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Magic and Witchcraft in Shakespearean England: Macbeth and The Tempest
Language: English This thesis is written in English
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Giulia Bobbo, Università degli Studi di Padova, 2015-16
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The purpose of this dissertation is to present the theme of magic and witchcraft in England between the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Furthermore, I will analyse how Shakespeare uses this topic in Macbeth and The Tempest.
There is an historical approach to the theme of magic in the first chapter, where I briefly explain how witchcraft was defined and punished by English sovereigns of the time –in our case, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth and King James. In addition, I cite some stereotypes and beliefs concerning magical and supernatural creatures –in both England and Scotland – that were thought to be bearers of misfortune, such as bad weather or infertility. Furthermore, an analysis of King James’ Daemonologie is also given, trying to link the King’s statements and personal experience to the general beliefs.
In the following two chapters, I try to explain how Shakespeare deals with magic in his plays; the two plays I take as examples are Macbeth and The Tempest. The former, usually dated 1606, “has always seemed the most topical of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, cannily alert at once to King James’ personal obsessions and to contemporary events.” ; analysing the play I underline how some events in Macbeth are connected to events that happened to King James. The chapter will also be focused on the importance of the Weird Sisters and I try to answer the question “Why are the sisters so important for the development of the play?” An explanation of their possible origin and their peculiar features is also given. I then explore and analyse the figure of Hecate as the “Mistress of the Charms” and give some notions about her ancient origin. Moreover, an analysis of ghosts and apparitions in the play is present.
I speak about the substantial difference between white and dark magic in the third chapter by portraying the roles and figures of Prospero, the white magician, and of the evil witch Sycorax; scholars like Jerry Brotton, Paul Brown and Ania Loomba –who have written a lot about the theme of colonization in The Tempest- are quoted to underline the great difference between Prospero and Sycorax. In this chapter I also make reference to the spirit Ariel and the monster Caliban.
The fourth and last chapter is a discussion on the theme of magic vs illusion, that is how magic can control and shape the characters’ mind and consequently manipulate their fate and actions; the prophecy of the witches and Prospero’s storm are taken as examples. The discussion then continues and concerns the connection between real and fictional places in the plays; the reliability of Macbeth’s Scotland is a matter of discussion in connection to the real country of Scotland and then followed by hypothesis on the possible location of Prospero’s island in the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, the chapter briefly explains the role of magic in both the plays and, moreover, magic will be also analysed in relation to politics; it will be clear how magic is connected to politics and how magic changes and influences political affairs.