A Prideful and Naughty Coniurer: Tudor England’s Crackdown on Semi-Learned Male Magicians

gilles_de_rais_murdering_childrenIn the parliament of 1541/2, Henry VIII passed a witchcraft act entitled ‘An Act against Conjurations, Witchcraft, Sorcery and Enchantments.’

The act had a very different focus to what we might expect for an act punishing witchcraft: killing by magic is only mentioned in passing, and the idea of the witch as being in league with Satan was given a backhanded reference:

“Where dyvers and sundrie persones unlawfully have devised and practised invocacons and conjuracons of Sprites, p’tendyng by such meanes to understand and get Knowledge for their own lucre in what place treasure of golde and Silver shoulde or mought be founde or had in the earthe or other secret places, and also have used and occupied witchcrafts inchauntment and sorceries to the distruccon of their neigbours persones and goodes, And for execucon of their said falce devyses and practises have made or caused to be made dyvers Images and pictures of men women children Angells or devells beastes or fowles, and have also made Crownes Septures Swordes rynges glasses and other thinges, and giving faithe & credit to suche fantasticall practises have dyged up and pulled downe and infinite nombre of Crosses within this Realme, and teaken upon them to declare and tell where things lost or stolen shulde become; wiche things cannot be used and exercised but to the great offence of Godes lawe, hurt and damage of the Kinges Subjects, and losse of the sowles of such Offenders, to the greate dishonour of God, Infany and disquyetnes of the Realme…”

The target of this crackdown was, of course, a class of troublemaker more threatening to Henry than all the village wise women and argumentative spinsters combined: educated sorcerers, very often former monks or clerically trained university men, who had turned to magic as a way of earning a crust. Continue reading “A Prideful and Naughty Coniurer: Tudor England’s Crackdown on Semi-Learned Male Magicians”

Hamlet’s Father: Ghost or Demon?

Marcellus: What, has this thing appeared again tonight?

Bernado: I have seen nothing…

Marcellus: Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him,
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us… that if this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak of it.

Horatio: But soft, behold, lo where it comes again!
I’ll cross it though it blast me. Stay, illusion.
If thou has any sound or use of voice,
Speak to me.
If there be any good thing to be done that may to thee do ease, and grace to me,
Speak to me.
If thou art privy to thy country’s fate, which happily foreknowing may avoid,
Oh speak.
If thou hast uphoarded in thy life,
Extorted treasure in the womb of the earth,
For which they say you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it…

Marcellus: Shall I strike at it with my partisan?

Horatio: Do it if it will not stand.

Marcellus: ‘Tis gone.
We do it wrong being so majestical
To offer it the show of violence,
For it is as the air invulnerable,
And our vail blows malicious mockery.

Bernado: It was about to speak when the cock crew.

Marcellus: It faded on the crowing of the cock.

Above is an abridged version of the scene from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet where three officers of the watch witness the ghost of Hamlet’s father haunting the castle of Elsinore.

When Hamlet himself, already identified as a bit of an odd bird, meets the ghost he says:

Hamlet: Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com’st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane…

Here, we see that the spirit seen in the castle of Elsinore has three possible identities: ghost, demon, or hallucination. Continue reading “Hamlet’s Father: Ghost or Demon?”