The staging of witchcraft in the Jacobean theatre
thesisposted on 10.07.2014, 15:04 by Shokhan Rasool Ahmed
This thesis investigates witchcraft during the reign of King James VI and I when belief in witchcraft was widespread in Scotland and England, and there was a growing tendency for dramatists to use witchcraft materials in their plays. The writings of Reginald Scot and King James I, alongside modern scholarly work by Keith Thomas, Allen Macfarlane, Diane Purkiss and others, will be considered to analyse beliefs about supernatural power and, in particular, witchcraft and witches’ activities. This study is principally concerned with the staging of drama at the Blackfriars theatre, especially from the time that the King’s Men leased it in 1609. The thesis examines Jacobean plays which were staged at the Blackfriars, in comparison to Elizabethan (e.g., Dr Faustus, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and Mother Bombie), and post-Jacobean plays (e.g., The Late Lancashire Witches) which were also performed there. The nature and status of stage directions in these plays will also be investigated, paying particular attention to the status of stage directions in printed texts, and whether these were originally written by the playwrights themselves or were revised or supplied by editors, scriveners or members of the theatre companies. Finally, five case studies consider thematically-related plays performed by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars. Several questions will be investigated. Why is it particularly important to look at the visual depiction of witches in theatre? What is the difference when a supernatural character ‘enters’ the stage via flying or platform traps and does it make any difference to the audience when supernatural characters use one form of entrance rather than another? The thesis will also evaluate how the technology of the Blackfriars playhouse facilitated the appearance of spirits, witches, magicians, deities and dragons on stage. The last chapter deals with native witches and ‘cunning women’ on stage and also considers why elderly women in early modern England were more prone to accusations of witchcraft than the young, and why a number of harmless women were tortured, including midwives and healers.