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Witchcraft and the Occult

ENGL 1860.001
MW 12:00-1:29pm

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” The words of Shakespeare’s Weïrd Sisters conjure delightfully wicked visions of spell casting, potion making, and devil worship. Far from just stage figures, however, witches and supernatural powers were believed to abound in the early modern world. Historical documents record actual cases of witchcraft and demonic possession, attesting to contemporary beliefs concerning harmful magic and revealing how anxieties associated with the occult resulted in accusations, legal proceedings, and executions. In this class, we will explore a variety of these source texts as we read English Renaissance plays which feature witches, demons, ghosts, and spirits. We will consider the difference between belief and superstition, the links between religion and politics, and the intersection between imagination and performance. We will also examine the legacy of these themes in our own popular culture, including on film. Texts will include Doctor Faustus, Daemonologie, Macbeth, The Witch of Edmonton, and more. Assignments will include quizzes, a short essay, a film review, and a final paper. No previous experience with hexes, alchemy, or communing with the dead required.

English Major Requirements
  • Sector 1 Theory and Poetics (AETP)
  • Sector 3 Medieval/Renaissance (AEMR)
English Concentration Attributes
  • Drama Concentration (AEDR)
  • Medieval/Renaissance Concentration (AEMC)
College Attributes