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AMERICAN FOLK-LORE.

VOL. 32. - OCTOBER-DECEMBER, 1919. – No. 126.

WITCHCRAFT AND MAGIC IN THE ELIZABETHAN DRAMA.1

BY H. W. HERRINGTON.

The most interesting period of English witchcraft falls in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These are pre-eminently the centuries of the great documentary war over the dogma; of eager discussion in pulpit, in council, and on the street; of fevered outbreaks of prosecution; of the great trials. Naturally a subject of such universal interest is abundantly represented in literature, and nowhere is it revealed more fully than in that most typical of the literary forms in this period, the Elizabethan drama. The outstanding witchcraft plays of the period are well known, and have attracted the most earnest attention from historians, literary critics, and students of folk-lore. The most famous specimens are Shakespeare's "Macbeth;” Middleton's "Witch;" Jonson's "Masque of Queens" and "Sad Shepherd;" Dekker, Ford, and Rowley's “Witch of Edmonton;" Heywood and Brome's “Late Lancashire Witches;" and Shadwell's "Lancashire Witches." In each of these, witchcraft enters as a leading motive. As a group, they fall relatively late in the Elizabethan period (Shadwell's, indeed, belonging to the Restoration drama). The earliest of them, "Macbeth," is usually dated about 1605 or 1606. Yet no one will assert that the witchcraft creed was not vehemently, even passionately, believed in the earlier years of Elizabeth's reign; while, if epidemics of witch persecution be taken as evidence, it will be recalled that some of the most famous of all English witch trials took place before 1600. Why the late appearance of witchcraft as an important dramatic motive? Does this delay throw any light on

The following material is re-arranged and condensed from a thesis presented in 1916 to the Division of Modern Languages of Harvard University, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The writer is profoundly indebted throughout to Professor George Lyman Kittredge of Harvard University. Professor Kittredge, at the outset of the investigation, generously placed at the writer's disposal his own extensive notes on the same topics; and on these the writer has freely drawn. It is impossible adequately to acknowledge the aid thus extended, and even more so the sustained helpfulness of his suggestions, advice, and encouragement. · For a mention of some of the most famous, see below, pp. 469, 470. VOL. 32.—NO. 126.-30.

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the state of the public mind in regard to witchcraft? Or do the public attitude on these questions, the controversies concerning them, and the celebrated "epidemics,” explain the appearance of the plays? Or is the solution of the problem to be found in causes purely literary; in, for instance, the history of the vogue of dramatic forms? These and similar questions the writer proposes to examine.

Plays on related themes show a somewhat different chronology, Thus the most famous Elizabethan play of magic, Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," appeared perhaps as early as 1589; while plays with fairy elements were already well developed in the days of John Lyly, early in the 1580's. Convincing conclusions on the problems above stated can hardly be reached without some survey of most of the important plays which employ either human beings who operate with spirits, or the spirits themselves. The rapid analysis to follow will accordingly cover the employment in the Elizabethan drama of fairies, magicians, devils, conjurers, wise women, witches, and similar figures.

I. The fairy plays may be first disposed of. For the extensive and continued use of fairy actors, reasons purely literary may readily be established. Fairy mythology in England is ancient, far antedating the accession of Elizabeth, and in its development no sudden or unusual incidents (so far as the lore of the folk is concerned) can be discovered, John Lyly, the first important English dramatist to employ the fairies, demonstrably uses them as a theatric device. In his “Gallathea" (1584 or earlier) 2 one Raffe, a clown, rather out of sorts at his ill success in seeking his fortune, finds himself in the woods alone. As he soliloquizes, he notices the appearance of some strange figures. Then the stage-direction reads, “Enter Fayries dauncing & playing, & so, Exeunt." 3 These fairies have no influence on Raffe or any one else; they serve to exhibit no mythology; they are not heard of in this play again. They are accordingly an admirable example of a totally inorganic fairy ballet, brought on solely as a lyric divertissement. The choir-boys who were Lyly's performers + made admirable stage fairies, who might very prettily dance in a ring; and the Elizabethan playwright or producer, knowing the insatiable craving for the lyric on the part of his audiences, would have been dull of wit if he had failed

Not including ghosts. The problems concerning them seem quite distinct from those of the groups here proposed for examination.

? R. W. Bond dates between 1582 and 1585, probably 1584 (The Complete Works of John Lyly, 2: 424-427). A. Feuillerat dates 1584 (John Lyly, 136, 139, 140, 575).

8 11. iii. 1-8 (Bond's Lyly, vol. 2).

4 The title-pages of all of Lyly's plays except The Woman in the Moon state that they were acted by "Her Majesty's Children” or (more frequently) by "the Children of Paul's" (see title-pages in Bond's Lyly, vols. 2, 3).

to avail himself of fairy antics. Add but a song from the boys' clear, well-trained throats, and the success of his scene was assured. In “Endimion" (1585?) they do sing a song, while their irruption upon the scene and subsequent dance is almost as pointless as in "Gallathea." In Robert Greene's well-known romantic comedy, "James IV” (entered 1594), occur fairy ballets in great profusion, some seven or eight of them. In this drama, however, Oberon and his crew play a part of considerable importance, performing an elaborate chorus function throughout. Yet even here they stand apart in an enveloping action which is quite distinct from the plot of the play. The pseudo-fairy scene in the last act of “The Merry Wives of Windsor," where the pretended fairies congregate at Herne's oak, and dance in circle about Falstaff, is clearly introduced by Shakespeare to round off the play with a lyric scene. Its tone is quite different from the robust humor of the rest of the play, — from the boisterous practical jokes of the buck-basket and the fat woman of Brainford.

A more curious use of the fairies for song and dance occurs in the turbulent and bloody play, "Lust's Dominion" (c. 1590?). Enters Oberon, with "fairies dancing before him, and music with them,” in the midst of a scene of the heaviest emotion, — lust, revenge, and impending ruthless murder; Oberon • delivers a warning, too late; off go the fairies "dancing and singing;” and immediately the bloody deed is done. The incongruity of this lyric interlude (as "relief" it is in questionable taste) demonstrates forcibly the subserviency of the playwright and stage-manager to the demand of the pit for spectacle, for music, and for the evolutions of the dance.

Thus the fairy as a stage figure was well known by the beginning of that marvellous decade the 1590's. Some of the fairy mythology had already been exploited, particularly that connected with the imported figure Oberon, doubtless a borrowing from the French

' iv. iii. 25 sqq. See Bond (3 : 10-13) for the date of composition. Both Bond and Feuillerat (John Lyly, 576, 577) place Feb. 2, 1586, as the “Candlemas Day" on which, according to the title-page of the 1591 quarto, the play was performed at court.

? Ent. Sta. Reg. May 14, 1594; pub. 1598.

• In Plays and Poems of Robert Greene (ed. J. Churton Collins), vol. 2, stage dir. for Prol., Introd. to act. III, after acts I, III, and iv, and at 11. 90, 674, 675, 1631.

• In Works of Christopher Marlowe (1826), vol. 3. Pub. in 1657 as Marlowe's, but certainly not his. The play belongs in the period with The Spanish Tragedy, Titus Andronicus, and other bloody plays; C. 1590 is a good guess.

• Oberon here appears in his familiar character as a friendly presiding genius. He exhibits this character in the romance Huon of Bordeaux, — an early French work transjated into English by 1534, and thus readily accessible to the Elizabethan dramatists (ed. Sir Sidney Lee, E. E. T. S., 1882-87). His function is similar in Greene's James IV. In A Midsummer Night's Dream he endeavors to straighten the tangled affairs of the Athenian lovers, blesses the bed and offspring of Theseus and the rest.

• See act 11. sc. ii (pp. 251 ff.).

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through the romance "Huon of Bordeaux,"l - a literary, not a popular source. We need not search, therefore, for any special stimulus which urged Shakespeare more fully to display the fairylore in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He took up the established dramatic vogue of the fairy, and directed it into new channels, gathering in figures, traditions, beliefs, - new to the drama, but old in popular story, which were doubtless familiar to him from infancy; refining, too, as he went along, transforming the “lubber fiend" of folk-legend 2 into a light and delicate Robin Goodfellow, ready to put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes. The lyric tradition which had come down through the earlier dramatists he likewise perfects, and at last makes thoroughly organic. “A Midsummer Night's Dream" abounds in fairy rounds and fairy songs;8 but they are of the very essence of the play, integral to construction and atmosphere. How deeply the fairy material had impressed the poet's imagination is seen from his use of it in Mercutio's famous speech in "Romeo and Juliet," 4 — lines which were certainly composed prior to the full development of these themes in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

By this time the fairies had entered upon an enduring vogue. A long line of plays that utilize them need little more than an enumeration. "The King of Fairies" as a stage character is mentioned by Greene in 1592.5 "Huon of Bordeaux," which must have made much use of our old friend Oberon, was performed by Henslowe's company in 1593.6 “The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll" (c. 1596?)' presents a group of

i See footnote 5, p. 449.

? As presented in the familiar lines of Milton's L'Allegro, the "drudging goblin," "The lubber fiend," who, "stretched out all the chimney's length, Basks at the fire his hairy strength;" as seen also in the pamphlet Robin Goodfellow, his Mad Pranks and Merry Jests, printed in 1628, illustrated with a woodcut of Robin, in which he has a dwarf's stature, a beard, hairy body and loins, goats' legs and feet, and horns. Just how Puck was represented on the stage under Shakespeare's direction it is impossible to say; at the present time he is made first cousin, in his slightness, daintiness, sprightliness, and beauty, to Prospero's Ariel. Certainly the lines of the play show that swift motion is characteristic of him, and poetry-of a kind peculiarly ethereal and delicate-is everywhere his. One of the fairies, to be sure, calls him "thou lob of spirits," and this may mean much the same thing as Milton's "lubber fiend." Yet the lines of the play and the acting tradition do not bear out the epithet. Shakespeare's conception is now the Robin Goodfellow for most people.

3 See 11. i. 140, 141; 11. ii. 1-26; v. i. 360-429; and songs throughout the play. The "bergomask" by Bottom's crew (v. i. 359) is a parody on the fairies' graceful dancing, like the grotesque revels of an anti-masque.

4 1. iv. 50-102.

5 Groatsworth of Wit (in Huth Lib. ed., Life and Complete Works of Robert Greene (ed. A. B. Grosart], 12 : 131).

• Henslowe's Diary (ed. W. W. Greg), p. 16. Spelled characteristically by Henslowe "hewen of burdokes," – a commentary on the pronunciation of the name.

? A. H. Bullen, Old English Plays, 3 : 130–137 (see act II, sc. iii, v).

fairies, here inconsistently under the control of an enchanter, who, to the accompaniment of music, bring in a banquet. The anonymous "Wily Beguiled" (before 1595) 2 trades on the popular interest, using the name of Robin Goodfellow for a character who resembles little either Shakespeare's creation or the popular figure. A fairy ballet is a prominent feature in "The Maid's Metamorphosis" (1599), formerly attributed to Lyly. Early in the new century W. Percy wrote “The Fairy Pastoral.” 4

The masque as it was developed at court readily admitted the fairies into its dramatis persona. They suited well this decorative and spectacular form of entertainment: the graceful young people of the court proved suitable actors, as the choir-boys had earlier done; and the dance motive, now long established as the dramatic function of the fairies, favored their inclusion in the masque, the origin and very centre of which was a dance. Jonson's "Masque of Oberon" (1611), “Love Restored" (1612), and "Gipsies Metamorphosed" (1621), all make some use of fairy material. His charming royal entertainment, “The Satyr" (1603), gives prominent parts to Queen Mab and her bevy of fairies. Puck Hairy, in his unfinished pastoral "The Sad Shepherd," is his original version of Puck or Robin Goodfellow. The burlesque scene of the fraudulent "Queen of Fairy" in his “Alchemist" (1610) should not be overlooked.8 Jonson may thus be regarded as the most conspicuous user of the fairy theme in the later period. A scene similar to the one in Jonson's “Alchemist" occurs in “The

Of course these should properly be an enchanter's spirits, not fairies. The "magic repast" is one of the commonest pieces of "business" connected with the stage-magician. At once one recalls the banquet brought on by the "shapes" in The Tempest (II. iii). Friar Bacon, in Greene's drama, after a bit of comedy in offering the King and Emperor his mess of pottage, promises a splendid banquet, in mouth-watery language, for their royal and imperial stomachs (III. ii. 1337-1358, in Churton Collins's ed.). Such a banquet, if it is not conjured on, is at any rate conjured off when Faustus snatches away dish and cup from which the Holy Father is about to eat and quaff. So universally expected is the device of a magic repast where spirits are operating, that Slightall, in A New Trick to Cheat the Devil (see below, p. 464), readily accepts one which is part of the elaborate deception practised upon him.

* Dodsley's Old Plays (ed. W. C. Hazlitt), vol. 9 (pub. 1606).
* See R. W. Bond, Complete Works of John Lyly, 3 : 359–361 (II. ii, 52–116).

• Pr. 1824 for the Roxburghe Club from a MS. in library of Joseph Haslewood. A letter from Oberon, occurring in the play, is dated 1647; but the play appears to have been a revision, in old age, of a work of the author's youth, and may date not far from the same writer's Cuck-Queans and Cuckolds Errant (1601). (See Preface to Roxburghe Club ed.)

• Col. F. Cunningham and W. Gifford, Works of Ben Jonson, vol. 7.
Ibid., vol. 6.
; Ibid., vol. 6. On date of The Sad Shepherd, see below, p. 482, footnote 10.

* III. v.

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