1st Edition

Supernatural and Secular Power in Early Modern England

By Marcus Harmes, Victoria Bladen Copyright 2015

    For the people of early modern England, the dividing line between the natural and supernatural worlds was both negotiable and porous - particularly when it came to issues of authority. Without a precise separation between ’science’ and ’magic’ the realm of the supernatural was a contested one, that could be used both to bolster and challenge various forms of authority and the exercise of power in early modern England. In order to better understand these issues, this volume addresses a range of questions regarding the ways in which ideas, beliefs and constructions of the supernatural threatened and conflicted with authority, as well as how the power of the supernatural could be used by authorities (monarchical, religious, legal or familial) to reinforce established social norms. Drawing upon a range of historical, literary and dramatic texts the collection reveals intersecting early modern anxieties in relation to the supernatural, issues of control and the exercise of power at different levels of society, from the upper echelons of power at court to local and domestic spaces, and in a range of publication contexts - manuscript sources, printed prose texts and the early modern stage. Divided into three sections - ’Magic at Court’, ’Performance, Text and Language’ and ’Witchcraft, the Devil and the Body’ - the volume offers a broad cultural approach to the subject that reflects current research by a range of early modern scholars from the disciplines of history and literature. By bringing scholars into an interdisciplinary dialogue, the case studies presented here generate fresh insights within and between disciplines and different methodologies and approaches, which are mutually illuminating.

    Introduction: the intersections of supernatural and secular power, Victoria Bladen and Marcus Harmes. Part I Magic at Court: John Dee, alchemy and authority in Elizabethan England, Glyn Parry; Reginald Scot and the circles of power: witchcraft, anti-catholicism and faction politics, Pierre Kapitaniak; Treasonous Catholic magic and the 1563 witchcraft legislation: the English state’s response to Catholic conjuring in the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, Michael Devine. Part II Performance, Text and Language: Shaping supernatural identity in The Witch of Edmonton (1621), Victoria Bladen; ‘Mong’st the furies finde just recompence’: suicide and the supernatural in William Sampson’s The Vow Breaker (1636), Fiona Martin; ‘You shal reade marvellous straunge things’: Ludwig Lavater and the hauntings of the Reformation, Catherine Stevens; The politics of supernatural wonders in Paradise Lost, Martin Dawes. Part III Witchcraft, the Devil and the Body: The Devil and bishops in Post-Reformation England, Marcus Harmes; Sleeping with devils: the sexual witch in 17th-century England, Charlotte-Rose Millar. Index.


    Victoria Bladen has taught Shakespeare and literary classics at the University of Queensland, Australia, and has published three Shakespearean text guides in the Insight Publications (Melbourne) series: Romeo and Juliet (2010), Julius Caesar (2011) and Henry IV Part 1 (2012). She co-edited Macbeth on Screen (Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre, 2013), in the French Shakespeare on Screen series, and has published articles in several volumes of the series: The Roman Plays, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello (forthcoming). Other publications include articles on: tree and garden imagery in the poetry of Andrew Marvell; representations of Zeus in early modern culture; references to Shakespeare in Jane Austen; and the pastoral genre in Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Peter Weir’s film adaptation. Currently she is working on a book project The Tree of Life in the Early Modern Imagination, based on her doctoral research, and co-editing a volume on Shakespeare and the Supernatural. She is on the editorial board for the Shakespeare on Screen in Francophonia project in France (http://www.shakscreen.org/). Marcus Harmes lectures at the University of Southern Queensland. He has published extensively in British and Anglican studies. His monograph Bishops and Power in Early Modern England (Bloomsbury, 2013) surveys the application and the repudiation of bishops’ powers in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. A second monograph on adaptation theory in the field of cultural studies was published in 2014 by Rowman and Littlefield. He has produced a number of articles and book chapters on early modern and modern religious history.

    "Millar’s fascinating chapter illustrates...how close attention to the supernatural can enrich and expand our understanding of early modern English culture. Taken as a whole, this book contributes significantly to this enterprise."
    - Darren Oldridge, University of Worcester

    "Overall, this collection is a valuable addition to the literature on ghosts, exorcism, witchcraft, magic and supernatural literature in the period...offering as they do new perspectives on what we mean by ‘scepticism’ in the early 1600s."
    - Francis Young, Ely