Not Edmonton, Alberta nor Edmonton, Kentucky, but Edmonton, a suburb of London, England. But Edmonton none the less.
It is quite a popular post-Shakespearian play, which is still produced today, and no less than Sir Laurence Olivia produced a version starring Alec Guinness.
It is a drama about a real contemporaneous witch trial which had more to do with bigamy, murder and the shifting social and moral changes occurring in the transition from agrarian feudalism to the development of capitalism in England than it had to with witchcraft. A poor old woman was hung for the crime committed by another. And this play takes a sympathetic view of her plight, while exposing the real crime behind the charges of witchcraft. As a popular drama it told a story that revealed much about the social change occurring under the surface of English society of the day.
Some call me witch,
And being ignorant of my self, they go
About to teach me how to be one; urging,
That my bad tongue (by their bad language made so)
Forespeaks* their cattle, cloth bewitch their corn
Themselves, their servants, and their babes at nurse.
This they enforce upon me; and in part
Make me to credit it.
*makes prophesies or predictions against
HTML etext of "The Witch of Edmonton" (1621, pub. 1658) by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, William Rowley, et al., was created in July 2006 by Anniina Jokinen of Luminarium. The text is unaltered. Source text:
Dekker, Thomas and John Ford. "The Witch of Edmonton."
Thomas Dekker. Ernest Rhys, Ed.
London: T. Fisher Unwin, nd c1900. 390-
Witchcraft was a live issue in the early reign of James I. Even before he ascended the throne, he believed he had been the subject of a plot by three Scottish witches to shipwreck him by stirring up storms, which was related in the sensational pamphlet News From Scotland, Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of Dr. Fian (1591) Witches appeared in pamphlets based on famous trials, rather like the modern tabloid press, which took a high moral tone of disgust at the depravity and sin which they were forced to relate in such lascivious detail.
Learned books were also published on the subject such as A Discourse of the Subtle Practices of Devils (1587) and King James’ own Demonology (1597). Though some of these works expressed scepticism as to the more lurid claims made about witches, like Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584, banned under the witch enthusiastic James I), they agreed that the spiritual world was a source of danger and the devil sought to do harm to ordinary people.
Witches on the stage, however, tended to be regarded less seriously. Jonson’s The Masque of Queens (1609) included a dance of witches as a prelude to the appearance of the queens, and a later comparison can be made with Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas (1689), whose singing witches seem to be mostly concerned with elaborate musical cackling. When William Davenant revived Macbeth in 1667, he used the witches as an opportunity for a mid-air song and dance sequence.
Of course, we cannot tell exactly how serious or comic these passages would have been in production, but (aside from The Witch of Edmonton, 1658) there don’t seem to be any witch characters in Renaissance drama with either the psychological complexity or demonic drive to be found in roles like Iago or Lady Macbeth. Their appearance in dances and masquing suggests that their role was more as symbols than characters. It is also worth bearing in mind that the witch scenes in Macbeth, particularly the parade of kings they summon up for Macbeth, may have been at least partially intended to please James I, who claimed to be descended from Banquo and was therefore a member of the glorious royal line the witches foretell.
Despite all the discussion of 'wierd - weyard sisters' these are simply standard English witches - 'old, lame, bleare-eied, fowle, and full of wrinkles... Lean and deformed', as Reginald Scot (Bk.I,iii) says; or consider the Mother Sawyer in The Witch of Edmonton who is described as poor, deform'd, and ignorant/ And like a bow buckl'd and bent etogether' [II.i.3-4]. By contrast the Scots witches described by the experienced King James could be 'rich and worldly-wise, some of them fatte or corpulent in their bodies', no doubt thinking of Barbara Napier and Euphame McCalzeane, wives of Edinburgh burgesses.
While Holinshed leaves open the question of who or what the weird sisters are, Shakespeare brings them on stage with thunder and lightning. It was standard thinking that storms were associated with witchcraft, and conversely the entry of the witches provided an excuse for getting the play started with an attention-getting special effect.. The status of the weird sisters is reinforced by:
FIRST WITCH: I come, Graymalkin
SECOND WITCH: Paddock calls [I.i.8-9]
– by which the audience would at once understand that these are witches, since the cat ('Graymalkin' ) and the toad ('Paddock') were frequently to be found as familiars in witchtrials in England. These familiar spirits or 'imps', demons in the form of pet animals, were not of central importance in the witchcraft traditions of Scotland or the Continent at the beginning of the 17th century, but they were almost the defining characteristic of English witches. As a reward for serving the witch, familiars were allowed to suck blood from a special nipple hidden somewhere on the witch's body, the 'devil's teat'. In the Witch of Edmonton Mother Sawyer has a familiar spirit in the form of a dog, to which she turns with:
SAWYER:: Comfort me: thou shalt have the teat anon.
DOG: Bow wow: I'll have it now.
SAWYER I am dried up / With cursing and with madness; and have yet
No blood to moisten these sweet lips of thine: [IV.i.151-4]
The Witch of Edmonton is an English Jacobean play, written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford in 1621.
The play—"probably the most sophisticated treatment of domestic tragedy in the whole of Elizabethan-Jacobean drama"—is based on supposedly real-life events that took place in the village of Edmonton, outside London, earlier in the year. The play depicts Elizabeth Sawyer, an old woman shunned by her neighbours, who gets revenge by selling her soul to the Devil, who appears to her in the shape of a black dog called Tom. In addition, there are two subplots. One depicts a bigamist who murders his second wife at the devil's prompting, and the other depicts a clownish yokel who befriends the devil-dog.
The Witch of Edmonton
by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, William Rowley
Edited by Arthur F. Kinney
It is a historical phenomenon that while thousands of women were being burnt as witches in early modern Europe, the English — although there were a few celebrated trials and executions, one of which the play dramatises — were not widely infected by the witch-craze. The stage seems to have provided an outlet for anxieties about witchcraft, as well as an opportunity for public analysis. The Witch of Edmonton (1621) manifests this fundamentally reasonable attitude, with Dekker insisting on justice for the poor and oppressed, Ford providing psychological character studies, and Rowley the clowning. The village community of Edmonton feels threatened by two misfits, Old Mother Sawyer, who has turned to the devil to aid her against her unfeeling neighbours, and Frank, who refuses to marry the woman of his father’s choice and ends up murdering her. This edition shows how the play generates sympathy for both and how contemporaries would have responded to its presentation of village life and witchcraft.
Because of his disdain of the orthodox moral code of his time and his sympathetic treatment of forbidden love, John Ford is often regarded as the most modern of Elizabethan and Stuart dramatists. He was baptized at Ilsington in Devonshire, April 17, 1586, was probably the John Ford who entered Exeter College, Oxford, in March, 1601, and was certainly the John Ford who was admitted to the Middle Temple in November 1602. He first appeared in print with Fame's Memorial (1606), a long elegy on the death of the Earl of Devonshire, and he published other occasional pieces before he finally commited himself to a dramatic career. His first venture in dramatic work may well have been in the writing or revising of A Bad Beginning Makes a Good Ending, which was acted by the King's Men at court in 1612 or 1613, and which was one of the four unprinted plays of Ford that were destroyed by Warburton's cook. His career as a playwright definitely begins, however, in 1621, when he joined with Thomas Dekker and William Rowley in the composition of The Witch of Edmonton. He collaborated with Dekker in several other plays and with Webster in at least one. After about 1624, however, he seems to have worked alone, and his reputation rests chiefly upon his three unaided tragedies of forbidden love, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Broken Heart, and Love's Sacrifice.
If Massinger, among the Elizabethan dramatists, be peculiarly the poet of moral dignity and tenderness, John Ford must be called the great painter of unhappy love. This passion, viewed under all its aspects, has furnished the almost exclusive subject matter of his plays. He was born in 1586, and died in 1639; and does not appear to have been a professional writer, but to have followed the employment of the law.
He began his dramatic career by joining with Dekker in the production of the touching tragedy of The Witch of Edmonton, in which popular superstitions are skilfully combined with a deeply-touching story of love and treachery; and the works attributed to him are not numerous. Besides the above piece he wrote the tragedies of The Brother and Sister, The Broken Heart (beyond all comparison his most powerful work, a graceful historical drama on the subject of Perkin Warbeck), and the following romantic or tragi-comic pieces: The Lover's Melancholy, Love's Sacrifice, The Fancies, Chaste and Noble, and The Lady's Trial.
Thomas Dekker the dramatist--there are records of several contemporaries with this name--was born in London about 1570, but no details of his family relations or of his education are known. The first record of his work is a payment to him in January, 1598, as a member of Henslowe's group of dramatists. For the next six years he was actively engaged in playwriting, chiefly under Henslowe, first for the Admiral's men and later for Worcester's, and he continued to write plays sporadically during the remainder of a comparitively long life. From early in the seventeenth century, however, he devoted most of his time to the composition of prose pamphlets, which are among the best records of London life in his day. The most important are The Bellman of London (1608) and The Gull's Hornbook (1609). In spite of his prolific literary output, Dekker lived a life of hardship as a result of debt. He borrowed money of Henslowe in 1598 to secure his release from prison, and in 1619 he had been in prison some years. He may have been the Thomas Dekker who was buried in 1632; he was certainly dead by 1640 or 1641.
In spite of the poverty, imprisonment, and other embittering experiences he suffered (or, who knows, perhaps because of them), Dekker’s plays are noted for a sweetness of outlook and a sympathy of understanding that is difficult to match outside of Shakespeare’s happiest work. As Parrot and Ball say of The Shoemaker’s Holiday, “It would be hard to find another Elizabethan play where the background of contemporary life gives so strong a sense of atmosphere, an atmosphere of Old and Merry England at its jolliest” (A Short View of Elizabethan Drama [New York: Scribners, 1943], 109).
Even in that later, darker work, The Witch of Edmonton, Dekker’s compassion shines. The play was based on a contemporary trial, just as The Shoemaker’s Holiday drew material from recent Protestant wars; and Mother Sawyer, its title character, like some convicted witches, emerges as a rebel. As Jeffrey Burton Russel says, “Witchcraft was . . . the strongest possible religious expression of social discontent” (Witchcraft in the Middle Ages [Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1972], 266).
Significantly, many critics now judge one of Dekker's greatest strengths to be his versatile prose style, which, as demonstrated in his pamphlets as well as his plays, is capable of both dignified formality and lively colloquialism. Recent commentary has increasingly examined Dekker's drama in the context of his overall literary output, with many critics finding a consistent moral view expressed throughout his work. Other modern scholars have challenged the notion that Dekker's plays are poorly integrated, citing thematic patterns, unified plots, consistency of characterization, and other evidence of Dekker's craftsmanship. With such studies has come a heightened appreciation of Dekker as an artist who, as Larry S. Champion has asserted, “genuinely deserves a considerably higher place in the development and maturation of Elizabethan-Jacobean-Caroline drama than most previous critics have been willing to acknowledge.”
English actor and dramatist, collaborator with several of the dramatists of the Elizabethan period, especially with Thomas Middleton. He is not to be identified with "Master Rowley, once a rare scholar of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge", whom Francis Meres described in his Palladis Tamia as one of the "best for comedy." The only Rowley at Pembroke Hall at the period was Ralph Rowley, afterwards rector of Chelmsford. William Rowley is described as the chief comedian in the Prince of Wales's company, and it was doubtless during the two years' union (1614-16) of these players with the Lady Elizabeth's company that he was brought into contact with Middleton.
The Witch of Edmonton, Enter the Spirit Productions at the Southwark Playhouse, London, 7th November – 2nd December, 2000
The absence of a detailed context has important consequences for the play’s representation of witchcraft and devils. The play is appealing to modern audiences partly because of its sympathetic representation of Mother Sawyer, and its apparent understanding of the scapegoating phenomenon that modern social historians have observed in witchcraft accusations. But these materialist implications of the story are of course undermined when the Devil appears, and when Mother Sawyer becomes a real witch. Jacobean audiences may have seen no contradictions here, but in a modern production, played to an audience for whom devils are fictional, the entrance of the Dog risks trivialising the play’s serious issues and diminishing its power to disturb. One solution might be to present the Dog as purely symbolic, an emblem of the social and psychological evils at the root of the Edmonton community. Alternatively, Kyle’s production represented the Dog as a real, independent creature, but drew the audience into a solidly realised religious culture. Rituals, hymns, and suggestions of Puritanism created a powerful vision of a society in genuine fear of devils; and Miles Anderson’s frightening performance as the Dog enabled the audience to share the villagers’ beliefs, rather than dismiss them.
Throughout history the figure of the witch has embodied both male nightmare and female fantasy. While early modern women used belief and ritual to express and manage powerful feelings, the symbols and images surrounding the witch in the New World largely distorted the European views of Native American religions. In our own era, groups as diverse as women writers, academic historians and radical feminists have found in the witch a figure who justifies and defines their own identities. And there are many in the 1990s who still call themselves witches. br br From colonial narratives to court records and from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, b /b b i The Witch in History /i /b b /b shows how the witch has acted and continues to embody the fears, desires and fantasies of women and men.
The Domestic Tragedy of Frank Thorney in The Witch of Edmonton
Leonora Leet Brodwin
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 7, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1967), pp. 311-328
The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations
by Diane Purkiss. 296 pgs.
|8||The all-singing, all-dancing plays of the Jacobean witch-vogue: The Masque of Queens, Macbeth, The Witch|
|9||Testimony and truth: The Witch of Edmonton and The Witches of Lancashire|
Lisa Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University
Domain: Literature. Genre: Play. Country: England, Britain, Europe.
The Witch of Edmonton, a collaborative piece by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley, was first acted in 1621 (there is a record of a performance at Court on 29 December of that year), though not published until 1658. When first acted, it was a topical play, for Elizabeth Sawyer, the real-life model of the eponymous witch, had been executed on 19 April 1621. The play draws heavily on a pamphlet by Henry Goodcole, The wonderful discoverie of Elizabeth Sawyer, Witch (1621), but takes a rather different attitude. Goodcole's witch is simply a bad woman, who has no particular need to seek magical aid since she has a husband to support her and a family. The Sawyer of the play, however, is a poor, lonely, and unfairly ostracised old woman, who does not turn to witchcraft until after she has already been unjustly accused of it, when she no longer has anything to lose. Her only friend is her familiar, the talking dog Tom (performed by a human actor). In any case she does not achieve very much, since so many of those around her are only too willing to sell their souls to the devil all by themselves.
FAMILIARS AND TRANSFORMATIONSThe witch of Edmonton, Elizabeth Sawyer, in 1621, said: 'It is eight yeares since our first acquaintance, and three times in the weeke, the Diuell would come and see mee; he would come sometimes in the morning, and sometimes in the evening. Alwayes in the shape of a dogge, and of two collars, sometimes of blacke and .sometimes of white. I gaue him leaue to sucke of my bloud, the which hee asked of me. When he came barking to mee he then had done the inischiefe that I did bid him to doe for me. I did call the Diuell by the name of Tom. I did stroake him on the backe, and then he would becke vnto me, and wagge his tayle as being therewith contented.' Margaret Johnson, another Lancashire witch in 1633, 'alsoe saith, yt when her devill did come to sucke her pappe, hee usually came to her, in ye liknes of a cat, sometymes of one colour, and sometymes on (sic) an other. And yt since this trouble befell her, her spirit hath left her, and shee never sawe him since.'
There were other formulæ to be used for healing or as prayer. The words were generally taught by the Devil himself to his disciples, as in the case of Elizabeth Sawyer, the witch of Edmonton, in 1621 "He, the Devil, taught me this prayer, Santibicetur nomen tuum". The Paternoster repeated in Latin was clearly regarded as a charm of great power, for we find Mother Waterhouse using it over her Familiar, "she said that when she would will him to do anything for her, she would say her Pater noster in Latin". In 1597 the name of the God was sometimes changed and the Christian Deity was invoked; Marion Grant, who was burnt for witchcraft cured sick cattle in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and she also charmed a sword by the same means. When crossing themselves the Basque witches in 1609 repeated a prayer, which greatly shocked the Inquisitor, who translates the words into French, "Au nom de Patrique Petrique d'Arragon, a cette heure, a cette heure, Valence, tout notre mal est passe", and "Au nom de Patrique Petrique d'Arragon, Janicot de Castille faites moi un baiser au derriere". De Lancre records that a man-witch at Rion "confessed that he had cured many persons of fever by merely saying these words Consummatum est, making the sign of the Cross, and making the patient say three times Pater noster and Ave Maria". Another man-witch who was sentenced to the galleys for life, said that he had such pity for the horses which the postilions galloped along the road, that he did something to prevent it, which was that he took vervain, and said over it the Paternoster five times and the Ave Maria five times, and then put it on the road, so that the horses should cease to run. Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne in 1662 gave the formula for transforming oneself into an animal. To become a hare, the witch said,
"I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sighing and mickle care,
And I shall go in the Divel's name,
Aye, till I come home again."
To revert to the human form, the witch repeated the words,
"Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare's likeness just now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now."
The Historiography of Witch-Hunting: Discipline of the Unruly on the Witch of Edmonton and Vinegar Tom by I-chun Wang. Tamkang Review: A Quarterly of Comparative Studies between the Chinese and Foreign Literatures, vol. 25 no. 3-4, Spring-Summer 1995, pp. 267-78.
Many records of witch trials carried out in England, Scotland and New England are especially rich in their accounts of witch’s marks. Take an account from 1621 - Elizabeth Sawyer, the Witch of Edmonton was found to possess a “thing like a teat the bigness of the little finger, which was branched at the top like a teat, and seemed as though one had sucked it”. In another case Temperance Lloyd was hanged for witchcraft in 1682 at Exeter, she was searched by Ann Wakely who reported that: “Upon search of her said body, she, this informant, did find in her secret parts two teats hanging nigh together like unto a piece of flesh that a child had sucked. And that each of the said teats was about an inch in length (Howell, State Trails, 1816)”. In 1692 Bridget Bishop was examined during the Salem witches trials and: “a jury of women found a preternatural teat upon her body, but on a second search, within three or four hours, there was no such thing to be seen (Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World, 1693).
Mary Hayes - Discovering the Witch’s Teat: Magical Practices, Medical Superstitions in The Witch of Edmonton
Summers sincerely believed that witches deserved all the punishments they received, he also believed that the confessions of many witches tortured and persecuted, were not the products of hysteria and hallucinations as many would advocate, but to be in the main: "hideous and horrible fact”. He embraced every belief about the evils and vileness of witches, and in the introduction of his book “The History of Witchcraft and Demonology” he tells his readers:
“In the following pages I have endeavored to show the witch as she really was – an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes: a member of a powerful secret organization inimical to Church and State: a blasphemer in word and deed, swaying the villagers by terror and superstition: a charlatan and a quack sometimes: a bawd: an abortionist: the dark counselor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants: a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age".
I must try to collect more examples of bewitched animals, for there is a rough sense of humour around these things: being supernaturally compelled to kiss your cow's backside appears in the pamphlets, and in 'The Witch of Edmonton'.
Wilson, Eric S. (Honors: English, 1992)
Title: Weyward sisters: The Witch of Edmonton and the Rehearsals of witchcraft in early modern England
Advisor: Coddon, Karin
Title: The witch of Edmonton : a critical edition
Advisor: Bradner, Leicester
Challenges to Authority. The Renaissance in Europe, A Cultural Enquiry. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000. xv + 418 pp. Illustrations, figures, maps, notes, index. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 9780300082203.
Challenges to Authority, begins in the sixteenth century and points toward the seventeenth. Three chapters examine the Reformation--chiefly the Protestant reformations. Anne Laurence treats the connection between Renaissance and Reformation in the first chapter and the spread of reform in the second. In the third, Laurence, Mateer, and Webb examine the representation of reform, focusing on ritual, iconoclasm, portraiture, and music. The fourth chapter, by Keith Whitlock, is a close reading of the picaresque tale Lazarillo de Tormes, examining it as humanist parody, social commentary, and anticlerical satire. In the fifth chapter, Elmer asks whether science had a Renaissance, drawing on recent social history of science for his answer. The sixth chapter, also by Elmer, turns to the "dark side," the occult sciences and witchcraft. This chapter provides the background for the seventh chapter, Brown's examination of The Witch of Edmonton, a tragicomic play about witchcraft. Lentin rounds out the volume, and the course, with a chapter on "Montaigne on Montaigne."
|Image Caption |
25-26 January 2008
“Tis all one / To be a witch as to be counted one”: genre, identity and the power of words in The Witch of Edmonton (1621).
The Witch of Edmonton by Dekker, Ford and Rowley (1621) provides two protagonists from different extremes of the social and gender hierarchy, within what Brodwin and Dawson have identified as its ‘Double-Plot’. In its close juxtaposition of two seemingly distinct dramatic forms, (the so-called ‘Domestic Tragedy’ of Frank Thorney and the ‘Witchcraft Drama’ of Elizabeth Sawyer) it interrogates generic classification alongside its portrayal of social injustice, and systems of societal and literary labelling are challenged concurrently. I demonstrate that, from the outset, the work examines the ways texts and words create and destroy the individual and their identity in a society which thrives on labelling ‘the other’ in relation to itself.
My argument is that the text undermines neat categorisation to such an extent that it actively highlights the question of its own identity as a generic type of drama, just as the witch Sawyer’s identity is constantly shifting and even fought over. Rather than simply opposing the two plots, (privileging the seemingly morally repentant Thorney over the resistant, defiant Sawyer) the play emphasises their similarity. Fusing the plots together performatively, it creates a grey area between these oppositions - particularly with regards to the treatment of the female body as governed by the power of imposed, performed words. In this play between difference and similarity, I argue that the work finds its equivocal and distinctively performative voice. In doing so, it offers a complex non-dualistic notion of identity made possible by the foregrounding of the marginalised voice. Accordingly, the work propounds a re-imagining of how dramatic literature in particular functions as a site of contestation and potentiality, in which performance facilitates the emergence of new forms of understanding and classification.
Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic: Discourses of Social Pathology in Early Modern England
Elizabeth Sawyer, the witch of Edmonton, who was the very type depicted by popular belief " with body crooked. and deformed, even bending together"
Cheese gives you nightmares: Old Hags and heartburn - Focus on "the Nightmare"
Anne Armstrong's piece of cheese was also a way of appealing to be believed, marking her innocence of witchcraft. Cheese had long had a destiny-deciding role in distinguishing guilt from innocence in the bread and cheese ordeal or "holy morsel" (Motif H 232; Thomas 1971, 218). Only the innocent could swallow it, while it choked the guilty. As a symbol of the body of Christ, bread's role makes sense in an ordeal appealing to divine judgement; but there was less scriptural justification for the use of cheese in that context. Apuleius, however, shows that cheese had the power to choke and decide men's fates before the full establishment of Christianity, and there are very early references to the bread and cheese ordeal to detect a thief (Eckstein 1927-42, 4:1033-4). Anglo-Saxon law made provision for it and, although it fell from judicial use after 1215, it lingered in popular custom into the early modern period (Kittredge 1928, 238). In 1618, Jane Bulkeley distributed pieces of cheese to an assembled group in order to discover a thief (Thomas 1971, 220). In William Rowley's The Witch of Edmonton (Act 4 scene 1), the witch exclaims: "Let 'em eat cheese and choke" of her false accusers. The fatal power of ordealic cheese has left a linguistic trace in the expression "hard cheese" meaning "bad luck," which is exactly what a dry, old piece of "choke-dog" cheese would be if one's life depended on swallowing it. Bread and cheese signified men and women; united, they symbolised the family and community that decided fates by binding the innocent to the place where they belonged and had a voice, while separating the guilty outsider whose words were untrustworthy. Anne Armstrong swallowed it. In so doing, she demonstrated that her words could be trusted and that she belonged to the community of the living, not to the witches' alien world of deception and theft.
Maids, Wives and Widows: Multiple Meaning and Marriage in The Witch of Edmonton
Parergon - Volume 23, Number 2, 2006, pp. 73-95
Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
Community and Intimacy in English Witchcraft Discourse
Dissertation Abstract–––Julia M. Garrett
Chapter 2: Sociological Drama and the Field of Deviance:
The Case of Elizabeth Sawyer
Chapter 2 analyzes Elizabeth Sawyer’s 1621 trial and execution and the dramatization of her case in The Witch of Edmonton, generally recognized as the most socially incisive of England’s witch plays. The chapter begins by proposing that this play belongs to a special literary genre, defined here as “sociological drama,” which crafts dramatic performance out of historical and judicial documents about a local scandal or episode of violence. By comparing this play with examples from contemporary culture, I argue that sociological drama strives to promote social justice by providing an alternative to journalistic discourses and critiquing the rigidity of judicial discourse in addressing social conflicts. The chapter also examines the one remaining pamphlet account of the case which was written by Sawyer’s jailer, a text which we can read as the manifest narrative of Sawyer’s trial. The play, by contrast, challenges that official history by exposing the social prejudices that lead to Sawyer’s criminalization. Her soliloquies, in fact, echo the insights provided by skeptical witch tracts in directing the audience’s attention to her poverty, physical deformities and old age as the latent reasons for the abuse she suffers at the hands of the community. Thus we could say that The Witch of Edmonton engages in a manifest/latent analysis of witch persecution by asserting that Sawyer’s marginalization as deviant results from social problems other than witchcraft. Chapter 2 also provides an overview of concepts from contemporary theories of deviance and criminology, which has surprisingly not been incorporated into current interdisciplinary scholarship on English or European witchcraft. Deviance theory is particularly apt for this study since sociologists of criminology also use the technique of examining latent social interactions to analyze deviance. A sociological perspective urges us to look at the entire field of deviant conduct represented in a given text and to analyze those forms of deviance differentially, to examine why only certain categories of deviance are aggressively singled out for punishment or prosecution. Thus I argue that the range of crimes and transgressions dramatized by the play’s multiple plots––bigamy, murder and slander, in addition to Sawyer’s witch crimes––establish a comprehensive field of deviance that calls into question the justice of her execution. Such a comparative perspective encourages the audience both to recognize how the community’s prejudices regarding age, class and gender have essentially laid the foundation for her identity as a witch, and to consider a more compassionate attitude towards her in spite of the crimes she has presumably committed.
provide a tangible demonstration of his ability to conflate man’s natural corruption.
In A new Ballad, shewing the great misery sustained by a poore man in essex,
conversation with the Devil in human guise is sufficient to drive the pauper
into a violent rage without the subject of murder being openly mentioned.
In the play The Witch of Edmonton (1621) a single touch from
the Devil in the shape of a dog drives a bigamous husband to murder.
Thus the concepts of an internal (invasive) and external Devil were in no
way mutually exclusive,within or outside Protestant culture. But the emphasis
on internal temptation was increasingly dominant. Devotional, literary and
even visual culture either presented the Devil as an entirely spiritual presence,
or blurred the dynamic of temptation when he was presented physically.
Only witchcraft narratives continued to maintain a purely physical conception
of diabolic temptation, and it must be recognised that this made them
increasingly unusual in early modern English demonism.
The language of 2 Corinthians 6: 14–15 – ‘What concord hath Christ
with Belial?’ – was widely used to denounce tolerance and compromise, be it
of crypto-Catholicism, or religious radicalism. The phrase in 2 Corinthians
11: 14 – ‘for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ – emphasised
the need for constant vigilance lest the Devil hide himself in the most
seemingly benign political and religious activities. The possibility of the
temptation of the body politic stressed the importance of identifying those
diabolic triggers that Satan had introduced into the nation to activate its
corrupt potential and seduce it into apostasy. Where those triggers might lie
was a heavily contested issue. It was defined by an individual sense of
tangibility rather than an allegiance to an abstract ideal. Thus conformists
and nonconformists, Puritans and Arminians, royalists and parliamentarians
employed the language of diabolic subversion in turn against each other.
Interrogating the devil: social and demonic pressure in The Witch of Edmonton.
Publication: Comparative Drama
Publication Date: 12/22/2004
Author: Nicol, David
Reading the play as a demonological study--that is, as a text that attempts to define the boundary between social and demonic causation--reveals the intellectual sophistication of The Witch of Edmonton while acknowledging its roots in the belief systems of early modern England.
My reading of the play is inspired by Stuart Clark's important study of demonology, Thinking with Demons, which argues that studies of early modern witchcraft belief have tended to construct a simplistic opposition between demonology and rationalism by assuming that any early modern writer who discusses the role of demons in the material world must be credulous and retrograde. (1) Clark finds that modern historians tend to overemphasize the importance of the few early modern writers who appear to pre-empt post-Enlightenment thought on magic and devils. He argues that when discussing a period in which almost every thinker believed in the existence of demons that could influence human thoughts and actions, demonological writings must be taken seriously and cannot be disregarded as intellectually unimportant. The problems Clark finds in modern historical scholarship are also discussed in John D. Cox's recent study of stage devils in medieval and early modern drama. Cox contests the influential argument of E. K. Chambers that the presence of devils on the stage marks the introduction of secular elements to the drama--in other words, that stage devils are symptoms of skepticism about the supernatural. Cox instead makes a powerful case for reading stage devils as dramatizations of sincerely held beliefs about the presence of spirits in the material world that are the enemies of positive values, such as charity and communality. (2)
Although his discussion of The Witch of Edmonton is brief, Cox's arguments are highly applicable to the play, which features a splendidly frightening and entertaining devil in the shape of a black dog. Despite the Dog's important role in the play's events, criticism of the play has tended to focus on those elements of it that seem skeptical about supernatural causation, while leaving comparatively unexamined those elements that emphasize the Dog's agency in bringing about the play's events. It is certainly true that the play's depiction of Elizabeth Sawyer, an old woman scapegoated as a witch by her neighbors, is one of the most sober and skeptical accounts of the witch craze in the drama of the period. (3) Similarly, the depiction of Frank Thorney's slide into bigamy and murder emphasizes its origin in his fear of poverty and social scandal. (4) Yet, as Jonathan Dollimore notes, while the play places " [an] emphasis upon identity as socially coerced" it also depicts Sawyer actually becoming a witch after making a pact with the Devil, (5) and the same Devil apparently provokes Frank's murder of his second wife. For modern readers, these interventions by the Dog may indicate a retreat into superstition, sensationalism, or even silliness, (6) and the importance of the Dog's power in the play's intellectual framework may be overlooked.
This essay argues that focusing on the social causes of crime at the expense of the demonic obscures the intellectual complexity of The Witch of Edmonton. The dramatists deliberately highlight the two forms of causation in order to stage a debate about the location of the boundary between them. In so doing, they draw on two demonological texts, adapting them to draw their own distinctive conclusions. Furthermore, they use the clown plot, which is usually dismissed as naive comedy, to deliver the play's conclusions clearly and inventively. The play is thus carefully constructed to draw a specific conclusion: it is not, as has sometimes been claimed, ideologically or structurally incoherent. (7) While its conclusions do not always agree with post-Enlightenment thought, The Witch of Edmonton remains the most serious and intelligent exploration of witchcraft and devils in the drama of the period.
NAMING AND SOCIAL DISINTEGRATION IN "THE WITCH OF EDMONTON"
by Richard W. Grinnell
ESSAYS IN THEATRE
May 1998, pp. 209-223
In 1621, Elizabeth Sawyer of Edmonton was brought to trial, tried, and executed for using witchcraft to kill her neighbor, Agnes Ratcliffe. Records show us that Sawyer was typical of those accused of witchcraft in Renaissance England: she was female, elderly, poor, willing to lash out at those she felt had wronged her, and Ratcliffe was a typical victim: of slightly higher social status, in conflict with Sawyer over economic issues.(1) Like many witchcraft victims before her, Ratcliffe died of a wasting sickness shortly after a memorable clash with the woman who had been defined as a witch.
Wallace Notestein notes the case briefly in his early A HISTORY OF WITCHCRAFT IN ENGLAND FROM 1558-1718: "Agnes Ratcliffe was washing one day, when a sow belonging to Elizabeth licked up a bit of her washing soap. She struck it with a 'washing beetle.' Of course she fell sick, and on her deathbed accused Mistress Elizabeth Sawyer, who was afterwards hanged" . What sets Sawyer's case off from other criminal prosecutions of witches during this period is the swiftness with which it was incorporated into popular and literary culture. First, Henry Goodcole, the minister who took Sawyer's confession and attended her in jail, wrote the popular pamphlet THE WONDERFUL DISCOVERIE OF ELIZABETH SAWYER, A WITCH. Goodcole was followed in the same year by
THE WITCH OF EDMONTON opens with Frank Thorney and his financial and marital woes and asks us as readers and viewers to consider financial issues before we consider demonic. Indeed, as we are sunk deeper into the world of Edmonton and the Frank Thorney plot, we come to believe that financial, rather than demonic, forces drive the play. All decisions are made, and actions taken, in response to financial pressures, and money is the play's primary social currency.(4)
We learn at the beginning of the play, for example, that Frank Thorney's clandestine marriage to Sir Arthur Clarington's serving maid, Winnifride, is the result of Clarington's desire to make financial and social arrangement for Winnifride, who has been his mistress. Frank acknowledges the financial element of the marriage agreement when he parts from Clarington in the first scene of the play: "Sir, we shall every day have need to employ/The use of what you please to give" [1.1.108-09]. However, when Clarington finds out that Winnifride will no longer be his concubine when she is married, he withdraws his financial support from the couple with the telling line, "You may want money yet," precipitating them into dangerous financial waters [1.1.215]. Similarly, Frank keeps his marriage to Winnifride a secret precisely because of similar financial considerations. As he tells her when he leaves her at the beginning of the play:
Now the longest
Of our forbearing either's company
Is only but to gain a little time
For our continuing thrift, that so hereafter
The heir that shall be born may not have cause
To curse his hour of birth, which made him feel
The misery of beggary and want.[1.1.12-18]
The threat of poverty and financial insecurity continue to fuel the primary plot of THE WITCH OF EDMONTON as Thorney must convince his father that his marriage to Winnifride is acceptable so that his father, Old Thorney, will not cut off his inheritance. When Clarington retracts his support because Winnifride is no longer malleable to his desires, it becomes even more essential that Frank not alienate his father. As Frank tells Winnifride, we must remain secret until "th' inheritance/To which I am born heir shall be assur'd" [1.1.28-29].
Money remains at the forefront of the play even when the play shifts to the old men discussing a possible match between their children. When we first see Old Thorney and Old Carter, the conversation focuses primarily on the money involved in the liaison between their children, and who is paying what, and how.
CARTER. Double, treble, more or less, I tell you, Mr. Thorney, I'll give no security. Bonds and bills are but terriers to catch fools and keep lazy knaves busy; my security shall be present payment. And we here about Edmonton hold present payment as sure as an alderman's bond in London, Mr. Thorney.[1.2.13-17]
Significantly, in THE WITCH OF EDMONTON, financial language is intertwined with demonic language to create a metaphoric space that is slippery, unstable, and ultimately dangerous. In the course of the play we come to see the monetary language that characterizes the Frank Thorney plot and provides the social framework within which the play takes place as inherently demonic, and ultimately explained by the overt demonism of the Elizabeth Sawyer plot. The implicit connection that will exist in THE WITCH OF EDMONTON between economic marginalization and demonic alienation is stated explicitly in Frank Thorney's first scene when he tells Winnifride that "beggary and want [are]/Two devils that are occasions to enforce/A shameful end" [1.1.19-20]. In THE WITCH OF EDMONTON, Thorney's metaphor takes literal shape. Financial hardship ushers in real devils and causes the marginalization and destruction of all who fall into it.
Darest thou persever yet, and pull down wrath
As hot as flames of Hell to strike thee quick
Into the grave of horror?[1.2.181-83]
Frank, meanwhile, defends himself in similarly charged terms, in language that acknowledges the connection between his potential crimes and damnation.
What do you take me for, an atheist?
Am I become so insensible of losing
The glory of creation's work, my soul?[1.2.172, 177-78]
Though the immediate sin that Frank defends himself against is bigamy, the bigamy that he is faced with is the result of financial pressures. Frank acknowledges, by pairing his crime with damnation, that he is sacrificing his soul for financial security; witches, according to contemporary demonology, did the same.(5)
In THE WITCH OF EDMONTON, economic pressure results in Frank Thorney's connection to the devil-dog Tommy (who appears to help him murder Susan Carter), and to the crimes he commits, including bigamy, murder, and falsely accusing innocent men of the murder he has committed. Thorney's metaphoric loss of soul at his marriage to Susan Carter connects him with the witchcraft that is the subplot of the play and with the contemporary demonology that attempts to describe that witchcraft in early seventeenth century English society. It binds him thematically with Elizabeth Sawyer herself who, even more dramatically than Frank Thorney, is forced into the demonic by social and economic pressures profoundly out of her control.
The Carters, the only characters whose integrity and legitimacy do not seem in question, are members of an emerging middle-class. With no authorizing blood, their power derives directly from the money that they control. Old Carter is a wealthy yeoman, equally proud of his money and his common blood. When addressed by Old Thorney as a gentleman (the rank to which his economic status would seem to entitle him), he rejects the name as undesirable: "No gentleman I, Mr Thorney. Spare the mastership; call me by my name, John Carter. 'Master' is a title my father nor his before him were acquainted with, honest hertfordshire yeomen. Such a one am I; my word and my deed shall be proved one at all times" [1.2.3-7]. The play insists on the simple integrity of Carter, and on the value of that integrity. The play's presentation of Carter further problematizes Edmonton's attempts to name and order the characters. In THE WITCH OF EDMONTON, all traditional classes are suspect. The wealthy yeoman class that seems to carry integrity does not fit effectively into the existing social framework, and those authorized by blood and property are disreputable and weak. As Molly Smith has written in THE DARKER WORLD WITHIN: EVIL IN THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKESPEARE AND HIS SUCCESSORS, "Repeatedly, Jacobean and Caroline dramatists, even while they seem to support the hierarchical system, locate villainy among those who exercise power and thus, the plays posit a stark criticism of social morality" . Interestingly though, whereas Smith sees Jacobean dramatists ultimately supporting the hierarchical system, one of the things that becomes apparent in THE WITCH OF EDMONTON is that that system can no longer even be accurately defined. The terms that should give meaning to the class system have broken down and can no longer be counted on. By the end of the play, Clarington has been fined and chastised, Frank Thorney has been hauled away to be executed, and Old Carter must come to the aid of the gentleman, Old Thorney: "Mr. Thorney, cheer up, man; whilst I can stand by you, you shall not want help to keep you from falling" [5.3.144-45].
But though the old class system is insufficient to contain the economic entities dramatized in this play, the play cannot be considered a critique of that system, and in that sense Smith is right. The play flirts with such a critique, but ultimately it refuses to clearly authorize a rewriting of the social hierarchy. Old Carter is blunt and simple, and is in many ways a comic figure in a play that Kathleen McLuskie has characterized as designed to "entertain an urbane audience with scenes from country life" . Additionally, Somerton, Kate Carter's wooer, is very traditionally authorized by his "fine, convenient estate of land in West Ham, by Essex" [1.2.82-83], and Arthur Clarington, though chastised, remains the most powerful man in the play, despite his wrong-doing. THE WITCH OF EDMONTON struggles to come to terms with the breakdown of social relationships at the beginning of the seventeenth century but fails to consistently do so. It acknowledges the shifting economic conditions facing early seventeenth-century England by crediting and discrediting both the old and the new ways of authorizing power but is able to side with neither. Jean Howard has argued convincingly that such struggles are a common, and in fact essential, aspect of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. As she says: "Frequently composed by several hands and cobbling together a variety of discursive and narrative conventions, the drama often accommodated ideologically incompatible elements within a single text. Rather than as signs of aesthetic failure, these incompatibilities can be read as traces of ideological struggle, of differences within the sense-making machinery of culture" . In such a struggle to define economic and social identity, demonology emerges as a useful and effective language. For sixteenth- and seventeenth-century demonologists, witches are, as Elizabeth Sawyer implies, individuals who bring together all of the evils, the fears, and the threats, of a given culture. This is dramatically demonstrated in that attitude of the writer of the 1582 pamphlet, A TRUE AND JUST RECORDE, OF THE INFORMATION, EXAMINATION AND CONFESSIONS OF ALL THE WITCHES TAKEN AT S. OSES IN THE COUNTIE OF ESSEX. As the author, W.W., writes:
"If there hath been at any time...any means used to appease the wrath of God, to obtain his blessing, to terrify secret offenders by open transgressors' punishments, to withdraw honest natures from the corruption of evil company, to diminish the great multitude of wicked people, to increase the small number of virtuous persons, and to reform all the detestable abuses which the perverse wit and will of man doth daily devise--this doubtless is no less necessary than the best: that sorcerers, wizards..., witches, wise women (for so they will be named), are rigourously punished."[A3]
The language of witchcraft, then, is a particularly apt language with which to describe a world in which bigamy, murder, violence and dissimulation reign, and in which social and economic categories are unstable and breaking down. The destabilization of social and economic categories dramatized in the Frank Thorney plot and the witchcraft dramatized in the Elizabeth Sawyer plot combine to critique the assumptions that bind meaning to word, and name to named. This critique reflects in an interesting way the mood and the concerns of early seventeenth-century English culture.
THE WITCH OF EDMONTON represents the increased insecurity of the early seventeenth century and dramatizes it on the semantic level. The rapid rise of capitalism and the money economy becomes, in the language of the play, a demonic power that threatens the very basis of representational power itself. Because it already carries with it the idea of cultural violation, reversal, and inversion and because witchcraft had long been defined as an oppositional and destabilizing force out to destroy a world ordained by God, demonology becomes the language for
JUSTICE: Here's none now, Mother Sawyer, but this gentleman [Sir Arthur Clarington himself], myself, and you. Let us to some mild questions. Have you mild answers? Tell us honestly, … are you a witch or no?
SAWYER: I am none.
JUST: Be not so furious.
SAWY: I am none. None but base curs so bark at me. I am none. Or would I were: if every poor old woman be trod on thus by slaves, reviled, kicked, beaten, as I am daily, she to be revenged had need turn witch.
SIR ARTHUR: And you, to be revenged, have sold your soul to the Devil.
SAWY: Keep thine own from him.
JUST: You are too saucy and too bitter.
SAWY: Saucy? By what commission can he send my soul on the Devil's errand, more than I can his? Is he a landlord of my soul, to thrust it when he list out of doors?
JUST: Know whom you speak to.
SAWY: A man: perhaps no man. Men in gay clothes, whose backs are laden with titles and honors, are within far more crooked than I am and—if I be a witch—more witchlike.
SAWY: I defy thee.
SIR ART: Go, go. I can if need be bring a hundred voices e'en here in Edmonton that shall loud proclaim thee for a secret and pernicious witch.
SAWY: Ha, ha!
JUST: Do you laugh? Why laugh you?
SAWY: At my name, the brave name this knight gives me: witch.
JUST: Is the name of “witch” so pleasing to thine ear?
SIR ART: Pray, sir, give way, and let her tongue gallop on.
SAWY: A witch? Who is not?
Hold not that universal name in scorn, then.
What are your painted things in princes' courts,
Upon whose eyelids Lust sits blowing fires
To burn men's souls in sensual hot desires,
Upon whose naked paps a lecher's thought
Acts sin in fouler shapes than can be wrought?
JUST: But those work not as you do.
SAWY: No, but far worse:
These by enchantments can whole lordships change
To trunks of rich attire, turn plows and teams
To Flanders mares and coaches, and huge trains
Of servitors to a French butterfly.
Have you not seen City-witches who can turn
Their husbands' wares, whole standing shops of wares,
To sumptuous tables, gardens of stol'n sin,
In one year wasting what scarce twenty win?
Are not these witches?
JUST: Yes, yes, but the law
Casts not an eye on these.
SAWY: Why then on me,
Or any lean old beldame? Reverence once
Had wont to wait on age. Now an old woman,
Ill-favored grown with years, if she be poor,
Must be called “bawd” or “witch.” Such so abused
Are the coarse witches: t'other are the fine,
Spun for the Devil's own wearing.
SIR ART: And so is thine.
SAWY: She on whose tongue a whirlwind sits to blow
A man out of himself, from his soft pillow
To lean his head on rocks and fighting waves,
Is not that scold a witch? The man of law
Whose honeyed hopes the credulous client draws
(As bees by tinkling basins) to swarm to him
From his own hive to work the wax in his—
He is no witch, not he.
SIR ART: But these men-witches
Are not in trading with Hell's merchandise,
Like such as you are, that for a word, a look,
Denial of a coal of fire, kill men,
Children, and cattle.
SAWY: Tell them, sir, that do so:
Am I accused for such a one?
SIR ART: Yes, 'twill be sworn.
SAWY: Dare any swear I ever tempted maiden
With golden hooks flung at her chastity
To come and lose her honor? And being lost
To pay not a denier for't? Some slaves have done it.
Men-witches can, without the fangs of law
Drawing once one drop of blood, put counterfeit pieces
Away for true gold.
Thomas Dekker, William Rowley, and John Ford.
The Witch of Edmonton.
Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge, Eds.
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
Aliens Invade United States
1666 The Creation Of The World
The Ethnic Cleansing of Satanists
Find blog posts, photos, events and more off-site about:
Haloween, Hallo'mass, Samhain, Witch, Witchcraft, devil, familiar, Elizabeth Sawyer, Celtic, New Year, witch, Day of the Dead, Jacobin England, ancestor, Thomas Dekker, Edmonton, Witch of Edmonton, Renaissance , Oct31