Type of Document Dissertation Author Hand, Meredith Molly URN etd-07072009-123906 Title "That Inimitable Art": Magic in Early Modern English Culture Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Bruce Boehrer Committee Chair Daniel Vitkus Committee Member Gary Taylor Committee Member Nancy Warren Committee Member John Corrigan Outside Committee Member Keywords
- Rogue Literature
- Demonic Possession
- English Renaissance Literature
Date of Defense 2009-03-02 Availability unrestricted Abstract“That Inimitable Art”: Magic in Early Modern English Culture examines representations of magical practitioners and their beliefs and practices as they appear in a variety of canonical and non-canonical early modern cultural productions. Drawing on the practice theory of De Certeau and Bourdieu, as well as on Keith Thomas’s important work on early modern magic, I elucidate literary and historical moments in which magical practices appear as practices, consider magical discourse in relation to other early modern discourses, and explore ways in which magical identities were constructed (by others), performed (by the subject and by the community), and even actively sought, appropriated, and shaped (by the subject).
In chapter one, I look at intersections between discourses of poverty and witchcraft, by way of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Nashe’s Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil, and Middleton’s The Black Book. I argue that Middleton’s pamphlet highlights the economic foundations of early modern cultural attitudes about witches and rogues and revises the rhetoric of witch and rogue pamphlets, showing the subjects of each in a more sympathetic light. In chapter two, I investigate representations of women workers of magic in Fletcher and Massinger’s The Prophetess, Edmond Bower’s Doctor Lamb Revived, or witchcraft condemn’d in Anne Bodenham, and Jonson’s The Alchemist. I assert that in both Fletcher and Massinger’s play and in Bower’s pamphlet, women practitioners of magic display features typically associated with the male magus, but whereas the magus is associated with privilege and leisure, these women are involved in active labor—they use their magic to earn a living.
In chapter three, I suggest that we broaden our understanding of the emergent public sphere in early modern culture to include “possession events,” or moments in which communities gathered to witness the magical practice of possession, whether divine or demonic. It was amid such events that women prophets like Anna Trapnel emerged as public figures. This chapter considers Trapnel’s and John Milton’s experiences and representations of divine possession, their self-fashioning and emergence as public prophets, and their interactions and engagements with magical discourse and practices, and reveals ways in which gender was simultaneously limiting and enabling for each as they negotiated their public and prophetic identities.
Chapter four turns from divine to demonic possession as I discuss plays such as Jonson’s Volpone and The Devil is an Ass, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and Rowley, Dekker, and Ford’s The Witch of Edmonton in light of contemporary beliefs about possession. I demonstrate that stage representations of possession are ambiguous and do not necessarily disable belief, even if they satirize it. While chapter four emphasizes the possibility of belief, chapter five focuses on skepticism as it is expressed in Thomas Middleton’s mock-almanacs and mock-prognostications, as well as in his invocation of the genre in dramatic works like No Wit / Help Like a Woman’s. I argue that Middleton’s several contributions to the popular genre reveal the author playing with its conventions and expressing a distinctive skeptical impulse. I thus close this study by looking at this other strand of magical belief—that is, anti-magical belief—and consider its relationship with the beliefs considered in the previous chapters.
Together, these chapters turn our attention to important but understudied early modern texts; they emphasize the overlap among religion, magic, and science; and they complicate the Enlightenment narrative that tells the tale of benighted Renaissance culture giving way to eighteenth-century rationality. If the seventeenth century eventually saw a decline in magic, it also saw the coexistence and confluence of magic and skepticism, religious belief and reason, superstition and science. This study acknowledges such convergences and illuminates the persistent and complex role of magic in the production of early modern culture.
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