Article Title

Interrogating the Devil: Social and Demonic Pressure in The Witch of Edmonton


David Nicol


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In its tale of witchcraft, murder and bigamy, Thomas Dekker, John Ford and William Rowley’s The Witch of Edmonton (1621) powerfully dramatises both social and demonic forces operating within a small rural community. Although a number of recent studies have discussed the play’s depiction of the social causes of crime and of the witchcraft phenomenon, there has been less interest in its representation of supernatural causation, which is personified by a devil who appears throughout the play in the shape of a dog and brings about its tragic events. The Dog is often dismissed as a disappointing retreat by the playwrights into superstition, or else is rationalized away as an hallucination or as a purely symbolic figure. This article contends that to downplay the importance of the Dog is to misunderstand the ways in which scepticism about witchcraft was typically articulated in the period. 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.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.