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Hocus pocus junior: further confirmation of its author.

In 2005 Cambridge University Press published my work Magic on the Early English Stage. In this book I presented evidence of the authorship of a volume entitled Hocus Pocus Iunior (1634). Previously, the author of this volume had not been known. A number of individuals within the magic fraternity were sceptical of this asserted identification and, no doubt, would have preferred it if the mystery author had remained unknown. However, the evidence that I presented was clear and unequivocal. Even so, this evidence consisted of only one item and was in need of some further corroborative support to further establish the authorship of Hocus Pocus Iunior.

"Hocus Pocus" was also the pseudonym of a juggler in the early seventeenth century who occupied the role of the King's Juggler or, as it was known in the sixteenth century and earlier, as the "Joculatori domini Regis [the lord king's juggler]" (Butterworth, 9-11, 192). (1) He was the juggler to James I. As a juggler, Hocus Pocus' skill did not reside in his ability to throw up objects from one hand to the other in a continuous rhythmical sequence without dropping them to the floor. This ability is not one that defined the task of jugglers of this period, or earlier. The "juggler" was what we today refer to as the "conjuror" involved in legerdemain, sleight of hand or prestigiation.

The real name of "Hocus Pocus" was William Vincent and this synonymity was first recorded by by J. M. Guilding in his edited four-volume work of Reading Records: Diary of the Corporation published between 1892 and 1896. Hocus Pocus' identity is revealed and confirmed by the following statement in an account dated "18 Novembris, 1625":

William Vincent, alias Hocus Spocus, of London, the Kinge's Majestie's servant, to use his faculty of feales (?) [feates] &c, saith he was in company with the said Francis Lane and played at [] for vjd., and soe till Hocus Spocus lost iijs. to Francis Lane, and said he would be halves with him, and would have had him fourth of the roome at Spencer's house into a private place (Guilding II: 263-65).

This record, more recently recovered by Richard Burt (see also Bawcutt 2000) exists because of Vincent's alleged involvement in a fraud upon Francis Lane of Campsey Ash, Suffolk. It is recorded that Lane "saith that he was cosened and deceyved of ixli. in money, whiche he had in his purse, by Edward Butler [blank] Vincent, [blank] Archis, and others, by playeinge at tables the game ticke tacke, and bettinge with them or some of them" (Guilding 263-64). Thus, evidence about the activities of both "William Vincent" and "Hocus Pocus" are able to support and promote each other. The correlation of these two identities makes it possible to build up a clearer picture of the work of Vincent through records of him and "Hocus Pocus". Effectively, "Hocus Pocus" was Vincent's stage name and it is from this designation that all subsequent references to "Hocus Pocus" derive.

The evidence that I presented of the authorship of Hocus Pocus Iunior in Magic on the Early English Stage came from Randle Holme's The Academy of Armory, Or, A Storehouse Of Armory and Blazon of 1688. Here, in the Third Book, Chapter XII during a discussion of "Leger De Main Implements", Holme states: "Of which I shall give you an example of some, for the rest I referr you to Hocus Pocus Iunior, Printed by him in the yeare 1634" (Holme 447). Apart from the confirmation that Hocus Pocus Iunior was first printed in 1634 the key issue here concerns the meaning of "Printed by him". The Oxford English Dictionary offers the following meanings of the verb "print": "9. trans. Of an author, editor, etc. a. To cause (a manuscript, book, etc.) to be printed; to give to the press; to publish". The OED offers a further definition: "9. b. To express or publish (an idea, opinion, description, etc.) in print". The OED offers sixteenth- and seventeenth-century examples of these related meanings. These allied definitions permit the meaning of "Printed by him" to refer to "Hocus Pocus" causing the work to be published. The increased certainty of this condition is promoted through the content of the title page which records that the actual printing was: "by T.H. for R.M." [Thomas Harper for Ralph Mabb] (Title Page). In Magic on the Early English Stage I stated: "Although Holme's statement is clear there is still a need for further evidence to reinforce Vincent's authorship of Hocus Pocus Iunior" (24).

Such evidence has been apparent since 1634 but not brought into focus in respect of the volume's authorship. The frontispiece, opposite the title page of Hocus Pocus Iunior, contains an image of a juggler seemingly conducting a trick in which a small object may appear or disappear from his left hand. His right hand holds a stick or wand which comes into contact with his left forearm in order to confer the necessary "magic" when the spoken words that appear in the speech bubble issue from his mouth. The juggler says: "by the vertue of Hocus Pocus ha- pas" (Figure 2). These actions are presumably coordinated and conducted simultaneously.

The words expressed in the speech bubble amount to the juggler's patter. They are his words and refer to his action. Thus, it is to himself, "Hocus Pocus", that he refers in conferring his authority ("by the vertue of", see OED "virtue") upon the trick. The inference to be drawn from the words of the speech bubble is that he, "Hocus Pocus", has authorised not only the trick contained in the image but also the contents of the book. Given the synonymity of "Hocus Pocus" and William Vincent it becomes even more clear that Vincent was the author of the work.

Since "Hocus Pocus" was Vincent's effective stage name it does not seem inappropriate that he should use this name to license the contents of the book. However, there may well have been another reason for use of the author's pseudonym.

Hocus Pocus Junior was only the second English book to be completely devoted to juggling tricks. The first such work was Samuel Rid's Art of Iugling or Le gerdemaine (1612 and reprinted in 1614). However, an earlier work by Reginald Scot, The discoverie of witchcraft (1584), was concerned with exposing and eroding the premise of witchcraft by outlining many juggling tricks said to be fraudulently used to promote witchcraft. A number of the juggling tricks articulated in this work were repeated in Rid's Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine and Hocus Pocus Iunior. King James was a fervent advocate of witchcraft as demonstrated in his work Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue (1597). In this work he refers to "the damnable opinions of two principally in our age, wherof the one called SCOT an Englishman, is not ashamed in publike print to deny, that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft: and so mainteines the old error of the Sadducees, in denying of spirits" (2). (2) Although James was vehement in his criticism of Scot's thinking in The discouerie of witchcraft he accepted the existence of "juglarie trickes" which, even so, he considered to have been taught by Satan: "For it is no wonder, that the Deuill may delude our senses, since we see by common proofe, that simple juglars will make an hundreth thinges seeme both to our eies and eares otherwaies then they are" (23). James considered that he [the Deuill] "will learne them manie juglarie trickes at Cardes, dice, & such like, to decueiue mennes senses thereby: and such innumerable false practicques; which are prouen by ouer-manie in this age" (22).

William Vincent as "the Kinge's Majestie's servant" could, presumably, not have let it be known that he was the author of Hocus Pocus Iunior in which he repeated many of the tricks described in Scot's The discoverie of witchcraft.

Seemingly, the utmost secrecy was needed in order for Vincent to retain his position as the King's juggler. Secrecy, after all, was and is a critical part of the juggler's trade.

Philip Butterworth was formerly Reader in Medieval Theatre and Dean for Research at the University of Leeds. He is now Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds.


I have held many email discussions with Clay Shevlin and Mauro Ballesio concerning the authorship of Hocus Pocus Iunior. I would like to record my thanks to both of them.

(1) In Magic on the Early English Stage I made the following statement: "For instance, the Chamberlains' Accounts at New Romney, Kent for 1620-1 cite an account that ties in the function of the King's juggler with that of performing tricks: 'paid vnto the kings Iugler [presumably Brandon] in reward that he should not shew his tricks in this Towne iijs iiijd'. The suggestion, in square brackets, "presumably Brandon", should have read "presumably Hocus Pocus" or "Vincent".

(2) James' reference to "the damnable opinions of two principally in our age" refers to Scot and Hanss Jacob Wecker.

Works Cited

Bawcutt, N. W. "William Vincent, alias Hocus Pocus: A Travelling Entertainer of the Seventeenth Century." Theatre Notebook 54 (2000): 130-38.

Burt, Richard. Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship. Ithaca, N. Y. Cornell UP, 1993.

Butterworth, Philip. Magic on the Early English Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Guilding, J. M., ed. Reading Records: Diary of the Corporation, 4 vols. London: James Parker, 1895.

Holme, Randle. The Academy of Armory, or A Storehouse of Armory and Blazon. Chester: Randle Holme, 1688.

Iames I. Daemonologie, in Forme of a Dialogue. Edinburgh: Robert Waldegraue, 1597. Scot, Reginald. The Discouerie of witchcraft. London: H[enry] Denham for W[illiam] Brome, 1584.

R[id], S[amuel]. The Art of Fugling or Legerdemaine. Wherein is deciphered, all the conueyances of Legerdemaine and Fugling, how they are effected, & wherin they chiefly consist. London: T[homas] B[ushell], 1612.

R[id], S[amuel]. The Art of Ivgling or Legerdemaine. Wherein is Deciphered, all the conueyances of Legerdemaine and Iugling, how they are effected, and wherein they chiefly consist. London: George Eld, 1614.

Vincent, William. Hocus Pocus Iunior. The Anatomie of Legerdemain. or, the Art of Iugling set forth in his proper colours, fully, plainely, and exactly, so that an ignorant person may thereby learne the full perfection of the same, after a little practise. London: T[homas] H[arper] for R[alph] M[abb], 1634.

Wecker, Hanss Jacob. De Secretis Libri XVII. Basle: [n. pub.], 1582.
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Author:Butterworth, Philip
Publication:Theatre Notebook
Article Type:Essay
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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