Hopkins, Lisa, and Helen Ostovich, eds, Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage.
Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage is a rich and varied addition to the field. According to the editors, Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich, the collection aims to 'consider the force and potential of witchcraft representations on the early modern stage and the kinds of cultural works they may perform' (p. 2). The collection is divided into four separate yet interrelated parts: 'Demons and Pacts', 'Rites to Believe', 'Learned Magic', and 'Local Witchcraft'.
Part I opens with Barbara H .Traister s deft discussion of the transformation of the representation of demons in early modern England. Traister argues that devils transformed from cunning demons to witches' familiars, before finally fading away as a trope in dramatic works by the 1620s. Traister aligns her argument with Keith Thomas's work, and suggests that spiritual magic had 'fallen somewhat out of credit' (p. 30) in the period. Next, Bronwyn Johnston questions the blurred lines of power between human and the Devil. Johnston skilfully engages with King James's delineation between ignorant witches who serve the Devil, and powerful magicians who 'are his maisters' (p. 31). The common trope of humans overcoming the Devil is contrasted with Faustus's powerlessness in the face of Mephistopheles's clever manipulations. Laura Levine then examines the meaning of an oral contract in late Elizabethan England. Analysing the inherent power--or lack thereof--in the words used to conjure, Levine insightfully contrasts the transformation of contractual law and custom with the limitations and details of the Devils contract or pact.
Part II then turns to the representation of ritual. Alisa Manninen argues for two forms of ritual: the social and the supernatural. Manninen strikingly uses the duality of Macbeth's ritual spheres to contrast the 'localised and temporary nature of Lady Macbeth's social influence' with the 'far-reaching effects' (p. 69) of the witches. Likewise, Verena Thiele examines duality in Macbeth by contrasting the demonic, tangible, transferable evil of the witches with the temporary, localised evil of the human Macbeth. Finally, Jill Delsigne contrasts Shakespeare's depiction of Paulinas positive use of the hermetic (Roman Catholic) tradition of animating statues of saints and martyrs in The Winter's Tale with the negative depiction of magic-wielding friars in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.
Part III's discussion of learned magic begins with Peter Kirwans examination of the author as conjurer; Jasmine Lellock then examines the use of alchemy as a metaphor for the process of ethical transformation of Prospero in The Tempest. In her contribution, Lisa Hopkins suggests that the staging of magic and its transformative power could be used to perform ideas of history, national identity, religious conformity, and national security. Hopkins foregrounds the theologically problematic performance of magical acts which grant desires, describing Faustus as a play in which the 'tension between the idea of magic and the idea of miracle [is] particularly apparent' (p. 142). This recalls Delsignes argument about Paulinas awareness of the need to be a conduit for a miracle, rather than perform an act of magic.
Part IV discusses the broader--and somewhat ill defined--area of local witchcraft. Brett D. Hirsch focuses on the interaction between the little known play Fedele and Fortunio and Elizabethan concerns over wax images and their possible use against the Queen and her advisors. Hirsch examines how Catholicism and magic are intertwined in the play's performance of ritual. Judith Bonzol then contrasts the strategies of three cunning-women for whom reputation had serious consequences. Bonzol deftly manages the contrasts between the images these women presented as performers of healing--both literal and metaphorical--and their ambiguous position within their communities. Jessica Dell and Helen Ostovich then return to Hirsch's discussion of image magic. For Dell, gender politics in The Merry Wives of Windsor is used to contextualise magical concepts, social classification, and problems of female virtue, while Ostovich examines the socially constructed meaning of imagery and the consequences of consumption and desire in Bartholomew Fair. Finally, Andrew Loeb takes the discussion from the visual realm into the aural. The inversion and disorder created by the witches in The Late Lancashire Witches is emphasised by references to sounds and music gone awry. Loeb notes that one character thinks the church bells sound as though they are 'ring[ing] backwards' (p. 228). This final section lacks the cohesion of the earlier ones, however, each of the contributions is interdependently engaging.
Hopkins and Ostovich have compiled a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of essays. Magical Transformations is a significant new piece of English witchcraft scholarship the strength of which lies in the varied approaches of its authors and their engagement with their source material.
Sheilagh Ilona O'Brien, The University of Queensland
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|Author:||O'Brien, Sheilagh Ilona|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2015|
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