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SEL 51, 2 (Spring 2011): 327–347 Bryan Adams Hampton ISSN 0039-3657
Purgation, Exorcism, and the Civilizing Process in Macbeth
BRYAN ADAMS HAMPTON
In Staging Domesticity, Wendy Wall richly complicates our thinking about early modern domesticity, including the everyday tasks of food preparation, laundering, and pot scrubbing, as delineated in domestic manuals as the art and practice of effective “huswifery.” She argues that these seemingly mundane activities shaped evolving ideas of English nationhood, identity, gender, and the playhouse.1 Robert Cleaver, commenting on English domesticity and echoing many of his contemporaries, argues that the husband yields authority to his wife over “those things that belong unto the kitchen, and to huswiferie, and to their household stuffe.”2 Falling under the aegis of “household stuff,” Wall observes, is “physicke,” or medical care, which was among the English housewife’s most significant duties. The Galenic body was governed by humours that were constantly in flux, thus leading professional doctors and housewives to treat early modern bodies as systems needing incessant care and maintenance. Wall states that “the early modern body was in constant need of evacuations: enemas, laxatives, and emetics for the lower body stratum; herbs, changes in thermal conditions, and air for upper body ‘purges’ (vomiting, coughing, burping); blood-letting, exercise, and orgasm for all around purification.”3 In his poem A New Anatomie (1605), Robert Underwood compares this open Galenic body to a “mooveable” house, whose “kitchen” is both the repository and principal site of purgation: And first, the Kitchen seated was, as nethermost of all,
Bryan Adams Hampton is Dorothy and James D. Kennedy Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of English, and serves as the coordinator of the Humanities Program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Civilizing Process in Macbeth
Whereby it might receive such things, as from above did fall: By Vessels, fitting for the same which long there, did not stay. The image of the kitchen thus functions simultaneously as stomach, bowels, and anus, which “did convay / By Gutters, Holes, and Channels so” to render the body and the domestic space “hansome, sweete, and cleene.”4 Wall’s analysis of early modern domestic manuals reveals that purgation of the nation’s “kitchen,” the unstable early modern body, was a source of national obsession. We might profitably interrogate this obsession by turning to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a king whose own unstable body—beheaded and obfuscated at the end of the play—functions as a synecdoche for the filth-ridden “kitchen” of the Scottish body politic.5 Although the word “purge” (or variations) occurs only four times in the text (III.iv.77; V.ii.28; V.iii.54 and 57), its conceptual presence occupies nearly every scene: from the disemboweling of the “merciless Macdonwald” and the purgation of his invading “swarm … / Of kerns and gallowglasses” (I.ii.9 and 12–3), to Macbeth’s urging the doctor to “cast / The water of my land, find her disease, / And purge it to a sound and pristine health” (V.iii.52–4). The play’s action, initiated with the witches eerily incanting that “[f]air is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.11), is inscribed within a diseased, spiritual darkness. But what if the state of Macbeth’s foul condition—the churning humoral body that is occluded at the end of the play—is actually fair? What if Macbeth’s ghastly “dread exploits” (IV.i.144) actually evoke their antitheses, or simultaneously adhere to two seemingly discrete meanings: that which is sacred and that which is accursed? Jonathan Goldberg and David Scott Kastan have troubled the various binaries that the play sets up; instead of the reestablishment of “orthodoxy” (legitimate over illegitimate rule; male power over female power; moral order over chaos), the play presents challenges to this reading through a series of “mirroring” moments, insistent doublings, or, to use Goldberg’s phrase, “spectral identification[s].”6 But Goldberg and Kastan appear simply to reverse the interpretive paradigm, favoring the “heterodox” terms of the binary over the orthodox ones.7 Through the trope of purgation, here considered in both its mundane and supernatural matrices, this essay explores a “spectral” doubling that Kastan and Goldberg neglect, but that accounts for the simultaneous presence of both orthodox and heterodox terms: the sacred and the profane. These categories
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ostensibly present modern readers with another binary, but to an early modern audience, Macbeth’s brutal actions are both fair and foul because they are inscribed within what appears to be a near-fungible economy and flexible ideology and politics of the holy and unholy. Many early modern domestic manuals make the kitchen the practical locus of its national obsession with purgation. Their authors provide dozens of home-cooked recipes for purgatives, concoctions, or enemas, and housewives are instructed to administer these purgatives to family members on a regular basis. Gervase Markham’s The English Hus-Wife (1615), for instance, provides numerous examples of purging the body in order to maintain simple hygiene and health, offering remedies for headaches, rashes, pimples, bad breath, plague, and “diseases in the Heart.”8 The perpetual task of the English housewife, and her greatest virtue, is “the preservation and care of the familie touching their health and soundnesse of bodie,” for her “physicall kinde of knowledge” prevents “the first occasion of sicknesse, as to take away the effects and evill of the same when it hath made seazure on the body.”9 Infections place the entire household at risk. Thus, the English housewife’s purgative expertise is crucial to easing bodily pain or discomfort and sustaining life, leading Wall to conclude that purgation in early modern England “generally suggests a redemptive moment, the blessed cleansing of defilement.”10 A look at the OED confirms her conclusion, for “purgation” is defined as “1. Ceremonial or ritual cleansing from defilement or uncleanness; 2. Moral or spiritual cleansing; purification by the removal of corruption, sin, guilt, or similar evil; 3a. Originally: the cleansing of the body of waste material, an excess of a humor, etc.”11 The significance of these multihued definitions, however, escapes the walls of the individual English household. Louis A. Montrose argues that the domestic space, far from being privatized, is the “nucleus of the social order” in early modern England.12 Because the “domestic” includes both the individual household and the national body politic, the purgatives used by the English housewife to restore bodily health thus can be extended to the health of the kingdom at large. Markham’s title page makes this larger connection, for the manual is “generally approved … purged and made most profitable and necessarie for all men … and the generall good of this Kingdome.”13 Markham’s collapse here demonstrates Montrose’s insight. The domestic space of the individual household is transformed into a site of pathology for the national body politic. Moreover, one might contend that Markham’s “most profitable” economy entrenched within
Civilizing Process in Macbeth
private-public purgation carries the exchange value implicit in the “civilizing process” and the making of national consciousness.14 In the “redemptive” process of purgation that Wall identifies, the housewife exchanges common household dirt and waste, or bodily fluids and excrement, for the refined value of social distinction and national virtue. As Ben Saunders elaborates, “the concepts of cleanliness and dirt became during this period fundamental organizing metaphors” that structure “the boundaries between the rich and the poor, the reasonable and the irrational, ‘us’ and ‘them,’ order and disorder, civility and barbarism, truth and falsehood, white and black, and perhaps even the historical division between the early modern and the medieval itself.”15 Saunders’s list of binaries, however, ignores an important cultural context: the ritual and spiritual dimensions of “clean” and “dirty” as the “sacred” and the “profane.” But what do we accomplish by adding another set of binaries, and how do they impinge on the action of Macbeth? First, domestic cleanliness, brought about by the everyday household tasks of purgation, have spiritual purchase in the civilizing process, not just for the individual household, but also for the nation. As Robert Cleaver describes, English householders understand that their particular vocation distinguishes them from “Papists, Atheists, yea, Turkes and Infidels,” who equally provide the necessities for their children, and from their fellow Englishmen that merely “pretend to be great protestants, and sound professors of the Gospell.” For Cleaver, their task of “reforming their own houses” is “a most necessary discipline” because if the owner has “a Church in his house,” these seeds eventually bloom into an ordered English Church.16 Domestic disorder, depicted by Cleaver as servants who habitually “shew any lewd tricke[s],” as a “cruell” and tyrannical husband who fails to “love, cherish, and nourish his wife, even as his owne bodie,” or as an unruly “street-wife” who wanders abroad or fails to keep a thrifty house, reflects poorly on the national, Protestant identity of England and draws the judgment of God.17 Second, in examining the cultural binaries of “sacred” and “profane,” we will also complicate, or even dissolve, their rigid distinctions and trouble Saunders’s description of the neat economy of the nation’s civilizing process, whereby Scotland’s disease and dirtiness is purged in exchange for England’s vigor and cleanliness, or Macbeth’s fiendlike foulness is exorcised by Edward III’s saintly fairness. Nowhere in the early modern period is the ambiguity more polemical than in cases of supernatural purgation—the exorcis-
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ing of spirits. Shortly, we shall find that Macbeth is an exorcism in five acts, a play about domestic purgation that resonates keenly with the tension produced when the categories of material and spiritual, and sacred and profane, are collapsed. Church of England clergy, Puritan ministers, Nonconformists, skeptics, believers, and the king himself debated the theory and praxis, theology and theatricality, of exorcism, all the while revealing a contentious ideology and politics of possession and purgation.18 As Peter Elmer indicates, “to acknowledge the existence of witches in a given community or to invoke the language of demonology in political debate was necessarily to raise the spectre of disorder which lay at the heart of early modern political behaviour and thought.”19 Elmer and Stuart Clark demonstrate that such a “spectre of disorder” is hauntingly ambiguous and ideologically flexible. Consider, for example, James VI and I’s Daemonologie (1597). Philomathes asks Epistemon (the Jamesian voice of the dialogue) about the degree to which witches can afflict lawful magistrates. Epistemon responds, “[l]esse or greater, according as he [God] deales with them. For if he [the magistrate] be slouthfull towardes them, God is verie able to make them instrumentes to waken & punish his slouth. But if he be the contrarie, he according to the just law of God, and allowable law of all Nationes, will be diligent in examining and punishing of them.”20 Consequently, cases of witchcraft and demon possession in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries evoke a semantic doubling that complicates the categorical binaries. Epistemon, the champion of secure knowledge, paradoxically suggests that the hermeneutical lines between what is “clean” or “dirty,” “sacred” or “profane,” “of God” or “from the devil,” are quite blurry. Sigmund Freud reflects on this paradox of conceptual doubling as a potential key to understanding the unconscious through dreams. In his 1910 essay “The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words,” Freud reviews an 1884 paper by German philologist Karl Abel. Freud quotes Abel’s text at length in order to demonstrate “the dream-work’s singular tendency to disregard negation and to employ the same means of representation for expressing contraries.”21 Abel uses examples from ancient Egyptian in which many single words had two, often contradictory, meanings, as well as compound words with only a single meaning. Freud quotes Abel’s essay at length: [I]n this extraordinary language there are not only words meaning equally “strong” or “weak,” and “command” or
Civilizing Process in Macbeth
“obey”; but there are also compounds like “old-young,” “far-near,” “bind-sever,” “outside-inside” … which, in spite of combining the extremes of difference, mean only “young,” “near,” “bind,” and “inside” respectively … Since every concept is in this way the twin of its contrary, how could it be thought of, and how could it be communicated to other people who were trying to conceive it, other than by being measured against its contrary … ?22 Abel asserts that our binary conceptions arise only through comparison, thus complicating the binary opposition itself: if all one knew were light, one would have no need for the term or concept light, or for the term or concept of darkness. For Freud, Abel’s work on the dynamics of antithetical language provides an invaluable link to interpreting dreams. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud states that dreams “feel themselves at liberty, moreover, to represent any element by its wishful contrary; so that there is no way of deciding at a first glance whether any element that admits of a contrary is present in the dream-thoughts as a positive or as a negative.”23 Abel’s work on semantic doubling and Freud’s speculation on its usefulness for interrogating the ambiguity and dislocating of elements in dreams may provide a lens through which to examine the interrelation between the sacred and the profane in early modern culture, and in Macbeth in particular, where “[f]air is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.11). The presence of witches and demoniacs in early modern culture and in the play can simultaneously subvert political authority by calling into question the legitimacy and moral superiority of those with power, and integrate the community by reifying what is considered to be proper political hegemony.24 Rather than seeing the categories of “clean” and “dirty,” “purged” and “impure,” or “legitimate” and “subversive” as radically bifurcated, one might alternately construe these categories as operating within a near-fungible economy. Cases of demonic possession in the period are numerous and most exist as eyewitness accounts in legal cases, letters, and journals.25 Phillip C. Almond notes at least a hundred references to possession between 1550 and 1700, with physicians such as Richard Napier reporting that he had treated 148 patients suffering possession, while the exorcist John Darrell claimed to have interviewed or treated at least ten demoniacs in 1599 alone.26 Moreover, the skeptical James VI and I personally interviewed the demoniac Anne Gunter in 1605 before handing her over to
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Archbishop Bancroft and Samuel Harsnet for further questioning.27 Demoniacs such as Gunter and Mary Glover (1602) drew national attention, and their fits were sometimes witnessed by hundreds at a time; anecdotal evidence argues that witnesses expressed a renewed conversion, suggesting demon possession could be the simultaneous work of the divine.28 In his 1590 Treatise against Witchcraft, Henry Holland makes this point clearer by arguing that Satan and his witches cannot possess individuals without the express permission of God. Satan “is sent for the execution of Gods iustice,” not just as a “signe of the contempt and fall of men from the Gospell,” but also “that he may fatherly forewarne his Saintes” to “passe their dwelling here in feare and all diligence.”29 Demoniacs who are targets of bewitching could just as likely be a pious Job as a wicked Saul. In Daemonologie, Epistemon elaborates, “[T]here are three kinde of folkes whom God will permit so to be tempted or troubled” by demonic affliction: “the wicked for their horrible sinnes, to punish them in the like measure; The godlie that are sleeping in anie great sinnes or infirmities and weakenesse in faith, to waken them up the faster by such an uncouth forme: and even some of the best, that their patience may bee tryed before the world, as Jobs was.”30 Thus, there appears to be no clear line between pure and impure, or between holy and unholy possession.31 These binaries of “clean” and “dirty” and “holy” and “unholy,” are especially germane in Macbeth, where Shakespeare antithetically renders the royal households and householders of Scotland and England. The former falls under the irrational, sinister, disorderly, and barbaric headship of Macbeth, the latter under the rational, illumined, ordered, and civilized headship of one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings and the early patron saint of England, Edward III (1003–66), whose miraculous healing powers are mentioned in IV.iii.142–60, and in whose Court Malcolm and Macduff take refuge. Shakespeare’s juxtaposition suggests that natural and supernatural purgation, and the “redemptive moment” they bring, are the fundamental, and fundamentally porous, tropes developed in Macbeth. From the outset, the rebel Macdonwald and his Irish armies are likened to vermin that have infested the household of Scotland: [t]he multiplying villainies of nature Do swarm upon him [Macdonwald]—from the Western Isles Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied. (I.ii.11–3)
Civilizing Process in Macbeth
Vermin were always associated with the rampant spread of plague in the Renaissance. The “kerns and galloglasses” that constitute Macdonwald’s rebel army are the proverbial “wild” Irish, those who “live like venom where no venom else / But only they have privilege to live,” as King Richard II memorably describes. 32 Barnabe Rich, a younger contemporary of Raphael Holinshed who writes in response to the sympathetic portrait of the Irish in Richard Stanyhurst’s Description of Ireland (1577), surmises that Ireland is a country abounding in witches and devils.33 Rich maintains that among the Irish, “the most abject Creatures, that I think either Ireland or the world affoordeth … are the Kearne of Ireland.”34 These kerns are vividly described in the Chronicles as descending upon their enemies in battle as “a shower of hell,” for they are the “divels blacke gard.”35 Given these cultural assumptions, Macdonwald’s army is the embodiment of disorder and defilement. No sooner does Macbeth rout Macdonwald’s army and disembowel the traitor—as if the disease he represents and carries can only be purged at the expense of the host—than the King of Norway attacks. This new initiative causes “[d]iscomfort” to “swell,” extending the imagery of the domestic bowels in need of cleansing (I.ii.28). The arrest of Cawdor provides another instance of national purgation when he himself is purged of his sin during his confession and repentance of treason (I.iv.2–7). It is significant that the threat has come from within the royal household, as, metaphorically, the king’s own “body” has rebelled against him, calling into question his own sovereignty. Many scholars have noted that medieval and renaissance texts were fond of the analogy between the body and the state, leading Ernst H. Kantorowicz to describe the phenomenon of the king’s “two bodies”: the natural, finite body that is given to frailty and decay, and the sacral, mystical body of the king incorporated by the members of the body politic.36 Macbeth extends the analogy that the king is the father and his subjects are his children: “Your Highness’ part / Is to receive our duties; and our duties / Are to your throne and state children and servants” (I.iv.23–5). James VI and I was fond of this paternal image as well, as he repeatedly invokes it in the Trew Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598) to justify an absolutist monarchy.37 Early modern audiences would have seen Macdonwald’s rebellion as an unnatural affront to the king and to God as well. For James, there is no pretense for rebellion from a subject or a son, for “to rise up against him, to control him at their appetite” is “monstrous and unnaturall.”38
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Macdonwald’s monstrous rebellion implicates Duncan as a largely incompetent and irresponsible householder. Unlike the Jamesian ideal, Duncan fails to foresee the dangers that face the children of his household, for he misjudges the loyalty of his “sons” and his investments in them (I.iv.11–4). Duncan’s mismanagement of the household necessitates the physical purgation of the warring threat. Moreover, Duncan also contributes to his own death as he again misapprehends one of his “sons” when he appoints Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor. His mistake repeated—as the “gracious” and “most sainted king” (III.i.67; IV.iii.110), whose genial nature blinds him to potential evils—the infestation returns with such vengeance that by act IV the household of Scotland is in need of not only physical purgation with the removal of Macbeth’s body from the throne but also metaphysical purgation. The usurping king’s physical and mystical body is saturated with blood, as Macduff laments, “Not in the legions / Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned / In evils to top Macbeth” (IV.iii.56–8). This early modern nexus between the physical and metaphysical is described in Timothie Bright’s influential Treatise of Melancholie (1586). Bright, a physician who studied at Cambridge and later left medicine for the ministry, makes an explicit connection between the physical and metaphysical in medical pathology. In the dedicatory epistle he explains that his treatise will demonstrate “how the bodie, and corporall things affect the soule, & how the body is affected of it againe.”39 Yet this natural-supernatural link in a pre-Cartesian world complicates the proper diagnosis of melancholy. For Bright, a physician is faced with deciding “betwixt natural melancholie, and that heavy hande of God upon the afflicted conscience, tormented with remorse of sinne & feare of his judgement.”40 If the melancholy patient’s condition, marked by symptoms such as somnambulism, hallucinations, or depression, falls within the pale of the latter, “[h]ere no medicine, no purgation … are able to assure the afflicted soule and trembling heart, now panting under the terrors of God …. In this affliction, the perill is not of body, and corporall actions … but of the whole nature soule and body cut of [sic] from the life of God.”41 In such a case, only a priest can treat the malady and purge its deleterious effects. The physician called upon to treat Lady Macbeth’s distraught behavior acknowledges precisely this thorny sentiment when he admits that her “disease is beyond my practice” (V.i.58). Her terrible trancelike confession of Duncan’s murder horrifies the doctor, for “[u]nnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles,” such that
Civilizing Process in Macbeth
he concludes, “[m]ore needs she the divine than the physician. / God, God forgive us all!” (V.i.71–2, 74–5). The doctor’s horror is compounded when he realizes that her infected psyche, resulting from the sin of regicide, has far-reaching implications for Scotland “abroad.” The entire nation is not only infected with disease but also implicated in her sin. By Jamesian reckoning, the people of Scotland have deserved their tyrant king and fiendish queen, for “a wicked King is sent by God for a cursse to his people, and a plague for their sinnes,” so that it remains unlawful “to them to shake off that curse at their owne hande, which God hath layde on them.”42 One might be tempted to think that such an injunction only applies to those who come to the throne legitimately and not by murder. But James does not make this provision; usurpers to the throne can just as likely be used as instruments or scourges of God’s wrath and judgment upon a nation as true kings established by “trew law.” The foul is thus rendered fair. Oddly, however, Macbeth himself is both sacred and profane at the same moment. His damned and diseased household, and the “legions / Of horrid hell” (IV.iii.56–7) that saturate his body, promise also to be the conditions necessary for the “redemptive moment” to erupt. This duality suggests not the rigid binary between the diseased and the purged that one might expect, or that of the unholy and the holy, but a tissuelike interrelation or simultaneous appearance, recalling Freud’s speculation on the appearance of symbols or images in the dream text. Michael Lieb has written on this near identity, tracing the etymological connections between the sacred and the profane in the Greek root, τό ἅγ iον, “the holy.”43 The root ἅγ suggests both the need for and simultaneous performance of ritual purification, and is a part of the participial (ἅγνός) and adjectival (ἅγ ioς) forms of the word. The latter implies both that which is sacred and that which is accursed. “At its source,” Lieb concludes, “the Greek concept of [τό ἅγ iον] originally had a double meaning: holy was not only pure but likewise polluted.” Thus, the three witches’ incantation that “[f]air is foul, and foul is fair” resonates within a deeply embedded sacrificial economy in which disease, purgation, and redemption in the body politic turn full circle. To gain some perspective on this economy in Macbeth, we might turn briefly to Julius Caesar, where the interchange of foul and fair is also at play. For Brutus, Caesar displays this dual status. When Cassius suggests that the conspirators also rid Rome of Antony, Brutus responds with pious restraint:
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Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius. …………………………………………… Let’s kill him boldly, but not wrathfully; Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds.44 Traditionally, in cultic sacrifice a worshipper offers to the god or goddess his or her best animal as an exchange for economic prosperity or the remission of sins. Caesar’s glory, the collective weight of his Roman dignitas and pietàs, renders him the best that Rome can offer: the “Colossus” who, godlike, “doth bestride the narrow world” (I.ii.136, 135). But for these republicans, Caesar must be sacrificed because the monarchical politics he represents is itself profane.45 When Marullus castigates the mechanicals for their holiday idleness in watching Caesar’s triumphant parade, he labels their actions as ritually unclean. He orders them to run home and “[p]ray to the gods to intermit the plague / That needs must light on this ingratitude” (I.i.53–5). Therefore, Brutus admonishes the conspirators to think upon Caesar “as a serpent’s egg” which would eventually “grow mischievous” (II.i.32–3). Such a sacrifice, Brutus reasons, would honor the gods, generations of Roman republican ideals, and the conspirators themselves, who “shall be called purgers, not murderers,” as their ritual violence legitimates assassination (II.i.181). Like Caesar, the body of Macbeth occupies this same liminal position in the slivered space between the sacred and the profane. While the republicans kill Caesar for fear of his potential for becoming the tyrannical serpent, it is clear that Macbeth has de facto become the serpent under “th’ innocent flower” that has struck and devoured his own country, and whose head must be cut off to purge Scotland of his venom (Macbeth, I.v.65). Having spent time in the Court of the saintly Edward, who, with great show of public ceremony, miraculously purges the “evil” of strange diseases in those who seek him out, Malcolm declares Scotland “[i]s ripe for shaking, and the powers above / Put on their instruments” (IV.iii.147, 239–41). Malcolm returns resolving to ritualistically purge Scotland. He recognizes that the body politic of Scotland is in need of supernatural purgation, perhaps even a kind of national exorcism, as Macbeth’s foulness becomes a fair sacrifice by agents of England’s saintly king. Ross describes the condition of Scotland to Malcolm and Macduff in terms that reveal a national scene eerily associated with symptoms of possession on such a large scale that the
Civilizing Process in Macbeth
shrieks, groans, and “violent sorrow” (IV.iii.170) of its people have become normalized: Alas, poor country, Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot Be called our mother, but our grave; where nothing But who knows nothing is once seen to smile; Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air Are made, not marked. (IV.iii.65–70) In a negative reversal, good men are effectively purged from the diseased state, those who “[e]xpire before the flowers in their caps, / Dying or ere they sicken” (IV.iii.173–4). Instead of a domestic space characterized by life, nourishment, regeneration, and cleanness, Scotland has become a household of death, starvation, and disease. As Markham insists, purgation of the household is of utmost importance if life and health are to be sustained; this becomes even more important when one considers Lady Macbeth’s often-quoted speech invoking the infernal spirits to “[m]ake thick my blood; / Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse” (I.v.43– 4).46 Instead of healthful purgation, Lady Macbeth’s invocation conveys the opposite: physical, emotional, and spiritual constipation. The 1604 Act against Conjuration stipulates that anyone found guilty of merely “exercis[ing] any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and wicked Spirit” will garner the death penalty.47 Lady Macbeth’s abandonment of her traditional gendered role of purging the household in favor of occult power to cause disease within the household thus directly challenges God’s sovereignty. But within a play that equivocates “with us in a double sense,” her doing so also inscribes God’s sovereignty, and instantiates God’s power over disorder and darkness (V.viii.20); like her husband, Macbeth’s queen is rendered both sacred and profane. Lady Macbeth will purge her husband’s predisposition as the “good son” (I.v.16–7), by vowing to “pour my spirits in thine ear / And chastise with the valor of my tongue / All that impedes thee” (I.v.26–8). If Lady Macbeth can be likened to a witch by early modern standards, and if records of demonic possession during the period indicate that possession is caused by witchcraft, then her vow here is indicative of Macbeth’s imminent possession. One might recall a biblical echo here from Acts 2, in which the Holy Spirit is “poured out to all the people” during Pentecost, the result of which is a new kind of possession and speaking in
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tongues. Moreover, medieval and Renaissance paintings of the Annunciation—the Holy Spirit’s “possession” of Mary’s cooperative body—are commonly represented with a dove at her ear, or a cartouche representing the passing of the words from the heavens or the angel’s lips into her ear.48 Almond notes the frequency with which demons were depicted in the seventeenth century as both entering into and being purged from their host through bodily openings such as mouths, nostrils, wounds, anuses, or ears.49 For Macbeth, that possession is feminized. In documented cases, demonic possession is caused by witchcraft, and Keith Thomas has ably demonstrated that in the seventeenth century “possessed” and “bewitched” were interchangeable terms.50 Central to the bewitching of Macbeth, demon possession in the period was largely associated with the feminine. Its symptoms were often similar to hysteria, or hysterica passio, popularly called the “suffocation of the Mother,” an illness thought to affect mostly women, whose symptoms were seen by Shakespeare’s contemporaries as mimicking possession itself.51 Rebecca Bushnell cites a number of early modern political treatises that often define the true tyrant as one who is ruled by his passions instead of his reason.52 In his Education of a Christian Prince (1516), Desiderius Erasmus writes that “it is the mark of a tyrant—and womanish, too—to follow the unbridled will of your mind.”53 Erasmus’ tyrant is uncontrollable and insatiate, described by him with apocalyptic imagery reminiscent of Daniel and Revelation. He is “a frightful, loathsome beast, formed of a dragon … with six hundred eyes all over it, teeth everywhere … with never satiated hunger, fattened on human vitals, and reeking with human blood.”54 The apocalyptic imagery likens the tyrant to the figure of the antichrist, whom the apostle John associates with a dragon in Revelation, chapters 12–3. Malcolm describes Macbeth in just these terms: I grant him bloody, Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin That has a name. (IV.iii.58–61) Clearly, Macbeth has been transformed into the embodiment of male cultural fears, possessed by and transformed into the fiendish feminine. But here we might see yet another collapse, and Freud’s antithetical sense might also serve to inform these gender trans-
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formations in the play. Thomas Laqueur demonstrates that early modern anatomy inherited from Aelius Galenus a “one-sex” theory of the human body, in which “the vagina really is a penis, and the uterus a scrotum” turned inward. A lack of terminology created a propensity “to see the female body as a version of the male.”55 The differences between opposites in the Galenic model are thus minimized; even though “man” may remain the “canonical” form, and “woman” may be defined as a lesser “man,” one might argue that under the right conditions—power transformed into tyranny, for instance—“man” simultaneously is “woman.”56 Stephen Orgel concludes that the cultural fear is not that women might be transformed into men, but that men “can be turned back into women.”57 The gendered transformations of Macbeth as “feminized” tyrant and Lady Macbeth as “unsexed” or androgynous witch, therefore, are either less radical (Galen’s one-sex model), emphasizing Freud’s notion of a duality that is actually a near identity (male-female); or, the transformations are more radical (two-sex model), emphasizing Freud’s notion of the antithetical stand-in (“male” signifies “female” and vice versa). Macbeth purges reason, the stereotypical “male” faculty, entirely from his actions when he declares, “[t]he very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand” (IV.i.147–8). While the “firstling” of Lady Macbeth’s womb has not survived, Macbeth gives monstrous birth to a series of murders, for the slaying of Macduff’s wife and children—the complete purgation of his domestic space—immediately follows (I.vii.55–60). From one perspective, Macbeth’s “womb” has transformed him into a figure of the disorderly, hysterical woman, the “suffocating mother,” to borrow Janet Adelman’s term.58 Instead of a (re)productive, lifesustaining and life-generating household, Macbeth’s inverted household is abortive; it is purgation as destruction. The abortive matrix is made explicit in Lady Macbeth’s grisly speech just before Duncan’s murder, in which she confesses, “I have given suck, and know / How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” but feels no compunction about “dash[ing] the brains out” while it was suckling and “smiling in my face” (I.vii.55–9). Robert Cleaver asserts that a mother’s breasts are primarily “in the service of God,” and that a mother’s breastfeeding is among her most sacred duties as “the most holy bond of nature.”59 A mother nursing her child is an image that James VI and I seized upon to describe his giving himself to the English people as “the patriarch as male mother, greedily sucked dry.”60 When Lady Macbeth conjures the spirits, she pleads, “Come to my woman’s breasts /
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And take my milk for gall,” and treats these infernal “murdering ministers” as her familiars (I.v.47–8). Early modern anatomists generally held that blood from the uterus or heart was infused into breast milk.61 If a mother or nurse “be of an evil complexion, and as she is affected in her bodie, or in her minde, or have some hidde disease,” the child must be removed permanently from the breast for fear that the milk-blood mixture would cause “the childe … [to] take thereafter.”62 Immediately following Lady Macbeth’s speech, Macbeth appears as the familiar/child and soon-to-be demoniac, who is summoned and suckled on a blood made “thick” with “direst cruelty” (I.v.43). This abortive imagery is continued in Macbeth’s “barren scepter” speech (III.i.62–4), as well as in Macbeth’s vision of the bloody child in his second meeting with the witches (IV.i.69–94).63 Macbeth’s household, firmly entrenched within the demonic, is in dire need of ritual cleansing, but Macbeth himself does not recognize the spiritual condition of the land he rules. Just as he seemingly does not understand why the doctor cannot cure his wife’s diseased mind “with some sweet oblivious antidote” that might “[c]leanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff / Which weighs upon the heart” (V.iii.45, 46–7), he similarly sees only the physical condition of his land—the insurgent threat of English invaders. He urges the doctor to “cast / The water of my land, find her disease, / And purge it to a sound and pristine health” with some “purgative drug” that would “scour these English hence” (V.iii.52–4, 57, and 58). Macbeth is here urging the doctor toward urinoscopy, a practice used by physicians to diagnose both natural diseases and demonic possession; the use of this diagnostic tool was so pervasive that the urine flask became an early modern emblem for practicing physicians.64 Doctors called upon to determine cases of possession inspected urine samples as a first, and sometimes only, test. Urinalysis also became central evidence in court cases, and the first documented instance of a physician using urinoscopy exclusively as evidence in a court case occurred in the possession case of Glover in 1602.65 Macbeth, however, is concerned only with purging the physical powers, not the metaphysical ones. That work is for Edward the Confessor. The epithet attached to Edward’s name suggests the source of his miraculous power to heal physically the people of his own land and to purge metaphysically Scotland’s demons. Edward’s pious household is described by Malcolm when he praises Edward’s “most miraculous work” that heals people “[a]ll swoll’n and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye” (IV.ii.148 and 152). His practice
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of prayer and confession leads to the restorative purgation of his national household. By contrast, Macbeth is no longer able to pray after the murder of Duncan: “I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ / Stuck in my throat” (II.ii.36–7). Thus, while Macbeth’s hands become bloodier, and Lady Macbeth is busy scouring hers, England’s people are cured by the laying on of Edward’s hands. They are restored to be living martyrs to Edward’s piety and proper governance; with benediction Edward ceremonially places a gold-minted coin, probably bearing his own likeness, around their necks. Armed with ten thousand English troops, the potent blessing of Edward, and with “Him above / To ratify the work”— the invocation of the holy name for the exorcism—Macduff and Malcolm invade Scotland (III.vi.32–3). They hope that they may again “Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, / Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives” (III.vi.34–5), in order that a “swift blessing / May soon return to this our suffering country / Under a hand accursed!” (III.vi.48–50). A significant part of that blessing is reified patriarchy as the matriarchal household of Macbeth is exorcised.66 Macbeth’s severed head upon a pole serves as a reminder of what happens when reason is abandoned in the governance of the household and state. His body, defiled with its churning humors and passions, is obfuscated, for it cannot be purged of the evil it contains. If exorcism is meant to restore the former state of mental and spiritual health, however, one might envision Macbeth as a failed exorcism in five acts. Instead of being purified and restored, the host is destroyed—evoking the opening action of Macbeth’s efficient gutting of the “diseased” rebel Macdonwald. Moreover, Shakespeare does not render a staged display of Edward’s holy power; audiences know it only as hearsay through the dialogue among the Doctor, Malcolm, Ross, and Macduff, thereby calling its very efficacy into question (IV.iii.142–60). The dramatic strategy and its effects are similar to the Bard’s refusal to stage the “coronation scene” of the sacred and profane Caesar, whereby Brutus, Cassius, and the audience are told through Casca the details of Caesar’s rejection of the crown (Julius Caesar, I.ii.215–94). In both plays, the status of the purgers and the purged is a matter of diminished perspective within a flexible politics of the holy and unholy. In Daemonologie, Epistemon argues that he “who denyeth the power of the Devill, woulde likewise denie the power of God … For since the Devill is the verie contrarie opposite of God, there can be no better way to know God, then by the contrarie.”67
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James’ argument on the presence, power, and existence of God is based on an apophatic, negative proof. Daniel Fischlin argues that witchcraft during James’s reign was a constructed political threat to be punished in order that the king’s absolute monarchical authority might be instantiated.68 Through the recurrent images of physical and supernatural purgation, Macbeth suggests that witchcraft and demonic presence are not just constructed or imagined threats, but serious factors that shape personal and national destiny. But precisely attributing the work of these two forces in the world, and discerning the direction of that destiny, are not easy tasks.
1 Wendy Wall, Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 1–17. 2 Robert Cleaver, A Godlie Forme of Household Government for the Ordering of Private Families, According to the Direction of Gods Word (London: Felix Kingston, 1598), p.176; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 5383. 3 Wall, p. 169. For more on how bodily purgation affected domestic relations between parents and children, and the domestic tension between “self-mastery” and “release,” see Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 113–62. For a study beyond drama, see Michael C. Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999). 4 Robert Underwood, A New Anatomie (London: 1605), pp. 2, 5; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 24519. 5 All quotations of the play are from Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. David Bevington (New York: Bantam Books, 1988). Subsequent references to Macbeth are from this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text and notes by act, scene, and line number. Anecdotally, the recent production of Macbeth, directed by Rupert Goold and starring Patrick Stewart, features some of the stage action in the setting of a large kitchen, which at other times morphs into a dining room, a hospital, and a battlefield. 6 See Jonathan Goldberg, “Speculations: Macbeth and Source,” in Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O’Connor (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 242–64, 252; David Scott Kastan, Shakespeare After Theory (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 165–82. 7 Kastan, p. 97. 8 Gervase Markham, The English Hus-Wife, Contayning, the Inward and Outward Vertues Which Ought to be in a Compleat Woman (London: R. Jackson, 1615), A3; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 17342. 9 Markham, p. 4. 10 Wall, p. 170. 11 OED, 3d edn., s.v. “purgation,” 1.
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12 Louis A. Montrose, “Spenser’s Domestic Domain: Poetry, Property, and the Early Modern Subject,” Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, ed. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, and Peter Stallybrass (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 83–130, 96. 13 Markham, The English Hus-Wife, rev. ed. (London: R. Jackson, 1623), title page; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 17343. 14 See Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Urizen Books, 1978). 15 Ben Saunders, “Iago’s Clyster: Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process,” SQ, 55, 2 (Summer 2004): 148–76, 163. 16 Cleaver, A3–4. 17 Cleaver, pp. 326, 171, 223. 18 The best study on these interrelations is Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997). On the spectacle of exorcism, see Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1988), pp. 94–128. For a study that situates witchcraft trials among more local concerns and everyday life, see Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (London: Harper Collins, 1996). 19 Peter Elmer, “Towards a Politics of Witchcraft in Early Modern England,” in Languages of Witchcraft: Narrative, Ideology and Meaning in Early Modern Culture, ed. Clark (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001), pp. 101–18, 115. 20 James VI and I, Daemonologie in Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into Three Bookes, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Robert Walde-grave, 1597), 2:50; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 14364. 21 Sigmund Freud, “The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words” (1910), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press, rprt. 1968), 11:153–61, 155. 22 Karl Abel, “Über den Gegensinn der Urworte” (Leipzig: Friedrich, 1884), p. 9; Abel quoted in Freud, “The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words,” 11:157. 23 Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams in The Standard Edition, vols. 4–5, 4:318; emphasis Freud’s. Freud begins “The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words” by quoting himself from this earlier work, originally published as Die Traumdeutung (Vienna, 1899), translated from the German as The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). 24 Elmer, p. 116. 25 For a collection of several prominent early modern accounts, see Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern England: Contemporary Texts and their Cultural Contexts, ed. Phillip C. Almond (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004). See also Daniel P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1981). 26 Almond, “Introduction,” in Demonic Possession, pp. 1–41, 1. 27 Almond, “Introduction,” in Demonic Possession, p. 4. 28 Almond, pp. 24–5.
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29 Henry Holland, A treatise against witchcraft: or A dialogue, wherein the greatest doubts concerning that sinne, are briefly answered (Cambridge, 1590), G3, G3v, G4; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 247:05. 30 James VI and I, Daemonologie, 2:47. 31 See Almond, pp. 17–22. Catholic exorcism was a rite of the church and sacred instruments such as holy water, a crucifix, or the sacraments tested the authenticity of the possession and expelled the demon. Many English Puritans, however, argued that miracles had ceased after the apostolic age, and thought exorcism dangerous if not impossible. Some Puritans, however, recognized the rhetorical potency of possession and exorcism, and used the phenomenon as propaganda against the Catholics. See John Deacon and John Walker, Dialogicall Discourses of Spirits and Divels (London: George Bishop, 1601), p. 330; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 6439; and George More, A True Discourse Concerning the Certain Possession and Dispossession of 7 Persons in One Family in Lancashire (London: Richard Schilders, 1600), sig. A3r; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 18070. 32 Shakespeare, Richard II, ed. Bevington (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), II.i.157–8. 33 See Barnabe Rich, A New Description of Ireland wherein is Described the Disposition of the Irish whereunto They are Inclined (London: Thomas Adams, 1610), pp. 9 and 15; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 20992. 34 Rich, p. 10; Rich delineates the “us” versus “them” binary that Saunders describes. The Irish would rather “retaine themselves in their sluttishnesse, in their uncleanlinesse … and in their inhumane loathsomnes” rather than “take an example from the English, either of civillity, humanity, or any manner of Decencie,” thereby justifying their subjection (pp. 16–7). 35 Raphael Holinshed, The Second Volume of Chronicles: Conteining the Description, Conquest, Inhabitation, and Troblesome Estate of Ireland (London: Henry Denham, 1587), p. 45; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 13569. The OED etymology of “kern” points to Richard Stanyhurst’s “fanciful derivation … from cith (shower), and ifrinn (hell)” (OED 3d edn., s.v. “kern,” 1). 36 See Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957). 37 James VI and I, Trew Lawe of Free Monarchies, or The Reciprock and Mutuall Dutie betwixt a Free King, and his Naturall Subjects (Edinburgh: Robert Walde, 1598), pp. 8–9; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 1313:10. 38 James VI and I, Trew Lawe of Free Monarchies, p. 41. 39 Timothie Bright, A Treatise of Melancholie Containing the Causes Thereof, and Reasons of the Strange Effects it Worketh in our Minds and Bodies (London: Thomas Vautrollier, 1586), p. iiiv; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 3747. 40 Bright, p. ii. 41 Bright, pp. 189–90. On the connection between witchcraft and melancholy, see Katharine Hodgkin, “Reasoning with Unreason: Visions, Witchcraft, and Madness in Early Modern England,” in Languages of Witchcraft, pp. 217–36. 42 James VI and I, Trew Lawe of Free Monarchies, p. 45. 43 Michael Lieb, Poetics of the Holy: A Reading of “Paradise Lost” (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1981), p. 8.
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44 Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, ed. Bevington (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), II.i.176, 173–5. Subsequent references to Julius Caesar are from this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text by act, scene, and line number. 45 For discussions of the debate surrounding the rightful assassination of a tyrant, see Robert S. Miola, “Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate,” RenQ 38, 2 (Summer 1985): 271–89. 46 Markham, The English Hus-Wife, p.4. 47 An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft, and Dealing with Evil and Wicked Spirits. I Jac. I, c. 12 (London, 1604). The Act is partially reprinted in Marion Gibson, Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550–1750 (London: Continuum, 2003), pp. 5–7, 6. For more on this point, see Dympna Callaghan, “Wicked Women in Macbeth: A Study of Power, Ideology, and the Production of Motherhood,” in Reconsidering the Renaissance, ed. Mario A. Di Cesare (Binghamton NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1992), pp. 355–69. On the presence of witches as an antithetical threat to patriarchy, see Peter Stallybrass, “Macbeth and Witchcraft,” in Focus on Macbeth, ed. John Russell Brown (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982), pp. 189–209. 48 See Luke 1:28–38. In verse 35, Gabriel announces to Mary that the Holy Spirit “shall come upon thee” and “shall overshadow thee” (KJV). Mary’s body is appropriated as a temporary vessel of divine possession. See, for instance, Carlo Crivelli, The Annunciation (1486); Master of the Retable of the Reyes Católicos, The Annunciation (ca. 1475–1500); and Phillippe de Champaign, The Annunciation (1644). Jan Van Eyke’s Ghent Altarpiece (1432) features a panel with Gabriel’s words extending from his mouth, and a separate panel of Mary’s “response” issuing from her at ear level. 49 Almond, p. 20. 50 Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), p. 478. On how the blurring of these two terms affected trials of suspected witches, see Daniel P. Walker, pp. 78–9. 51 On this overlap, see Joanna Levin, “Lady Macbeth and the Daemonologie of Hysteria,” ELH 69, 1 (Spring 2002): 21–55. 52 See Rebecca Bushnell, “Tyranny and Effeminacy in Early Modern England,” in Reconsidering the Renaissance, pp. 339–54. 53 Desiderius Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince, trans. Lester K. Born (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), p. 19; qtd. in Bushnell, p. 344. 54 Erasmus, p. 163. 55 Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 79 and 96. 56 There are competing physiologies in the period arguing for essential differences between the sexes, as discussed in Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996). 57 Orgel, p. 25. 58 Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, “Hamlet” to “The Tempest” (New York: Routledge, 1992). 59 Cleaver, pp. 233–4. 60 James VI and I qtd. in Goldberg, p. 258. Goldberg cites James’s treatise, Basilikon Doron: or His Majesties Instructions to His Dearest Sonne, Henrie the Prince (London: John Norton 1603).
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See Laqueur, pp. 103–6. Cleaver, p. 233. 63 See Sarah Wintle and Rene Weis, “Macbeth and the Barren Sceptre,” EIC 41, 2 (April 1991), pp. 128–46, 131–3. 64 Barbara Howard Traister, “‘Note Her a Little Farther’: Doctors and Healers in the Drama of Shakespeare,” in Disease, Diagnosis, and Cure on the Early Modern Stage, ed. Stephanie Moss and Kaara L. Peterson (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2004), pp. 43–52. 65 Daniel P. Walker, pp. 79–80; see also pp. 52–6, where Walker notes that urinalysis featured prominently in the 1586 case of Thomas Darling of Burton. 66 See Stallybrass, p. 199. 67 James VI and I, Daemonologie, 2:54–5. 68 Daniel Fischlin, “‘Counterfeiting God’: James VI (I) and the Politics of Daemonologie (1597),” JNT 26, 1 (Winter 1996): 1–21.