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An Essay in Illustration of the Belief in the Existence of Devils, and the Powers Possessed By Them, as It Was Generally Held during the Period of the Reformation, and the Times Immediately Succeeding; with Special Reference to Shakspere and His Works



Barrister-at-Law, Honorary Treasurer of The New Shakspere Society











1. Difficulty in understanding our elder writers without a knowledge of their language and ideas. 2. Especially in the case of dramatic poets. 3. Examples. Hamlet's “assume a virtue.” 4. Changes in ideas and law relating to marriage. Massinger's “Maid of Honour” as an example. 5. Sponsalia de futuro and Sponsalia de praesenti. Shakspere's marriage. 6. Student's duty is to get to know the opinions and feelings of the folk amongst whom his author lived. 7. It will be hard work, but a gain in the end. First, in preventing conceit. 8. Secondly, in preventing rambling reading. 9. Author's present object to illustrate the dead belief in Demonology, especially as far as it concerns Shakspere. He thinks that this may perhaps bring us into closer contact with Shakspere's soul. 10. Some one objects that Shakspere can speak better for himself. Yes, but we must be sure that we understand the media through which he speaks. 11. Division of subject.


12. Reasons why the empire of the supernatural is so extended amongst savages. 13. All important affairs of life transacted under superintendence of Supreme Powers. 14. What are these Powers? Three principles regarding them. 15. (I.) Incapacity of mankind to accept monotheism. The Jews. 16. Roman Catholicism really polytheistic, although believers won't admit it. Virgin Mary. Saints. Angels. Protestantism in the same condition in a less degree. 17. Francis of Assisi. Gradually made into a god. 18. (II.) Manichaeism. Evil spirits as inevitable as good. 19. (III.) Tendency to treat the gods of hostile religions as devils. 20. In the Greek theology. [Greek: daimones]. Platonism. 21. Neo-Platonism. Makes the elder gods into daemons. 22. Judaism. Recognizes foreign gods at first. Elohim, but they get degraded in time. Beelzebub, Belial, etc. 23. Early Christians treat gods of Greece in the same way. St. Paul's view. 24. The Church, however, did not stick to its colours in this respect. Honesty not the best policy. A policy of compromise. 25. The oracles. Sosthenion and St. Michael. Delphi. St. Gregory's saintliness and magnanimity. Confusion of pagan gods and Christian saints. 26. Church in North Europe. Thonar, etc., are devils, but Balda gets identified with Christ. 27. Conversion of Britons. Their gods get turned into fairies rather than devils. Deuce. Old Nick. 28. Subsequent evolution of belief. Carlyle's Abbot Sampson. Religious formulae of witchcraft. 29. The Reformers and Catholics revive the old accusations. The Reformers only go half-way in scepticism. Calfhill and Martiall. 30. Catholics. Siege of Alkmaar. Unfortunate mistake of a Spanish prisoner. 31. Conditions that tended to vivify the belief during Elizabethan era. 32. The new freedom. Want of rules of evidence. Arthur Hacket and his madnesses. Sneezing. Cock-crowing. Jackdaw in the House of Commons. Russell and Drake both mistaken for devils. 33. Credulousness of people. “To make one danse naked.” A parson's proof of transubstantiation. 34. But the Elizabethans had strong common sense nevertheless. People do wrong if they set them down as fools. If we had not learned to be wiser than they, we should have to be ashamed of ourselves. We shall learn nothing from them if we don't try to understand them.


35. The three heads. 36. (I.) Classification of devils. Greater and lesser devils. Good and bad angels. 37. Another classification, not popular. 38. Names of greater devils. Horribly uncouth. The number of them. Shakspere's devils. 39. (II.) Form of devils of the greater. 40. Of the lesser. The horns, goggle eyes, and tail. Scot's carnal-mindedness. He gets his book burnt, and written against by James I. 41. Spenser's idol-devil. 42. Dramatists' satire of popular opinion. 43. Favourite form for appearing in when conjured. Devils in Macbeth. 44. Powers of devils. 45. Catholic belief in devil's power to create bodies. 46. Reformers deny this, but admit that he deceives people into believing that he can do so, either by getting hold of a dead body, and restoring animation. 47. Or by means of illusion. 48. The common people stuck to the Catholic doctrine. Devils appear in likeness of an ordinary human being. 49. Even a living one, which was sometimes awkward. “The Troublesome Raigne of King John.” They like to appear as priests or parsons. The devil quoting Scripture. 50. Other human shapes. 51. Animals. Ariel. 52. Puck. 53. “The Witch of Edmonton.” The devil on the stage. Flies. Urban Grandier. Sir M. Hale. 54. Devils as angels. As Christ. 55. As dead friend. Reformers denied the possibility of ghosts, and said the appearances so called were devils. James I. and his opinion. 56. The common people believed in the ghosts. Bishop Pilkington's troubles. 57. The two theories. Illustrated in “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth.” 58. And “Hamlet.” 59. This explains an apparent inconsistency in “Hamlet.” 60. Possession and obsession. Again the Catholics and Protestants differ. 61. But the common people believe in possession. 62. Ignorance on the subject of mental disease. The exorcists. 63. John Cotta on possession. What the “learned physicion" knew. 64. What was manifest to the vulgar view. Will Sommers. “The Devil is an Ass.” 65. Harsnet's “Declaration,” and “King Lear.” 66. The Babington conspiracy. 67. Weston, alias Edmonds. His exorcisms. Mainy. The basis of Harsnet's statements. 69. The devils in “Lear.” 70. Edgar and Mainy. Mainy's loose morals. 71. The devils tempt with knives and halters. 72. Mainy's seven devils: Pride, Covetousness, Luxury, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth. The Nightingale business.


73. Treatment of the possessed: confinement, flagellation. 74. Dr Pinch. Nicknames. 75. Other methods. That of “Elias and Pawle”. The holy chair, sack and oil, brimstone. 76. Firing out. 77. Bodily diseases the work of the devil. Bishop Hooper on hygiene. 78. But devils couldn't kill people unless they renounced God. 79. Witchcraft. 80. People now-a-days can't sympathize with the witch persecutors, because they don't believe in the devil. Satan is a mere theory now. 81. But they believed in him once, and therefore killed people that were suspected of having to do with him. 82. And we don't sympathize with the persecuted witches, although we make a great fuss about the sufferings of the Reformers. 83. The witches in Macbeth. Some take them to be Norns. 84. Gervinus. His opinion. 85. Mr. F.G. Fleay. His opinion. 86. Evidence. Simon Forman's note. 87. Holinshed's account. 88. Criticism. 89. It is said that the appearance and powers of the sisters are not those of witches. 90. It is going to be shown that they are. 91. A third piece of criticism. 92. Objections. 93. Contemporary descriptions of witches. Scot, Harsnet. Witches' beards. 94. Have Norns chappy fingers, skinny lips, and beards? 95. Powers of witches “looking into the seeds of time.” Bessie Roy, how she looked into them. 96. Meaning of first scene of “Macbeth.” 97. Witches power to vanish. Ointments for the purpose. Scot's instance of their efficacy. 98. “Weird sisters.” 99. Other evidence. 100. Why Shakspere chose witches. Command over elements. 101. Peculiar to Scotch trials of 1590-91. 102. Earlier case of Bessie Dunlop—a poor, starved, half daft creature. “Thom Reid,” and how he tempted her. Her canny Scotch prudence. Poor Bessie gets burnt for all that. 103. Reason for peculiarity of trials of 1590. James II. comes from Denmark to Scotland. The witches raise a storm at the instigation of the devil. How the trials were conducted. 104. John Fian. Raising a mist. Toad-omen. Ship sinking. 105. Sieve-sailing. Excitement south of the Border. The “Daemonologie.” Statute of James against witchcraft. 106. The origin of the incubus and succubus. 107. Mooncalves. 108. Division of opinion amongst Reformers regarding devils. Giordano Bruno. Bullinger's opinion about Sadducees and Epicures. 109. Emancipation a gradual process. Exorcism in Edward VI.'s Prayer-book. 110. The author hopes he has been reverent in his treatment of the subject. Any sincere belief entitled to respect. Our pet beliefs may some day appear as dead and ridiculous as these.


111. Fairies and devils differ in degree, not in origin. 112. Evidence. 113. Cause of difference. Folk, until disturbed by religious doubt, don't believe in devils, but fairies. 114. Reformation shook people up, and made them think of hell and devils. 115. The change came in the towns before the country. Fairies held on a long time in the country. 116. Shakspere was early impressed with fairy lore. In middle life, came in contact with town thought and devils, and at the end of it returned to Stratford and fairydom. 117. This is reflected in his works. 118. But there is progression of thought to be observed in these stages. 119. Shakspere indirectly tells us his thoughts, if we will take the trouble to learn them. 120. Three stages of thought that men go through on religious matters. Hereditary belief. Scepticism. Reasoned belief. 121. Shakspere went through all this. 122. Illustrations. Hereditary belief. “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Fairies chiefly an adaptation of current tradition. 123. The dawn of doubt. 124. Scepticism. Evil spirits dominant. No guiding good. 125. Corresponding lapse of faith in other matters. Woman's purity. 126. Man's honour. 127. Mr. Ruskin's view of Shakspere's message. 128. Founded chiefly on plays of sceptical period. Message of third period entirely different. 129. Reasoned belief. “The Tempest.” 130. Man can master evil of all forms if he go about it in the right way—is not the toy of fate. 131. Prospero a type of Shakspere in this final stage of thought. How pleasant to think this!