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Title: Witches of here and everywhere : course and containment on the early modern stage
Author: Badger, Will
ISNI:       0000 0004 8508 3203
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis is the first sustained analysis of witchcraft and the law as represented on the English early modern stage. It spans the period 1576-1642, from the rise of the professional theatres until their closure, with a brief coda testing its conclusions beyond the period of its central focus. The thesis argues that staged persecution of witches corresponded with anxieties outside the theatre around discovering and justly prosecuting witches and witchcrafts. In the early modern period, witchcraft posed a number of challenges to English law, driving developments in ways of proof and rules of evidence, and affecting contemporary conceptions of the status of confessions, witness testimony, and circumstantial evidence. In each of these areas, witch trials forced judicial process and legal theory to evolve to meet witchcraft’s epistemic-evidentiary vacancy and its perceived threat. These dilemmas also figure in early modern staged representations of witchcraft. The theatre, in turn, affected popular conceptions of witchcraft and culpability, thereby ultimately affecting how witch trials were conducted and perceived. Therefore, this thesis argues that the same ontological and epistemological factors which complicated witchcraft as a category of crime made it a fruitful narrative tool; and the exploitation of witchcraft as a foil for the construction of judicial and jurisdictional authority had its counterpart in the staging of authority and characterisation. This thesis does not advance a normative reading or insist certain plays be read primarily as ‘witch plays’ or read exclusively for their witchcraft content. Its aim is to bring aspects of staged witchcraft jurisprudence into greater critical focus in order to demonstrate how productive the embattled witch figure was to early modern English dramatists, and therefore how vital to our understanding of the period. Analysing the interplay between stage and court’s visual imaginaries of witchcraft – along with judicial strategies for controlling witchcraft – helps elucidate significant changes in both drama and the law in the period. Finally, the thesis demonstrates how staging of and storytelling around witchcraft and the law continue to be used to construct judicial and political authority in the present day.
Supervisor: Purkiss, Diane Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Early Modern Drama ; Witchcraft--Law and legislation