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Devil Theatre: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in English Renaissance Drama, 1558-1642

Devil Theatre: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in English Renaissance Drama, 1558-1642

Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen
Volume: 19
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Devil Theatre: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in English Renaissance Drama, 1558-1642
    Book Description:

    Representations of demonic possession and exorcism rituals abound in English Renaissance drama, an area which this book seeks to illuminate by comparison with non-dramatic works. The author investigates stage images of possession in relation to a range of early modern demonological, theological and medical prose texts on the subject, looking specifically at how the theatre responded to these texts. He argues that the stage appropriated debates over demonic possession to explore the competing roles of the inner life and the body in early modern definitions of selfhood. The theatre also employed the contemporary controversy over possession and exorcism to investigate the politics of religion, and to consider the nature of monarchic power. Moreover, because demonic possession cases and exorcism rituals were frequently dismissed by conformist writers as a piece of theatre, they offered an opportunity to reflect on the nature of drama and role-playing. JAN FRANS VAN DIJKHUIZEN is lecturer and research fellow at the University of Leiden.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-532-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
    (pp. 1-24)

    In February 1594, the nine-year-old Anne Starkie, from Cleworth, Lancashire, began to suffer from violent contortions. A week later, her brother John fell ill too, and had lengthy fits of shouting. After several weeks, their father, Nicholas Starkie, asked Edmund Hartley, a local cunning man, to cure them. After their treatment by Hartley, Anne and John’s seizures subsided, and they continued to be well for almost a year and a half. During this period they were regularly visited by Hartley. The children’s fits returned, however, and became even more intense. They barked and howled, emitted stinking breath, and abused the...

    (pp. 25-88)

    This chapter investigates the relations between ideas about demonic possession and ideas about selfhood. As I shall argue, the discourse of demonic possession provided part of the terms in which early modern English culture discussed the idea of self-identity, and especially the perceived threats to this identity. The plays and prose texts discussed in this chapter are concerned with selfhood as a precarious reality, in danger of disintegration. In these texts, demonic possession figures as an image of a self overpowered and transformed by forces beyond its control.

    These forces manifest themselves in a number of ways. First, the plays...

    (pp. 89-152)

    During the possession controversies of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a range of factions within the English Church were united in their condemnation of exorcism. Rituals of exorcism were attacked by Arminian conformists such as Samuel Harsnett and Richard Bancroft, by Calvinists such as William Perkins, and by moderate Puritans such as George Gifford and Richard Bernard. The unease about the ritual among these writers can partly be explained by the fact that the ritual was practised both by Catholic priests and radical Puritan ministers. Katharine Maus has noted that from a conformist point of view, ‘papists and...

    (pp. 153-186)

    In early modern culture, rituals of exorcism were public events, which drew crowds. During Mary Glover’s exorcism in London in 1602, Stephen Bradwell reports, groups of spectators, ‘sometimes by troupes of 8 or 10 at once,’ would walk in and out.¹ John Darrel writes that there were ‘some 60’ spectators present at the exorcism of William Somers.² In his account of the exorcism of Madeleine de Demandouls and Louise Capeau, Sebastien Michaëlis reports that ‘great troupes did daily flocke thither’ to marvel at the spectacular symptoms of the two nuns, and to listen to the sermons uttered by the possessing...

    (pp. 187-192)

    In the closing scene of The Devil Is an Ass (1616), Fitz-dottrell speaks the following lines:

    Nay, then, ’tis time to leave off counterfeiting.

    Sir, I am not bewitch’d, nor have a Divell :

    No more then you.


    Fitz-dottrell’s words are representative of one important strand within the staging of demonic possession and exorcism in English Renaissance plays. On the early modern English stage, possession is frequently represented as fraudulent, the belief in possession as misguided, and exorcism rituals as ineffective or as downright deceit. Yet the theatre also explored possession and exorcism as issues with a rich...

    (pp. 193-212)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 213-220)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)