Reading witches, reading women : late Tudor and early Stuart texts

Electronic versions


  • Jennifer A. McGowan

    Meysydd ymchwil

  • Literature, Mass, media, Performing, arts


The introduction discusses the problematics involved in developing a feminist theory of late Renaissance and early modem witchcraft. It includes an overview of both Renaissance feminist theory and witchcraft studies, and posits that the witch is a hybrid, multivalent figure. Chapter one examines contemporary sources for portrayals of witches. The second chapter analyses the roles of witches, hags, and viragos in The Facrie Queene. Throughout the work their femininity is problematised, its meaning displaced onto horrific figures or fragmented into "good" and "bad" women. Both inspire dis-ease. Lyly's Endimion introduces a witch in the Thessalian tradition and women whose transgressions lie in daring to act and speak. Chapter three expands the definition of witch to other unruly women, including the shrew and the power-wielding woman; it also proves that Dipsas' power is the strongest in the play. Chapter four analyses the way in which the definition of witcheraft can be imposed on a woman by exterior societal forces, with reference to The Witch of Edmonton. Also discussed are the role of cursing and the problematics of female sexuality. Chapters five through eight discuss Shakespeare. Shakespeare's Joan of Arc is fragmented and reflects the varying views about her, and again shows how one woman may be variously defined. With Joan's death, Margaret of Anjou becomes the virile woman in the tetralogy. She and other women who share her verbal potency are condemned not only by the men in the plays but also by critics who erroneously take the negative view as definitive. Macbeth concerns itself with exploration of gender, androgyny, power (occult and otherwise) and its betrayal. Chapter eight outlines how the women in other Shakespearean plays do not achieve dramatic impact as witches because they are robbed of primary agency in the plays. Chapter nine demonstrates how Middleton distances his Heccat and proves that the real witches and villains lie in the structure of the patriarchy of The Witch. Lyly combines cunning woman with Sibyl in Mother Bombie; wit defines wisdom. Chapter eleven presents The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon, an anomaly in that the witchfigure and unruly characters of both sexes are not condemned and have happy resolutions. The conclusion summarises briefly and outlines areas of further study. Appendix A is a table; Appendix B outlines the role of cursing as gendered speech in Shakespeare's first tetralogy.


Iaith wreiddiolSaesneg
Sefydliad dyfarnu
Goruchwylydd / Goruchwylwyr / Cynghorydd
    Dyddiad dyfarnuEbr 2001