Kirilka Stavreva
Department of English
Cornell College
Mount Vernon, IA 52314

"There's Magic in Thy Majesty": Queenship and Witch-Speak in Jacobean Shakespeare

Early in the seventeenth century, witches and their powerful discursive manipulations, which I have called witch-speak, took up a prominent position on the Jacobean stage. Like royalty, witches were a sure thrill for the theater-going crowds of Jacobean London, though it was not always easy to distinguish among these character types. Theatrical queens like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Cymbeline's Queen, and even Hermione (The Winter’s Tale) displayed a masterful rhetoric whose material features and insidious power closely resembled those of low-born witch-speak. The violent words of these queens begot violent responses, but also a liberating energy to body forth the violence of history. The witch-speak of Shakespeare's Jacobean queens, princesses, and their ladies-in-waiting, I argue, provided the kind of discursive bond within the social world of the plays that could hold a kingdom together. This was a lesson, which theatrical kings such as Prospero (The Tempest) were quick to learn and practice, potentially tainting the very concept of marvelous Kingcraft.