, regularly pushed back to a remote antiquity. The presence of Satan in the Garden of Eden implied the activity of devils among men from the time of the first parents.
Since discussions of the origin of magic never, so far as I am aware, speak explicitly of the appearance of the Devil and the swearing of a pact with him, further discussion of them would be digressive. It may be added, however, that the fall of the bad angels was sometimes said to be corroborated by pagan stories: "Not only do our theologians and those of the Hebrews show us this fall, but the Assyrians, the Arabs, the Egyptians, and the Greeks confirm it in their writings.… Trismegistus describes the same fall in his Pimander" Non-Christian literature thus corroborated Christian truth and threw additional light on it. Guazzo probably drew from Hermetism when he listed six distinct kinds of daemons—fiery, aerial, terrestrial, aquatic, subterranean, and lucifugous or light-fleeing.
III. Witches' activities
Once the pact had been entered upon, what kinds of sorcery did the witches perform? The Malleus gives a convenient list:
They raise hailstorms and hurtful tempests and lightnings; cause sterility in men and animals; offer to devils, or otherwise kill, the children whom they do not devour. But these are only the children who have not been reborn by baptism at the font, for they cannot devour those who have been baptized, nor any without God's permission. They can also, before the eyes of their parents, but without being seen, throw into the water children walking by the water side; they make horses go mad under their riders; they can transport themselves from place to place through the air, either in body or in imagination; they can affect Judges and Magistrates so that they cannot hurt them; they can cause themselves and others to keep silence under torture; they can bring about a great trembling in the hands and horror in the minds of those who would arrest them; they can show to others occult things and certain future events… ; they can see absent things as if they were present; they can turn the minds of men to inordinate love or hatred; they can at times strike whom they will with lightning, and even kill some men and animals; they can make of no effect the generative desires, and even the power of copulation, cause abortion, kill infants in the mother's womb by a mere exterior touch; they can at times bewitch men and animals with a mere look, without touching them, and cause death; they dedicate their own children to devils.
Of such actions as these one reads constantly in the treatises.
But there are others too; comprehensive as it may appear, the description is incomplete. I add details from an account given by Scot in his Discoverie. Witches can
pull downe the moone and the starres.… send needles into the livers of their enimies.… transferre corne in the blade from one place to another.… cure diseases supernaturallie, flie in the aire, and danse with divels.… plaie the part of Succubus, and contract themselves to Incubus.… transsubstantiate themselves and others, and take the forms and shapes of asses, woolves, ferrets, cowes, apes, horsses, dogs, &c.… keep divels and spirits in the likenesse of todes and cats … raise spirits (as others affirme) drie up springs, turne the course of running waters, inhibit the sunne, and staie both day and night, changing the one into the other.… go in and out at awger holes, & saile in an egge shell, a cockle or muscle shell.… bring soules out of the graves.… teare snakes in peeces with words, and with looks kill lambes.… bring to passe, that chearne as long as you list, your butter will not come.
With these supplementations the explanation is reasonably full.
The actual ceremonies by which malicious intentions were carried out need not be dwelt on. The reports of trials give us vivid, if untrustworthy, glimpses of witches, in nine cases out of ten women (because of the widely asserted weakness and special ignorance of their sex), muttering curses, fashioning and then mutilating images, planting charms beneath doorsills, causing rainstorms by beating water in a bowl or stream or their own urine evacuated into a hole dug in the ground, spreading powders, boiling the bodies of children preparatory to drinking the broth and making an unguent out of the "more solid parts," mixing poisons, injuring by touch, fascinating by the evil eye, murdering infants with needles, sending toads or cats or other small animals on evil errands, or, very frequently, merely assenting to a demon's offer to bring trouble upon an enemy, or his family, or his cattle. The formal invocation of the Devil by the drawing of a magic circle, the inscribing within it of triangles whose corners are filled with cabalistic figures and the names of demons, and the uttering of Latin formulas, as in Marlowe's and Goethe's versions of the Faust story, is rarely heard of and never, I think, confessed. Evidently the learned tradition of black magic existed quite separately from the practice of vulgar witches, whose illiteracy in any case would have made it inaccessible to them. In this respect modern stories of witchcraft—for example, Charles Williams's in All Hallows' Eve—are quite unfaithful to the records of actual prosecutions, which in England involved almost without exception, and on the continent very often, persons whose social status was low. In the same way modern Satanist cults, as in San Francisco, draw upon late and imaginative, rather than historical, sources. But in one respect there is contact: the treatises have much to say about the witches' Sabbats, which with elegant additions like the use of a naked girl's belly as an altar appear to be imitated by modern covens. These deserve separate consideration.
For two reasons at least, a prurient interest and a desire to implicate additional persons (together, on the continent, with greed to seize more property), the inquisitors or examining magistrates seem to have inquired into their prisoners' attendance at the Sabbats with special eagerness. Although witches may occasionally have met to trade secrets and boast about their achievements—some kind of actual conference is strongly implied by Thomas Potts' report of the testimony at the Lancashire trials in 1612—most of the accounts are purely imaginary, the details having been suggested to the accused women in the way von Spee has described. The fact, already once mentioned, that in Latin countries, and particularly in Italy, the central figure was Diana or Herodias, the donna or signora, whereas in other places it was the Devil or a devil, is significant. The witches confessed what their judges expected to hear because doing so promised an end to their sufferings. It is in fact precisely such agreements on matters now regarded as impossible that bring the findings at the trials most strongly into doubt. Of the 800 or 900 witches sent to the stake by Remy, "some two hundred persons, more or less," admitted meeting with other witches at some pool or stream, raising clouds from it by which they were borne aloft and carried wherever they would, and at last causing the clouds to fall as hail. Elsewhere the raising of storms was separate from transvection. However obtained, the descriptions of the Sabbat all have a family resemblance.
The Sabbats seem not to have been very enjoyable. Having arrived at the meeting place by flying through the air on sticks, or on the back of a devil transformed into an animal, or by changing themselves into animals, the witches performed obscene rites of worship, often kissing the Devil's buttocks beneath his tail. They reported on the evil they had accomplished and were praised or scolded in proportion as it was great or small. They danced, usually naked, back to back, and moving to the left, no one being excused because of age or infirmity. They ate a disgusting meal which gave them no sustenance. Finally, they engaged in promiscuous sexual intercourse.
Details are provided richly. Remy says of the banquet, in a typical description, that the food is loathsome and nauseating and fails to satisfy hunger. Sometimes it is mere illusion; again it is real but is made from animals which have died or are otherwise unclean. But bread (used in the Eucharist) and salt (used in Old Testament sacrifices and apparently also in baptism and in holy water) are always lacking. The dances were terribly fatiguing, and we sometimes learn that after the Sabbats witches spent several days in bed recuperating. A popular modern belief that the number of witches in every group or coven was twelve or thirteen is quite unsubstantiated by the documents. On the continent we hear of very large numbers; Pico, for example, affirms that as many as 2,000 might be present, and nowhere, to my knowledge, is a standard number distinctly mentioned.
An issue raised into prominence by Margaret Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921) is commented on by Pico: is Christian magic continuous with pagan (in England, perhaps, with Druidic)? Dicaste, an inquisitor, is asked whether the "games" of Diana or of the Herodiades were the same as those heard of in the sixteenth century. The reply is, "Some people say yes, and others prefer the view that they are a new heresy." The questioner then gives his own opinion, that some of the games are ancient and some the result of a new superstition, so that one might say that on the whole they are "antique in essence and new by accident (to speak in the modern idiom)." So far as it goes, the judgment is commonsensical: sorcery has certainly been practised in all societies, and no doubt because at bottom the human psyche is always the same its forms tend to be similar. But to argue that in detail Renaissance witchcraft was identical with pre-Christian, or even that, in any very meaningful sense, pagan sorcery—which did not know the Christian Devil—was its source, is to assert as fact what in the absence of sufficient evidence can, at most, be no more than hypothesis.
These, then, are the essentials of witchcraft: a meeting with the Devil (or a devil; the lack of an article in Latin, together with different conventions of capitalization, makes the distinction often impossible), a pact to deny God, the performing of evil deeds, and occasional or regular attendance at the Sabbat. From the reports of trials one gathers that most of the witches really acted in secret, muttering their charms, mutilating their clay images, and dispensing their powders or potions without the knowledge of anyone except, perhaps, their own children, who could be forced by orders or threats to help. (Hence it was concluded by the inquisitors that every child of a witch was almost certainly also a witch.) Occasionally two or more witches might co-operate to bring harm upon a common enemy, and more rarely still a larger number might congregate to cackle together, but as social outcasts—"loners"—no doubt they usually hated and feared their rivals as well as their victims. In the main, they were probably poor old women with foggy minds who felt themselves abused and tried to strike back at oppressors by hexing them. Nevertheless the Sabbats were firmly established in the official theory and receive much attention in the documents.
IV . Steps toward the denial of witchcraft
Instead of dwelling longer on the practices, which unless poisons were used or the victim suffered psychological damage must have had no influence on the results thought to have been achieved, I turn to elements of the official theory which by implying skepticism were finally to lead to a denial of witchcraft itself.
First, it was essential that the charms themselves be thought ineffectual, that doubts arise about a universe so structured as to make enchantments operative. This step was taken with the emergence of a conviction that devils were the real agents of all the mischief. The demon was not constrained by the witch's rigamaroles but seized upon her ill will as an excuse to do injuries by which, because she had assented to them, his claim to her soul would be established. At the same time, of course, he would gain satisfaction from the exercise of his malevolence upon the immediate victims.
The conviction was shared even by so credulous a writer as Remy. That there is efficacy in the mere words of a curse or charm, he declared, "seems to me just as ridiculous and absurd as the similar belief in the virtue of written characters and letters.… How can it be possible for a mere vocal noise to act so powerfully?" The power's true source was the demon. Similarly, in the medicines and bewitched objects which apparently cause hurt or healing there is "no inherent or natural power either of hurting or of healing." However prodigious the result may seem, "it is all done by the Demons through some power of which the source and explanation is not known."
The same belief appears in James I, whose insistence that witches exist and must be punished was qualified by a Scottish toughness of mind.
… it is no power inherent in the circles, or in the holines of the names of God blasphemouslie vsed: nor in whatsoeuer rites or ceremonies at that time vsed, that either can raise any infernali spirit, or yet limitat him perforce within or without these circles. For it is he onelie, the father of all lyes, who hauing first of all prescribed that forme of doing, feining himself to be commanded & restreined thereby, wil be loath to passe the bounds of these injunctiones; aswell [sic] thereby to make them glory in the impiring ouer him (as I saide before:) As likewise to make himselfe so to be trusted in these little thinges, that he may haue the better commoditie thereafter, to decieue them in the end with a tricke once for all; I meane the euerlasting perdition of their soul & body.
"The father of all lyes": the phrase was useful, since it encouraged the belief that, like nearly everything else the Devil said, his explanations of charms were deceptive. The causal result of enchanting was merely damage to the witch's soul. The rest of the evil was done not magically but quasi-naturally, by means known to devils though seeming marvelous to the more limited human intelligence.
The same explanation appears in other writers whose minds were even less critical. Guazzo, whose Compendium in long stretches is a compilation of the mostly wildly impossible stories, nevertheless affirms that demons are never constrained by rites or incantations but pretend to be in order to deceive and catch men. The less gullible Gifford, whose Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes throws gentle scorn on many current beliefs, says of the Devil that
God giueth him power sometimes to afflict both men and beastes with bodily harmes: If he can, he will doe it, as intreated and sent by Witches, but for Vs to imagin either that their sending doth giue him power, or that he would not doe that which God hath giuen him leaue to doe, vnlesse they should request and send him, is most absurd.
Boguet, although convinced like Remy and Guazzo that witch trials must be prosecuted vigorously, asserts that "For the most part the witch has only the intent to harm, whilst Satan actually performs that which he would have done." Although witches' poisons are sometimes really harmful, Satan "only works by secondary and natural causes." The beating of water or the throwing of powder either does not produce hail or does so naturally, as a mixture of saltpeter with alum produces clouds and causes thunder and lightning. Ointments and unguents do not cause transformations into the forms of beasts or permit flight through the air but merely stupefy. The words of a conjuration "are no more than a symbol of the pact between the witch and Satan." No injury can be caused merely by "looking," by touching, or by maltreating an image. Among the relatively fideist authors, once more, Thomas Erastus concurs. Although the sorcerers are wrong in believing that conjurations have intrinsic power to constrain and in thinking that devils can give potency to materials and actions which by nature have no malevolent force, nevertheless they deserve to be punished because they furnish occasions to real devils to do ill. The comparatively measured and sensible Delrio, who belongs to the middle group of limited believers in witchcraft, is also in accord. Thaumaturgy can "do nothing which is repugnant to the nature of things." If a bronze head of Albertus Magnus spoke, as rumor reported, "he spoke in the head who established oracles in the statues of idols: who was only an evil spirit." The authors were, indeed, virtually unanimous on the point. Gian-Francesco Pico, who read thoroughly before writing his attack on astrology but had not done his homework on witchcraft, is one of the few exceptions. And when so much was granted, the whole elaborate mythology was undermined at the base and would topple as soon as belief in the Devil ceased.
A second denial which formed part of the sophisticated theory had to do with delusions. Tricksters (praestigiatores), said Godelmann, "charm and deceive the eyes of men, by Satan's help, with incantations and illusions, so that they do not see things as they really are but think they see what is not there. These are properly called enchanters (Zauberer.)" Once achieved, this insight too spread through the whole area of inquiry and threatened to convert all the occult phenomena into sleight-of-hand or a kind of hypnosis.
How this worked can be seen in the discussions of physical transformation and of transvection. The two subjects will be considered separately.
The popular belief was that witches often turned themselves into cats, wolves, and other animals, sometimes in order to enter houses undetected, sometimes to make aerial voyages to the Sabbats, and sometimes for the purpose of killing or injuring their enemies' livestock. The theologians and jurists mostly agreed that the changes were only apparent. According to Guazzo, "no animal's soul can inform the human body, and no human soul an animal's body." The transformation of Diomede's companions into birds was really a rapid substitution, as when a hind was made to replace Iphigenia. Scot quotes in the margin "Hermes Trismeg. in suo Periandro" (for Pimandro) and writes in the text: "And yet Hermes Trismegistus thinketh he hath good authoritie and reason to saie: Aliud corpus quàm humanum non capere animam humanam; nec fas esse in corpus animae ratione carentis animam rationalem corruere." Molitor demonstrates by means of authorities and a wild story that transformations of people into animals are mere appearance; and he gives as an instance the deluding of our senses in dreams and delirium. Boguet gives a long series of tales about transformations and then reverses his field to say, "Nevertheless it has always been my opinion that Lycanthropy is an illusion, and that the metamorphosis of a man into a beast is impossible." The reasoning soul given to man by God cannot enter an animal, and it is impossible to believe that the soul is restored when human shape is resumed because in the interval the soul would have no residence. What really happens is either that Satan "leaves the witch asleep behind a bush, and himself goes and performs that which the witch has in mind to do," causing her afterwards to think that she has done it, or, more frequently, "it is the witch himself who runs about slaying: not that he is metamorphosed into a wolf, but that it appears to him that he is so." Hence the fatigue which the witch feels afterwards. Nevertheless the witch is guilty, for he either has committed the crime or has wished to; and he never would have had the wish if he had not first renounced God and heaven.
The same arguments appear in other treatises. Remy affirms that "it is not in the power of the Demon to effect any such matter.… For what madness it is to believe that anything which has been formed and created can destroy and overturn as it pleases the most excellent work of Him who created it." The man can believe himself changed, and so will act as if he were the animal; or the demon can deceive the observer. At most Remy will admit that a witch can have the swiftness, strength, and ravenous appetite of, say, a wolf, so that the appearance may "differ but little from actuality." Yet even this admission comes hard. The opinion of Joannes Althusius is the same: "I ask whether we shall think the deeds done by themselves or by the Devil when they confess that they have transformed themselves into wolves or other savage beasts?" The answer is that only God can change forms and essential properties. Even Pico sides with the majority here. His Fronimo, who can swallow a great deal, at last gets round to admitting that such transformations as those described by Homer and Apuleius are devilish deceptions and not actual.
Skepticism about transvection, or the power of witches to fly to distant places through the air, was less common. Remy says that witches sometimes really travel to the meetings either on foot or supernaturally, but sometimes they only dream or imagine they have been present. What is impossible is that the witch's soul should attend while her body remains in bed. (That this could be done was an article of the popular faith—a product, no doubt, of the fact that husbands rarely found themselves sleeping alone.) Whether the soul could leave the body, or the witch, by some "glamor" or illusion, could make a pillow or an armful of straw impersonate her during her absence, is frequently discussed in the treatises. On the whole, Remy concludes, "The commonest practice of all witches is to fly up the chimney," notwithstanding the smallness of the aperture, and to proceed in a basket, or on a reed, or broom, or pig, or bull, or dog, or forked stick, to the rendezvous. The authors of the Malleus have no doubts at all. In a passage already quoted they ask, "Did not the devil take up Our Saviour, and carry Him up to a high place, as the Gospel testifies?" They counter the argument that a spirit is unable to move a physical body by reminding readers that "the highest bodies, that is, the stars, are moved by spiritual essences" (the Intelligences). Boguet also cites the incident of the pinnacle and mentions transvections of "St. Philip, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, Elijah, Enoch, St. Antide Archbishop of Besançon, St. Ambrose, Pythagoras, the Philosopher of Tyana, and countless others." Guazzo too is on the side of faith. The witch transports herself "on a cowl-staff, or a broom, or a reed, a cleft stick or a distaff, or even a shovel" after she has anointed herself with an ointment made "chiefly from murdered children"; or she may ride on an ox, a goat, or a dog. He also believes in the simulacra. Those who doubt all this, he remarks severely, "certainly sin in lack of reverence to our Mother the Church." Yet some did doubt, and by doing so contributed further to the final breakup of the entire conceptual syndrome.
Molitor, with Sprenger and Kramer one of the earliest writers, is already skeptical: quick journeys over great distances to the Sabbats are illusions even if shared by the witches. Godelmann's view is the same: he thinks that stories of flights through the air are fables, and the unguents which are said to make transvection possible merely put the magicians to sleep. Further, witches cannot pass through cracks and crevices. The best summary of attitudes is perhaps that although confessions drawn from accused persons by torture or heavy psychological pressure inhibited disbelief in the Sabbats themselves, and the Sabbats, being large assemblies, could not be held near every witch's home, so that some means had to be accepted of rapid transportation over distances, doubt of transvection had begun and was to spread along with disbelief in the rest of the alleged phenomena.
Another subject often discussed in the treatises is copulation between enchanters and demons. As succubus—the term succubo is rarely used, presumably because devils were thought actually to be sexless—the devil might receive a warlock's semen. Afterwards he became an incubus and discharged the semen into the body of a witch. Few theorists believed that devils themselves produced semen. They were disembodied spirits without corporeal substance. (Hence the generation of a true devil's child in a recent film, Rosemary's Baby, runs quite counter to informed Renaissance opinion.) At most, accordingly, the devils helped in the generation of illegitimate children. Even so much as this is frequently denied, for reflection tended to raise serious questions.
Sprenger and Kramer, writing at the beginning of the witchcraft scare, credit the popular belief. Guazzo proves the reality of succubus in his usual way by citing Plato's Cratylus, Philo, Josephus and "the Old Synagogue," St. Cyprian, St. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and others. "But a more substantial proof," he adds, "is to be found in S. Jerome on Ephesians vi, and S. Augustine (Civ. Dei. xv, 23), who is followed by the consensus of all Theologians, and especially by S. Isidore, chap. 8. The same belief is championed in the Bull of Pope Innocent VII I against witches." How could a good Christian doubt? The Devil, however, cannot produce semen but can only carry it, keeping it warm during transportation. Other authorities accept the reality of copulation but deny the power even of secondhand generation. According to Boguet, the icy coldness of the Devil's semen prevents conception. Remy cites the coldness of the Devil's penis and the witch's fear and pain as preventing fertility. Moreover, the mind derives not from the semen but from God, whose co-operation would be necessary to the generation of a human being. The birth of monsters, often thought to result from such unholy unions, he believes a consequence of "some excessive activity" of the mother's imagination, as in the case of the spotted sheep produced by ewes which had had Jacob's wands before their eyes. As for the body used by the demon in coitus, Remy thought it was probably "either the corpse of a dead man, or else some concretion and condensation of vapours." Boguet opts for the second possibility, which, he explains, should "not seem strange, if it is considered that the vapours which rise from the earth very often seem to us to take the form of men or animals."
Although a few writers, among them Godelmann, thought that the intercourse with demons was imaginary, opinions like these dominate in the treatises. The witches admitted intercourse with demons, in the later documents often professing it to be acutely painful; popular opinion supported it, the Fathers affirmed it. And yet there were problems. The notion that a dead body was resucitated for the purpose apparently was not found attractive, and the alternative hypothesis involving the "concretion and condensation of vapours" may have led to or corroborated the notion that the Devil's penis and his semen were icy cold and therefore unsuitable for generation. In any event, most of the theorists agree that demons are infertile. Molitor urged this view as early as 1489. The magician Merlin, often thought to have been a devil's child, was, he says, an ordinary infant who was stolen from his parents and made to appear as the child of a woman in whom a false pregnancy had been induced. Had not Galen said that semen is unproductive if it is not accompanied by "an emanation from the heart" which "measures the fire of love"? The English dramatist Thomas Heywood, in his Life of Merlin, makes the same suggestion but qualifies it in a way he might not have found necessary if he had been better read in witchcraft. Merlin's father is doubtful, his mother certain; probably he was conceived normally, his mother concealing the father's identity in order not to endanger him. But some believe that Merlin "was conceived by the compression of a fantastical spiritual creature, without a body," and this is not impossible. Plato's mother is said by Speusippus, Elearchus, and Amaxilides to have conceived after "congression with the imaginary shadow of Apollo," and in the De Socratis Daemone it is affirmed that spirits inhabit the moist air between the earth and the moon and sometimes, in envy of men, take human shape as incubi and generate children called by the Romans Fauni and Sicarii, as Augustine has remarked in his De Civitate. On the whole, however, the tendency was to preserve faith in demonic intercourse while denying the possibility of issue. And this again marks a stage in the development of incredulity.
Similarly quasi-rationalistic explanations were evolved for fortune-telling in all its permutations. Predictions of the future do not depend on instruments or cabalistic rites but on demons. Vairo stated the principle succinctly: "Certain hidden and future things are foreknown not through the power of keen imagination but with the help of daemons." As Remy pointed out, only God knows the future. Demonic predictions are presentiments or conjectures, or foretell events the demons themselves will produce, or are early pronouncements of happenings which have occurred at a distance. The demon sees the event, rushes at superhuman speed to another locality, and announces it as about to happen. Gifford extends the explanation to weathermagic: this is performed not in order to produce a tempest but when a tempest is known to be impending. Oddly, I have run across no extended discussion of predictions in relation to free will. One would have supposed that this problem, so painfully argued out in connection with God's foreknowledge, would have been relevant also to fortune-telling. The reason it was not thought so may have been the limited credence granted by scholars to all the varieties of predictions. Because devils had possessed extraordinary knowledge as angels and had not forfeited all of it by their fall, and because also they had been able, individually, to watch human beings and observe the universe from the beginning, they were better able than men to guess what might occur in the future. Further, they had shrewd insights into human intentions, they could announce as impending some action they had themselves determined to perform, and by reason of their swift motion they could pretend to foretell events that had already happened, just as by scouting about invisibly they could discover the whereabouts of a lost object and enable a witch to predict where it would be found. They did not, however, really foreknow. Hence the riddling nature of many of their pronouncements.
Much the same line was followed in discussions of apparitions of the dead. Guazzo, as usual less doubting than most of the theorists, insisted that "the souls of the departed can and do at times appear to the living." He instances the appearance of Christ to Peter when that disciple was fleeing persecution and adduces the authority of Ambrose, Dionysius the Areopagite, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Cyprian, Surius, Pope Adrian I, St. Gregory of Tours, St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, Nicephor, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianus, and St. Augustine. "To conclude shortly," he adds, "there is unlimited authority on this matter"; and he ends by citing theologians like Richard de Middleton, Peter of Palude, Scotus, Denys the Carthusian, Dominic Soto, Peltanus, St. Peter Canisius, and Gregory of Valencia. But we need not believe that the appearances are frequent. None the less his opinion was not that of the majority.
The more usual view was stated by Remy when he affirmed that except by the special permission of God devils do not really raise the dead but impersonate them or make their corpses move as if alive. Godelmann agrees that Satan is incapable of performing resuscitations, an act of which only God is capable. Even Guazzo advises his readers that apparent spirits are often phantoms: "In S. Clement of Rome we also read much concerning Simon Magus: that he made a new man out of air, whom he could render invisible at will." An English reader may think of such Spenserian spirits as the false Una contrived by Archimago. In Protestant countries an indisposition to believe in the return of dead souls was strengthened by a promulgation of the London convocation in 1562, that "The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory … is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture but rather repugnant to the word of God." If the souls of the dead were at once received into Paradise or Hell their return to earth was unlikely.
The longest and most heavily documented treatment of apparitions is by Ludwig Lavater, a German Lutheran who first wrote in the vernacular and then produced an expanded version in Latin. An English translation by "R.H." to which I have not had access was published in 1572. The book is learned, intelligent, but, on the basis of innumerable authorities, affirmative, only insisting that the spirits, although sometimes real, are not usually those of dead men but are "good or evil angels, or other arcane and occult operations of God." The reason they appear is that by means of them God exercises the faithful and punishes the faithless. Yet they are often illusions—the fantasies of melancholics or madmen, misapprehensions of imperfect senses, the result of a fright induced by other men, or impersonations by priests or monks undertaken for some such ulterior purpose as access to a desirable woman. Common people, again, often mistake natural objects for specters. Since the work is rather about apparitions than about witchcraft it cannot detain us longer. Yet it connects with tractates on witchcraft and in its skepticism as well as in its credulity is a typical product of its time.
It must be understood that, like the appearance of bad angels as specters, all the activities of demons are "permissive." This thesis runs through virtually all the treatises. Molitor insists that devils can do nothing without God's will. Godelmann tells us that the imprecations, charms, and poisons used to injure or destroy cattle and men are sometimes effective through God's permission. Remy explains the turning to worthless objects of gold given to witches by demons as resulting from God's denial to devils of the power actually to enrich. Guazzo, in a passage more than usually difficult for a modern reader to follow, gives this as the last of seven reasons why God allows the Devil to "Busy Himself with witchcraft": "It shows His power. For although He allows the demon to effect the greater marvels, such as turning water into blood (Guazzo is thinking of the competition between Moses and Pharaoh's magicians), He does not permit him to accomplish smaller things, such as the generation of gnats." One gathers, rather uncertainly, that the greater feats are allowed for special purposes but that, contemptuously, the devils are frustrated in trivial undertakings that might give them pleasure. The general lines of speculation about infernal power are nevertheless clear. Admission that the devils performed evil against God's will would have implied a Manichaean dualism, a heresy which had long been refuted. Although I do not recall that they were often cited, the Bible also contained a number of texts about how God had hardened the hearts of bad men in order to drive them further into iniquity. Divine rulership over the universe had to be maintained at all costs.
Much else in the treatises might form part of a longer analysis. Was it, for example, or was it not, legitimate to obtain the help of white witches or "wise men" in resisting charms and curses? Opinion was divided. Godelmann urged, against Paracelsus and others, that magical cures were also of the Devil and therefore illicit. Delrio believed that all magical effects required a pact with the Devil, either explicit or implicit, and hence were forbidden. On the other side, Remy argued that countermagic used by a witch against her own charms was licit if instead of being cajoled or bribed she was forced by threats or violence to help. The Devil would not then be honored but forced to work against his own ends. Boguet agreed with the majority: "It was therefore well said by St. John Chrysostom that it is better to die than to seek the help of the Devil or witches to be cured." There is also protracted discussion of the efficacy of the sign of the Cross, naming Christ, sprinkling holy water, and using other rites of exorcism. In general, the Protestants thought such practices "Popish" and superstitious; but among the Catholics too there were many who believed them to be rather aids to faith than magically efficacious. Again, a separate section might be written on the disputed question whether a witch's powers ceased upon her arrest. Their disappearance would of course have encouraged justices and torturers and was often affirmed, but many instances are reported of visitations to the prisoner by demons and even of cohabitation with them in the cells. The present summary of the official theory is, therefore, very far from exhaustive. My intention has been partly to offer a general overview of what witchcraft was thought to be like but more centrally to illustrate the mental processes em-bodied in the scholarly documents.
The basic weakness of the reasoning, obviously, is the reliance placed upon "authorities," which made the rooting out of misconceptions a slow and difficult undertaking. The oftener the traditional stories were repeated the stronger the "proof" became. If Sprenger and Kramer, for example, picked up a tale from the life of one of the early saints and Guazzo borrowed it from them, it acquired the support of a fourth author. The next user became a fifth, a still later writer a sixth, and so on indefinitely, until the list acquired an apparent solidity that made disbelief next to impossible. The essential step of doubting the initial witness, of asking "How did he know?" and "Didn't he perhaps misinterpret the evidence?" began gradually to be taken—we have noticed honorable instances—but could not quickly become widespread and almost instinctive. In the typical treatise a belief in the theoretical possibility, if not the next-door actuality, of witchraft was forced both by the theological premises and by the feeling, still far from uncommon, that what has been repeated throughout all history and over the whole of the known world could not be wholly false. So the long delusion not only continued but, as the prosecutions multiplied, grew in intensity and practical consequences. Yet the beginnings of a healthier attitude are clearly visible in the treatises, superstitious as many of them are, and in the long run was to lead to the abandonment of stupidities which only now, in the backwash of an anti-rationalist rebellion against hard factual knowledge, are once again beginning to be credited by people who should know better.
In the meantime writers whose minds we continue to find attractive shared the deplorable errors. Sir Thomas Browne's acceptance of the existence of witches is well known: and this despite his Pseudodoxia epidemica, a long work directed against popular beliefs. Martin Luther's credulity about witches was unbounded: it cannot be denied, he said, that the Devil lives and reigns in the whole world. According to K. M. Briggs [in Pale Hecate's Team, 1962], Thomas Fuller was a believer, and Sir Walter Raleigh distinguished between theurgy and witchcraft by asserting that whereas the theurgist or nec-romancer commanded the Devil, witches obeyed him. Joseph Glanville's A Blow at Modern Sadducism in Some Philosophical Considerations about Witchcraft (4th ed. 1668) is "concerned for the justification of the belief of witches, it suggesting palpable, and current evidence of our Immortality." Richard Baxter's Certainty of the World of Spirits (1691) shows that at the end of the seventeenth century a reasonable and charitable man could persevere in the delusion. As late as July 11, 1711, Joseph Addison was able to write, "I believe in general that there is, and has been such a thing as Witch-craft; but at the same time, can give no Credit to any particular Instance of it." We are reminded of Dr. Johnson's attitude toward ghosts. As for popular interest in witches during the High Renaissance in England, its extent is suggested by Robert Reed's discovery [in The Occult on the Tudor and Stuart Stage, 1965] that more than seventy Elizabethan and Jacobean plays have to do with the supernatural. Although the occult of course includes more than witchcraft, the role of witch-craft in the plays is important enough to justify Reed's inclusion of a chapter on "Origins of English Witchcraft and Demonology."
Other men of course took a different view. Jerome Cardan, who believed in demons and was an enthusiastic astrologer, nonetheless was essentially skeptical about witchcraft. John Selden refused faith. So too did Gabriel Harvey. Montaigne objected to the prosecutions: "How much more naturali and more likely doe I finde it, that two men should lie, then one in twelve houres, passe with the windes, from East to West? … When all is done, it is an over-valuing of ones conjectures, by them to cause a man to be burned alive." Less well-known men also refused assent to the prevailing opinion. Arthur Wilson, steward to the Earl of Warwick, says of eighteen witches condemned in Essex in 1645, "I was at Chensford at the trial and execution of eighteene women. But could see nothing in the evidence which did perswade me to thinke them other than poore, mellencollie, envious, mischevous, ill-disposed, atrabilus constitutions."
Such disavowals, when public, no doubt did something to help sway opinion. No real substitute existed, however, for hard intellectual argument. This was begun and carried on, all over Europe, in treatises like those we have looked at; and ultimately, except in cultural backwaters, the battle for sanity was won. For a very long time, however, a faith in witchcraft remained possible for wise, learned, and well-intentioned men. It disappeared only when the skepticism which pushed back the responsibility for magical results from formulas and operations to the Devil himself left to be denied only a single pre-assumption. "Gut responses," where the delusion had its ultimate source, then began to be distrusted, if not by everyone, at least by the fashioners of a modern world which, for all its imperfections, is free at least from the blood-chilling cruelties sketched at the beginning of this discussion.
Gaμmini Salgaμdo (essay date 1977)
SOURCE : "White Magic and Black Witches," in The Elizabethan Underworld, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1977, pp. 79-96.
[In the essay below, Salgaμdo examines the varying social responses to white and black witchcraft in Elizabethan England.]
The medieval Catholic Church laid claims to many powerful kinds of magic which touched the lives of its members at every point. There was the magic of confession and absolution which assured the sinner in a voice of unshakeable authority that his transgressions were forgiven. There was the magic of conjuration and consecration by which ordinary materials and objects—oil, water, salt, crosses, rings, pieces of paper—could be invested with the power of God so that they protected the wearer from evil and misfortune. There was the magic of exorcism and healing whereby tormenting demons were cast out by the priest using the divine power granted to the true Church and the sufferer made whole again. And the magic of the sacraments gave shape and sustenance to a man's life, particularly the crucial sacrament of the Mass in which the bread and wine were truly and magically transformed into the body and blood of the Redeemer.
This magic was not of course the invention of the Catholic Church. In most cases it had taken over and adapted for its own purposes folk beliefs whose beginnings are beyond the reach of history. The Church in its wisdom saw that these beliefs prevailed because they fulfilled a deep and abiding need in the lives and minds of those who held them. In a world where for most people life was hard and precarious, where natural disaster was often both savage and inexplicable, the teachings of the Church may have offered an explanation which reconciled men to their misery, but its ritual magic held out the promise of power to alter their condition. If on any given occasion the magic failed, the failure could always be blamed on some defect in the performance or in the spiritual condition of the supplicant, not on the magic itself. An d unlike science, in which one failure blots out the impact of a thousand successes, one apparent magical triumph cancelled out innumerable failures. The magic remained all-powerful and inexhaustible. The Catholic Church simply insisted that its source was always and only God. It did not try to beat folk beliefs to the ground; it merely joined them to its own vast and intricate system.
With the coming of the Reformation this faith was formally replaced in England by another brand of Christianity which differed from it in many important ways. We may sum up these differences in a single phrase by saying that the Church of England almost literally took the magic out of Christianity. It did its best to deny its flock access to these magical resources and certainly claimed no magical powers for itself. It abolished auricular confession and was opposed to exorcism and conjuration. In general it took the view that consecration was not an operation by which the actual nature of objects—oil, water, wine, bread or whatever—was miraculously transformed, but only an act by which certain articles were dedicated to the worship of God. From this it followed that no particular object, whether it was a cross, Bible or anything else, nor any particular form of words had magical power in itself. The sacrament of the Mass had to be understood symbolically, like all other rituals; the bread and wine did not actually change into flesh and blood. Feeding a horse on holy bread and water could not prevent it from being stolen. Prayers were not infallible charms but humble supplications to God which He might heed or not, in His divine wisdom and mercy. If God looked with favour on a man, he would prosper. If he did not prosper, then he should look closely into his own life, discover where he had gone astray and strive to mend his ways and please God. Constant prayer and strenuous effort were what the Protestant Church advocated. That was the true religion, and it had nothing to do with magic.
This new, official view offered cold comfort to the labouring poor. If a man's son died or his cattle were stricken, it was no real solace to be admonished to examine himself more closely and pray harder. God might be testing him or punishing him, but under the new dispensation there was virtually nothing he could do about it in either case. He was strictly forbidden to try and change God's mind and thereby alter his own state by having recourse to magic. But the need that was supplied by magic did not disappear just because of a fiat of the new Church. The conditions that gave rise to magical beliefs—the threat of sudden disaster from a hostile environment and the hope of some sort of control over it—still persisted, and if the Church no longer provided the magic, ordinary folk would look elsewhere for it. There is good reason to think that even before the Reformation, the mass of people was not particularly reverent as far as their attitude to the official teaching of Christianity was concerned. Many only went to church for the rituals of baptism, marriage and burial, as many do today. As for the behaviour of the congregation, this seemed to have been little different from their behaviour in a playhouse—they drank, spat, heckled the preacher and swore with little regard to their surroundings. What was important about the Catholic Church seems to have been not so much its official doctrine, but its claims to powerful magic. When these claims were implicitly withdrawn by the Elizabethan Church, they were taken up by other men and women who held out the same promises and offered the same services that the Catholic Church had earlier provided. These people were variously called 'cunning men', 'wise women', 'blessers', 'charmers', 'conjurors', 'sorcerers' or 'witches' and were familiar in virtually every village community in Elizabethan England.
'At this date' wrote Reginald Scot in 1584, 'it is indifferent to say in the English tongue "she is a witch" or "she is a wise woman".' Scot was an educated and humane observer, anxious to expose the so-called miracles claimed by the Catholic Church as well as to save harmless old women from the monstrous accusations of witchcraft often brought against them. As such it was no part of his purpose to draw a clear distinction between 'black' and 'white' magic. But we shall see that in the popular mind the difference was quite clear, because the white or 'blessing' witch served a very different psychological and social function from the maleficent or black witch. The same person could sometimes change from one to the other, but this did not alter the basis of the distinction.
The white witch could be of either sex, a cunning man or a wise woman. Both the Protestant and the Catholic Church condemned them, the former because it did not believe in 'good' magic, the latter because the white witch threatened its own magical claims. In some ways the white witch was a greater threat to the Church's authority than the black witch because his or her services were called upon more often. But here again we find the usual contrast between official theory and grass-roots activity. In 1583, the churchwardens of Thatcham in Berkshire sent for a cunning woman to find out who had made off with the communion cloth from the church, and in the previous year an Essex cunning man, Miles Blomfield had been chosen as churchwarden. There are also several instances of clergymen themselves practising white magic during this period.
The cunning man or wise woman was very often an ordinary member of the village community who occupied a definite place in it and whose magical activities were only a side-line. Unlike in some primitive societies today, the role was not hereditary. Indeed it is difficult to understand just how one established a claim as a white witch. Sometimes being the seventh son of a seventh son or having some special distinguishing mark or quality such as a prominent birthmark or protuberant eyes could help. The initial requirements seem to have been simply a certain amount of self-confidence together with the ability to make one's claims plausible; the latter would naturally be vastly enhanced by a successful miracle or two. Given the kind of situation in which he was consulted and the conditions within which he worked, it is no surprise to find that the cunning man had an impressive degree of success.
One great appeal of the cunning man was the comprehensiveness of his range. His magic could be harnessed to the service of any situation which his clients were likely to come across. There were charms to encompass everything, from getting rid of impotence to getting rid of rats. There were charms to banish toothache or protect one in battle, to win at dice or at love, to safeguard cattle from lightning or disease or make children sleep, to make corn grow or develop a person's musical abilities. An ever-popular commodity was the love potion, used by clients in all walks of life; a sinister variant of this was the draught of poison such as that which Dr Suckling's wife wanted the wise woman Mary Woods to brew in Norwich in 1613 to be administered to the doctor himself. If a woman wanted to know why her child had come out in sores or whether she would live longer than her husband or why her butter wouldn't turn, the cunning man or wise woman could not only tell her, but nearly always what to do about it as well. Among the most frequent services they rendered was the healing of sickness in human beings and animals. As a good many of their remedies were based on country herbs and practical psychology, it is at least possible that the white witch brought about more cures than a doctor who based his science on the theory of humours and who would often bleed a patient as soon as look at him. In any case there was a shortage of physicians at this time, especially in rural England. The white witch's charms and concoctions at least had the great merit of being fairly painless prescriptions—and their fees were usually much lower than those of the physicians.
The finding of lost or stolen goods and livestock was another of the white witch's skills very much in demand. For a poor peasant owning no land, the loss of a few sheep or a cow could be a very serious blow, and it was just the sort of misfortune which occurred fairly frequently. A rarer and more positive aspect of the search for lost goods was the search for buried treasure. This was an activity in which the cunning man was often assisted by a 'familiar' or spirit in animal form which he sometimes carried about within a ring or mirror; the familiar was necessary to exorcize the evil demon who usually kept watch over buried treasure; it is not perhaps surprising that nearly all efforts to locate buried treasure with the aid of the white witch failed.
Even walking on the water was not beyond the scope of the Elizabethan image, if the word of Thomas Ross is to be believed. In his Natural and Artificial Conclusions (1567), a little handbook so popular that no copies of the first two editions have survived, he gives the following instructions on
How to walk on the water, a proper secret: For to do this, take two little timbrels and bind them under the soles of thy feet, and at a stave's end fasten another, and with these you may safely walk on the water unto the wonder of all such as shall see the same: if so be you often exercise the same with a certain boldness and lightness of the body.
This admirably lucid and simple advice, however, carried less than total conviction to at least one contemporary reader, who has scrawled on the margin of a copy of the 1581 edition: 'and if you do not sink you shall be sure to go upon the water.'
Other usual activities of the cunning man were fortune telling and the making of weather forecasts with particular reference to the requirements of farming. Before the countryman entered on any important transaction, the marriage of his daughter or a distant journey for example, he would consult the white witch who would use his skill to advise him with an appropriate degree of ritual. And finally, the cunning man would be consulted by anyone who had reason to believe that he had come under the influence—through curse, evil eye, bodily contact or other means—of a black witch and wanted to have the evil removed.
The scope of the blessing witch's activities therefore extended as far as the magic of the old Church. He also often provided something of the larger-than-life theatricality which the earlier Church ritual contained. Clients were often shown into special rooms, suitably darkened and furnished with objects such as magic beads, images, crystal balls and mirrors which were intended to produce an atmosphere of credulous awe. Occasionally the witch would wear a special item of dress or ornament such as a shawl or chain with a cross in imitation of a priest; and he tried to build around himself the same atmosphere of austere purity which in theory at any rate, celibacy had given to the Catholic clergy. William Barckseale of Southampton, for example, prepared himself for the detection (sometimes successfully) of stolen goods by fasting and praying for three days.
In 1569, Edwin Sandys, Bishop of Worcester produced a list of magical practices prohibited by the Church which offers a glimpse of the bewildering variety of diagnostic techniques employed in the service of magic: 'charms to cure men or beast, invocations of wicked spirits; telling where things lost or stolen are become by key, book, tables, shears, sieves; looking into crystals or other casting of figures.' This is the baldest summary and it leaves out more methods of healing and divination than it includes. It would take several pages merely to catalogue all the recorded methods in any detail, but it is worth pausing to look at some of the most important methods as well as some of the most improbable ones.
In the absence of any highly developed notion of natural cause and effect, we need not be surprised that the diagnosis of disease was often based on the view that an evil spirit was lurking within the sick person's body and needed to be exorcised by charms, conjurations and similar rituals. After all, it was quite usual for physicians to attribute their failure with a particular patient to the presence of an evil demon inside that patient. If such demons did exist, they could only be overcome by a more powerful magic. For the white witch this came from the Christian God who was mightier than the devil and his minions. On this the witch and the Christian minister were in agreement. The dispute arose as to the methods by which God's power could be invoked and manifested. For the white witch believed that this could be done through the use of specially 'consecrated' objects and appropriate rituals. The first essential was to establish the presence of the malignant spirit within the affected person. A common method of doing this was to measure the patient's belt, girdle or similar item of clothing. The assumption was that the article would vary in size according to the condition of the patient by a kind of sympathetic transference. Thus Elizabeth Mortlock, a wise woman of Cambridgeshire, began operations with prayers, then measured the girdle of the suspected patient from elbow to thumb while invoking God to tell her whether the person con cerned 'be haunted with a fairy, yea or no'. If the answer was positive, the girdle would be shorter when she next measured it.
Other methods used were mainly methods of detection rather than of medical diagnosis. Bishop Sandys' list gives us some of the most usual ones. Many of the techniques were simple and required no special apparatus. Indeed, they were often practised by 'amateurs', though no doubt the cunning man dressed up the operation appropriately. One form of divination was done with a Bible and a key into the hollow of which each suspect's name was in turn inserted. The key was then put between the pages of the Bible. When the guilty person's name was inside the key, the Bible would begin to shake as soon as the key was inserted in it. Another equally simple and common method was divination by shears. For this, a sieve was pierced with a pair of shears which were then held by the point, with the sieve stuck in it. The name of each suspect was then mentioned, with the question whether he was guilty or no; when the culprit's name was mentioned, the sieve would begin to spin round. In another method clay balls containing suspects' names written on pieces of paper would be put in a bucket. The paper with the guilty person's name would unroll first. Other techniques were peculiar to a particular individual. Robert Harris of Maid-stone practised divination simply by staring into people's faces, and Joan Moores, if we are to believe her, could prophesy by listening to frogs croaking. Thus in 1594, Cuthbert Williamson's eyes ran tears when he stood before a 'forspoken' or bewitched person. An eye drawn on a wall was alleged to make the guilty person's eye water when he stared at it. Perhaps the most gruesome forms of diagnosis and detection were those involving corpses, skulls and earth from freshly dug graves, all of which were used in the dangerous (because forbidden on pain of death) practice of raising the spirits of the dead.
When we move from diagnosis to prescription, the modes of operation become even more bizarre. The most straight-forward remedies consisted of the utterance of certain magic spells, usually Christian prayers. We may see here the persistence of the notion that the language of religion had a special virtue which could be used for practical purposes. In 1528 Margaret Hurst described how she healed sick people by kneeling and praying for them to the Holy Trinity. She then prescribed five Paternosters, five Aves and a creed for nine consecutive nights, followed by three more Paternosters, three Aves and a Creed and so on. For the ague she prescribed herbs, to be taken with holy water and accompanied by specified prayers. Mad dogs and their victims could be cured by feeding them with charms written on paper, and sick horses with charms hung from their manes. A man possessed by the devil could be cured by releasing a live bat in the room, whereupon the bat would carry the evil spirit away with him. One remedy for pains in the head was to boil a lock of the sufferer's hair in his urine and throw it on the fire. Not all recommended cures were as drastic as those for Anthony Wood, who was told to jump in the river to drown the evil spirits that caused his ague, and few were as macabre as the cure for goitre—the victim had to be touched by the dead hand of a freshly hanged corpse. Compared to this, the cure practised by Katherine Thompson and Anne Nevelson in 1604—to put a white duck's bill into the patient's mouth and intone charms—seems quite innocuous. Sometimes the white witch 'took on' the patient's affliction and cured her in that way. What lay behind all the diagnosis and the remedies prescribed was a need for external reassurance and a habit of mind as far removed as it is possible to imagine from that which we think of as 'scientific'.
From the middle of the sixteenth century to about the middle of the seventeenth recourse to white witches (and the hunting down of black ones) seems to have been fairly persistent in England. In 1549 one William Wycherley, arrested as a sorcerer, estimated that there were five hundred like him in the country, while thirty-five years later Reginald Scot reckoned that there were less than a score of parishes without a wise woman or cunning man. We are told that in Elizabethan Essex a cunning man was never more than ten miles away from any countryman. Part of their success was due, as we have seen, to the fact that they fulfilled a genuine need; the cures they recommended—the 'natural magic' of herbs and minerals—genuinely did alleviate suffering. There would also have been a proportion of people whose ailments cured themselves, but for which the cunning man could take the credit. As for the identification of those who had wished evil upon clients or the recovery of stolen goods, a certain amount of lucky guessing has to be allowed for. But the chief reason for the white witch's success in this respect is undoubtedly that his client came to him not for information he himself did not possess but for some sort of external confirmation of his own suspicions. The first question the cunning man asked his client was invariably: 'Whom do you suspect?' In a closed village community the number involved was bound to be small and it would require no exceptional skill to discover who was the most likely suspect. In the nature of the case it would be difficult to prove that the identification was wrong—how did a person prove that he had not cursed someone? Finally, as I have suggested, success would count for a great deal but failure could always be attributed to factors which would leave the white witch's reputation undamaged.
The question 'whom do you suspect?' took on a much more sinister overtone when what was at issue was not who had stolen corn or butter but who had cast a spell on another. And yet, in England at least, the identification of 'black' witches often rested on matters as trivial as these. For the most striking thing about witchcraft in England compared to developments on the Continent was the smallness of scale and the triviality of the charges involved. The witches in Macbeth could cause tempests and help to murder a king, but the real life 'witches' of Elizabethan England rarely claimed to perform or were accused of performing such spectacular deeds. One witch did claim at her execution to have been responsible for all the frosts and bad weather for some years past, but generally most of the claims and the accusations were petty and personal. Twelve-year-old Agnes Browne was convinced that Joan Waterhouse had bewitched her by causing a black dog with an ape's face to haunt her; Agnes protected herself by uttering the name of our Lord. Margaret Harkett who was executed at Tyburn in 1585 picked peas from her neighbour's field and when asked to return them flung them down with a curse, after which no peas grew in his field. The wrath of a guardian demon apparently descended on one Peters of Devonshire and reduced him and his companions to ashes while they were digging for buried treasure. Philip Benny of Hereford knew that Mary Hodges was a witch because every night he saw her in her room making water in a dish and throwing it in the fire over crossed andirons. We are in an altogether different world from that described by the sixteenth-century Frenchman Jean Bodin who described a witches' sabbath where each witch, carrying a candle, kissed a huge black goat under the tail, while the devil commanded them to 'revenge or die'.
Indeed, disappointing as it may seem, it must be noted that as far as England is concerned, there is no evidence to suggest the existence of anything like an organized witch cult with covens, black sabbaths, midnight orgies and aerial transportation (a broomstick is mentioned only once in English witchcraft trials). What we do find are lonely old women living on the edge of poverty, often reduced to begging from their neighbours who looked on them with suspicion and resentment and whose guilty conscience probably troubled them a good deal. The fact that they were women is only to be expected because old women and childless widows were economically and socially the most vulnerable members of a small rural community. Often their only companions were a pet cat, a toad or a weasel. Sometimes they kept them in a pot of wool and called them affectionate names, Grizzell or Pyewacket or Sack-and-Sugar. These were transformed in the imagination of their accusers into their 'familiars' or puckrels, lent them by the devil to do his evil business. If in addition the lonely old woman had any distinguishing marks, a hump back or hair on her chin or a 'devil's teat' under her armpit, suspicion became near certainty; but once the accusation had been made a distinguishing mark was not difficult to find, nor was a familiar. For Matthew Hopkins, the notorious 'Witchfinder General' of the mid-seventeenth century, a mere fly settling on a suspect's shoulder was indubitably the suspect's familiar, and was strong evidence of her guilt.
If the activities of witches were local in scope, the proceedings against them were proportionately smaller in scale, compared to what happened on the Continent. Between 1558, when Elizabeth I came to the throne and 1736, when witchcraft ceased to be a statutory offence in England, some 513 charges of witchcraft were examined in the Courts of the Home Circuit, which comprised Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. There were 200 convictions and 109 persons were hanged. This is very different in scale from the 900 reported to have been burnt at the stake in Lorrain between 1580 and 1595 and the 1,000 at Como in the single year 1524. It has been suggested that one reason for the difference was that in England witches were generally tried for specific acts of evil against individuals, not, as on the Continent, for entering into a compact with the devil and thereby losing their immortal soul and becoming one of Satan's agents on earth. By a statute of 1542, witchcraft for the purpose of discovering treasure, injuring others or provoking un-lawful love was made a capital offence without benefit of clergy. In 1563, the first law against witchcraft of Elizabeth's reign made the use of witchcraft resulting in anyone's death an offence punishable by death. For practising witchcraft resulting in a person's bodily harm, the first offence carried a penalty of one year's imprisonment and the pillory; a second offence was punishable with death. The penalty for practising witchcraft to provoke unlawful love was one year's imprisonment and the pillory for the first offence and life imprisonment and forfeiture of goods for a subsequent one. In the first year of James I's reign the penalty for a second offence became death, James being a far more fierce opponent of witchcraft than Elizabeth. Conjuring of spirits was a felony in all three Acts and the Jacobean Act added for good measure the capital offence of taking up a dead body for conjuring. In this last Act we can perhaps see the influence of continental ideas about a compact with the devil, for covenanting with spirits is also specified as a felony. But the cases which came before the court were usually particular offences against named individuals, not vague accusations of liaison with the devil.
On a national scale, then, the impact of witchcraft on English life was probably not very great. A. L. Rowse is probably right to say that far more people were hanged in Elizabethan England for cutting a purse or stealing a sheep than for witchcraft. But we need to note that there was a continuous prosecution of witches in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, rather than any intensive witch-hunt (though there were years such as 1612 when multiple executions of witches took place in Lancashire and Northamptonshire). Furthermore it appears that certain areas, notably Essex, were more given to witch-hunting than others, though this may have been due partly to the fact that fuller records survive for that area than for some others, and partly to the zeal of a particular witch-hunter such as the Essex Justice of the Peace, Brian Darcy. But we should also remember that the information we have relates almost entirely to those cases of witchcraft that came before the courts; in the nature of things we cannot know how many allegations of witchcraft were settled outside the judicial system; it is reasonable to assume that they were at least as many as were brought before it.
We have glanced briefly at what black magic in England was not and also at the laws concerning it. It is time to take a closer look at what it usually was and what kind of impact it had on those who were involved in it. As we have seen, the accused persons tended to be old, single women who often went the round of the village begging from door to door. This was a very different practice to that of the vagrant beggars, because the 'witch' was already known to those she begged from. She might be refused on certain occasions for a number of reasons. Perhaps the man who refused her charity believed her to be a malingerer, perhaps he himself was going through hard times (or thought he was), perhaps he simply couldn't be bothered. Whatever the reason, it is easy to imagine a situation arising where the old woman went off muttering to herself or lay in wait for an opportunity to pilfer or both. If shortly afterwards the person concerned suffered some misfortune, especially if it was something sudden or mysterious, his thoughts would go to the old woman whom he had denied. Before he even went to the cunning man to find out how to mitigate his distress he would have a pretty good idea who had cast the evil eye or tongue upon him. In the words of George Gifford, an Essex parson who was, like Reginald Scot, an enlightened and humane enquirer into the phenomenon of witchcraft: 'A man is taken lame; he suspecteth that he is bewitched; he sendeth to the cunning man; he demandeth whom they suspect, and then showeth the image of the party in a glass.' In A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcrafts (1593) also by Gifford, one of the speakers admits that he cannot tell whether a witch has harmed him or not. His hog had died and so had five hens belonging to his wife. He may have displeased a certain old woman but he could not be certain. Not everyone in Elizabethan England was as forthrightly sceptical as the other speaker in Gifford's Dialogue who says roundly: 'The devil hath bewitched your mind.'
It is easy to understand why in a backward society some people would accuse others of witchcraft. As an explanation of sudden loss or suffering witchcraft had the great virtue of being an unfalsifiable theory, and a guilty conscience soon pointed the accusing finger at a known person. What is perhaps less easy to understand is why some people should claim powers of witchcraft for themselves. The risks were high—though perhaps lower in England than elsewhere because prosecutions were for specified acts of ill-will. But whatever the risks they were evidently felt to be worthwhile for there were many instances of people claiming to be witches, not all of them under duress. An extreme case perhaps was that of John Palmer who in 1649 confessed at St Albans to having transformed himself into a toad in order to torment one of his victims. Gifford cites the case of a butcher's boy who came out in sores; the cunning man learnt the suspect's name from the boy's father and advised the father to burn some of the boy's hair outside her house. When she returned, the suspected women asked the boy to scratch her face till it bled (drawing a witch's blood was a popular method of overcoming her evil power). When he did this his sores healed. In 1670 Joan Townsend even offered to turn girls into witches if they laid down before the church font and forswore their Christian name seven times.
Among the many motives which we may attribute to those who accused themselves of being witches, the materialistic desire to relieve poverty may have been the most important, just as it may have been for those who took to the road as vagrants. For an old woman living by herself in an Elizabethan village the difference between bare survival and barely tolerable misery may only have been a handful of peas, a bag of corn, or a few eggs. A reputation for witchcraft might, within limits, be a useful way of ensuring that her neighbours did not let her go without too often. Another reason which might persuade a woman without much company that she was a witch was a conviction of excessive sinfulness. It is not a long step for a recluse from a sense of unforgivable sin to the feeling that if the devil was going to have her soul anyway she might as well be of the devil's party and know it. But there could sometimes be a certain amount of confusion over this; a woman from Huntingdonshire who ended her days at the stake as a witch in New England confessed to having sold her soul to the devil in return for being able to pray more eloquently.
Related to the economic motive but distinct from it was the sense of power conferred on the witch by those who feared her. Again, the border-line between power feared and maleficence persecuted was a hazy one and the 'witch' herself could not always control the event or events which turned the community's violence against her. Perhaps a more powerful motive was the desire for revenge against a community which she felt had ill-treated her, on the part of someone to whom the usual means of revenge—the law, wealth, physical power, social standing and the like—were closed.
Once the suspect had been identified, it was not difficult to find evidence of her guilt. Apart from physical peculiarities already mentioned, which were invariably found, the alleged victim nearly always remembered at least one occasion when he had given offence to the 'witch' or might have done so. Others in the community would not be slow to come forward with corroborative evidence, for Elizabethan village life was harsh and those whose way of living differed from the set pattern of the majority were immediately regarded with suspicion. The 'witch' would be kept away from communal festivities—harvest ales, weddings and so forth—and then accused of harbouring a grudge for not being invited. And there would always be someone to say that he or she had seen the witch cursing—many lonely old women mumble under their breath—or perhaps a natural talent for swearing and cursing could in itself be a foundation for an accusation or conviction of magical powers; Sarah Brice of Hereford made a practice of kneeling in the churchyard when she felt the need to curse her neighbours.
When the complaint had been made and the suspect identified, the next stage was to obtain a confession from the accused person. Not every accused was as obstinate as Margaret Landish who in 1645 refused to confess that she was a witch and made 'a strange howling in the court to the great disturbance of the whole bench'. Though physical torture was hardly ever used in England to extract confessions of witchcraft (perhaps the accusers remained apprehensive to the end of the evil powers of the accused), the line between physical and psychological torture is notoriously difficult to draw. Witches were not hung by their feet or pressed with weights, though the custom of 'swimming' suspected witches was certainly practised in Elizabethan England. In this case the old woman was thrown into the water and pronounced guilty if she floated because this was a sign that the water, being the medium of baptism, refused to accept the evil one; if she drowned of course she was considered innocent—for all the good it did her.
Although an individual fanatic like Matthew Hopkins, the 'Witchfinder General' in the 1650s, was to anticipate modern methods of 'intensive interrogation' such as keeping suspects confined for long periods in uncomfortable positions and without food and drink, it is probable that most Elizabethan confessions of witchcraft were obtained by the psychological pressure put on the suspect. Consecrated bread which would choke a guilty witch, or boiling water or a hot iron which she could safely touch if she were innocent—these were still fairly straightforward ways of demonstrating the witch's guilt so that she confessed. Even more direct was the recommendation of one Zacharias, a cunning man of Hastings, who in 1593 advised sticking a knife in the buttock of an old woman suspected of bewitching a child. But the more usual process of extracting a confession is probably best illustrated by one of the most celebrated Elizabethan witch trials, that of Mother Samwell, her husband and her daughter, all three of whom were hanged for witchcraft in 1593. At first it was only the old woman who was accused of bewitching the children of Robert Throckmorton of Warboys in Huntingdonshire, in whose house she worked. The children broke out in fits at prayer time and screamed that Mother Samwell had bewitched them. The old woman very sensibly put down the accusation to 'pure wantoness' on the children's part, but soon the pressure began to build up; divines from Cambridge University came over to see her and the doctor whose treatment for the children was unsuccessful began to look on her with suspicion. One of the divines told the old woman in so many words that if she did not confess he himself would bring the wood and fire to see her burnt at the stake. When Lady Cromwell visited the children and scolded Mother Samwell, the latter answered back. Lady Cromwell grew ill, had bad dreams and died a year later. The old woman was arrested together with her husband and daughter. The woman who had earlier asked Lady Cromwell why she ill-treated her since she had done no harm now confessed that she had caused the lady's death—and she probably believed it. Earlier she had confessed to bewitching the children—'O sir I have been the cause of all this trouble to your children'—and her daughter was made to confess that she had been a party to the bewitching of Lady Cromwell—'as I am a witch and consenting to the death of Lady Cromwell, I charge thee come out of her'. As soon as the accused were hanged, all the children recovered. The worldly goods of the Samwells, worth some forty pounds in all, went to the lord of the manor, Sir Henry Cromwell.
It is probable that the courts in England were more lenient towards those accused of witchcraft than were the rural communities where they lived. Generally speaking, witch-hunts sprang from the grass roots, not as a result of pressure from those in authority. One of the speakers in Gifford's Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcrafts, a woman, says: 'I f I had but one faggot in the world, I would carry it a mile upon my shoulders to burn a witch.' We can get some idea of what it was like merely to be accused of witchcraft from the fate of Agnes Fenn, a ninety-four-year-old woman who in 1604 was punched, beaten, pricked and then stabbed in the face with a knife by a group which included Sir Thomas Grosse, gentleman. A 'witch' could be dragged bodily from her own house and kicked, beaten and scratched in the open street; the necessity of drawing blood usually meant that the physical assault was severe.
In discussing both black and white magic we are dealing with an area of Elizabethan life where the line between those who were genuinely believed to have, or believed themselves to have, magical powers and the legions of counterfeiters is almost impossible to draw, since an imposter could have just as much 'success' as a 'genuine' witch. But we can glance briefly at a few examples of fairly obvious fraud. Reginald Scot exposed the fraudulent practices of Mildred Norrington of Westwell in Kent who claimed, in fits of apparently demoniacal possession, that her mother, Alice, kept two devils in a bottle and had already bewitched two men and a child to death through them. Adam Squier, Master of Balliol College, Oxford (1571-80) was accused by a group of irate Somerset men of having sold them a 'fly' or familiar spirit guaranteed to win for them in any dice game at the third try. After this, they had lost all their money and land. Squier managed to hang on to his Mastership because he had friends in high places. Not so fortunate were Alice and John West whose 'several notorious and lewd cozenages' were exposed in a pamphlet of 1613. One of their claims was that they were the King and Queen of the Fairies and could bestow wealth and happiness at their pleasure. Some idea of their mode of operation can be gained from evidence given at their trial on charges of pretending to introduce Thomas Moores and his wife to elfin royalty:
They brought him into a vault, where they showed him two attired like the King and Queen of Fairies, and by them little elves and goblins, and in the same place an infinite company of bags, and upon them written 'This is for Thomas Moores', 'This is for his wife', but would not let him touch anything.
Their powers, however, were insufficient to save them selves from the pillory; Ben Jonson based a scene in his great comedy The Alchemist in part on their exploits. In another comedy The Devil is an Ass, Jonson drew some of his inspiration from the activities of John Darrel, a Puritan preacher, and one of the more spectacular charlatans in a period not notably lacking in them. Darrel had two doubtless laudable aims, to put the fear of God into atheists who disbelieved in devils and to show the world, now that the Church of England had renounced any claims to magic, that not only the popish priests could work miracles. His speciality was exorcism. He began by casting the devil out of a girl and followed this by casting out eight more devils. In Lancashire he exorcized demons out of seven people simultaneously. But his greatest success was at Nottingham with a young lad named Somers whom he had met at an alehouse at Ashby where Somers was playing and singing. Darrel displayed Somers in his fits, speaking with strange voices, foaming at the mouth and so forth. People came from miles away to see the possessed youth; some saw him speak with his mouth shut, others saw something running up his leg and into his mouth. The lad's belly under the coverlet swelled enormously and his movements and voice seemed totally out of his control. Popular excitement and enthusiasm were immense. To add to it Darrel discovered in Somers a talent for identifying witches. In Nottingham alone Somers pointed to thirteen, most of them the usual old widows. But it was all too much for Somers who finally confessed that Darrel had taught him the whole bag of tricks, including using black lead to cause foaming at the mouth. All Somers had wanted was to get out of serving his period of apprenticeship as a musician. Darrel tried valiantly to make out that the devil had possessed the lad and tempted him into dissembling, appearing in the guise of a large black dog (which a fellow Puritan preacher actually saw, if we are to believe him), but things were never quite the same again.
Even more intriguing is the case of Judith Philips, whipped through the City of London for defrauding a rich Hampshire man in Upper Samborne, near Winchester. Not satisfied with her first husband's meagre income, Judith Philips left him and set up as a cunning woman in Upper Samborne. Hearing that a rich and credulous farmer lived nearby, she made it her business to find out all she could about the man and his wife, including the fact that he was engaged in a lawsuit with a neighbouring landowner. She then went by night to the farmer's back garden and buried an angel and a silver sixpence under a hollow holly tree.
The next day the man's wife was sitting at her open front door when the cunning woman passed by and stopped to stare intently at her. When questioned, she said that the goodwife had a remarkably fortunate face. 'Have you not' asked Judith Philips 'a hollow tree standing near unto your house, with certain weeds growing about the root?' 'We have', was the answer, 'and what of that?' The cunning woman then asked to speak to the man of the house and was invited in. Again she gazed fixedly at the man's face and told him that she knew by certain signs on his forehead that he was involved in a lawsuit with some great man of the shire, and that he would win the case. This greatly heartened the farmer whose spirits were further raised when the cunning woman informed him that she could help him find much buried treasure that lay in his grounds if he undertook to defray her modest expenses. The farmer was naturally hesitant and wished to see some demonstration of Judith Philip's alleged powers. This was easily arranged. She took him by the hand and led him to the root of the hollow tree where, after some digging, he found the angel and the silver sixpence.
The man needed no more convincing. He promised to provide her whatever she needed for her operations, which included the substantial sum of fourteen pounds. The cunning woman then said: 'Now must I have the largest chamber in your house behung with the finest linen you can get, so that nothing about your chamber but white linen cloth be seen; then must you set five candlesticks in five several places in your chamber, and under every candlestick you must put an angel of gold.' All this was done. One further item was also supplied at Judith Philip's request, namely a brand new saddle with two girths.
All was now ready. The cunning woman ordered the couple to go into the yard and the man to get down on all fours. She then put the saddle on him, fastened it with the girths and rode him three times between the house and the holly tree. Her next commands were: 'Yo u must lie three hours one by another grovelling on your bellies under this tree, and stir not, I charge you, until I come back again; for I must go into the chamber to meet the Queen of Fairies and welcome her to that holy and unspotted place.' The cunning woman then went inside the chamber, made a neat pile of the linen, candlesticks and money, and vanished into the night, pausing only to drape herself in some of the linen and make a brief appearance as the Fairy Queen, chanting appropriate incantations to the hapless couple quaking in the cold outside.
When the farmer awoke to the reality of the situation, he was too abashed to let the truth be discovered by his neighbour. Judith Philips might have escaped scot-free had her victim not ridden post-haste to Winchester seven miles away where he revealed the matter to an influential kinsman who organized a hue and cry immediately as a result of which the Queen of the Fairies was caught in mid-career, as it were.
The witchcraft craze in England did not long survive the scientific scepticism of the later seventeenth century. At least as far as the courts were concerned, more stringent standards of proof began to be called for (one judge remarked that it was not a legal offence to fly through the air) and it was not long before it became impossible to recognize with certainty an act of witchcraft. But though sceptism, which had existed almost from the beginning, spread to the courts as the century progressed, it does not seem to have affected popular belief in witches and witch-craft, which survived well into the nineteenth century and is hardly dead today. The biblical injunction 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' continued to haunt the folk mind. Enlightened Christians like Reginald Scot tried to explain that this referred to those who secretly harmed their neighbours and those who deliberately pretended to have magical powers. They did deserve death. But others were either innocently accused or deceived themselves. Like Scot, Samuel Harsnet tried to expose both Popish and witchcraft 'miracles' for the frauds they usually were, while Gifford, as we have seen, thought the only witch-craft that really existed was that of the devil who bewitched the minds of the credulous. But though their humanity and scepticism finally triumphed in the courts and witchcraft trials dwindled in number and finally ceased, popular superstition lingered on: 'I f you read the executions done upon witches, you shall see such impossibilities confessed as none, having his right wits, will believe'. Scot's despairing words were to remain true for a long time to come.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 19885
Robert Rentoul Reed, Jr. (essay date 1965)
SOURCE : "Supernatural Intervention: Two Dramatic Traditions," in The Occult on the Tudor and Stuart Stage, The Christopher Publishing House, 1965, pp. 15-53.
[In the following essay, Reed demonstrates that the Elizabethan-Jacobean drama of supernaturalism evolved from the fusion of classical sources, and especially the plays of Seneca, with the medieval Christian theater.]
The English playwrights of the Renaissance, including Shakespeare, have appropriately been described as "mundane"; this evaluation, probably more than any other factor, has tended to make obscure the unparalleled extent to which they were preoccupied with the occult world. To them, of course, the occult had a reality and a substance that are difficult for modern minds to comprehend. Their interest in supernatural phenomena—an interest that far surpasses that of the secular playwrights of any other period in England—was not, as a matter of fact, inconsistent with their mundane impulse, and does not stamp them as mystics or dreamers. Their repeated employment of sorcerers, demons, and witches as indispensable motivators of their plots was in full keeping with the Elizabethan belief that the supernatural world and the earth were not, at all points, mutually exclusive. Heaven had receded to a remote distance, but not Hell—at least not yet. Black magic was feared as never before, because of its powers over human life. As an effect of the doctrine that linked the occult with the mundane, the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, worldly as they were in temperament, composed a secular genre of drama in which supernatural agents are among the principal characters; and even in a number of plays which lie slightly outside this genre a witch, a sorcerer, or a demon is an important, though not the dominant, motivator of the plot. The drama of super-naturalism, as composed by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, is characterized by degrees of intensity: thirty-one extant plays are in all essential respects homogeneous members of this genre; not less than forty others, even when we exclude plays that have ghosts in them, contain one or more important episodes common to it.
Of the plays that stress occult phenomena, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Greene's The Honorable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, and Dekker's The Witch of Edmonton, among many others, may be said to belong to the drama of supernaturalism. In each of these plays, one or more agents of the supernatural are the dominant motivators of the central plot. By contrast, tragedies such as Macbeth and Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois, although they emphasize occult phenomena, belong only in part to the drama of supernaturalism. In neither of these plays is an agent of the occult world the dominant figure. The prophecies of Shakespeare's three witches are, of course, important; but more crucial to the tragic action is Macbeth's "vaulting ambition," a worldly and not an occult phenomenon. A manifest fact remains: an essay on the supernatural elements of the Elizabethan-Jacobean drama cannot exclude a discussion of the three Macbeth witches; no pertinent merit attaches to the principle that they are not the major figures of the play. They are a part of the drama of supernaturalism even though the tragedy itself does not, in several of its aspects, answer to such a precise definition.
What may properly be called the drama of supernaturalism is, of course, as ancient as the tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides, whose plots were motivated largely by gods or avenging spirits. Among the ancient Greeks, however, and in western Europe of the late medieval period, when the drama of supernaturalism had regained forcible expression in the mystery and miracle plays, the stimulus behind it had been purely, or almost purely, religious. The case was quite different with the late Elizabethan and the Jacobean playwrights: they were motivated by secular rather than religious doctrine, and hence gave to the drama of supernaturalism a worldly color and a spirited genuineness that markedly differentiate it from its earlier forms. In Greek tragedy, and in England's mystery and morality plays, since they were products of religious doctrine, the god or demon who intervened among mankind was conceived not as a physical reality but mainly as symbolic of a superior power that governs or influences human affairs. Greek citizens who had witnessed an Artemis or a Dionysus being lowered onto the stage as the deus ex machina had no expectation of meeting the goddess or god in actual life. Likewise, in the English mystery play, the black-garmented and long-tailed Devil who packed a Herod, a Judas Iscariot, or an Antichrist off to Hell was intended customarily as a symbol of the demonic influence that had instigated the evil design of the victim. Satan, although granted embodiment, does not pretend that he dragged his victims into Hell or ever physically confronted them. He explains that he "entered into Judas"—meaning, of course, as a spirit. Of equal significance is the remark of one of the two devils, as they symbolically convey Antichrist into Hell: "Ere on earth he went, I was him within," that is, as a spirit without physical shape. A logical analysis of these episodes brings one to an obvious conclusion: for the purpose of dramatic presentation, the soul of the damned man is symbolized by the corpse; the devil, in turn, especially since there is no need of a physical force to carry a soul into Hell, is the embodiment of the malign influence that has assured the soul's damnation. This is not to say that some members of the medieval audience may not have ascribed a degree of reality to these demons; but it is doubtful that sober-minded persons expected to see the devil of religious concept—short-horned, long-tailed, cloven-footed—in actual life. If he had a physical existence—and in religious theory he was thought to have one—it was some place outside the circle of everyday society. The Elizabethans and Jacobeans, on the other hand, accepted the witch or the sorcerer whom they had seen upon the stage as the counterpart of very real witches or sorcerers whom they knew to exist, not in some far-off Heaven or less distant Hell, but in their own community. The drama that they had seen was secular and not religious, and therefore the supernatural elements in it—a conjuror attended by demons (who, according to secular theory, were thought to assume deceased human bodies) or the machinations of a familiar in the shape of a black dog—were as realistic and mundane to them as was London Bridge or the apprentice riots on Fleet Street.
To Tudor Englishmen, witches and demons were unquestioned actualities, called into doubt only by some apostate such as Reginald Scot. The infancy of witchcraft, of course, can be dated back to primitive times in almost every part of the world; the fear of witches, however, had never been, and was never again to be, so deeply embedded in English minds as it was in the second half of the sixteenth century. In almost every village there were reputed to be at least three or four witches; in several trials, as many as twenty were indicted in communities of no more than five hundred persons. Meantime, sorcerers, such as Dr. John Dee and Dr. Simon Forman, were known to call forth spirits out of crystals or, like Edmond Hartley, to bind them in conjuring circles; others, such as Archimago in The Faerie Queene or Thomas Allen in actual life, were reputed to have at their service demons in the form of flies or bees. Moreover, the fabulous story of Doctor Faust, or Faustus, which was to leave an ineffaceable mark on English literature, was almost totally the product of the sixteenth century. The historical Dr. Johannes Faustus (his Christian name was originally recorded as Georgius) had died in the year 1539; prior to his death he had been regarded by his German colleagues as a quack fortune teller and an ill-reputed master of legerdemain. But there had been sufficient bravado in his boasts that he could match the miracles of Christ or restore, if it were necessary, the works of Plato and Aristotle, to awaken emulation in the minds of his younger contemporaries. His fame as a superman was entirely posthumous: grossly exaggerated anecdotes of his command over demons were recorded as facts by Johannes Gast, Melanchthon, Johannes Manlius, and other historians. English minds were no less receptive than German to these "facts." To the Elizabethans' understanding, the full-length biography of Faustus, originally published in 1587, was a definitive history, not a legend; in consequence, when Marlowe dramatized it, he chose not to take the playwright's customary liberties of altering or unduly expanding the details of his source. To do so, in the Elizabethans' evaluation, would have been apostasy.
The earliest uses of supernaturalism that we encounter in the secular, or nonreligious, Elizabethan drama—as distinguished from the morality play, already in its decline—had nothing to do with the beliefs of ordinary Englishmen. Sorcerers and witches did not become important dramatic devices of supernaturalism until 1587 and later: in the meantime, the contemporary stage re-echoed to the bombast of Senecan ghosts and other infernal anachronisms. The dramatic authors in the years 1558 to 1587 were academics, usually residents of an inn of court or students at Oxford or Cambridge. The archives of their libraries, and not the village square or the county court-house, provided the material for their plays. Because they were unfamiliar with the great Grecian dramas, they sought out the ten tragedies ascribed to Seneca: in these tragedies they found a variety of supernatural devices, including Tiresias' conjuring of the reluctant ghost of Laius and the incantations of an aroused Medea. But what appealed to them most especially were the revenge ghosts which supernaturally motivate the plots of three Senecan plays—namely, Thyestes, Agamemnon, and Octavia. In the first of these plays they also took note of the vengeful fury Megaera, for whom, in their own tragedies, they sometimes substituted Até, the goddess of wrath.
The second tradition of supernatural intervention known to these student-playwrights was the Christian doctrine of demonic temptation and God-granted salvation; it had been depicted at intervals in both the mystery and the miracle plays and delineated with greater frequency in the subsequent morality plays. This tradition, despite the fact that it was native to medieval Europe, asserted no important influence on the regular—that is, the secular—Elizabethan drama until the 1580's; it was for the time being considered second-rate and confined largely to the morality interludes and to a few longer morality plays. The reason for this is clear: the English scholars' newly awakened admiration for the classics and classical doctrine precluded more than a casual interest in native literary traditions. The medieval morality play, with only a few exceptions, had dwindled to the morality interlude, a genre that was staged inconspicuously—at an inn of court or at the university—during the intermissions of a banquet or between the acts of a classicized tragedy of revenge. As a consequence of the slavish worship of ancient doctrine, the demons and the good angels of the morality plays were excluded from the new mode of regular drama in favor of two sixteen-hundred-year-old anachronisms, a goddess of wrath and a Roman ghost of vengeance. That both of these, in their classicized forms, were alien to English thought, as well as to the spontaneity of the native temper, was a matter of minor importance: as devices borrowed from the admired Seneca, they bore the stamp of intellectual acceptability.
Seneca had modeled his dramas upon those of the three most famous Greek tragedians: there were but two major elements that he failed to borrow from them, their genius and their religious motive. Of these two, only the latter is of concern here. In place of the sometimes thrilling paeans addressed to Zeus or one of the other gods and sung by the Grecian choruses, Seneca substituted moralistic choral songs that were at best hollow echoes of the religiously motivated odes of Aeschylus and Sophocles. He was not writing for a religious festival, as his predecessors had done. Here and there, Seneca preserved the god, or goddess, of the Greek original, but only as a mechanical device that would motivate his plot: in a choral ode in the Troas, for example, he denies, without reservation, both after-life and the abodes of the gods. In consequence, although his plays were adaptations of the tragic drama of the Greeks, he completely stripped the tradition of its religious significance. From Seneca, in turn, the Elizabethans took over a purely secular form of dramaturgy, in which—fortunately for their purpose—the gods or goddesses and revenging ghosts had only a single function uncomplicated by religious overtones: to motivate the plot.
Of the Senecan devices of supernatural intervention, the goddess of vengeance exerted the most important influence on the regular Elizabethan drama prior to 1587; but it is the revenge ghost that makes the earliest and perhaps most notable appearance, although it is not met again for nearly thirty years. In his liberal translation of the Troas in 1559, Jasper Heywood introduced, at the beginning of Act II , the specter of Achilles. As no actual ghost had appeared in Seneca's Troas, Heywood's experiment is the first known attempt by an English playwright to create a supernatural character in the manner of the Roman dramatist, and suggests that the revenge ghost, as derived from Seneca's Agamemnon and Thyestes, may have been a feature in a number of early Elizabethan tragedies now lost. But in the available drama it is otherwise: the Senecan ghost, despite the vigor of its eventual popularity on the English stage, remains curiously absent from the year of Heywood's experiment with it until 1587.
In the meantime, almost every early Elizabethan tragedy that survives, as well as at least one pastoral comedy, owed an evident debt to Seneca's goddesses of vengeance. They had assumed important roles in two of the Roman playwright's most influential tragedies: Megaera in Thyestes, and Juno, who vows and executes vengeance upon the central character, in Hercules Furens. Among early Elizabethan adaptations of this device, Megaera, attended by her sister Furies, appears in a dumb show of Sackville's and Norton's Gorboduc (1561) and prophesies the downfall of the royal family; both Cupid (a male transfiguration of the vengeful goddess) and Megaera plan the program of revenge in Tancred and Gismunda (1568); Venus and Cupid conspire to destroy the king in The Lamentable Tragedy of Cambyses (1569); in Appius and Virginia (1575), frequent references are made to the doom imposed by Roman gods and goddesses, especially by Pluto and Venus; and in Peek's Arraignment of Paris (1584), Até, supplanting Megaera as the goddess of vengeance, announces the imminent fall of Troy and concludes:
Done be the pleasure of the powers,
Whose hestes men must obey.
Até then sets in motion the discord that will assure the downfall of Troy. Most memorable of the devices patterned after Megaera is Revenge in Kyd's Spanish Tragedy (1589); but in the denotative name of the spirit, one immediately recognizes the reassertion of a native English practice common to the morality play. Indeed, so markedly out of harmony with English thought and doctrine had been the Romanized goddesses of vengeance that we rarely meet them after 1590. By that time they had yielded the stage to sorcerers and witches, who were contemporized concepts of the demons of England's medieval plays. Meanwhile the Roman goddesses had established a precedent: both playwright and audience, long accustomed to goddesses of vengeance, had learned to look upon the supernatural as an indispensable mark of the secular drama.
The Senecan ghost came of age much more slowly than had the goddess of vengeance, but it attained eventually a place of far greater importance on the English stage. As much of an anachronism as had been the Romanized goddess, it was spared an early end on the stage only because of several wise changes that were made in its character. Heywood's portrayal of Achilles' ghost in his English rendition of the Troas had been an unmitigated stereotype of the Senecan conception: introduced at the beginning of Act II , it rants in soliloquy for nearly three pages, and in the meantime makes frequent allusions to Greco-Roman mythology (for example to the "darkest deunes of Tartare" and to the "Stygian lakes"). Its worst fault, typically Senecan, is the habit of needless repetition: on at least four occasions it reminds the reader that its mission of vengeance was ordered or demanded by the infernal "sprights." Indeed, its entire message could easily have been delivered in twelve lines instead of nearly a hundred. In one respect, this ghost seems to depart from the Senecan prototype: the latter makes its customary entrance in the prologue, as illustrated by the specters of Tantalus and Thyestes; however, in the Roman play Octavia, which the Elizabethans ascribed to Seneca, the vengeful ghost of Agrippina appears at the beginning of Act III , and only there. Heywood's insertion of the ghost of Achilles at the beginning of Act II in the Troas, rather than in the prologue, was not, therefore, a departure from the Senecan rule. The established precedent was simply that the ghost of revenge should appear only once on the stage and make that appearance as verbose and prolonged as possible; its purpose was to produce an atmosphere of foreboding and create suspense.
The year 1587 marked the beginning of a long succession of Senecan ghosts. Immediately, we note the first of those alterations that were to save the ghost from an abrupt demise and make it acceptable to an audience whose criteria were to be based more and more upon a renewed appreciation of native values at the expense of classical conventions. The initial alteration in the stage behavior of the Senecan ghost is comparatively mild: its main importance is that it served as a precedent for further and more revolutionary adjustments. In Thomas Hughes' The Misfortunes of King Arthur (1587)—a thoroughly Senecan play, replete with a dumb show of Furies, bombastic speeches, and stichomythiae which are literally translated out of Seneca—we encounter the ghost of the murdered Gorlois. In the opening scene, the ghost, which has just arrived from "Pluto's pittes," steels itself to "glutte on revenge"; its soliloquy occupies the entire scene and is laden with bombast. Indeed, in this scene the specter of Gorlois is a Senecan stereotype in every detail. But Hughes added one adjustment that served as a fortunate influence upon his immediate successors, such as Thomas Kyd : he brought the ghost back for a second appearance at the end of the play. The spirit's delight that "not one hath scapt revenge" and its promise to "worke no further plagues" give to the play a unity and a balance that are not provided by Seneca's ghosts, which make only an initial appearance. Secondly, as an appeased ghost which promises no further malice, Gorlois acquires the dramatic stature that comes from a development or an alteration of character. Thus, by the simple adjustment of returning the ghost of vengeance to the stage, Hughes provided it with two important functions that are not shared by its Senecan prototype.
The ghosts of Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and the anonymous Locrine (c. 1590), like the specter of Gorlois, are basically Senecan in type. The vengeful spirit of Andrea in the former tragedy and those of Albanact and Corineus in the latter are the products of a pagan hell. The appearance of Andrea and Revenge, in the opening scene of The Spanish Tragedy, was almost certainly suggested to Ky d by the prologue of Seneca's Thyestes, in which the ghost of Tantalus is goaded earthward by the Fury Megaera. Al though Andrea's ghost, on its first appearance, owes much to Senecan prototypes, and makes for example a drawnout autobiographical oration and repeated references to a Greco-Roman hell, it manifests at the same time undeniably modern traits. The most marked of these is the literal, straightforward, and nonrepetitious character of its monologue; for the first time on the English stage, a ghost is permitted to speak at considerable length without resorting to repetitions and irrelevancies, and without more-over a direct attempt to excite horror. Thus modernized, the ghost joins Revenge to serve as a chorus to the play. The spontaneity of the ghost, especially its compulsion to cry "Revenge, awake!" when Revenge is dozing at the end of Act HI , makes it the most refreshing specter found in the English drama prior to 1600. But the modernization of the ghost is confined entirely to its character. Kyd's only technical innovation was to employ the ghost as a chorus; since the chorus was an archaic device, the ghost's function in this capacity cannot be said to add to its upto-date qualities. From the opposite point of view the choice of this overlabored environment was a happy one: the spontaneous temperament of the ghost did much to revitalize the drab and shopworn Elizabethan chorus.
The anonymous author of Locrine, a dour tragedy of warfare and intrigue, was considerably more revolutionary in his employment of the Senecan ghost than was either Hughes or Kyd . Heretofore, the ghost of revenge had been permitted to appear only in the prologue, or at the beginning or the end of acts, and had consequently been kept completely detached from the main action of the play; the author of Locrine, in total disregard of tradition, introduced his two specters within the acts and thus gave to them a direct contact with the plot itself. One motive for this unprecedented use of the revenge ghost stems apparently from the fact that Até, the goddess of vengeance, is given the dominant role in both the prologue and the between-act choruses; hence, in Locrine there is no demand for a ghost in the positions normally reserved for it. In bringing his ghosts into the structural framework of the plot, the author of Locrine had the opportunity of making a second important adjustment: for the first time in the Elizabethan tragedies that have survived, a ghost confronts and speaks to a flesh-and-blood character of the play. When the Scythian Humber is eventually overthrown by the Britons, the ghost of the lately slain warrior Albanact confronts his former enemy and cries, "Revenge, revenge for blood!" After Humber threatens to drag it "through all the rivers of foule Erebus," the ghost resorts to the typical outcry of Elizabethan specters: "Vindicta, vindicta." Throughout the ensuing scenes it continues to haunt the outlawed Humber, and in doing so makes its appearances at strategic moments within the acts of the play. Like the ghost of the elderly statesman Corineus, which makes its entrance in the middle of Act V, the specter of Albanact is granted a freedom of entry and exit customarily accorded only to flesh-and-blood characters.
The innovations of Locrine had two important effects: henceforth, ghosts were not as a rule to be confined to the prologue or to positions between the acts; secondly, in contrast to their formerly detached roles, they had now become actual participants in the mechanics of the plot. Despite these advances, however, the ghosts of Locrine are themselves Senecan in that they are the products of a pagan hell. It remained for Shakespeare and John Marston to make the last and most momentous change in the specter of revenge, the change from a pagan to a Christianized ghost. This change is strongly hinted at in Shakespeare's Richard III (c. 1595): the ghosts which appear while King Richard and the Earl of Richmond are asleep make no mention of a pagan underworld; the last of the specters, that of Buckingham, concludes his exhortation with the prayer: "God and good angels fight on Richmond's side." Examination of the specters employed by Marston in Antonio's Revenge and Shakespeare in Hamlet, both written about 1600, removes any vestige of doubt as to the complete Christianization of the ghost. The specter of "ould Andrugio," witnessing the success of Antonio's plot, observes with confidence:
Now lookes down Providence
T' attend the last act of my sons revenge.
The ghost of King Hamlet is likewise Christian in conception: when it first speaks, it tells us that it must serve a term in Purgatory until, as it explains,
The foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away.
Moreover, in marked contrast to Seneca's pagan ghosts, it has been forbidden to reveal the nature of its torments; hence it leaves not the slightest doubt in the reader's mind that it comes from the mysterious underworld of Christian doctrine and not from the Greco-Roman Tartarus. No pagan ghost had hesitated to expound upon the secrets of Tartarus in the most gruesome detail.
Thus by 1600 the Senecan ghost of revenge had been completely revamped into a ghost which had the histrionic advantages of appearing at any opportune moment in the play and of speaking to whom it chose, instead of being restricted to soliloquy. Most important of all, the new ghost was no longer a Greco-Roman anachronism: it had, in the final stage of its metamorphosis, become the product of a Christian, not a Hellenic, afterworld. The ghosts of George Chapman's two D'Ambois plays and of Cyril Tourneur's The Atheist's Tragedie (1611) reflect the tradition established by Marston and Shakespeare. The most Christian of all the revenge ghosts of the Elizabethan-Jacobean period is the specter of Montferrers in Tourneur's tragedy: although it alerts Charlemont to the advisability of vengeance, it does so with remarkable restraint:
Attend with patience the successe of things;
But leave revenge unto the King of kings.
The ghost, which is at all times confident of Divine retribution, later cautions Charlemont:
Let Him revenge my murder, and thy wrongs,
To whom the Justice of Revenge belongs.
Indeed, as the chief expositor of Tourneur's central thesis, namely, that God has reserved for Himself, and not for man, the right to judge and to punish human mis-deeds, the ghost attains a Christian uprightness of character which has few parallels elsewhere in the English drama.
Despite the apparent appropriateness of the modernized ghost of revenge as depicted by Marston, Shakespeare, and Tourneur, its stage history was not to be much more remarkable than had been that of its non-Christian, or Senecan, forebears. The remodeled and Christianized ghost presented immediate evidence of two flaws. The more manifest of these flaws, however, becomes upon close analysis the less important of the two; but we shall look at it first. The liberalization of the ghost-concept had transformed the specter from a stereotyped pagan device confined mainly to the prologue to one that met the demands of a comparatively modern stage; but, as is often the case, the breaking away from an established tradition was to lead to no rule or doctrine whatsoever. In the playwrights' treatment of the ghost during the early 1600's a sense of restraint was sacrificed either to dramatic spectacle or to the exigencies of plot. This loss of restraint is evident in Marston's treatment of the ghost of Andrugio, whose horror on two occasions is accentuated by the novel and hence unexpected conditions under which the specter makes its appearance. In Act III , scene one, it thrusts aside the "cerecloth" and bolts upright from its coffin; later, when the widowed Maria has drawn the curtains of her chamber, the ghost is discovered to be lounging on her bed—a revelation that is as much a shock to the spectator as it is to the startled widow. Chapman's use of ghosts, by contrast to that of Marston, is rarely horrifying; but it is unduly subtle and more often than not becomes an unnatural expedient in shaping the course of action of the flesh-and-blood characters. Whereas Marston had accentuated the element of horror, Chapman reduces his ghosts to the status of house guests and ward politicians. In Bussy D'Ambois (1598-1607), the specter of the recently deceased Friar is obsessed by its affection for Tamyra and D'Ambois: although it knows that its own "power is limited" and that it is merely the agent of an ineffective counter-fate, it repeatedly appears in order to warn its friends of D'Ambois' inevitable downfall. Once D'Ambois is murdered, the ghost delivers a spirited eulogy in behalf of its fallen friend. It then resorts to its most notable talent, that of diplomacy. At home with friend and foe alike, it asks the murderers of D'Ambois to desist henceforth from further feelings of hostility: in particular, it argues that the wronged Montsurry accept a "Christian reconcilement" with his wife Tamyra. Recognizing that the parties must meet each other halfway, it makes its ultimate plea to Tamyra: "Piety wills thee … [to] content thy husband." The character of the Friar's ghost is thus the antithesis of that of the specter of Andrugio: whereas Marston's creation is an exaggerated device of horror, the ghost of the Friar proves to be a diplomatic and kindly go-between. Its attributes, which are odd for a ghost, qualify it as the deus ex machina of the denouement.
The oddness of gregarious conduct as a dominant characteristic of the ghost is equally apparent in Chapman's The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1610), which is the sequel to the play just discussed. In Senecan fashion the ghost of Bussy opens Act V with an extended monologue; but later, when it takes charge of the revenge plot and mingles freely with the flesh-and-blood characters, it retains few of the normal traits of ghosthood. Upon espying the specter, Tamyra is so far from being unnerved that she seeks to embrace it. Although it has no aversion to social amenities, the ghost must warn Tamyra to desist from her purpose solely on the grounds that it is made of "air" and thus is liable to "blast." At the end of the play, when five ghosts dance a roundelay about the slain Montsurry, the spectator or the reader senses not an inkling of horror: he has become accustomed to the brotherly good nature of ghosts.
The mounting disregard of what we may term proper ghost etiquette—especially as it affected the ghost of revenge in contrast to the ghost of conscience, on which I shall comment shortly—had thus led to unusually odd and unimpressive portrayals of the specter, in particular by Chapman. Undoubtedly, this unorthodox treatment had something to do with the demise of the ghost of revenge: Marston had carried the horror of the ghost to excess, and hence to the point of ridicule; Chapman, tending toward the other extreme, had robbed the ghost of its last vestige of traditional awesomeness. There was, however, a far more impelling, though less evident, force that opposed the continued use of the specter as a supernatural agent on the stage: the Church of England had for long contested, and shortly before 1600 had denied, the Papist doctrine that the spirits of the dead could return to the living world. Thus the Christian ghost of revenge was a completely appropriate device only in the minds of those Englishmen who retained a sympathy for Roman Catholic teachings, and by 1600 these persons were few, especially in the vicinity of London. The medieval Church had held that the spirits of the dead made their return, as a rule, from Purgatory, and that they could not return from Heaven or Hell except under the most impelling circumstances. From its inception in the sixteenth century, the Protestant Church had denied the existence of Purgatory; a natural sequel to this denial was, of course, a very serious doubt as to the actuality of ghosts. In De Spectris, published in 1570, the Swiss Protestant Ludwig Lavater rejected the idea of Purgatory and cited Christ, St. Augustine, and other authorities to the effect that all departed spirits go directly to Heaven or to Hell: his unqualified conclusion was that the spirits of the dead could not return to earth. Testifying to the attitude of the Church of Scotland, King James, in Daemonologie (1597), was like-wise emphatic in denouncing the existence of ghosts, and, unlike Lavater, felt no need to rely upon the authoritative statements of the Church elders; his conclusion reflects a degree of blunt self-assurance: "Neither can the spirite of the defunct returne to his friend, or yet an Angeli use such formes." In the meantime, the Church of England had shaped a similar opinion, as is evidenced by William Perkins, a well-known Cambridge theologian, who died in 1602. In confuting "the opinion of the Church of Rome," he stated without reservation: "Dead men doe neither walke, nor appeare in bodie or soule after death." The Protestant denial of Purgatory had thus led to an outright denial of the actuality of ghosts.
Likewise within the drama of the early seventeenth century there is solid evidence that the ghost of revenge was a contradiction of current belief. Hamlet, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is not prompted by a neurotic impulse when he observes, "The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil." His doubt arises from dogma. An act and a half earlier, even before the ghost of his father has revealed its motive, Hamlet had reason to suspect that it might be "a goblin damn'd." The prince, in doubting the authenticity of the ghost, obviously reflects the Protestant distrust of the conception that the dead can return to earth; moreover, his suspicion that the ghost may be the devil is supported by a second tenet of Protestant doctrine. King James, as well as others, had pointed out that the devil, in appearing to his intended victims, had the power to appropriate the body of a newly dead person "to make them beleeve that it was some good spirit that appeared to them." Whereas Shakespeare only implies his doubt of the actuality of ghosts, Chapman and Tourneur, both of them writing ten or eleven years later, do not hesitate to make positive denials of specters, even in those plays in which they appear. In The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, Chapman allows Clermont to express the Jacobean disavowal of ghosts: "That spirits should rise in these times yet are fables." The philosophical Clermont then proceeds to qualify his statement of disbelief by presenting the opinion of some of the "learned'st men" as to the actuality of ghosts, but this is clearly an intellectual attempt to justify the minority opinion. Tourneur, in The Atheist's Tragedie, is more forthright and permits an unqualified denial of ghosts: the Puritan Chaplain Langebeau Snuffe, speaking of the dead, observes: "Tush, tush; their walking spirits are mere imaginarie fables. There's no such thing in rerum natura." The term "fable" as used by both Chapman and Tourneur in describing the ghost appears to have been borrowed from a common source—probably the mint of public sentiment. Langebeau Snuffe's comment, it might be added, is not made under conditions that would evoke his custom of hypocrisy.
The truth is that the revenge ghost, by its very nature, was foreign to Protestant and hence to English thought. The earlier playwrights, especially the author of Locrine and Shakespeare, had done all they could to modernize the Senecan ghost of vengeance, whereas Marston and Chapman had so liberalized the conception as to invite ridicule. But the revenge ghost was doomed to eventual extinction, regardless of dramatic propriety or the want of it: the idea that the dead, in the form of specters, could return to earth was direct contradiction of Protestant doctrine; for this reason no attempt to make a serious use of the unorthodox ghost of revenge is found in English drama subsequent to 1612.
The reader may object that ghosts do appear in such tragedies as Middleton's and Rowley's The Changeling, Massinger's The Unnatural Combat, and Dekker's The Witch of Edmonton—all of them written in the early 1620's. The objection cannot be refuted: what can be pointed out, however, is that all these ghosts are figments of conscience and not essentially specters of vengeance. They belong to a second Senecan tradition, but have nothing directly to do with supernatural intervention. Like the gory-locked Banquo, they have no apparent actuality or substance, outside the imagination of the beholder. In both The Trojan Women and the Medea, Seneca had made subtle use of the ghost of conscience: in each play, only one character—Andromache and Medea, respectively—perceives the ghost, which is not visible to the others who are present and obviously is an embodiment of the beholder's conscience-torn psyche. Among the Elizabethans, Shakespeare made the most extensive use of this technique, of which the ghost of King Hamlet (on its third and final stage appearance when, unseen and unheard by the Queen, it addresses itself to young Hamlet's tormented conscience) and that of Banquo are his best known and most orthodox examples. When De Flores, in The Changeling (c. 1622), tersely evaluates the apparition of Alonzo de Piracquo, whom he has murdered, as a "mist of conscience," he is alluding to a tradition practiced by Seneca and Shakespeare; there can be little doubt that Alonzo's ghost, appearing momentarily and then only to De Flores and the equally sinful Beatrice, is a fabrication of the mind. We come to the same conclusion when we evaluate the ghosts that confront Malefort, in The Unnatural Combat (c. 1621), and Frank Thorney, in The Witch of Edmonton (1622): in each instance, they appear in response to a sorely violated conscience, and are seen by no one except the guilt-stricken villain. Frank Thorney, for example, refers to the specter that he has seen as "some wind-mill in my brains." The ghost of conscience, therefore, was not a contradiction of Protestant doctrine: its lack of external reality—the fact that it was a creation of the guilty mind and not, in the strict sense, a supernatural intruder—assured it a prolonged popularity, even upon the Restoration stage.
The two-fold Senecan doctrine of supernatural intervention—a tradition which included the goddess of vengeance and the revenge ghost—had a parallel in the second and eventually more important tradition, the supernatural elements of the medieval drama. In shaping the development of the Elizabethan theater, the two traditions are analogous to two separate rivers which for thirty years flowed side by side before their eventual confluence into a single broad stream. The Senecan doctrine had been, as already pointed out, a major influence on the regular, or nonreligious, drama of the Elizabethan period up to 1587, and in respect of the ghost even later. In the meantime, the medieval tradition of supernaturalism—the intervention of demons and good angels—was a recurrent phenomenon of the morality interlude; with personified Virtues assuming the role of the good angel, this native tradition is the dominant mode of Richard Wever's Lusty Juventus, Thomas Inglelend's The Disobedient Child, and Ulpian Fulwel's Like Will to Like. The fact that the first two of these morality interludes were initially acted late in the reign of Edward VI , at least five years before Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558, is immaterial: both these Protestant-colored interludes, having survived the short reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, were reproduced, with revitalized popularity, after 1558.
Although performed against a secular background, the morality interludes retain several major elements of the religious character of the medieval drama: in particular, the entire theme centers upon the struggle for the soul of man. Moreover, the demon of these interludes is the symbolic product of religious doctrine: unlike the devils of popular belief, who were soon to appear on the mature Elizabethan stage, he is neither conjured by a magician nor does he assume the dead body of a person or an animal. His character is fundamentally what it had been in the medieval drama: he is intended as the personification of demonic temptation, not as a creature having physical substance. The idea of religious symbolism had been clearly expressed by Titivillus in the late morality play Mankind (c. 1475): although he appears on earth as a black devil, carrying "a net in his hand," he is careful to tell the audience, "Ever I go invysybull." The same argument applies to the demon of the mystery drama when he carries off the dead body of a Herod or an Antichrist: the physical action—which has no basis in Biblical accounts—is symbolic. It is, indeed, the only logical way in which the idea of a soul's damnation can be made intelligible to the audience. Attesting to the symbolic nature of actions of this type, Satan—as I have noted—boasts that he "entered into Judas" and thus, as a spirit, brought him to damnation. But one qualification must be stressed: in mystery plays of a remote and grandiose character, such as The Fall of Lucifer, the demon was probably thought to have some kind of actual physique. The incarnation of the abstract is limited to those episodes in which spirits, good and evil, contend for the soul of an ordinary man, as is clear from the foregoing statements made by Satan and Titivillus respectively. The demon of the morality interlude belongs to this tradition of religious symbolism; unlike the secular concept of devils, he is best interpreted as the personification of invisible demonic powers and not as a character molded of flesh and bone or other material substance. Like the post-Homeric gods and goddesses of Greek tragedy, and like the Vice and the Virtue of his own brand of drama, he was granted human embodiment—usually the unlikely shape of a clumsy buffoon—mainly because he could not otherwise be portrayed upon the stage.
In one major characteristic, the demon of the Elizabethan interlude, like that of the full-length morality play, differs from his prototype in the earlier mystery drama: in disre gard of a once venerated tradition, the archfiend of the interlude is granted unrestricted license to intervene where and when he chooses. The orthodox Christian doctrine that limited the activity of the major demons to the under-world had been precisely stated in the thirteenth-century dramatic poem The Harrowing of Hell; Christ, in a significant passage, addresses Sathanas:
Thou shalt buen in bondes ay,
O that come domesday.
For were thou among men,
Thou woldest me reven moni hem.
The small fendes that bueth not stronge,
He shulen among men yonge.
The writers of the mystery plays were at all times mindful of this doctrine. Only in the episodes which pre-date Christ's death and descent into Hades are the archdemons—especially Satan—permitted to intrude on earth; in the subsequent Biblical episodes, when they appear at all, they are confined to the environment of Hell-pit. The privilege of playing the harvester of damned souls, and as such making an occasional excursion to earth, is granted only to the lesser demons, such as those who corrupt the Antichrist in the Chester version of the New Testament account. The fifteenth-century writers of the morality plays were from the very beginning more liberal than the composers of the mystery dramas in their treatment of demons, especially the archfiend. They looked to the Old Testament mystery plays, such as The Fall of Eden and The Temptation, for the precedent of supernatural intervention by Satan or one of the other potentates of Hell; indeed, they paid little heed to the orthodox doctrine that the archfiends were to be confined to Hades, by ordinance of Christ, throughout the Christian era. In The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1425) and in Wisdom (c. 1450), both of them morality plays, Belial and Lucifer respectively come to earth and directly intervene in the moral conduct of medieval men. No taboo, therefore, confronted the Elizabethan writers of morality interludes. Satan or Lucifer, and not some lesser devil, was in every surviving instance their favorite stock device of demonic intervention, even though their plays dealt with a Christian society.
Whereas the archfiend had acquired an increasingly important role in the drama of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, an opposite fate overtook the good angel. In the mystery plays, no character appears möre frequently than does the angel, whether he is Michael, Gabriel, or an angel unnamed; his mission, moreover, is invariably the betterment of mankind. Likewise in the miracle plays and in the moralities, the good angel is a dominant figure. In Mary Magdalene (c. 1450), he converts the wayward Mary to righteousness; in the early morality plays, such as The Castle of Perseverance, the good angel, attended by personified Virtues, is pitted against both the bad angel and the archfiend, and Mankind must make his choice between the two factions. But as strict adherence to religious doctrine was slowly relaxed, the morality playwrights tended to subordinate the good angel and give greater emphasis to the personification of virtues. Mercy in Mankind, and Knowledge and Confession in Everyman (c. 1500), are so to speak the earthly vicars of the good angel, whose own appearance, after 1460, becomes progressively less frequent; in Everyman, for example, he makes a brief appearance only for the purpose of leading the penitent central figure of the play "into the heavenly sphere." In the morality interludes written after 1550, the good angel seems never to have been portrayed; in the plays that survive, he is replaced by his viceroys, who include Good Counsel, Virtuous Living, and Conscience. There is no mystery about the eventual disappearance of the good angel from the morality plays; he had been purely a religious and not a secular concept; hence, as the drama became modernized and gradually less religious, the angel became a dramatic anachronism. Unlike the demon, whose degraded character made him adaptable to a variety of human environments, the good angel was societally much superior to the citizens of an up-to-date and realistic London, especially that of the morality interludes; in these plays were featured such settings as gambling houses, brothels, and taprooms.
The Christian doctrine of supernatural intervention had thus resulted in an apparently one-sided contest between the forces of evil and good. Because of the unacceptability of the good angel, the careful balance between the opposing factions, as it had been demonstrated in the early morality plays, was no longer possible. In the morality interludes, the demonic group, led by the archfiend, both outranks and usually outnumbers the Virtues, who are not even in the strict sense supernatural agents: they personify the divinity contained in man, but unlike the good angel of the older drama, they are not associated with a superior world. As we consider these facts, the contest for man's soul, as presented in the morality interludes, would seem to be a most uneven struggle. But the demonic faction has one serious flaw: it lacks the intensity of purpose which is the chief strength of the Virtues. The devil, despite the fact that he is Satan or Lucifer, is usually depicted as a "bottle-nosed" boaster inclined to bungling. Meantime, the Vice of the morality interludes, whether he is styled Hypocrisy or Nichol Newfangle, tends to be as clownish and irresponsible as he is clever. Thus, in a manner that gives comic distinction to their dramaturgy, the writers of the morality interlude solved the problem of preserving a dramatic balance between the opposing factions: since the good angel had to be excluded from the contemporary environment, the authors simply sprinkled ridicule on the otherwise superior demonic faction, including the arch-fiend.
As was stated earlier, the two traditions of supernatural intervention, the Senecan and the Christian, were distinct and separate influences on the drama of the Elizabethans, and did not converge into a single broad stream until late in the sixteenth century. There were, however, significant blendings of one stream into the other at a comparatively early date—in fact, as early as 1567. Whereas the majority of morality interludes, as well as Nathaniel Woodes' full-length morality play The Conflict of Conscience (1581), were pure products of the native tradition, at least two surviving interludes, John Pikeryng's The Historye of Horestes (1567) and the anonymous Appius and Virginia (1575), contain awkward blends of the Senecan and the Christian conceptions of supernatural intervention. In the former interlude, for example, the Vice is at first depicted as an English character and, while in the company of two rustics, acts the part of a witty country clown; later, when Horestes (or Orestes) has appeared, the Vice assumes the role of a Greco-Roman spirit of vengeance and, in the stage directions, his name is ultimately transformed from the Vice to Revenge. In Appius and Virginia, which I have classified as an interlude mainly because of its brevity, the incongruities are at first glance less apparent. The characterization of Haphazard, the Vice and the counselor of Appius, is consistent at all times with the Christian doctrines of supernatural intervention. Nevertheless, the background is ancient Rome, and there are repeated references to Pluto and other pagan gods as the wire-pullers of human destiny. Typical of these references is the following outcry by Appius: "The furies fell of Lymbo lake / my princely days do shorte"; he then calls upon Pluto, "caitiffe kinge of darksome dens," to assist him in the administration of "vengeaunce." When one recalls that Appius has Haphazard, the Vice of Christian belief and the deputy of Satan, in his employment, and that he himself is a pre-Christian Roman, his invocation of Pluto adds a bizarre emphasis to the fundamental incongruity.
A third hybrid play of the early Elizabethan period is Thomas Preston's regular, or full-length, drama The Lamentable Tragedy of Cambyses (c. 1569). Like its immediate predecessors, Gorboduc and Tancred and Gismunda (originally, Gismond of Salerne), it is basically Senecan, especially in its violence and bombast; but unlike them it incorporates notable characteristics of the English morality drama. A mainspring of evil in the play is the energetic Vice named Ambidexter; there are also many personifications of virtues and other vices. Preston, on the other hand, did not overlook the Greco-Roman concepts of supernatural intervention: Venus and Cupid are eventually introduced, and, by inflaming Cambyses with an incestuous love, are instrumental in bringing about his down-fall. Indeed, the introduction of Venus and Cupid into the play, at a time when Ambidexter has acquired a sizable control over the administration of evil motives, is a rather startling incongruity. The impression is that the author, fearing that he had fallen too far under the influence of native traditions, wished belatedly to stress the underlying Senecan character of his drama.
There were, then, three genres of early Elizabethan plays which relied, in varying degrees, on the ready-at-hand traditions of supernatural intervention: the tragedy modeled upon Senecan techniques; the morality interlude, as well as an occasional full-length morality; and the hybrid play, which made use of both the native and the Senecan tradition of supernaturalism. From the literary viewpoint, the least successful of the three genres was of course the hybrid drama. Its value, however, lies not in its own artistic merit but in the potentialities that it opened up to later playwrights. An examination of the dramas written after 1587 reveals an unexpectedly large number of plays which combined the Greco-Roman and the medieval doctrines of supernatural intervention and which were constructed, therefore, in the tradition first established by The Historye of Horestes. The difference in treatment is primarily one of maturity. The anonymous author of Grim, the Collier of Croydon (c. 1595), and Dekker, in both Old Fortunatus (1599) and If This Be Not A Good Play, The Devil Is In It (1612), were to make such subtle blends of the widely opposed traditions of supernaturalism that the reader is hardly aware of any doctrinal incongruity. The early Elizabethan writers of the hybrid play have a second significance, more important than their initiation of a drama that combined the two doctrines of supernatural intervention: in the broader area of dramaturgy, they were pioneers in the movement toward a centralized dramatic art in which much that was Senecan and nearly all that was medieval (not merely supernatural conceptions) were combined in a single vigorous stream.
It has already been shown that the two major Senecan instruments of supernatural intervention, namely, the goddess and the ghost, were anachronisms opposed to the teachings of Protestant England, and that in consequence they were destined to ultimate rejection. The supernatural figures of the medieval drama, by contrast, enjoyed the overwhelming advantage of being widely accepted throughout Christendom. In using them or modifications of them, the early Elizabethan writers of morality interludes, unlike the admirers of Seneca, did not slavishly imitate what they thought to be a higher type of drama. On the contrary, they were continuing and at times re-molding a national heritage. The differences that exist between the sixteenth-century morality interlude and the medieval drama are in direct proportion to the growing importance of secular attitudes at the expense of a strict adherence to orthodox religious doctrine. The ideas, therefore, that informed the old English drama were subject to adjustment, but not to complete rejection. Although the good angel, for example, was unacceptable in the contemporary settings of the morality interludes, he was the prototype from which the personified Virtues, such as Conscience and Virtuous Living, had descended; more-over, he reappeared, at a later date, in such plays as Marlowe's Dr. Faustus (1589) and Massinger's Virgin Martyr (1622), where his presence was justified by the high religious character of the particular compositions. The simple fact that the native drama underwent an evolution which at all times reflected the religious and social mores of contemporary England, and was subject at most to appropriate modifications, gave it and its underlying ideas a permanence not shared by the alien doctrines derived from Seneca. An examination of the supernatural elements of the late Elizabethan and the Jacobean drama points up the fact that the playwrights were indebted far more to indigenous than to Roman models. The ghost of revenge is not without importance, but more enduring as agents of supernatural intervention were the sorcerer, the witch, and the modernized Elizabethan devil. Each of these, moreover, is a lineal descendant of the demon of the medieval drama.
The important link between the devil of the late Elizabethan and the Jacobean stage and that of the medieval drama is, as one would expect, the transitional fiend of the sixteenth-century interlude. Whether styled Satan or Lucifer, he combines the religious character of the demon of the medieval play with secular aspects that foreshadow the devil-concepts of the mature drama. The Lucifer of Fulwel's Like Will to Like (1568) is typical of the transitional demon. He is a personification of the invisible powers of evil, and is not intended to represent the "bone and flesh" devil who might assume a lately dead body and was the product of secular, not religious, doctrine; he has, more-over, only a single intent, and that is to win souls for Hell. His comic strain arises from worldly eccentricities. He is characterized as a buffoon, who is not only "bottlenosed" but also wears his name-plate on back and breast. In addition, his thinking is dictated by the secular trends of sixteenth-century London: his major objective is that the Vice, named Nichol Newfangle, arouse the people's pride in extravagant fashions, especially of apparel, and thus gain candidates for Hell. Indeed, in his boisterous behavior, the demon of the morality interlude is reminiscent of the archfiends of such mystery dramas as The Descent of Christ and The Judgment Day. But there is a distinction. Unlike the comedy of the "mystery" demons, his humorous deportment is not almost solely the product of mass hysteria imposed by an awesome dread of Christ: instead, it is an inbred and spontaneous habit capable of expressing itself without any external provocation.
For three hundred years prior to the Elizabethan period, the idea of demonic intervention had been a major device of the English theater. So potent was this tradition that it was almost inevitable that it should survive the transition from religious to secular forms of drama. The value of the morality interlude and its demon, therefore, should not be underestimated. The religious intent of the interlude links it to the older drama, but the secular environment—with its taverns, gambling rooms, and men of fashion—looks forward to the mundane settings of the mature Elizabethan drama. The writers of morality interludes were responsible for a precedent which had barely been suggested in the earlier full-length morality plays: the depiction of the devil as a figure in contemporary worldly society. In a second respect, the transitional fiend of the morality interludes paves the way for the secular demon who immediately follows him upon the stage. The liberalization of his character makes him no longer the relatively staid demon of medieval convention. His comic deportment is considerably more characteristic than had been that of his predecessors. Underneath his buffoonery, he is a clever designer of mischief, and yet can laugh as heartily at his failures as at his occasional successes. He is as ready to dance a jig with the collier as to give a paternal lecture to his deputy the Vice. By 1550 he had acquired what his forebears, in the main, had lacked: a sizable amount of human nature. The humanization of his character did much to weaken the restraints that had tended, for centuries, to make the demon of the medieval stage almost as standardized a character as was his enemy and foil, the inflexibly virtuous good angel. The flood-gates had been thrown open. The transitional fiend, along with the morality interlude, was soon to pass from the stage; but he was promptly succeeded, in the late Elizabethan drama, by a variety of demons who attest to a widespread freedom of character delineation and have but one thing in common: the fact that they are, in almost every instance, the product of secular and not religious doctrine.
So varied are the attitudes toward the devil on the late Elizabethan and the Jacobean stage that we cannot, in the present chapter, attempt to classify them. The most evident characteristic that distinguishes the demon of the mature drama from his predecessors of the mystery and the morality plays is the fact that he is compounded of bone and flesh or some other physical substance. He is not the symbolic image of invisible demonic powers, as his medieval forebears had been. He does not insist, as Titivillus had done: "Ever I go invysybull." Instead, he has power to assume the body of a recently dead person or to appear in the carcass of a cat or a dog; elsewhere, he plays the role of incubus or succubus, just as he was thought to do in real life, having first acquired a discarded body or compacted one of air. Or, like Belphagor, he may fashion for himself the physique of a Spanish noble man and live in marriage with a shrewish woman who never suspects that he is the devil. In his actual constitution, the demon was still thought to be a purely spiritual substance; for centuries, however, the secular mind had sought to explain the many reported phenomena of the devil's having visibly appeared among men. Two theories had consequently become popular in Elizabethan times—the idea that the devil could assume a recently dead body, and the alternative principle that he had power to fashion one out of air or earthen materials. As a consequence of these and other popular beliefs, the demon of the mature stage is not only the product of a three-hundred-year-old tradition of fiends as principal actors in the drama; more important, he is a radical and usually enlivened modification of his medieval forebears.
The sorcerers and witches of the late Elizabethan drama will appear, at first glance, to be innovations without obvious ancestry in the medieval drama. The fact that sorcerers had appeared, on rare occasions, in the earlier drama does not constitute a well-established precedent. In the mystery play The Coming of Anti-Christ, the central figure is charged with "sorcerye, witchcraft, and negremonscye." Likewise, in John Skelton's play The Nigramansir (1504), sorcery, including the conjuring up of Beelzebub, was an important feature. But such medieval examples of sorcery are, in my opinion, too rare to have established themselves as the prototypes of the Elizabethan "sorcerer play." More likely is the conclusion that both the sorcerer and the witch of the mature drama, as well as the modernized devil, are lineal descendants of the demon of the mystery plays. The three-hundred-year-old tradition of supernatural intervention was not interrupted; instead, under the impact of secular concepts, it was drastically revised. As the playwrights had turned more and more to secular doctrine for their material, they had taken note of a very simple fact: the widespread belief that most of the harm done by demons was perpetrated at the command of a sorcerer or a witch. To ordinary Elizabethans, the idea of witchcraft was a far more haunting reality than was the belief that demons could intrude independently in human affairs. Whether sorcerers or witches, both were to be feared, and witches the more so, if only because of their far greater numbers. The sorcerer, of course, was in a more respected tradition: Dr. John Dee and Dr. Simon Forman, like the magicians of medieval documents, were reputed to conjure up demons—sometimes an archfiend—out of crystal globes. But great learning and great prestige were essential attributes of the sorcerer, and consequently there were few of them in sixteenth-century England. It was the village witch whom the common folk most dreaded, despite the fact that she was privileged to command only the lesser demons, or "imps." As we learn from many Elizabethan sources, beginning with the report of the witch trial at Chelmsford in 1566, each imp was thought to assume the form of a small animal, most often a cat, a dog, or a toad. The uneducated people, unlike many of their intellectual compatriots, attributed both the intent and the dominant scheme of evil-doing to the witch, not to the imp; even without the help of demons she was to be feared, for she also had power to destroy her neighbors by charms, such as the waxen image made in human likeness and then mutilated. Thus, in the late Elizabethan and the Jacobean drama, especially in those plays which, like The Witch of Edmonton (c. 1622), deal with the more humble sort of persons, the growing importance of the witch as a medium of supernatural intervention is neither surprising nor in contradiction to the native dramatic traditions. As a popular conception, she had become more universally feared for her evil practices than was the devil himself; in consequence, she is a more appropriate descendant and counterpart of the medieval demon of the religious stage than is any other Elizabethan agent of the supernatural. Unlike the sorcerer, whose sphere of activity was confined to the affairs of scholars and princes, the witch was thought to assert her malefic influence upon any type of human affair, no matter how petty or how momentous.
Whereas the idea of demonic intervention had survived the transition from religious to secular drama, and indeed had been vigorously modernized, the family tree of the good angel stands withered and almost fruitless after 1587. The morality interludes, which had invariably featured one or more personified Virtues, were no longer written; and in the secular plays, which now were the only type of drama performed, there was no place for the religiously conceived Virtues or their common ancestor, the good angel. Therefore, only in a handful of plays which are committed to a religious or high moral purpose, and which thus are deviations from the normal dramatic trend, was the conception of the good angel or the personified Virtue revived. Even more rare than the revival of the good angel on the mature Elizabethan stage is the appearance of the personified Virtue: indeed, the scenes which deal with Verrue and Vice in Old Fortunatus (1599) appear to have been interpolated by Dekker at Philip Henslowe's request in preparation for the Christmastide performance at court. On November 31, 1599, Henslowe lent Dekker a sum of money "for the altrenge of the wholl history of foretewnatus"; on December 12th, he advanced another forty shillings "for the eande of fortewnatus for the corte." In the closing scene of the play, Vertue turns to Queen Elizabeth and addresses her:
Vertue alone lives still, and lives in you,
I am a counterfeit, you are the true,
I am a Shaddow, at your feet I fall.
No Virtue or Vice had appeared in the German legend entitled Fortunatas, to which Dekker was closely indebted for his material; hence, it is almost certain that the play's earlier scenes depicting Vertue and Vice were the result of Henslowe's request "for the altrenge of the wholl history of fortewnatus." It is quite probable that these scenes were suggested by the personification of Fortune, a character of moderate prominence in the German legend. At any rate, Vertue, at first derided and scorned, and eventually triumphant over Vice, appears throughout the play to be an intentional symbol of Queen Elizabeth, attesting to her ultimate ascendancy over her enemies both at home and abroad. Be that as it may, the "Vertue and Vice" scenes of Old Fortunatus tend more to interrupt the progress of the plot than to motivate it. That the Virtue had become outmoded is evident from the fact that it is portrayed in no other extant drama of the late Elizabethan period, nor does it appear on the Jacobean stage.
Neither the good angel nor the Virtues who were modeled in his likeness exerted any serious claim upon secular thought. Customarily regarded as personifications, they belonged almost wholly to religious doctrine. As with the ancient Greeks and Hindus, so was it with the medieval inhabitants of western Europe: little good did they see, and much evil, in the immediate world about them. They had a mental vision of angels, whose habitat was circumscribed by the remote walls of Heaven; they were hard put to think of them as walking upon blighted cornfields or standing over the gibbering farmhand who had been stricken with brain fever. To the minds of medieval western Europe, the withered corn and the insane farmhand were the work of the devil. The irony of human circumstances demanded an explanation of the evil in life, not of the good. In consequence, the secular mind had resort to theories of demonology that were separate from those of orthodox religious doctrine. Where no apparent explanation of illness or death or blighted cornfields existed, the men of western Europe, and especially of England, attributed the misfortune to a demon, who might act either independently or—more often—at the instigation of a witch. The relatively abrupt change from religious to secular drama, although it brought about the demise of the good angel, meant merely a recasting of demonic characters upon the stage. Secular conceptions of the devil and the witch were ready at hand, well-prepared to replace the demon of the medieval drama. An analysis of these conceptions, especially their origins, is essential to a clear understanding of the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama that shows the occult world, not excepting some of Shakespeare's more important work. A discussion of origins may be helpful in that it will point out four somewhat divergent attitudes toward the occult: the Greco-Roman, the medieval, the Continental, and finally the Elizabethan. Although the Tudor and Stuart composers of the drama of superaaturalism gave stress to Elizabethan conceptions, they also incorporated those of older times, as well as of the Continent, into their plays; indeed, the bizarre coloring of their drama is dependent partially on these exotic borrowings.
Anthony Harris (essay date 1980)
SOURCE : "Spectacles of Strangeness: The Staging of Supernatural Scenes," in Night's Black Agents: Witchcraft and Magic in Seventeenth-Century English Drama, Manchester University Press, 1980, pp. 149-72.
[In the essay below, Harris elucidates Elizabethan and Jacobean methods of staging supernatural scenes in the theater.]
The portrayal of supernatural phenomena had been established as one of the main sources of spectacle on the English stage long before the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Demonic figures were frequently represented in the mediaeval miracle and morality plays and magicians were stock figures in the pastoral romances of the early sixteenth century. These two traditional elements survived and were indeed intermingled in many dramas of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
For example, both Doctor Faustus and The Devil's Charter conclude with magicians being carried off to Hell by devils. Before Faustus's final speech the stage direction reads 'Hell is discovered' (xix. 115.1) whilst the final direction in Barnes's play indicates 'Thunder and lightning. With fearful noise the devils thrust him down and go triumphing' (V.vi). This effect is very similar to the account of the concluding scene in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman drama Jeu d'Adam:
Then shall the Devil come, and three or four other devils with him, bearing in their hands chains and iron shackles, which they shall place on the necks of Adam and Eve. And certain ones shall push them on, others shall drag them toward Hell; other devils, however, shall be close beside Hell, waiting for them as they come, and these shall make a great dancing and jubilation over their destruction; and other devils shall, one after another, point to them as they come; and they shall take them up and thrust them into Hell; and thereupon they shall cause a great smoke to arise, and they shall shout one to another in Hell, greatly rejoicing; and they shall dash together their pots and kettles, so that they may be heard without.
This play was staged in the open air against the background of a church facade and the 'Hell' seems to have been positioned to one side of the main acting area. The fact that the devils thrust Alexander 'down' suggests that in The Devil's Charter the 'Hell' was situated beneath the main stage. Its presence was probably indicated by the opening of the mechanical trap-door which was a feature of most Jacobean playhouses—including the Globe, where the work had its first performance in 1602.
During this period the large area underneath the main stage was commonly known as the 'hell', just as the uppermost section of the theatre was referred to as the 'heavens'. These terms could well be survivals of the symbolic use of these areas in the earlier dramas. Certainly, in most mediaeval plays Hell was traditionally situated beneath the stage. The Digby St Mary Magdalen plays of about 1480 required 'a stage and Helle ondyrneth that stage', whilst among the properties listed for the Harrowing of Hell and Doomsday dramas of the fifteenth-century Coventry Cycle was a 'hell-mouth'. This seems to have taken the form of a monstrous, gaping head, often in the form of a dragon, placed low down on one side of the stage. A description of such a device is contained in the Wagner Book, published in 1594. This purports to be an account of the staging of a magical performance of Doctor Faustus by his servant, Wagner. Although the authenticity of this anonymous work is the subject of much dispute, the description of the portrayal of the demonic scenes provides us with our most detailed account of the probable staging of such episodes:
There might you see the ground-worke at the one end of the Stage whereout the personated divels should enter in their fiery ornaments, made like the broad wide mouth of an huge Dragon, which with the continuali armies of smoake and flame breathed forth his angry stomackes rage, round about the eies grew haires not so horrible as men call brissels, but more horrible as long and stiffe speares, the teeth of this Hels mouth far out stretching, and such as a man might call monstrous, and more than a man can by wordes signifie … Then out of this representance of Hels mouth, issued out whole Armies of fiery flames, and most thicke foggy smoakes, after which entred in a great batell of footemen Divels.
The Coventry Cycle 'hell-mouth' required 'a fire kept at it' and the hell-fire effect was probably achieved by a method akin to that described by Nicola Sabbattini in Pratica di fabricar scene e machine ne' teatri. This work was not published until 1637 and is concerned with techniques used in the Italian theatre, particularly in the production of the masque, but it is very probable that the method he recommends was similar to that used to create comparable effects in the earlier English dramas. He instructed that:
Underneath the stage, four men are placed at each side of the trap … equipped with pots through which are passed torches, the pots filled with fine Greek resin. At the time of opening the Hell, these men must be at their places, each with his torch lighted, and now and again must throw flames of fire through the trap to the stage by raising the pots violently … the resin will come out through holes in the tops of the pots and catching fire will result in a big flame.
That Sabbattini was describing established techniques to achieve these relatively simple effects is suggested by the fact that his method for simulating thunder and lightning is similar to that described by his compatriot, Sebastiano Serlio, whose Regole generali di architettura was published in 1545. The work was translated into English in 1611 and although the theatrical setting Serlio has in mind is clearly a typical sixteenth-century Italian structure, temporarily erected in a banqueting hall or palace courtyard, the technique he describes could easily have been employed in the English playhouses of the period.
You must make thunder in this manner: commonly all scenes are made at the end of a great Hall, whereas usually there is a Chamber above it, wherein you must roule a great Bullet of a Cannon or some other great Ordinance, and then counterfeit Thunder. Lightning must be made in this manner, there must be a man placed behind the Scene or Scaffold in a high place with a boxe in his hand, the cover whereof must be full with holes, and in the middle of that place there shall be a burning candle placed, the boxe must be filled with powder of vernis [resin] or sulphire, and casting his hand with the boxe upwards the powder flying in the candle, will shew as if it were lightning.
Thunder and lightning almost invariably marked the appearances on stage of supernatural phenomena. Apart from the symbolic appropriateness of such effects, especially in relation to figures supposedly emanating from Hell, the accompanying sounds would help to mask or at least distract attention from the inevitable noises of the machinery employed in staging many of these scenes. Most Elizabethan theatres had at least one trap-door situated in the main stage, through which actors and properties could rise and descend by means of a mechanised structure operated by ropes attached to windlasses. Some of these traps were capable of carrying two or more actors simultaneously and ascents and descents could be achieved with considerable rapidity.
The Devil's Charter contains several spectacular sequences requiring the dextrous use of the trap. In the opening dumb-show two devils rise and descend in quick succession, to be followed by two more devils, who appear and descend together. Each of these entries is marked by the customary 'thunder and fearful fire'. Even more striking effects are required by the stage directions which accompany the incantation scene in IV.i . Following Alexander's conjurations there appear 'Fiery exhalations; lightning, thunder. Ascend a King, with a red face crowned imperial, riding upon a lion or dragon'. Alexander addresses the figure, after which 'The devil descendeth with thunder and lightning, and after more exhalations ascends another all in armour'. The demonic figures thus take symbolic forms and similarly the principal devil in the dumb-show, which tempts Alexander with the promise of the papacy, is attired 'in robes pontifical, with a triple crown on his head, and cross keys in his hand'.
Demons could of course assume any shape, human or animal, and in Doctor Faustus Mephistophilis adopts the form of a Franciscan friar after Faustus has commanded him 'to return and change thy shape' (iii.25). The title pages of the quartos of 1620 and 1624 depict this scene and Faustus, standing in his magic circle and holding his wand and book, is confronted by a devil with a human head and dragon-like body, complete with wings and tail. It is quite possible that Mephistophilis makes his initial entry in this form, for Faustus informs him, 'Thou art too ugly to attend on me' (1. 26). Later in the play demonic spirits appear in the forms of Alexander the Great, his paramour, King Darius and Helen of Troy. The minor demons who make several appearances in the course of the play also seem to have taken human shape, although presumably of a less stately form, for their unkempt appearance became a by-word. T. M.'s Black Book (1604) describes such a figure: 'Hee had a head of hayre like one of my Divells in Dr Faustus when the old theater crackt and frighted the audience'. In similar vein, John Melton in Astrologaster (1620) describes a production of the play at 'the Fortune in Golding-Lane' by the Palsgrave's Men, formerly Prince Henry's Men: 'There indeede a man may behold shagge-hayr'd Devills runne roaring over the Stage with Squibs in their mouthes, while Drummers make Thunder in the Tyring-house, and the twelve-penny Hirelings make artificiali Lightning in their Heavens.'
Fireworks seem to have been an established means of indicating to the audience that devils were being represented. Faustus's request for a wife is answered by the entry of 'a Devil dressed like a woman with fireworks' (v. 148.1); Mephistophilis and Faustus 'fling fireworks among' the friars at the Papal Court (ix.112m?1), and in the so-called A2 text of 1609 Mephistophilis, having been summoned by Robin and the Vintner, 'sets squibs at their backs. They run about' (x.29.1).
Spectacular pyrotechnic effects were also provided by Greene in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, particularly in the scene featuring the magical disputation between the English friars, Bacon and Bungay, and the German magician, Vandermast (scene ix). Bungay begins the contest by conjuring a tree 'with the dragon shooting fire'. In response, Vandermast summons a spirit in the form of Hercules 'in his lion's skin' who proceeds to break off the tree's branches. Bacon then brings his superior magic into play and forces the spirit to withdraw, taking with him both the tree and the vanquished Vandermast. The initial effect in this sequence must have been accomplished by the appearance of the tree and dragon rising through a mechanised trap. Vandermast states that Bungay has 'mounted' the tree, by which he means that he has caused it to rise. The tree would have had to be sufficiently large and realistic for Hercules to dismember it without this provoking ridicule. The dragon was probably an artificial figure rather than an actor in costume for it has to be 'shooting fire'. Sabbattini describes precisely such an effect, achieved by a tube leading from the creature's mouth to the under-stage area, where an operator would blow aqua-vitae through it to reach a lighted candle previously placed in the dragon's mouth, at which small flames would be emitted. (Sabbattini also describes a similar device to produce speech from an inanimate figure, with an actor speaking into the tube from below stage level. Such a method was probably used in scene xi of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay when the brazen head voices its brief oracular utterances.)
On other occasions heraldic or animal figures seem to have been played by actors, for they are required to move freely about the stage. The spirits 'in shape of dogs and hounds' that pursue Caliban and his fellows in IV. i of The Tempest are clearly of this type, the effect probably being achieved mainly by means of masks. The cat that is summoned by Hecate in The Witch (I.ii) enters 'playing on a fiddle' and of course the dog-spirit in The Witch of Edmonton not only has to move but also converses at length with the human characters.
Some of the most impressive effects involving fireworks are found in The Birth of Merlin. In IV. v there is the stage direction 'Blazing star appears'. This heralds a spectacular display which is described by the awe-struck onlookers:
Uter: Look, Edol:
Still this fiery exhalation shoots
His frightful horrors on th'amazed world;
See, in the beam that's 'bout his flaming
A dragon's head appears, from out whose
Two flaming flakes of fire stretch east and
Edol: And see, from forth the body of the star
Seven smaller blazing streams directly
On this affrighted kingdom.
Merlin repeats this description and proceeds to interpret the vision as a portent of the coming of Arthur, together with the establishment and eventual destruction of the Round Table. The fact that Merlin repeats the verbal account suggests that the display is not visible to the audience, who perhaps have witnessed nothing more than the initial blazing star, which is the only effect actually required by the stage directions.
However, such elaborate displays were well within the capabilities of the pyrotechnicians of the period and earlier in the play the directions demand an even more striking demonstration of their skill. In IV. i Merlin strikes his wand and after the inevitable thunder and lightning 'two dragons appear, a white and a red; they fight a while, and pause.… Thunder: the two dragons fight again, and the white dragon drives off the red'. The dragons, representing the Welsh king Vortiger and the Saxon leader Ostorius, could have been played by actors in costume, but it is more likely that this sequence was staged with the use of fireworks for a favourite set-piece of the time involved the portrayal of dragons fighting in the air.
The technique is described in detail in several of the fire-work handbooks of the seventeenth century. The otherwise anonymous 'J. W. ' in The School of Artificial Fireworks (1651) describes 'how to make a Dragon, or the like, to run on the Line, spitting of fire'. The line referred to is explained by his instruction: 'Yo u must make a hollow trunk through the body of each Figure, for a great Line to passe through, and likewise for a smaller Line to draw them to and fro from each other'. John Babington in Pyrotechnia (1635) describes 'how to make two Dragons to meete each other, from severall Caves, which shall send forth their fire to each other with great violence'. John Bate in Mysteries of Nature and Art (1634) warns that 'the flying Dragon is somewhat troublesome to compose'. It should be constructed of 'dry and light wood' which is covered with canvas and painted. He adds:
in the body thereof, there must bee a voyde cane to passe the rope through; unto the bottom of this cane must bee bound one or two large Rockets, according to the bignesse and weight of the Dragon shall require; the body must be filled with divers petrars, that may consume it, and a sparkling receipt must be so disposed upon it, that beeing fired, it may burne both at the mouth and at the tayle thereof.
He also provides an illustration that shows a dragon flying along a line drawn between two windows, a device that could easily have been adapted for use in the theatre.
Such effects were ambitious developments of the technique described by Serlio in his account of the simulation of 'beames of the lightning' whereby
you must draw a piece of wyre over the Scene, which must hang downewards, whereon you must put a squib covered over with pure gold or shining lattin [sheet tin] which you will: and while the Bullet is rouling, you must shoote of some piece of Ordinance, and with the same giving fire to the squibs, it will worke the effect which is desired.
In Dekker's play If It Be Not Good, The Devil Is In It, performed at the Red Bull Theatre in 1610-12, a stage direction reads 'Fireworks on lines' (E2r). In view of the Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences' predilection for pyrotechnic displays it is a matter of some surprise that only two playhouses—the first Globe in 1611 and the first Fortune in 1618—were actually destroyed by fire.
Despite the extensive dramatic portrayal of such diverse supernatural phenomena, the Elizabethan playwrights made little use of the rich potential for visual effects in their portrayal of witchcraft activities. However, as was noted above, the representations of both magicians and the demons they conjured were twin elements of established dramatic traditions and no such tradition existed for the stage representation of witchcraft. Moreover, the neglect of the obvious opportunities for spectacle offered by witchcraft practices is part of the overall pattern of a low-key approach to the subject. The principal exception is Doctor Faustus but although Faustus is a witch his portrayal is closely allied to the conventions of the stage magician. Likewise, the episode in Henry VI, Part Two, where the spirit is summoned by Margery Jourdain and Bolingbroke (I.iv) is a typical conjuration sequence, similar to many other such scenes of the period.
However, during the early part of the seventeenth century the dramatic portrayal of practices specifically related to witchcraft became a more frequent occurrence. This might reflect a greater interest in the more salacious aspects of the subject following the succession of James I, but the dramatists also seem to have seen the opportunities witchcraft provided in helping to satisfy their audiences' increasing demand for ever more ambitious visual effects.
The scenes in Macbeth featuring the Weird Sisters are an early indication of this growing trend. Any attempt to recreate the original methods of staging these scenes must be highly conjectural. Compared with many contemporary texts, the First Folio version contains few detailed stage directions, but it is possible to formulate a hypothesis, based on the hints given in the text coupled with our knowledge of Jacobean stage conditions.
There is one contemporary eye-witness account of Macbeth in performance—that by Simon Forman in his Bocke of Plaies, in which he describes seeing 'Macbeth at the Glob' on 20 April 1611. Unfortunately, Forman virtually ignores the witchcraft elements in the play. He makes no reference to the opening scene or to Macbeth's visit to the Weird Sisters in their cavern and the Apparitions he witnesses there. These omissions are surprising in view of Forman's interest in astrology and the occult, but the whole account is completely unreliable and seems to have been based on imperfect recollection some time after the event—which he wrongly dates as 1610. Forman states, for example, that Macbeth is created Prince of Northumberland. He seems to have boosted his memory by reference to Holinshed's account, describing Macbeth's first encounter with the Weird Sisters in terms very close to those in the Chronicles of Scotland, where the meeting with the three 'nymphs or feiries' is set in a landscape of 'woods and fields'. Forman states: 'ther was to be observed, firste, how Mackbeth and Bancko, 2 noble men of Scotland, Ridinge thorowe a wod, the[r] stode before them 3 women feiries or Nimphes, And saluted Mackbeth, saying 3 tyms unto him, haille Mackbeth, king of Codon.'
It is thus very dangerous to place any reliance on Forman's account in assessing the staging of the play in 1611. For example, J. M. Nosworthy's assertion in Shakespeare's Occasional Plays (1965), in support of his dating of 1612 for the revised sections of Macbeth, that it is 'ludicrously impossible' to relate the 'secret, black and midnight hags' with the 'three women feiries or Nimphes' that Forman describes (p. 18) falls down on two counts. He ignores the fact that Forman has here clearly turned to Holinshed's account and he also disregards the plasticity of such terms in the Jacobean period, whereby both fairies and nymphs could be synonymous with the modern conception of witches and hags. Similarly, some scholars have taken Forman's words literally and have argued that I.iii is set in a wood, with Macbeth and Banquo entering either on horseback or making 'skilled use of hobby-horses'. Although horses were not unknown on the Elizabe-than stage, their presence here would be an unnecessary complication and Forman once more seems to be relying on Holinshed—or perhaps recalling the woodcut illustration of the episode in the Chronicles.
Although the Weird Sisters are feminine—at least in their outward forms—it is likely that they were originally played by men, rather than the boys who normally took the female roles. Banquo's reference to beards in I.iii is, as we have seen, in accord with the traditional view of the witch's appearance, but it might also indicate masculine players. Certainly, by the Restoration period it was an established tradition that men played the witches' parts, a convention that persisted until the nineteenth century.
A matter of much debate has been whether the Weird Sisters in the first productions actually flew. The final line of I.i—'Hover through the fog and filthy air'—has led to conjecture that here, and elsewhere, they departed by means of a flying device. Such machinery was certainly available in some of the playhouses at the time of the first productions; characters and properties made descents and ascents suspended by wires. The earliest recorded use of such a device was in 1546 when John Dee contructed a machine for a performance of Pax by Aristophanes at Trinity College, Oxford. Dee attributed this invention to his predecessor in the worlds of magic and scholarship, Roger Bacon. Before his death, Faustus is shown the heavenly throne he might have occupied and the stage direction reads, 'Music while the throne descends' (xix. 105.1). The music is the celestial equivalent of the diabolic thunder and lightning, its main function being to drown the sound of the ropes and pulleys while 'the creaking throne comes down', as Jonson caustically describes the no doubt laborious process of these primitive devices.
However, all such sequences involve a single character or simple property and it seems very unlikely that such a machine could have borne the weight of all three Weird sisters at once, and a triple lowering and raising of the device would have been extremely protracted. Coghill suggests [in The Triple Bond, edited by J. G. Price, 1975] that the witches might have flown on three independent wires but this is also improbable. It is true that many Elizabethan actors were skilled acrobats and were no doubt capable of flying on wires in this manner, just as their modern-day counterparts were required to be tumblers, jugglers, trapeze artists and walkers on stilts in Peter Brook's 1970 production of A Midsummer-Night's Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Ben Jonson's An Entertainment of the King and Queen at Theobalds (1607) has the stage direction:
Within, as farther off, in Landscape, were seen clouds riding, and in one corner a boy figuring Good Event, attired in white, hovering in the air, with wings displayed, having nothing seen to sustain him by, all the time the Shew lasted. At the other corner, a Mercury descended, in a flying posture, with his Caduceus in his hand …
Here we have two actors appearing simultaneously, in different areas of the acting space, presumably wearing harnesses attached to wires. However, the approximation to flying seems strictly limited, the impression being more of literally suspended animation than of free flight. Simulated flying effects, as opposed to simple ascents and descents, were no doubt difficult to create with any degree of realism. As late as 1794, Hecate and her companions in Kemble's production of Macbeth were forced to fly backwards 'on account of the Machinery being necessary to be kept out of sight of the audience'!
The theory that the original Macbeth witches flew is also suspect in that although free-flying devices were available in the Banqueting House and other settings for the masques and entertainments, these were almost certainly not installed in any of the public playhouses until after the first performances of Macbeth. Indeed, Bernard Beckerman, after a close study of all the plays known to have been performed at the first Globe, where Macbeth was probably first presented, concludes that the King's Men did not use any flying machinery until they took over the Blackfriars Theatre in 1608 and that 'for the Globe, at least so far as the plays demonstrate, no machinery for flying existed' (Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599-1609 (1962), p. 94). Some form of suspension gear must have been available for staging such a scene as that in Antony and Cleopatra, produced at the Globe in 1607, where 'they heave Antony aloft to Cleopatra' (IV.xv) but this does not seem to have been capable of being adapted to a free-flying device.
The fact that Davenant's revised Macbeth, first produced in 1663/4, boasted among its innovations 'flyings for the witches' also suggests that in the earlier productions no such effects were included. It is very probable that in the First Folio text Hecate enters and departs by means of a flying machine in III.v but this scene is almost certainly an interpolation derived from the similar sequence in The Witch, where such a device was clearly employed. Moreover, the mere inclusion of 'hover' in the Sisters' doggerel does not necessitate an actual display of this traditional power. This might have been suggested simply by placing the opening scene on the first upper level above the main stage. The Parcae-like aspect of the Sisters would thus have been stressed, with their beginning the action overlooking the world of men, to which they descend to meet their mortal victim in I.iii. The display of Macbeth's head on this same upper level in the final scene would have brought the play to a visually ironic conclusion.
Alternatively, the first scene might have been played on the main stage and the Sisters could have made their entry through the mechanised trap-door. The trap at the Globe could certainly have accommodated all three Sisters simultaneously and their entry would have immediately established their demonic natures and hellish origins. A direction in Tancred and Gismund (1591) indicates the entry of three Furies in a manner that may well mirror the first appearance of the Sisters:
Before the Act Megaera riseth out of hell, with the other Furies, Alecto and Tysyphone, dancing an hellish round; which done, she saith:
Sisters, be gone, bequeath the rest to me,
That yet belongs unto this Tragedy.
Such an entrance by the Weird Sisters would have given Macbeth an arresting and appropriate opening and Shakespeare certainly seems to have used the trap in previous witchcraft sequences. Joan la Pucelle's familiar spirits are 'culled / Out of the powerful regions under earth' in Henry VI, Part One (V.iii) and the Spirit that 'riseth' for Mother Jourdain in Henry VI, Part Two (I.iv) is subsequently ordered to 'Descend to darkness and the burning lake'. As the Spirit appears 'it thunders and lightens terribly' and it departs amidst 'thunder and lightning'. This conventional method of masking the noise of the trap's mechanism could give added point to the fact that every entry and departure of the Weird Sisters is similarly accompanied by thunder and lightning.
Shakespeare might also have used for his own particular purposes the traditional emission of sulphurous smoke from the open trap. This established symbol for the entrance to hell could have represented simultaneously the 'fog and filthy air' in which the Sisters depart at the end of I.i. Its use in I.iii would have helped to disguise their descent and enhance their apparently mysterious disappearance implied by Banquo's comment that 'The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / An d these are of them. Whither are they vanish'd?' (II. 79-80). The amount of smoke or 'fog' that could be created was of quite dense proportions, as an episode in Arden of Faversham (1592) indicates. In the fourth Act a thick fog envelops the two murderers, Black Will and Shakbag, as they lie in wait for Arden:
Shakbag: Oh, Will, where are you?
Will: Here, Shakbag, almost in hell's mouth, where I
cannot see my way for smoke.
Shakbag: I pray thee speak still, that we may meet by
the sound, for I shall fall into some ditch or other,
unless my feet see better than my eyes.…
[Then Shakbag falls into a ditch]
Shakbag: Help, Will, help! I am almost drowned!
Will's comparison with being in 'hell's mouth' is clearly a reference to the conventional dramatic portrayal of the smoking entrance to Hell. To give a semblance of realism to the action the fog effect must have been quite extensive and it has to be maintained through two scenes and some eighty lines of dialogue. It also has to be controlled because the air has to clear to coincide with Shakbag's comment a little later, 'See how the sun hath cleared the foggy mist; / Now we have mis't the mark of our intent!' (II. 48-9). The 'fog' was probably produced by burning damp material within a non-inflammable and moveable container positioned under a trap which would be opened at the beginning of the sequence and closed when the effect was no longer required. The scene in Arden of Faversham would have needed two open trap-doors because Shakbag's falling into a ditch would presumably have been accomplished by his disappearing through an opening in the stage.
If such a method was used at the end of I.i in Macbeth to represent the fog into which the Sisters vanish, the effect could then have merged with the off-stage sounds of battle required by the direction 'Alarum within' at the beginning of I.ii to suggest the smoke-filled battle-field from which emerges the 'bleeding Captain' to meet the ill-fated Duncan.
The Weird Sisters might have used an alternative means of entry at the beginning of I.iii. The impression conveyed by their opening dialogue is that they are meeting for their agreed rendezvous after going their separate ways since I.i. Some Elizabethan theatres—for example the Red Bull—had several non-mechanical traps spaced at intervals on the main stage. The Sisters might have made separate entrances through these, but there is no evidence that the Globe possessed such additional traps. Another possibility is that for this entry the Sisters climbed up stepladders leading from the yard into which the stage projected. The 'groundlings' habitually occupied this area but a space on either side of the stage could have been kept clear. The temporary installation of such steps in Elizabethan playhouses is suggested by Allardyce Nicoli in his article 'Passing over the stage' in Shakespeare Survey, 12 (1959), where he refers to 'the longstanding tradition in booth stages of ladder-like steps from the ground to the raised acting level, associated with the tradition of steps from stage to floor in Renaissance court theatres' (p. 53).
It is of course very probable that, as in the modern theatre, various production techniques were used in the early years of a play's history. The considerable flexibility of the stage equipment of the period would have permitted—and indeed encouraged—such variations, and moreover the wide range of theatrical facilities available, particularly when a company was on tour, would often have necessitated a range of approaches.
This could well have been the case with IV. i of Macbeth, which requires more complex stage business than the earlier witchcraft scenes. It might have opened with the three Sisters ascending through the main trap, grouped around the cauldron and accompanied once more by smoke and perhaps flames—representing both the fires of Hell and the terrestrial blaze over which the cauldron's ingredients are bubbling. No precise locale is given in the Folio directions but an interior setting is implied by the Second Witch's cry at the advent of Macbeth: 'Open locks, who ever knocks!' (I. 46). Macbeth's entry would be through one of the two doors at the rear of the main stage, perhaps the same door through which Macduff and Lennox enter before the discovery of Duncan's murder in II.iii. The knocking which precedes Macbeth's descent into this 'pit of Acheron' is an echo of the insistent knocking required by the stage directions and the dialogue during the earlier episode, prior to the Porter's opening of his metaphorical hell-gate.
The three Apparitions, whose appearances are heralded by the direction 'Thunder', might have used the main trap, apparently emerging from the cauldron by means of a false bottom in the latter. The mechanical trap could accomplish the rapid series of ascents and descents required here, as is demonstrated by the stage directions in the preliminary dumb-show in The Devil's Charter, which was first performed at the Globe at about the same time as the early productions of Macbeth. The stage direction 'Descends' marking the departures of each Apparition, together with Macbeth's statement that the third figure 'rises like the issue of a king' confirm that a trap was used for these effects.
The Apparitions might have been represented by artificial figures, perhaps equipped with speaking tubes similar to that suggested for Friar Bacon's brazen head. Alternatively, they could have been portrayed by actors, suitably costumed and carrying appropriate properties. The Macbeth scene has marked affinities with the conjuration episode in Henry VI, Part Two (I.iv) and the nine lines spoken by the Spirit that rises and descends in this scene were probably spoken by an actor directly addressing the audience. In the scene in Friar Bacon the head speaks only seven words—'Time is … Time was … Time is past'—and if the speaking tube had produced a muffled or distorted effect it would not have mattered unduly. In the Henry VI and Macbeth scenes, on the other hand, it is extremely important for the audience to hear clearly the Spirits' responses.
In Macbeth the actors could have appeared either through a trap-door within the main trap or through a smaller opening positioned at the rear of the stage, behind the Sisters and their cauldron. Neither of these traps would have been mechanised and the members of the company producing these effects would have had to mount and descend a ladder placed in the 'hell'. Such a method was probably used in Richard III, V.iii, where eleven ghosts 'enter' in succession to threaten Richard and encourage Richmond before the Battle of Bosworth. In Macbeth the entrances and exits, marked each time by the direction 'He descends', are carefully placed within the dialogue to allow for the inevitable pauses between each appearance—whichever method was employed. However, one can imagine the hectic scenes off, or rather below stage, as each Apparition made its entry and departure. Booth's theatrical company were later to use the trapdoor and ladder technique for this scene in their 1886/7 production of Macbeth and Katherine Goodall (Kitty Molony), who played the Second Apparition, recalled the practical difficulties of performing this sequence:
The armed head went up first, the 'Child Apparition' followed me. This trap business is a scamper. The first and last apparitions had time for cautious one-way traffic—the first for getting on, the last for getting off—but the middle one to connect with the cues, needs to jump lively both ways.
After the Third Apparition has descended, the cauldron is removed. Macbeth's questions: 'Why sinks that cauldron, and what noise is this?' (I. 106) together with the direction 'Hautboys' are clear indications that the cauldron disappears whence it came, via the mechanised trap, whose noises on this occasion are disguised by music. The stage is thus cleared for the 'Show of eight Kings and Banquo following'. It is possible that these figures also appear in turn by means of the trap-door, and Macbeth's injunction, 'Down' , to the spirit of Banquo implies such a method. However, Macbeth's commentary on the line of kings indicates that their entries take place in rapid succession—the last four figures all appear within the space of just over three lines of verse. It is difficult to see how the actors could have mounted the steps to the trap with sufficient speed for their entrances to coincide with Macbeth's words. The below-stage technicians would only just have restored order after the confusion that probably reigned during the Apparitions sequence and they would have been engaged in preparing the trap mechanism for the imminent descent of the Weird Sisters themselves.
An ingenious alternative reconstruction of the staging of this effect is proposed by J. C. Adams in The Globe Playhouse: its Design and Equipment (1942), pp. 189-91. He suggests that the line of kings processed in single file at the rear of the main stage, across which a curtain was normally stretched to form a narrow passageway for the actors to move from one side of the stage to the other whilst remaining out of sight of the audience. At the words 'Show … Show … Show' (II. 107-9) the witches would draw the curtains slightly to reveal the line of actors who would appear in turn, timing their entrances to coincide with Macbeth's carefully paced commentary (II. 112-24). Despite the ingenious suggestion that the eighth king 'who bears a glass' was carrying a mirror whereby King James could see his own image reflected, the object was probably a magic glass of the crystal ball variety.
The final effect in the scene is the apparent vanishing of the Weird Sisters, accomplished once again by means of the main trap. It is little wonder that Macbeth is moved to cry 'But no more sights' (I. 155) for he has witnessed a frightening display of the Sisters' magical powers which at the same time has provided an impressive demonstration of the theatrical effects that were at the disposal of the Jacobean dramatists.
Although it is impossible to be certain about the production of any of the supernatural effects in Macbeth, there is no such problem with The Masque of Queenes. We know a great deal about the methods of staging masques from the detailed accounts of performances, both in England and on the Continent. The English masque was greatly influenced by the Italian form in particular and the techniques described in such a work as Sabbattini's Pratica di fabricar scene e machine ne ' teatri can be confidently related to the productions at the Stuart courts. Moreover, the Chatsworth Collection contains a comprehensive assembly of costume and set designs executed by Inigo Jones for masques performed between 1606 and 1640. They include designs made for The Masque of Queenes and these, together with Jonson's own account of the staging of the Masque—included in his holograph version—allow us to reconstruct with some certainty the effect the work made in its single performance at the Banqueting House in February 1609.
Jonson tries to recapture something of the air of anticipation that preceded the performance as he describes the opening of the anti-masque:
First, then, his Ma.tie being set, and the whole Company in full expectation, that wch presented it selfe was an ougly Hell; wch, flaming beneath, smoaked unto the top of the Roofe … These Witches, wth a kind of hollow and infernali musique, came forth from thence. First one, then two, and three, and more, till theyr number encreasd to Eleven; all differently attir'd; some, wth ratts on theyr heads; some, on theyr shoulders; others wth oyntment-potts at theyr girdles; All wth spindells, timbrells, rattles, or other veneficall instruments, making a confused noyse, wth strange gestures.
Jonson states that the anti-masque was devised for 'twelve Women, in the habite of Haggs, or Witches', but he presumably means that the actors who performed this sequence, probably members of the King's Men company, portrayed women. He adds that 'the devise of their attire was m r Jones his'. Although eight of Jones's beautiful designs for the Queens' dresses are preserved in the Chatsworth Collection, there is unfortunately no trace of his designs for the witches' costumes. There is, however, a sketch by Jones dating from about this time, which portrays a series of grotesque heads, with fantastic head-dresses (Chatsworth Collection, design no. 463). These sketches are in the Renaissance tradition of Leonardo and Rosso, but they may possibly be early drafts for the antimasque, with the head-dresses being stylised representations of the 'ratts on theyr heads' described by Jonson.
The temporary platform erected in the Banqueting House did not apparently possess mechanical traps and there was no extensive 'hell' area beneath the stage. So it is probable that the hags entered through a curtain painted with a hell-mouth scene. Such a device was frequently used in the masques and it would have divided the front section of the stage, where the anti-masque would be performed, from the main area, where was positioned the spectacular setting for the masque itself. The witches then proceed to dance and utter charms to summon their Dame, who enters: 'Naked arm'd, bare-footed, her frock tuck'd, her hayre knotted, and folded with vipers; In her hand, a Torch made of a dead-Mans arme, lighted; girded with a snake' (95-8). She commands them to create a spell which will destroy the 'soft peace'. The hags contribute a variety of magical objects to the spell-making, which is conducted around a cauldron, and they conclude the ritual by performing their 'praeposterous' dance. Finally:
in the heate of theyr Daunce, on the sodayne, was heard a sound of loud Musique, as if many Instruments had given one blast. Wth wch, not only the Hagges themselves, but theyr Hell, into wch they ranne, quite vanishd; and the whole face of the Scene alterd; scarse suffring the memory of any such thing: But, in the place of it appear'd a glorious and magnificent Building, figuring the House of Fame, in the upper part of wch were discovered the twelve Masquers sitting upon a Throne triumphall, erected in forme of a Pyramide, and circled wth all store of light.
The vanishing of the Hell scene was probably achieved by the rapid drawing or raising of the curtain, with any extraneous sounds being drowned by the blast of 'loud Musique'. Allardyce Nicoli suggests a more complicated arrangement whereby the hell scene was set on a revolving platform which turned to reveal the base of the House of Fame structure. However, if such a method had been used it is likely that Jonson would have noted it in his description of the performance, and it is probable that the more mundane curtain effect was employed. The upper section of the House of Fame was certainly built on some form of turntable for Jonson describes how this massive structure, complete with its twelve masquers, 'being Machina versatilis, sodaynely chang'd; and in the place of it appeard Fama bona'. Jones's design for this 'turning machine' survives in the Chatsworth Collection. He had devised similar structures for Hymenaei in 1606 and The Haddington Masque in 1608 but neither was as elaborate as that used here. The Accounts of the Audit Office contain a description of the setting up of the structure in the Banqueting House:
making a greate Throne of cantes borne in the middest by a greate piller with divers wheeles and devices for the moving rounde thereof, framing and setting up of a great stage iiijor [four] fote highe whereon the same frame was placed.… setting up a greate stage … wth a floore in the midle of the same being made wth sondry devices wth greate gates and turning doores belowe and a globe and sondry seates above for the Quene and Ladies to sitt on and to be turned rounde aboute.
It is hardly surprising, in view of the elaborate nature of the structure, that the Venetian ambassador reported that the Queen 'held daily rehearsals and trials of the machinery'. The reference in the Accounts to the floor in the middle of the lower part of the edifice reinforces the view that the structure as a whole did not revolve.
The splendour of the House of Fame was enhanced oy the 'store of light' which encircled it. Jonson describes how 'the Freezes, both below, and above, were filled wth severall-colourd Lights, like Emeralds, Rubies, Saphires, Carbuncles, &c. The Reflexe of wch, wth other lights plac'd in ye concave, upon the Masquers habites, was full of glory' (II. 695-9). Such effects were used frequently in both England and Italy and were probably obtained by filling glasses with coloured liquids and placing lights—usually candles—behind them.
The masque then proceeded on its stately progress and the hags made a final appearance at its conclusion, when the Queens made a triumphant procession around the stage riding in chariots drawn by heraldic beasts and with 'the Hagges, bound before them' (I. 715).
There are some apparent similarities between the anti-masque and Macbeth. The spell-making sequence in Jonson's work is an elaboration of Shakespeare's cauldron scene and the entry of the Hags, erupting on to the stage through the 'ougly' hell-mouth might have been inspired by the appearances of the Weird Sisters from their smoking 'hell'. If Macbeth did receive a court performance, either at Greenwich or Hampton Court, where traps would not have been available, the Sisters' entrances could well have been made through a curtain similar to that probably used in the Masque.
Lawrence's theory linking the two works with The Witch is strengthened by a comparison of the likely staging methods of the three plays. The first appearance of the witches in Middleton's work—in I.ii—is heralded by the enigmatic stage direction: 'Enter Hecate: and other witches: (with Properties, and Habits fitting)'. This could be theatrical shorthand for the actors' appearance in the appropriate costumes and properties in the possession of the King's Men and which were originally created for their performance of the anti-masque. Similarly, the direction at the end of V.iii—'here they dance the witches' dance and exeunt'—seems to refer to an established piece of stage business. This dance could be one of those originally performed by the Hags in Jonson's Masque. They are described in similar terms. Hecate in The Witch commands: 'Round, around, around, about, about' (I. 79), whilst in the Seventh Charm of the Masque, immediately prior to the dance, the Hags go 'About, about, and about … Around, around, / Around, around' (II . 331-9).
The Weird Sisters also process around their cauldron 'in a ring' in IV . 1 of Macbeth. Eleven hags plus the Dame perform the dances in the masque and the sequence in The Witch requires at least six witches. It is therefore significant that immediately prior to the charm in Macbeth the Folio stage direction indicates that 'Hecate and the three other witches enter'. The possible connection with The Witch could also explain this direction that has puzzled editors and led to such emendations as 'Enter Hecate to the other three witches'. As in Middleton's play, Hecate is clearly regarded here as a witch and the direction is similar to that in I.ii of The Witch, 'Enter Hecate and other witches.' The First Folio does not indicate any departure for Hecate and the additional witches, so they might have remained on stage to join in the 'antic round' that the Weird Sisters perform to 'cheer' Macbeth later in the scene. John P. Cutts in Musique de la Troupe de Shakespeare (Paris, 1959) prints the contemporary music for two witches' dances composed by the court musician, Robert Johnson. He argues that one of these dances was performed in both The Witch and The Masque of Queenes and that it was then included in the revised version of Macbeth. The music is both melodic and measured—even more so than that for the Witches' Dance in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, composed some eighty years later.… There is little indication in the music of the jerky and disjointed rhythm suggested by Jonson's description of the dance as being 'full of praeposterous change, and gesticulation'. Nevertheless, it remains likely that the dance in Macbeth originated in the masque and therefore Jonson's account gives us a vivid indication of how the sequences were performed in the interpolated sections of Macbeth. Although these dances are usually omitted from modern productions, it is quite possible that Shakespeare sanctioned their inclusion in the revival. A similar process of borrowing from a masque is probably evident in the satyrs' dance in IV.iv of The Winter's Tale, which seems to have been taken from the anti-masque of satyrs in Jonson's Masque of Oberon, the music for which was also composed by Johnson. This was performed on 1 January 1611 and the Macbeth revival could well have been staged at about this time.
Cutts also prints a setting by Johnson of 'Come away, come away', one of the songs performed in The Witch and referred to in Macbeth. The song occurs in the latter at the end of III.v, a scene that seems to owe a great deal to Ill.iii of The Witch. In the Macbeth scene, Hecate clearly departs by means of a flying device; she says she is 'for th' air' (I. 20) and she leaves to join her little spirit who 'Sits in a foggy cloud, and stays for me' (I. 35). Flying machinery was also used in the equivalent scene in The Witch. Hecate's exit is signalled by the stage direction 'going up' and she declares 'Now I go, now I fly'. Immediately before this, the machinery must have been used in the reverse direction for Hecate states 'There's one comes down' and the stage direction indicates 'A Spirit like a Cat descends'. It is possible, particularly if the Cat was played by a boy, that the equipment could have borne the weight of both Hecate and the spirit, allowing them to make a spectacular ascent whilst Hecate declaimed her concluding speech, describing the pleasures of flying, from 'above'.
The flight thus seems to have been accomplished on an ascending and descending 'throne' rather than with a free-flying harness. In both scenes the song 'Come away' is performed off-stage by spirits and in each case the singing accompanies the flying, thereby helping to mask the mechanical noises. The singers are clearly positioned at an upper level in The Witch for the stage direction reads 'in the air' and in Macbeth the spirit summons Hecate from a 'foggy cloud'. This suggests that the flying machinery was concealed in folds of light drapery, a device that was used extensively in the masques to achieve such effects.
The quarto states that The Witch was presented at the Blackfriars. Shakespeare's company took over this theatre as their winter quarters in 1608 and it therefore seems highly likely that the Hecate sections in Macbeth, including the flying sequence, were inserted for a revival of the play at about this time, to take advantage of their newly acquired machinery. This equipment was also used in the scene in Cymbeline, which also dates from the relevant period around 1609, where 'Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle' (V.iv). This spectacle might provide a further instance of the interchanging of effects between plays and masques for it seems to have been revived for the performance of Townsend's Tempe Restored (1632) where, in the midst of 'a new Heaven … Jove sitting on an Eagle is seen hovering in the air with a glory behind him'.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537
Anglo, Sidney, ed. The Damned Art: Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977, 258 p.
Useful essay collection on witchcraft and magic in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Beckwith, Sarah. "The power of devils and the hearts of men: notes towards a drama of witchcraft." In Shakespeare and the Changing Curriculum, edited by Lesley Aers and Nigel Wheale, pp. 143-61. London: Routledge, 1991.
Examination of the importance of sixteenth and seventeenth century beliefs in witchcraft for Macbeth.
Briggs, K. M. The Anatomy of Puck. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959, 284 p.
Important account of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Engilish beliefs in monsters, fairies, ghosts, and other spiritual beings.
Boas, Marie. The Scientific Renaissance: 1450-1630. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962, 380 p.
Valuable study of the shift from the Renaissance view of the natural world to the scientific empiricism of the seventeenth century.
Craig, Hardin. The Enchanted Glass: The Elizabethan Mind in Literature. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, I960, 293 p.
First published in 1935, this is a classic examination of Elizabethan modes of thought, containing detailed analyses of cosmologica!, astrological, and occult beliefs.
Garin, Eugenio. Astrology in the Renaissance: The Zodiac of Life. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, 145 p.
Valuable study of Astrological thought in Renaissance Italy, focusing on such figures as Petrarch, Ficino, and Pico della Mirandola.
Gatti, Hilary. The Renaissance Drama of Knowledge: Giordano Bruno in England London: Routledge, 1989, 228 p.
Study of the influence of the major Hermetic philosopher in England. The volume includes extensive commentary on Elizabethan drama, in particular Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Greenblatt, Stephen. "Shakespeare Bewitched." In Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions, edited by Tetsuo Kishi, Roger Pringle, and Stanley Wells, pp. 13-42. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994.
Examination of the theatrical representation of witchcraft in Macbeth.
Hale, John. "The Taming of Nature." In The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, pp. 509-83. New York: Atheneum, 1994.
Learned overview of Renaissance ideas of nature and the place of humankind in the natural world.
Merkel, Ingrid and Debus, Allen G. , eds. Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe. Cranbury, N. J.: Associated University Presses, 1988, 438 p.
Valuable collection of essays on the nature of Hermetic thought from antiquity to the eighteenth century
Parr, Johnstone. Tamburlaine 's Malady and Other Essays on Astrology in Elizabethan Drama .Tuskaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1953.
Examines the presence of astrology in plays by Christopher Marlowe, John Lyly , Robert Greene, George Chapman, Shakespeare, and others.
Walker, D. P. Spiritual and Demonic Magic From Ficino to Campanella. London: The Warburg Institute, 1958, 244 pp.
Classic study of Renaissance magical thought focusing on the works of Ficino and Campanella.
West, Robert Hunter. The Invisible World: A Study of Pneumatology in Elizabethan Drama. Athens, GA. : University of Georgia Press, 1939, 275 p.
Influential analysis of Renaissance theories regarding spirits and demons and the presence of these ideas in Elizabethan drama.
Woodbridge, Linda. The Scythe of Saturn: Shakespeare and Magical Thinking. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994, 390 p.
An anthropological, historical, and psychoanalytical examination of Shakespeare's approach to magic in his plays and poetry.
Woodman, David. White Magic and English Renaissance Drama. Cranbury, N.J. : Associated University Presses, 1973, 148 pp.
Examines traditional conceptions of white magic and their presence in the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support