Kirilka Stavreva
Department of English

Cornell College
Mount Vernon, IA 52314

Fighting Words: Witch-Speak in Late Elizabethan Docu-Fiction

The late Elizabethan explosion of popular witchcraft pamphlets indicates their ideological value. Zealous reformers, the Elizabethan pamphleteers portrayed witches’ unruliness as the inverse of patriarchal, Christian, and national order. As Stuart Clark explains, this strategy, typical of the era, made the witches’ misrule indispensable for the definition of divine and monarchical order.

To refine this somewhat whimsical tool of cultural definition, the pamphleteers attempted to quell the performative force of what I have called witch-speak. This improvisatory discourse used the body to induce fear and wonder and to breach the boundary between metaphor and reality. Yet fully refining witch-speak was not always possible nor was it commercially desirable. Mystified by the witches’ command over the supernatural, pamphlet readers sometimes laughed along with witches at their social superiors. Rather than portray witches as victims of male persecution, this study foregrounds their insurrectionary speech and its impact beyond the female sphere.

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