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Performing Dark Arts
A Cultural History of Conjuring

Performing Dark Arts
A Cultural History of Conjuring
Michael Mangan

First Published in the UK in 2007 by Intellect Books, PO Box 862, Bristol BS99 1DE, UK First Published in the USA in 2007 by Intellect Books, The University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA Copyright © 2007 Intellect All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-1- 84150-149-9 / Electronic ISBN 9781841509853 / ISSN 1753-3058 Series: Theatre and Consciousness Series editor: Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe Already published in the series: Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Theatre and Consciousness: Explanatory Scope and Future Potential (2005) Cover Design: Gabriel Solomons Copy Editor: Holly Spradling Typesetting: Planman Technologies Printed and bound by HSW Print, UK.

media and postmodernism Endnotes Bibliography vii ix 1 19 31 62 76 97 116 140 162 172 196 233 v . death and liveness Chapter Eight Narrative ambiguity and contested meanings: interpreting Harry Houdini Chapter Nine Mediums and the media Chapter Ten Magic.Contents Preface and acknowledgements Introduction: magic and performance Chapter One Binaries: early attitudes to conjuring Chapter Two ‘The evil Spirit has a hand in the Tricks of these Jugglers’: conjuring and Christian orthodoxy Chapter Three ‘Fire and faggot to burn the witch’? Conjuring between belief and unbelief in early modern England Chapter Four On the margins: criminals and fraudsters Chapter Five On the boundaries of the human Chapter Six Acting and not-acting: Robert-Houdin Chapter Seven Before your very eyes: life.


who designed and produced the show and was a vii . Aberystwyth. In all of these places. to John and Patrick Mangan for the trip to the site of Houdini’s plane flight at Digger’s Rest. James McLaughlin. in particular. based on the conference proceedings and edited by Adrian Kiernander. I am grateful. feedback and many other kinds of professional and personal support. Bella Merlin. UNE @ Shafston. to Roberta Mock for her insightful criticisms. Sarah Goldingay.Preface and acknowledgements This project started in the Department of Theatre. Some have lent me books. to David Ian Rabey for suggestions about Jonathan Strange and Mr. This has now been significantly changed and updated. in Performance Research 1: 3 (1996). videos and other magical material. Lesley Wade. Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe. I have received invaluable help from friends and colleagues. A section of Chapter Eight was first given as a keynote paper at the conference What A Man’s Gotta Do? Masculinities On Stage. I am particularly grateful to Roland Clare for being in at the start. Brisbane (April 2004). Film and Television at the University of Wales. to Sarah Dadswell for the Magic Circle deck of cards and for her insightful thoughts on Indian conjurors. Of the individuals who have helped me in various ways. Lucy Mitchell and Lizzie Pennington. Leicester. to Derren Brown for an impromptu interview in a school corridor. Mike Wilson for pointing out to me and/or lending me books and other resources. Norrell. to various groups of people who have made the experience of working on the history of magic easier. Still others have offered thoughts. It ended at the University of Exeter. Steve Cockett. Jon Primrose. to Zara and Rachael for their unfailing support. Others have pointed me in directions that I would not otherwise have travelled in. too. suggestions. who astounded and inspired me with their command of a complex field of research. Sections of the book have also been delivered at research seminars and public talks in Exeter and Bristol. and. not only with this book but also with the accompanying play The Inner Child’s Compendium of Magic (available on DVD from the Arts Documentation Unit. and elsewhere. with a suggestion from my editor. and to Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe for his careful and encouraging editorial work. On the way it passed through De Montfort University. I had ventured into the field of magic history a few years before. Exeter EX4 6JA UK). That original paper is to be included in a forthcoming volume of the same name. I have received valuable advice and encouragement from the editors of both these publications. criticism. to Gabriella Giannachi. and a section of Chapter Three appeared. Chris McCullough. in a much earlier version. richer and more pleasurable: to those members of the production teams with whom I worked on the BBC’s six-part History of Magic series. to the original cast of The Inner Child’s Compendium of Magic: Jane Milling. Tess Buckland.

the Panamanian magician whom I have never met but whose online archive. Cambridge University Library. Film and Television Studies Department at the University of Wales. Exeter University Library. too. to the Drama Research Committee of Exeter University and the Theatre. aka Marko. Aberystwyth. the Harry Price Collection and the Bill Douglas Collection. The Learned Pig Project. is an essential resource for all those interested in the history and practice of magic. to the staff and curators of the various libraries and collections which I have consulted – in particular those at the British Library. Thanks. I owe a special debt to José Antonio Gonzalez. viii . the National Library of Wales.PERFORMING DARK ARTS continual source of stimulating ideas. both of whom contributed to the research costs.

As one early writer on magic.3 The words with which this study is centrally concerned – ‘conjuror’. before the eighteenth century the terms ‘magician’ and ‘conjuror’ (like the words ‘wizard’ and ‘warlock’ and their female counterpart ‘witch’) were reserved for those who practised. not least because it reminds us that the conjuror constantly confronts us with questions of our own beliefs about the world. Susannah Clarke. as we know from Jonathan Strange’s maxim. Sometimes also they are called sorcerers’. We use them today in everyday speech to refer to a performer of illusions on the stage or on the street. conjuring. On the contrary. This is not always a bad thing. Jonathan Strange and Mr. are. ‘magic’ and ‘magician’ – belong to this group. American usage tends to prefer ‘magician’.Introduction: magic and performance The first thing a student of magic learns is that there are books about magic and books of magic… Magicians. and many years and much learning has been applied to the vexed question of whether such and such a volume qualifies as a book of magic. books written later are books about magic. Words which have the most complex. while terms such as ‘juggling’ and ‘legerdemain’ referred to the entertainer. perhaps. But most laymen find they are served well enough by this simple rule: books written before magic ended in England are books of magic. The principle. or even contradictory nuances and connotations. but some are particularly slippery and hard to pin down. both ‘conjuror’ (or ‘conjurer’) and ‘magician’ are used to refer to one who performs tricks and sleights in order to entertain. from which the layman’s rule of thumb derives. the black arts. and even confusion. rather than a theoretical magician or a historian of magic. Broadly speaking. is that a book of magic should be written by a practising magician. or were seen to practise.4 In current use. ix . Any great trick involves our own beliefs about the meaning of life. but in other contexts they mean a practitioner of darker arts. which we find in these terms is significant. it may be that these are the words that point us towards areas where something important is happening on a cultural level. Norrell1 Any good trick is accomplished by our imagination. British English tends towards ‘conjuror’ – but both are acceptable. Burger and Neale2 ‘Sometimes such are called conjurers…’ Most words change their meanings over time. most likely to be those words which refer to things that a culture deems important. juggling and witchcraft put it: ‘Sometimes such are called conjurers… Sometimes jugglers are called witches. will quarrel about any thing.5 The degree of semantic complexity.

dance. I am writing as a historian of performance.’ Along the continuum new genres are added and others are dropped. as a member of the Magic Circle. If conjuring seems at first to relate only to what Schechner calls ‘popular entertainments’ (perhaps symbolized by the classical picture of the magician in evening wear pulling a rabbit out of a hat) a little reflection forces us to start to add other images which resonate with key words from Schechner’s list. According to Richard Schechner. It draws on drama and theatre studies. a theatre director. a playwright. highlighted or displayed is a performance. on anthropology. but only if they are being kind to me. published groundbreaking studies which have explicitly or implicitly begun to delineate the field and procedures. at this point that I am not writing as a magician. presented. We see magic-as-play in the many magic sets and compendiums of magic which are marketed for children. but the two or three magic tricks I can competently perform may amaze my friends. props and gestures) and often appear to effect changes in the real world. These are frequently ‘ritualized’ in their form (traditionally including magic words. over the past decade or so. this breadth is particularly appropriate to the study of magic. prestidigitation and legerdemain. and one which is in many ways still finding its feet. Performance Research and Studies in Theatre and Performance have. professional. but there is not yet a settled research methodology. staged illusions. performance must be construed as a ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘continuum’ of human actions ranging from ritual. or even as a halfway competent conjuror. it is important to be clear from the outset that this is a book about tricks. is evident not only in the performance of the stage or parlour spiritualist who claims to summon up the voices of the dead. history and sociology. Yet. a performer in other modes. the performing arts (theatre. popular entertainments.6 As a definition this may seem – some argue that it is – unconscionably broad. who has done more than anyone to establish and define the field. the media and the internet… [T]here is no historically or culturally fixable limit to what is or is not ‘performance. I am an actor. The underlying notion is that any action that is framed. charms or grimoires. Performing Arts Journal. race and class roles. music) and everyday life performances to the enactment of social. play. I should establish. in the performances of most conjurors. sports. and the questions I shall be asking are those which arise from the academic discipline of performance studies. on a more mundane level. not about spells. journals such as The Drama Review. for example.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Although the ambiguity of ‘magic’ will be an important theme in what follows. and on to healing (from shamanism to surgery). too. as I intend to show. x . but also. Ritual. gender. nor even agreement as to the limits of the discipline’s subject matter. Performance studies is a comparatively new discipline.

The focus of this study is on the popular entertainer. not only insofar as magicians have performed in theatres for the last two centuries. for example. Magic and the media is another well-established connection: we see it in the way in which late nineteenthcentury magicians’ acts influenced the development of the early cinema. too. an increasing focus on ‘culture as a series of recipes for carrying out “performatives”’ has led to an emphasis on improvisation rather than on culture as a set of fixed rules. since the 1970s.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE Magic is. I shall be asking questions. highlighted or displayed’ is one which invites precisely the kind of investigation which I am proposing: one which crosses the borders between the stage and everyday life. has become an increasingly important topic in academic inquiry. in the concept of performance as a way of analysing everyday life. Magic-as-healing is evident not only in shamanic practices. about the insights which a consideration of magic can give us into other aspects of a culture or a historical period. both in its literal sense and as a metaphorical way of understanding social interaction. while Maskelyne used short one-act ‘plays’ and sketches as vehicles for his conjuring tricks. then. and in present-day crossovers between stage hypnotism and hypnotherapy. but also in that stage illusions are incorporated into many plays: the medieval European theatre featured magic tricks such as the conjuring of Moses in the medieval mystery plays. about epistemology. So Schechner’s definition of performance as ‘any action that is framed. Nonetheless. in the recurrent tension between liveness and mediatization in contemporary conjuring. cultural historians have become increasingly interested. Whereas cultural history in the 1950s and 1960s tended to see social interactions in terms of a dramaturgical model based on social ‘scripts’ and structural rules. of course. and to the questions of fiction and reality which the performance of magic raises. the book is not intended to be an anthropological or historical study of magical practices in their more efficacious sense. the medicine shows of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. about gender. but I also ask some questions with which they have not particularly been interested: questions. about some of the things which historians of magic have traditionally explored in the past. and in the way in which the Internet has recently become one of the main homes of magic in contemporary culture. The permeable boundary between what is and is not performance is important. these practices and beliefs form an important backdrop to the whole issue of magic as performance. My xi .7 Thus performance. the Elizabethans saw Faustus and Prospero conjure on the early modern stage. but also in the mountebanks of the Renaissance. the Victorian theatre employed magical illusions such as Pepper’s Ghost. just as magic itself crosses – repeatedly – those borders. presented. and as I say. to my particular approach to the study of magic. a long-standing component of theatre. in Houdini’s manipulations of print and film media. At the same time.

let us take a fairly simple example: that of the classic illusion of ‘Sawing a Woman in Half ’. as well as on that of historians of magic such as Edwin Dawes and Milbourne Christopher. Selbit’s trick is doing some very powerful cultural work. who is the subject of persistent patterns of male/female violence and abuse.8 What links can be made between the date of Selbit’s sawing trick and the comparatively recent legislation which had been passed. philosophers. Kasson and Philip Auslander. novels). on what Roland Barthes termed the level of myth. polemicists. playwrights. and to interpret the meaning of Selbit’s trick we may well want to stress its relation to narratives of female emancipation in the early twentieth century. theologians and film-makers. a backlash against the perceived threat of growing female social. Victor Turner. I will be looking at the conjuror in fiction as well as in real life. I shall be drawing on the work of performance theorists such as Richard Schechner. which inscribes the woman as the victim. allowing for partial female suffrage in the United Kingdom?9 Does Selbit’s sawing routine (which was a huge success in its day as well as becoming one of the iconic images of the conjuror’s act itself) represent some kind of social subconscious in revengeful mood? Does its misogynist violence represent. In order to answer them. who worked under the stage name of ‘Selbit’. I am interested not only in magic but in ideas about magic and the meanings of magic. psychoanalysts. to the larger pattern of cultural misogyny (visible. Underlying this cultural history of magic is one basic assumption: that cultural meanings are not universal. plays. as the passive figure who is acted upon rather than acting. Kirby. by extension. and. What kinds of pleasure does it offer the spectator? Why did people go to see conjurors at certain key points in the past? Why do they still do so today? What kind of place did the performance of magic have in relation to broader cultural beliefs and practices? How. in films. has magic been perceived and understood? How has it operated as a metaphor in different cultures? Most of all: what are the meanings which magic as performance has attracted? These are the kinds of questions which the book will be asking. political and economic power? It could certainly be interpreted this way. on some level of codification.PERFORMING DARK ARTS subject matter is not only the performances of individual magicians themselves but also the context in which their performances were received. John F. E. and I will be drawing parallels between the art of the magician and the writings of poets. according to Barthes xii . at various historical moments. Thus. this was first performed in London in 1921 by the British illusionist Percy Thomas Tibbles. Universals and boundaries In order to demonstrate the implications of this last point. that they change with time and are contingent upon their historical circumstances.10 The stories which magicians tell gain resonance from the other stories which surround them. ‘Myth’. too. T. According to most accounts.

and making contingency appear eternal… Myth does not deny things. opera. is one of the key features (some might argue. deriving meaning from the cultural conditions surrounding the moment of its first performance. another magician performing the same (or similar) trick in 2005. writing in the 1990s. so it is with conjuring tricks: ‘Sawing a Woman in Half ’ exists both as a particular historical event. but repeatedly in the acts of countless conjurors since then. its enduring popularity means that it has become a staple – even an iconic – trick of a certain kind of magic show for the greater part of a century. it gives them a natural and eternal justification…11 The sawing in half of a woman certainly ‘does not deny’ cultural misogyny. We could say that this particular trick has been particularly successful in this respect. on the contrary its function is to talk about them. Here. This. but then repeated in later years. for example. And just as a successful play. with varying degrees of faithfulness to or deviation from the original production. it performs it and celebrates it. and also as a repeated routine. is Eugene Burger’s account of the illusion as he perceives it. is not the end of the story. in 1921. it makes them innocent. an example that xiii . Even so. after all. Sawing a woman in two can be horrible or humorous. The specific social and cultural conditions which created those meanings have now changed (though a convincing argument could also be made that a more recent anti-feminist backlash means that they are not so far away as they once were!) and as a result that particular meaning may have become less dominant. it is. might mean something rather different. simply. Thus. Selbit performing the trick to an audience in 1921 may mean one thing. Indeed. and such a ‘natural’ part of the image of the conjuror – as iconic as the rabbit and the top hat – that it is easy for an audience to forget. in essence. by later generations. from the ‘sawing rage’12 of the 1920s onwards. Sawing a woman in half is an illusion which has taken place not once. it purifies them. Saying this I have not forgotten that it is both witnessed and performed as sexist. symphony or dance will be performed at a historical moment at or near to its composition. So when it was performed for the first time in 1921. it may have carried a particular meaning which was very specific to its culture – in this case the sub-text of a general bourgeois backlash against the achievements of the female suffragists. Repetition. it also naturalizes it. It can also be holy. On the contrary. the defining feature) of performance. though. ignore or repress its own awareness of the violence which it enacts. My assumption is that this twentieth century trick is our leading example of what magic is about. holy. And by presenting it as entertainment. It has become so famous. It makes the idea of mutilating a woman (in Barthes’ somewhat ironic inflection of that term) ‘innocent’.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE …has the task of giving an historical intention a natural justification.

the inherent violence of the sawing routine needed to be de-emphasized for good cultural reasons. as does the humour. the ‘same’ trick is re-packaged for a different audience. on a show whose target audience was the family. for example. one which depends less on the gender politics of the historical moment when the trick was first performed than on its persistence as an archetype of the ‘twentieth century trick’. Historical distance from the original moment of performance affects meaning. the Holocaust revelations. the routine had to be made acceptable to the schedulers. the establishment of television as the dominant medium.13 Burger substitutes a different interpretive frame. In another cultural context. and a cultural optimism which was still in part a reaction against memories of the horrors of World War II. Mark Wilson’s implied audience was a nuclear American family. meanings dependent on seeing contemporary magic as somehow partaking of the ‘sacred’. and the meaning of their evolution. we need to take into account the historical dimension which relates them to the expectations and receptive capacities of their audience. Wilson presented the routine in a way which minimized any sense of threat and played down the sense that this is in any way a violent act. My point is not to argue which of these readings is ‘correct’. while other kinds of meanings have been attached.14 It is to illustrate the way in which the same trick means different things in different contexts. So does the way a particular trick is transformed and re-presented. a time which saw the growth of the suburbs. but a relatively safe place for us to experience the sacred. The theme is death and rebirth… The horror remains. but they seem to have faded. A real magic show is not an arena for secular distraction. that Wilson was performing for the newly popular medium of commercial television. Under these conditions. In order to understand how the tricks have evolved. but both performer and audience are also given the opportunity to participate in the holy. This was a time of high conservatism and high consumerism. In order to play at cutting a person in half as part of family viewing at that time.PERFORMING DARK ARTS has roots as old as magic itself. sitting in the comfort of their comparatively affluent home. whose content and mood was strictly controlled by the sponsors and advertisers whose product it was designed to sell. In this reading of the trick’s meaning the original (misogynistic) meanings have not been entirely obliterated. the devastation of Hiroshima. We could go further and talk about the broader cultural climate of 1950s America in which Wilson developed his television act. and the tensions of the cold war. engaged in the shared xiv . with rather different results. To the fact. And so in the mid-twentieth century we see a rather different style of sawing a lady in half exhibited by Mark Wilson on his American television shows. whose primary aim is to sell the products which the programmes ‘carry’.

but idealized archetypes are the bricks from which television schedules are built. these tests. They change according not only to the intentions of the producer/practitioner but also to the social contexts of production and reception. At its extreme. the marvellous. certain themes recur. But if meanings are not universal.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE pleasurable activity of watching television together. It tests the spectator’s perceptions against the cognitive structures which allow those perceptions to make sense. the laws of physics have not been broken. the grotesque is effectively one which challenges the spectator’s sense of reality. a fairly low-status performing art. it should be added. But the point is that magic has no point unless it offers up – however lightheartedly. after all. nonetheless. Meanings change. Boundary work in this sense can often be reassuring: it is often a matter of confirming one’s sense of those boundaries. it asks the spectator to re-evaluate his or her sense of the limits of the human. The picture. to everyday reality are not always cataclysmic. And they can change according to the uses that different producers and different interpretive communities make of them. If this sounds as if it is making too extravagant a claim for what is. This is a particularly important point to make in relation to this book and its historical argument. Most conjurors. their effect may be conservative rather than revolutionary. however insincerely – the possibility that those boundaries may indeed be breached. where you have such control over what the audience sees. between what a magician. Lies. is an idealized one. You could simply lie about everything – but xv . would completely approve: few have any wish to suggest that they are messing with the paranormal – and since they have engineered the illusions. of course. she may – in most cases she certainly will – simply settle for the fact that some kind of sleight of hand or substitution is going on. Indeed. When the card the spectator selects disappears from one place and reappears in another. One theme to which I shall return frequently in this book is that stage magic regularly performs what Una Chaudhuri (in another context) has described as ‘boundary work’. and that while she cannot see how it has been done. a conjuror. which brings him or her up against their own assumptions about how the world works. let me add that these challenges.15 The conjuror’s act of demonstrating the apparently impossible. and they become the norms which determine programme style and content. they know for a fact that they are not. and according to the available interpretive contexts. does as a skilled performer and just lying? Especially on television. damned lies and conjurors’ autobiographies: writing about magic MM: It’s a fine line. the uncanny. isn’t it.

Bristol 1996 Everything I’ve ever told you is a lie. Some of the best of them. doesn’t he? DB: Yes. these works map out the territory which I explore in this book. which develops some of his earlier ideas from articles in Theatre Notebook.16 benefit greatly both from the encyclopaedic knowledge of the dedicated enthusiast and from the technical knowledge of the practitioner and performer. The results are beginning to be seen: for example. by the need for self-promotion – and some of the greatest magicians are the worst offenders in this last respect! There are several good histories already in existence. So a magician wants to avoid just lying. is an excellent large-scale study of the relationship between Tudor ‘jugglers’ and the early modern theatre.PERFORMING DARK ARTS then there would be little for us. Ricky Jay’s Talking Pigs and Fireproof Women18 looks at the stranger outreaches of magical showmanship. the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust have both funded research projects investigating conjuring. to admire. David Blaine’s Mysterious Stranger19 has become a bestseller in the last couple of years. Dawes’ The Great Illusionists and Christopher’s Illustrated History of Magic. Dawes is the official historian of the Magic Circle. These are all eminent figures in the world of Magic in their own right: Christopher and Blaine have had stellar careers as professional conjurors. Peter Cook as the Devil in Bedazzled Most histories of magic are written by practising conjurors or magical technicians. Philip Butterworth’s detailed and scholarly Magic on the Early English Stage. Jim Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant17 brings the story more or less up-to-date with thoughtful reflections on modern magicians. but it contains a series of provocative and intelligent reflections on the philosophical aspects of magic past and present. In the UK. illusion and conjuring from the earliest days through to the mid-twentieth century. Between them. Neale’s Magic and Meaning is not strictly a history of magic. These books are largely written for a market which straddles the general reader and the practising professional or amateur conjuror. Interview with Derren Brown. Eugene Burger and Robert E. Absolutely. Those just mentioned. the audience. such as Milbourne Christopher’s entertaining and lucid Illustrated History of Magic and Edwin Dawes’ The Great Illusionists. by internal quarrels about who first invented which trick. Others seem rather to be hampered by their position within the magic community: by codes of silence.20 The kindred art of ventriloquism has been the subject of a brilliant monograph by Steven xvi . tell the story of magic. There has also been a growing interest in magic among academic researchers in recent years. Including that. Steinmeyer is one of the world’s leading designers of magic illusions.

while Edwin Dawes is by profession a professor of biochemistry. and performance documents such as prompt books. posters. an encounter which took place in that foreign country which is the past. stage design. so has the psychology of magic: respected academic psychologists such as Richard Wiseman and Peter Lamont have published books and papers on this. Home. too. actors tend not to have written good histories of the theatre (although some directors have). performers’ memoirs. The publicity photograph may show an image which never appeared in the performance itself and the theatrical poster almost certainly will! The xvii . Before we attempt any realistic account of how any aspect of performance – whether acting. On the whole it is not professional dancers who write deeply researched histories of dance. has published book-length studies of the Indian Rope Trick and of the Victorian medium D. such documents will be of variable reliability. newspaper reviews. the extent to which professional magicians. Certainly many conjurors are proto-historians – antiquarians. Even with the best will in the world. In the UK the British Library and University of London Library have benefited from this: the Evanion Collection and the Harry Price Collection respectively are valuable resources for the researcher. We cannot visit. magicians make good historians because they are able to negotiate some of the inherent problems of writing magic history.23 Equally important. singing. the moment of performance. stage diagrams and scripts. and Lamont. D. popular theatre – has operated in the past. we cannot experience it directly.21 And if the history of magic has attracted attention. interviews. dance. Writing about the history of magic does present certain unique problems. It arose from the immediacy of the encounter between this particular performer and this particular audience. we can only put together a sense of what it must have been like from a jigsaw of documentary sources: video recordings. The performances whose significance we are trying to recapture took place in a context which can never fully be re-created: their meaning existed in the engagement of a specific moment. photographs.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE Connor. In the first place there are the kinds of problem which any performance historian has to deal with – those related to the central problem of the ephemeral nature of performance. nor do rock stars write great histories of rock music. we are forced to accept that we are engaging with ghosts and echoes of a vanished event. who is also a historian. juggling. But magicians do… Perhaps there are inherent similarities between the typical mindset of the historian and that of the conjuror.22 There is significant overlap between the worlds of academia and of conjuring: Lamont and Wiseman are both former professional conjurors. directing. programmes. are fascinated with the history of their own art form. far more than other artists. perhaps. buying up other specialist collections competitively. Harry Houdini was a prime example – collecting obsessively. in that eighteenth-century sense of collectors of books and artefacts from the past. It is notable.

sometimes we may have too much. The further one moves away from the literary tradition of dramatic theatre. the most engaging. and the immediacy of that past event itself. with his antique acting style. But it is not the performance itself. Even enthusiastic collectors of magic books. adverts. It does not bring into our lives the full. And some might argue that perhaps this is just as well. But when we are dealing with magic and magicians we are not necessarily dealing with the best wills in the world. would disappoint us. nor the presence of Richard Burbage swinging round to an audience and asking them for the first time that question of being and not-being. reviews. Perhaps no actual performance would ever be able to live up to the richness of the imagined performance of generations of Shakespeare-lovers. Magicians’ own accounts of their performances are sometimes valuable. vaudeville. has usually been the richest. as I say. say. out of all of these documentary sources. but rarely entirely reliable. Thus. such as music hall. sweaty. We will often have little confidence in the source material. The actor’s reminiscence may be self-serving or faulty.PERFORMING DARK ARTS newspaper review may be biased or ignorant. Perhaps if we were able to choose between retaining possession of the verbal text and being allowed a time-machine journey to an afternoon at the Globe in 1601. and even the scholarly arguments about the text are helpful in refining our sense of that original performance. when we are performing that very different act of historical imagination: trying to understand what an audience might have experienced in. Invaluable too. we are not dealing with those who see it in their own interests to tell the truth about themselves and their art. it brings a sense of the presence of the event – so much so that sometimes it has been mistaken for the event itself. Read with skill. memoirs. since it has traditionally been seen as less important to provide any kind of permanent record of popular cultural forms. Traditionally the academic discipline of drama and theatre studies has been dominated by study of the dramatic text: this is because (among other reasons) the verbal text. We have a full (if disputed) text of Hamlet. admit that xviii . stand-up comedy or magic. these are particularly few and far between. which is the verbal text. But since we are unlikely to have that choice. playbills. confusing experience of the Globe in 1601. noisy. we would do well to keep the words and dispatch the live performance to the dustbin of history. Shakespeare’s Globe. It is the best evidence we have. from the authored play with a published text. the more reliant one becomes on the surrounding fragments and ephemera: the programmes. With popular forms. Perhaps Burbage himself. This is invaluable because it means that the play (or a version of it) can live again and again for each new generation as part of that powerful dialogue with the past which is the basis of the staging of classic plays. the most immediate. we do well to remember the distance that exists between the fossil record of a theatrical event. More to the point. even with the best will in the world it makes such forms hard to reconstruct imaginatively. such as Gary Brown and Michael Edwards.

They see value.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE though entertainment was their business. alternative literacies and live art. It should be added that recent modes of historiography. too. the task of the historian has been to separate truth about the past from fiction. And when they retire and write their memoirs. The most realistic way to think about magicians’ own accounts of their lives. in performance studies and contemporary literary theory.26 (This may or may not result in an actual performance. They lie about what they are doing onstage when they say they are putting the ball under the cup or in the pocket… Magicians tell you their equipment came from some exotic flea market. as Sara Crasson puts it. from the attic of a haunted house. Traditionally. too…25 Crasson tells only part of the story. Even so. graphic design. careers and tricks is to consider them as extensions of their stage acts – as a particular kind of ‘performative writing’. more lies. and by a tradition of professional entertainers who guard their secrets fiercely. fictional prose. to falsify. lie by the very nature of what they do… Magicians lie about their origin. They talk about fantastic feats they have performed. whereby the written text is made to function in a more expressively performative manner. Researchers into magic (myself included) can also report great openness and generosity both from individual conjurors and from institutions such as the Magic Circle. it can be a very fine line between chronicling the myths of the past and simply being taken in by them. as well as the result of a lives [sic] of deceit and exaggeration. particularly those taking on a postmodern flavour. Thus the myths which magicians create about themselves. these works tend to be ponderous. in the fictions which the past creates about itself: in its self-images. from their ancestors. falsehood or misunderstanding. the misperceptions. and having a close xix . are deeply sceptical about the possibility of recovering any kind of absolute truth about the past.24 Traditionally. has developed a specific meaning. the ideas about magic. are all grist to the mill. the written text ‘choreographed through space across a sequence of pages’27 is the performance. the task of the magician has been to confuse. This concept of ‘performative writing’ is one which. But the culture of secrecy and misdirection is real. Partly a product of the writing style of the day. to create illusions – to lie.) Drawing on influences as diverse as poetry. magicians from magic’s Golden Age produced numerous autobiographies that were less than entertaining. their nationality. they lie there. For many practitioners and proponents of performative writing. and for whom misdirection is an essential source of their power. and it presents particular problems for the historian of magic performance. Still more lies. its propaganda and its self-delusions. Lies. slowmoving accounts which make claims of dubious historical value. ‘Magicians’. their education.

The first was the debunking of the thenfashionable spiritualists. If one of the trademarks of the conjuror’s stage act is that he does one thing while appearing to do another. the mystique of the speaker. and with that of contemporary critical theory. the encyclopaedia entries are precisely analogous to the stage performance. as I have already suggested. to distract. This is not just to do with the age-old question of ‘revealing the secrets’. The entries on ‘Magic’ in the 1926 (13th) edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica were written by Harry Houdini. Yet in an important sense. Thus performative writing is most often associated with the aesthetics of the contemporary avant-garde. performative writing lies between the critical and creative and has elements of both. professional conjurors have a relationship with the truth which is at best ambiguous. It goes on to say: Even a superficial reading of this article. conveys the inescapable conclusion that Harry Houdini’s view of the topic was focused on two matters. the Encyclopaedia Britannica contains. and partly in response to a broadly postmodern tendency to dissolve apparent oppositions – in this case the opposition between that which is written and that which is performed. Why should they not be? Who better to speak with authority about the topic. It is not just xx . in its entries on magic. some superb early examples of performative writing – writing which functions in a performative manner. nor as sternly positivist as an encyclopaedia. the discourse of the conjuror is typically designed to deceive. The issue is more to do with a deeper contradiction between two types of discourse. in an area between the creative and the critical. What appears to be a history of magic is in fact another elaboration of the Myth of Harry Houdini. been written by practising professional conjurors. to provide the definitive and truthful account which an encyclopaedia implicitly promises its readers? The problem is that. and they had the basic effect of presenting a history of magic in which everything was shown to lead up to Houdini himself. The writer of the entry can be judicious enough about that – deciding which. to misdirect – and ultimately to enhance the prestige. for the most part. Britannica entries on magic have. if any. It arises partly as a response to the challenge of performance studies’ brief to explore performativity in all its social manifestations. written for the Thirteenth Edition (1926). conjuring tricks are well enough known for their exposure to present little or no threat to himself or his colleagues.28 It is not usually attached to something as mainstream as a conjuror’s routine. the second was Houdini. If the discourse of the encyclopaedia typically claims objectivity and transparency.29 What seems to be one thing is in fact another.PERFORMING DARK ARTS connection with contemporary French écriture. A more recent edition of Britannica rather shamefacedly admits that there is something rather graceless about Houdini’s ‘failing to name even a single previous practitioner of his art’.

Maskelyne’s assistant. whose contribution on ‘Magic. Psycho was the most famous of these.32 This was quite untrue: an 1876 magazine article by William Pole had described the mechanism correctly.31 Clarke’s Britannica entry on ‘Magic. one of the many automata that were so popular in Maskelyne’s stage shows at the Egyptian Hall in Picadilly. Many other magicians have written Histories of Magic whose actual aims were subtly different from. Among his inventions was one of the most popular magic tricks of the age. and handing it to Maskelyne to play. The box itself was far too small to contain an assistant. was hidden backstage where he could see the cards and worked a small bellows which moved the hand by manipulating the air pressure in the cylinder. Psycho appeared to be able to do mathematical calculations and answer questions by pointing to or moving cards. In the 1870s. he was also able to play whist. wires or electrical cables were involved. and far more self-interested than. One who did was another Britannica contributor. And Houdini. It not only writes the history of magic so as to stress the importance of Maskelyne and Cooke. The magician’s act depends upon such a sense: people go to see him precisely because of those special powers. picking out the correct card for each play between his thumb and forefinger. Psycho’s clockwork mechanism was actually controlled by a combination of a hidden operative. White’ for the 9th edition of the encyclopaedia was. their stated ones: but few had as welcoming a stage to perform their texts on as Houdini had in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. of course. the Egyptian Hall and Psycho. a backdrop against which the textual performance of Harry Houdini can take place. isolated by a glass cylinder so that the audience could see that no strings. authority and truthfulness work to his advantage: they provide a perfect kind of misdirection.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE that Houdini was an egoist – although in his intensely complicated way. it also disingenuously claims that Psycho ‘appears to be perfectly isolated from any mechanical communication without… [and that] what the mysterious means of connection are has not been discovered’.30 In fact. Psycho was dressed in oriental costume and sat on a small box. Because the very fact of the encyclopaedia’s implicit claims of objectivity. displaying it to the audience. Clarke was not a showman at all but an inventor. being the supreme myth-maker and self-publicist that he was. he was. White’ may well have been co-authored by Maskelyne himself. was hardly going to let an opportunity like writing the definitive encyclopaedia article slip by him. John Algernon Clarke. as Jim Steinmeyer puts it ‘a wry bit of showmanship that should never have got past the encyclopaedia’s editors’. It is that for Houdini (as for most magicians) the function of public language is to convey a sense of his own special powers or skills. Clarke worked with John Nevil Maskelyne – at the time the dominant personality in the world of English stage conjuring – on ‘Psycho’. A small and obviously mechanical figure. compressed air or gas and a set of bellows: George Cooke. and xxi .

The encyclopaedia article effectively becomes part of the act – an extension of the patter by which the conjuror shapes the audience’s experience of the trick. perhaps.34 And it will follow a broadly chronological approach – although. and the reader/audience is sent away looking for other explanations. It is also rather witty. is to throw light on some aspects of conjuring by looking at them in the context of performance studies and to throw light on aspects of performance studies by testing them against the art of conjuring. Chapter One will look at the prehistory of conjuring over a very wide chronological sweep and at the vexed question of roots and origins. on figures and events which previous historians such as Dawes and Christopher have already established as landmarks in the long and complicated history of magic: practitioners such as Robert-Houdin. means that it is unusually effective. events such as the Bottle-Conjuror hoax. and the authority of the context in which it appears. William Pole’s explanation is discredited.33 The secret of Psycho was pretty much common knowledge. goes on to say that while it was true that the joint inventors had ‘patented a method of controlling the speed of clockwork mechanism by compressed air or gas… it is not known whether the principle obscurely described in the specification was applicable in any way to the invisible agency employed in Psycho’. Clarke is playing a rather more subtle game with his reader. Performing Dark Arts The aim of this monograph. The ‘lie direct’ is not. in the main. Whereas Houdini’s self-advertisements in his entry appear merely opportunistic.PERFORMING DARK ARTS newspapers and magic journals had repeated Pole’s exposé. As with all the best performative writing. It will attempt to pick a way through the labyrinthine paths of dubious documentation in order to explore the changing meanings of the conjuror’s art from earliest times to the present day. then. since the book also has a thematic dimension. Maskelyne and Clarke firmly deny that the trick is done with compressed air – and they make their assertion (as Houdini would later do) in a forum whose probity is usually taken for granted. the alert reader will deduce that there must be some irony at play. and most histories xxii . He includes his own name twice in his Britannia essay – not only signing the article but also naming himself in it as the joint inventor of Psycho and the pneumatic mechanism. Questions of origins are frequently discussed in performance studies. there will sometimes be overlaps between one chapter and another in terms of historical periods. Clarke’s article. the most subtle kind of misdirection – but in this case the blatancy of the untruth. there is a marked element of playfulness about Clarke’s entry. and publications such as Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft. Harry Houdini and Georges Méliès. It will focus. Since it is clearly impossible for him both to have patented the device (as inventor) and to be ignorant of its working (as author of the article). however.

The Christian Church has always had a deep distrust of conjuring: either dismissing it as trickery or associating it with devilish practices. which professed to be able to perform human functions by mechanical means. The story of the conjuror Dedi at the court of King Khufu has become the typical starting point for histories of conjuring. As well as looking at the relationship between the ‘street-conjuror’ and the emerging professional theatre. From scriptural times onwards. the common view was not entirely wrong. and at the way in which ‘juggling’ (conjuring) became a polemical term at the time of the Reformation. For eighteenth-century culture. I will be examining traditional explanations of the roots of the art in order to explore the relevance of shamanic traditions to the history of conjuring. in the writings of these satirists. Another kind of hoax but of a more ambiguous nature was that of the talking animals which became particularly popular during the ‘long eighteenth century’. while the satires of writers such as Gay and Swift turned the criminal into an icon of the age. Chapter Three deals with the emergence of the conjuror in the early modern period – the earliest historical period for which we have solid documentary evidence. scholars and priests have pointed out the difference between ‘real’ miracle workers (inspired by the one true God) and the phoneys. at the way in which Christian orthodoxy has traditionally constructed a dichotomy between the true and the false wonderworker. As this chapter illustrates. while the famous hoax of the ‘BottleConjuror’ translated some of Gay’s and Swift’s literary fantasies into reality. Judaeo-Christian prophets. Chapter Five looks at these together with automata such as von Kempelen’s ‘Mechanical Turk’. In a similar way. the chapter will explore the way in which. The chapter will focus on contemporary accounts of conjuring – in both senses of the word – in some of the books about both witchcraft and legerdemain which were beginning to be published in the period. I argue that both of these acts perform a kind of ‘boundary xxiii .INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE of conjuring place the origins of the art in ancient Egypt. however. Chapter Four is about the conjuror as trickster and covers a period from the early seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth. and extracts from early seventeenthcentury plays give entertaining examples of the dishonest juggler at work. the conjuror becomes a metaphor for an increasingly uncertain culture. Tudor and Stuart ‘jugglers’ negotiated the potentially difficult relationship between magic as entertainment and magic as efficacy. there was something quite fascinating about crime and criminals: this is an age in which highwaymen and thieves such as Jack Sheppard and Dick Turpin could become local heroes. vagabonds and ‘coney-catchers’. During these centuries the conjuror enjoyed a fairly dubious social status and was often classed with rogues. fakes and mere conjurors. in an age when belief in ‘real’ magic was prevalent. Chapter Two examines the way in which the Biblical narrative of Moses and Aaron’s ‘conjuring’ in Pharaoh’s court has been interpreted.

and his much-quoted epithet about a conjuror being an actor playing the part of a magician. as I suggest in the final sections of the chapter. Chapter Nine looks at Houdini’s engagement with spiritualists towards the end of his career – and places that in the context of the wider debates about spiritualism in the late nineteenth and early xxiv . It explores ways in which Houdini has been analysed by cultural historians with an interest in gender. Chapter Seven charts the history of this relationship. Continuing the Houdini theme. Picking up on points made earlier in this introduction. By way of development of this idea. were asking important questions about what it meant to be human – questions which. but also looks at ways in which the relationship prompted – and was nurtured by – conjurors’ and film-makers’ fascination with the way in which these new visual media enabled them to explore images of life and death. including its pre-history in early visual illusions such as the magic lanterns and phantasmagorias of previous centuries. which became a part of the repertoire of eighteenth-century illusionists. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin is the subject of Chapter Six. too. but also at various kinds of interpretations which that myth has generated. at the famous story of Robert-Houdin and the Marabouts: the incident in Algeria where the conjuror was commissioned by the French foreign office to put on a display of white man’s magic in order to aid the French colonialist enterprise. the talking animals and intelligent machines. Chapter Eight again focuses largely on a single performer: Harry Houdini. the chapter looks in detail at the impact of the major contributor to the crossover between magic and the movies: Georges Méliès.PERFORMING DARK ARTS work’ which was of particular significance in the period of the Enlightenment. It analyses that relationship in the context of current debates within performance studies about the nature and the importance of ‘liveness’ as a concept. Three aspects of the ‘father of modern magic’ are explored in detail: first of all his re-definition of the art of conjuring – not only through his own impressive performances but also through his writings about the art. Like Robert-Houdin (whom he first revered and later rejected). this chapter analyses the way in which the myth of Harry Houdini was created by Houdini himself and by the media which he manipulated so successfully. Conjuring seems to depend more than most arts upon the live presence of the performer. Houdini was a performer who never really stopped performing. yet there is a strong relationship between the conjuror’s act and the rise of the early motion picture industry. Finally it explores the way in which RobertHoudin’s role playing permeates not only his stage performance but also his writings. continue to be relevant today. The chapter takes another look. By blurring the distinctions between animal and human on the one hand. a phrase which is revisited in the light of questions about the nature of acting itself. and between machine and human on the other.

Our conversation about him had hardly ended when Roland. ‘…and that’s magic!’ Throughout this book I have tried – not always entirely successfully – to resist the temptation to make pronouncements about ‘what magic is’. we talked. Soon after completing the manuscript of this book. Early in the gestation period of the book. a mutual friend who lives in Bristol. by the ‘precession of simulacra’.INTRODUCTION: MAGIC AND PERFORMANCE twentieth centuries. at a time when Brown was still virtually unknown. but when Brown went on to say. hierarchies and categories means that the real and the imaginary continually collapse into each other. received a call on his mobile phone. As we drove. The final chapter discusses the relationship between the conjuror and the mass media in the twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries. Fortean Times. I had been introduced to him by Roland. He suggested that Brown (whom Roland had not seen for quite a while) might be interested in seeing it. It examines the uses which conjurors have made of television and considers in detail the work of contemporary illusionist David Blaine. and in which the rejection of traditional epistemological distinctions. still in the car. It focuses in particular on the issue of postmodernism and compares the way in which magicians have traditionally blurred the line between truth and reality with the relativism of the postmodern world-view. I replied that I had finished it. A few years later we had met up again and Brown had been kind enough to allow me to conduct an impromptu interview with him (a quotation from which appears earlier in this chapter). characterized by the hyper-real. I visited Roland. ‘Oh. Nonetheless. apparently out of the blue. That in itself seemed an extraordinary coincidence. and by a distrust of the rational. His technique of ‘Mind Control’ is a stylish re-working of the traditional mentalist’s act which frequently leaves volunteers and victims convinced that he does indeed possess special psychic powers. calling from London. I agreed that it would be courteous to send him a copy and that I would do so… And so we continued. It examines the tradition of stage spiritualism made famous by practitioners such as the Fox Sisters and the Davenport Brothers and its relationship to the spiritualist movement. and the journal of the paranormal. with several television series and specials to his credit. Derren Brown is currently one of the UK’s most successful magicians. has run several features on him. an incident which occurred between the completion of the penultimate and final drafts of this book prompts me to offer at least an anecdotal definition. chatting generally about Brown’s recent stellar career. and it analyses the contradictory attitudes towards such contact with the dead expressed by the scientific establishment. although xxv . yes – I’d be very happy to look at the manuscript of your friend’s history of conjuring. It was Derren Brown. at the end of the visit he drove me to the station to catch my train. He asked me how the book was going.

Brown’s phone call touched unwittingly on one of the central themes of this book: those unstable points of intersection between that which is known to be illusion and that which is thought to be uncanny. had then heard a conversation about him on which he could then capitalize by calling back and seeming to have read our minds over a distance of a hundred miles or more. For.PERFORMING DARK ARTS I’m rather busy at the moment. picking up the phone. Roland had quite inadvertently dialled a number on the mobile phone in his pocket. as I suggested before. Goodbye’. the one which was dialled was that of Derren Brown. For just a fraction of a second my response to Brown’s phone call was to suspend all my disbelief about conjurors and how they create their illusions. But the good magic trick frequently derives its effect from the fact that the ‘magical’ explanation of what has taken place may seem – temporarily at least – as plausible as the actual (and rational) explanation. The weaving of the mystique and the myth continues offstage as well as on: we shall see this in more detail in several of the chapters below. xxvi . Only then did the rational mind kick in and start to seek a more mundane explanation. and that of all the numbers stored on his mobile. One aspect of the pleasure that an audience takes in magic is its impulse to believe – on some level. a good conjuror is never off duty. And one of the conjuror’s most potent tools is his ability to blur the distinction between what is and what is not ‘performance’. it appeared for all the world as if the modern mentalist had indeed read our minds. impossible or marvellous has been witnessed. however temporarily and however provisionally – that something extraordinary. But it is also pretty hard to swallow what actually happened: that while Roland and I were talking in the car. and that Brown. It may be hard for a rationalist to believe that Derren Brown really possesses some kind of psychic sense.

On the other hand it is the origin of the word ‘gypsy’ – and in common usage the two ideas merge into one another. marginalized and exotic in appearance and language.Chapter One Binaries: early attitudes to conjuring Originary myths What are the roots of conjuring? Is it even possible to ask such a question? It is certainly true that the lack (or at least the very fragmentary and ambiguous nature) of any documentary evidence makes it difficult to do more than speculate about the roots of conjuring.36 For the settled majority this ethnic minority has always. together with their sleights and legerdemains. they were spoke of far and near. like the magician. practising their cozening art of fast and loose and legerdemain. were esteemed and had in great admiration. purchased to themselves great credit among the country people. become identified with the criminal subculture of the sixteenth century with ‘their craft and cozening’. and got much by Palmistry and telling of fortunes. the literature of conjuring is ready enough to supply answers to the question of origins – and Egypt features prominently in most accounts.35 According to the standard historical account in the early modern period the original jugglers are ‘Egyptians’. custom and common sense. however. who being excellent in quaint tricks and devices. continuing about the country in this fashion. not known here at that time among us. since the stories we tell about origins are an integral part of how we understand the present. represented something a little beyond the boundaries of accepted knowledge. In fact. as the distinction between place of origin and travelling subculture becomes blurred. Gypsies – travellers – have traditionally had an important role to play in popular culture. There may be some truth to this. for what with strangeness of their attire and garments. It seems to have been in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that gypsies first 1 . Early writers were pretty much unanimous that the origins of conjuring – or ‘juggling’ as it was called in the early modern period – could be traced back to the time when [c]ertain Egyptians banished their country (belike not for their good conditions) arrived here in England. The gypsies and travellers. It is worthwhile doing so. But ‘Egyptians’ is actually an ambiguous word: on the one hand it has its modern meaning of an inhabitant or native of Egypt. insomuch that many of our English loiterers joined with them and in time learned their craft and cozening… These people.

The first record of their appearance in the British Isles is in 1505 in Scotland. Thomas Frost. The text is fragmentary and incomplete and is written in hieratic (i. and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. deluded and imposed upon. author of one of the first detailed histories of conjuring. The gypsy genealogy of conjuring is only part of the story. or the Westcar Papyrus – named after Henry Westcar. from time immemorial.PERFORMING DARK ARTS made their impact on the European consciousness. For they cast down every man his rod. then. so it is in Egypt that we find the first instances of the practice of the arts by which the senses of the observer have been.’ The trial of skill between the Hebrew and the Egyptian magicians was well contested at the outset. who acquired it in Egypt round about 1824–5. cursive handwritten) 2 . both in the British Isles and elsewhere in Europe is. they also did in like manner with their enchantments. Then Pharaoh called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt.Westcar’. and it became a serpent. They presented themselves to James IV as pilgrims. their leader being lord of ‘little Egypt’… In England. seems bound up from the very beginning with both magic and performance.e. The earliest accounts of magic tricks that we have today come from the document known as ‘p. …in the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer. and in its progress must have been one of intense and growing interest to the people of both nationalities. That the practitioners of magic had attained a high degree of skill as early as the epoch of the Pharaohs is shown by the Biblical account of the wonders which they were able to display in competition with Aaron. this category of persons was first recorded in 1514 in the form of an ‘Egyptian’ woman who could ‘tell marvellous things by looking into one’s hands’… One origin for this Egyptian label. begins there: As Egypt was the cradle of the sciences. that well before Gypsies or ‘Tsiganes’ were publicly recorded in western Europe (in the fourteenth century) ‘all mountebanks and travelling showmen found themselves dubbed “Egyptians”’. according to Clébert. Another version of the theory that the art of conjuring is Egyptian in origin looks back to a much earlier period – that of the Old Testament.38 The story of Aaron’s rod (to which we will return in the next chapter) features in most histories of magic. We read in that remarkable narrative that ‘Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh. But a different kind of case for the Egyptian origins of conjuring was bolstered by a discovery made by nineteenth-century Egyptologists. and before his servants.37 The social identity of gypsies. however.

ever since Westcar passed the papyrus to German Egyptologist Richard Lepsius. It has been the subject of scholarly debate. indeed. Even so. He grabbed the goose’s body with one hand and with the other pulled its head off. and it seems to originate from the Middle Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt history.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING rather than hieroglyphic script. one of the earliest recorded conjuring tricks. After everyone could observe that the decapitated goose was dead. suitably coloured and angled towards his own style. about Blaine’s echo of this. There is.41 He does it in his own very streetwise style. Not many of the performing arts can point to routines with so long a shelf life. is by the successful contemporary illusionist David Blaine. by Blaine’s own sense of intellectual showmanship: he is very aware (often ironically) of his own relation to his heritage as a conjuror. the same trick of decapitating and restoring the head of a fowl can be seen performed by Blaine himself on TV and video.C.40 And. round about 1700 to 1800 B. and many different translations. and set the head down on the ground. but it is certainly the same trick. the five-thousand-year span between the two performances is significant. Like most historians of magic who refer to the story. The 3 . walked a few paces away. Here is a fairly typical version of the story: The first magic exhibition took place almost five thousand years ago when Cheops. but Dedi refused to decapitate a human victim. Then he laid the goose’s limp body on the floor. Instead he randomly chose a goose from the pharaoh’s menagerie. It is the incident which most modern histories of magic take as the starting point of magic as performance. at least in part. The video performance is driven. full of life. something quite ‘staged’. He then extended his arms. Blaine treats Dedi’s decapitation routine as ‘The first somewhat reliable account of an actual magician’s performance being presented solely as an amusing entertainment’. he put the body under one of his arms and walked back over to the head and picked it up. and rather knowing.39 The particular re-telling of Dedi’s performance which I have just quoted. the pharaoh who presided over the building of the Great Pyramid summoned a magician named Dedi to his palace. Among these fragments is the frequently told story of Dedi (or Djedi) and the Pharaoh. and a large amount of his act relies on intertextual quotation and reference to earlier feats of previous generations. He pushed the lifeless head onto the body and suddenly the goose squawked. He was said to be able to restore decapitated heads… The pharaoh wanted to see Dedi do his famed decapitation. and ran around the room.E. so he offered the magician a condemned prisoner. to an audience of passers-by rather than to a Pharaoh in his own court. five thousand years later. in fact. on the streets of a downtown area of an unnamed American city. demonstrating that the goose’s head was no longer connected to its body.

An illusion such as the above performed within a culture which officially acknowledges the ability of humans to influence natural processes by means such as religious ritual will have a very different meaning from the same illusion performed in one which officially believes this to be impossible.42 according to Milbourne Christopher) appears to be a perennially popular illusion. positions himself as an entertainer rather than as an occult practitioner. But although the trick is substantially the same. and his actions are received accordingly. King Khufu has been listening to tales of magic from the past – tales of a scribe who makes a wax crocodile that comes to life to punish an adulterer. It’s a clever trick. It is interestingly ambiguous. there is the way in which Dedi is introduced into the narrative. Magic tricks and illusions take place in the minds of spectators as much as they do in the hands of the prestidigitator – and this has several consequences. The extant text is written in a jerky and fragmented style. Blaine. We may not know how it was done. and of another 4 . and commissioned the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza..C. Spectators bring to performance a set of assumptions about how the world is. It has even been suggested that it was written by ‘a child [who] was learning [hieratic script] in school and attempting to copy it. Khufu lived and ruled in the early twenty-sixth century B. possibly that of someone unskilled in such writing. how it operates. Where does Dedi’s performance lie in this nexus? The answer is quite complex. Cheops). By the time the manuscript was written – about a thousand years later! – Khufu himself was effectively a mythical character. The characters include Prince Hordadef – one of the main narrators of the stories in the papyrus – and his father King Khufu (better known nowadays by the Greek form of his name. with key sections of the text missing. Problems of translation and interpretation have been compounded because the Westcar papyrus is incomplete and possibly corrupt. the limits of performance – and so on. The audience experience a momentary shock. its meaning will not remain constant.E. we begin to get a slightly different picture. to read Dedi’s decapitation as ‘the first somewhat reliable account of an actual magician s performance being presented solely as an amusing entertainment’? One of the recurring themes of the book will be the interplay between the two apparently separate categories of magic which is perceived as performance or entertainment and the magic which is perceived as manifestation of the occult or paranormal. but we are impressed.PERFORMING DARK ARTS decapitation feat (‘one of the oldest in the bag of magician’s tricks’. the place of performance within it. First of all. the limits of possibility within that world. followed by laughter. If we look at the context in which Dedi’s decapitation routine is placed in the manuscript. the Papyrus itself is telling stories which are set in a distant past. on the streets of America at the end of the twentieth century. relief. admiration. But how appropriate is it to project our contemporary experience of the streetconjuror’s illusion back in time.’43 More to the point.

than the comparatively humdrum chief scribes of long ago. he can make a lion follow him. Dedi looks at first like a much more ‘real’ figure than the mythical heroes of the stories Khufu is listening to: he is.’ Geese and ducks are comparatively simple subjects for the decapitation trick. Refusing to decapitate a human prisoner. ‘He is a very old man. after all. he is credited with divine knowledge – he ‘knows the secrets of the habitation of the god Thoth’. then he repeats it with a goose. he then provides a false head to substitute for the real one. and he knows the secrets of the habitation of the god Thoth.’ King Khufu said: ‘And who is he. But when Hordadef starts to describe him. which Your Majesty has desired to know so that you may design the chambers of your pyramid.’ answered Prince Hordadef. in fact. are somewhat trickier… After performing the decapitation trick.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING with the power to divide the waters of a lake. Prince Hordadef stood before the king. He can smite off the head of a living creature and restore it again. The account in the Westcar papyrus describes Dedi building up to a rather more impressive climax. and its head was cut off. my son?’ ‘His name is Dedi. which lack both wings and any instinct to hide their head under them. Cows. but I can bring forth a worker of marvels who now lives in the kingdom. He is a hundred and ten years old and he eats five hundred loaves of bread and drinks a hundred jugs of beer a day! Even more significantly. Then his son offers to introduce him to a present-day magician. Dedi first performs the trick on a duck. The performer relies largely on the natural instinct of a fowl to tuck its head under its wing. This is something which particularly interests Khufu: Dedi is summoned to the court. Dedi answers with all the ambiguity of a practised soothsayer: His Majesty then spoke to the magician and said: ‘It is told that you possess the secrets of the dwelling of the god Thoth. Each day he eats a joint of beef and five hundred loaves of bread. living in the ‘present day’ and Hordadef offers to bring him into the King’s presence. and he said: ‘Your Majesty has heard tales regarding the wonders performed by magicians in other days. finally ‘King Khufu then caused a cow to be brought in. for his years are a hundred and ten. and caused it to follow him.’44 In the context of the Westcar narrative. Dedi turns into yet another miraculous figure – more bizarre. Khufu quizzes Dedi about this knowledge.’ 5 . Dedi restored the animal to life again. The decapitation routine which Blaine describes (and re-creates) involves just one goose. then. and drinks a hundred jugs of beer.

’ King Khufu said. There the plans are kept in a box. the goose and the bull. He was given daily for his portion an ox. who lived more than a thousand years before that – and in that narrative Khufu listens to tales from a time even longer ago.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Dedi answered: ‘I do not possess them. and since they know how the trick of decapitating a bird is done. a thousand loaves of bread. since historians of magic are a sceptical bunch. the performance in front of Pharaoh may or may not have taken place. When Khufu sees Dedi’s performance with the duck. but it is no insignificant person who shall bring them to Your Majesty. He and his brothers would one day sit upon the throne and rule over all the land. and that is within a temple chamber at Heliopolis. The story which is told about him is set around with religious and mystical apparatus which is clearly taken with complete seriousness by Khufu. The writer of that papyrus tells of Khufu. they quite reasonably attribute that technique to Dedi. and a hundred bunches of onions. Dedi himself may or may not have existed. the Dedi of the Westcar papyrus is a prophet. The Westcar papyrus itself comes to us from 25 centuries ago. But whether it did or not. it is wrapped up – like the tales of Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights – in a concentric series of narratives-within-narratives. And. and he goes on to ask his advice about the building of the pyramids. with little or no time for supernatural explanations.’ ‘I would fain know who will deliver them unto me. the context of the decapitation trick suggests that this is by no means simply an account of a ‘magician s performance being presented solely as an amusing entertainment’. King Khufu s heart was filled with gloom and alarm when he heard the prophetic words of the great magician. Hordadef and their court – and as far as we can tell. The eldest would become chief priest at Heliopolis and would possess the plans. and is duly rewarded: ‘thereafterwards [he] dwelt in the house of the Prince Hordadef. he concludes that he is in the presence of a magician as great as – or greater than – those in the fables. wife of the chief priest of Ra. but I know where they are concealed. each of which refers us back to an earlier era. and a priest-like figure who knows the secrets of the gods. one thousand years later. by the writer(s) of the papyrus. These tales effectively frame Dedi’s performance and give it meaning.45 Dedi pleases the king. What he is really there for is to prophesy to the King. And what meanings are we to make of it? Historians of magic tend to read the Dedi story as if it were an event which really took place. On the contrary. a sage. a hundred jugs of beer.’ Quite apart from the munificence of Dedi’s fee. The decapitation routines which he performs are merely a demonstration – a token of his abilities. as well. One of two readings is now possible. 6 . Dedi prophesied that three sons would be born to Rud-dedit. however.

BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING Either the whole performance was analogous to a modern conjuring show.46 It is an assumption which contains a strong element of anti-clericalism.48 Burger and Neale are sceptical of this account of priests. witnessing an engagement with the supernatural. Eugene Burger and Robert E. or else Dedi was fooling his audience. then. The royal audience is not there just to watch a clever prestidigitator (a ‘magician’s performance being presented solely as an amusing entertainment’). with detailed diagrams. Special Effects and Trick Photography contains a chapter concerned with the ‘Temple Tricks of the Greeks’ which shows. They cite as typical examples James Randi’s characterization of early conjuring as being ‘the carefully guarded weapon of the priesthood. Albert Hopkins’ great Victorian treatise Magic: Stage Illusions. soothsayers. what we call con men… [who] were promoting their deceptions and lies… for their own personal gain’. Rulers knelt before them and offered bountiful sacrifices to the deities they represented. Of course. by which it was used to establish a belief in supernatural powers among an uninformed public’. which goes as follows: Ancient religious wonder-workers played on the superstition of their followers by performing impressive feats. with everybody knowing that it is all an illusion and enjoying the fact. The second interpretation. the context of the story precludes the first interpretation. mechanics. sacred flames lit spontaneously. It is. and oracles employed the same basic principle – misdirection to divert attention from the method to the effect – as the conjuring entertainers who candidly admitted that they were only human. Neale draw attention to the fact that in most contemporary accounts of the origins of conjuring there is an underlying assumption that ‘these earliest conjurors were really unscrupulous characters. is more plausible – but it is also problematic. those who claimed to be the intermediaries of the gods. The temple ritualists. Clearly. using techniques which street magicians still use today. oracles and ‘temple ritualists’ wilfully and cynically deceiving their neighbours. and those who could ‘prove’ their claims with their feats. Dedi becomes a sophisticated manipulator of a gullible (or at least a credulous) royal audience. According to this interpretation. that what was produced as sleight of hand was received as the supernatural. but it has a long history. often attained positions of great power and influence. Thus milk and wine flowed from altars. In a rebuttal of what they call the ‘economicopolitical’ theory. doors into the gods’ holy 7 . or rather it believes it is. into believing he had supernatural powers. medicine men. steam pressure – which lay behind the industrial might of nineteenth-century western capitalism. how many of the apparently supernatural effects of the temples of Classical and Hellenic Greece were achieved by sophisticated mechanical devices using the same principles of engineering – hydraulics.47 and Milbourne Christopher’s account of early conjurors.

and then spin the board by whisking away the string when the whirring of it makes the sound of thunder. showing how they performed such miracles as plunging their hands into burning pitch.PERFORMING DARK ARTS places opened magically by themselves.and twentieth-century historians of magic such as Hopkins. Heron was every bit as sceptical as Hopkins.. Two hundred years or so later. in which he lists and refutes all the heresies of the pagans. For very many large stones rolled from a height over wooden planks and falling upon sheets of brass make a noise like thunder. For example. operated by the priests of the temple in order to maintain their own power and influence. and water changed into wine – all by means of clever technology. Nor are such anecdotes confined to the preChristian era. wrote a work called Philosophumena. in fact this ancient vase… is the prototype of all modern automatic vending machines. ‘There is nothing new under the sun’. soothsayers. and his books contain many detailed explanations of how the temple priests performed their apparently miraculous effects. deliberately deceiving believers for personal power or influence. he concludes: The mechanism is almost identical with that shown in the modern device. one of the Fathers of the early Christian Church. and simply serves as the proof of the truth of the saying. the Greek geometer and inventor who flourished in the first century A. Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations. then. the first known steam-driven engine. And they coil a slender cord round the thin board on which the woolcarders press cloth.D. but when the abbey was sacked at the time of the Reformation it was discovered by the jubilant reformers 8 . medicine men and oracles of earlier (or more ‘primitive’) civilizations as skilful prestidigitators. These tricks they play thus. Bishop (later Saint) Hippolytus. or The Refutation of All Heresies.51 The abbey became an important place of pilgrimage because of the apparent holiness of the Rood. in sixteenth-century England there was the famous ‘Rood of Grace’ at Boxley Abbey in Kent – a ‘cross bearing an image of a crucified Christ that was capable of moving’.49 But Hopkins’ book itself is based on far older sources. and was the inventor of the ‘aeolipile’. Comparing the mechanisms of lustral vases in the Greek temples to those of vending machines in 1889. this image persists: of the priests. Much of what he describes is based directly on the writings of Heron (or Hero) of Alexandria.50 From Heron and Hippolytus through to nineteenth. This contains sections on the illusions of pagan priests. Heron’s writings on mechanics and pneumatics contain much of what we know about the engineering of the ancient Greco-Roman. Christopher and Randi. bringing about spontaneous combustion through incantations or (a trick well known to theatrical special effects departments) creating the effect of thunder: Thunder is produced is very many ways.

At heart. and other tales of trickster-priests. then he becomes one of these cynical tricksters. Of course. of the order of myth which locates events in a sacred past. that ‘the seemingly alien conjunction of belief and disbelief may well be quite standard 9 . one which takes account of its fictional. there were indeed plenty of these. the grounds on which they mount their critique of the economico-political theory of origins are not ones which I would necessarily share. Shaman/showman The more important insight which lies at the heart of Burger and Neale’s critique is that the relationship between belief and disbelief need not be that of mutually exclusive binary opposition. Rather it is generically related to those tales of wonder to which King Khufu is listening – surreal tales which (like Scheherazade’s) are set in a semi-mythical past and which have their own order of truth. The cultural work it does may be in part aetiological – it explains something about the origins of the Great Pyramid. that the story of Dedi is most usually understood: if he is not simply a hired entertainer (and he is clearly not). it is anything but. conjuring is all about power – of one sort or another. however. It is also partly ontological. ‘Can the origin of magic be exhaustively explained’.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING that the monks had been deceiving the people. ‘simply by introducing the categories of political power and economic wealth?’55 Perhaps not. The story of Dedi and the Pharaoh is not itself a myth. and its universal ‘presumption that the earliest magicians (the priests or temple ritualists) were scoundrels (and worse!)’54 – although. However. Myths make connection with this real and sacred time. but the kind of truth to which it lays claim is closer to that of myth than it is to that of documentary – a truth which is not dependent on the apparent facts of the story. It could even be. is that power and its workings are complex phenomena. This suggests that we need to read the story in a rather different way.52 It is the context of this. in fact. even so. I would resist any reading which assumes that power and wealth are unimportant in a consideration of what conjuring and magic are all about. and that ‘the thing was worked by wires through little pipes’. but with which – through the myths themselves – the present can make connections. a time of origins which is separate from the present. they ask. By this I do not mean we should simply dismiss it as a falsehood: rather that we need to consider just what kind of truth it articulates. as they suggest. and whose value is not diminished if these are shown to be false. The problem. The problem is that this interpretation tends to treat the Westcar account of Dedi and the Pharaoh as if it were something like a reliable eyewitness account of an ancient conjuring routine.53 Burger and Neale are right to question the ‘economico-political’ theory of the origins of conjuring. changing in form along with the historically specific circumstances in which they are embedded. quasi-mythical aspects.

The conjuror who pulls the rabbit or the flowers from the hat. puts the conjuror’s act. Questions about the origins of theatre. is making a connection. on the level of myth. Wilson’s reference to ‘Attis and Adonis and all the rest of the corn gods that are buried and rise’ reminds us that the routines of the conjuror and the illusionist impinge on a special relationship which theatre anthropology has traditionally emphasized. Performance Studies has a fascination – often a rather uneasy fascination – with roots and origins. too. Writing in the 1940s (not one of the greatest or most glamorous ages of stage conjuring) Wilson sees a deeper level of meaning in this comparatively low-status branch of showbiz. we need to consider the relation between the entertainer and the priest. and has its kinship with Aaron’s rod and the Pope’s staff that puts forth leaves in Tannhäuser. or escapes from the box.000 and 10.E. dating from between 40. magic performed in the belief that it will affect things in the everyday world. And the magician who escapes from the box: what is he but Adonis and Attis and all the rest of the corn gods that are buried and rise? 57 The idea that inherent in the tricks of the modern conjuror are echoes of fertility rites. The wand is an obvious symbol. Edmund Wilson articulated elegantly this sense that the art of the conjuror contains a level of hidden symbolism which links us. of course. seem to be performing some kind of sacred dance. There is. with a sacred past.PERFORMING DARK ARTS human behaviour’. and disciplines such as classical studies and anthropology have also offered answers to the question of where theatrical performance comes from.C. These masked figures. however unconscious. in the cave of Les Trois Frères in southern France are frequently cited as evidence of such rituals. wearing animal masks and skins. The first sees theatre and drama as being essentially imitative and having evolved from religious rituals which were originally created as symbolic enactments of natural phenomena or forces.. The palaeolithic cave paintings.56 In order to explore this notion. too. and its implications more fully. with that sacred and ideal time of primordial origins. Some of the tricks that have lasted longest and become fixed in the popular imagination must be the remnants of fertility rites.000 B. Its production of rabbits and flowers from a hat has become the accepted type-trick of conjuring. pre-date Performance Studies as such. The story of Dedi brings us to one of the key explanations of the roots of conjuring: that it is a remnant of magic in that other sense of the word – efficacious magic. between performance and magic. the showman and the shaman. Ritualistic performances such as these comprised symbolic actions intended supernaturally to influence or transform the 10 . There are broadly two schools of thought. Moreover. he says: …more to these feats and to our pleasure in them than we are likely to be conscious of.

62 does not preclude the use of precisely those techniques of sleight of hand which a modern-day conjuror would learn. which is to manifest ‘an immediately present reality of a different order’. juggling. locates the roots of theatre in shamanistic58 rituals – those trance ‘performances’ which give the shaman access to the spirit world. One particular trick which is used in curing the sick involves concealing a small tuft of down in the corner of the shaman’s mouth: the shaman produces this at the dramatic moment. to promote fertility. Accordingly. he inveigles his way into becoming initiated as a shaman precisely in order to expose them and their conjuring tricks.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING material world. in her study of Alaskan shamans. acrobatics. which can include dancing. bringing them down to something more approaching a human scale. most of what they do consists of sleight of hand. The shaman’s journey is typically a healing one. or to celebrate the annual cycle of the seasons. He quickly learns that. Before he can do so. escapology. it concerns a Kwakiutl Indian named Quesalid. as he suspected. the components of the shamanic ritual. First recounted by Franz Boas from a fragment which he had obtained. Unlike the dancers in the nature-worship rituals – who are understood to be symbolically representing a natural or supernatural force – the shaman is believed to be embodying it. covered in blood (from his own gums or tongue. and making it fully and actually manifest to the audience/congregation. Margaret Lantis. though.63 Quesalid is a sceptic who does not believe in the powers of sorcerers and shamans of his own culture. beads being swallowed and then recovered from another person’s ear.59 Paradoxically. The purpose of the ritual is to manifest an actual supernatural presence to the audience – most often in the service of performing a healing act on behalf of an individual or the community. which he has bitten) and announces that this ‘bloody worm’ is in fact the disease which he has removed from the patient’s body. From these imitative dances – eventually – grew theatre as we understand it. from the Vancouver region of Canada. The purpose of these ritualized performances was to imitate natural forces and thereby to control them. sometimes look very much like those of the modern popular entertainer. For example. 11 . knives or spears being driven into the body without injury. and is possessed by.61 The spiritual task of the shaman. and tricks with string that is cut and then restored. spirits.60 Walter Hoffman’s accounts of the Algonquin shamans include ventriloquism and descriptions of a routine in which a bear’s claw hangs upside down on an inverted mirror (held in place by a secret daub of wax). An alternative strand of theories. In anthropological literature there is a story which has become almost iconic. fire-walking and fire-eating. recorded a range of sleightof-hand tricks including sword-swallowing. and what is brought back from the spirit world is to be shared with the tribe or an individual.64 Quesalid is ready to expose the shamans for the frauds that they are. however. where he or she meets with.

puppetry. Seeing other shamans at work using techniques different from his own. The radical negativism of the free thinker has given way to more moderate feelings. fire-eating. In particular. as his own fame grows. he modifies his original position. he becomes increasingly convinced that there are various modes of supernatural healing. Moreover. certainly there is. and that some are less false than others. Is this where conjuring comes from? Are we to hear. conjuring and escape acts. effectively. and the shaman replies. acrobatics.66 Is there a contradiction in Quesalid’s position? From a purely positivist standpoint. Gradually. And what about him? At the end of the narrative we cannot tell but it is evident that he carries on his craft conscientiously. he performs the requisite rituals. He seems to have completely lost sight of the fallaciousness of the technique which he had so disparaged at the beginning. which has been ‘removed’ from the patient’s body. so what? The technique of the shaman operates within a mental framework where belief and disbelief are not mutually exclusive binary oppositions. takes pride in his achievements. Using the trickery he has been taught. he is appalled and disgusted by those shamans who diagnose and claim to cure their patients without actually producing the ‘disease’ – the material object. He continues to expose ‘fakes’. and warmly defends the technique of the bloody down against all rival schools. he repeatedly finds that his cures work where his competitors’ do not. such as the bloody tuft. Real shamans do exist. in which the anthropologist points out that the shaman is simply using sleight of hand in order to perform his miracles. Although Quesalid came to be known from that moment on as a ‘great shaman’ he did not lose his critical faculties. but his original attitude has changed considerably. a plaintive echo of the shaman performing rituals for the benefit of the tribe? An influential article by E. Yet anthropological literature is full of stories of encounters between anthropologists and shamans. Making a rough distinction between the ‘drama’ and popular entertainment. Kirby in The Drama Review (1974) located the roots of contemporary popular entertainment – ventriloquism.PERFORMING DARK ARTS however. in the performance of the theatrical conjuror or the street magician. He interpreted his success in psychological terms – it was successful ‘because he [the sick person] believed strongly in his dream about me. Kirby argues that 12 . T. clowning and so on – in the shamanic experience.’ 65 But increasingly complex encounters lead Quesalid to re-think further his initial scepticism. he is asked to treat a sick person who has dreamed that Quesalid will heal him. and the treatment …was an outstanding success.

as it were. not of childhood play or imitation. to cause the appearance of a super-reality that is ‘more real’ than the ordinary. the low-caste or out-caste groups who had never whole-heartedly entered society and stopped travelling. seeks to break the surface of reality. then there must be a process or a combination of historical circumstances which isolated the showbiz elements in such performances. They do not seek to imitate.68 on the process by which shamanism became show business. that constant rival of official displays of power and grandeur. Shamanist illusionism. or quality. or conjuring. the performing arts that develop from shamanist trance may be characterized as the manifestation. reproduce or record the forms of existent social reality. ‘based on a combination of facts and circumstantial evidence’. conceals and protects a great mystery. They expected to experience their religion in action.67 Kirby’s suggestion is echoed and developed by Rogan Taylor in his fascinating and provocative book The Death and Resurrection Show. popular entertainments are associated with trance and derive from the practices of trance. something powerful and sacred. kind. which draws on welldocumented shamanic traditions from Siberia to the Americas and shows parallels between the ecstatic journey of the shaman and the functions of all kinds of contemporary performance. and detached them from their originally-integrated positions as parts of a greater whole: the shamanistic world view. They came to witness. It is also a fearful response in that it recognises that this mystery at its heart has become taboo and dangerous to promote. of an immediately present reality of a different order. The tribal audience certainly would not have arrived at the shaman’s healing séance in the expectation of being mildly amused or merrily entertained. and to take part in. It is petrified in both sense of the word: it is a hard. was provided by the travelling players. It is among them that showbusiness has its natural roots. He speculates. rather than in high or official culture: But the people’s entertainment. Consequently there are probably quite direct and profound connections between the magical performances of shamans and those types of entertainment which have always 13 . But if it is true that showbusiness as we know it has derived directly from the performances of the ancient shamans. from that of reality itself. with its ventriloquism and escape acts. Rather. Popular entertainment is a form of ‘petrified shamanism’.69 He is particularly interested in the possibility that this shamanistic descent manifests itself most powerfully in popular culture. shiny shell which surrounds.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING [a]t their origin.

play. to the official blandishments of civilised society. but also on his skill and generosity as a host. both nomadic and settled. which effectively show the process of evolution from shamanism into show business in action.72 Lopatin describes how a Kitimat shaman. He also overstates his case: art fulfils various kinds of functions. not all of them derived from the shamanic healing journey to the Underworld. wit and eloquence. draws on a wide range of religious and mythical symbolism and stresses his encounters with shamans from tribal cultures. three. Two. and some forms are more susceptible to this mode of analysis than others. in order to gain recognition of his professional status. They recited long poetic narrations of their 14 . The direct and profound connections which Taylor hypothesizes between the magical performances of shamans and contemporary popular entertainment should have a particular resonance for the art of conjuring. popular music and street performances. pantomime. Even so. coined by Robert-Houdin. or even more shamans would perform ‘Kamlanies’ (séances) merely for the purpose of displaying their powers. for example. creating a background narrative suggesting secret knowledge and initiation into ‘real’ magic. and his concentration on popular cultural forms strengthens his argument. David Blaine. dancing. Lopatin’s study of the social life and religious beliefs and practices of the Kitimat Indians of British Columbia in the first half of the twentieth century. After all. They vied with one another in their singing. others work hard to foreground that connection. More recently. the circus. wearing his turban. would talk of his meetings with Eastern fakirs. in his autobiographical Mysterious Stranger. he was expected to throw parties and provide entertainment for his guests – often with the aid of other shamans: Because of their many-sided talents. a counter-culture. These modern forms of showbusiness. are steeped in magical history. the most famous definition of a conjuror. The most compelling of these accounts comes from Ivan A.PERFORMING DARK ARTS belonged to the ordinary people. is that he is ‘an actor playing the part of a magician’. the clown shows.71 And while many modern entertainers would seek to distance themselves from the image of the shaman or the mystic. They offer an alternative culture. Carter the Great. shamans were invited by hosts at potlatches [parties] to entertain their guests. from which his version of the Dedi story quoted above is taken. had to establish a social status based not only on the acquisition of material goods.70 Taylor is writing in the years before Cultural Studies had seriously problematized this rather romantic picture of a popular culture which offers a beneficial imaginative alternative to official culture. Taylor substantiates his argument by reference to well-documented ethnographic and anthropological studies of various tribes. At the beginning of the twentieth century. his account is a plausible one.

jugglers and acrobats. one way in which he could repair his damaged reputation was to take part against other shamans in public contests of skill. Success in such a contest depended mostly upon the shaman’s assistants. Admittedly. efficacy and entertainment There are. When one of the shamans entertained his audience by performing tricks. are readily deteriorating into caricatures’. it fits well with the kind of standard theatre history which traces drama from ritual origins to secular comedy and tragedy. In recent years. However. made on demand for less than sacred purposes.75 It is possible to see this (as Taylor here seems to see it)76 simply as evidence of a decline within the Kitimat tribal structure and belief system: a deterioration over time from an ancient dignified tradition into the conditions of mere show business.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING supernatural adventures in the company of their ‘ashutas’ (spirits) and performed shamanistic tricks. for example. Both in contemporary and in ancient societies. Magic. alternatives to the standard socio-Darwinist account of the origins of theatre. their performances being nothing more than stage play. They acted as his accomplices and spies. but at the same time ‘such performances. of ritual magic and entertainment. mutating into a secular art form in the process. the others strove with all their might to detect these tricks and prove to the audience that they had been deceived by the juggling shaman. The use of jugglery among the shamans aggravated the contest for prestige. ate the glowing embers. But as a model for a broader understanding of the relationship between the shaman of the tribal society and the entertainer-magician of the industrial society. it leaves too much unexplained.73 Further. elements of shamanism and conjuring. Sometimes they performed their own tricks in order to out-juggle their rival. They walked with bare feet in the fire. of failed cures. it has been more common to focus on synchronic rather than diachronic processes. drove knives into their bodies. and 15 . following the work of Richard Schechner and Victor Turner. are woven together into a more complex pattern than this linear chronological model would suggest. In this case the shamans served as prestidigitators. however. it does not do justice either to the shamanic dimension of popular culture or to the extent to which tribal shamanism itself depends on showmanship. if a Kitimat shaman lost status because. which sees it as having ‘descended’ directly from religious rituals of the past.74 The Kitimat Indians in the early twentieth century occupied an intermediate position in which old beliefs were still important.

applied and direct-action theatre.77 Efficacy/ritual stands at one end of a continuum of performance. Entertainment/theatre exists at the opposite end of the spectrum. at least. to adopt Schechner’s terminology. suggests that the performer is possessed. but even the most intensely efficacious ritual contains an element of ‘theatricality’. relates to symbolic time. It involves the expectation of results. the audience’s role is participatory. The performer is in control and not linked to any supernatural power. these changes are part of changes in the overall social structure of a culture… For Western theatre. it believes uncritically in the reality of what is presented and is implicated in an act of collective creativity.78 Thus. while the audience observes and appreciates (often critically) rather than participates. one of them is only vestigially so). political. It is not a simple chronological progression (or ‘descent’) from one to the other. What Schechner’s model emphasizes is the interplay between efficacy and entertainment. In the early modern period the tendency was in the opposite direction: declining traditions of ‘efficacious performances’ (represented by liturgical plays. psychodrama. for example. The periods in the European cultural tradition at which the performative braid of efficacy and entertainment has been drawn the tightest include the Elizabethan/Jacobean period and the present day. and performative therapies such as dramatherapy. forum theatre and so on. sociodrama. At each period in every culture one or the other is dominant – one is ascending while the other is descending. I think it can be shown that when the braid is tight – that is when efficacy and entertainment are both present in nearly equal degrees – theater flourishes. [T]heater history can be given an overall shape as a development of a braided structure continuously interrelating efficacy (ritual) and entertainment (theater). The key image is that of a ‘braid’. of entertainment – witness the centrality of dance and song in the work of the shaman. is linked to an absent Other [often in the form of god[s] or spirits]. sometimes. but a changing and dynamic relationship in which both elements are always present to some extent (even if. not only is theatre and theatre-going inherently ritualistic of itself. in a trance or somehow imbued with power. Its purpose is fun. Naturally. In our own day a declining mainstream commercial theatre coexists (and sometimes conflicts) with a resurgent theatre of efficacy which includes such manifestations as paratheatrical and experimental performance events with various levels of ritual intention. between those performances whose end is ‘efficacy’ and those whose end is ‘entertainment’. or. there is no absent Other necessary and the focus is on the here and now. 16 .PERFORMING DARK ARTS to explore the complex webs of interrelationships between ritual and theatre which exist at any one time in a culture.

perhaps both.or herself) in the performer’s ‘supernatural’ powers. the vaudeville or street-corner conjuror. lacking for the most part any professed healing or cohesive power. performs highly ritualized routines which both invoke and also disavow the supposition of supernatural influence. in the certainty that the shaman stands on the threshold between two worlds: the natural world and the supernatural. and it is the exploitation of the ambiguity between the two which lies at the heart of the stage magician’s art. and the arts of deception. the stage illusionist blurs the distinctions between the two. reappear in unexpected places. and performs magic in the process. vanish. makes magic into performance. For the conjuror is one thing pretending to be another. both beginning and advanced’ tells the trainee magician that conjuring is the art – let’s say the game – of entertaining by tempting a particular audience to accept. Objects appear. Henry Hay. author of ‘the acknowledged classic text for conjurors. on the other hand. fairground shows and the performances of travelling players and musicians) in a convergence which resulted in the rich mixture of the Elizabethan/Jacobean stage. only to return from the underworld unharmed. The performance of theatrical magic typically exploits an ambiguous space between the disturbing/ exciting possibility that what an audience is seeing might genuinely flout the laws of nature. The conjuror and the shaman both perform ‘the death and resurrection show’.80 The conjuror’s act. Conjurors and writers on magic tend to take strong moral positions on this: for example. The conjuror. is more multi-layered than the shaman’s in this sense: that the latter depends on leading an audience/congregation into a secure belief (usually shared by the shaman him. This is entertainment masquerading as efficacy.81 And this is the essential rhetorical manoeuvre which is involved in the illusionist’s act. If you ask them to accept permanently – to believe – you are a charlatan. minor infractions of natural law. Like the shaman. ambivalence and contradiction: not in the conviction that the performer is really able to defy 17 . or else the conjuror himself ‘dies’ in a locked chest or coffin. however. but also some of the paradoxes and contradictions of the interplay between performance as efficacy and performance as entertainment. embodies some of the strengths. a messiah. The stage illusionist. and the reassuring/disappointing awareness that it probably does not – that it is all really done by sleight of hand.79 The conjuror’s social function may be less complex than the shaman’s.BINARIES: EARLY ATTITUDES TO CONJURING church ritual and court ceremony) impacted with an emergent theatre of entertainment (popular entertainments. temporarily. smoke and mirrors. not a prestidigitator. We are asked to take pleasure in ambiguity. bodies are dismembered then miraculously restored to wholeness again.

PERFORMING DARK ARTS natural laws. between the frame of the fiction and the awareness that it is a frame. but in the tension between this imaginative possibility and the contradictory reassurance that he cannot. There are times when ambiguity collapses under pressure. a tension which is not always under the control of the performer. 18 . is also a major part of the rhetoric of the theatre. But it is a tension which is not always stable – and indeed. This tension between belief and unbelief.

which some count Sorcerers: but ‘tis not likely they are under any Covenant.Chapter Two ‘The evil Spirit has a hand in the Tricks of these Jugglers’: conjuring and Christian orthodoxy In the previous chapter. Christian missionaries began to make regular contact with the shamans of the ‘heathen barbarians’ whom they were intent on converting. Given the Christian church’s deep-seated ambivalence towards all kinds of theatrical display. they treated them with a mixture of tolerance and contempt. and makes use of them to amuse these poor People. I argued that the relation between entertainment and efficacy. one may venture to say. and the false wonders of heathens. be detrimental to his argument. Yet neither does he see them as totally innocent on that 19 . to do so would. is a complex one. one of the Franciscan friars who explored the upper Mississippi valley in the late seventeenth century describes them as follows. for it would grant them greater power: it is a more astute move to label them as frauds). Certainly Hennepin has no doubt that these ‘jugglers’ (whose feats included rain-making. I shall examine some of the ways in which religious commentators in various ages have sought to ignore that complexity. (Indeed. ‘performance’ is assigned a negative value. There’s no nation but what have their Jugglers. it is perhaps not surprising to discover that one of the ways in which theologians have discredited the supernatural claims of rival belief systems is by dismissing their wonderworkers and priests as mere tricksters. for example. and to insist on clear-cut distinctions between the true wonders which belong properly only to God. In the writings and thought of many early Christians on the subject. in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When. in some ways. At the same time. that the evil Spirit has a hand in the Tricks of these Jugglers. who ‘cozen [their people] perpetually’. to mean what we would call a conjuror or illusionist. or hold communication with the Devil. and render them more incapable of receiving the Knowledge of the true God. In this chapter. tho they cozen them perpetually. Louis Hennepin. It is significant that Hennepin is not interested in branding these jugglers as Devil worshippers.82 ‘Jugglers’ here is used in the Renaissance sense. between magic as performance and ‘real’ magic. They are very fond of these Jugglers. healing and creating good luck for the hunters) were nothing but dishonest performers – tricksters. for example.

since the Devil makes use of them to distract their audiences from knowledge of the true God. is limited by the fact that miracle-working is also claimed by other religions. Pharaoh summoned the wise men and sorcerers. the God of Jacob – has appeared to you. for example. cites authorities approvingly: ‘[a]nd yet (as Calvine 20 . Different interpreters understood these secret arts in different ways. and his argument that the non-Christian wonder-workers are in some way complicit (however unwittingly) with the Devil. those inspired by the one true God. In the myth of Exodus. the God of their fathers. using sleight of hand. so central to both Judaism and Christianity.83 Moses and Aaron are manifesting the power of the one true God (Moses has earlier been coached by God himself to perform the transformation ‘so that they may believe that the Lord. on the other hand. has always had within it a strong tradition of de-bunking rival miracle workers. and it became a snake. the fakes.PERFORMING DARK ARTS score. When he and his brother Aaron take on the task of effecting the liberation of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. The sixteenth-century writer Reginald Scot. then say to Aaron. and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts.”’ Then Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. However. scholars. are ‘sorcerers and… magicians’ who managed their inferior effects ‘by their secret arts’. prophets. of course. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron ‘When Pharaoh says to you “Perform a miracle”. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials. articulates an ancient problematic. “Take your staff and throw it down before Pharoah and it will become a snake.’)84 Pharaoh’s wonder-workers. they go before Pharaoh armed with miracles. the God of Isaac. but by the Renaissance it was a commonplace assertion that the Egyptian court magicians were mere tricksters. the God of Abraham. or at least of his partiality to one faith community over another. The process starts in some of the earliest scriptural writings. From scriptural times onwards. Moses is portrayed not only as a spiritual leader but also as an agent of divine miracle-working. their usefulness as a proof of God’s existence. and the phoneys. Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. scribes and preachers have been eager to point out the difference between ‘real’ miracle workers. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. the mere conjurors. as a result. Judaeo-Christian thought. ‘Moses was a juggler’ Miracles have traditionally been seen by the church as a vivid way of demonstrating the active interest which God takes in human affairs.

before the building of the pyramids. The rods actually were serpents. magic was a reputed art in Egypt. to the uninitiated. The magicians of Egypt.THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS A HAND IN THE TRICKS OF THESE JUGGLERS saith of them) they were but Jugglers. for Egypt was “the cradle of magic”. a miracle. On closer reading. contested against Aaron at the court of Pharaoh. Rather than distinguishing between the true miracle and the false illusion. ‘prestidigitateur. they crawled away alive and hideous as ever. telling how. along with their compatriot Dedi. Heller’s implication that Aaron.’86 Provocatively. and indeed. Henry Ridgeley Evans recounts the familiar biblical anecdote. however. might have been working with hypnotized snakes in order to perform what seems like a miracle ‘to the uninitiated’. in the wake of Enlightenment materialism. provided a steadfast anchor for faith. where Pharaoh’s conjurors frequently feature. Although the academic theology of his day. too. than work them indeed. For as Clemens saith. where rows of black marble sphinxes stare at you with unfathomable eyes.87 At first sight Evans and Heller (who is characterized as a ‘skeptic’) seem to be repeating the usual binary opposition between true miracles and trickery. ‘[f]ar back into the shadowy past. however. There are even accounts of how the trick might have been done. where the mise-en-scène is awe-inspiring – this trick of the rods turning into serpents becomes doubly impressive. Writing in 1898. Evans goes on to relate how he had been told by Robert Heller. was effectively performing a conjuring trick strikes deep into the problematic relationship between the performing conjuror and Christian doctrine. they appear to be suggesting something rather different from the classic Christian interpretation. as many suppose. it is now left to the reader to infer that Aaron. traveller in the Orient and skeptic’. faced by the increasing secularisation of nineteenth-century thought. a similar suggestion was enough to get a man killed. as some of the earliest recorded examples of prestidigitators. how he had seen the same trick performed in Cairo by the ‘Dervishes’. nonetheless the churches. and recalled to life by sundry mystic passes and strokes.’85 This is the view most frequently found in histories of conjuring. When thrown upon the earth. These Magicians did rather seem to doe these wonders. Said Heller ‘It was in the open air that I saw this strange feat performed’. Transferred to the gloomy audience chamber of some old palace where the high roof is supported by ponderous stone columns painted with hieroglyphics. too. had largely abandoned any serious reliance on scriptural miracles as a philosophical foundation for the proof of God. and hypnotized to such an extent as to become perfectly stiff and rigid. 21 . Evans presents the case tactfully enough. according to the Bible chronicle. in the popular imagination. Neither could they doe. Three hundred years earlier. were unwilling completely to relinquish miracle narratives which.

Raleigh’s man. being a rude and gross people. and while it is actually rooted in orthodox Christian debates about sin and repentance. 22 . A government ‘informer’. That it was an easy matter for Moses. its demonic theme may well have contributed to Marlowe’s growing reputation. That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.PERFORMING DARK ARTS By the time he was in his late twenties. was given the task of preparing the case against him. ere they came to the promised land. among other things. At any rate. the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe had a reputation for being a dangerous atheist. Richard Baines. That Moses made the Jews to travel forty years in the wilderness. But the point is that these blasphemies are thinkable. being brought up in all the arts of the Egyptians. and Mary his mother is accused of whoredom – a different kind of ‘juggling’ in Renaissance slang. in 1593 he was arrested on charges of holding and uttering treasonable and atheistic opinions and put on trial before the Star Chamber. and on the basis of hearsay evidence and some doubtfully attributable documents. can do more than he. Even more damaging is the conclusion that these conjuring tricks are all in the service of political and ideological manipulation. and so an everlasting superstition remain in the hearts of the people. Moses led the children of Israel into the wilderness because he needed to wait for all those who knew the secrets of his conjuring to perish: only then would he be able to found the nation of priest-rulers who could rely on the superstition of the people to act as an instrument of their own oppression. even for post-Reformation Christians.89 Like Evans and Heller. integrates popular performing traditions and theological debate. Two further points attributed to Marlowe suggest just how dangerous all this thinking could be – where it could lead to. That the first beginning of religion was only to keep men in awe. being Sir W.88 Baines is not the most credible of witnesses: it is not certain that Marlowe expressed any of these opinions. Doctor Faustus. Christ himself becomes implicated – not as a trickster but as a bastard. even in his cups. His most famous play. Marlowe (or Baines’ version of Marlowe) is impressed with ‘the arts of the Egyptians’ and attributes much of Moses’ skill to having learned his conjuring from them. to the intent that those who were privy to most of his subtleties might perish. to abuse the Jews. which journey might have been done in less than one year. which accused him. the judicial arm of the Privy Council. presented to the court a ‘Note concerning the opinion of one Christopher Marly [sic] concerning his damnable judgment of religion and scorn of Gods word’. of voicing the beliefs [t]hat Moses was but a juggler and that one Heriots. The patriarchal prophet is compared unfavourably to a juggler in the household of a contemporary nobleman.

scientific cheats. But this polemic dichotomy between the true and the false miracle worker. Marlowe damningly suggests. Marlowe was never convicted of atheism: he died. he first tears off equal parts of the paper. but later glimpses the writing by secretly applying a chemical solution of copperas (sulphate of iron) to its ashes. But while the boy is doing what he is commanded.THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS A HAND IN THE TRICKS OF THESE JUGGLERS ‘The first beginning of religion was’. knifed to death in a Deptford tavern by one of Elizabeth’s government agents. He creates a disturbance amongst the spectators to distract them from seeing his secret actions.e. and communicate with – and control – spirits and daemons. as a secret ink which – at the right moment – displays the answers to the questions on what seemed to be blank paper… Hippolytus warms to his theme. exposing other tricks of conjurors: plunging their hand unscathed into boiling water is effected by preparing it first with 23 . appears to burn the ‘message’ to the daemons. The early church: Hippolytus’ Philosophumena and Simon the Magician Marlowe turned the orthodox dichotomy on its head. And he (i. He substitutes one piece of paper for another. orders the enquirer to write down what it is he wishes to enquire of the daemons.. describes in detail many of the deceptions practised by false magicians of the early centuries of the Christian era. Then he having folded up that paper and given it to the boy. In the third century A. sends it away to be burned. giving answers to questions whose content (or so it seems) he cannot possibly know. goes back into the roots of the Christian Church. tricking them into a belief in his supernatural powers by a sequence of misdirections. he scatters these pieces of paper over the offering…90 This is the beginning of a long and involved description of a conjuring trick in which the false magician – a pagan or a heretic: it is not always clear which – manipulates the uneducated masses. and he primes his assistant to speak in the voices of daemons. The complex routine which Hippolytus describes is one in which this magician convinces the crowd that he can predict their questions. substitutions. ‘to keep men in awe’. Then having offered up the Egyptian magician’s incense called Cyphi. the magician) taking some paper. as the ‘juggler’. he produces the dramatic off-stage sound effect of thunder by rolling large stones over wooden planks. rather than Pharaoh’s magicians. and on some other parts of it he pretends that the daemons write in Hebrew letters. in which the latter is equated with a street conjuror. Hippolytus.D. casting Moses. Saint and Martyr and one of the fathers of the early Christian Church. and sleights of hand. in suspicious circumstances. Once more the copperas comes in useful. so that the smoke carrying the letters may go hence to the daemons. Bishop.

set fire to it. And the bird scared by the flame is carried into the height and makes very speedy flight. so another.D. Showing the audience how it is done is a pleasure as well as a duty – despite the inevitable and predictable misgivings about the dangers of publishing such knowledge: These contrivances I shrank from setting out in the book. as for many of the church fathers. enjoys what he is doing. But for Hippolytus. magicians posed a particular problem since they claimed precisely the kind of supernatural power which was so central to the church’s hold over the popular imagination: the power to perform miracles. – in a bitter schism which saw 24 . clearly. and in terms of deliberate deception practised on a gullible public. Certainly. Smoke and mirrors allow the conjuror to bring the moon and stars into the room. Seeing which. corruptors of life as they are. whose effects can be explained away in purely rational terms. But the winged one whirled about by the fire. He also. the fools hide themselves as if they had beheld something divine.PERFORMING DARK ARTS vinegar and soda so that it bubbles at a temperature well below boiling point. the mention of apparently recently having taken responsibility for the ‘care of many young men’ suggests that he is writing soon after he has been elected one of two ‘Bishops of Rome’ in 218 A. and let it go. Conjuring up spirit visions in bowls of water is achieved by carefully preparing both the vessels and the room in which they are viewed. The ‘unmasking’ that Hippolytus is undertaking here – his insistence that the pagan wonder-workers are merely frauds. It was essential for the early church to assert and maintain an absolute distinction between the truth of the Christian miracle worker and the falsehood of the pagan magician or sorcerer. is borne whither it may chance and burns down now houses and now farm-buildings.D. Such is the prescience of magicians. But learning that the same (tricks) have been taught beforehand.91 The dry contempt of the last sentence is characteristic of Hippolytus’ attitude not only towards these magicians.92 Hippolytus’s attack on the magicians is usually dated at about 220 A. they will perhaps be hindered in their foolishness. by learning them will be protected (against them) and the magicians. But now the care of many young men capable of salvation has persuaded me to teach and declare them for the sake of protection (against them). seeing that some ill-doer taking hints from them might attempt (to practise) them. but towards all purveyors of heresies. For as one will use them for the teaching of evil. The appearance of a fiery daemon in the air is managed by the more gruesome method of having an accomplice coat a bird – a hawk or a kite – with tar. is part of a battle for the very survival of the early church. will be ashamed to practise the art.

Early Christianity was not a single body of stated and agreed knowledge but a site of ongoing dialectics in which certain beliefs eventually came to predominate over others. one divine). It is a careful work of scholarship in which he painstakingly untangles what philosophers actually said from what was attributed to them by later interpreters. the ‘Refutation of all Heresies’ which will become his most influential work. but also includes ‘Brachmans’ (sic) of India and the Druids of the Celts. Valentinus. Gnosticism (which held that man might be liberated by his own knowledge). and sects such as the Sethians. and Monophysitism (which denied the humanity of Christ). the most 25 . surveying the current corpus of beliefs and heresies. It is in this context that he writes. It is a long and systematic theological argument in which he attempts to demonstrate that the various current Christian heresies which so concerned the early church. In it he catalogues and classifies the various philosophers of the classical Greek world. Thus he chronicles previous debates about whether Plato believed there to be one God. As a result the church itself was undergoing frequent splits and schisms: as we have already seen. he attempts to winnow out the true from the false in contemporary religious teaching. He surveys their works in order to show where they deviate from teachings of the true church. Of these figures. Hippolytus himself played an important part in these controversies. we should not forget. and a prolonged rivalry between himself and other claimants to the papal throne. In Hippolytus.93 He writes mainly about the ancient Greeks. the Philosophumena. In Book IV he takes a particular swipe at ‘the diviners and magicians’ – which include not only the conjurors we have just encountered but also astrologers.THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS A HAND IN THE TRICKS OF THESE JUGGLERS the papacy split. mathematicians. the Naassenes and the Docetists. Nestorianism (according to which Christ had two natures: one moral. He critiques the various writers and teachers of the third century – teachers such as Simon Magus. discrediting them where possible or showing how any truths they happen to have stumbled upon are mere forerunners of the fuller truths of the Christian message. in Greek. More importantly. The debates and political manoeuvrings of the early church amounted to a protracted ideological battle for the soul of Christendom itself. Pelagianism (which denied original sin). ethicists. was at a time when the nature of Christian belief was intensely controversial. Basilides. the demonizing of those who hold or promote heretical beliefs is often associated with the concept of ‘magic’. Saturnilus. dividing them in to natural philosophers. dialecticians etc. can be traced back to their roots in false pagan philosophies. star diviners and neo-Pythagoreans. The various belief systems which the dominant group within the church Fathers came to denounce as heresies included Arianism (which asserted that Christ was not coequal with God). ‘metoposcopists’ (who tell a man’s character or fortune from his face). or ‘many Gods without limitation’. This.

and this influence was responsible for prejudicing the early fathers against the work. The most recent and authoritative editor of the The Acts of Peter says: As with many other apocryphal Acts. he is seen to be in it for all the wrong reasons.95 He converts to Christianity and is baptized by Philip. then. You have no part or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God. Already tinged with the charge of charlatanism and trickery. along with additional Gospels and Epistles. Andrew and Thomas) excluded. because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money. where his story is elaborated in some detail. powertripper and profiteer. written about 30 to 40 years after the crucifixion. ‘They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic’. is that the use of these Acts by heretics ensured its removal from official church lists. but in seeing the miracles of the Apostles Peter and John.PERFORMING DARK ARTS prominent.97 26 . This is how we first come across him.94 which was probably written between 63 and 70 A. was Simon Magus – Simon the Magician. In the Middle Ages and early modern period. His attempt to buy the power of the Holy Spirit is inappropriate (to the point of damnation) and he is expelled from the ministry because ‘his heart is not right before God’. The Apocryphal Acts are composed partly of stories which parallel and echo or develop the stories in the canonical Acts of the Apostles. More significant. is a fringe figure: someone who begins as an outsider. in the Acts of the Apostles. perhaps. Simon was a ‘man who had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria’. Yet he does convert – but only to be shown up even more sharply for the opportunist that he is. even when in the presence of the true spirit. Such literature seems to have been influenced to a greater or lesser extent by the unorthodox teachings of the day. and partly of romantic additions. from the New Testament canon – which was established by various Councils in the first few centuries of the history of the Christian Church. ‘he offered them money and said “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit. The Acts of Peter is one of the five Apocryphal books of Acts (the others are Paul. and the one most remembered by the church in later years. The apparent wonders which he performs in Samaria before conversion are contrasted with the true miracles of the Apostles. partly of material apparently derived from contemporary oral tradition. he also appears in the second-century Acts of Peter. Here he is credited with having had a great following in Samaria. If Simon appears in the canonical Acts of the Apostles. a competitor to the Christian tradition. it is the product of popular piety. He is the archetype of the false magician – the conjuror as trickster. his name later gives rise to the English word ‘simony’. He practises ‘sorcery’ and ‘magic’. John. meaning the buying and selling of ecclesiastical privileges such as pardons and benefices. the earliest of the New Testament texts. fraudster.D.”’96 Simon Magus.” Peter answered “May your money perish with you.

and stoned you that were chosen of him. and all beheld him raised up above all Rome and the temples thereof and the mountains. to see the sight). will show myself unto all this multitude. and not existing in truth. Indeed. Much of the Acts of Peter is. A shadowy figure in the canonical texts. For in dining chambers he made certain spirits enter in. an account of the contest between Simon Magus and [Simon] Peter for the heart and soul of Rome itself. he comes into his own in the Apocrypha. in fact. And already on the morrow a great multitude assembled at the Sacred Way to see him flying. and let him not die but be brought to nought. And he fell from the height and brake his leg in three places. and let him fall from the height and be disabled. who I am. But there and elsewhere there are so many stories.THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS A HAND IN THE TRICKS OF THESE JUGGLERS But although Gnostics and other heretical sects may have made use of The Acts of Peter. For I. ascending up. O Lord. whom the Jews put to death.’99 The rivalry between Simon Magus and Peter eventually takes the form of a public competition in which Simon claims he will prove his own power by flying above the city. that he might convict him in this also… So then this man standing on an high place beheld Peter and began to say: Peter. and let it appear at this time. And Peter seeing the strangeness of the sight cried unto the Lord Jesus Christ: If thou suffer this man to accomplish that which he hath set about. and the signs and wonders which thou hast given them through me will not be believed: hasten thy grace. and thenceforth believed Peter. I say unto thee: If thy God is able. The writer of the Acts of Peter repeatedly insists that Simon Magus is a fake. the Acts is not a Gnostic text. the Acts of Peter is a fine folkloric tale of the battle between Good (represented by Saint Peter himself) and Evil (represented by Simon). if it be worthy of God. the faithful looked toward Peter. and such different stories. Then every man cast stones at him and went away home. let him show that faith in him is faith in God. and break his leg in three places. Although it never made it into the canon of scripture. He manages to fool some of the people of Rome but ‘they that were firm in the faith derided him. which were only an appearance. Simon Magus – who is elsewhere credited by the church Fathers as being one of the main teachers of Gnosticism (accounts of his teachings are given in works by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus98) is once more represented as evil personified. and may even have influenced its composition through their part in ‘popular piety’. now will all they that have believed on thee be offended. at this time when I am going up before all this people that behold me. And behold when he was lifted up on high. And Peter came unto the place. having seen a vision (or. told about him that it seems likely that the historical Simon (for whose existence there is 27 .100 Simon is a deeply ambiguous figure in Christian folklore.

Here. obsessed with endowing ‘physical objects with supernatural qualities by special formulae of consecration and exorcism’. The kind of magic which involves invoking spirits. in a theological context. In the beginning from the First God (who is held to be Simon himself) leaped forth the First Thought. or both. ‘magic’ became. and passing through different human bodies finally became manifest in a prostitute. then. in legend. surreal and erotic mythology. Catholics saw the Eucharist as a kind of magical incantation or magic trick – itself a form of idolatry. And if the past-tense miracles of scriptural and apocryphal narrative were problematic in one sense for the Renaissance. Simon. but within the cultural practices of religious communities themselves the relation between ritual and magic was loaded with political meanings.103 In order to do this. the conjuror. and man. appeared as a man. ‘A spurious piece of legerdemain’: the Reformation From its earliest days. The insult stuck: in the early eighteenth century 28 . the present-tense ‘miracles’ of liturgical practice have repeatedly posed problems of another kind. becomes the abjected Other. but was afterward held captive by the powers.PERFORMING DARK ARTS substantial evidence) may have transmuted. it simultaneously characterized the opposition as superstitious. into an amalgam of several figures and narrative patterns from the period. on the contrary.101 The accepted Roman accounts. Christian orthodoxy has tended to identify ‘juggling’ with evil and with the Devil. But taken as a whole. and the kind which involves trickery are both regarded with suspicion: both are the domain of the Father of Lies. a dirty word and one of the most potent and efficacious insults which had been flung at the Catholic Church at the time of the European Reformation was the charge that. Many of the stories about him derive from the turbulent days of the early church.104 Thus. Protestantism ‘presented itself as an attempt to take the magical elements out of religion’. in the sixteenth century. Her name was Helen. For postReformation Europe in particular. Simon is a much more complex – and for many Christians a deeply disturbing – figure who haunts the origins of orthodox belief. when conflicting sects struggled for power – or for survival.102 or else dismiss him as a mountebank and a charlatan. and which wove about him a powerful. Keith Thomas has famously charted the relationship between Religion and the Decline of Magic. the question of the relationship between magic-making and true religion was a vexed one. She created the angels and powers. the First God. either demonize him as ‘the angel of satan’. Amongst these was the Gnostic sect of Simonianism – which revered Simon as a God-prophet equal to Jesus himself. the world. as Calvin said. Simon. Thus. To free her. He came also to offer salvation to men.

As Keith Thomas points out. Theatre. the value of the ritual is in its performativity. since the false miracle workers represent possible alternative traditions to Christianity itself! But anthropological studies of shamanism from the nineteenth century onwards suggest a different model. of changing the elements in such a sort as all the magicians of Pharaoh could never do. Marlowe goes on to say something even more shocking: ‘That if there be any God or any good religion.THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS A HAND IN THE TRICKS OF THESE JUGGLERS non-conformist polemicists such as Daniel Defoe were still condemning Catholicism as ‘one entire system of anti-Christian magic’. according to his accuser Baines. the transubstantiation of the Eucharist could never really happen so priests were therefore actors and conjurors who pretended or cheated their audience in a form of make believe. deceitfulness and spiritual emptiness of the wicked usually associated with Roman Catholicism. it being so beyond all credibility. The reality is that of the surface. Marlowe’s sensibility – or the sensibility attributed to him – is shockingly postmodern when it comes to religion. etc. as Paul Whitfield White points out. He rejects the notion of deep spiritual truth in favour of the theatrical pleasures of the conjuring tricks themselves. ‘What was transubstantiation but a spurious piece of legerdemain… the pretence of a power plainly magical. had become ‘a metaphor to expose the hypocrisy. In insisting on such a binary opposition the Church is playing for high stakes. singing-men. then it is in the Papists’ because the service of God is performed with more ceremonies.105 Alizon Brunning sums up the way in which the …association of the trickster figure with Catholic priests has a long heritage in anti-Catholic polemic. Traditional Christian attitudes towards conjurers are deeply ingrained.’106 Which takes us back to Christopher Marlowe and his claim that ‘Moses was a juggler’.’ In A Discourse Concerning the Sacrament of the Lordes Supper [c1550] Nicholas Udall attacks ‘the iugling sleytes of the Romish Babylon’ and. or ‘sorcerer’. Later.’ The anxiety about the possibility of material transformation becomes effaced and ameliorated when attackers resort to the more comforting accusation that such ritual is simply a performative act without material efficacy. but because of the grounds of this preference. They involve a strict (if moveable) binary opposition between the true miracle worker and the false ‘magician’. nor had the face to attempt the like. maintains that ‘Christ is no iugler neither doth he mock or daly with our senses… such iugling castes as the adversaries would have here in the matter of the sacrament. 29 . as Axton suggests.’107 Marlowe overturns all the expected norms of conventional Protestant English thought – not only by asserting a preference for the Catholic rite. That all Protestants are hypocritical asses. According to Reformers ‘Protestant derogation of the mass as play made the priest a juggler’. organs. as elevation of the mass. shaven crowns.

If there is ‘any God or any good religion’ then it is to be found in the showman rather than the shaman – and specifically in the juggling showmanship of the Catholic mass. This is heresy indeed. and in which ‘belief ’ takes a subordinate place to both. 30 . It is this towards which Marlowe gestures so subversively in his scandalous preference for the Catholic rite.PERFORMING DARK ARTS one in which performativity and efficacy are not opposed but complementary.

a traditional kind of folk devil.109 But the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre saw a dramatic increase in the use of illusions on stage. On the other hand. He is a representative of the new world of learning of Renaissance culture. Poised ambivalently between medieval and modern ways of thinking. in the period. the sixteenth-century street conjuror or illusionist saw the rise of a form of popular entertainment which would both compete with and incorporate his own form of wonder-working.111 His occult power becomes a metaphor for the ambiguous state of knowledge. or practitioner of legerdemain. and a growing interest in magic that is not confined to Biblical miracles. On the one hand. Of course. He is also. plays from the Middle Ages onwards contain a range of magical illusions. a dark figure dabbling in ‘unlawful things… more than heavenly power permits’. witchcraft beliefs were still prevalent. between scientific rationalism and superstitious folk belief. Indeed. especially scientific knowledge. the magician is both humanly 31 . Medieval mystery plays.Chapter Three ‘Fire and faggot to burn the witch’? Conjuring between belief and unbelief in early modern England Jugling is now become common Samuel Rid108 Efficacy and entertainment: conjuring devils on the early modern stage In Chapter One we looked at questions of origins and the roots of performance in both ‘magical’ (or shamanic) and mimetic practices. for example. as jugglers’ routines became incorporated with increasing frequency into the dramas of the early modern stage.110 On a symbolic level the magician is in many ways a prototypical. fairies and magicians. and ‘real’ magic a feature of everyday reality in the beliefs of many people. the evolving professional theatre – in the process of inventing its own kind of ‘magic’ – was fascinated with the idea of magic in the folkloric sense. inevitably. or references to magical illusions. featured the staff/serpent transformation routine in the Wakefield cycle play of Pharaoh. Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights produced scores of plays about witchcraft and about ghosts. and Italian neo-Platonism. where Moses changes his staff into a serpent and back again. of one kind or another. Renaissance figure. if paradoxical. In early modern England these two traditions continued to play a part in defining the role of the juggler.

or The Tempest. having apparently mastered most of the legitimate knowledge of his culture. overreaching himself. every man hastened to be first out of doors. coming to see the wonders and illusions of the fairground jugglers and practitioners of legerdemain translated into the theatre. as far as the audience is concerned. but it also has scenes in which Faustus performs rituals to conjure up devils and spirits. Faustus accepts his offer – and is eventually damned. a star attraction. for they were all persuaded there was one devil too many amongst them. every one harkening other in the ear. spending the night in reading and in prayer got them out of town the next morning. among other things.113 This anecdote is a particularly resonant one in the history of stage conjuring because it raises a particularly disturbing possibility: that in an age of belief 32 . they could go no further with this matter. when the brazen head speaks in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. the people also understanding the thing as it was. A contemporary manuscript source tells of [c]ertain players at Exeter acting upon the stage the tragical story of Doctor Faustus the conjurer.112 He is also. This mixture of magic and theatre was a powerful combination. begins to explore the forbidden knowledge of the occult. The play gives actors plenty of opportunity for performing some light-hearted conjuring tricks and theatrical illusions. The players (as I have heard it) contrary to their custom. when the tapers light themselves onstage in A Game At Chess – all these are examples of more or less elaborate conjuring tricks to charm an audience. when Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy bites out his tongue and offers it to the King. before the very eyes of an audience. when Ariel makes the banquet disappear in The Tempest. For an essential dimension of the theatrical figure of the magician in the play is his physical presence. the Renaissance intellectual. there on the stage. on a sudden they were all dashed. as a certain number of Devils kept every one his circle there. The Devil sends his messenger Mephistophilis to offer Faustus a deal: all the worldly power and knowledge he desires in exchange for his soul. And so. He embodies ‘the paradox of superhuman power that is humanly limited’. embodied in an actor. It is a play about dabbling in the dark arts: Faustus. and so after a little pause desired the people to pardon them. At Exeter in the early seventeenth century (the exact date is not clear) a company of travelling players were presenting a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. like Icarus. plummet to his destruction. The spectators who come to see plays such as Doctor Faustus. or Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay are.PERFORMING DARK ARTS flawed and exceptionally powerful in his control over the forces of nature – a potential hero or. and as Faustus was busy in his magical invocations. a figure doomed by his pride to attempt to soar too near the sun and.

between what was termed in the previous chapter efficacy and entertainment. argued that [t]he spread of the Reformation in northern and central Europe had no effect in rendering the unhappy wight who was accused of sorcery less liable to be imprisoned and exposed in the pillory. one of the standard books on the subject. The Exeter performance of Doctor Faustus seems to indicate a fault line: a point at which – for those involved in it – the fictional performance turns. is that of the potential slippage between one kind of ‘magic’ and another. But there were few persons in those days who could see the simplest conjuring trick performed without a sensation of awe mingling with their wonder. into reality. and therefore less accessible to the suggestions of superstition. witchcraft.114 More recently. not a static. let us look in more detail at the 33 . happy if he escaped the stake and faggot. devil worship and sorcery. false prophecies. Milbourne Christopher. The entertainment/efficacy braid is a dynamic. and there was in every assembly some weak-minded person ready to declare that such things could be done only by the aid of the devil. the way that that braid looked in a particular culture. We have already suggested that it is not possible to chart a simple linear progression from ‘primitive’ cultures. a man named Reatius was seized and tortured until he admitted he produced his deceptions with sleight of hand and the help of confederates. then. In order to examine. Italy. once more. who claimed no demonic powers. terrifyingly. [c]onjurors. In an age in which beliefs in witchcraft and devil worship were widespread in all levels of society throughout Europe. if the people had been less ignorant.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH in – and fear of – ‘real’ magic.115 The issue. Writers on magic have tended to stress the potential for this sort of misunderstanding of early conjuring acts. ruthless campaign against witchcraft. Thomas Frost. in his Illustrated History of Magic. argues that when higher church authorities launched their long. through to ‘sophisticated’ ones (like our own?) who engage with magic only on the level of entertainment. suffered along with other innocent victims… After performing in Padua and Mantua. and demolition of crosses provided the penalty of death for such offences… It would have been easy for conjurors to have avoided bringing themselves under the operation of this law. whose Lives of the Conjurors is one of the seminal books on the history of conjuring. feature of performance. who believe in magic-asefficacy. The statutes of Henry VIII against conjuration. women or men who were accused of practising magic in this sense were in genuine danger of being punished by death. the theatrical performance of magic might turn out to be too realistic.

and how much he was paid etc. as Brandon was known. composers often echo down through the years: the names of leading acrobats. it is not all that easy to find a starting point. or at least a big part of show business in the mid-nineteenth century and begins to make use of the machinery of advertising and publicity (newspaper reviews. Comparatively little is known about his life. But the further back we look the harder it is to trace individual performers of stage magic. and to the broader understandings of the notions of magic and knowledge (both permitted and forbidden) against which both of these played out their parts. at their relationship to the wider world of popular entertainment. although Philip Butterworth has done some splendid work in piecing together what there is to be found out about ‘the King’s Juggler’. jugglers and trapeze artists less frequently. have a few fragmentary references from near-contemporary sources. however. For example. gives the 34 . illustrated posters and engravings). although Brandon seems to have enjoyed a similar status to some of the wellknown licensed fools of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Accounts of early English ‘juggling’ acts are comparatively few and far between: few details have survived. it becomes much easier to identify and study the careers of individual magicians. or to understand what their performances might have been like. photographs. the practitioners of legerdemain. Maskelyne and Robert-Houdin. who achieved quite a degree of fame in the reign of Henry VIII. By definition. Reginald Scot. some traces exist. performers such as Professor Anderson. Municipal records give some facts and figures – where a juggler performed. more precisely) in early modern England. – but it is hard to build up a picture of their actual acts. and when. Nonetheless. were skilled self-publicists as well as skilled conjurors. and their cultural footprints are comparatively easy to spot and to follow. The earliest individual British performer for whom we have a definite record was a man called Brandon.PERFORMING DARK ARTS complex net of meanings and beliefs which traverses the notion of ‘conjuring’ in the early modern period: at the professional entertainers.116 It is not clear quite what the role of King’s Juggler involved. many of the greatest magicians of the nineteenth century. painters.117 No contemporary records exist which can give us an extended sense of what Brandon’s actual performances might have been like or what sort of tricks he performed. We do. The names of leading writers. especially in the ages before mechanical reproduction and mass media. Once magic becomes big business. writing a few years after Brandon’s death. who maintained careers as freelance performers while simultaneously enjoying royal or aristocratic patronage. Indeed. In fact. there is something ephemeral about the very nature of popular culture. Brandon and the pigeon We should begin with the status of the conjuror (or ‘juggler’. men like Richard Tarlton or Will Kemp.

as though he. which is painted on the wall. what wondering was thereat. or some other such poison. But in the mean time the juggler used words of art. into whom he had thrust a dramme of Nux vomica. It is an effective (if rather cruel) illusion by a licensed professional entertainer. and discovered) you will think it a mockery. Scot explains. who painted on the wall the picture of a dove. how he was prohibited to use that feat any further. and of the most part beleeved as canonicall. it was too effective: his audience could not guess the secret and as a result Brandon was prohibited by the King from ever performing it 35 . and so the life of all men in the hands of a juggler: as is now supposed to be in the hands & wils of witches. and partly to gain credit and admiration of the beholders. Lo now your grace shall see what a juggler can do. this was simply an example of what he calls ‘private Confederacie’ – by which he means secret preparation beforehand: Brandon had actually poisoned the bird earlier and timed his trick to coincide with the working of the poison. said to the King. indeed. and seeing a pigeon sitting on the top of a house. Brandon is challenging his royal audience with the possibility that he has killed a pigeon by remote magic: he stabs the picture of the bird. and (as it is already said) after a short space falleth downe. must needs have died. and with so effectua[…] words. This story is. that the poor pigeon was before in the hands of the juggler. sitting on a nearby roof falls dead. In fact. as after the receipt thereof it could not live above the space of half an hour. lest he should imploy it in any other kind of murther. and then pricked the picture with a knife so hard and so often. To interpret unto you the revelation of this mysterie. and as a result (or so it seems) a real pigeon. either stark dead. I need not write any further circumstance to shew how the matter was taken. whose picture soever he had pricked.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH following vivid account of one of his tricks which seems to have passed into Elizabethan folklore: What wondering and admiration was there at Brandon the juggler. so it is. as the pigeon fel down from the top of the house stark dead. and simple illusion. If this or the like feat should be done by an old woman. if he be his crafts master. and being let lose after the medicine ministred· she alwaies resorted to the top of the next house: which she will the rather do. as are all the fables of witches: but when you are taught the feat or sleight (the secrecy and sorcery of the matter being bewraied. partly to protract the time. if there be any pigeons already sitting there. or greatly astonied. untill the day of the writing hereof. It is the technique of the witch.118 One of the interesting things about Brandon’s trick is how much it looks like a piece of ‘real’ sorcery. in fresh remembrance. every body would cry out for fire and faggot to burn the witch. of the voodoo priest: violence enacted on the doll affects the person in real life. which to the nature of the bird was so extream a venome. Perhaps.

And while T. For example Girolamo Scoto – who appears in Johnson’s Volpone as ‘Scoto of Mantua’.E. of certaine vaine sciences’: not a street entertainer at all. however. in card tricks.122 Many of the other stories which appear to show conjurors being taken for wizards turn out to be similarly ambiguous. working at the courts of. for example. and so the life of all men in the hands of a juggler’. is aimed at clarifying the relationship between different kinds of ‘conjuring’.. For Brandon the punishment might have been a comparatively small price to pay for the way in which the story would have enhanced his reputation: indeed the additional publicity and the attribution to him of supernatural powers might well have been very good for his career. as though he. and would have been pilloried but for the interposition of the Earl of Leicester’. as far as we can tell.E. that I have beene conversant withall these xxvi. though. which we look at in more detail presently. What may be less expected is how fragile this evidence turns out to be. in The Unfortunate Traveller (1594). in the reign of Elizabeth. Faustus-like. a potential downside. as Scot’s ominous last words indicate: ‘If this or the like feat should be done by an old woman. In fact his whole book. But how true is it that the sixteenth. seems to have got hold of the wrong books and to have started claiming occult powers. Thomas Frost. the Holy Roman Emperor. though. tells us that Scot speaks of ‘a juggler [who] was.120 On closer examination. There is. living in a time of witchcraft persecution.123 At one point. was himself in danger of being persecuted as a sorcerer? The history of conjuring certainly abounds with stories that suggest that it might be true. must needs have died. condemned as a wizard.’119 Scot is in no doubt that in his society the relationship between playing at being a magician and actually being thought to be a magician is an unstable and potentially dangerous one.or seventeenth-century juggler. but onely meere cousenings and illusions’. whose picture soever he had pricked. every body would cry out for fire and faggot to burn the witch. yeares. Rudolf II. among others.121 his cozening was that of the practitioner of folk magic rather than that of the entertainer. Master of art. talks of ‘Scoto. this turns out to be ‘T. and with enough of a reputation that Thomas Nashe. Girolamo Scoto’s career runs into the kind of trouble that Reginald Scot might have predicted for the illusionist in an age of witch-hunters: he finds 36 . and practiser both of physick. There seems to be a genuine fear on Henry’s part that such magic might get out of hand. but a doctor who. the Discovery of Witchcraft. and also in times past.e. that did the juggling tricks before the Queen’ (i.PERFORMING DARK ARTS again ‘lest he should imploy it in any other kind of murther. now admits that ‘among all those famous and noted practisers. He was also a celebrated amateur ‘juggler’ – specializing. a mountebank and travelling snake-oil salesman – was in real life a knight and a diplomat. I could never see any matter of truth to be done in those wicked sciences. Elizabeth I) when he visited England between 1576 and 1583.

while Anna and her lover were imprisoned for life. she claimed. and they hear say that thou canst tell them tidings of them where they are. And many other feats this horse doth… which not one among a thousand perceives how they are done.127 Morocco performed a variety of tricks which the credulous might ascribe to magic powers.124 Similarly. Yet. His accuser was Anna of Saxony. Ben Jonson. so goes he or stands still… … And note that that the horse will paw an hundred times together.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH himself accused of sorcery proper. If thou canst.125 who together with his bay horse. tales of accusations of sorcery surround the legendary William Banks. but his master must first know. who entered her room by magic carrying a cross bound with wire. and fled with her most precious jewels. Samuel Rid. writing in 1612.128 Rid. wife of Count Palatine John Casimir. and bids him give it the right owner. his master will ask him how many people there are in the room: the horse will paw with his foot so many times as there are people. which the horse presently doth. nor how he is brought to learn the same. The juggler is accused of being a wizard. And mark the eye of the horse is always on his master. and as his master moves.’ Then hurls he down a handkercher or a glove that he had taken from the parties before. that have lost diverse things. it seems that there may still be room for ambiguity. Morocco. As Edwin Dawes observes. in her defence she maintained that she had been bewitched by Scoto. is perfectly well aware that the trick is done through subtle signals between master and horse: As for example. his master will say ‘Sirra. she claimed. the horse is ruled by him by signs. Ulrich von Liechtenstein. was one of the great celebrities of Elizabethan and Jacobean popular culture. leaving her in the power of Ulrich. until he sees his master stir: and note also that nothing can be done. We get a hint of this in a fictional dialogue published 37 . ordered the wire to unravel and wrap itself round her body.129 But if the rationalist is clear how the trick was done. here be diverse gentlemen. binding her tightly so that she could not resist his amorous advances. She was charged with committing adultery with a young knight. ‘there is scarcely a humorous writer between 1590 and 1620 who does not mention them’. it has. prithee show thy cunning and tell them.126 Among those who do are Shakespeare. and then his master knowing. whose book is about juggling tricks. a happy ending: not even the most credulous prosecutor seemed impressed: no charges were brought against Scoto. although the story might illustrate a cultural nervousness about the status of the ‘juggler’. Scoto. for Scoto at least. and Thomas Nashe. describes their performance: Such a one is at this day in London. Later he tired of her.

though: does this piece of fictional dialogue point towards a real-life problem for the Elizabethan juggler and his horse? On the surface. that is to say. which is a fairly standard Elizabethan satire on the low morals of London. Banks comes out of it with his reputation greatly enhanced.PERFORMING DARK ARTS by ‘John Dando’ and ‘Harry Runt’ – purportedly ostlers at the inn where they were staying who are recording a ‘conversation’ which they overheard between the horse and his master. and not that only but also to rise up again and to kiss it. between Bankes and his beast: Anatomizing some abuses and bad trickes of this age. though. Or. treats the idea of the talking horse as perfectly normal. He orders Morocco ‘to seek out one in the press of people who had a crucifix on his hat. Maroccus Extaticus. sayd thou wert a deuill & I a coniurer?’131 The horse’s reply is nonchalant: Morocco does not seem particularly bothered by the prostitute’s outburst. for example. the fictional Banks asks Morocco if the horse bears a grudge against ‘that drabbe that the last daie when shee sawe thee heere doo thy trickes. Morocco and the French Capuchins. to play them at their own game and prove that he is innocent after all. At one point in the course of their conversation. there are elements of the legend which suggest that it might have done: contemporary sources tell how Banks and Morocco were accused of sorcery – and even executed for it – while touring on the continental mainland. The question remains. performs a version of his usual routine and. from his own experience in France among the Capuchins. like Brandon with his pigeon. he bade him kneel down unto it. is dubious. And. Not only is he skilful enough to pass for a real sorcerer in the first place.133 The story is repeated by Morton (in the context of an anti-Catholic polemic) but it originates with Banks himself. The story of Banks.’ Morocco. The more melodramatic version of the legend – in which the juggler and his 38 . though. both suggest that it should be taken with a degree of scepticism. It may be that these early jugglers were – within their own cultural constraints – every bit as adept at publicity as their nineteenth and twentieth successors after all. recounts an anecdote… …which Banks told me at Frankfurt.130 The dialogue itself. as he turns the tables on his accusers. Bankes’ Bay Horse in a Trance takes the showman and his horse and makes them the mouthpieces for a satirical Discourse set downe in a merry Dialogue. he is then witty enough to outsmart the superstitious (Papist) foreigners. and the goings-on in its inns and brothels. The tale is one which ends up very much to Banks’s own advantage. proves them both innocent of sorcery since ‘the devil had no power to come near the cross’.132 The context and the tone of the story. in the process. which done. Thomas Morton. then. It all sounds rather more like an effective piece of PR than evidence of any real accusation of sorcery. by whom he was brought into suspicion of magic because of the strange feats which his horse Morocco played.

Most of those which can be checked out lead to a dead end: law cases collapse. jugglers] seem to have suffered the penalty’. ‘Their spirits transmigrated to a cat’!) only as cartoon characters in a surreal and nightmarish landscape: it is all a joke.e. as far as we can tell.135 In fact. Being. markets. in Ben Jonson’s account: Old Banks the juggler.136 But the significant point is that few of these accusations seem to have been taken particularly seriously by the authorities – either in Britain or on the continental mainland.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH innocent horse were both burned at the stake as sorcerers – is simply false. the cultural tensions between magic as entertainment and magic as efficacy. and there may well have been the occasional onlooker who. and the pseudonymous138 Anatomie of Legerdemain by Hocus Pocus Junior (1634). This is not to say that those areas of ambiguity. but in their new re-incarnation. Thomas Frost’s assertion that ‘there were few persons in those days who could see the simplest conjuring trick performed without a sensation of awe mingling with their wonder’ may have some truth in it. But once more. might not. Many people did believe fervently in witchcraft. like the fictional prostitute in Maroccus Extaticus was ‘ready to declare that such things could be done only by the aid of the devil’. in the first year of whose reign sorcery was made a capital offence none of the professors of the Black Art [i. Samuel Rid’s Art of Jugling (1612). anecdotes turn out to be of dubious provenance. We need. our Pythagoras. beyond sea.137 The early modern juggler. Banks and Morocco are actually characters in a satirical fantasy: ‘On the Famous Voyage’ is a mockheroic poem depicting a ‘Voyage’ through the ditches. then. street corners and inn yards did perform apparently miraculous illusions. what is a little surprising about conjuring in the early modern period is how very few substantiated examples we find of jugglers falling foul of the laws against witchcraft. and jugglers in fairgrounds. and Banks and Morocco were both alive and well when the poem was written and published. Banks and Morocco appear (not even as themselves. The contemporary literature of conjuring and legerdemain 39 . Even Frost admits that ‘from the accession of James I. sewers and waterways of London. are irrelevant. Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft (1584). Grave tutor to the learned horse. burned for one witch…134 in his poem ‘On The Famous Voyage’.. or less conclusive than they first seemed. though. after all. It originates. to consider further just how that braid between entertainment and efficacy might have been configured in this period – and we can see that braid in more detail by looking at some of the ways in which ‘juggling’ was written about in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: in works such as Thomas Hill’s Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions (1567). Both which. have operated in the continual shadow of the gallows or the stake.

Like many later magic handbooks. according to its author. to recreate wits at vacant times.142 Conjuring tricks are not all the book has to offer. a translation of a work ‘Written first by sundry scholars of the University of Padua’. for example. a proper secret’. Hen or Chicken’. or To make a blown Bladder to dance and skip from place to place. ‘to recreate wits in vacant times’. or Silver’. too. In fact. and intended ‘for the commodity of sundry Artificers. To do this. and ‘To kindle fire at the Sun’ by reflecting and focusing sunlight 40 . put Quicksilver in a bladder. and addressing itself to the popular market. Thomas Hill Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions (1567) One of the earliest of English books about conjuring is Thomas Hill’s Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions (1567). some of Hill’s illusions might seem culturally somewhat risky in an age which frequently took its religious beliefs with deadly seriousness. Hill promises to teach the diligent reader how. this was. and it will after skip from place to place without handling140 Practicality apart. sneers ‘and if you do not sink. and eager. ‘How to make letters appear of the colour of Gold. nor his instructions about ‘How to walk on the water.141 Even so. the existence of this emerging literature of juggling and legerdemain confirms a sense that there was a general interest in the topic. Neither Hill’s account of ‘How to turn water into wine. you shall be sure to go upon the water’. The latter involves tying wooden pattens to the feet. simultaneously claiming the high seriousness of Italian Renaissance scholarship. a clearer perspective on juggling in the early modern period than do the scant documentary records we have of the professional entertainers themselves. a proper secret’ seem to be particularly effective tricks. however. written in a seventeenth-century hand in one extant edition. and lay the bladder in a hot place. in many ways. is to play with powerful and potentially dangerous imagery. to use two of the key miracles of the New Testament as a basis for conjuring tricks whose purpose is simply ‘to recreate wits in vacant times’. Nonetheless. It also reminds us that conjuring tricks are not only the preserve of the professional conjuror: the middle-class reading public of Elizabethan and Jacobean England was able. Copper. as for the matters of pleasure. Moreover. it is questionable quite how many of Hill’s tricks would actually have worked. Readers could also learn ‘How to make Hens lay Eggs all the Winter through’ by changing their feed. to buy books containing instructions as to how to perform illusions for their own entertainment. and a sceptical marginal note.’139 The self-advertisement strikes that ambivalent tone which will become characteristic of magicians’ handbooks in years to come. ‘To make birds come to your Culver-house’ by tempting them with honeysoaked grain.PERFORMING DARK ARTS gives us. ‘to stick an Iron or Steel Bodkin into the head of either Cock.

and his ominous afterword that ‘If this or the like feat should be done by an old woman. The Discovery of Witchcraft is not strictly speaking a book about conjuring in the modern sense. Hill’s modern editor describes the collection as ‘a ludicrous mixture of oldwives tales. dubious diagnostic techniques to ‘know if a sick person shall die or not’. Again.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH onto very small kindling. Entertainment and efficacy. The jumble of ideas in Hill’s handbook of magical effects shows the blurring of these boundaries in action. selling their arts of divination. in his seminal study of Religion and the Decline of Magic. charming and blessing.’144 The boundaries may frequently become blurred between the professional village magic worker and the confidence trickster. and a divining method ‘to find a person drowned. The conjuring tricks. implies a world-view in which the boundaries between one kind of magic and another. occasionally. Others were self-confessed impostors. What is significant about Hill’s work is precisely its lack of differentiation between one kind of heading and another. between performance and medicine. At this point the miscellany moves beyond old wives’ tales and veers close to a rather different kind of magic: the kind that in some communities could get an old wife hauled before a court and accused of witchcraft. and remedies for worms and fleas. it 41 . the folk remedies and the commonsense tips for good husbandry sit side by side in the book. Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions also contains instructions as to ‘How to see many and diverse strange sightes in a Urinal’. every body would cry out for fire and faggot to burn the witch’. Keith Thomas. That sentence effectively goes to the heart of his central concerns in the book. to snippets of folk magic. good advice for housewives or small farmers’143 – but this understates it. between husbandry and divination are extremely permeable: the braid of entertainment and efficacy is particularly tightly woven here. parlour tricks that are sure to fail. and. from health and housekeeping tips. has described how a residual paganism allowed ‘cunning men’ (and women) and popular magicians to make a considerable living in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. in Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions. that hath been sought for’. The ease with which Hill moves from one mode to the next. making love potions and aphrodisiacs. to illusions to amaze your friends. as well as recipes for toothpaste. procedures for testing a young woman’s virginity by burning herbs under her nose (‘and if she be corrupt she shall piss’). although like Hill’s Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions. undifferentiated. look less like a braid and more like a porridge: and to this extent. or between the confidence trickster and the performing juggler. Some of these folk magicians clearly believed in their own magical powers. Hill states a problem which later writers about magic and conjuring will have to solve. Reginald Scot The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584) We have already come across Scot as the source of the story of Brandon’s pigeon.

that they think it heresy to doubt in any part of the matter…145 Here more than anywhere we hear the message that there is danger of confusion between the ‘juggler’ and the sorcerer – but we hear it stated in the voice of someone who does not believe in sorcery. It is in the tradition of those works by European Humanist intellectuals such as Montaigne and Erasmus. the book is full of examples of exposures of supposedly supernatural practices which we can recognize as the tricks of the professional juggler. Scot concludes that witchhunting is itself a kind of bewitchment – and that [t]he common people have been so assotted and bewitched. with whatsoever poets have feigned of witchcraft. superstitions and prejudices which gave rise in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the persecutions. and finally with whatsoever they have swallowed up through tract of time. and with whatsoever tales they have heard from old doting women. or of folk medicine. or from their mothers’ maids. Scot’s book is the prime example in English of a slowly rising tide of rational scepticism among sixteenth-century European Protestant writers concerning popular beliefs in the occult. and with whatsoever the grandfool their ghostly father. whether in earnest. actually had nothing to do with occult powers.PERFORMING DARK ARTS does contain tips and instructions regarding how to perform juggler’s illusions. which were fuelling the growing fears of. however. and the ways in which the less scrupulous (or perhaps the less cautious) miracle-monger might fool his audience. and early scientists such as the physician Johann Weyer. is one of the most sustained attacks on the popular fears. witches in the period. and reactions against. It was also sufficiently influential to move James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) to respond with his own Daemonologie. in jest. wizards and other kinds of black magicians. is his whole aim – to show that many of the supposed feats of witches. and with whatsoever loud liars and cozeners for their pleasures herein have invented. Scot is absolutely concerned to draw distinctions between one kind of ‘magic’ and another. or in derision. Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft is a lengthy and detailed attempt to show that most accusations of witchcraft were based either on spite or (more usually) on ignorance. or through their own timorous nature or ignorant conceit. But in most other respects Scot’s book is the very opposite of Hill’s. concerning these matters of hags and witches: as they have so settled their opinion and credit thereupon. 42 . all of whom had all argued against the growing spate of European witchcraft persecutions. In the process he demonstrates to the reader the techniques by which many of the tricks are carried out. or any other morrow mass priest had informed them. Whereas Hill is content to let all kinds of material sit side by side in an undifferentiated way.146 Scot’s work. Thus. and that the witchcraft itself is usually a case either of trickery.147 a passionate defence of the persecutions. This indeed.

occasionally playful. which had stolen credit not only from all the common people. Scot does not deny the reality of the Devil. It turns out that. and no spirit shall annoy you.149 The rest of the chapter is devoted to the prayer and the magic words to be used – with the wry observation that ‘this agreeth with popish charmes and conjurations’150 – in order to summon and control a demon. using his research. to conjure spirits. but from men of great wisdom and authority. so will the spirit be the more obedient unto you. To make a circle and call up the spirit with great intention. and your companye (for one must always be with you) this prayer following. As readers we are led into the supposition that Scot is. like Faustus. The technique allows him to have it both ways. teaching us. specially of commanding of divels’. his wit and his rational world-view. three or four dayes before. may soone be brought to believe that the moone is made of green cheese. that common witchcrafts are not cozenages.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH Like most of his contemporaries. Scot debunks the whole machinery of early modern demonology. and your purpose shall take effect. At one point he gives the reader a whole chapter in which he explains how to conjure devils in a way which accords with popular tradition: When you will have any spirit. like a good conjuror. he gathers enough examples of tricksters and trickery to feel that he must have convinced any fair-minded observer that the witch persecutions were a case of communal hysteria founded on Catholic prejudice. you must know his name and you must also fast and be cleane from all pollution. in all seriousness. or wrought indeed according to the assertion of couseners. With example after example. rehearse in your ownee name. when the great and famous witchcrafts. But the rug is immediately whisked away from under our feet: the next chapter is entitled ‘A confutation of the manifold vanities conteined in the precedent chapters. he asks. are discovered to be beggarly slights of cozening varlets?148 A recurrent theme of Scot’s book is the gullibility of those who mistake the skill of the performer for the dark powers of the occultist. and hold a ring in your hand. Scot was misdirecting our attention. ‘Who’. What he doubts is that Satan works through the human agency of the poor victims of the witch trials. or according to the supposition of witchmongers and papists. Working empirically. will maintain. It starts: He that can be perswaded that these things are true. His writing is often serious.151 We are left feeling foolish for having gone along with the previous chapter at all. First he offers us the guilty 43 .

sophisticated – and a rationalist. designed to amaze your friends. His list includes tricks with balls. or counters into money To put one testor into one hand. Tricks with cards are much closer to roguery. then (having lured us into becoming just as gullible as those he elsewhere ridicules) he initiates us into his own healthy scepticism. Scot’s imagined reader is literate. however. and how they may be well or ill used. to make a two penie peece lie plaine in the palme of your hand. and to find it again where you lost With words to make a groat or a testor to leap out of a pot. which is on the subject ‘Of cards. To convey money out of one of your hands into the other by legierdemain To convert or transubstantiate money into counters. as he explains in Chapter XXVII. and with words to bring them together To put one testor into a strangers hand. and to vanish out of a handkercher very strangely A notable trick to transforme a counter to a groat An excellent feat. When he comes to card tricks. or to win a bet. confederacies. Scot begins to talk ‘Of illusions. he is more cautious. How to wrap a wag upon the knuckles.PERFORMING DARK ARTS thrill of being apparently initiated into the occult practises. holding your hands abroad like a rood To transforme any one small thing into any other forme by folding of paper. In Book XIII. educated. or to run along upon a table To make a groat or a testor to sink through a table. and legierdemaine. educated and respectable public the tricks and stratagems of the Elizabethan underworld. paper and handkerchiefs – for example: To make a little ball swell in your hand till it be very great. He or she is also fascinated by the techniques of the juggler.’152 This section of Scot’s Discovery is generically related both to the ‘how-to…’ manual of conjuring tricks – which he takes great delight in detailing for the reader – and also to Elizabethan cony-catching literature: those books which opened up to a literate. He gives detailed instructions as to how to perform these tricks. To consume (or rather to convey) one or many bals into nothing. Many of the routines Scot describes are party tricks. and to convey both into the strangers hand with words To throw a piece of money away. coins. with good cautions how to avoid cozenage therein: speciall rules to convey and 44 . and another into your own. and to be passed from thence when you list To convey a testor out of ones hand that holdeth it fast To throw a piece of money into a deep pond. and to fetch it again from whence you list To convey one shilling being in one hand into another. and another into the other hand.

and the manner and order how to accomplish all difficult and strange things wrought with cards. for example. and yet are their confederates. If you play among strangers. with whom they bet. for under their habit the most speciall couseners are presented. their time. Having now bestowed some waste money among you. Like most descriptions of magic tricks. But I would wish all gamesters to beware. Yet most of the principles which Scot adumbrates in these chapters are to be found in modern conjuring manuals.154 But despite his disclaimer. Scot does indeed show ‘the lewd juggling that cheaters practice’. not only in its rational scepticism. by which kind of witchcraft a great number of people have juggled away not only their money. And to let dice passe (as whereby a man may be inevitably cousened) one that is skilful to make and use Bumcards. It is no longer merely a how-to guide: it is a manual of urban self-defence. they discover it by signes to your adversaries.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH handle the cards. the basic principle of card magic in which Scot instructs his Elizabethan reader. when the same card is shuffled into the stock. your very friends as you think) you your self will be most of all overtaken. either of the players or standers by. and the Elizabethan English makes it harder for the contemporary reader. may undoe a hundreth wealthy men that are given to gaming: but if he have a confederate present. How. I dare not (as I could) shew the lewd juggling that cheaters practice. and their honesty. and to the wicked occasion of evil doing.’153 And at this point. intended to warn the innocent reader against the tricks of a particularly predatory kind of juggler: the card sharp. beware of him that seems simple or drunken. showing the reader how to do several card tricks. all of which could be used in dishonest play as well as in honest delight. lest it minister some offence to the well disposed. ‘to deliver out four aces. to the simple hurt and losses. is one that few modern conjurors would dispute: 45 . and namely of them that bet on your side. the mischief cannot be avoided. their health. I will set you to cards. Beware also of the […]tors by. not only with what cards and dice the play. for whilest they look on your game without suspition. the moves are a little hard to follow on the page. but also their lands. and lookers on. but especially with whom and where they exercise gaming. but in its technical descriptions. and while you think by their simplicity and imperfections to beguile them (and thereof perchance are perswaded by their confederates. the book shifts genres.’156 What is extraordinary about the book is how thorough it is as a handbook of conjuring – and how modern it seems. For example. and to convert them into four knaves’155 and ‘How to tell one what card he seeth in the bottome.

is done by that very means that is used. admittedly. for you know the card already. too. such as his assertion that ‘To make a shoal of goslings. if you shuffle them well afterwards. and crie.’ (Perhaps the cat routine was familiar enough to Elizabethan readers as to need no further explanation?) Others are disappointingly prosaic: ‘To make one dance naked: Make a poor boy confederate with you. and alwaies keeping one certain card either in the bottome. and in the end throw upon the stock the neather card (with so many mo at the least as you would have preserved for any purpose) a little before or behind the rest. spoken by you. which though you be perceived to do. he uncloth himself. and not lie betwixt the cards: and when you feel it. & the better way. that your fore finger.’159 And as that last phrase shows.PERFORMING DARK ARTS But in shewing feats. or the little finger. right over the forefinger. for it will be easie for you to see or spie one card. you must alwaies (whilest you shuffle) keep him a little before or a little behind all the cards lying underneath him. four or five cards from it. or let any other shuffle them. so as the little finger of the left hand may meet with it: which is the easier. you may do almost what you list with the cards. bestowing him (I say) either a little beyond his fellowes before. so as after charms. the readyer. or (as they say) a gaggle of Geese to seem to draw a timber log. stamp. till he be stark naked. and therefore may at any time tell them what card they saw: which neverthelesse would be done with great circumstance and shew of difficultie. still leaving your kept card below. Scot had a good sense of the showman’s instinct for making the comparatively simple appear extremely difficult. if the pack be laid before. untill you have shuffled over the cards again. when a cat doth draw a fool through a pond or river: but handled some what further off from the beholders.157 He details. Some. or else behind the rest. seeming (whilest hee undresseth him) to shake. and juggling with cards the principal point consisteth in shuffling them nimbly. seem wilfully obscure.158 His techniques involve basic issues such as catching an early glimpse of the target card in order to be able to producing it later in the routine: ‘then shuffle the cards. if the pack lie behinde. In the beginning of your shuffling. techniques which are still the stock-in-trade of modern conjurors such as the finger break and the in-jog: And this note I must give you. Hereby you shall seem to work wonders. and stand naked. Book XIII of Scot’s Discovery is a primer of basic magic techniques.’160 On the whole 46 . still hastening to be unclothed. The same is true of the descriptions of other kinds of tricks. creep up to meet with the bottome card. shuffle as thick as you can. or in some known place of the stock. you may there hold it. Being perfect herein. &c. it will not be suspected. Provided alwaies. that in reserving the bottome card.

for Scot. By this means (if you have any invention) you may seem to doe a hundred miracles. and so you need not fail to guess rightly. in Scot’s hands – since he steadfastly refuses to give credence to beliefs in witchcraft – what this really means is someone who is tricking his audience. but the technique is essentially the same. tries. ‘Juggler’ along with its cognates. though this too has overtones of dishonesty. What is it. most of which are as relevant today as they were when they were written. and how to know whether one calls cross or pile [i. or pretends to practise efficacious magic. for example. ‘conjuring’. is a more straightforward word in Scot’s vocabulary. Scot offers a manual of magic tricks. you will (by the sound or ringing of the money) tell him whether he cast cross or pile. In the following description we see that Scot pre-empts some of the ‘mind-reading’ techniques of the Golden Age by four centuries: Juggling knacks by confederacy. It means principally a professional performer. A contemporary conjuror would recognize both the techniques and the apparatus which Scot describes. no great distance between 47 . But of course. or obstinately opposed against you) that standing behind a door. was a major feature of Victorian mentalist acts. as you are agreed upon.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH though. or words spoken a far off. clearly.161 The Elizabethan juggler’s system is a little more rudimentary than the elaborate system of verbal codes developed by the nineteenth-century mentalists. And while Scot describes it in terms of a very basic trick ‘to know whether one calls cross or pile’ he is alert to the infinite possibilities inherent in such a code: ‘By this means (if you have any invention) you may seem to do a hundred miracles. there is no such thing as efficacious magic. Scot approaches the distinction between efficacious magic and magic as entertainment in a very different way from Thomas Hill. In Scot’s view there is. heads or tails] by the ringing. Lay a wager with your confederate (who must seem simple. and he hath fillipped the money before the witnesses who are to be cozened. he must say. or What ist. The use of a code between the magician and the assistant in order to give the impression of psychic powers. ‘conjuration’ etc. clearly the ‘jugglers’ of his day were familiar with the kinds of devices which later generations went on to use in different ways. if it be cross. Throughout the Discovery the words ‘conjuror’. so as when you are gone. are used – as they would have been used generally in the period – to refer to someone who claims. and to discover the secrets of a man’s thoughts. therefore everything is performance.e. if it be pile: or some other such sign. and to discover the secrets of a man’s thoughts…’ Scot’s careful analysis of the topic of magic illustrates the ways in which the concepts of juggling and conjuring are used in the Renaissance – as does his own use of the terms.

165 Where one of these concepts is to be found.PERFORMING DARK ARTS the performer and the cheat. and make a more lively shew of working miracles than any inchantors can doe: for these practise to shew that in action. as a holy relique. and on the other between the entertainer and the occult practitioner. to the delight of the beholders. nor offence ministred by his uncomely speech and behaviour. it should be regarded as a legitimate performing art. Thus. &c. In the Discovery the notion of conjuring is unremittingly linked. who promised thereby all manner of immunity to the wearer thereof. as given by the Pope. not only to the notion of deception but also to that of Catholicism. a false magician who practises superstitious (and ineffective) magic. but the action performed in pastime. phrases such as ‘papists and conjurors’ or ‘papists conjurors and witches’ are formulae of which Scot is particularly fond. practised for different reasons and to different effects. which witches doe in words and terms. 48 . but devices of men. insomuch as he could not be hurt with any shot or other violence. and Scot frequently pretends to confuse the words ‘conjuror’ and ‘cozener’164 in order to make his point through humour. and nimble conveyances…163 Provided that the entertainer comes clean about his skill. More seriously. superstitions such as that of a holy garment called a wastecote for necessity was much used of our forefathers. Scot talks about superstitions of past ages. There is one further level to Scot’s argument. this is a common Renaissance trope. and scrupulous enough to worry away at the various shades of distinctions between. Yet he is broad-minded enough to admit that there is room for the entertainer. for example. To conclude. or some such arch-conjuror.162 He concludes that there is no harm in the juggler’s art so long as the power of almighty God is not transposed to the juggler. on the one hand the entertainer and the fraudster.166 In true Protestant style the Pope is described as a conjuror – indeed an ‘archconjuror’. though. As suggested in the previous chapter. before announcing. and does not try to pass it off as supernatural. so as alwaies the juggler confesse in the end that these are no supernatural actions. than either witches or conjurors. He goes into detailed arguments about the similarities and differences between different kinds of ‘conjuring’. it is to be avouched (and there bee proofes manifest enough) that our Jugglers approach much neerer to resemble Pharaohs Magicians. the other is frequently nearby.

His definition (freely borrowed from Scot) is that [t]he true Art therefore of Jugling consisteth of Legerdemain: that is the nimble conveyance and right dexterity of the hand. And he that is expert in these may show many feats and much pleasure. over his 400-odd pages. the second in alteration of money. ‘A very pretty trick to make a groat or a testor to sink through a table. in the name of rational Protestant scepticism. The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine is aimed squarely at the amateur conjuror who wants to learn. much of his research turns up under another writer’s name. What is interesting here is not the plagiarism itself (which was a common enough tactic among early modern writers and among conjurors of all periods) so much as what gets left out: that is to say. and to vanish out of a handkerchief very strangely’. In The Art of Jugling. the Pope becomes an archetype of false belief. for example. the book which can probably claim to be the first purpose-produced handbook for the amateur conjuror. Rid strips away Scot’s more serious theological and humanitarian purposes and publishes a simple handbook of juggling and legerdemain which offers the reader a series of party tricks. Thirty years later. The old religion (which was. or how ‘To 49 . everything except the tricks themselves. The fact that Rid can bracket this so unproblematically as a form of entertainment reinforces the sense that by the early years of the seventeenth century a distinct and recognizable performance art has emerged. the false religion) is damned by association with magic. then.167 the wicked wizard in Edmund Spenser’s complex and influential religious and political allegory The Faerie Queene. considers the nature of juggling and legerdemain as part of his larger concern: to discredit. Like the villainous Archimago. cheerfully plagiarized by Samuel Rid in The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine (1612). Samuel Rid The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine (1612) Scot. the which is performed diverse ways.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH The magic waistcoat’s promises of immunity are – Scot leaves us in no doubt about this – false. popular assumptions about witchcraft and natural magic. as Rid says ‘is now become common’168 – and in the process it has generated a market for instruction booklets. Rid offers both a definition of the art as a whole and plenty of examples of individual illusions. ‘Jugling’. Scot’s underlying rational Protestant world-view means that the language in which he describes the magicians of his day is always doing some religious-political work.169 Rid has defined his readership more precisely than did Thomas Hill. especially three: the first and principal consisteth in hiding and conveying of balls. The word ‘conjuror’ yokes together Catholicism and fraudulence. according to the dominant Protestant ideology of Elizabeth’s day. and to contribute to the doctrinal polemics of post-Reformation England. the third in shuffling of cards.

This last is a standard feature of handbooks of magic tricks from earliest times to the present day: the art of the magician does not lie in manual dexterity alone. and make the Art you goe about to be perceaued and knowne. and to heal it again presently without any salve. and in it we can detect an almost childish delight in sleight of hand.] Take a knife. The reader.PERFORMING DARK ARTS consume (or rather convey) one or many balls into nothing’. of nimbleness of execution (‘for if you be a bungler. but to leads [sic] away the eye from espying the manner of your conveyance. and lay it upon your nose. nunquam. however being nimbly done it will deceive the sight of the beholders. to conceive.170 Again. pass and be gone!’ Or 50 . passe passe. and suppose that you deal with Spirits: and such kind of sentences. come aloft for thy master’s advantage. you have another like knife without a gap. will probably want to rush off immediately and try out these party pieces. though. Blood also. ‘To convey money out of one hand into the other. however. this early aficionado of conjuring is sharing with the reader a naive enthusiasm for juggling as performance. Credo. For the most part. and in these jokeshop illusions. certain strange words. As well as being taught individual illusions. and words of enchantments to speak. while you may induce the mind. it is implied. ‘To throw a piece of money away. Occasionally Rid slips into an admonitory tone similar to that used in the coney-catching pamphlets of Greene and others. and of speeches. for example: To cut half your nose in sunder. [This is easily done. to be showed upon pulling out of the same. Note. that it may not only breed the more admiration to the people. but Rid’s parenthesis is his own. and includes warnings about how to avoid being cheated at dice and cards. you both shame your selfe. Thus. what sort of patter Rid recommends: You must also have your words of Art. It is a fair assumption that in this instruction manual Rid is painting a reasonably accurate picture of the kind of routine which a contemporary professional juggler would have performed. by legerdemain’. but in the context in which it is presented. and nimble conveyance. furia. having a round hollow gap in the middle. and to find it again where you please’. fitting and correspondent to the action and feat that you go about. are used in divers manners. when come you Sirrah?’ or this way: ‘Hey Jack. and so shall you seem to have cut your nose in sunder: provided always that in all these. to bewray the wound. and so bring it into discredit’171) and of a good line in patter in order to misdirect the audience’s attention. the reader is initiated into the basics of conjuring: the importance of carrying the trick off with confidence (‘a good face’). the trick itself is copied almost verbatim from Scot. As ‘Hey Fortuna.

zaze.’ The patter of the seventeenth-century juggler is designed precisely to dress the entertainment in the garments of efficacy. spells and incantations which are believed by their users to be genuine and effective: ‘Ailif. Would you be gone? I will make 51 . Mars. which the early modern juggler is encouraged to adopt. is the very essence of the act: ‘Many such observations to this art. without which all the rest. Sol. Asmarocti. are necessary’ he says. Iupiter. by chanting a quaint mixture of Latin. as ‘Ailif. Mercurie. knowing the common tradition and foolish opinion that a familiar spirit in some shape must be had for the doing of strange things. some of the ‘words of art’ that Rid suggests are taken from contemporary accounts of real charms and folk magic. metmeltat. is the ‘words of art’ of the practising sorcerer or occultist. and when he begins to act his part in a fair or a market before vulgar people. Casil. A description of a juggler’s act from later in the century shows even more clearly the way in which the seventeenth-century juggler might encourage the illusion that he is performing ‘real’ magic.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH otherwise.’ Many such observations to this art. Luna?’ Or thus: ‘Drocti. Just as Brandon’s reputation might have been enhanced by the pigeon episode.172 The patter. Thomas Ady’s Candle in the Dark contains the following description. A juggler. Venus. Hit’. Hit.173 Interestingly. Rid’s juggler is positively instructed to lead his audience ‘to suppose that you deal with Spirits’. or some like artificial thing. Velu barocti. English and total gibberish. On the contrary. and just as Banks may well have invented (or at the very least. for example. Micocti. so here the apprentice amateur conjuror is being encouraged to take risks with his performance and to flirt with the notion of the truly subversive. Once more we are directed towards the ambiguous position of the juggler in relation to ‘real’ magic. Given the seriousness of the penalties for being convicted of practising genuine witchcraft during this period – and these had increased significantly in the last few years under James I – it might be expected that the professional entertainer would steer clear of anything which might raise that suspicion. capitalized happily upon) the story of how he and Morocco were accused of witchcraft on the continent. and then catcheth it up. zaze. saying. and in the hinder part thereof sticketh a small springing wire of about a foot long. he bringeth forth his imp. and maketh it spring from him once or twice upon the table. beyond the vulgar capacity. is recorded by Scot as coming from ‘A charme teaching how to hurt whom you list with images of wax’. Ronnsee. pass. et Senarocti.174 According to Rid. Faronnsee. Saturnus. some of which is taken from the practices of those claiming real occult knowledge. he therefore carrieth about him the skin of a mouse stopped with feathers. Casil. however. this patter. are necessary. hey pass. are little to the purpose. ‘without which all the rest. are little to the purpose. or longer.

and whisper. which the silliest sort of beholders do verily believe. and ignorant. but very little capacious. that if here have been any University Scholars at the beholding.176 some have said that the Juggler by his Familiar doth thicken the Air. nor to the profaning and abusing of Gods holy name: then sure they are neither impious nor altogether unlawful. they are either to be forsaken as vain. their tendency to over-interpret. and not to the hurt of our neighbour. who are prone to mistake sleight of hand for sorcery. A timely warning to academics who write about magic! The seventeenth-century juggler was able to ply his trade in the shadowy area between belief and illusion. It is interesting. if these things be done for recreation and mirth. in which different spectators interpret what they are seeing in different ways. blind. Rid adds a conventional health warning. Some see it as pure entertainment. others see it as trafficking with spirits. or denied as false’. he goes on to affirm that howbeit. It fools some of the people some of the time. Echoing Scot. it remains either ambiguous or a dramatic fiction. carefully condemning those who use such tricks for harm. however. It sometimes happens.175 The ‘imp’ is manipulated through a combination of ventriloquism (the juggler makes ‘a squeaking noise with his lips’) and legerdemain. yet only ‘the silliest sort of beholders do verily believe’ that it is really a familiar spirit. The scholars’ cleverness. to see who Ady is referring to when he talks of the ‘silliest sort of beholders’. For most.PERFORMING DARK ARTS you stay and play some tricks for me before you go?… Then begin the silly people to wonder. Ady portrays a split audience. He is aware that the boundaries between entertainment and efficacy need to be handled with care. However. they have gone out and fallen into a dispute upon the matter. some saying. hath pretended to shew himself Theological. or at the acting of these common Tricks. In The Art of Juggling. and in all their discourse they shew themselves very Philosophical. renders them every bit as gullible as the ignorance of the ‘vulgar people’. he explains.178 52 . but betrayeth himself to be very silly. he warns that ‘…when these experiments grow to superstition and impiety. And Cooper writing upon that subject. though herein or hereby a natural thing be made to seem supernatural. then he sheweth many slights of activity as if he did them by the help of his Familiar. Sensus nunquam fallitur circa proprium objectum. some again that he hurteth the Eye-sight.177 It is not only the poorest section of the crowd. and so deceiveth the beholders. nor those with the least formal education.

certainly. both belief in the supernatural and an urge to debunk such belief. The Anatomy of Legerdemain. In fact. Here. During this time we see both credulity and scepticism. at civic entertainments and on street corners during the early seventeenth century. like Santa Claus or Ronald McDonald. markets. and to be passed from thence when you list’: 53 . as Rid recommends.180 The stage name was kept alive. are complex. repeats a good deal of material from both Rid and Scot – although in this case the author is more careful to use his own words when lifting material than was Rid. evidence from various civic records (including court records from Leicester in which he is accused of obtaining money by deception) has led recent scholars to identify the original Hocus Pocus as William Vincent. was able to be in many places at once. There is nothing simple or uniform about the beliefs which were held about magic and witchcraft in the late Middle Ages and the early modern periods. then. On the other hand we can distinguish a significant background of superstition and occult belief (a background so prevalent that Scot needed to write his book because he was so concerned at the way in which ‘The common people have been so assotted and bewitched. Originally. However. Both the writings and the career of another early modern juggler give us a further insight about the way in which rationality and superstition intersect in early modern juggling performances. it is quite probable that more than one practitioner operated under that name: for later generations. though. though. Hocus Pocus was a juggler who played at fairs. are the same.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH William Vincent (attrib. ‘Hocus Pocus’ seems to have become a generic name for a certain kind of juggler who. The Anatomy of Legerdemain. Thus on the one hand we can identify a sceptical strain in English Renaissance thought (represented most clearly by Scot) which meant that popular entertainers who performed magic tricks would not automatically be accused of witchcraft – even when. with whatsoever poets have feigned of witchcraft’179) against which performers such as Banks and Brandon carried out their juggling tricks. The Anatomy of Legerdemain (1634) Atttitudes towards ‘jugglers’ during this period. and again. country houses. It would certainly be a mistake to assume that all performers of theatrical magic were automatically in danger of being charged with being in league with the devil. The phrase ‘Hocus Pocus’ lives on in our common speech long after the showman who performed under that name has vanished into obscurity. at least in part because it became incorporated into the title of one of the most-frequently reprinted of seventeenth-century books on conjuring: Hocus Pocus. once more. they went out of their way to appear as if they were really communing with spirits. Many of the tricks. taken together they provide a good overall picture of the repertoire of the early modern juggler.) Hocus Pocus. for example. are the instructions for ‘An excellent feat to make a two-penny piece lie plain in your hand.

and suddenly open your hand. and lay a wager whether it be there or no. zaze. He goes on to affirm [t]hat there are such it is not to be doubted of.181 One thing which has survived from Rid is the patter. so give you his name.’ He then adds. and shut your fist suddenly. however. the surprise proviso: ‘if he do it by a sleight of hand. Then shut your hand suddenly again. and where 54 . but taken completely out of context. The author begins his conclusion conventionally enough. casil. casil. as I have instanced in this man.182 We are suddenly back in the world of Jacobean folk beliefs about witchcraft. and let a stranger put a two-penny piece into the palm of your hand. he lived a Tinker by trade.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Put a little red wax (but not too thin) upon the nail of your longest finger. The author goes on to assure the reader that I could give an instance in one whose father while he lived was the greatest juggler in England. and convey the two-penny piece upon the wax. hit’ – once more. holding the tips of your fingers rather lower then higher than the palm of your hand. they are those words from the spell to ‘hurt whom you list with images of wax’. and you may either leave it there. whereby they many times effect such miraculous things as may well be admired by whomsoever shall either behold or hear tell of them. It is a far cry from Scot’s painstaking unmasking of pseudo-witchcraft in the Discovery. and died for ought I could hear in the same estate. The ‘words of art’ are the same: ‘Ailiff. and the beholders will wonder where it is become. as I was informed. hit. zaze. and used to disguise a quick and simple coin effect. which are many and detailed. though. I could here. that doe work by unlawful means.’ After all the instructions how to perform the tricks. and not by an unlawful and detested means. mel. a world in which ‘miraculous things’ are carried out by ‘familiars’ – minor demons at the service of the witch or wizard. The book is clearly intended as a serious manual of professional techniques for would-be jugglers. he lived. or take it away with you at your pleasure. boasting that if the reader has taken the trouble to understand the book ‘there is not a trick that any juggler in the world can show thee. always be-tattered. Where The Anatomy of Legerdemain shows a great advance on its predecessors is in its illustrations. the author suddenly opens the door to the occult. Ailiff. Then say. and used his feats as a trade by the by. which with use you may so accomplish as no man shall perceive it. but thou shalt be able to conceive after what manner it is performed. This. and have besides their own natural endowments the assistance of some familiar. makes the very end of The Anatomy all the more surprising. and used the assistance of a familiar.

to make his Trick pass the more currently without discovery. Hocus pocus.183 This is a strange bit of teasing: coyly the author refuses to name the anonymous ‘father [who] while he lived was the greatest juggler in England. Vincent claimed royal patronage. though. becoming selfreferential – and by now almost certainly ironic. He does not suggest that Vincent followed Rid’s advice in adopting a pseudo-occult persona (although the Latinate phrases are clearly intended to sound vaguely mystical). that go up and down to play their Tricks in Fairs and Markets. and used the assistance of a familiar’. is that. in sleight of hand. I will speak of one man more excelling in that craft than others. the apparent claim of supernatural aid looks more and more tongue-in-cheek. like Brandon. that went about in King James’s time. nor the Imposture discerned. I will rather rejoice at his good. Once more. It gets even more complicated – since it is more than likely that William Vincent himself was actually the author of The Anatomy of Legerdemain. then it seems the writer is accusing himself of having practised witchcraft – and then providing himself with an alibi by claiming to be dead! The meaning of that final paragraph shifts once again. and so was he called. Hocus Pocus is still remembered as an archetype of the street conjuror: in 1655 Thomas Ady defines the craft of juggling as consisting first. because that at the playing of every Trick. a dark composure of words. Yet even here we cannot rest. vade celeriter jubeo. who called himself. What Ady does tell us. The King’s Majesty’s most excellent Hocus Pocus. and chose the better.184 If this is indeed the case. or cleanly conveyance… [which] is profitably seen in our common Jugglers. tontus talontus. and long since. Calling himself ‘The King’s Majesty’s most excellent Hocus 55 . and father and son are one and the same.185 Like Rid. he used to say. because when the eye and the ear of the beholder are both earnestly busied. the inference we are asked to draw is that this ‘greatest juggler in England’ who used the assistance of a familiar and then repented. Ady accurately describes the function of the magician’s patter as being to ‘busy’ the ear of the beholder and prevent the discovery of the trick. and betook himself to an honest calling. Several years after Vincent’s death. is actually ‘Hocus Pocus’ himself: William Vincent. because he hath amended his life.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH he liveth. Yet the implication is that he is speaking of his own father – and since the author of this work calls himself ‘Hocus Pocus Junior’. but because he hath left the bad way. to blind the eyes of the beholders. then do him any the least disgrace by naming him to be such a one. the Trick is not so easily discovered.

Bawcutt. at a time when witchcraft was still punishable by death. after James’s death.187 a famously superstitious king is happy to license Hocus Pocus. cites a royal warrant. but in fact neither object nor reconstituted image genuinely reside there: nothing does’. like the licensed fools in Shakespeare’s plays. the authorities – in this case the authority of the King himself – sanction subversion. to publish his Daemonologie as a direct refutation of Reginald Scot’s sceptical Discovery. Such a prestigious patron was the privilege of very few entertainers: among this elite was Shakespeare’s company. Against all the background of debates about the occult. and the danger.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Pocus’. ‘paraxis’. to exercise the Art of Legerdemaine in any Townes within the Relme of England and Ireland during his Mats pleasure. but by the King himself. Theodor Adorno188 In the science of optics there is a useful technical term. N.189 The paraxial region is a useful metaphor for the imaginative space in which the juggler’s performance of magic takes place: an imaginative space which ‘is neither 56 . By licensing the performer. The records bear out Vincent’s claim. issued in July 1619 on behalf of King James: A Licence to William Vincent under the Signet. of witchcraft led him to participate directly in witch trials. object and image seem to collide. And this is interesting because the notion of ‘license’ has a specific significance in this period. against the proliferation of folk magic and pagan belief in rural areas. In this area. and to strengthen existing witchcraft legislation with a statute of 1604. strengthens the case for seeing this as a personal warrant.186 The fact that the license apparently had to be renewed in 1627. whose satires and jibes against their employers are met with laughter rather than with punishment. in his authoritative study of Vincent. And in this case (and this is what makes it more significant in the case of Vincent than it was in the case of Brandon) the juggler is being licensed directly by James – the ‘Royal Scotchman’ whose passionate belief in the reality. W. he seems to have been licensed. nor even by the Master of the Revels. not merely by a local magistrate. the King’s Men. A paraxial region is ‘an area in which light rays seem to unite at a point after refraction. ‘Betwixt jest and earnest’ The bent little fortune-tellers terrorizing their clients with crystal balls are toy models of the great ones who hold the fate of mankind in their hands. To be licensed is to be given permission to say and do things that are otherwise unlawful.

Browne anatomizes the various ways in which erroneous. though.191 Moreover.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH entirely “real” (object) nor entirely “unreal” (image). The ‘Popular Errors’. of which his book is an anatomy and a refutation. yet the ambiguous space between efficacy and entertainment was real. and the intellectual enjoyment of God… [T]here is surely no reasonable Pagan. there is no conflict between reason and faith – indeed. Such indeterminate spaces are not met with approval by all. Sir Thomas Browne despaired of the common people’s willingness to be exploited by this kind of ambiguity. Like many other scientific rationalists of this pre-Enlightenment period. I have argued against the notion that the juggler in this period was in continual danger of being arrested for a witch or conjuror. the vision of the early modern period is multifocal. Browne sees himself as playing for high stakes.192 Browne has confidence in the absolute rightness of his Anglican world-view. able to contain paradoxes and contradictions. by the juggler and his audience. when he looks at contemporary culture he is appalled by the extent to which the ‘epidemic’ of popular errors has spread. For Browne. when it comes to questions of magic. it is a space which seems. and must therefore flourish in the advancement of learning. he sees ‘true’ Christianity as supremely rational. As a result. Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors (1646) is one of the earliest theoretical studies of English popular culture. so was that unto the highest rules of reason. rhetoric and syllogistic reasoning as well as in faith. superstitious or just plain wrong-headed thinking and beliefs arise in his society. lest the world plunge back into another Dark Ages. since he was writing during the period of the English Civil War. on the whole. Unsurprisingly. The point is. of course. whose life as it was conformable to his doctrine. One of the main sources 57 . rather than as a dangerous one. His Pseudodoxia Epidemica. and the simplicity of his truth proceeded… [by] placing his felicitie in things removed from sense. grounded in logic. threaten the basis of civilization itself. and the perfection of parts best able to comprehend it. as the keystone of civilization. based on the rationality of Christ himself: But the wisdom of our Saviour. Thus in Book I of the work. conjuring and juggling. he sees the perpetuation of rational Christianity. that will not admire the rationall and well grounded precepts of Christ. that for the most part this ambiguous space existed in the mind of the audience rather than in the attitudes of the authorities or the laws of the land. but is located somewhere indeterminately between the two. and his book is a passionate attempt to defend rational belief. to have been regarded as a creative and playful one.’190 Certainly. Browne means everything apart from his own moderate rational Protestant Christianity. By ‘errors’.

the forms of popular error and manipulation of the masses which take place on a lower level. Browne. he says ‘betwixt jest and earnest’. of course: for him it ‘betrays the cause of truth’ and simply. rational view of Christian civilization. and. however. There is a subtlety in Browne’s analysis of the spirit in which ‘men and Christians’ – who. have not been wanting in their deceptions… Fortune tellers. and the like incantatory impostors. deceive them in lower degrees… Astrologers. so here is the other side of the coin: people who consult fortune tellers or geomancers are positioned both as audience and victim – ‘betwixt jest and earnest’. in his politico-theological analysis of his culture. the legionarie body of errour. Juglers. though commonly men of inferior ranke. a state betwixt and between in which neither belief nor scepticism predominates. but these are made worse by the ease with which folk are led astray by charlatans of one form or another. that the Exeter anecdote. Quacksalvers and Charlatans. Browne has no truck with this state of mind. contemporary Christian heresies and the spectre of competing world religions such as Islam. It is. saw the juggler as representing the thin end of the wedge of barbarism. weak understanding and herd thinking lie at the root of the problem. And it is here. Just as Browne lumps together entertainers and criminal tricksters. should know better – engage with some of these charlatans. which pretend to be of Cabala with the starres. in some ways akin to the stories of Banks and Brandon and Hocus Pocus. to say the least. Geomancers. of the performance of Doctor Faustus at which actors and audience alike ‘were all persuaded there was one devil too many amongst them’. prophets such as Mohammed. and insensibly make up.193 Browne lumps together the street entertainers and the confidence tricksters: in his mind. In Browne’s view. If the fraudulent ‘Priests of Elder time’.PERFORMING DARK ARTS of these popular errors is the gullibility (or ‘erroneous disposition’) of the people. central to our theme. if unconsciously. the dividing lines between the performer and the criminal are blurred. doe daily and professedly delude them: unto whom (what is deplorable in men and Christians) too many applying themselves betwixt jest and earnest. contributes to the growing and ‘legionarie’ body of error. They do so. It is. It is an important insight into a kind of liminality. illiteracy. and in Chapter III Browne spends some time analysing this gullibility. on the one hand. betray the cause of truth. Browne is convinced that there is a continuum between. and from whom without illumination they can expect no more then from themselves. such I mean as abuse that worthy enquirie. so a similar kind of threat is posed by mountebanks and travelling performers: Saltimbancoes. Like those. appears. it is yet another story of a magical performance which operates on 58 . in the interstices between jest and earnest. on the other hand. he implies firmly. and other brands of Christianity pose a kind of threat to Browne’s ordered.

the practitioner of legerdemain. peddlers. and Elizabethan playwrights and acting companies were experts at manipulating these realities. The unnerving sense of that extra devil on the stage suggests that by playing out the story of Faustus’s satanic pact they might themselves have unwittingly entered into a similar contract. Theatrical spectatorship therefore involves a negotiation between two realities. The majority of educated Elizabethans. But it is significant that this. And in this case the possibility that truly occult powers might be involved is one which infects not only the audience but the performers as well. poses little threat to the commonwealth: Howbeit. adjudged and deemed rogues. jugglers. Such are the miracles wrought by jugglers. however. vagabonds and sturdy beggars. are suddenly faced with the possibility that their theatrical magic might be more than just metaphor. indeed. including many of the lawmakers. minstrels. one of the most vivid anecdotes about a conjuring performance which seemed to cross over the threshold into the realms of the supernatural. stipulating that unless they were licensed to perform by an aristocratic patron or a magistrate. does not come from accounts of jugglers at all. allied with cheats. Actors and audience. The position of the Elizabethan professional actor was not very different in legal terms from that of the juggler: the 1572 Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds linked actors and jugglers together quite specifically. nor to the profaning and abusing of God’s holy name. At Exeter. carrying physical stage props and wearing physical costumes. in the theatre. there were also differences. frauds and 59 . illusion depends upon an unstable double vision. The fictional world of the dramatic narrative is a product of the conjunction. though herein or hereby a natural thing be made to seem supernatural. tinkers and petty chapmen… shall be taken. the juggler. if these things be done for recreation and mirth.’196 But although they were linked on this level. present human beings. but from a description of a performance by a company of professional actors.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH the threshold between make-believe and reality. and the interpenetration. on the whole. their imaginations working together. seem at heart to have agreed with Scot that. the entertainer. Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre-makers were vividly aware of the fact that. called legerdemain…194 And. then sure they are neither impious nor altogether unlawful. of the ideal and the material: the ‘ideal’ fiction of the narrative ‘materializes’ in the bodies of real. Jugglers were often considered to exist on the margins of criminality. things seem to have got out of control. and not to the hurt of our neighbour. caused by fine and nimble conveyance. all ‘common players in interludes. for most Elizabethan cultural polemicists195 the emerging professional theatre was actually a cause of far more serious anxiety than the routines of the fairground juggler.

censor and close down the public theatres of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. writing in A Mirror of Monsters.197 Rankins’ assertion that the actor is an agent of Satan articulates an extreme view. one based on imaginative collaboration. This may be because basic relationship which the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre establishes with its audience is qualitatively different from that between the juggler and his audience. For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings…198 60 . on the other hand. posed a different kind of threat. It was more of an unknown quantity: highly popular. Piece out our imperfection with your thoughts. And amongst those polemicists for whom the new Elizabethan commercial theatre represented the worst form of depravity. undergoing a phase of rapid growth and development – and capable of transporting audiences into unfamiliar realms of the imagination. to seduce them to sin.PERFORMING DARK ARTS ‘coney-catchers’. The antitheatrical prejudice of certain social groups led to a massive and occasionally hysterical cultural campaign to limit. to lead the people with enticing shows to the devil. Think. but despite that – or possibly because of that – the threat which the juggler posed to the social and imaginative order was limited. it is true. the argument that the illusions of the stage were indeed demonically inspired was more than merely metaphorical. But the magic of the developing Elizabethan popular theatre was of a different order. says of the players of these theatres that they are sent from their great captain Satan (under whose banner they bear arms) to deceive the world. Into a thousand parts divide one man And make imaginary puissance. William Rankins. It involved a different kind of relationship. The success of his act depends on the position of superiority which he establishes. The juggler’s relationship with his audience is essentially a combative one: he performs impossibilities and challenges his audience to see how the trick is done (making quite sure they are unable to do so). a different kind of contract. and well-tuned strings to sound pleasing melody when people in heaps dance to the Devil. between the performer and the audience. when we talk of horses. but his outburst bears witness to the level of concern which this burgeoning art form evoked amongst some of those who saw it as their duty to police the imaginations of their fellow citizens. that you see them Printing their proud hoofs i’th’receiving earth. Shakespeare’s famous Prologue to Henry V articulates brilliantly the way in which the bare Elizabethan stage invited the audience to join in the act of creation. The professional theatre.

rather than the juggler. seduced into sharing the work with the performers. in the end. And this may be. why it was fitting that it was the actor. The theatre of Shakespeare and his contemporaries offers a collaborative relationship rather than a competitive one: the audience is implicated in the act of creation.FIRE AND FAGGOT TO BURN THE WITCH This is an essentially different contract from the one which exists between the conjuror and his audience. 61 . whose mode of entertainment seemed the more genuinely threatening to public order.

as Rid says ‘their cozening art of fast and loose’199) rather than as a confederate of the devil. the professional juggler was quite likely to be seen as a confederate of the criminal underworld (‘practising’.200 The economy of Elizabethan ideology and power typically reinscribes the pettiest interpersonal misdemeanour as an offence against the State. And while those who falsely claim to practise a real form of magic are acquitted of witchcraft. it also demonstrates how good some of their ‘beggarly slights’ are. And I wish.Chapter Four On the margins: criminals and fraudsters The Beggar’s Bush In early modern England. Accordingly. sharp-looking wretch. Forsooth. A needy. But the description serves to identify a social stereotype of a more criminal type of juggler. Banks and Hocus Pocus may have achieved a kind of cultural respectability. while famous jugglers such as Brandon. Scot’s scepticism acquits the fake magician of occultism. In Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Howbeit I confess. and a presumption against God. many of their colleagues were seen in a very different light. Thus. hollow-ey’d. they are nonetheless. only to condemn him or her anew for manifesting ‘a traitorous heart to the Queen. because therein is manifested a traitorous heart to the Queen. a mountebank. lean-fac’d villain A mere anatomy. Antipholus of Ephesus describes how he was set upon by a gang including one Pinch – …a hungry. the practisers be punished with all extremity. Antipholus has got it wrong: Pinch is actually a schoolmaster. that even for such practices. in Scot’s eyes. that the fear. and a fortune-teller. This pernicious slave. though they never can or do take effect. A living dead man. 62 . against the Queen and against the Divine purpose. A threadbare juggler. When Scot’s detailed exposé of the tricks of ‘cozening varlets’ in his Discovery of Witchcraft makes a case for a rational and sceptical understanding of their trickery. then. conceit and doubt of such mischievous pretences may breed inconvenience to them that stand in awe of the same. and a presumption against God’. criminally culpable and to be punished by the law. took on him as a conjurer…201 In fact.

but when the victims hand it over. 1st Boor. leigerdemain? hey pass. But twould be a farre rarer to restore it. Prig. blissfully unaware of Higgen’s legerdemain. looking to prey on the gullible.202 there is a vividly depicted scene between three ‘Beggars’. Accompanied by appropriately nonsensical incantations (‘Ascentibus. In Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Beggars Bush. However. by th’ masse this was a fine trick’. protesting that ‘My first trick [i. and Prig goes on to promise that ‘now I’le shew your worships A trick indeed’. The Devill a penny’s here. and three drunken ‘Boors’. Twelve-pence a piece will serve. chortle the Boors).e. Humb. and it is worth looking at the scene in some detail. 3rd Boor. ha. He. ha. Higgen. whir. he simply pockets it. since we can see in it a vivid early representation of the conjuror as trickster. and then plucks them ‘like three bullets from your three noses… Titere. north. taradumbis? East. 2nd Boor. shake your pockets. The Boors. whiss. By the masse tis here again boye. Prig. ‘I thank you.203 The beggars – and Prig in particular – are also cheats. sa. it is also a cover for a robbery. Thank ye heartily: when shall I pay ye?’ This is taken in good part as a piece of harmless fun (‘Ha. flim. and then magnanimously refuses any further payment for the entertainment. you see my hand. Hey. Higgen is busy picking their purses. Prig first approaches the victims. Now all your money s gone: pray search your pockets. are impressed by Prig’s.205 Prig apparently returns their vanished coins. asking. As Prig pulls the bullets from the Boors’ noses. 1st Boor. ‘Will ye see any feats of activity. flum. he makes three balls disappear. Some sleight of hand. south. tu patule… Recubans sub fermine fagi… Silvestram trim tram’. And move not any wayes your eyes from this place. I le do ye that too: look upon me earnestly. the money he “borrowed” from them at the start of the routine] has 63 . Plain dealing is no Divell: lend me some money.204 The trick is a classic piece of street conjuring. One trick more yet. This button here: pow. be gone there?’ The Boors welcome him. He then promises them: Prig. west. Presto’). come aloft: sa. This was a rare trick. saying. now flye like Iack with a oumbis. and his first ‘trick’ is a simple joke: ‘Look you my honest friends. Presto.’ He appears to be offering to do a trick with it. Ferret and Prig. 1st Boor. malentibus.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS It is a stereotype which we can see in action in another play from the period.

This was a central theme in the satire of the period for a number of interrelated reasons. Divell a Dunkirk! what a rogue s this Jugler. and throughout the period there are certainly enough real-life examples of street conjurors accused of ‘cozening’ their clients. to the cutpurses at Ben Jonson’s Bartholemew Fair who ply their trade while ballad singers and puppet shows distract their victims.PERFORMING DARK ARTS paid me. Harman and Greene. appears in the magistrates’ records of Leicester in 1625.207 to the rogue Autolycus in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale who mixes some thievery with his ballads and trinkets. h as repast us sweetly. the juggler gets pressed into service in the broader Elizabethan and Jacobean project of social satires about the gullibility of the common people. A counter? stay ye. are skilfully woven into the very fabric of his juggling act: his legerdemain and his ‘words of art’ are all part and parcel of his roguery. repass. the growth of agrarian and mercantile capitalism. In intellectual terms. The discoveries of early modern science. accused of cheating a man at cards.208 The juggler as a kind of confidence trickster is a particularly significant figure in the period from which Beggar’s Bush comes. when they try to pay their drinks bill – that he has switched their real money for fake: Boy. 3rd Boor. portraying him as a certain type of nimble-witted predator. however. 1st Boor. the very nature of the world itself appeared to be changing. This is a counter Sir. encouraged both financial speculation among the landed classes.206 Prig and his companions are closely related to other entertaining low-life characters from Elizabethan and Jacobean literature and theatres. hoa: this comes of looking forward. James’s royal juggler William Vincent. and a drift to the city among the labouring classes – both of which created ideal conditions for the clever (and usually urban) fraudster to prey on his gullible country cousin. In social and economic terms. what are these then? O execrable Jugler! O damn d Jugler! Look in your hose. Thus. were all re-defining the nature of humanity and its place in what 64 . from the circulation of the blood. to – eventually – Newton’s principles of Optics and Mechanics. to the ‘coneycatchers’ whose criminal activities are exposed by Elizabethan writers such as Awdeley. Prig’s thefts. Beaumont and Fletcher are articulating in this play a common social attitude towards the juggler. to the recognition that the earth circles the sun. in Beggar’s Bush. This hey pass. ‘Hocus Pocus’.’ He and his companions scurry away from their befuddled but delighted audience before the boors discover – as they do a few lines later. Beggar’s Bush illustrates some of the issues which Scot deals with in his Discovery of Witchcraft. which meant that land was increasingly seen in terms of monetary value.

that in certain periods the juggler – the entertaining professional trickster who makes a living by challenging the interpretative faculties of his audience and deceiving them – takes on a symbolic meaning. articulating a vision of Nature in which the 65 . Little wonder. and theological discourses. In periods when a culture is particularly concerned with the importance of interpretation. all of these placed a new emphasis on the importance of the intellect as a survival mechanism in this confusing and rapidly changing world. Whatever form it took – whether that of the countryman come to town in search of labour. plays. And in terms of religious belief. The individual squire cheated out of his inheritance might be a laughing matter and the subject for a comedy – but that pattern frequently repeated could potentially cause an economic collapse on a national scale. instability.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS seemed to be an increasingly expanding and mechanical universe.210 it was important to wrestle with the new complexities of this world. or the Christian assailed by a variety of different accounts as to how and why his soul might be damned or saved – gullibility was potentially socially dangerous. decay. mutability. It was important to keep your wits about you. the younger son of a landowner looking to make a quick fortune. the juggler represents a threat to its ability to maintain its own boundaries. romances. love poems.209 In their various ways. In his so-called ‘Mutabilitie’ Cantos at the end of The Faerie Queene. or when it has a particularly strong sense of its own vulnerability. A new scientific discovery such as the telescope gave rise to exciting possibilities – but when you looked through that telescope and saw no sign of God or his heavens up there. In economic terms the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were times of great structural change as feudal structures gave way to those based on capital. mortality. and people died and killed in defence of matter of doctrinal detail. There was a sense that while. It underlies the philosophical obsession with the themes of metamorphosis. Edmund Spenser attempted to reconcile the paradoxes of a world in apparent flux. what did that do to man’s sense of his place in the universe? The doctrinal arguments of the preacher in the pulpit could become the rallying cry for a popular revolution or the ideological basis for political and religious tyranny. then. representing a whole class of rogues who live on the naïveté of their victims. as Donne put it. scientific tracts. social treatises. the ordinary man trying to come to terms with the implications of the new science. the ‘new philosophy calls all in doubt’. the doctrinal and organizational upheavals of the period between the Reformation and the Civil War meant that the apparent certainties of a stable world-view had been replaced by a culture of controversy: the truths of everyday life were the subject of debate and argument. Change was the lifeblood of the Elizabethan and Jacobean economy – and consequently it was also a source of intense anxiety. both on an individual level and on a broader social level. time and progress which can be observed nearly everywhere in the culture’s literature: in its sermons.

William Hogarth’s etchings and caricatures vividly depict the chaotic underbelly of London life. They had achieved a level of stability which would last until they were challenged by the emergence of industrial capitalism towards the end of the century. The institutions of mercantile capitalism were no longer emergent structures. But by their change their being do dilate: And. appear. but in questions about the nature of its apparently solid and respectable social structures. for example. on another. authorities and rulers. Such a performance may be greeted with delight or mistrust – or. the self-image of Augustan culture seems confident and self-assured. The nightmare of cultural meltdown which so obsessed the Augustan satirists became a genuine economic possibility in 1720 with the collapse of the South 66 . Jonathan Swift. it is haunted by the anxiety that its whole economic and social structures are driven by ‘Vice’. as is often the case. a juggler who makes solid objects change place. Augustan jugglers and Augustan satirists Later cultural moments experienced their own versions of such economic anxieties. and that this may lead to a cultural collapse. Alexander Pope’s Dunciad imagines a nightmare London in which civilized values disintegrate. On one level. one of the great box office phenomena of the eighteenth-century theatre. however. with a mixture of both. John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera. hidden vices of the apparently respectable world – a world in which vice and exploitation seemed increasingly prevalent and increasingly profitable. in Gulliver’s Travels. the residual elements of feudalism had all but vanished in Britain. Do work out their own perfection so by fate. The Augustan period’s obsession with fraud and criminality was not rooted in an overwhelming sense of cosmic change.PERFORMING DARK ARTS incessant changeability of earthly forms is itself an expression of a deeper cosmic pattern: I well consider all that ye have said And find that all things steadfastness do hate And changed be: yet being rightly weighed They are not changed from their first estate. disappear and transform is performing the economic and philosophical obsessions of a whole culture.211 Under such circumstances. made much of the parallels between the thefts perpetrated by London’s underclass and those perpetrated by its politicians. turning to themselves at length again. social and cultural life. By the first half of the eighteenth century. but the dominant form of economic. charts a rational man’s descent into madness when faced with the contradictions of his society. One repeated topos among the social satirists of this period was the similarity between the petty and open vices of the criminal underworld and the larger.

which had been founded in 1711 in order to trade. coupled with ruthless profiteering: it was what happens when a capitalist economy overheats and then loses confidence. and the faith required of the speculator by the capitalist is the obverse of the gullibility which the confidence trickster requires of his victim. Edwin Dawes cites one particularly effective satirical engraving. mainly in slaves. which was published as one of his collection of Fables in 1727. bringing down government stock. The South Sea Bubble was the result of overoptimistic speculation. The company’s collapse precipitated a financial and economic crisis on a scale comparable to that of the Wall Street crash in the 1920s.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS Sea Company. strictly speaking. with Spanish interests in South America. The conjuror. When John Gay wrote his short poem ‘The Jugglers’. was one of the stockholders who had been left near-destitute by the company’s failure. Dawes is right to draw attention to the ways in which in this period the conjuror became an icon in the popular media. but it also elaborates on a developing nexus of ideas about conjuring and society. ruining many private investors. ‘The Jugglers’ gives us some insight into the actual performances of an early eighteenth-century conjuror. Gay uses the arena of London low life to present a moral allegory. representing the dangers inherent in the general public’s willingness to believe in all sorts of unlikely schemes. after all. or the conjuror of his audience. As in The Beggar’s Opera. a confidence trick: it was the inevitable economic result of a wild outburst of speculation in a government-sponsored investment scheme whose purpose was to raise capital in order to liquidate the national debt. while in the background distraught and ruined shareholders riot. but the collapse of the market and of the scheme was due also to the comparative inexperience of government. Even so. It highlights one of the traits that both conjurer and confidence-trickster trade upon – the gullibility of the masses and an almost pathological compulsion to be deluded.214 There was certainly corruption within both the South Sea Company and the government. speculators and directors alike in handling financial investment on such a scale. The memory of the South Sea Bubble haunted early eighteenth-century society.213 This is true – but it is also true that the South Sea Bubble was not. it is not unlikely that the South Sea Bubble experience was in the back of his mind: Gay. the confidence trickster and the capitalist all depend on the willingness of their public to believe in their promises. Arlequyn Actionist (Harlequin the Stockholder. In this case the allegorical framework is couched in terms of the traditional motif of the challenge between 67 . 1720).212 Dawes adds: The mania that the South Sea Bubble generated is an illuminating example of public hysteria. and exposing the potential fragility of the financial institutions and economic structures which had seemed so secure. which shows a conjuror and his apparatus in the foreground.

PERFORMING DARK ARTS the mortal and the god – the kind of challenge of which there are plenty of examples in the Greek myths. though. Convinc d of his inferior skill. at one of the great London fairs such as Bartholomew Fair. and Marsyas’ musical competition with Apollo. that there. he shows all fair. In Gay’s poem. The poem goes on to catalogue his act: The cups and balls he play d. The repertoire of the street conjuror apparently changed little in hundreds of years – although the production of the live hen from the ivory egg sounds as if it might have been an innovation worth seeing! More interesting. His little boxes change the grain. this here. Then bids it rain with showers of gold. and from the croud Defy d the man of art aloud. Trick after trick deludes the train. He is simply a proficient professional entertainer. He shakes his bag.215 She does not represent any particular form of vicious behaviour. whose arts attract the attention of the goddess. card tricks. convey’d: The cards. Amaz d spectators humm applause. Are by a fillip turn d to birds. is the way in which Gay uses the conjuror’s act as a 68 . Since this is a famous and successful conjuror he is not working the street corners but seems to have a semi-permanent booth – probably. These are the kinds of tricks which we might expect and to which other sources refer. such as Arachne’s spinning competition with Athena. the ‘goddess’ Vice hears of the juggler’s fame and challenges him to a conjuring competition. Dares he with me dispute the prize?216 We should note that this conjuror is not himself a criminal. she personifies the vice that underlies the society’s whole way of being. transpositions and transformations. By turns. obedient to his words. and nothing there. though it is not made explicit. She sought his booth. And now his iv ry eggs are told. His fingers spread.217 The list is predictable enough: the cup and balls. Is this then he so famed for slight. rather. Can this slow bungler cheat your sight. Vice is a mock-heroic allegorical figure of the kind much favoured by Augustan poets. But when from thence the hen he draws.

Can I such matchless slight withstand? How practice hath improv d your hand! But now and then I cheat the throng: You ev ry day. And now two bloody swords are there. When Vice takes the stage. Schoitz offers to discharge a loaded blunderbuss into the face of one of the spectators ‘without the least hurt’. This included a pastiche advertisement for ‘The Wonder of all the Wonders that ever the World Wondered at’.220 The city in question is Dublin.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS symbol for the dishonesty of the city. and the wonders promised by the fictitious Schoitz start with the promise to ‘heat a bar of iron red hot and thrust it into a barrel of gun powder before the company. they are all small morality plays. when the actual street entertainer acknowledges her supremacy. ‘newly arrived in this city’. cures for the pox. she is. The Juggler now.219 The comparison between the two suggests both the similarity and the difference. a thief takes hold of a purse – and then watches it turn into a hangman’s noose in his hand. All full. to be performed ‘for all persons of quality and others’. a rake lays hold of a beautiful woman only to find that he is holding a box of pills. The imagined tricks become increasingly unlikely and increasingly gruesome: in an early version of the ‘gun trick’. and all day long. his tricks and illusions are comparatively harmless. in which her power to seduce and then destroy men is displayed. in grief of heart. to ‘take a pot of scalding oil and throw it 69 . Gay’s friend and fellow satirist Jonathan Swift also used the image of the conjuror in the third volume of his Miscellanies (1736). however. indeed. On the other hand. With this submission own d her art. The attitude towards the art of ‘juggling’ which Gay displays is ambiguous. Time after time Vice offers lures which turn into curses: Twelve bottles rang’d upon the board. and yet it shall not take fire’. is typical of Vice’s tricks. By clean conveyance disappear. by a fictional conjuror named John Emanuel Schoitz. the tone is not entirely clear. On the one hand.218 This emblematic narrative. though. The professional entertainer is a novice compared to the goddess Vice. she produces ‘magic’ banknotes which make politicians speak or stay silent. her conjuring act is far more spectacular: she shows the crowd a distorting mirror which makes each spectator admire the handsomeness of his own image. with heady liquor stor d. the supreme conjuror. conjuring clearly becomes a metaphor for the workings of Vice. in which drink leads to quarrelling and death.

The conjuror who was booked to perform there would. to rip out their eyes and teeth. There was a large (though not a capacity) crowd.222 The promised trick – never before seen – attracted the expected attention. too tedious here to mention’. Swift’s parody advertisement for the ‘Wonder of all the Wonders’ appeared only in book form. boxes 5s. Stylistically accurate though it was. he described as cannibalistic monsters who. nails and swords through the bodies of the Ladies and Gentlemen present (and their children). in the Sight of all the Spectators. Certainly. the landlords who. the context meant that there was little chance of a reader mistaking it for a genuine advertisement. the coming attraction on 16 January 1749 promised to be something very special. the figure of the conjuror-as-trickster takes on additional dimensions: as foil for the greater vices of London and as the hero-villain of a bloodthirsty revenge fantasy. perform a routine in which [h]e presents you with a Common Wine Bottle. ‘as they have already devoured most of the parents. a parody of contemporary conjuror’s advertisements – but it is also more than that. and see plainly that it does not exceed a common Tavern Bottle.. jumble them up and then give them back to them and ‘Many other performances of art. Beneath the fun that is being poked at the claims of conjurors lies a typically savage Swiftian attack on the Anglo-Irish ruling classes. ‘John Emanuel Schoitz’ sounds very much like a projection of Jonathan Swift himself – one of his many fictional personae – and his imaginary acts of violence are all directed at the rich and their dependants. and sings in it. then.221 Dudley Bradstreet and the Bottle-Conjuror In Gay and Swift. Swift’s advertisement is. and he (without any equivocation) goes into it. pikes.PERFORMING DARK ARTS by great ladlefuls directly at the ladies without spoiling their clothes or burning their skins’ and to make the Gentlemen ‘drink a Quart of hot melted lead’ without harm. even if the underlying political polemic were missed. to hang their servants from the roof. He promises to drive spikes. It was perhaps a little harder for audiences to spot any false notes in the conjuror’s publicity material that appeared during the run of Samuel Foote’s satirical revue An Auction of Pictures at the Little Theatre (also known as the New Theatre) in the Haymarket. 7s6d. in his Miscellanies: consequently. any person may handle it. in another context. who had paid the sort of seat prices associated with a new attraction: ‘stage.. which any of the Spectators may first examine. the public were assured. gallery. pit 3s. 70 . seem to have the best title to the children’. of course. during his stay in the Bottle. This conjuror’s imaginary act has a political dimension too: it frames a fantasy of vengeance perpetrated against the Persons of Quality who are invited to attend. this bottle is placed on a Table in the middle of the Stage.

he render’d himself invisible (without any Equivocation) to the no small disappointment of the gaping Multitude. Scenes and everything that was in their power to destroy. The report in the General Advertiser for the following day recorded that the only [miracle] he perform’d was that. will be admitted gratis. John Potter. not another moneymaking confidence trick. who being told from behind the Curtain that the Performer had not yet appear’d. In the popular press. Southwark on 20 February 1749 as a Benefit for Mr Morgan (who played Harlequin). The riot caused damages to the tune of £4.’223 When the show failed to start at the advertised time.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS 2s. Benches. and all in Defence of the Bottle-Conjurer’.226 The subject also.224 The crowd also stormed the box office and took back the entrance money.000. as Milbourne Christopher records. sworn brother and champion to the man that was to have jumped into the bottle… hereby invites all such as were then disappointed to repair to the theatre on Monday the 30th. in broadsides. instead of a Quart Bottle he should creep into a Pint. and in a Quarter of an Hour’s Time broke to Pieces all the Boxes.225 he was more frequently admired for the impudence of his deception than he was vilified for his dishonesty. Bowling Green.228 Advertisements for further ridiculous feats appeared in response to the debacle: one in the General Advertiser for 27 January 1749 announced that Don John de Nasquitine. One contemporary source records that ‘Most of the Wits employed their Pens for a Month after upon this Subject.’227 For example. but that if they would stay until the next Night. immediately grew outrageous. the rest at Gotham prices. The ‘Bottle-Conjuror’ became a cause célèbre in London. ‘provided hilarious scenes for contemporary theatrical productions. as estimated by the theatre owner. then became more and more bad-tempered.229 The last sentence (with its reference to the ‘Book of Wisdom’ and ‘Gotham prices’230 – as well as its promise of free admission) gives the game away: this is a satirical joke. The Bottle Conjurer Outdone or The Power of Magic and the Escape of Harlequin into a Quart Bottle played at the Great Tiled Booth. All such as shall swear upon the Book of Wisdom that they paid for seeing the Bottle man. 71 . leaving only the Shell of the House remaining. the crowd’s impatience was at first good-natured. and that shall be exhibited to them which never was before. According to Potter. and was repeated at Bartholomew Fair at Yates’s Great Theatrical Booth on 23rd August. satirical pamphlets and cartoons. nor ever will be hereafter seen. the theatre had been rented for the night of the hoax by one William Nicholls – who then disappeared without trace.

Bradstreet was a colourful character. but also Bradstreet’s time as a Covent Garden conjuror. and the play portrays not only the Bottle-Conjuror hoax. who. making them thirty or forty Years younger than they were. six years later. informing others when their Husbands or Wives should die [and of] His being made Governor and Judge of the finest Seraglio in England.233 of which he claims ‘every part of it is true. resorted to him. A Schemer’. The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Capt. both fooled and robbed. and his promised Feast to the city of London.’ He goes on to tell how he [p]ass[ed] as a magician in Covent-Garden. which the Rules of the Stage require’. one of the ‘contemporary theatrical productions’ mentioned by Christopher. is somewhat unfair. how he reconciles the apparent contradictions of his claim. and if the Bottle-Conjuror became a kind of criminal folk hero.PERFORMING DARK ARTS It was the sheer scale and simplicity of the fraud that seems to have caught the public imagination.232 Bradstreet also wrote a play about the Bottle-Conjuror. however. This. The Bottle-Conjuror was never unmasked. actually claimed responsibility. and the answers he received from the K---g. where many of high Birth and Fortune of both Sexes. His Life includes the full text of The Magician. except the confining of the Business of ten days to twenty-four Hours. The audience who were attracted by the Bottle-Conjuror’s publicity were no more naïve than any other audience queuing for a ‘magic’ show. in the Late Rebellion’. Among those rumoured to have perpetrated the scam were Samuel Foote himself. or The Bottle-Conjurer. and even famed for Wisdom. who fleeces them of their 72 . perhaps. occasioning his Scheme of the Bottle-Conjurer. In the early scenes a Procuress brings victims to the ‘magician’. the audience were despised as typical of the gullible masses who were so easily defrauded. He talks of ‘His M----sty’s present to him… [and] His letters to his M-----sty. however. Facts well known to all the Courts of Europe. They were. and Potter and Foote vociferously denied it.231 None of these. since it is the very nature of any conjuror’s pre-publicity that it promises an audience the seemingly impossible and invites them to attend in order to see how the conjuror fulfils that promise. Dudley Bradstreet. the other the 4th Earl of Sandwich. upon his promising to renew their Age. the Duke of Cumberland and two different aristocrats both called John Montagu – one of whom was the 2nd Duke of Montagu. The early part of his narrative describes his military career in which he was ‘employ’d in Secret Services by the M-----stry of G---t B----n. John Potter the proprietor of the theatre. One man who did claim responsibility for the Bottle-Conjuror hoax was the Irish gentleman-adventurer Dudley Bradstreet. [and] The reward he got for his Services. published a detailed account of it in his autobiography.234 Bradstreet himself features as ‘Captain Spy.

audacious and profitable version of the phoney fortune-telling routine which he had been previously running. the better you behave and the more you both caress. Thus. according to Bradstreet’s dramatized account. Lady Judgeill. but those whose lives and Adventures are all known to us. and Day if he pleases…235 This sequence bears a strong resemblance to Ben Jonson’s plays about confidence tricksters.237 The irony is that there is nothing very original at all about Spy’s stratagems.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS money by pretending to tell their fortunes. the Bottle-Conjuror is not simply a one-off prank. It becomes part of a circulation of meanings between the theatre and everyday life. however. His techniques are precisely those described by Jonson nearly a hundred and fifty years earlier. Volpone and The Alchemist. the faster it will hurry him to his Grave. and as you are to permit nobody near me. A typical scene is one in which Lady Judgeill comes to see the conjuror wanting to be reassured that she will soon be rid of her ageing husband and find happiness with young Lord Variety. arguing disingenuously that [a]s we are Originals there ought to be no Imitation. It is also. I’ll kiss and embrace him. is advised by his confederate Liewell that ‘you should have a good many large old Books and a Globe laid before you. 73 . The Bottle-Conjuror. The conjuror of course obliges – though with a twist: Lady Judgeill. it is a calculated act of vengeance by a servant of the crown who felt himself unfairly treated. developed into a larger-scale hoax which preys on an appetite for theatrical entertainment itself – the result of which destroys a theatre! This later gives rise to a play which frames the real-life events in terms of Jonsonian comedy (to which it overtly refers) in order to present in theatrical terms a theatrical event which never took place! In this complex interaction between the stage and reality. The scam at the Haymarket Theatre is simply a more public. When will my Lord die? Conjuror. in which Jonsonian comedy becomes imitated for real-life profit. becomes something more than a rather crude hoax. for the future. it is so in the Play called the Alchymist’. I think I may safely go on without the Tools used by the Conjurers of old. Dear Sir. 236 Spy disagrees. every Night while he lives. ‘Spy’. a logical extension of the Covent-Garden adventures. seen through Bradstreet’s narrative. the comparison with the latter is knowingly and overtly made within the play itself: the Bradstreet character. But in the play this routine itself is derived from Jonson – as Bradstreet’s real-life Covent Garden scams may well have been. Indeed. He approaches Death nearer and nearer every day. the Bottle-Conjuror hoax is effectively produced by Jonsonian comedy – a comedy which itself satirizes the greed and gullibility of Londoners.

it becomes a moral parable. He also agrees with all the other commentators that the Bottle-Conjuror incident should be seen as a moral lesson. it is difficult to be sure that Bradstreet’s account is not fictional. on which the incident reverberated with something important in the Zeitgeist. or a kind of satiric social drama in a Jonsonian vein. that he is not simply cashing in. derives its meaning from eighteenthcentury obsessions with economic fraud. It may be that Bradstreet’s Bottle-Conjuror is every bit as insubstantial as the one that the audience waited impatiently to see at the New Theatre that night in January 1749. sufficient to fire the World. a Man who kept an Ale-house at the Raven in Golden-lane advertised that Don Quevedo de Jumpedo was just arrived in Italy. no alternative culprit has been identified with any certainty – and Bradstreet has a clear advantage over other candidates in that he has actually claimed responsibility. there are certainly some aspects of his account which seem questionable. too. and proves. properly applied. a Farthing Candle. There may be another level. and that a needy Schemer may occasion such convulsions as might involve thousands in the Danger. Even so. there is no clear independent evidence that the play was ever actually performed on the London stage.’238 He goes on to lament that [i]t might well be expected that this Affair would reform the Town. George Winchester Stone has pointed out the link made by some contemporaries between the Bottle-Conjuror hoax and the appearance of an important philosophical essay by the Scottish empiricist 74 . An incredible number went to see this Performer and were all disappointed. except the Man who promised it. As I have already suggested. in which the Conjuror’s duped audience become symbolic of the gullibility of those who would be taken in by all sorts of unlikely schemes.PERFORMING DARK ARTS The proliferation of smoke and mirrors does not stop there. magicians (even the most respectable of them) are notoriously unreliable in their memoirs and frequently prone to claiming more credit than is due them. and would in five Nights jump down his own throat at his House. It shows. In Bradstreet’s case. although he claims to have had expert advice in the production of the play from the famous actress Peg Woffington and describes the production itself. Was Bradstreet really the Bottle-Conjuror? Quite possibly: while others have been credited with the hoax.239 The Bottle-Conjuror incident. simultaneously has a lesson to teach them. and the absent Conjuror himself becomes an admirable rogue. then. but alas! immediately after. What is certain is that Bradstreet gives us a detailed and sustained contemporary insight into this notorious hoax. who. he says that ‘the Wise may be imposed upon. from the comparative safety of Dublin. For example. on the notoriety of the hoax. in profiting from the greed and gullibility of his victims.

Reports of miracles should therefore be rejected – and. Hume’s argument articulated an increasingly widely held Enlightenment position against any form of religious superstition – a position which culminated in Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary (1764) where he argues that biblical accounts of the miracles of Jesus should be understood allegorically. actually owed a great deal to Hume’s attack. the publication of Hume’s essay in itself had no causal relationship either with the Bottle-Conjuror riot or with the tide of public opinion which followed it. the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke had defended the traditional view that miracles played an essential role in demonstrating the divine truth of Christian revelation.ON THE MARGINS: CRIMINALS AND FRAUDSTERS David Hume: ‘Hume’s “Essay on Miracles” was published in April 1748. an anonymous writer in the Daily Advertiser commented that ‘Those opposed to a recent late book would have been gratified had the Conjurer jumped into the bottle and proved “that miracles had not yet ceased”’. arguing that since ‘no testimony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to a probability. Of course. tapped into the same kind of debates which were raised by Hume’s critique.’240 The ‘Essay on Miracles’ was a rational and empiricist critique of that tradition – still a very important one within the Christian Church – which regarded Biblical miracles as a manifestation. So when. then we should be prepared to doubt the testimony of our own senses.241 Hume’s great predecessor. and more on a combination of faith and reason. The Bottle-Conjuror fiasco may have touched more than one nerve in the collective psyche of mid-eighteenth-century London. or even a ‘proof ’ of the truth of Christianity. The arguments which he and fellow empiricists were making forced theologians to respond with a robust reconsideration of doctrine. While many churchmen and theologians at the time condemned Hume as a dangerous atheist. The Church’s gradual shift towards a theology that depended less on the ‘evidence’ of the miraculous for its justification.242 and that since the occurrence of a miracle is by definition against natural law. The scorn poured on the ‘gaping Multitude’ who had been duped by the Bottle-Conjuror.243 he is making a jocular connection with a serious cultural issue. on a popular level. was a manifestation. 75 . indeed. The incident at the Haymarket Theatre. of the same kind of rational scepticism which fuelled Hume’s critique of the appeal to miracles as a foundation stone of belief. if it seems we have directly witnessed a miracle ourselves. in fact his challenge to the miraculous tradition within religious belief was actually beneficial to the established Church in the long run. the day after the hoax. much less to a proof ’. then reports of miracles are more likely to be false than they are to be accurate. and there are several allusions to it in the newspaper account and letters. however. Hume rejects this.

by performing levitations. Jean Baudrillard244 A theme of this book is the way in which magic inhabits the epistemological boundaries of the age in which it finds itself. which consists of liquidation. by killing or dismembering and then reviving or making whole. like the dead. this in itself becomes one of the attractions of his performance: that in a world which the scientist purports to explain with increasing thoroughness. In this chapter. whose principle of uncertainty. animals were only demoted to the status of inhumanity as reason and humanism progressed. with the possibility (or the fantasy) that apparent natural laws may not. Thus. he reminds the audience that there is after all the possibility of wonder. time after time. A logic parallel to that of racism… The convergence of processes of civilization is astounding. conjurors find other boundaries against which to work. And in an age of materialism and rationality. I shall be talking about boundary work in a more precise and particular sense – the way in which the performances of conjurors and their colleagues have variously subverted and/or reinforced the boundaries of what it means to be human. Making animals speak. sex (Foucault) speak. Implicitly or explicitly. after all be absolute. which they have caused to weigh on men since the rupture in their alliance with men. The conjuror is constantly engaged in boundary work: in the name of entertainment (or wonder). have followed this uninterrupted process of annexation through extermination. of making them present the confession of their disappearance. they challenge the laws of nature: by passing one solid object through another. children. The conjuror then is generally operating on or near the boundaries of a culture’s knowledge. The themes of the conjuror’s narrative play. then of making the extinct species speak. in an age of superstition and supernatural belief. Samuel Rid. In ages less likely to take for granted the reality of the supernatural.Chapter Five On the boundaries of the human Besides. This is even deluded in regard to animals. and so many others. he brings us up against the limits of a culture’s beliefs and knowledge and of its habitual ways of understanding the world. by ‘changing’ one thing into another. Animals. the conjuror trades on the supernatural in order to suggest explanations for his performances. As we have seen. resides in the fact that they do not speak. as one has made the insane. writing in the Jacobean period. 76 . encourages his jugglers to capitalize on the imagery of the ‘real’ wizard and to play up against the edge of his culture’s belief about the power of man to harness occult powers. however.

to teach chimpanzees and dolphins a human language which have met with such limited success. does James Whale’s 1931 film version of Frankenstein. is hardly comforting.’245 In fact this absolute distinction between man and nature pre-dates Descartes by millennia. leading to the first of the many accusations of sorcery which pursued him for the rest of his life. ‘Man stood to animal as did heaven to earth. the image of the human mind as a kind of computer has become common in recent years. too. hence the prevalence of myths relating to deities or sorcerers who. between mechanical and inanimate and the organic. the founding myth of western culture. the widespread fascination with twentieth-century scientific explorations into the language of animals. culture to nature. though. On another level. Hence the prevalence of talking animals in folk tales and mythology. or to put it another way. since the computer on our 77 . This. he articulates this uncertainty about how absolute this separation actually is. the key questions of what it is that distinguishes us from animals become important too. and the greater Enlightenment project in which it played such an important role.246 In later years the pervasive imagery of both the universe and the human body as some kind of machine (with or without a ghost in it) attests a growing uncertainty about the simple distinction between the human and the inanimate: when Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein uses electricity to animate the apparently lifeless assemblage of parts on his laboratory table. Again the common-sense response is an important one: man is a rational animal and a language animal. nor as innocent. in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Science fiction films and novels have relentlessly explored the ambiguities of this theme through numerous robots and androids – most successfully. It is articulated in the Book of Genesis. and. Hence. too. So. one of the ways in which we have traditionally proceeded is by drawing boundaries in order to delineate what the human is not. The historian Keith Thomas traces this back to Descartes. perhaps. where the bolt through Boris Karloff ’s neck wittily sums up this complex of ideas in a single visual image.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN In our construction of ‘the human’. These are the key borderlines – and therefore the site of both scientific experiment and imaginative exploration. who stressed the lordship of humanity over a natural world which is characterized as inert and lacking in any spiritual dimension. But it is true that Cartesian philosophy. turn men and women into animals – teasing us with the horrifying possibility that the boundary may be broken down. when the mechanical flying scarab which he designed for a Cambridge college production of Aristophanes’ Peace was taken for a living monster. Again. made that distinction culturally more urgent. with those attempts. And if the distinction between man and animal is so important. According to Thomas. soul to body. Another important distinction is that between the animate and the inanimate. like Circe. this is not always as simple. in a different mode. as it seems – as the Elizabethan scholar John Dee discovered at an early age.

Perhaps man is not.PERFORMING DARK ARTS desk can perform most reason-based tasks more efficiently than the one which (we are told) we carry around in our heads. the two representing separate and distinct principles of being or classes of substance in the universe. If the construction of the human involves definitions such as ‘not animal’. the great age of the ‘intelligent animal act’ was the long eighteenth century – that period between the Restoration and the Regency which 78 . whom we encountered in an earlier chapter. The shamanic tradition which is referred to in Chapter One is dependent on the concept of being able to negotiate between one world and the other. too. were able to conjure them up. and the spheres which relate to these different orders of creation remain separate: they are the realms of heaven (or hell) and earth. But in some ways Banks and Morocco were before their time. boundaries seem less than absolute: in folk traditions across the world there are endless tales of ghosts returning. but nonetheless an essential part of the history of magic: talking animals and automata. The performance of magic touches on this question in a variety of ways. or of oracles who maintained a privileged communication with the spirit world. ‘Appearances of Reason in the Brute’: human/animal William Banks and his horse. We saw that part of the mythology of this famous double act involved hints and suggestions of sorcery – suggestions which Banks himself may well have encouraged as a publicity strategy. of witches and sorcerers who. And while an increasing secularization of western thought during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has called into question the nature of the ‘spirit’ side of Descartes’ dichotomy. after all. Descartes argued for the independent existence of a non-corporeal realm and a physical realm and saw the mind as separate from body. such a rational animal: certainly. Morocco. Cartesian dualism sees reality as a dichotomy of matter (extended or spatial substance) and spirit (thinking substance. I shall be looking at two areas of magic in particular – both of them in some ways peripheral to the mainstream of conjuring as we now conceive it. and for whom scientific advances tend to confirm rather than refute their beliefs. ‘not inorganic’ another involves the category ‘not disembodied spirit’. Biblical traditions which distinguish us from beings of pure spirit: in the traditional hierarchy of creation humanity is ‘lower than the angels’. popular culture has tended to take its cue from Star Trek’s Mr. Later European philosophical developments led thinkers to approach this boundary in a slightly different way. since the advent of the computer. there are still millions of people for whom its existence is not in question. Spock. seeking definitions of the human which do not depend on rationality. including God). are good examples of the kind of subliminal trickery which may be employed in order to make an animal seem to have human intelligence. like the Witch of Endor. Here. In this chapter.

as Benjamin Martin reflected. to salons. reflection. Reason in Man is active and fruitful. mechanics’ institutes and scientific and literary societies both in the capital and in the provinces. whereby his elevated thoughts improve these his admirable talents.247 Enlightenment rationalism went hand in hand with advances in scientific thought. distinct perceptions. as it were into one whole. compares it with the present and judges its influence on the future. and in the consolations which accompany it. throughout the eighteenth century. It is the particular excellency of his reasonable creatures only… Reason (for instance) avails itself of the sacred treasury of the past. Reason surveys and connexts the scattered variety of intellectual knowledge diversified among the Brute creation.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN broadly coincides with the philosophical period we call the Enlightenment. theatres. together with a knowledge of his God. Demonstrations and explanations of scientific principles and inventions spread from London’s coffee houses. and turn them to excellent advantage. at the end of the eighteenth century. and successful careers might be made out of it since ‘“knowledge”. and the means of tracing him out. capable of varying and enlarging its attainments… Compare this now with the actions and appearances of reason in the Brute. reason. concentring in itself ‘the sum of all their powers’. through which man understands the universe and his place in it.249 and the Age of Reason also showed intense interest in the irrational and the supernatural. “is now become a fashionable thing. man and nature into a coherent world vision in which human reason. No one animal in the creation partakes with Man in this sublime exercise of his faculties. there is an equal and opposite reaction. the fact that God has endowed him with Faculties. and foresight. the animating soul presiding over all. ‘the eighteenth century 79 . in spreading the word amongst the public. he concluded in his inquiry into the ‘Vital Principle and the Soul of Man’ that the superiority of Reason is what marks man off from the rest of Creation. genius. halls. and scientists took an almost missionary zeal.”’248 It is important not to oversimplify. as one of the Enlightenment’s greatest thinkers explained. The great intellectual project of the European Enlightenment movement was to synthesize ideas of God. As recent scholars have argued. and in vast abundance. For every action. unrestrained by place or time. By the end of the eighteenth century nearly every English town of any significance was part of a regular circuit of lectures and exhibitions: science was offered to the public in the form of performance. And to this later age. becomes the prime mover. this kind of entertainment presented a different kind of philosophical question. John Collier summed up what had become the common view when.

PERFORMING DARK ARTS was too deeply involved with the occult to have us associate it exclusively with rationalism. every Hour from TWELVE till FIVE. like Munito the dog. Leicester Square. Thus the Age of Reason was also the heyday of phenomena such as William Pinchbeck’s ‘Pig of Knowledge’. there was a dominant strain within Enlightenment thought which celebrated the rationality of man. and some friends. could also be consulted… AT HOME At No. will astonish the Public with his vast Knowledge in the Sciences of GEOGRAPHY. A contemporary publication. His wonderful and surprising Knowledge. Where he exhibits. Signor Castelli’s Dog ‘Munito’. the eponymous narrator collapses into an existential despair at the irrationality and the inhumanity of his fellow men. Swift’s talking animals are far removed from those on display in eighteenthand early-nineteenth-century London and Boston. arcades. and Philosophical farmyard and domestic animals. respecting their treatment of animals articulates some of these issues. in another form in one of the greatest of the satires against the rationalist assumptions of Enlightenment philosophy. the ‘Wonderful Intelligent Goose’ and many other Learned. halls and institutes throughout Europe and America. quoted and parodied the more ‘respectable’ scientific lectures and demonstrations with which they competed for customers. besides his former accomplishments. MUNITO. In one 80 . Sieur Rea’s ‘Little Scientific Pony’. In the fourth and last book of Jonathan Swift’s surreal and misanthropic fantasy Gulliver’s Travels. It is written in the form of a series of conversations between a mother (‘Mrs. which last Year so greatly entertained all those who honoured his Performance with their presence. Some. too. but they share an ideological function: to problematize the assumptions about the primacy of man’s role as ‘rational animal’. and NATURAL HISTORY251 Intelligent animals appeared. offering them the chance to subvert just that boundary between man and the animal world which scientific and theological thought looked to emphasize. 1. comparing them unfavourably to the wise and benevolent race of the Houyhnhnms. these intelligent animals were exhibited not only in fairs but also in lecture rooms. Frequently publicized in terms which imitated. Scientific. BOTANY. designed for the instruction of children. To the exhibitors of the intelligent animals. Sarah Trimmer’s Fabulous histories. James Hazard’s ‘Learned Pig’. For some Enlightenment spectators this raised some serious questions.250 Nonetheless. Daily. this must have been a godsend. the talking horses he had encountered on his final voyage. Sapient. scientific determinism and classicism’. Benson’) and her daughter. humanism.

However he was also writing as a true man of the Enlightenment: THE intention of this work was not only to amuse and instruct. Benson had seen on a visit to London. Trimmer’s Mrs. then the showman’s response is to subvert that distinction. however. The showman could respond. human faculties are requisite. the first conjuring book published in America. gives them a sufficient claim to our compassion and kindness…252 Later. starting with the training method for the Pig. Pinchbeck was writing in part. Benson sees a danger in the Learned Pig. Nor are animals capable of attaining human sciences because. certainly. when he eventually wrote an explanation of how the act was done in The Expositor. in that it threatens to blur an important boundary. …And I would advise you. that whenever my mind is disposed to expatiate on it. Benson brushes the question away: For my part. for these. At first Mrs. as Sarah Trimmer put it. ‘great barbarities’. is the line taken by William Pinchbeck.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN of these conversations. which Mrs. I check the inclination. That they are in the power of man. or picking up. This Pig was able to ‘spell’ words by pointing at. however. the owner and exhibitor of the ‘Pig of Knowledge’ which caused a great stir in late nineteenth-century America. cards arranged on the floor – leading the conversation towards the question of whether the Pig can really have human-like intelligence. Harriet. when her daughter presses her more insistently on the question. and no art of man can change the nature of any thing. and that it is amongst those things which the Almighty has intentionally concealed from our penetration. He explains the way in which a pig can gradually be brought to respond to subtle cues and trained to pick up cards by rewarding it with food. but also 81 . This. The Expositor takes the form of a rather witty series of fictional letters between Pinchbeck and a correspondent who is eager to learn Pinchbeck’s secrets. never to give countenance to those people who shew what they call learned animals. replied Mrs. in order to defend himself against the accusation that training the pig involved. Benson. they discuss the recent phenomenon of the Learned Pig. from an opinion that it is of no consequence to me. though he may be able to improve that nature to a certain degree. it seems. she replies firmly in the negative. as you may assure yourself they exercise great barbarities upon them…253 If the impulse of Enlightenment rationalism is to insist on the clear and unalterable distinction between man and the animal world. that such exhibitions were actually in the spirit of the Enlightenment itself. I find the subject so much above my comprehension. and subservient to his use and pleasure. whether animals have intellects or not.

who. believing in the transmigration of souls. Wherever I stop on my tour I am sure to hear of the fame of your celebrated Pig. writes in a spirit of enlightened rational curiosity. and how totally ruinous to the common interests of mankind. too. and under his patronage men of talents dare to be such. Some contend it is witchcraft. as he had no doubt but you familiarly corresponded with the devil. sage like look.254 The correspondent. like the ancient Pythagoreans. the transmigration of souls and the human spirit inhabiting a pig’s body. it seems to have encouraged in the spectator a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’256 – a temporary acceptance of imaginative possibility. and others. But in his published explanation. and the many different opinions prevailing relative to the mode of his tuition. O monstrous! will time and experience never remove such credulity from the earth? Must ingenuity.PERFORMING DARK ARTS to convince superstition of her many ridiculous errors. He wishes to understand how the routine works in order to refute the more mystical accounts of it which he has heard. – to oppose the idea of supernatural agency in any production of man. but as he does so he simultaneously praises all that is ‘progressive’. In doing so Pinchbeck takes on the role of the showman-as-satirist: displaying the distortions only in order to emphasize the norms of Nature against which they appear to transgress. 82 . I could not but listen to a grave old gentleman. your Pig being the topic of conversation. In performance. and where the Presiding Magistrate is a philosopher. and the Man banished. the parent of manufactories. – and lastly. Pinchbeck reverts to the party line of the Age of Reason: he not only explains how the trick is done. the progressive pillar to wisdom and the arts. stopping at an inn. An evening or two since. where liberty extend her choicest blessings. how destructive to the improvement of the human capacity. conclude that the spirit of the grunting philosopher might once have animated a man. be thus broken and overturned by the rude hands of ignorance and pride? We rejoice that we live in an enlightened part of the world. It may have teased his audience into all sorts of musings about sorcery. and these absurd opinions are but the dogmas of devotees and folly. how dangerous such a belief is to society. that the Pig ought to be burnt. whose summit supports a mirror where superstition may see her own gorgon image. makes him a subject of general speculation.255 Pinchbeck’s Pig of Knowledge both subverts and polices Enlightenment assumptions about the boundary between the human and the animal. declared his performances were the effects of the Black Art. – to shew the disadvantages arising to society from a vague as well as irrational belief of man s intimacy with familiar spirits. putting on a very affected. ‘enlightened’ and libertarian about his society.

clowns.’ But several most honourable gentlemen did not rest satisfied with this explanation. involving various forms of co-dependency: At this time there was a… prospect that scientific modernisers might lose their battle against the superstitious ideas that had such a strong hold on the popular imagination. Leibnitz’s aim was to attract the general public and to teach them about new advances in science through the medium of popular culture: conjurors. What makes the history interesting is the breakdown of these dichotomies…257 Thus. fifty years before Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 – eventually meant that the nature of the boundaries between man and the animal world would be up for reconsideration in very different terms. also one of the great Enlightenment projects: Leibnitz’s proposal for ‘A New Sort of Exhibition’. of which intelligent animals. But these agonistic tensions did not settle into a set of simple dichotomies: modernity versus tradition. fire-eaters. exhibiting not only learned animals and talking birds but all kinds of monsters. one of the forefathers of P T. and. You understand me? Sapienti sat. ‘The whole thing is an allegory. real and faked. Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ was . . don t you see then where the rub is? The whole thing is an allegory.century entrepreneurs such as P T. natural order versus an outlandish theatre of wonders. Munito and the Pig of Knowledge were only one. together with exhibitions of new scientific technology.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN Subverting the distinction between man and the animal world took a variety of forms. as well as scientific exhibitions and displays. Barnum.258 And while mermaids and intelligent pigs remain in the realms of fantasy. shadow plays. a continuous metaphor’: human/mechanical The Professor of Poetry and Eloquence took a pinch of snuff. a museum of everything which would contain performances by both humans and animals. ‘My most honourable ladies and gentlemen. a continuous metaphor. acrobats and comedies. More extreme were the later freak shows and dime museums of nineteenth. the history 83 . the relationship between the scientific and performative traditions of display was a complex one. like Morocco. rationality versus superstition. slapping the lid to and clearing his throat. As Jane Goodall has shown.259 evolutionary theory – versions of which were already current in French scientific circles in the early nineteenth century. In Barnum’s hands this became an exhibition which juxtaposed the contents of the American Museum (which he acquired in 1841) with ‘every known category of popular entertainment’. said solemnly. such as the famous ‘Fejee Mermaid: the most stupendous curiosity ever submitted to the public for inspection’.

should embroider or knit or play with her little pug. Many of the great magicians such as Robert-Houdin and John Nevil 84 . but above all things else that she should do something more than merely listen – that she should frequently speak in such a way as to really show that her words presupposed as a condition some thinking and feeling. which engrosses universal attention. like the pig. but it had a fierce competitor. which. required that their mistress should sing and dance a little out of time. silvered.PERFORMING DARK ARTS of this automaton had sunk deeply into their souls. in order to be fully convinced that they were not paying court to a wooden puppet. and a rational answer. From each corner of this chest proceeds a trumpet: To the concavity of either of these you may put a question. whose circumference contains about twenty-four inches: Apparently isolated on this. claims the supposedly human quality of rational discourse: In the middle of a room is seen a railing in the form of an octagon.262 It is also good enough to fool a professional: Astonished. The admittance to visit this curiosity is fifty cents. I placed my ear to the floor. Ernst T. The Proprietors name it The Invisible Lady and Acoustic Temple. to the walls. Several lovers. in an effeminate tone of voice. No sooner has Pinchbeck’s correspondent in The Expositor mastered the knack of using food to train the Pig to respond to his cues. A. will be immediately returned.263 More important than the intelligent animal act to the mainstream of stage magic has been the automaton – a machine which in one way or another imitates nature.. and people throng in crowds to view it. when being read to. ornaments and caps the extreme convexity of this dome. and an absurd mistrust of human figures began to prevail. but distinguished no sound.261 He goes on to describe the Philosophical Machine. Hoffmann260 The intelligent animal act was popular in the late eighteenth century. There is a certain Philosophical Machine lately arrived from France. is a dome supported by four small columns: A small glass globe. painted red: In the centre of this is suspended a square chest. than he writes to report sadly that the Pig no longer excites admiration. and even clambered to the ceiling to discover the agent to whom I attributed the answers: I listened. &c.

and a coffer-dam of interlocking piles. animated animals and human figures of ever-increasing elaborateness.265 Although there is no strict dividing line between the categories. and have played an important part in the development of western technology.266 85 . whose Diverse e Artificiose Macchine …borrowed heavily from the Alexandrine writings. As sentinels move about to announce the time. was taken up by practically minded thinkers such as Agostino Ramelli. as well as other technological developments. With the rediscovery of Greek culture during the Renaissance. Automata have been a feature of the leisure industry since their invention. mechanical details of windmills. Some of those who weren’t relied on partners who were so trained: Isaac Fawkes. while guards on sentry duty show their arms. artificial birdsong. He described and illustrated for the first time the rotary pump. For example.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN Maskelyne were (or at least claimed to be) trained in the mechanics of clockmaking and watchmaking. the famous seventeenth-century water gardens were augmented in 1725 by the designs of a Nuremberg craftsman called Lorenz Rosenegge. with the workmen plying their respective trades. In particular. and from the sixteenth century onwards. Ramelli did not neglect to include several examples of biological automata in the form of hydraulically operated singing birds. in the work of Hans Bullmann of Nuremberg (c 1525) and Gianello Torriano of Cremona. Heron’s Pneumatics. The life of an entire village takes place on a stage that measures about six yards in width. and merchants sell their wares. in Archbishop Marcus Sitticus’s chateau at Heilbronn.264 who created illusions in which art imitated life. Of particular interest is the left wing of the theatre. in particular. noblemen bow to ladies who flutter their fans. the newly translated writings of scientists and engineers of the ancient world such as Heron of Alexandria provoked widespread interest. Automata in the broadest sense of the word (meaning mechanical devices which simulate human or natural functions either on a mimetic or a pragmatic level) have a long history. jugglers in Hungarian costumes watch a ballerina dance with a tame bear. the great eighteenth-century showman who exhibited at Southwark Fair and Bartholemew Fair. Consistent with other writings of the period. the pleasure gardens of the very rich have been adorned with hydraulic and pneumatic entertainments in form of fountains and grottoes. animated human figures seem to have made their first appearance in the sixteenth century. I am more concerned in this chapter with these ‘biological’ automata than with the protoindustrial applications. his mechanical theatre contained no less than two hundred and fifty-six figures. which is shown in the process of construction. worked in partnership with a Fleet Street clockmaker. powered by water-turbine and a complex system of gearing.

the role of technology has generally been seen to be a framing one: defining the spaces and effects within a performance. presented to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1733 by a mechanician named Maillard.267 In one sense. it played no part in the imitation. contained its mechanism inside itself. which was purely external. this is a very ancient form of performance: the integration of the human body with a mechanical simulacrum is at the root of all puppetry. More recently. Traditionally. web-based technology. even in cases where the mechanism was contained within the figures. mechanical artists and instrumentalists such as the flute player and the Writing and Drawing Master. prosthetic technologies drawn from medical science. Conjurors’ automata play a key role in the history of this. Hence the age’s fascination with all kinds of mechanical marvels such as pipesmoking skeletons. What Rosenegge provided for the Archbishop’s private delight. and enriching and focusing the audience’s experience through light and sound. for the enjoyment of poorer folk. and on N. showmen such as Isaac Fawkes and his successors offered to the customers at Bartholomew Fair. has become a central theme of Performance Studies. computer-generated images and environments. between the live and the mediated. They were at the height of their popularity during the ‘long eighteenth century’ – a period in which technology had developed sufficiently to allow for the creation of figures which seemed sufficiently lifelike. An artificial swan.PERFORMING DARK ARTS No conjuror could approach such magnificence: still. and ‘robots’. automata were largely limited to machines which looked like natural objects. on Donna Haraway’s concept of the cyborg. of course. digital or virtual performer. performance theorists – drawing on Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. mechanical ducks and peacocks. Katherine Hayles’ arguments about ‘the posthuman’ – have begun to explore the relationship between the human performer and the mechanical. in modified form. while the mass production of the Industrial Revolution was not sufficiently advanced to make technological marvels a commonplace. In the past decade or so Performance Studies has taken a particular interest in ‘technological’ theatre. the interaction between the human and the non-human. The swan paddled through the water on a paddle wheel while a set of gears swept its head slowly from 86 . Whether such technology is seen as an extension of the body or as an alternative to the body. it has traditionally been one of the functions of popular culture to appropriate the pleasures of the very rich and re-present them. But the technology of performance has expanded to include video imagery. But. During the earlier part of this period. Jessica Riskin has characterized the differences between seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century automata by showing how in earlier designs the mechanism is all subterranean and the imitative figures all on top.

digests it. and to what degree. invented a set of automata which included a pipe-and-tabor player. ‘selfmoving machines. Vaucanson himself soon became one of Fawkes’s successors.268 And if the talking animals and learned pigs were rarely taken seriously by the scientific establishment of the Enlightenment. as in real Animals. in process and substance as well as in appearance. it swallows it. a flute player. but in fact the distance is not as great as it might first appear. by Dissolution. the effect which their automata had upon their public was much the same. as some natural philosophers will have it. Jacques Vaucanson.’ had existed from antiquity. his automata were also commercial ventures intended to entertain and demonstrate mechanical ingenuity. and kings: the problem of whether human and animal functions were essentially mechanical.’269 Vaucanson displayed these figures commercially in Paris in 1738. Vaucanson’s automata were philosophical experiments. Of course. 2. the automaton was seen as raising genuine questions about the nature of human and artificial ‘intelligence’. It was intended to represent the behavior of a natural swan. And. but as amusements and feats of technological virtuosity. not by Trituration. indeed. Automata. But their value as amusements lay principally in their dramatization of a philosophical problem that preoccupied audiences of workers. 5 and 7 in the afternoon’. and what such reproductions might reveal about their natural subjects.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN side to side. attempts to discern which aspects of living creatures could be reproduced in machinery. While Isaac Fawkes and his colleagues had none of Vaucanson’s intellectual ambitions. automata were imitative internally as well as externally. but by no means to reproduce its physiology. their success lay in their author’s transformation of an ancient art. By the late eighteenth century.272 87 .270 According to one recent scholar of Vaucanson’s automata. by 1742 his mechanical figures were showing ‘at the Long Room at the Opera House at the Haymarket. and discharges it digested by the usual passage… The Food is digested. for example. In this he was successful: Voltaire championed him as ‘Prometheus’ rival’. and a duck which ‘stretches out its neck to take corn out of your hands. which was to be seen as a serious philosophical investigator into human nature. but this popular display was secondary to his main purpose.271 It seems a large leap from the philosophes of the Paris Academy to the showman of London’s fairground booths and parlours. and in 1757 he beat Dennis Diderot (the very personification of the Enlightenment intellectual) to an appointment as ‘Associated Mechanician’ to the Paris Academy of Sciences. at 1. philosophers.

while repairing the Duck’s mechanism in 1845.276 Von Kempelen was an aristocrat. mechanics and hydraulics. before an audience which included the Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa.273 but it may come as no surprise to discover the great Robert-Houdin claiming to have made the same discovery himself quite independently. More impressive than any of these. but I must bow before his genius for juggling. close observation discovered (although not until several years later) that the grain was entirely separate from the excrement – which was loaded into the tail end before each performance! Frederic Nicolai published the first exposé of the Duck in 1783. a particular attraction was the more ambitious kind of automaton (real or fraudulent) which could interact with spectators – machines such as the Sagacious Swan who read spectators’ thoughts and guessed the value of cards they had chosen. were particularly popular. though. His initial interest in mechanical marvels was that of the amateur scientist and philosophe. In Paris the Turk publicly played and beat a number of highly ranked chess players. Vaucanson was not above a little deception: his Defecating Duck was actually a fraud. Far from imitating the digestive functions of a live bird. or the Talking Head.275 For the conjuror. which was exhibited in the courts and salons of polite upper-class society in eighteenth-century Europe. His attempt to design a machine which could talk was another experiment which tested one of the key attributes of human nature. including Benjamin Franklin. in fact. ‘To my great surprise’. When Joseph II subsequently granted him two years’ leave from his court duties in Vienna in order to take the Mechanical Turk on a European tour. was the eighteenth century’s most famous automaton: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Chess Player. was only a mystification – a real canard. Decidedly. Indeed. courtier and counsellor – a wealthy civil servant. which (like that of the medieval Friar Bacon) would make predictions. von Kempelen was surprised and not a little embarrassed by the success of the chess-playing automaton. he says. ‘I found that the illustrious master had not disdained to have recourse to a trick which a conjurer would have been proud of. von Kempelen (who may have been in some financial difficulties at the time) acquiesced – but not altogether enthusiastically. and the consequent fame which it brought him.PERFORMING DARK ARTS And for all his philosophical pretensions. and an accomplished linguist who also had an interest in and knowledge of physics. Its first public appearance was in 1770. also known as the Mechanical Turk.’274 Opinion is divided as to how seriously to take Robert-Houdin’s claim – or as to whether the parts he was cleaning even came from Vaucanson’s Duck. in order to impress the visiting Grand Duke Paul of Russia. 88 . and he regarded it as an altogether more serious undertaking than his Chess Player. Vaucanson was not only my master in mechanism. The digestion. spoken language. The most interesting of these games. in fact. so pompously announced in the memoir. A few years after its début he dismantled it – only to be ordered to rebuild it by Emperor Joseph II in 1781.

It may be. Philidor was not a vain man and apparently agreed to allow the machine to beat him if it played well enough for such a victory to be plausible. Von Kempelen’s ‘computer’ lost 89 .ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN however. mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing designed in order to determine the boundaries of machine intelligence – and which is now recognized as one of the foundation stones of modern computer science: ‘Simply put. According to Philidor’s son André.’280 Philidor. But he later confessed that no game against a human opponent had fatigued him to the same extent.278 Contemporary language-based computer programmes. von Kempelen approached Philidor on the eve of their contest. What he certainly could not have recognized was that this challenge anticipated. he said. It is Philidor’s reported response to the game: the fact that he believed in the genuineness of the Turk and was so disturbed by prospect of a chess-playing automaton. for Philidor easily won the game. in a story first published in the French chess magazine Le Palamède in 1847. if it did not prove to be a strong player. But. giving rise to a spate of Computer-Aided Self-Help programmes which are now in use in reputable clinics: the Royal College of Psychiatrists has concluded that ‘computer-aided self-help cuts therapist time with each patient significantly. in an inverted way. a respected and successful composer and musician and a prodigious intellectual as well as the most brilliant chess player of his generation. A famous programme named ELIZA279 – after Shaw’s Eliza Doolittle – more or less successfully emulated the linguistic gambits of the psychotherapist. asking him effectively to throw the match. can pass for ‘human’ approximately fifteen per cent of the time.277 It is not the attempt to fix the match which is so intriguing about this anecdote. the computer passes the test and is deemed an intelligent “thinking machine” if a human conversing with it via typewritten messages cannot tell whether it is another human or a machine’. operating under Turing test conditions. without impairing improvement. for patients with anxiety and depression. he would have no qualms about defeating it. that at some level Philidor recognized that his match against the automaton had something iconic about it. too. Philidor apparently believed that the Turk was genuine. was in a better position than most to carry out such a test. Evidently the Turk was nowhere near being a strong enough player for a victory over Philidor to have been convincing. is one which the Turk actually lost – against the man generally recognized to be the best chess player in Europe. Philidor found the automaton disturbing precisely because it took on human opponents at an exercise of rationality – and won – beating the rational animal at the very thing which made him most human. and found the idea of a chess-playing machine rather terrifying. the test which the twentieth-century logician.

Is it possible that the most ingenious of mankind could contrive a machine capable of giving rational answers? No. was narrowly outplayed by the IBM computer Deep Blue in a six-match tournament which once more prompted a re-think of what we mean by the whole concept of Artificial Intelligence – and indeed. its task was to convince its opponent. Aaron Alexandre. however. there is another way in which it anticipates a more recent milestone in the history of thinking machines. As Pinchbeck’s Expositor correspondent exclaims. The names and identities of von Kempelen’s operators are not known. ‘When IBM’s Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov in 1997. and by mechanisms relying on hydraulics and air pressure. They generated in audiences a double-sided response which involved both the will to believe that something truly unnatural was taking place. But on what principle these opaques are enabled to discourse. In later years. he is known to have hired expert chess players such as Johann Allgaier. a set of magnets attached to the underside of the chessmen relayed information to the operator about an opponent’s moves. Half a century after Turing’s original formulation of his test. is the mystery I wish you to unriddle. William Lewis and Peter Williams as operators. the world chess champion. but it passed the more important test. not that it was human. are particularly significant in terms of the boundary work that they do. I am convinced to the contrary: Neither has the proprietor any connexion with a familiar spirit. an ingeniously designed cabinet with a sliding seat and various folding partitions created the false impression that no human being could fit inside the mechanism. when the automaton passed into the hands of Johann Maelzel. thinking machine’. Gary Kasparov. however. often controlled by a hidden operator. most Artificial Intelligence researchers and commentators decided that chess playing did not require intelligence after all and declared a new standard. of human intelligence. In the case of the Turk.PERFORMING DARK ARTS the game of chess.284 These mechanical inventions. not only because they seem to challenge 90 .283 The actual explanation was both ingenious and mundane. the ability to play “Go”’. the automata. and also the urge to explain it rationally. Most conjurors’ interactive automata – and the Mechanical Turk was no exception – were operated by a combination of the cogs and wheels of the traditional watchmakers craft. meanwhile. If the match between Philidor and von Kempelen’s Mechanical Turk anticipates the Turing test in this respect. Unlike the machine in the Turing test. but that it was a genuine ‘intelligent.281 Automata such as the Mechanical Turk challenged the audience’s own sense of ‘liveness’ 282 – its understanding of the boundaries not only between the human and the non-human but between the organic and the inorganic.

it becomes. observed and understood). Is it the soul (the ‘ghost in the machine’?) Or is it – as Paley suggests here – the mystery that lies beyond the machine The difference between an animal and an automatic statue. that the watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed. but in doing so had changed the culture’s construction of Nature. we think. If the universe is essentially a great machine.287 This becomes Paley’s dominant metaphor: he describes the universe as a watch. operating according to those laws of mechanics which Newton had formulated. but being once.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN something very essential about the construction of humanity. Newtonian physics became western philosophy’s dominant explanation of how the universe works. towards the end of the eighteenth century. and at some place or other. as we have said. is inevitable. literally. but also because they tap into a powerful and ambivalent Enlightenment image: that of the Universe as a kind of divinely inspired machine. after all. is a proposition neither correctly true nor wholly false’. and of man’s relationship with it. what its origins were. and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject. and during the eighteenth century it became increasingly common to think of the universe itself as being essentially mechanical. A famous argument for the existence of God put forward by William Paley (the ‘high priest’ of the theological utilitarians)285 in 1802 sums up the way in which rational theology had developed since the early years of the Enlightenment. This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument. in the animal.288 He articulates an increasingly common view of the universe as a great and complex machine. either the mechanism becoming too subtile for our 91 . an influential and popular work which went through twelve editions in its first seven years. the question of the boundary between man and machine became so very important: because of the suspicion that the difference between the living organism and the mechanical device may not. In Natural Theology. consists in this. and then we are stopped. Thus Paley can write ‘That an animal is a machine. is a conviction that the universe is basically mechanistic. if anything. and designed its use.289 This is why. – that. just over a century earlier. vital to establish what. at some time. and whose discovery had not only made possible the birth of the machine age in the eighteenth century. who comprehended its construction. as it was deeply embedded in the thought of many thinkers of the time. be so great. to perceive and understand it. we trace the mechanism to a certain point. the inference. makes us more than machines. as the great watchmaker. in a resonant image. an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer.286 Deeply embedded in Paley’s thought. and God. he imagines a man finding a watch and wondering how it came to be there.

By replicating organic life in terms of machinery. the ‘wondrous’ explanation of the Mechanical Turk leads to a world-view which is more modern than its alternatives. the image took on a rather bleaker aspect. For some of the Romantic generation. up to the limit.’292 Paley’s image of the watch lying abandoned on the heath was at best an ambivalent one. as in the other. And. we trace the mechanism throughout. Newton’s universe could seem an impoverished and desolate place. But. automata like Vaucanson’s Duck and von Kempelen’s Turk articulate an age’s ambivalence about mechanistic explanations of the universe. The two contradictory claims – ‘that life is essentially mechanistic and that the essence of animal life is irreducible to mechanism’294 are not reconciled in the figure of the automaton. in the automaton. as William Blake makes clear when he talks despairingly of the ‘Newtonian Voids between the substance of creation’291 and prays ‘May God us keep/From single vision and Newton’s sleep. nonetheless the boundary between the human and the artificial continued to obsess 92 . but was vitalized with ‘something far more deeply interfused… a motion and a spirit. then. Rather they confront each other in all their contradictoriness. the reasoning is as clear and certain in the one case. an optimistic one: the Great Watchmaker that he envisaged was a beneficent being.PERFORMING DARK ARTS discernment. The Uncanny The story of the automaton does not end with the end of the Age of Enlightenment. and in doing so the spectator is forced to construct explanations which either leave her common-sense world-view intact (there is a human intelligence at work here). Von Kempelen’s Mechanical Turk challenges the spectator to explain its feats. While the insights of later computerized generations were not available to eighteenth.and nineteenth-century thinkers. however. Paradoxically. If the watchmaker had made it and wound it up.293 Automata. in his own terms.290 Paley’s argument was. so the automata raised questions about human and artificial intelligence which would be more fully explored by the scientific inventions of a later generation. just as the exhibitors whose learned animals posed a challenge to common-sense Enlightenment distinctions between the human and the animal were touching on important scientific themes. that… rolls through all things’. had he also walked away from it? A large part of the Romantic poets’ project lay in an insistence (in which it sometimes sounds as if they are trying to convince themselves) that the universe was not after all merely a machine. operate at this interface between the mechanistic and animistic. for the comparatively few motions of which it is capable. or else subvert its boundaries (a machine may have ‘intelligence’). or something else beside the known laws of mechanism taking place. whereas.

However. therefore. Das Unheimliche exposes that which is usually kept out of sight. in which a young man. Sigmund Freud’s principles of psychoanalysis dominate the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth. whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate’. Maskelyne re-packaged the mechanical figure for this new theatrical environment. N. To these he 93 . It was also a response to an earlier philosophical work on the same theme. Freud looked at the significance of the boundary between the human and the mechanical. but its full meaning cannot be understood without looking at the ambiguity inherent in the German word which Freud used: Freud. but an intricately designed and extremely effective one – was one of the most famous of these theatrical effects. when magic had moved into the large theatres and music halls and was playing to the newly leisured working classes and middle classes of nineteenth-century London. and he refers in this connection to the impression made by waxwork figures. and the showman’s automaton continued to be a popular addition to conjuring shows. effects a disturbing transformation of the familiar into the unfamiliar’. Thus ‘the uncanny combines these two semantic levels. or conversely. And while figures like Psycho continued to amuse the audiences at the Egyptian Hall. ingeniously constructed dolls and automata. Hoffman’s short story ‘The Sand-man’. their wider metaphorical significance continued to attract the attention of philosophers. das Unheimliche. It is because of Freud’s essay that this word. by doing so. like many psychoanalytic critics after him. a lifelike automaton. A. If William Paley’s Natural Theology sits at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It uncovers what is hidden and. T. In his essay on ‘The Uncanny’ (Das Unheimliche). Das Heimliche – the non-negated version of the word – contains a double meaning. of no longer being ‘at home’ in the world. was particularly fond of the richness of meaning offered by puns and wordplay. carries a feeling of estrangement. falls in love with Olympia.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN philosophers. Freud comments: Jentsch has taken as a very good instance ‘doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive. has become so current in certain areas of cultural and performance studies. Ernst Jentsch had defined ‘the uncanny’ in terms of a person’s feelings of uncertainty – in particular an uncertainty about whether something was animate or inanimate. ‘uncanny’. It refers on the one hand to that which is familiar (‘homely’) and comfortable. unable to distinguish between the animate and the inanimate.295 Freud’s essay on ‘The Uncanny’ was an extended piece of literary criticism of E. In the 1870s. In ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906). It is a useful one in thinking about conjuring and its significance. a second meaning of das Heimliche means that which is hidden or concealed. J. Its opposite. His ‘Psycho’ – essentially a card-playing automaton. In this sense of the word das Unheimliche is that which is revealed.

is about what happens when those boundaries break down. and a subsequent ambivalence about the mechanistic interpretation of the universe is deeply woven into post-Enlightenment thinking. and the lower classes) or of a nervous disposition. By definition. This is. the sensation of the Uncanny is something which only an enlightened adult can experience: Freud explained that since children do not strictly distinguish between the animate and the inanimate. is not a bad model for thinking about the pleasures of magic in performance as a whole. however. Without entirely accepting this author s view.296 And this. It triggers a relationship between the ‘adult’. perhaps. considered the uncanny from the standpoint of psychoanalytic theory. comes to light and reasserts itself. we will take it as a starting point for our own investigation. rational mind and the beliefs that we thought we had surmounted. Freud’s account of the Uncanny turns it into a phenomenon of normal. they are inclined to think their dolls or stuffed animals are alive. and of manifestations of insanity. women. is triggered by an experience in the present. mechanical processes at work behind the ‘ordinary appearance of mental activity’. the sight of a life-like automaton or automatic human behavior reactivates the infantile belief that we thought we had surmounted. as we have seen. then. The sensation of ‘the uncanny’. Freud. it is particularly strong in those who are comparatively uneducated (by whom he meant primitive peoples. I have suggested that eighteenth. in which the frightening element is something which has been repressed and which then later recurs. something which has been buried or hidden from itself by our conscious mind. magic is also a grown-up form of entertainment for the same reason that the sensation of ‘the Uncanny’ is grown-up. because these excite in the spectator the impression of automatic. As Freud’s final sentence suggests. Jentsch had argued that while people vary greatly in their susceptibility to the feeling of the uncanny. the very position in which Paley’s Natural Theology places the human subject. As adults. Hoffman’s story.and nineteenth-century automata perform boundary work which both marks and problematizes the distinction between the human and the non-human. and Freud’s reading of it. The feeling of ‘The Uncanny’ 94 . then. he was to take Jentsch’s insight and give it a characteristic twist. epileptics and the insane. rather than abnormal. children. psychology: it is a feeling which arises when some idea or emotion from early childhood. While it appeals to children. may be produced by the suspicion that a human being may be nothing more than an elaborate mechanism.PERFORMING DARK ARTS adds the uncanny effect of epileptic fits.

another ethical question…). As ever.com/. it will be impossible to deceive audiences with it. and Lombardi attempts to assess the implications that this new technology will have for conjurors – including the possibility of microelectronically assisted telepathy. when such technology will be readily available to everyone (at least anyone who can afford it. so perhaps it is not surprising to find 95 . but when it will be accessible to a few people who are prepared to pay to get it and who will then be able to use it to accomplish impossible feats.com/ and http:// www. Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University. but with an implant! Among those few.com/Baja/4954/. conjurors have looked for ways of turning the latest scientific developments into material for their acts – as can be seen. this kind of ‘magic’ is already being performed. are comparatively simple adaptations of old routines. Postmodernism dissolves the boundaries between high art and popular art. in Freud’s interpretation ‘the repressed’ turns out to be feelings of childhood sexuality. These. I want to turn to a very modern version of the automaton.caveofmagic.geocities. not with clever misdirection. though. Lombardi describes the research of Kevin Warwick. the magicians who will choose to use this technology will have as much impact as Robert Houdin in Algeria in 1856! They will have become the first ever cyborg magicians!297 In fact. Some of the wider implications which digital technology will have for the contemporary conjuror are raised in a provocative article by Christophe Lombardi entitled ‘The Cyborg Magician’. not with a gimmick. whose work with microelectronic implants itself goes some way towards dissolving the boundaries between human and computer. in the Internet magic tricks available at sites such as http://www. In recent years. New media and the dissolution of borders By way of conclusion of this chapter. http://www. although in a cultural context which Lombardi may not have envisaged. the world of magic has had to come to terms with new media: the Internet and digital technology have presented new challenges and new opportunities. Both at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth the conjurors’ automata – figures like Psycho – continued to be touchstones for a philosophical puzzle which lay at the heart of a culture’s anxiety about what it was to be human. He adds that Of course. Warwick’s implants have enabled him to create a direct link between a computer and his own nervous system. But remember Robert Houdin and ‘The Light and Heavy Chest’: there will be a few years when such technology will not be known to everyone.internetmagictricks.ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN is one prompted by the return of the repressed – and not surprisingly. for example.

(audience members) know they are just pushing buttons to activate software. Stelarc’s head performs so well that. but Stelarc makes no secret of the fact – and that human agency only reaches as far as the design and programming of the software which generates the head and its answers. which appears on a screen and answers questions that audience members ask it in real time by means of a computer keyboard. yet they find themselves feeling their way through the conversation. Stelarc’s Prosthetic Head is also operated by a human.PERFORMING DARK ARTS that the first ‘cyborg magician’ is actually an avant-garde performance artist. the skill and complexity of whose design enables it to emulate human responses in ways that evoke wonder. Stelarc has developed an exhibit entitled Prosthetic Head (2002) – which is actually a digital version of the old Talking Head routine so popular with Victorian conjurors. whose work ‘explores and extends the concept of the body and its relationship with technology through human/machine interfaces’. The Enlightenment chess-playing machine was actually a trick. 96 . although intellectually.298 As well as working with implants and prosthetic body parts. or perhaps perversely. on the surface. willing him to get it wrong. The ‘magic’ lies in the fact that in this instance what you see is what you get: a piece of computer software. Way beyond the capabilities of programmes such as ELIZA. that different from the one posed by von Kempelen’s Mechanical Turk. and fail the ‘like a human’ test. It did not do what it claimed to do: it was actually worked by a human operator hidden inside the mechanism. hoping the head will maintain the logical flow. The postmodern version is a three-dimensional digitally animated caricature of Stelarc himself.300 Prosthetic Head poses a question which is not.299 The nineteenthcentury illusion was produced using a three-legged table and a live assistant whose body was hidden by cunningly positioned mirrors. Stelarc. But at the level of detail things are very different indeed.

and how it relates to other kinds of performance. by which is meant ‘doing something onstage other than playing a character’. similar kinds of stagehands may be used in a magic performance: the kinds of semi-visible assistants. and so frequently quoted among conjurors. In the context of a traditional magic show. Michael Kirby broke down the apparently simple concept into five distinct modes:304 at one end of the spectrum he placed ‘nonmatrixed performing’.305 The examples he gives are of the kurombo and koken of kabuki performances – the stagehands who move props and help actors to change costumes in full view of the audience. in fact.301 Bernard Beckermann A conjuror… is an actor playing the part of a magician. whose function is dependent on the presence of the lead performer. Next comes ‘symbolized matrix performing’ where the performer’s presence (or costume. a large prop or piece of equipment. which professional conjurors delight in repeating to each other in order to remind themselves of the element of showmanship that the good conjuring act demands. but still there largely to support the central character. within the context of a play frame.303 In order to try to make sense of some of the questions about what acting is. 97 . The phrase is so well known. First of all. Performer and audience alike operate in a world of double consciousness’. actors and jugglers ‘A conjuror… is an actor playing the part of a magician. or function) presents him or herself in a special way. for example. who help to cover up. In fact. drawing attention to themselves as skilful and/or entertaining in their own right. It is this conflict between eyes and minds that produces the sense of wonder in us. or carry on and off stage.’ Robert-Houdin’s definition of the conjuror has become a piece of folklore. but she is also not not herself (because of the operations of reality). Some sense of this complexity is given if we consider the contention of performance theorist Marvin Carlson that. a performer ‘is not herself (because of the operations of illusion). that it is worth teasing its meaning out a little.302 Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin Conjurors. this typically is the modality of the glamorous female assistant. the notion of acting is a more complex one than may seem to be the case at first.Chapter Six Acting and not-acting: Robert-Houdin He (the magician) creates so convincing an illusion of actuality that our eyes accept what our minds hold in abeyance.

escamoteur.307 In fact the book has nothing to do with wizardry. was not something of which Robert-Houdin would have had any experience: it was largely an invention of the modernist. and may well shift between them during the performance. is important: Robert-Houdin deliberately and ironically uses the occult term ‘sorcier’.306 Kirby’s final two points on the spectrum. the British writer on magic. in the sense that we understand it. sheds some light on Robert-Houdin’s meaning. rather than the investment of the whole being of the performer in the created reality of a character. conjuror. contains a variety of possible modes. incidentally. and explains that he only included it in 98 . Yet that light-hearted gesture towards the occult is important to what RobertHoudin is saying. Acting. then. magician… All this takes place in French. meant something quite specific when he talked about the conjuror being an actor playing the part of a magician. and the audience reads them as part of the situation of a scene. When Angelo John Lewis. he kept the sly tone by rendering the subtitle How to Become a Wizard. as if he is promising to initiate his reader into the secrets of the dark arts. dismisses it as of little relevance to his English readership. and the debate is about the nuances of French words and French professional terminology. rather more obscurely: ‘The magician is an actor playing the part of a magician’! The full quotation. which involves simulation and impersonation. and everything to do with the skills of the stage illusionist. mental and emotional commitment which they involve. of course. as a sub-category of performing.PERFORMING DARK ARTS ‘Received acting’ (the third point in the continuum) ‘is what “extras” do – they are in costume. will have but little interest for the ordinary English reader’ (Note 34). He is writing towards the end of his career. He apologizes for the fact that ‘The present chapter being a disquisition on the precise signification of a couple of French terms. in context. ‘Professor Hoffman’. Robert-Houdin. But extras do very little “character acting”’. translated that volume into English under the nom-de-plume by which he would become famous. naturalist and post-naturalist theatre of the last decades of the nineteenth century. The tone. the magic show can employ more than one at a time.308 juggler. he was probably talking about what Kirby calls ‘simple acting’. of course. ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ acting. It must be admitted that translations from the original French do not help. and the original force of his assertion is not always understood by those who now quote it so freely. Complex ‘realistic’ acting of this kind. As a result. When Robert-Houdin talked of the conjuror as an actor playing the part of a magician. it is often also rendered. for he is redefining the job of the professional illusionist. however. in a volume entitled Les Secrets de la Prestidigitation et de la Magie: Comment on devient sorcier (1868).‘Professor’ Hoffman. they may speak fragments of lines. in one of his footnotes. The comment about the conjuror and the juggler/magician comes in the context of an attempt to untangle the various terms for the profession: prestidigitator. are distinguished from each other largely by the different levels of physical.

illuminates a series of much larger issues about the concept of magic as a performance art in the nineteenth century. only imperfectly describes the art which it denotes. however. I may even add that where sleight-of-hand is involved. but its discussion about words. which is by no means strictly true. in which he is in the process of rejecting both ‘prestidigitation’310 and ‘escamotage’ as too limiting in their connotations: Neither one of these denominations.311 Between them. to one particular feat of dexterity. fiction writer and journalist as well as an amateur conjuror – has provided a translation of Robert-Houdin’s original which is both clear and lucid. the more readily will the spectators be deceived. their definitions and their connotations. and which does justice to the complexity of what Robert-Houdin is trying to achieve.ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN order to avoid mutilating Robert-Houdin’s original text. Prestidigitation seems to imply. he could not have been more wrong: not only does the chapter include the most famous of all definitions of the conjuror. and referring specially. A conjuror is not a juggler. It is a claim which both conjuror and audience may 99 . from its etymology. In fact. and the truth is that Hoffman – who was no professional showman. authorised though they are by long use. but an Oxford-trained barrister. an artist whose fingers have more need to move with deftness than speed. whence it derives its origin. therefore. Part of the credit for this must belong to Hoffman himself: it is in the English translation that Robert-Houdin’s dictum is best known. Hoffman and Robert-Houdin provide a cool and rational account of a new kind of conjuror – one who is not simply a prestidigitator or an escamoteur but whose ‘art of fictitious magic’312 encompasses ‘a wide range of wonder-exciting performances’. to exaggerate the quickness of his movements? Such a mode of proceeding is illogical and inconsistent… The word prestidigitation. The conjuror claims to possess supernatural powers. in order to work his wonders. the quieter the movement of the performer.309 Here is Robert-Houdin’s definition in its context – part of a measured consideration of various terms for what he calls ‘fictitious magic’. as it does. Why then should he need. Escamotage will always recall to the mind the ‘cup-and-ball’ tricks. he is an actor playing the part of a magician. At the centre of this is the notion that ‘the conjuror claims to possess supernatural powers’. is in my opinion fully adequate to describe the art of fictitious magic. that it is necessary to have nimble fingers in order to produce the illusions of magic. suggests but an imperfect idea of the wide range of the wonderexciting performances of a magician. he holds in his hand a wand the might of which nothing can resist.

sees it as the conjuror’s icon par excellence: ‘This elegant little staff. as a vagrant. For Robert-Houdin. was a previous term for an illusionist or conjuror. ‘Juggler’. but to Hoffman and Robert-Houdin the word carries the wrong connotations: it suggests not only a particular kind of performance skill. this playful claim to supernatural powers is what validates the performance: the conjuror ‘holds in his hand a wand the might of which nothing can resist’. Nowadays the magician’s wand is an outdated cliché. but he was not admitted into good society. and because Robert-Houdin emphasizes what the conjuror is not. he is making a social point. but also a particular kind of social milieu. both parties agree to suppose that. in common with the juggler. he then adds that the wand is a useful device for disguising the palming of objects. although in his own day-to-day business of making a 100 . too. and even by the royal family. Thomas Mayhew. He might be patronised by the upper classes. for the duration of the performance at least. forms the ostensible scause of its transformation or disappearance’. writing at about the same time as Robert-Houdin. it may be true. Thomas Frost. and gives the conjuror something to do with his hands. and not knowing what to do with them’!)313 The juggler/actor dichotomy is illuminating on several levels. appropriately. A touch of the wand on any object.PERFORMING DARK ARTS know to be quite spurious. or even regarded as a respectable character. and the tumbler. in part.314 It is. of course. however. an insistence on his own claim to respectability that motivates Robert-Houdin’s definition. the consciousness of possessing arms. from a juggler himself. it is easier to see the way in which his dichotomy is weighted. The prejudice against his art and its professors which had been born of ignorance and superstition was dying out with the process of mental enlightenment. thereby saving him from ‘the well-known stage bugbear. and in his provincial ramblings was sometimes in danger of being treated in that character with the stocks. in his invaluable survey of London Labour and the London Poor (1849–62) includes an interview with a man who is described as a ‘street-juggler’. the posturer. had this to say of the social status of conjurors in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century: The social position of the professional conjuror was at this period even more dubious than that of the actor. This man. or even a wave in that direction. but in the best traditions of Romantic theatre’s dependence on the audience’s suspension of disbelief. (More pragmatically. Robert-Houdin. We can see this more clearly if we compare his assertion with another contemporary account of the relationship between the conjuror and the juggler – one which comes. ‘is the emblem of his magic power.’ he says with no pre-Freudian irony whatsoever. wishes to make a clear distinction between conjuring and juggling. On the one hand. as well as what he is. but he was ranked.

and white bagtrousers. like a Turk s. with a long horse-hair tail down my back. It tires me too much. if I have to appear at a penny theatre in the evening. I was a regular swell. but also did them so dexterously.’316 He had started out performing as a tumbler while still a boy. Balancing. on the Waterloo Road) continues to perform in the oriental persona which he adopted in emulation of his childhood hero: I used to have a bag and bit of carpet. as he tells Mayhew. playing the music halls and concert halls of London as well as its street corners and public parks. and a flesh-coloured skull-cap. cut off like a waist-coat. I does what they call ‘the pile of mags’.ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN living he does not always find it easy to do so. Rings. however. etc. that ‘I’m too old now to go out regularly in the streets. forty years later. He admits. and in a minute I forgot all about the tumbling. There’s also making a shilling pass from a gentleman’s hand into a nest of boxes.’320 The act includes both conjuring and juggling in the modern senses of the word. Even so. and making them disappear when I say ‘Presto. Balls. amounted to £3 per day or more.318 It is a point of great pride with this juggler that ‘he not only learned how to do all [Ramo Samee’s] tricks. performing his extraordinary Feats with Cups. and such-like tricks: but it ain t half so hard as juggling. but then ‘One night I went to the theatre and there I see Ramo Samee doing his juggling. According to Mayhew.’317 Now. where the playbill advertises him as ‘The Renowned Indian Juggler. the man had the reputation of being ‘one of the cleverest that ever came out’. Daggers. that is. etc. nor anything like the work. I had Indian s dress made. tied right round at the ankles. and perform in streets. After the juggling I generally has to do conjuring. fly!’ Then there’s the empty cups. Plates.321 101 . and only wanted to do as he did.315 He is both a street entertainer and a theatrical performer. Knives. but at the time Mayhew meets him. can lift 700 lbs by the hair of her head – are making rather less than this: approximately five shillings and sixpence a day between them (plus the results of a collection) in their engagement at the Temple of Mystery in Old Street Road. or there s bringing a cabbage into a empty hat. we can see that the latter term has undergone some change of meaning and is beginning to refer primarily to tricks of manual dexterity as opposed to tricks of deception. that when travelling “Samee has often paid him ten shillings not to perform in the same town with him”’.319 He claims that his own earnings. putting four halfpence on a boy’s cap. and making taters come under em. he claims. trimmed with red. Mayhew’s London juggler (born and raised. My coat was what is called a Turkish fly in red velvet. with a peak before and behind. at the height of his powers. and called myself the Indian Juggler. the juggler and his wife – a strong-woman who.

but it’s wrong. such as the wizard’s business. When I was in Ireland they called me a ‘manulist’. that is. there is an ethical dimension to the juggler’s distinction between the two kinds of performance. one skilful and dextrous. You may safely reckon their earnings for the year round at a pound a week. and he is eager to distinguish between the two forms of entertainment. Clearly. Mayhew’s interviewee – although described by Mayhew as a street juggler – is clearly more at home in the theatre. and it was a gentleman wrote the bill out for me. but most of us joins some other calling along with juggling. He is aligning the conjuror with the theatre rather than with the fairground. if they stick to juggling. ‘penny theatres’ and halls of mystery such as London’s famous Egyptian Hall.322 was changing the nature of magic. one s deceiving to the eye and the other’s pleasing to the eye . But the ‘pure’ juggler’s art appears to be on the decline in the middle years of the nineteenth century: as Mayhew’s informant explains.324 The opposition between what pleases and audience and what deceives an audience is telling. establishing it more firmly as an art of the theatre rather than of the street.yes. unless some new one has sprung up very lately. that’s it – it’s dexterity.323 Moreover. there is no straightforward division which locates the magician in the theatre and the juggler in the street.325 Playing the part of a gentleman It is from this kind of figure that Robert-Houdin wishes the new kind of conjuror to distance himself. with the ‘art’ of the drama rather than the mere ‘entertainment’ of the street performer. (This is borne out by his insistence that the police know him and rarely prevent or interrupt his street performances). and that helps out the gains. and his corresponding disdain for the conjuring aspect of his routine (‘and such-like tricks’) is clear from his tone. as far as this performer is concerned. 102 . his pride in his skill as a juggler. there ain’t above twenty jugglers in all England… such as goes about pitching in the streets and towns. I’m a juggler. The difference I makes between conjuring and juggling is.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Mayhew’s interview was published in 1861. at a time when the move into the music halls. Certainly. I know there’s only four others besides myself in London. the circus or the street. the other deceptive and simplistic. for some people call conjurers jugglers. His strategy is to downplay ‘mere’ physical skill and to stress the imaginative aspect of the conjuror’s art. (he tells Mayhew) but I don’t know if that’s the right term. We get a clearer sense of how he sees the relationship between proper juggling and what he scathingly calls ‘the wizard’s business’ when he talks about how real jugglers will often have to turn their hand to the latter in order to eke out their meagre income.

At times. that he ‘cannot suppose that any conjuror would for one moment dream of employing confederates among the audience. wizards robes and the like: ‘Let us leave tinsel and high-crowned hats to mountebanks’ he says scornfully – adding that ‘[t]he most probable result of assuming the conventional garb of a wizard 103 . nor even the first. and to ‘avoid coarse chaff ’. Robert-Houdin is making the point that his spiritual home is in the heart of the mainstream theatrical culture. though. part of his larger project. for example. and licensing laws in most countries distinguished between music halls. genial manner. He warns the novice not to announce a trick’s intended effect in advance – so that if things go wrong. Robert-Houdin’s general principles read more like a guide to etiquette. the world of the professional actor was certainly a step up from that of street entertainers such as feature in London Labour and the London Poor. In some instances this is a specifically professional etiquette appropriate to the conjuror: he states. Thus he admonishes the would-be conjuror to ‘speak with perfect grammatical correctness’. And if the profession of actor was not entirely respectable in nineteenth-century Europe. however. he was certainly one of the most influential. It is. with high-minded disdain. sound. not only in their crowdpleasers and melodramas but also in their more serious dramatic productions. Many of these Principles are good. revelled in large-scale illusion. he urges him to adopt a ‘hearty. For example. to keep rigidly within the bounds of propriety and good taste’. to establish the conjuror as a ‘respectable’ kind of entertainer. Live entertainment in nineteenth-century Europe was highly stratified. Thus. This sort of joint hoax has now gone quite out of fashion. technical advice. taking care.ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN with high culture rather than with popular culture. and to structure his performance as a crescendo with each trick being more impressive then the one before. too. the conjuror has left himself an escape route by being able to resolve the trick in a different way. and if he was not the only nineteenth-century conjuror to make this case. It should be borne in mind. that the theatres of mid-nineteenth-century European capital cities such as London and Paris. in these years pre-dating the rise of naturalist drama.327 And he admonishes him (in a tone of horror!) to avoid garish costumes. variety halls and places of popular entertainment on the one hand and ‘legitimate’ theatres on the other. A trick performed on this principle is out of the pale of conjuring altogether’. Elsewhere in his Secrets we can see the further evidence of the way in which Robert-Houdin is concerned with establishing the social status of the conjuror. In an earlier chapter he lays down a set of General Principles for the wouldbe conjuror.326 But he is not only setting down the boundaries of acceptability and fashion in terms of the conjuror’s techniques: he is also pronouncing on the more general etiquette of good society and its values. while the conjuror’s most usual venue was actually likely to be the variety hall rather than the theatre. on one level. he counsels the conjuror not to exceed the attention span of the audience (which for conjuring acts he puts at a maximum of two hours).

two different kinds of magic act were competing for box office supremacy: on the one hand were the champions of ‘pure’ sleight of hand. At the same time he is making a contribution to a rather local professional quarrel. who produced sweetmeats to order for the audience331 and his Marvellous Orange Tree which blossomed. another form of disguise. has to work doubly hard to establish his claim to any such title. His formulation also makes an important claim for the conjuror as someone who offers the audience a glimpse of something beyond the mundane. His ‘Soirées fantastiques’ at the Palais-Royal in Paris and St. The conjuror. By labelling them mere ‘jugglers’ he is simultaneously defending his own status as a provider of wonders – including the mechanical wonders for which he was so well known. and the skills he learned there stood him in good stead as a professional illusionist. since one of the prime virtues of the Victorian gentleman is integrity or honesty. the performer whose greatest skill lies in his ability to evoke wonder. Thus. James’ Theatre in London included mechanical effects such as his ‘Pâtissier du Palais-Royal’. however.330 For social cachet is not the only thing that Robert-Houdin is concerned with. but as a perfectly socialized nineteenth-century gentleman. Many of Robert-Houdin’s contemporaries regarded mechanical figures such as this as being in the tradition of seventeenthand eighteenth-century automata: complex machines such as were displayed in Fawkes’ and Pinchbeck’s booth at Bartholomew Fair way back in the 1720s. since he trades in deceptions. While he was adept in most areas of magic.329 The phrases are telling: ‘gentleman… high-class’: one of Robert-Houdin’s underlying general principles seems to be that the conjuror is to be reinvented. therefore. his fame as an illusionist was based to a not inconsiderable extent on his ‘mechanical wonders’. As such they may have seemed rather old-fashioned to those of his competitors who were now looking to eliminate such mechanical devices from their act. When he coined the phrase in the middle of the nineteenth century. There is a paradox here.328 The conjuror may indeed be an actor playing the part of a magician – but he is certainly not playing the part of a pantomime magician! Instead. and to emphasize instead the manipulative skills of the prestidigitator. not as a mountebank or a juggler. to produce ‘wonder-exciting performances’. on the other were those for whom complex mechanical apparatus lay at the heart of their acts. The journey which the conjuror 104 . bore fruit and had butterflies flying round it. RobertHoudin’s apothegm is at least in part a dig at those of his colleagues who prided themselves on their physical skills. a miniature figure in a doll’s house patisserie. The part of a high-class gentleman is actually just another role. manners and poise of the suave and socialized gentleman conceal a wonder-worker. Robert-Houdin assures the apprentice conjuror that ‘the ordinary dress of a gentleman is the only costume appropriate to a high-class conjuror’. another piece of misdirection: the costume. Robert-Houdin himself had spent his early years training and working as a watchmaker.PERFORMING DARK ARTS will be to make the wearer an object of derision’.

however. Cleverness at this sort of work is of the same order as that of the musician who produces a tune by turning the handle of a barrel-organ. but is a means to an end – and that end is to produce ‘wonder-exciting performances’. This is what may be called the ‘false bottom’ school of conjuring. and the surprising results which are produced by the sciences. For example. mental acuteness and a knowledge of the physical sciences. however. at one point he virtually contradicts his dismissal of prestidigitation when he declares rhetorically ‘To succeed as a conjuror.333 Thus while the conjuror is no mere prestidigitator but an actor playing the part of a magician. in order to play this part well that actor needs dexterity (and dexterity and dexterity!). mathematics. chemistry. mental subtleties. In order to be a first-class conjuror it is necessary. dexterity. and to be able to apply some few of their principles as the occasion may arise. but it is the imaginative journey on which the professional actor takes the audience. to say that [t]he art of conjuring bases its deceptions upon manual dexterity. The most indispensable requirement. RobertHoudin is equally scornful of those practitioners who rely entirely on self-working apparatus to achieve their effects: It is easy enough no doubt. Such performers will never merit the title of skilled artists. But the point is that for Robert-Houdin these are simply the necessary physical and mental skills which enable the act to take place at all: dexterity is not an end in itself. to play the conjuror without possessing either dexterity or mental ability. for the successful practice of the magic art is great neatness of manipulation combined with special mental acuteness. if not to have studied all these sciences thoroughly. His own description of the ‘Marvellous Orange Tree’ routine gives a clear impression of the kinds of effects that Robert-Houdin was seeking in his repertoire: 105 . He then goes on.ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN offers may not be the spirit-journey of the wizard or shaman. Despite his professed scepticism about ‘mere’ prestidigitation. and third dexterity’. at least to have acquired a general knowledge of them.332 It is not entirely surprising to find that Robert-Houdin’s directions to conjurors contain both paradoxes and self-contradictions. three things are essential – first. It is only necessary to lay in a stock of apparatus of that kind which of itself works the trick. dexterity. and particularly mechanics. and can never hope to obtain any real success. electricity and magnetism. The physical sciences generally. second. supply potent weapons for the use of the magician.

We do not have access. and within it appeared the handkerchief I had borrowed. and set fire to it. the speech… in fact the mise en scène with which we dress up a conjuring trick in order to give it an appearance of reality’. My assistant then brought me an orange tree. in this account. The Marvellous Orange Tree updates those mechanical marvels of the kind that Isaac Fawkes had exhibited at Bartholemew Fair in the late 1600s. I then placed these four articles one into another. the heart of the machine age – and.335 Even without this mise-en-scène.334 It is a complex and somewhat surreal routine. however. of magical potions. and. which I distributed to the spectators. and one which blends various kinds of conjuring skills. bare of flowers or fruit. the discourse. a lemon. and no sooner had the vapour reached the foliage. upon the table. and on which he himself placed so much emphasis in his advice to conjurors: the patter is ‘the story told by the performer. as we have seen.PERFORMING DARK ARTS I borrowed a lady’s handkerchief. I poured into a cup a little of the solution I had just prepared. This is the middle of the nineteenth century. than it was seen suddenly covered with flowers. spread it open in the air. The automaton is there in the form of the tree and the butterflies. to the ‘boniment’ – the patter which Robert-Houdin wove around these various appearances and disappearances. of winter and spring – a narrative whose execution depends upon dexterity and sleight of hand as much as on mechanical devices. A single orange still remained on the tree. paradoxically the mechanical tree itself is no longer enough to impress the conjuror’s audience. In other parts of his act. flying upwards with it. – I pressed the orange between my hands. but which is made possible by those devices. so. I placed it near the tree. One of the great skills that Robert-Houdin had as a performer was his ability to fuse the old and the new. I used the fruit in question in the manufacture of a magical solution. I ordered it to fall apart in four portions. So Robert-Houdin weaves around the machine a narrative of natural and unnatural transformations. of disappearance and restoration. and an orange. The process was as follows. and finally reducing it to a powder. At a wave of my wand the flowers were transformed into fruit. which I passed into a phial in which there was some spirit of wine. making it smaller and smaller. we can see that Robert-Houdin’s Marvellous Orange Tree is an expert amalgam of the mechanical and the organic. and when at last the orange alone remained. in which the one is played off against the other in a way which is perfectly calculated to appeal to the broad spectrum of nineteenth-century urban audiences. but it is not in itself the object of wonder. I rolled it into a ball and placed it beside an egg. Robert-Houdin was particularly fond of exploiting ‘the surprising results which are produced 106 . showing it every now and then in its various shapes. A couple of butterflies with moving wings took it each by a corner.

ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN by… the physical sciences generally. electricity and magnetism’. I believe. But other kinds of belief are equally important. he displayed the greatest intelligence in learning his part. Very frequently the conjuror flirts with the ‘magic’ of science – and especially the magic of ‘bad science’ or pseudo-science – which is why. and his plump and rosy face was a picture of health. using his son as the subject. He was a stout lad of about six years of age. The subject I intended to operate on was my younger son. Some went so far as to threaten me with the terrors of the law if I did not give up my inhuman performance. I did so by inventing my ethereal suspension. with his head resting on his elbow. and the accompanying engraving shows RobertHoudin’s son horizontal in mid-air. mathematics. In the eyes of many people it seemed much akin to magic. conferring upon themselves a quasi-scientific authority which that title bestowed. so many magicians called themselves ‘Professor’ in their stage names. apparently asleep.337 It is an impressive generic levitation routine. regarding the etherization too seriously. was far more surprising than any result obtained by my surgical brethren. all the world talked about the marvellous effect of this anaesthetic. in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. protested in their hearts against the applause. and played it with such perfection. and I could not have selected one better suited for the experiment. The anonymous writers of such accusations did not suspect the pleasure they caused me. and wrote me letters in which they severely upbraided the unnatural father who sacrificed the health of his poor child to the pleasures of the public. and its extraordinary results. I asked myself if this did not allow me to make reprisals. We have already considered the way in which early modern magic performances related to – and could also be distanced from – notions of ‘efficacious magic’ in the form of contemporary witchcraft beliefs. But Robert-Houdin invests his routine with a particular meaning for his audience and presents it as a miracle of modern medicine: Surgery had supplied me with the first idea of it. and particularly mechanics. and I am bound to say that my arrangements were excellently made… Still.336 Nor was he above using pseudoscience to achieve his effects. which. I kept 107 . Playbills proclaimed that this Ethereal Suspension would demonstrate ‘Suspended Equilibrium by Atmospheric Air. After amusing the family circle. which rests on a staff which is balanced on a stool which is placed on trestle of which one end has been removed. for example. it sometimes happened that sensitive persons. In spite of his youth. through the Action of Concentrated Ether’. that the most incredulous were duped. Seeing that the surgeons invaded my domain. chemistry. which he called the ‘Suspension Étheréenne’. Robert-Houdin performed a levitation act. In the middle years of the nineteenth century. carried out by means of hidden supports. It will be remembered that in 1847 the insensibility produced by inhaling ether began to be applied in surgical operations. This trick was very much applauded.

But to frame a routine in terms of something which just might be true. ‘ether’ (or ‘aether’) was believed by nineteenth-century physicists to be one of the fundamental substances of the universe. to frame it in terms of something completely outlandish removes an audience’s will to complicity. Robert-Houdin’s claim in his playbill that he will produce his levitation effect ‘by Atmospheric Air. since there is a second meaning of the word ‘ether’ which may also have contributed to the way in which the trick was understood by its audience to be a ‘scientific’ demonstration. however. in terms of offering the audience a framework for interpreting what they are seeing. It works best when the frame refers to something which is on the edge of the audience’s understanding: to frame an illusion in terms of principles that are too well known gives the audience nothing at which to wonder. but to offer no resistance to motion. Robert-Houdin’s misdirection may have been doubly effective in this instance. and the concomitant theories of electromagnetic radiation. he expects them to take the fiction of the ‘ethereal suspension’ for what it is. or in terms of scientific principles of which they have heard but which they do not fully understand. The effect. through the Action of Concentrated Ether’ would activate this meaning of the word. In this second sense of the word. On the whole. and by the early twentieth century it had been abandoned as an unnecessary hypothesis. Robert-Houdin seems to expect a sophisticated response from his audience. is to play upon an ambiguity which for some audience members will be understood as part of the entertainment. The Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 (which laid essential groundwork for Einstein’s theories of relativity) predicted that the velocity of the Earth through the ether could be measured with reference to the variation of the speed of light. and the amusement which he 108 .PERFORMING DARK ARTS the letters preciously as proofs of the illusion I had produced. it had been felt necessary to postulate a medium – ether – through which these waves could travel. This hypothetical and elusive substance was believed to permeate all space. but which for others will seriously complicate their picture of reality – as the outraged letters from audience members illustrate. when the speed of light was observed to be constant. It provides the cognitive frame with which the magician wants to tease (or to completely deceive) the audience. His mild surprise. But in the 1850s ether was a matter of scientific orthodoxy – albeit one which was very poorly understood.338 One reason why all magic tutors insist that a conjuror’s patter is as important as his ‘nimbleness of conveyance’ is that the patter directs the audience towards the thing that they are supposed to be seeing. It is hard to decide whether RobertHoudin intended this double meaning. is doubly ‘scientific’ – and doubly confusing. the very existence of ether was brought into question. With the acceptance in the early nineteenth century of the wave theory of light. although I suspect he did.

our professor would pass. Like the true practical nineteenth-century man that he is. or even higher still’. There was a broad consensus that …magic is one of the most pressing problems confronting colonial governments. in a chapter entitled ‘Conjuring and its Professors’. the Ethiopians and the Persians. calls it) among a wider range of early and Eastern civilizations. it is because the art of magic was then in its infancy’. locates the roots of fictitious magic (or ‘white magic’ as he also.ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN shares with his family. Robert-Houdin. from the rank of magician to that of demigod. which come together in one of the most famous anecdotes told about him: that of his magical competition with the Marabouts. and naming in particular Jannes and Jambres. black magic is thoroughly 109 . who persuaded him to perform before some of the principal chieftains of the Arab tribes in Algeria. then and there. It is this rational and sceptical aspect of Robert-Houdin’s character. While white magic can have beneficial effects in spurring harmonious and beneficial social interaction.339 ‘Enacting the part of a French Marabout’ Earlier in the book. together with his insistence on personifying the civilized virtues of the good nineteenthcentury middle-class gentlemen.and early-twentieth-century anthropological theory tended to arise from – and thus confirm and support – the agenda of European and American colonialism and imperialism. citing as well as the Egyptians. Nineteenth. in their eyes. Robert-Houdin is clearly unconvinced by any antiquarian tendency to validate the present with reference to the past. the magicians at Pharaoh’s court and their magical combat with Moses and Aaron. The discourse of magic – in the efficacious sense of the word – has long been important in a colonial context. if they were a threat. at the scientific narrative being taken too seriously demonstrate this. the cradle of magic. It was a request with a clear political dimension. that ‘if antiquity was. the Chaldees. how they should be managed. RobertHoudin elevates the wonders of modern science over the fabled deeds of these early conjurors. or to glorify the feats of the modern conjuror by glamourizing his relationship with his magical forebears. as is sometimes asserted. with the Egyptians. however. rather confusingly. The second question was. RobertHoudin had given his own account of the early history of magic. In 1856 he was called out of retirement by Colonel de Neveu. like Rid. rather elegantly. inviting his readers to imagine the astonishment that these ‘wonder-workers’ would have felt if faced with a lecture by the most ordinary of modern scientists: ‘We cannot doubt that. The first question facing the colonial administrator was the extent to which local magical practices represented a serious threat to the colonialists’ ability to control and dominate non-European populations. head of the political office at Algiers. beginning. and he concludes.

and indeed even less so. since they were believed by the local peoples to possess special supernatural powers. there are none like the French. still contrive to influence the fanaticism of their co-religionists by tricks as primitive as are the spectators before whom they are performed. and are regarded by the Arabs as envoys of God on earth to deliver them from the oppression of the Roumi (Christians).340 In fact. and. the Marabouts must have seemed very much like the witch doctors and sorcerers of the ‘primitive’ animist tribal cultures of Central Africa. which also led us very naturally to show them that we are their superiors in everything. a simple conjurer. therefore. and marked by mutual incomprehension. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that colonization had made the Muslim society more barbaric than it had been before the French arrived. These false prophets and holy Marabouts. French military rule had only very recently been established over what was an existing sophisticated Islamic culture. and reckoned on me to do so. Within this uneasy situation. however. to prove to the Arabs that the tricks of their Marabouts were mere child s play. Islam had become a central element in Algerian nationalist struggles against French colonial rule.PERFORMING DARK ARTS detrimental… [Nonetheless] efforts by colonial government to eradicate magic might be misplaced. since in many native societies magic serves useful social functions… [and] before measures against sorcerers and witch doctors can be effective. The colonial authorities rightly perceived them as a threat and attempted to restrict their influence wherever possible. was proud of being able to render my country a service. there were specific aspects about the situation in French colonial North Africa in the 1850s which meant that the question of ‘magic’ was a particularly loaded one. He treated the responsibility as an honour: I must say that I was much influenced in my determination by the knowledge that my mission to Algeria had a quasi-political character. and relations between the colonizers and the colonized were violent. at a time (one of many) when there was a strong possibility of further tribal insurrection. aggressive. who are no more sorcerers than I am. by the aid of my experiments. The government was. with reason. To the colonial administrators.341 110 . and the Marabouts – a distinct brotherhood of mystical and military leaders who drew both on folk traditions and Sufi teachings – played a key role in this resistance. It was in pursuit of this political goal that Robert-Houdin was invited to Algiers. I. and owing to their simplicity could not be done by an envoy from Heaven. anxious to destroy their pernicious influence. It is known that the majority of revolts which have to be suppressed in Algeria are excited by intriguers. a colonized population must be educated away from their beliefs in sorcery. They hoped. who say they are inspired by the Prophet. as for sorcerers.

my experiments must appear perfect miracles to the Arabs… It was not enough to amuse my spectators.345 In response Robert-Houdin performed a version of the well-known gun trick. and the gun did not explode. In front of an audience of civil authorities and tribal delegates including ‘caïds. Antagonistic volunteers were invited up onto the stage. ordered a gun to be loaded and fired at him from a short distance. the gun did not go off because the Marabout had skilfully stopped up the vent. clothed in their red mantles (the symbol of their submission to France)’.ACTING AND NOT-ACTING: ROBERT-HOUDIN In his Memoirs. for instance. but was humiliated by being unable to do so. One of them. a suitably non-alcoholic version of ‘The Inexhaustible Bottle’ delivered apparently endless supplies of both sweetmeats and coffee from a punchbowl. bash-agas. five-franc pieces appeared in locked boxes suspended above the audience. The mystery was simple enough. Robert-Houdin tells how he successfully challenged the Marabouts to a public magic competition. but in vain did the flint produce a shower of sparks.343 He succeeded. of course. But it was the three tricks at the climax to the show which were to seal his reputation as a sorcerer. Colonel de Neveu explained to me the importance of discrediting such a miracle by opposing to it a sleight-of-hand trick far superior to it. the Marabout pronounced some cabalistic words. for I was enacting the part of a French Marabout. startle and even terrify them by the display of a supernatural power. In this. Compared with the simple tricks of their pretended sorcerers. and I had the very article. I must produce a startling effect upon coarse minds and prejudices.) This was disturbing enough and elicited whispers of ‘Shaitan!’ from his audience. and… some sixty Arab chiefs. agas. His performance included many variations on standard theatrical routines: he produced not only flowers but also (appropriately enough!) cannonballs from a hat. I must also. a gun was fired directly at his heart (by a particularly aggressive-sounding 111 . in order to fulfil the object of my mission. The first – a ‘herculean Arab’344 – was invited to pick up a solidly built but small box. The second trick was one especially requested by Colonel de Neveu. in order to respond to a particular claim of the Marabouts: One of the means employed by the Marabouts to gain influence in the eyes of the Arabs is by causing a belief in their invulnerability. (The box was held down by an electro-magnetic charge – which was later used to give the volunteer a shock which further humiliated him.342 he stepped forward with a grave sense of his national and political responsibility: I was here not merely to amuse a curious and kind public.


volunteer who repeatedly told Robert-Houdin that he wanted to kill him), but the bullet ended up embedded in an apple. For his third trick, Robert-Houdin made a volunteer, a young man of about twenty years of age, completely disappear – causing a riot in which ‘the Arabs… impelled by an irresistible feeling of terror… rose in all parts of the house, and yielded to the influence of a general panic.’346 The whole incident has strange echoes of Moses and Aaron demonstrating the power of the one true God in the court of Pharaoh: here, though, RobertHoudin demonstrates the power of civilized western showmanship in ‘the Algiers theatre… a very neat house, in the style of the Variétés at Paris, and decorated with considerable taste.’347 One of the noticeable things about the whole incident is the ambiguity about what Robert-Houdin is actually trying to achieve. On one level his brief is to suggest that ‘white man’s magic’ is more powerful than that of the local wonder-workers, and that he himself is a powerful sorcerer, one who is able to perform ‘perfect miracles’ and to ‘startle and even terrify them by the display of a supernatural power.’ But on another level, his task is more ambitious than that. After the performance, he tells us,
the interpreters and all those who had dealings with the Arabs received orders to make them understand that my pretended miracles were only the result of skill, inspired and guided by an art called prestidigitation, in no way connected with sorcery. The Arabs doubtlessly yielded to these arguments, for henceforth I was on the most friendly terms with them.348

The deeper purpose of Robert-Houdin’s performance, then, is to effect a major ideological shift by advancing the claims of western material rationalism over those of the folk rituals of the Marabouts – and, by association, over the claims of Islam itself. Its function is to construct a clear opposition between rationalism and ‘superstition’ and convince the Arabs that the rationalism is superior. The magician is engaged in that most essential of colonial enterprises: that of establishing the validity of the colonialists’ world-view over that of the subject people.

‘My public shall be the reader, and my stage a book’: playing the part of a historian
The story of the contest with the Marabouts, as Robert-Houdin tells it, has all the satisfying structure of myth: an archetypal conflict between civilization and magical belief. The event certainly took place: whether it took place in quite the way the protagonist tells it is less certain. History, however, is typically written by the victors, and if what Robert-Houdin produces is a story of his own heroism in an ideological struggle, we are not surprised. Perhaps, indeed, it is on a mythic level that the story is most valuable;



certainly the Memoirs of Robert-Houdin are notoriously unreliable – as well as being one of the keystone texts of modern magic, a book which would have been read by every magician of the succeeding generations, the ‘most influential book in the world of magic’.349 In the Memoirs, Robert-Houdin chronicles his career, and in particular his relationship with his mentor, an older magician called Torrini. The young Robert-Houdin first encounters Torrini when the older man saves his life. Robert-Houdin, travelling through France, has eaten a dish of stew which poisons him. On the road, he falls into a fainting fit, and when he recovers he finds himself in a carriage belonging to Torrini, who explains:
My name is Torrini, and I am a conjurer by profession. You are in my house – that is, in the carriage I usually employ as my domicile. You will be surprised, I dare say, to learn that the bedroom you now occupy can be lengthened into a theatre, and in that room behind the red curtains is the stage on which my apparatus is arranged… I found you lying insensible, with your face to the ground. Fortunately for you, I was then taking my morning walk by the horses’ side, and this circumstance saved you being run over. By Antonio’s help I carried you to my bed, and my knowledge of medicine restored you to life.350

The story is a dramatic enough one as it stands, but it becomes even more so. Robert-Houdin is grateful but bemused at the extent to which this stranger has befriended him and seems to have his interests at heart. Torrini goes on to explain why ‘…a man belonging to a class not generally erring on the side of sensibility, should have evinced such compassion for your sufferings’.351 It is produced, he tells the young man,
…‘by the sweet illusion of paternal love… I had a son, a beloved son; he was my hope, my life, my happiness; but a dread fatality robbed me of him: he died, and, terrible to say, he was assassinated, and his murderer stands before you!… Yes, yes, his murderer!’ Torrini went on, his voice growing gradually firmer: ‘and yet the law could not punish me; it left me life. In vain I accused myself before my judges; they treated me as a maniac, and my crime was regarded as accidental homicide. But what do I care, after all, for their judgment? Whether through carelessness, or imprudence as they say, my poor Giovanni is not the less lost to me, and I shall reproach myself with his death my life long… What I have said will suffice to explain the natural cause of my sympathy towards you. When I first saw you, I was struck by the likeness you bore in age and height to my unhappy boy. I even fancied I could trace a certain resemblance in your face, and, yielding to this illusion, I decided on keeping you near me, and nursing you as if you were my own child. You can now form an idea of the agony I endured during the week when I was compelled to despair of your restoration to life. But Providence, taking pity on us both, has saved you. You are now quite



convalescent, and in a few days, I trust, will be perfectly recovered. Such, my boy, is the secret of the affection I displayed towards you.’352

We learn a little more about the attractive, mysterious and romantic Torrini as the narrative progresses. Robert-Houdin explains that Torrini’s real name is deGrisy, and that the ‘murder’ of his son was actually an on-stage accident during a conjuring trick in which the son was assisting. The guilt of this tragic mishap haunts Torrini, but he finds some redemption in this second ‘son’, Robert-Houdin. Torrini goes on to become his mentor, and a second father to him, and it is from Torrini that Robert-Houdin learns the true art of the conjuror. If the story of their meeting and subsequent relationship, and the way in which it is narrated, smacks somewhat of the more melodramatic kind of nineteenth-century novel, there is little wonder. Torrini did not exist: he was a composite figure ‘constructed from bits of other performers’ lives’.353 The Memoirs, presented as documentary truth by Robert-Houdin and his translators, and accepted as such by generations of readers including Charles Dickens and Harry Houdini,354 are actually based on a fiction. When Thomas Frost wrote one of the first and most comprehensive histories of conjuring, his Lives of the Conjurors, he included Robert-Houdin’s stories of de Grisy/Torrini as literal fact, thus embedding Robert-Houdin’s fiction even more firmly in the folklore of the subject. In the introduction to this book, I suggested that many conjurors’ writings on their own art should be seen as a form of essentially ‘performative’: as emulating and extending the stage act; as consisting of a sequence of gestures designed to misdirect the reader’s attention, to say one thing while doing another; and as repeatedly performing that quintessential conjuror’s routine of appearing to explain the trick while actually doing no such thing. The notion of the bookas-performance is actually one which Robert-Houdin himself disarmingly suggests. In his ‘Overture’ to his memoirs he explains how now, in retirement, he continually experiences a frisson of pleasure as eight o’clock strikes, since this is the time his performances would begin. ‘Then, with my eye eagerly fixed on the hole in the curtain, I surveyed with intense pleasure the crowd that flocked in to see me. Then, as now, my heart beat, for I was proud and happy of such success’.355 He begins to imagine a different kind of performance:
These emotions and souvenirs are not at all painful to me: on the contrary, I summon them up with pleasure. At times I even mentally transport myself to my stage, in order to prolong them. There, as before, I ring the bell, the curtain rises, I see my audience again, and, under the charm of this sweet illusion, I delight in telling them the most interesting episodes of my professional life. I tell them how a man learns his real vocation, how the struggle with difficulties of every nature begins, how, in fact----



But why should I not convert this fiction into a reality? Could I not, each evening when the clock strikes eight, continue my performances under another form? My public shall be the reader, and my stage a book.356

We started this chapter with a consideration of different modalities of acting. Robert-Houdin himself displays different modalities of acting too. What part is the magician playing? The stage conjuror in the guise of a respectable gentleman? The French marabout who subverts his own supernatural claims? The authoritative historian of magic – whose story is actually fabricated… For Robert-Houdin, it seems, all the world was a stage, and in his lifetime he played many parts. He also stated quite openly and disingenuously what many conjurors writing about magic try to conceal: that the conjuror does not stop performing when he picks up the pen.


Chapter Seven

Before your very eyes: life, death and liveness
Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence… The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity. Walter Benjamin357 No illusion is good in a Film, as we simply resort to camera trix, and the deed is did. Harry Houdini

Death and the Maiden
A late nineteenth-century theatre: Onstage, a lady sits in a chair. A conjuror steps forward and with a flourish, covers her with a cloth. A pause, a gesture – the cloth is removed, the lady has vanished. The conjuror picks up the chair with one hand, to show how empty it is. He replaces it. Then, another gesture and – out of nowhere – the chair is occupied, not by the lady but by a skeleton! A grim image of human mortality, and a reference to the iconic motif of Death and the Maiden. This has been a theme of the memento mori trope from the artists of the Middle Ages to Schubert; in 1894 Edward Munch had produced a modernist version on the same theme. But the conjuror’s art is not only about death but also about resurrection. The magician proudly displays his skeleton long enough for us to see that it is real, then covers it once more with the cloth. Once more he whips it away and – surprise! – the lady is sitting where she had formerly been. She stands, they bow and leave the stage. This scene does not take place on a stage, but on the screen. I have just described Georges Méliès film – Escamotage d’une Dame chez Robert-Houdin/ The Vanishing Lady at the Robert-Houdin Théâtre (1896). The film’s location forms a significant link between magic in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was, as the title suggests, filmed in the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, the famous Parisian two-hundred-seat theatre which had once been the home of the ‘father of modern magic’ and which Méliès – magician and film pioneer – now owned and ran. In 1888, Méliès had sold his share of his father’s footwear manufacturing business, and with the proceeds had bought the exhibition


Méliès did. In the annals of film history. An age of mechanical – or of digital – reproduction poses particular problems for the art of the conjuror. Escamotage is generally regarded as revolutionary because it is the first recorded use of stop-action (also known as ‘stop-motion’) editing. stopping the camera. whose very 117 . The young Georges had been fascinated by magic since the age of ten.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. involving several magicians on stage at once. that the ‘presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity’ takes on a particularly resonant meaning when applied to conjuring. have an intuitive grasp of the importance of narrative within magic performances. In this short film. according to legend. As a young man he had trained as an amateur conjuror. he was manager and producer as well as performer – though. then returning her to the chair) and then rolling the camera again. It was this interest in narrative which later enabled him to effect a fusion between nineteenth-century conjuring traditions and the new medium of film. it was Méliès himself who played the part of a conjuror. His subsequent experiments with the relationship between magic and cinema are of immense importance to the history of both these art forms. while the maiden in the chair was Jehanne d’Alcy. and then been brought back to life. ostensibly to train for the world of business. the record of those everyday scenes of middle-class life. not a terribly good one. which appears to be one whose particular attraction lies in its liveness. turned into a skeleton. when his father sent him to London. featuring large-scale and rather expensive illusions. then replacing her with a skeleton. Indeed. Walter Benjamin’s insistence. he had been taken to see Robert-Houdin himself. He had it refurbished and re-opened it as Paris’s answer to Maskelyne and Cooke’s Egyptian Hall in London. which was dominant in the early years of the moving pictures. however. he had been a frequent customer at the Egyptian Hall. The illusion was created by the simple means of filming one action (d’Alcy’s first appearance in the chair).358 When played back. In it Méliès first begins to explore a use of cinema which breaks free of the mode of realism. when. DEATH AND LIVENESS rights for the theatre from Robert-Houdin’s daughter-in-law for 40. quoted above. specializing in rather derivative programmes. Méliès’ Escamotage was based on the illusion which had been made famous in both at the Théâtre Robert Houdin and at the Egyptian Hall by the French conjuror Bualtier de Kolta. and developed his own trademark forms of magic sketches and magic scenes. changing the scene (first removing d’Alcy from the chair. At the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. it seems. however. Under his management the theatre ran at a financial loss for several years. Méliès regular collaborator (and lover – later to become his wife) who had figured in many of the illusions in the stage shows at the Robert-Houdin.000 francs. taking lessons from Emile Voisin who owned a magician s shop in the Rue Vielle-du-Temple and performing mainly for family and friends. the illusion was that the lady had disappeared. not long before that great man’s death.

359 It is an argument which throws into question some age-old assumptions about the primacy of liveness in performance – and inevitably. it may be argued. This chapter will examine the conjuring act as a point at which liveness and mediatized performance intersect. This includes the part played by Magic Lantern and light shows in the magicians’ acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Philip Auslander has argued that at the level of cultural economy theatre (and live performance generally) and the mass media are rivals. not partners. whether there is any good reason why it should. The arrival of the electronic media in the first quarter of the twentieth century and its ensuing dominance in the form of film. sets it apart from the mass media. The physical presence of the performer ‘in time and space. [his] unique existence at the place where [he] happens to be’ would seem to be an essential part of the pleasure of the conjuror’s act. by Peggy Phelan in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance – this defence goes on to argue that live performance 118 . mass media representations in general and television in particular. creates a special kind of community among the participants. radio. in response. function and value of the work of art in an age of mechanical representation have a particular intensity in the area of performance. In the early years of the twentieth century. theorists have come up with various answers to the question. At its most extreme – as articulated. In the course of this I shall be considering not only some of the theoretical issues relating to ‘live’ performance. The questions which were first articulated by Benjamin. clung ever more firmly to the tenets of psychological naturalism) it soon became clear that the Golden Age of Magic was over. the energy that exists between the performer and the audience. TV. the effect of the visual and electronic media on the conjuror’s art has been profound. video and audio recordings and digital media have raised essential questions about the place of live performance: firstly. The presence of the performer. or to render it irrelevant. The value of live performance. Neither are they equal rivals: it is absolutely clear that our current cultural formation is saturated with. as the cinema replaced the showman as the main purveyor of wonders (and the mainstream theatre. lies precisely in its difference from mediatized events. Certainly. and dominated by. Its very ephemerality. whether live performance will be able to continue to compete with the media in the cultural or economic marketplace. the fact that it exists only ‘in the moment’. for example. about the status. secondly. and at times it has threatened to engulf it.PERFORMING DARK ARTS essence lies in challenging concepts of authenticity. as well as the paradoxical contributions which the live magic shows of the late nineteenth century made to the early development of motion pictures. but also ‘liveness’ in another sense of that word. to eclipse it.

US audiences might name David Copperfield. DEATH AND LIVENESS …becomes itself through disappearance… Without a copy. or video screens within theatrical performances.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. that by implication it somehow lies outside the ideological reach of contemporary market capitalism. All of these have made their career on television. that live performance (by ‘disappearing’ and subsequently persisting only in the spectator’s memory) ‘eludes regulation and control’. Paul Daniels and Derren Brown. live performance plunges into visibility – in a maniacally charged present – and disappears into memory. Yet. Live conjuring is. 119 .360 Auslander makes a characteristically uncompromising response towards such arguments for the primacy of live performance. into the realm of invisibility and the unconscious. from the low-level mediatization of electric amplification through to the lip-synched miming of the pop singer in the ‘live’ performance. of course. He also has little time for what he sees as traditional unreflective assumptions that fail to get much further in their attempts to explicate the value of ‘liveness’ than invoking clichés and mystifications like ‘the magic of live theatre’. and the forces which govern that economy. Some might argue that it exists here in its purest form. in conjuring – as in acting or pop music – the mass media is a dominant and determining factor: those present-day conjurors whose names are well known are those who have come to terms in various ways with the dominance of recorded/broadcast media. video and film and also incorporates media technology to such an extent that the live event itself becomes a product of media technologies. Penn and Teller. and the ‘community’ that live performance is often said to create among performers and spectators. in corporate hospitality events. He rejects Phelan’s assertion.361 Auslander’s point is that while live performance and the mass media are rivals in the cultural and economic marketplace. Asked to name a conjuror. the ‘energy’ that supposedly exists between performers and spectators in a live event. and in designated street theatre venues in tourist areas such as London’s Covent Garden or Sidney Harbour. in order to argue that it is no longer realistic to see liveness and mediatized performance as ontological opposites. contemporary live performance both seeks to replicate television. the use of giant television screens in a variety of live events from sports fixtures to rock concerts to performance art. where it eludes regulation and control… Performance honors the idea that a limited number of people in a specific time/space frame can have an experience of value which leaves no visible trace afterward. UK audiences over the past thirty or so years might have come up with names such as Tommy Cooper. He cites a range of examples. David Blaine. alive and well and living in children’s parties.

textbooks of film history usually credit this show at the Salon Indien as ‘the first public showing of motion pictures projected on a screen’. its function. As one conjuror writes. It perpetuates the image of movement. A later chapter will look more closely at the ways in which twentieth-century conjurors responded to this challenge. however. The present chapter is concerned with the initial confrontation between the magician and the film-maker. according to traditional film history. Boulevard des Capucines in Paris on 28th December 1895. The beauty of the invention resides in the novelty and ingenuity 120 . Max Skladanowsky and William Paul were working along similar lines. who had paid a franc each.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Auslander’s argument (somewhat simplified in this summary) provides us with a way of approaching the initial confrontation and the subsequent negotiations between live conjuring and mediatized performance. and at every step of the way the potential for tricking the eye and inventing new diversions (from pop-up books to the movies) marches in time to the progressive understanding of vision. Moving images and the conquest of death: the Magic Lantern The history of optical illusion… travels a course from religious belief in magic to the start of mass media entertainment. Although other inventors such as Thomas Edison. was at the Salon Indien of the Grand Café at 4. The early realization (most succinctly articulated by Harry Houdini in the epigraph to this chapter) that there might be something self-cancelling about the use of ‘camera trix’ in the magician’s art was followed by the even more devastating comprehension of the extent to which the recorded and broadcast media would come to dominate the world of entertainment. when the Lumière brothers first showed their Cinematographe pictures to a paying audience.’ Marina Warner362 Méliès was present when the movies were born – which.363 It took place before a small audience of thirty-three people. and above all its propensities. A review in La Poste for 30th December enthused that …photography no longer records stillness. it is one which is worth revisiting in the light of Georges Méliès’ Escamotage and its powerful invocation of Death and the Maiden. ‘to deceive. A rough graph of this might show a U-shaped curve in which nineteenth-century conjurors’ initial excitement at the possibilities of moving picture technology is first replaced by disappointment and anxiety. you must know what your audience is thinking. and later by a willingness to exploit the new technology on its own terms. The contribution which nineteenth-century conjuring made to the rise of the early film is now a commonplace of film history.

Even so the principles of the Magic Lantern were soon embedded in popular culture. a soul burning in purgatory.365 so the reviewer of the world’s first film-show sees in the Cinematographe.364 This is a truly extraordinary review. They contained ‘images of devils with pitchforks. as if the new technology inevitably involved phantasms and spectres’. even those created in the spirit of scientific experiment. the main medium for this kind of spooky magic was the Magic Lantern or Phantasmagoria. both of whom have been credited with its invention in the mid-seventeenth century. and one which magicians have not been slow in exploiting. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. but with movement. the ‘galante-show’ entertainer 121 . of course. which was a primitive but effective light condenser. and other supernatural scenes. not just in their motionless form. action. Just as the developing technologies of mass communication had begun to offer hope that there might be ways of contacting those who have passed over to the other side. then they will at least be able to speak to us. DEATH AND LIVENESS of the apparatus. then death will no longer be absolute. The Magic Lantern has a history which goes back well beyond the Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher or his contemporary Christiaan Huygens.366 Its prehistory includes Aristotle’s writings. 1214) which enabled the development of magic shadow entertainment devices. have a tendency to ‘disrupt the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Nonetheless. and the various kinds of undead are a perennial theme of popular culture. experiments in light and shadow by medieval philosopher-scientists such as Friar Roger Bacon (b. final’. The anonymous critic expounds an apocalyptic vision in which the moving image is something which will mean that ‘death will no longer be absolute. vampires.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. when anyone can photograph the ones who are dear to them. A death and resurrection show indeed. and inventions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘bulls-eye’ lens. not the future of mass entertainment.367 he was still an important popularizer of it in the later editions of his Ars Magnae Lucis et Umbrae.’369 Early versions of the Magic Lantern were powered by oil or candle – weak light sources which were barely enough to provide more than the most blurred images. but a way in which the dead will become present to us. When these gadgets are in the hands of the public. familiar gestures and the words out of their mouths. in which the principles on which the Magic Lantern is founded are first elaborated. if Kircher did not invent the Magic Lantern. Popular entertainment. has long been fascinated with this particular boundary.368 The shows with which Kircher is said to have entertained his friends are particularly resonant. optical illusions. final. Mister Death brandishing his scythe. Ghosts. By the end of the seventeenth century there was a new kind of entertainer – the wandering lantern player. If we are unable to speak to them. which tapped into Gothic fantasies of phantoms and spirits.

The Institute had a large theatre equipped for Magic Lantern shows of a particularly sophisticated kind and boasted a repertoire of over 900 slides – some of them as large as two feet across – designed by Childe and Hill. Some of the itinerant ‘galante-show’ lanternists used comparatively primitive machines. At the luxury end of the Magic Lantern scale were the elaborately mounted shows of the mid. using sophisticated multi-lensed apparatus. For example.to late-nineteenth century. The double-lens. though. And since a public performance of their ‘Bioskop’ pictures actually predated the Lumière brothers’ show at the Salon Indien by over a month. perhaps accompanied by narrative or music of the lanternist’s own making. But the travelling lantern show could also be quite sophisticated. By 1895 Max had developed and patented the ‘Bioskop’ – a mechanism for projecting the resulting image to an audience of the kind that one might get in a theatre. The narratives of these shows varied widely: frequently they had a supernatural or magical theme: tales of elves. who manufactured both Magic Lanterns and theatrical lighting apparatus. which were mounted in America by Joseph Boggs Beale. the family presented a complex version of the automaton – a mechanical theatre. and in London between 1838 and 1876 at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Regent Street. Using this and unperforated roll film controlled by a worm-gear motion. Small models were sold as children’s toys.PERFORMING DARK ARTS whose painted slides would be shown in inns or fairs. The street magician had found a new way of producing uncanny wonders in the name of entertainment. the Skladanowsky brothers technically have a better claim than their French counterparts to having been the first in Europe to project film to a paying audience. alternate frame technology of the Skladanowskys’ projection technique was clumsy and technologically something of a dead end. Trained as a photographer. In 1892 Max and his brother had invented and constructed a chronophotographic camera. he shot a short (fortyeight frame) motion film of his brother Eric. the Bioskop’s reliance on Magic Lantern techniques was as much of a handicap as it was a success. Magic Lantern shows cover a broad spectrum. In the end. the German lanternist Max Skladanowsky (1863–1939)370 was the son of a glazier and minor industrialist. bringing together a range of mechanical and optical effects and providing a great opportunity for the lanternist’s own creativity. The programme covered everything from 122 . he also undertook apprenticeships in glass painting and optics with the Hagedorn company. goblins and ghosts. and one of whose main features was a sophisticated dissolve between one slide and another. Central Europe and Scandinavia between 1879 and 1892. The skills which he and his father had between them were combined in a Magic Lantern show with which they both (along with Max’s brother Emil) toured Germany. demons. The Bioskop used principles derived from the double-lens ‘dissolves’ used in his Magic Lantern show. As well as the Magic Lantern.

But of all the variations on the ‘Magic Lantern’ theme. These shows involved the use of several lanterns and quantities of large handpainted slides to produce ‘dissolving views’. the technologically driven site-specific performance. skulls and bones – the bones. The images produced were often 2000 square feet or more. Behind the screen the appropriate music and sound effects were produced. While the Magic Lantern retained its function as a form of entertainment (including the illicit thrills of parlour showings of more sophisticated kinds of adult entertainment) it was also a vehicle for education. The walls were hung with strange pictures. but Robertson had the instincts of the showman rather than the scientific demonstrator. Once the gases were set alight. and his audience. had developed a taste for the macabre and the uncanny. they were told of long-dead monks. and retained its popularity in both Europe and America throughout the first fifty years of the nineteenth century.372 During the Victorian era (the golden age of Magic Lantern projection) handpainted slides gave way to – or were complemented by – photographic ones.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. This light/shadow show was first seen in Paris. abandoned and ruined Capuchin monastery (convent). for the dissemination of news and current affairs. or Robertson as he called himself. one of the most striking originated in Paris: the ‘Fantasmagorie’. multiple effects and illusions of movement. The possibility of mass production meant that the aesthetic qualities of the slides themselves tended to deteriorate even as the lantern mechanisms became more technically sophisticated. of Étienne Gaspard Robert.371 Limelight – which was now in regular use for other forms of theatre lighting – was created by squirting a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen onto a limestone base. The audience was led by lantern-light through the grounds and the passageways of an old. and the use of the beautiful but highly dangerous hydrogen-oxygen ‘limelight’ enabled these images to be shown to large audiences. DEATH AND LIVENESS current affairs (such as front-line reports from the battlefields of the Empire) through to fairy-tale narratives. It started – as many of the ‘wonders’ of the age started – as a straight scientific lecture. Here Robertson began what seemed like another scientific lecture – an apparently 123 . in the years following the Terror. The inner sanctum was hung with black velvet and illuminated by a single lamp. emitting a light which was ‘as powerful as a modern movie projector’. In 1799 Robertson opened a new kind of light and shadow show – and one of the earliest examples of that very modern art form. the limestone itself became incandescent. or Phantasmagoria. just after the French Revolution. for moral exhortation (temperance and religious lectures were given using Magic Lanterns) and for the demonstration of scientific principles. The slides that these men painted are the finest that were ever produced by hand painting. illustrating optical principles.

Some were on wheels and could be moved silently back and forth behind the screen. The routine. was given added power by its setting: the Capuchin monastery was the very stuff of Gothic fiction. After the first figure had been exhibited for a short time. and collapsed into.373 Robertson’s Phantasmagoria was created through a comparatively simple trick of projection. and a tiny figure – half-human. In this darkness visible. six assistants provided sound effects and operated several lanterns. suddenly the lamp went out. until suddenly it disappeared with a wail. Behind the screens which the audience faced. Sir David Brewster’s description of a Phantasmagoria. and the 124 . shimmering and ghostly. whose eyes and mouths were made to move by the shifting of combined slides. the lightning and thunder increased. until it attained its perfect development… [F]igures which retired with the freshness of life came back in the form of skeletons. playing expertly on a tension in the audience’s psyche between the rational and the irrational. back-projecting distorted human images onto the obscured and semi-transparent screen. which a showman called Philipstrahl exhibited in Edinburgh in 1802. Thunder roared and lightning flashed. the supernatural. however. is particularly vivid: The small theatre of exhibition was lighted only by one hanging lamp. skeletons. it began to grow less and less. The framework of Robertson’s lantern show was one in which scientific truth was interrupted by. the curtain rose. with skeletons and other terrific figures in relief upon its walls. The show was a smash success – the toast of Paris. ghosts and goblins groaned. Church bells tolled. The flickering light was then drawn up within its shroud. appear and disappear. and gradually grew larger and larger. with its ruined abbeys and demonic monks. Robertson’s show spawned a host of imitators. approach and retreat. and the spectators in total darkness found themselves in the middle of thunder and lightning… [These] were followed by the figures of ghosts. and at last vanished in a small cloud of light. Bold men hid their eyes. Bats fluttered on the walls. and displayed a cave. and known individuals. Then. making the images grow and shrink.PERFORMING DARK ARTS psychological discussion of the effects on the psyche which were created by thoughts of phantoms and witches. growing larger and larger. Women who had come to the show fainted in terror. and approached the spectators. Others were hand-held allowing bats and ghosts to swoop around the room. the flame of which was drawn up into an opaque chimney or shade when the performance began. half-demon – appeared in the air. Out of this same cloud the germ of another figure began to appear. skeletons came hurtling toward the audience. Gradually the figure seemed to approach. as if removed to a great distance.

creates a nightmare world in which the boundaries of life and death dissolve. Meanwhile. 125 . even more vividly than Robertson’s. for whom the aspect of the macabre became one of the most popular elements within the variety bill which was the standard fare of their shows. the reviewer from La Poste is caught by the very ordinariness of the pictures which he saw. an illusion of a phantom. The spectators were not only surprised. would continue their phantom life. It is a surreal show which bears comparison with some of the best work of George Méliès. Magicians at the Salon Indien Thus the moving Cinematographe images which the La Poste reviewer (quoted above) saw at the Salon Indien had been anticipated by the Magic Lantern shows and the Phantasmagorias of the previous century. It became a regular entertainment at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic – that strange hybrid place of erudition and entertainment – and then found its way both into magic shows and eventually into the mainstream theatre. But there is a significant difference in the way in which the two kinds of entertainment were received by their different audiences: if Robertson. at the time of the Lumière brothers’ soiree. but as themselves. Philipstrahl and their colleagues used the available technology to create a sense of the abnormal and the supernatural. as Pepper’s Ghost moved from the lecture hall to the theatre it changed its function and its epistemological status: as a theatrical device its function was to produce that most unscientific of effects – a ghost. bodies turn into skeletons and vice versa. This is what stimulated such a powerful sense of awe in him: walking. What started out as a scientific demonstration of Enlightenment rationalism turned into a producer of the irrational. caught on film in all their mundane reality. one of the most popular illusions on the London stage was ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ . produced by cunningly angled mirrors. DEATH AND LIVENESS retiring skeletons returned in the drapery of flesh and blood… The effect of this part of the exhibition was naturally the most impressive. where scenes such as that in Boucicault’s The Corsican Brothers were written expressly to exploit its potential for supernatural illusion. in which solid figures dematerialize. and many of them were of the opinion that they could have touched the figures.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE.374 Even without the aid of the atmospheric setting – but with the aid of a technologically well-equipped performance space – Philipstrahl’s Phantasmagoria. Thus. through continual re-presenting. which had started life in the lecture hall as a demonstration of principles of optics. not as fictions of the storyteller. moving images of men and women who. Images from shows such as these fed back into the more traditional lantern slide shows of the travelling lanternists. but agitated.

In this he was not entirely wrong. and like those of Maskelyne and Cooke at the Egyptian Hall. however. On the contrary. in such a way as to challenge the finality even of death. and many of these automata must have seemed outdated and quaint. or shadow-puppet shows – old favourites which had maintained their popularity in the late nineteenth century and were guaranteed crowd-pleasers. Even in Robert-Houdin’s heyday there may have been something slightly retrograde about these mechanical devices. Méliès’ finales often involved Magic Lantern shows. In the audience that evening. but by the time Méliès inherited them at the end of the nineteenth century the art of the conjuror had moved on. the films which he saw at the Salon Indien were. much more like home movies in both form and content than they were like feature films: street scenes with horses and carts and passers-by. the future of the cinematograph seemed to lie in the hands of the amateur enthusiast rather than the professional film-maker. he seems to have seen his role in life as being to perpetuate the conjuring traditions of previous generations.375 This. Along with the theatre itself Méliès had also acquired and renovated many of the mechanical marvels created by Robert-Houdin himself. though.PERFORMING DARK ARTS For the La Poste reviewer. as the majority of early films from the 1890s and 1900s would be. was the thirty-four-year-old Georges Méliès: a struggling theatre proprietor and occasional conjuror whose technical experiments would marry the emerging realist tradition with the older traditions of the Phantasmagoria and the nineteenth-century conjuring show in such a way as to establish the basis of a whole vocabulary of film-making. of course: home movies became a flourishing pastime among twentieth-century enthusiasts. Méliès was both technically proficient at projecting images and was also used to regarding them as an integral part of a magic performance. Méliès was not one of the great magical innovators of his time. Street scenes could provide multitudinous lines of movement. made by apparent amateurs for whom the delight of motion photography is such a novelty that ‘the camera was turned on anything which moved sufficiently to demonstrate the ability of the equipment to capture it. the man who was soon to establish a vocabulary for the twentieth century’s most innovative art form was curating a collection of memorabilia of performances from a bygone era. This meant that for many years before he encountered the Cinematographe. the outdoor locations suggesting boundless off-screen space’. as might be inferred from his acquisition and refurbishment of the Théâtre Robert Houdin. As in Robert-Houdin’s own programmes. 126 . Moreover.376 Ironically. although it was not until nearly a hundred years later that the user-friendly video camera made amateur ‘moviemaking’ truly ubiquitous. at the Salon Indien. is what the reviewer finds so amazing – a way of perpetuating everyday life in all the reality of its ordinary motion and bustle. Equally traditional were the items with which Méliès frequently ended his evening’s programmes.

whose speciality had been shadowgraphy – another form of light-magic. there was a crowd of people demanding to get on the bandwagon. Carl Hertz. bullied Robert William Paul into selling him a Theatrograph just in time to set off on a world tour – thereby initiating the history of film in both Africa and Australia. who was actually the first to use stop-action photography in a film. the first president of the Magic Circle was no great movie director or performer. then a passerby. Even the Lumière brothers.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. it may have been Devant. A little surprised. Devant. in Britain at least.379 David Devant. to find ways of capitalizing on the new technology – magicians were frequently at the front of the queue. While the craze was alive. however. one of the best-known magicians in Europe. Along with Hertz. According to Méliès. His journeys criss-crossed those of other entrepreneurs. In fact. following the first public projections of moving images. similar to those we use for projections.377 What nobody seems to have foreseen at the Salon Indien was the revolution in commercial entertainment that the projected moving image would precipitate. a stationary photograph showing the Place Bellcour in Lyons was projected. We sat with our mouths open. and after a few minutes. [t]he other guests and I found ourselves in front of a small screen. I scarcely had time to say to my neighbour: ‘Have we been brought here to see projections? I’ve been doing these for ten years. In short. filled with amazement. The Algerian Isola brothers. rather than Méliès. also attended the Lumières’ demonstration at the Grand Café and within months had started not only showing films at their Théâtre Isola but marketed their own ‘Isolatagraph’ projectors. but he too has his place in the history of early cinema. Emile and Vincent. using Paul’s rival equipment. In what Erik Barnouw has called ‘The Scramble’378 – the great rush. ran three provincial touring theatrograph companies as well as his projections at the Egyptian Hall. A Lumière opérateur beat him to Bombay. like Maskelyne. other magic acts were descending on India with cinematographic marvels: the arrivals included a ‘Hughes Photo-Motoscope’ and ‘Professor Anderson and Mlle. all the hustle and bustle of a street. DEATH AND LIVENESS Indeed. believed that the craze for moving images would be short-lived. but Hertz had already beaten him to Australia. without speaking. whose magic theatre was in direct competition with the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. He certainly claimed to be the first 127 . this was his first reaction when invited to the Lumières’ exhibition at the Salon Indien.’ No sooner had I stopped speaking when a horse pulling a cart started to walk towards us followed by other vehicles. Blanche and their Andersonoscopograph’. The Lumières entrusted the UK marketing of their Cinematograph to Felicien Trewey – a master magician of the previous generation.

and so he acquired (from Devant) two of Robert William Paul’s rival Theatrographs. one to him. Smith. too. however. also dated 1896. but they refused to sell. in which Devant performs a series of metamorphoses in which he.380 Out of his top hat Devant pulls rabbits.PERFORMING DARK ARTS magician to appear in an animated film. but he was unable to convince the Lumières to sell. has no notion how to time his actions against the camerawork. metamorphoses into a cage full of birds which suddenly vanishes. using spare mechanical parts from his theatrical workshop. Walter R.381 Whether or not Devant’s film pre-dates Méliès’ Escamotage (and if it does it would be only by a matter of weeks) his counterclaim does nothing to challenge Méliès’ claim to a place in history: in fact it rather tends to strengthen it. is as an entrepreneur rather than as a creative artist. and then another top hat. A small bunch of flowers instantly becomes a large bunch of flowers. Alexander Victor (‘Alexander the Great’). it was Méliès above all who was able to see the creative potential for the magical aspects of this new medium. Devant’s short film allows us to see just how effective Méliès is at creating his own conjunction of cinematography and conjuring. while Maskelyne maintained that the movies were just a passing fad. like Devant. a carafe of wine. The stop-action technique is clumsy and jerky. 128 . who looks painfully ill at ease in front of the camera. Other magicians who saw the potential for including moving picture projections in their acts included Leopoldo Fregoli. but in fact did not continue long with the manufacture of it. Méliès patented his ‘Kinétographe’ in September 1896. The forced smile with which he finishes his performance has an air of terrible desperation about it.383 But in the early years. cards. He had been present on 20th February 1896 at the Regent Street Polytechnic at a demonstration of the Lumière brothers’ Cinematographe. Booth. At that time he was partnering John Nevil Maskelyne at the Egyptian Hall in England’s most famous magic soiree. Stuart Blackton and Harry Houdini. Billy Bitzer. Devant wisely stayed with his live act. as a climax to the act.382 In terms of performance. then. It looks utterly dreadful. rather than hire. So. and the Lumières refused to sell their invention. Apparatus manufactured by Leon Gaumont. had attempted to buy a Cinematographe from the Lumière brothers. J. Nor was he able to convince Maskelyne of the long-term viability of moving picture shows – especially at the £100 per week that the Lumières were asking. while Devant. Devant bought a similar machine (a ‘Theatrograph’) from the British inventor Robert William Paul and struck a deal with Paul whereby he received commission for selling others and became the first independent licensed operator in the UK. and it is also true that he sold Méliès his first moving picture apparatus.384 He then modified these in a rather do-it-yourself way. By demonstrating how easy it is to use the camera badly. so that it could be used as a camera as well as a projector. Méliès. Albert E. then. He was extremely impressed with the Cinematographe. The Magic Circle owns a copy of a short piece of film. is clearly using stop-action photography. Devant’s place in film history.

It is perhaps a little hard to believe: Méliès was. DEATH AND LIVENESS Charles Pathé. the discovery which changed his career happened by accident – and (ironically enough) while he was making one of his documentary-style ‘shorts’.385 only a few of which now survive. Georges Démeny and the Lumières themselves turned out to be more efficient. it is not surprising that some of these. took conjuring as their theme. Given his personal and professional interest in the theme of magic. and that it was as much a surprise to him as he claims. In this way the substitution trick. he actually set out. Séance de Prestidigitation (An Evening of Conjuring) and Dix Chapeaux en 60 Secondes (Conjuror Making 10 Hats in 60 Seconds). The Magic Lanterns which he had been using for many years in his theatre used a similar kind of stop-action technique to effect image transformations. when I projected the filmstrip… I saw a ‘Madeleine-Bastille’ bus suddenly change into a hearse. Their titles give an indication of their content: many of them were travelogues & news documentaries such as Sauvetage en Rivière (River Rescue). comic sketch such as Les Ivrognes (the Drunks). as well as sophisticated dissolves and metamorphoses. While Méliès is now best known for his fantasy films. But it was not so much the theme of Méliès film as his technical innovations that secured his place in the annals of film history. It was made in frank imitation of a similar Lumière brothers’ movie from the previous year. familiar with the techniques of projected images. Later. saw Méliès make eighty more short films. to make documentary-style. after all. what so astonished Méliès was the realization of the sort of effects which could be obtained simply by applying some of these old magic-lantern principles to the realistically photographed human body – and then finding the frameworks 129 . such as Le Mystère Indien Fakir (The Mysterious Indian Fakir). both for showing and for producing short films. It took me a minute to release the film and start cranking the camera again. The camera he was using in the early days was a very basic one. 1896. his brother Gaston and a friend playing cards in the garden of their home at Montreuil-sur-Bois. His first attempt had been a one-minute film called Une Partie de Cartes (1896) a home movie showing himself. During that minute the passersby. an experienced showman. Partie d'Écarté. with a tendency to tear or jam the film: One day early in my career as I was casually photographing the Place de l'Opéra. the buses and the cars had of course moved.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. According to Méliès own testimony. and the occasional. though. ‘slice-of-life’ factual films. like most early film-makers. the so-called ‘stop-action technique’ was discovered…386 It is possible that the story happened just as accidentally as Méliès tells it. more theatrical. That year. my camera jammed… with unexpected results. Between 1896 and 1913 Méliès produced over 500 of these. Perhaps. street scenes from Parisian locations such as Bois de Boulogne and Boulevard des Italiens. and some men become women.

perhaps. apparently by his earliest audiences: ‘Evidently the whole thing appeared childish on the screen. Méliès uses a different. moved things on significantly. The essence of the live trick is maintained but elaborated upon by the camera in the figure of Death. Méliès nonetheless tamed the grotesque metamorphosis of his accidental discovery and reproduced it as a music hall routine. Bualtier de Kolta and other magicians. had been performing ‘The Vanishing Lady’. he recognized these metamorphoses as being akin to those that conjurors had been performing. it is framed as a slice of cinematic realism.’387 In fact. (from nowhere. That really does need the trickery of stopaction photography: one moment the chair is empty. The audience… did not get the idea. and scenes of family life which were the staple of the first few years of film-making. Bualtier de Kolta’s Vanishing Lady which provided the first of these frameworks. Less impressive in scale and macabre symbolism. but he then presents his film as if it were an exact reproduction of the de Kolta routine. technique to get the same effect on screen. it was the conjuror’s trick. and cinematic. to all intents and purposes. grotesque and symbolic death. Méliès’ next steps. In a macabre reversal of the enthusiastic notice of the Lumière’s soiree in La Poste. Fittingly. Innovations If Escamotage was only a qualified success. a realistic document of an item of popular entertainment. It is. Although it plays – as a conjuror plays – with the limits of the possible. the next.PERFORMING DARK ARTS which would turn a technical trick into a narrative of wonder. there was one element which could not have been performed live: the instantaneous appearance. it is a paradoxical film. Yet Escamotage was not regarded as a great success by Méliès himself. and without the conjuror’s traditional covering cloth) of the skeleton in the chair. Even so. beneath the cloth. however. the skeleton has appeared in it. to slide down into a trapdoor. nor. Watching the buses turning into hearses and the men turning into women in his film of the Place de l’Opéra. Méliès’ unique genius – and eventually his limitation – lay in perceiving and exploiting the similarity between the creative possibilities of film and the pleasure of the conjuror’s act. than the omnibus which turns into a hearse. Méliès created an illusion. Most of what the audience sees on screen could have indeed been seen on the stage of the Robert-Houdin and many other theatres – effected by means of a trick chair which allowed the lady. live to audiences. or a virtually identical trick. not very different in kind from the street scenes. at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. using the techniques of live conjuring. Having discovered the potential of the new moving 130 . The realization that what had happened accidentally could be made to work deliberately led him to make Escamotage d’une Dame chez Robert-Houdin. not of eternal life but of sudden. For many years. and one which does not fully engage with the possibilities of the new art form.

scripting. (Méliès). Other films of 1896 included the first ‘monster movie’. top hats. then superimpositions on white backgrounds already exposed which are obtained by a device which I am not going to reveal. inventing on the way several genres which would later be taken up by the Hollywood studios. editing and acting in his films. apparitions. for example. While he continued to manage the Théâtre Robert-Houdin (including four largescale ‘spectaculars’ mounted between 1905 and 1907). who waves his hand and a large cauldron appears. In others. and in succession I conceived dissolves from scene to scene effected by a special arrangement in the camera. or portions of the screen reserved for décors. In a medieval hall a bat circles and transforms into Mephistopheles.388 At the end of 1896 he launched his own production company Star Films: their slogan ‘The Whole World Within Reach’ gives a sense of how Méliès saw films as changing the world. He continued to experiment with conjuring-style effects in films. he set about exploiting it to the full. disappearances. much of his energy was now spent on producing. where nearly all his subsequent films were shot. as Lewis Carroll. became the film The Moon at Arm’s Length (La Lune à un Metre. fantasies. In others he draws on the imagery of the conjuror’s act to create a world of horrors. the mathematician and amateur conjuror who. Méliès expands the conjuring routines of the Théâtre Robert-Houdin to provide the narratives of the film: a routine called The Tricks of the Moon. took the playing cards. fantastic or impossible images. Méliès’ continued to experiment during the 1890s: One trick leads to another. Une Nuit Terrible (A Terrible Night) in which a man wakes to see a giant beetle threatening him. In the face of the success of this new style. 1898). like the first Escamotage. metamorphoses obtained by superimposition on black backgrounds. At another wave of his hand a beautiful woman emerges from a puff of smoke and an old man appears from the floor carrying a book.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. Everything disappears at a sign from the evil one then a cavalier arrives holding a cross causes the Devil to throw up his arms and disappear in a cloud of smoke. DEATH AND LIVENESS pictures for producing surreal. designing. since imitators have not penetrated 131 . Some of them are. framed as documentary-style representations of conjurors on stage at the Robert-Houdin Théâtre. directing. meanwhile the three-minute ‘feature’ Le Manoir du Diable (The Devil’s Castle) may well have been the first vampire film. and startling effects which prefigure the dream-logic of the surrealists. I set myself to discover new processes. pocket watches and white rabbits from the magician’s act and turned them into the grotesque and comic dystopia of Wonderland. By 1897 he had opened his own greenhouse-like studio in the grounds of the family home. In this Méliès resembles Charles Ludwig Dodgson.

he was editing scenes together to produce a chronological narrative. he also drew on folk tales and melodramas. multiply and float around the room. is closer to Robertson’s Phantasmagoria than it is to Kirlian photography: it refers to double-exposed sequences in which the walls of a cave can be seen through the translucent ghosts and skeletons which haunt it. Le Magnetiseur portrayed a hypnotist at work. Cendrillon (Cinderella. 1898). he inevitably borrowed from existing narrative genres. 1897). And while Méliès would have been familiar with the conventions of the British pantomime from his youthful stay in London. of doubling the characters. however.PERFORMING DARK ARTS the whole secret. too. using the cinema’s first split-screen shot: that is to say a shot in which an actor plays opposite ‘himself ’. At a time when most films were single-shot affairs. documentaries and slices of life. As well as the stock routines of the conjuror. To do this. The following year in Un Homme de Têtes (The Four Troublesome Heads.389 Thus. in L Auberge Ensorcelé (The Bewitched Inn) a traveller staying at the inn is terrified by his clothes coming to life and dancing around of their own accord. and on pantomime stories such as Cinderella.390 The same year Méliès developed what he called ‘Spirit photography’ in films such as La Caverne Maudite (Cave of Demons. of scenes played by a single actor… Finally. for example. optics. With all these processes mixed one with another and used with competence. Méliès proved to be a pioneer in the development of a cinematic language. Then came tricks of decapitation. on gothic fantasies such as Bluebeard. his films included titles such as Le Cabinet de Mephistopheles (Mephistopheles’ Cabinet) and Le Château Haunté (The Haunted Castle) – in both of which he played the Devil. in employing the special knowledge of illusions which 25 years in the Théâtre Robert-Houdin had given me. Katherine Singer Kovacs has also pointed out that he would have had much greater familiarity with a native French genre which is virtually unheard of today: the French popular theatrical genre of 132 . from which he pulled dreamlike sequences as well as realist newsreels. Yet once again we see Méliès’ achievement to be one based as much in tradition as in radical innovation: Cendrillon also featured the first successful cinematic adaptation of the old ‘dissolve’ technique favoured by Magic Lanternists. Méliès used the cinema as a box of magic tricks. a man’s heads take on a life of their own. mechanics. 1899) was a large-scale production – over seven minutes long and using over thirty actors! Here. during 1897. The term is reminiscent of those projects by which spiritualists (both genuine and bogus) attempted to reunite science and spirituality by capturing the spirit-world on photographic stock. Méliès’ technique. The fantasy of Gugusse et l Automate (The Clown and the Automaton) harked back to earlier days of mediatized magic. prestidigitation etc. I do not hesitate to say that in cinematography it is today possible to realise the most impossible and the most improbable things. I introduced into the cinema the tricks of machinery.

Méliès is a pioneer: his most famous fantasy film. In its first few years. A Trip to the Moon (1902). monsters. a little oversimplified: as Brecht well knew. her handsome lover. the féeries of the Parisian theatre were peopled by supernatural beings such as fairies.393 Gunning’s definition of dramatic/cinematic narrative is. too. too. Here.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. there have always been modes of engagement with narrative which do not involve this kind of loss of self in the fictional world. It gave them fairy-tale adventure narratives. as well as by stock characters from a popular theatrical tradition which stretches back to commedia dell’ arte: the heroine. As the name suggests. It played to a largely uneducated working-class audience. The relation between films and the emergence of the great amusement parks. A comic fantasy of space flight. the film was a box office smash. magical transformations – and happy endings. the lazy servant and the grotesque rival. and early cinema-going may have been driven not by a desire for narrative but by the spectators’ fascination with the spectacle and – crucially – with the technology which created it. mime and dance. genies. DEATH AND LIVENESS the féerie. which enacted a battle between good and evil. Tom Gunning has coined the phrase ‘the cinema of attractions’ for what he sees as the dominant mode of cinema in the period up to 1906. instantaneous scene changes. cinema was driven by forces other than storytelling. and remains an acknowledged classic of early cinema.392 the féerie was a specifically French form which had developed in the years soon after the Revolution. flying. the excitement of curiosity and its fulfilment. But Gunning’s larger point is an important one. at the turn of the century provides rich ground 133 . but remains aware of the act of looking. this is an approach which potentially distorts both the work of these film-makers and the actual forces shaping cinema before 1906… [Early audiences’] viewing experiences relate more to the attractions of the fairground than to the traditions of the legitimate theatre. a magical narrative for adults. These féeries were a historical precursor of the fantasy genre of films and literature. He argues that while early film-makers such as Méliès and Porter have been studied primarily from the viewpoint of their contribution to film as a storytelling medium. Rather than being an involvement with narrative action or empathy with character psychology. It made full use. of the theatre’s capacity for the spectacular: metamorphoses.391 Similar in some ways to the pantomime. the cinema of attractions solicits a highly conscious awareness of the film image engaging the viewer’s curiosity. gnomes and witches. one which was hungry for entertainment. such as Coney Island. is generally acknowledged to be one of the defining films in the genre of science fiction. perhaps. but also closely allied to the tradition of melodrama. The spectator does not get lost in a fictional world and its drama.

but the games they play with reality demand an agile imaginative response from a spectator who is engaged in the story being told. and the more highly wrought. stylized and presentational style of performance with which audiences would have been familiar from earlier melodramas. the term refers to those plays written for and staged at the particular theatre opened by Oscar Metenier in 1897. a world of make-believe. the Théâtre du Grand Guignol in the rue Chaptal in Montmartre. It was arguably the tension between a theatrical naturalism which was always threatening to break down under the effect of its grotesque subject matter. one of the totemic theatres of the naturalist movement. They do indeed have an element of the fairground attraction – or indeed the magic show – about them. featuring nightly programmes which played to the more sadistic elements of the spectators’ responses. Metenier had spent six years as a collaborator of Andre Antoine at the Théâtre Libre. not Le Déjeuner de Bébé or The Black Diamond Express. myths and contemporary theatrical genres. which made Grand Guignol theatre so mesmerizing to audiences in the early years of the twentieth century. ‘Grand Guignol’ (which means ‘Big Puppet Show’. Méliès could also claim to be the first horror movie maker. the outlandish and the horrific. to the ‘excitement of curiosity and its fulfilment’ – but it is also being led into a fairy-tale dreamworld. It was the Cinematographe. Their narratives may not be complex in any psychological sense.394 Méliès’ experimental films seem both to fulfil Gunning’s criteria and to exceed them. The audience is being given a bravura demonstration of the technical possibilities of the movies. Early audiences went to exhibitions to see machines demonstrated… rather than to see films. or ‘Puppet Show For Adults’) is loosely used to refer to a mode of theatre in general – a ‘theatre of horror’ which blends some of the pleasures of Gothic drama and melodrama with elements of a more ‘realistic’ style of writing and playing which shows the influence of nineteenth-century European naturalism even while its narratives deal with the grotesque. More strictly. Nor should we forget that in the earliest years of exhibition the cinema itself was an attraction. Many of his early cinematic fantasies echo the disturbing images of death and disfigurement of the nearby ‘Théâtre Grand Guignol’ – a theatre offering a particularly Parisian form of popular culture. one which appeals to their informed interest in the technology of motion picture projection. the Biograph or the Vitascope that were advertised on the variety bill in which they premiered. however.395 134 . but they also frame themselves within the context of folk tales. George Méliès’ sympathy for the devil As well as pioneering the science-fiction film.PERFORMING DARK ARTS for rethinking the roots of early cinema.

for his own Faust and Marguerite in which Faust makes a pact with the Devil. like their slightly less disreputable cousin the melodrama. At the affective level. Tibbetts. so the gruesome in Méliès films tended usually to be redeemed by the humorous. employed similar forms of publicity. like many of today’s horror film-makers. and here. Méliès drew on both in order to create his own particular form of cinema. The two forms played to similar audiences. the extreme. opera. was drawn towards the combination of horror and laughter which the new medium offered. Nor was he the only film pioneer who found the story particularly enthralling. The Grand Guignol was a theatre of horror. naturalistic play) and the variety bill (cabaret. In 1897 he adapted a short section of the Faust legend. DEATH AND LIVENESS There are already several points of similarity between the original Grand Guignol and contemporary magic/conjuring shows. Méliès. In 1904 Méliès’s Faust et Marguerite stomped the opera into a twenty-minute adaptation in twenty short tableaux [in which] Méliès… portrayed Mephistopheles…396 Tibbetts’ statement is suggestive. of dismemberment – which was similar in kind to the thrill of the theatrical genre. magic and the Grand Guignol both deal with the outlandish.l’oeuil effect which was at the heart of several kinds of magic tricks. music hall. however. Perhaps Méliès most ambitious production of the 1890s was also his most appropriate one. Here is the full list of Faust films from the silent era of which reliable documentation still remains: 135 . made use of – and indeed depended on – the kinds of trompe. although his chronology and attributions are open to debate: like the history of magic. of impalement. is that Méliès was fascinated with the Faust legend and returned to it several times in his film-making career. too.g. Just as the lady in Escamotage was restored to life. In 1897 the Lumières produced two short scenes from the opera – Mephistopheles s supernatural apparition and Faust s transformation from wizened old scholar to stalwart youth.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. though.397 What is certain. This uses Gounod’s operatic version of the story. the history of early film is not always easy to reconstruct. many magic tricks offered a kind of frisson of danger – of decapitation. Both depend on an element of illusion: the theatre of Grand Guignol and its derivatives. and had similar places in the overall cultural ‘map’ of imaginative and theatrical entertainments. circus). According to John C. An evening at the Guignol and at a conjuring show were similarly structured: in an age in which the two dominant modes of performative entertainment were the single substantial performance (e. both the theatre of the Grand Guignol and the magic show of the Golden Age tended towards the latter. Maybe at some level Méliès realized that the newness of this medium had such potential for transforming reality that it needed to be kept under control in some way. Gounod s Faust has been adapted to the screen (for better or worse) more than any other opera.

Emil Jannings and Camilla Horn. Porter has a go at a Faustus scene – which is particularly surprising in view of the fact that Porter is usually thought of as representing a very different tradition from Méliès.eine deutsche Volkssage [Faust: a German Folk Legend]. whereupon Mephistopheles draws the sword across the throat of the lady and she suddenly disappears and Faust is seated in her place. With Jeanne d Alcy.398 136 . Frank Wilson. Bertram Phillips.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 1897 a) Faust et Marguerite. Faust. Screenplay Frank Miller III. Faust aux enfers. Hepworth. Georges Méliès. Georges Méliès. b) Cabinet de Méphistophélès. George Albert Smith. With: Hay Plumb. (UK & France) Dir. Georges Méliès. Tom Santschi. Alice Guy. Alice Guy. The catalogue describes his Faustus and Marguerite (1900) in the following terms: Marguerite is seated before the fireplace. Edwin S. Faust. Even Edwin S. (France) Dir. Murnau: it is an extraordinary list. Jack Hulcup. F. (Germany) Dir. (France) Dir. Faust . With William Sorelle. Stellan Rye. (USA) Dir. With Gösta Ekmann. Faust refuses. (France) Dir. Faust. (France) Dir. (UK) Dir. (USA) Dir. Henri Andréani and David Barnett. (UK) Dir. Der Student von Prag [The Student of Prague]. Claire Pridelle. Mephistopheles enters and offers his sword to Faust. La Damnation de Faust. 1898 1900 1903 1909 1910 1911 1913 1922 1923 1925 1926 Méliès. Georges Méliès. (France) Dir. a) Faust and Mephistopheles. Porter. (France) Dir. Faust and Marguerite. Faust. As the maker of the ground-breaking Great Train Robbery (1902) he is hailed as the father of the Western movie – a genre whose habitual mode is a form of heightened realism rather than fantasy. (UK) Directed by Cecil M.Victor Charpentier and Stéphane Passet. Porter. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. b) La Damnation de Faust. Screenplay Hanns Heinz Ewers. Edwin S. Marcel L Herbier. Don Juan et Faust. (France) Dir. (Germany) Dir. W. Faust et Méphistophéles. commanding him to behead the fair Marguerite. Faust standing by her side. With Fernanda Negri Pouget.

less nervous about seeming to sup with the devil: indeed the Faustus legend haunts early film-making. And make that country continent to Spain And both contributory to my crown. Maskelyne. Fred Nadis argues that although magicians such as Kellar. The Devil conjures lies which imitate the true creation – for 137 . magicians at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries went out of the way to deny any real occult status. In both its narrative and its title it refers back to Méliès’ own first Faust film. and the Devil is always around… Méliès returned to the Faust theme not once but several times in his filmmaking career – and in these and other films he returned time after time to what appeared to be his favourite role: ‘Méliès’ numerous appearances as the Devil must far outnumber that of any other actor. 399 The new magicians of the cinema were. Faust and Marguerite.’400 The slogan of Star Films in the 1890s – ‘The whole world within reach’ is an uncanny echo of the fantasies of omnipotence which haunt Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in the first great play of that name from the 1590s. But the fascination of Méliès and the early film-makers with the Faust legend does more than offer an ironic and unconscious harbinger of the role of the film industry in the global economy in the later twentieth century. Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please? …I’ll have them fly to India for gold. having appeared in as many as 24 manifestations in his films.401 Globalization and imperialism combine in this dream of luxury. practice and stagecraft’. Thurston and Houdini made use of playful posters showing them communicating with ‘little devils whispering helpful secrets in their ears’. as if the film-makers were aware of something of the power of these new inventions – towards that long Christian tradition which sees the Devil as a creator of illusions. Ransack the ocean for orient pearl And search all corners of the new-found world For pleasant fruits and princely delicates… [I’ll] make a bridge through the air To pass the ocean. to ‘make it clear that their effects were the result of trick mechanisms. In his paper ‘Facing the Divide: Turn of the Century Stage Magicians’ Presentations of Rationalism and the Occult’. Méliès dreamed a dream which was shared by the rest of the pioneers of early cinematography. DEATH AND LIVENESS Porter’s narrative seems to be based on Méliès’ Escamotage.BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. It also gestures – almost guiltily. it seems. With a band of men I’ll join the hills that bind the Affrick shore.

He toys with us. In one sense then. Copyright problems – or rather the lack of clear copyright legislation – meant that Méliès never profited to the extent he should have done from his films. For example. “to play” in Latin’. especially when creating spectacles that are not there. the vision of Helen of Troy ‘sucks forth’ Faustus’s soul404 and seals his damnation. As a film-maker. pageants and illusions. in particular. vaudeville artists found themselves in competition with the new 138 . in the play’s closing phase. playing on desires and weaknesses. In Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. the movies – or at least that aspect of the movies which became the ‘Dream Factory’ – was born out of late nineteenth-century magic shows. too. As proprietor of the Théâtre Robert-Houdin before he became involved in movies. it seemed was to be killed by the success of the electronic media. the devil in the person of Mephistopheles (Méliès’ role) becomes a diabolic showman-cum-projectionist. when once more he threatens to turn back to God. Méliès presided over their resolution to rent all films rather than sell them outright – a practice already being adopted by Pathé but one which would adversely affect his own financial interests. was also one of the most intensely pirated films of its time. at points when Faustus appears to be relenting and turning back to God.402 And no story plays on this theme more persistently than the Faust legend. Finally.PERFORMING DARK ARTS he cannot truly create but only imitate. Mephistophilis replies ‘Nothing. But one of the classic myths of our civilization is that of the child that destroys its father: the Oedipal relationship between the growing film industry and its parents seemed doomed to end with the child flourishing at the expense of the parent: magic.403 At another point. Faustus but to delight thy mind’. In 1915. Devils dance before him and Faustus asks ‘What means this show?’. Méliès’ experiments with cinematic magic seemed more and more peripheral to the direction in which the movies were going. the Devil distracts him with shows. for the word “illusion” itself comes from “ludere”. which was hugely popular at the box office. It would be several years before the full force of his influence and his experimental discoveries would be felt. And on a commercial level. In the early years of the twentieth century. The Devil ‘summons images in the mind’s eye. The question of ‘liveness’ is not only one of theory: it is also about very practical issues such as theatre economics. as chair of the Congress International des Editeurs du Film. in 1909. financial difficulties forced him to sell the Théâtre Robert-Houdin – ironically enough. his strengths were also his weaknesses: as public passion for realist narratives like Porter’s Great Train Robbery grew. he had often been running at a loss. The deal that Faustus made turned out to be bad business. to a cinema operator. and more than once. he made several disastrous decisions. was a poor businessman.405 Even his masterpiece A Trip to the Moon. He conjures visions for Faustus. Méliès. he is diverted by the pageant of the Seven Deadly Sins.

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES: LIFE. managed to survive a little while into the movie era but not very long. then radio and eventually television. DEATH AND LIVENESS media: first of all the growing movie industry. The Egyptian Hall and its successor. 139 . many of Méliès’ generation of conjurors might have felt that that the pact they made with the new art form turned out to be a Faustian one after all. shrank as people chose to spend their leisure time and their surplus income in cinemas (and later in their own homes) rather than variety halls or magic theatres. but that sector of it which was devoted to the live variety act. The entertainment industry as a whole expanded. With hindsight. St George’s Hall.

is to repeat uncertainties. He was one of the showbiz superstars of his own day: George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have said that the two most famous men in the world after Jesus Christ were Houdini and Sherlock Holmes. Pennsylvania. As with so much else about him ‘Harry Houdini’s origins are complex issues. To write about Houdini.408 At the time of writing. since both the escape artist and the detective of Baker Street were creatures who inhabited the borderline between fantasy and reality. As with many of America’s European immigrants in that period. are now more or less agreed that he was born Erik (later spelled Ehrich) Weisz (later Weiss) in Budapest on 24th March 1874. Harry Houdini406 Creation myths: Houdini and his origins The story of Harry Houdini has been told frequently. too. weaving together fact and fantasy to create an illusory figure who became in many ways more real than the historical Ehrich Weiss who first invented him. a hundred years after his rise to fame.407 It is an interesting coupling. Simon Bent’s play The Escapologist.410 he once told a reporter. And like Sherlock Holmes. based partly on Houdini’s biography. Today. the exact details of Houdini’s place and date of birth are uncertain. and his self-proclaimed ‘full-blooded American-ness’ is itself ambiguous. It has become a popular subject not only amongst aficionados of magic and conjuring. to be an inspiration not only to magicians but to playwrights and contemporary performance artists such as Talking Birds. the fame has endured: since his death Houdini has attained iconic status. for much of his life is surrounded in myth. and also through open-access Internet sites such as Houdiniana. Lisa Watts and Brian McClave.411 with documentary evidence to back them up. ‘I don’t like America so well. A famous selfpublicist. though. Modern biographers. a Houdini fan culture keeps the flame alive and maintains an interest in his life and career through institutions such as the Houdini Historical Centre in Wisconsin and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.com. is touring in the UK in a production by Suspect Culture. but also amongst cultural historians. son of Rabbi Samuel Weisz 140 . although I am a full-blooded American’. Houdini made up his own legends.Chapter Eight Narrative ambiguity and contested meanings: interpreting Harry Houdini My brain is the key that sets me free All the world is a theatre to me. Houdini continues. Biographer Ruth Brandon describes his life as being ‘defiantly American’409 but this oversimplifies it.

412 It seems that Houdini makes a very definite decision to ‘adopt’ 6th April as the date of his birth. he found it ever harder to support his increasingly impoverished family.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS and his second wife. The choice is symptomatic: for Houdini. Samuel. I shall celebrate mine? (sic) always April 6th. this may well have been Cecilia’s intention. It is a choice made in the face of other possibilities and made on the basis of his mother’s account. was a failure in his scholarly and pastoral calling. Fired by his Appleton congregation and unable to sustain a position as a rabbi in Wisconsin. and that Cecilia and the four-year-old Ehrich moved to Appleton. There also seems to have been some debate about his birth date within the family. he is indeed defiantly American. Wisconsin in 1878 to join Samuel. In the domestic mythology of the Weiss family these tales seem to have been of a particularly romantic kind. Wisconsin census records contradict this. it appears that he himself was not entirely convinced of the literal truth of his American origins. however. Milwaukee or New York. in the process. In reality Houdini’s father. And. one of the many invisible immigrants unable to adapt in the increasingly prosperous New World’. and from the tone of some of Houdini’s own remarks. and tales and memories of the old country overlay the reality of the new. He ended up as a production worker in a necktie factory (working alongside the teenage Ehrich413) and died ‘a disappointed and impoverished man. But the immigrant experience is frequently a schizophrenic one. of course. that will be my adopted birthdate. Houdini and his family always maintained vigorously that they had moved to Appleton by 1874. in which fantasy blotted out the bleak actuality of their early American life. a few months after his mother’s death. in which old identities vie with the new ones. Houdini wrote to his brother Theodore (‘Dash’): Re the Birthdays. Thus. and in which a more vivid and colourful narrative emerges – again one which acts as a template for an understanding of the later Houdini. Cecilia. In November 1913. the literal and historical truth of his birth date is less important than the consistency of a narrative which he inherited from his mother: a narrative which also establishes him as ‘a full-blooded American’.414 141 . to the extent that the family’s ‘official’ story of its own past insisted on the American birth of the young Houdini. to establish a firm claim to their new nationality. who had been offered a position as rabbi to the small Jewish community there through the offices of a friend (having. It hurts me to think I cant talk it over with Darling Mother and as SHE always wrote me on April 6th. reinventing him as a citizen of the New World. and that Ehrich’s birth took place there on 6th April of that year. arising from the common need felt by recent immigrant families. his name changed to ‘Weiss’ by US immigration officials).

But another explanation is also likely. After reaching New York kept going to Appleton. and soon after her arrival Houdini was born 6th April 1874. and that just as Houdini received from her the story. Houdini’s younger sister told of another family story.417 so too he learned from her the fabulous stories of the importance of the family back in the homeland. which he decided to believe. it is by no means impossible that this is his own personal fantasy. Such stories form a substantial genre in the folklore of American immigrants – and they frequently embody an ambiguous attitude towards the past which has been left behind.PERFORMING DARK ARTS In the Houdini/Weiss mythology. not by Houdini but by his brother Theodore (known in the family as Dash. whose flight from the old country was surrounded by romantic embellishment. the marginalized social situation of Jews in the nineteenth-century Austro-Hungarian empire make it virtually impossible that this event should have taken place. Other similar domestic myths seem to have been current in the Weiss family. Perhaps they were invented by the mother as compensation for the reality of her husband’s decline and the family’s increasingly unsuccessful circumstances in the New World. The version quoted above is related as fact. however. But in any case it is more interesting as fiction than as fact. since Houdini as self-publicist is almost as impressive as Houdini the illusionist and escapologist. again repeated as fact but equally unlikely.416 And. but a deeper structural reality might be being unconsciously articulated. It is often assumed that Houdini himself concocted these tales: Ruth Brandon implies as much when she talks of Houdini ‘portraying his parents as he would have wished them to be: as romantic participants in the cultural and noble life of Budapest’. for instance. of his Appleton and April birth date. In the case of the Weiss family legend. Wis. ‘to pay respect to our important and intellectual dad’. where he… sent for Mrs. In such stories. and later on the professional stage as Hardeen). the Kaiserin Josephine had made frequent visits to their Weiss family home in Budapest. which she had inherited from their mother Cecilia: in this. And he was named Ehrich Prach after Prince Ehrich. all of them emphasizing the family’s importance back in Hungary. W. It might well be that Cecilia was the actual originator of the family legends.415 Quite apart from the inherent romanticism of the narrative. Thus. Father insulted by prince Erik – challenged to dule – which was fought following morning and Father killing his opponent then fled to London and stayed there for a time after which he took sailing vessel to New York. the increasing anti-Semitism of late-nineteenth-century Europe might well be figured in the ‘insult’ which the supposed Prince – a representative narrative figure standing for the authorities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – offered 142 . Samuel was a dashing scholar-hero. or even a deliberately self-romanticizing publicity legend. indeed perhaps he did. the surface details may be invented.

In the ‘duel’ we see an image of the antagonism which Samuel might well have felt between himself and that society and. Ernst and Carrington quote at least one contemporary who asserted confidently that while ‘Houdini was reared in the Hebrew religion… he gave up Judaism’. in fact. the victory). exile and recovery. ‘Houdini’ was a narrative invention of Ehrich Weiss. with the connotation of ‘Prince’ (although quite where this word appears in Ehrich’s name is not clear: it is not on any of the census documents which relate to Ehrich). At the age of nine he appeared before an audience as a trapeze artist and contortionist. It means not literally ‘Prince’ but a cluster of closely related concepts: ‘finery’. which is pronounced. Houdini seems to have identified himself more strongly with his religious roots: in 1918 he founded the Rabbis’ Sons’ Theatrical Association (President: Harry Houdini. in his killing of the prince. Hardeen’s German spelling seems to have been as poor as his English. in later years. seems to have been what Ivan Kalmar has termed an ‘eji’. a wish-fulfilment of some imagined victory over it. often wondering the extent to which as a Jew he will remain always an outsider.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS to the rabbi. this reconciliation is located in the figure of Ehrich himself: ‘And he was named Ehrich Prach after Prince Ehrich. Whoever actually originated this tale of the family’s importance.420 But Houdini never denied his Jewishness. defined by his Jewishness. ‘Ehrich. but uncertain how this background relates to his newer identity. Prince of the Air’. Moreover. But if these tales personify on one level the antagonisms which lead the immigrant to leave the old country they also. and a reconciliation with it. with its themes of honour and death. The German word – and German was the everyday language of the Weiss household – is actually ‘Pracht’. Within the family the pun was even more 143 . they fit well with the sorts of professional mythologizing which Houdini himself practiced later in his life.418 The term. Vice-presidents Al Jolson and Irving Berlin). he chose a name which would misdirect the attention. In the case of the Weiss family legend. as ‘edgy’ is an acronym for ‘Embarrassed Jewish Individual’ – embarrassed in relation to his own background: not exactly renouncing his own Jewish identity. with deliberate punning in mind. ‘gorgeousness’ and so on. on another level. although he did marry outside the faith.419 Ehrich Weiss became the more generically European ‘Harry Houdini’: like the good magician he was. from his first stage appearances. in one sense. The young boy finds his princely identity in the stage name and makes cross-linguistic puns on the sounds of his own: Ehrich/air. frequently dramatize a form of celebration of that old country. He gives ‘Prach’ as Ehrich’s second name. Houdini was. ending in his escape (indeed on one level the escape may well have been.’ The antagonist’s name is reconfigured in the name of the son: it combines victory and reconciliation – and (again) self-aggrandizement. Houdini. a narrative which may well have had its roots in the uncertain relationship of the first-generation immigrant to his adopted country. and melodramatic romanticization. to revivify it and its meanings.

the two men were contemporaries.421 or doing his own aerial stunts in his movies. and the rise to fame of Houdini coincides neatly with that of that other Austro-Hungarian Jewish genius: in the first twenty years of the twentieth century the imagery and the mythology of both men cast a spell over the western imagination.PERFORMING DARK ARTS noticeable: Ehrich’s pet name was ‘Ehrie’. Samuel died when Ehrich was eighteen. For the rest of his life he took his role as his mother’s protector with immense seriousness – indeed his obsessively close relationship with his mother up to the time of her death is one of the most notable facts about Ehrich’s private life. Houdini escaped not only from ties. at least of near-equal status with him. Ehrich found himself. it is hard to ignore the Oedipal resonances in Houdini’s life. as they worked side by side in the necktie factory. A famous photograph from 1907 shows him in his mid-thirties. of course.423 his handwritten inscription ‘My two sweethearts’ might be a conventional compliment. First there is the ‘challenge to dule’ (sic) which is the initial conflict of the drama. Whether suspended high above the city streets. the trace of Ehrich. if not actually replacing his father as the family breadwinner and protector. Yet Houdini retained a fascination – even an obsession – with the air. It was the escape which became the essence of Houdini’s career: an escape which repeated that of the fantasy father. His father’s failure as a rabbi meant a loss of status and authority both in society and within the family. but also from tie-cutting on the workbench. Denied the completion of the Oedipal struggle by the actual death of his father. in fact it indicates the extent to which the two women in his life merged into each other in his mind. which later became the ‘Harry’ of his public persona. Dramatizing deliverance: Freudian narratives Ruth Brandon insists – perhaps as a riposte to some oversimplified psychoanalytical readings – that Houdini was ‘pre-Freudian’. When Ehrich Weiss grew up to become Harry Houdini. the contortionist became the escapologist. which was effectively based on a series of challenges. On the contrary. but also to escape afterwards. the fantasy father’s great feat was not only to uphold his honour. Harry found a new and 144 .422 but in a literal sense this is not exactly the case. this becomes a repeated theme of Houdini’s stage career. struggling to escape the straitjacket. T other elements from the archetypal narrative find their way into Houdini’s wo later career. Secondly. Moreover. or learning to fly and setting himself the challenge of becoming the first man to fly an aeroplane in Australia. with his arms round both his mother and his wife. twisting his way out of his bonds and the Prince of the Air metamorphosed into the ‘Handcuff King’(and sometimes the less catchy ‘Monarch of Leg Shackles’). but which also – in the tradition of great immigrant narratives – in real life provided the material means to escape from the poverty to which the father’s actual failure had led them. Prince of the Air remains. At an early age.

at the same time uttering his expressive ‘o-o-o-o’. he turned against this second father.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS mythical father figure in the legendary conjurer Robert-Houdin. however. the primal game of absence and presence is re-staged in 145 . for instance. It was related to the child’s great cultural achievement – the instinctual renunciation (that is the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction) which he had made in allowing his mother to go away without protesting. and play at its being a carriage. The Unmasking is a strange and illogical attack on the great nineteenth-century conjuror. As he makes objects disappear and reappear. so that it disappeared into it. One day I made an observation which confirmed my view.425 The conjuror plays a game of fort/da with the audience – or more precisely. conjuring and escapology as forms of entertainment have their own Freudian dimension.424 in which he claims to set the record straight regarding Robert-Houdin’s actual contribution to the history of magic. whose name he adapted and adopted as his own. As a rule. In fact. What he did was to hold the reel by the string and very skilfully throw it over the edge of his curtained cot. The interpretation of the game then became obvious. He compensated himself for this. it allowed him a version of the archetypal confrontation with the father figure which the death of his actual parent had denied him. This has less to do with Oedipal patterns than with another key Freudian narrative – one to which Freud himself came comparatively late in his career. On a psychic level. Later. but which is no less resonant for that. Watching his grandson at play. writing an exposé of the ‘dishonesty’ of RobertHoudin in a vitriolic outburst entitled The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin. by himself staging the disappearance and return of the objects within his reach. he invites the audience to play the game in their own minds. as it were. This then was the complete game – disappearance and return. Freud observed a repeated pattern of play whereby the child happily throws his toys away. turning himself from Ehrich to Harry in the meantime. It never occurred to him to pull it along the floor behind him. I eventually realized that it was a game and that the only use he made of any of his toys was to play ‘gone’ with them. He then pulled the reel out of the cot again by the string and hailed its reappearance with a joyful ‘da’ [‘there’]. The child had a wooden reel with a piece of string tied round it. and one which seems to have been driven by Houdini’s own sense of professional rivalry with the past master rather than by any scholarly or historical impulse. one only witnessed its first act. when Houdini had reached maturity as a performer. In fact. which was repeated untiringly as a game in itself. making at the same time a sound which Freud and the child’s mother agreed represented the German word ‘fort’ [‘gone’]. though there is no doubt that the greater pleasure was attached to the second act.

Or perhaps it depends upon a trick of timing: the substitution took place before the trick even appeared to have begun. Houdini’s Magic Book – a slim volume also known as Magic Made Easy. in cabinets. The ‘pleasure’ of the act is the apparent threat that such reappearance or release cannot. Then again. I shall do something and you will not be able to guess how I did it – will you?’ The conjuror’s skill in leaving his audience balanced between explanations usually depends on one of a very limited number of actualities. He thought the freak world was normal and the straights were freaks’. King of Cards and Handcuffs’ published in 1898. a dummy piece of rope that parts in the middle. The trick may be effected by means of a downright lie: the apparently innocent bystander or audience member is actually an assistant. the knots too tight. maybe it is set up by careful and prosaic preparation: the mystic knows you have a deceased Aunty Molly because she found out by asking around a few days earlier… These techniques were Houdini’s stock-in-trade. with sleight of hand acts as well as his specialist handcuff escapes. as a friend of the family put it. or on a more symbolic level in the handcuffs and restraints – is the performer’s body itself. yet the skilful conjuror arranges things so that other explanations do not quite work. The reappearance of the liberated body is the moment of triumph. nonetheless perhaps… The audience ‘knows’ that what they are being offered is not miraculous. The object which is made to disappear and reappear – either literally. the ‘da’ of the equation. We can get a sense of the range of Houdini’s general magic act by considering an early publication – H. an accomplice. yet none is entirely satisfactory. coffins and tanks full of water.427 and he learned his trade in travelling shows and dime museums. and in on the act. as Freud says. which ‘Professor Harry Houdini. Yet reappear he does! Dime museum narratives Houdini was. take place: the locks are too strong. But the escapologist offers a special refinement on the fort/da sequence – a refinement which relies on the notion that. the pleasure being the inability they have in deciding between them. handcuffs with a prepared lock.426 But first and foremost he was a conjuror.PERFORMING DARK ARTS an ambiguous show of collusion between stage and audience. ‘a product of his early professional years. before he had established himself as a famous magician or escapologist. a specially built cabinet with a hinged wall. Or else it relies on a more or less elaborate mechanical device: a marked deck of cards. Somewhere between the rational and the superstitious lies the pleasure: the sense that while everybody knows that there is no thing as magic. In reality the book was more or less a catalogue in which 146 . ‘the greater pleasure [is] attached to the second act’ – the act of reappearance. the casket too solid. after all. The essential mode of the conjuror is that of the challenger: ‘Here. The audience is placed in a multiplicity of different interpretative positions. A puzzle is proposed and a series of possible resolutions of that puzzle are offered.

not to be had elsewhere… A marvellous deception’)430 fails to conceal the anxiety of a young conjurer who is by no means confident that he will be able to make his way in the world through performance alone. I TEACH and INSTRUCT thoroughly by mail in all branches of Spiritualism. is especially prepared for LEARNERS and is the A. Yet included in the catalogue are some notable items. to expensive performance apparatus such as ‘The Maniac’s Strategy’ ($100. of the best quality and made by experienced mechanics. as well as details and diagrams of the trick with which Harry and his wife/assistant. the ‘Hindoo Needle Trick’ – which later became almost as famous a part of Houdini’s repertoire as his escapes – is offered for $5. Bess. as they lose their value when too common’ warns the Professor in his ‘Hints for Amateurs’ early in the volume. and the question of value for money well be a moot one in several cases. Houdini’s claim that… I am not offering for sale a lot of worthless secrets or cheap ideas. Everything in this list is new. ‘This book’.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS Houdini advertised tricks and apparatus for sale through what he called his ‘School of Magic’ – a mail-order magic business which the young travelling magician had established at a time when it was by no means clear that he would be able to make a decent living as a performer.428 This superior class of goods included everything from party tricks and jokes to spiritualist and fortune-telling routines.429 The confident-sounding rhetoric of the descriptions of the tricks (‘A most excellent trick. Many of the items are far from new. Slate Writing and Sleight of Hand… In submitting this supplementary list to your notice. were beginning to make a reputation for themselves: the ‘Metamorphosis Substitution’. of magic.434 yet here is the same 147 . The catalogue gives away some secrets immediately – such as ‘How to Blow over a Bottle or Heavy Object’ (‘Put it upon a paper bag and blow into the bag. but supplying the necessary apparatus incidental to the business. my object is to introduce to the exponents of the Art a class of goods superior to any hitherto offered for sale. to the secret drawings of the Trilby aerial suspension ‘as done by Hermann the great… $1.B. from sets of marked cards (‘A little study makes you an expert’).C. For example. which puffs up and overthrows the bottle’)431 – while it advertises others for sale.433 ‘Don’t expose your tricks. Also available – but presumably at a much higher rate. and will find everything just as represented.432 …is clearly overstated.00).00’. he writes in the Preface.00 as ‘one of the best and easiest tricks to do’. therefore purchasers may rely upon receiving value for their money. since these are listed as ‘Price on application’ – is a complete Handcuff Act.

Even so. How to Eat Fire. A Complete Dictionary of Dreams. ‘Inventor. It is easy to see how the ‘118 Magic Tricks and Mysterious Experiments’ might be used to promote a School of Magic. Pictures of the Presidents of the United States. the impoverished ‘Professor’ is advertising in the same catalogue his ‘Money Making Secrets’ such as ‘Tooth Ache Remedy’ and ‘Eruption Ointment for Frosted Feet’:435 the pose of scholar and mystic gives way here to the blandishments of the snake oil salesman from the travelling medicine shows with which the young Houdini was all too familiar. Eyes. Tea or Coffee Grounds and White of an Egg. 100 Secrets of How to Become Beautiful. How to Tell One’s Age. Some of Nature’s Wonders. with Words and Music. Postage Paid for 25c. there is an air of desperation about Magic Made Easy. It is far less clear how the Pictures of the Presidents of the United States or the 10 model love letters or the 255 selections for autograph 148 . 255 Selections for Autograph Albums. 10 Model Love Letters. Selling the secrets – selectively. 100 Recipes for Making Money Secrets. On the other hand.436 There is something wonderfully random about the list. The twenty-four-year-old Harry promotes himself as ‘Professor’ Houdini. 101 Conundrums and Riddles. Secret of Second Sight and Mind Reading. Originator. 85 Puzzles Illustrated. 21 Songs. of course! – has always been a lucrative part of the conjurer’s trade. Fortune Telling by Palmistry. Parasol and Gloves. and Principal of a ‘School of Magic’. and Manufacturing Magician’. Love’s Telegraph. Guide of Flirtation with Fan. the following. and the archives of magic are full of books by the most famous conjurers of their day. A final advertisement gives the game away: To Advertise My School of Magic I Will Send to any Address.PERFORMING DARK ARTS man apparently offering his own secrets to all and sundry on the open market! The myth that magicians never tell their secrets is just that – a myth. On the one hand there is the attempt to claim some sort of gravitas and authority. Language of Gems and Flowers. Cure for Bashfulness. 15 Versions of Love. in which they demonstrate to amateurs as well as fellow professionals just how (some of) it is done. viz: 118 Magic Tricks and Mysterious Experiments. Formulas for Making Invisible Inks for Secret Correspondence. 25 Pictures of Famous Actresses.

For example. As an employee of Welsh Brothers’ All-United Golden Shows.437 Elements of many of these early acts appear in his later persona. or allowed himself to be ‘tortured’ in elaborate contraptions such as the water-torture cell. The eclectic sales pitches of Magic Made Easy constitute another of the untold stories of Harry Houdini: a ragbag of early-twentieth-century capitalism. Bess (‘The Rahners… America’s Greatest Comedy Act’). 143) The practice is also common throughout Alaska. clearly from the same world as – but without the moral imperatives of – an aspirational young man in a Horatio Alger novel. E. he also worked as an actor in melodramas. Kirby has foregrounded the use which shamans in various cultures have made of the images and techniques of escapology: The Cree shaman allows himself to be stripped nearly naked and tied tightly within an elk’s skin. and the ‘spirit’ of the woman then speaks from the fire… The woman later appears unharmed. as a Punch and Judy man. had more than a hint of melodrama about them: the narrative of peril and escape is a central feature of the melodramatic imagination. 142) Ojibwa shamans will ‘permit themselves to be securely tied. hung from tall buildings. he escapes suddenly from his bonds. During those early professional years Harry Houdini lived and worked with the denizens of freak shows and circuses. buried beneath the icy waters of a river or trapped inside a tank of water. (Hoffman.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS albums would contribute to that project. imprisoned in a dungeon or locked into a coffin-like box. he sat snarling in a cage as the Wild Man from the Java jungle. T. theatres. playing the travelling medicine shows. courtship skills and erotic savoir-faire than they do with the training of magicians or conjurers. and a moment later be at liberty and cords at some other locality. After a lengthy incantation. and the escapologist as popular entertainer has a strong mythical dimension. She is then sealed in a wooden box which is consumed in a fire until only bones remain. music halls. placed within the jugglery. his escapes from dungeons.’ (Hoffman. The School of Magic is actually a Curiosity Shop. teases his audience with the possibility that he may indeed not be able to survive – and then. In his analysis of the shamanistic origins of popular entertainments. The symbolism of escape is a powerful motif. beer halls and dime museums across America. the escape artist stares death in the face. Bound in chains. who lived on a diet of raw meat and tobacco. selling whatever its readership might fancy. and as part of a comedy double act with his wife. where it is elaborated upon in terms of spectacle and ‘real life drama’. with a dramatic gesture returns to the land of the living. of course. An intriguing number of items on the list seem to have more to do with sexual attraction. chains and straitjackets – and especially the apparently life-threatening feats of his middle period shows where he dived into rivers. …A Kwaikutl shaman appears to have her head cut off or to be run through with a sword.438 149 .

the box is then rolled into a small cabinet. the seals unbroken and her hands tied in precisely the same manner as were Mons. Metamorphosis Exchange made in three seconds The Greatest Novelty Mystery Act in the World! All the Apparatus used in this Act is inspected by a Committee selected from the Audience. too. Perhaps. there was something cathartic about the experience. the time consumed in making the change is THREE SECONDS! We Challenge the World to produce an act done with greater Mystery. and who perpetrates symbolic violence upon his doll-wife. Houdini himself resembles a more benevolent version of Mr. Houdini’s act in its early days retained something about it of the Punch and Judy show which he had once operated. obsessively 150 . the Houdinis. Houdini draws the curtain and claps her hand three times. at the last clap of her hands the curtain is drawn open by Mons. On a more mundane level of myth. time after time. Respectfully yours. Punch. Perhaps. then placed in a massive Box which is locked and strapped. Houdini’ (his wife/sister?) in the routine which first brought them fame. Houdini and Mlle. there was a more private drama of dominance and submission taking place within their relationship. from the brink of defeat or of death. Houdini has disappeared. too. for the crowds who assembled in theatres and on river banks to watch Houdini return. Houdini’s when first entering the bag. Houdini’s hands are fastened behind his back and the knots are sealed. and Mlle.439 ‘Metamorphosis’ stages a ritualized dance of dominance and submission. captivity and freedom as the Punch and Judy man plays public victim games with ‘Mlle. and upon the box being opened she is found in his place in the bag. the menacing trickster who escapes the gallows and takes revenge on those who would do him down by substituting his persecutors as victims. or dexterity. Punch in the iconic trick with which Houdini first made his name: ‘Metamorphosis’. Mons. Just think over this. Consider the symbolic reverberations of Mr. speed. Consider the following stories from Ruth Brandon’s biography of Houdini: Bess relates [an incident] which took place about a year after they were married… She insisted upon going to see a show which Houdini.PERFORMING DARK ARTS The shaman returns from the spirit world with the power to heal.

carried me out.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS uncomfortable with any hint of the risqué. but I didn’t say I wouldn’t fly after you and bring you back. darling. while Bess’s own reaction is characterized by a suppression of the emotions of loss which the incident stirred in her. Mr. weeping. Houdini. keeping her away from the risqué and the sexual. a strict Catholic ‘thought all theatre wicked’.441 Playing out the parent/child scenario. though. For a start. he said: “I always keep my word. The Houdini’s marriage seems to be one which involves some of the sado-masochistic role-playing which is also (though differently) articulated in Houdini’s professional act. “I told you I would send you away if you disobeyed. had forbidden. Houdini’s choice of wife was a slim. Here.m. Houdini address each other in a strangely ritualized way. lifting his hat courteously. the bell rang and I heard Houdini’s voice. somewhat unwomanly. within the rituals of domestic punishment of the disobedient child. “See.” said Houdini. ‘He said the show was unfit for me and if I disobeyed him he would spank me and send me home. Mrs. Houdini called on Bess to act as a character witness in the following way: 151 . it is true. bought my ticket to Bridgeport where my sister lived. it was only in this role and in relation to Bess. divided all our poor savings and led me firmly to the railroad station. and Mrs. He followed me. Naturally after that warning I went to the show. like the relationship between so many distant Victorian fathers and their children. but the memory of the spanking rankled and enabled me to reply with a pretence of calm dignity: “Goodbye. Houdini”. by Bess herself) represents the abusive incident as a father’s authoritarian discipline. In – of all places – a testimony before a Senate committee who were investigating spiritualism. boyish adolescent: Bess is frequently pictured in boys’ costumes. since Bess’s own mother. is another ‘take’ on the relationship. In this incident he attempts to keep her de-sexualized – thereby taking over a parental role to some extent. The first episode in this short narrative involves Houdini’s attempt to prevent his wife from seeing a show. there is Houdini’s obsessive discomfort with any hint of the carnal. at 2 a. Bess disobeys and the punishing husband-father ‘spanks’ her and sends her home. …Six hours later. Significantly. The stiff formality of the conversational exchange at the station adds a further dimension: Mr. dignified and distant. and put me on the train… At the last minute. in terms of the fashions of the day. The narrative context (told. that Harry Houdini was able to play the father: he and Bess had a childless marriage.”’ 440 A single incident should not. spanked me thoroughly. which she wore for their act. It should be remembered that Bess was hardly more than a child when the two married and that her slight figure (which she herself hated) made her seem. be used to speculate about an entire relationship yet there is so much that is suggestive about this. I flew to the door and we fell into each other’s arms. we remember. Goodbye.” My heart was breaking and I was on the edge of hysteria.

which analyses the gender implications of the Houdini phenomenon. the element of bodily display became increasingly important in Houdini’s act.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Houdini: Step this way Mrs. Kasson places Houdini in the tradition of bodybuilders and male body culturists. Houdini: Thank you. Houdini: Am I a good boy? Mrs. And as he made the exposed male body a compelling spectacle in live performance. Houdini has been my greatest friend. Have I shown traces of being crazy unless it was about you? Mrs. on June 22. Mrs. linking him with Eugene Sandor the famous nineteenth-century strong man who adapted older traditions of manly physical challenge to promote a new mass culture of entertainment. such as the recent study by John F. The effect was to increase the sense both of the performer’s vulnerability and also of his power – since Houdini.442 The relationship between context and content is extraordinary. Witness to a Senate investigation. was physically muscular.443 The notion of masculinity has become particularly important in recent interpretations of the meanings of Houdini’s act. though a small man. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mrs. and he would frequently perform his escapes semi-naked. H. : No. demanding questions of her in rhetoric which is appropriate to the courtroom but sounds equally like the patter of the stage conjuror (‘Have we ever met before?’ ‘No’ ‘Thank you. ostensibly to demonstrate that he had no hidden keys or picklocks about his person.444 Certainly. Houdini. he also drew on classical art traditions to pioneer its dissemination… Sandor revealed how the erotics of the male body could be broadly exposed precisely because it was never explicitly mentioned. 152 . Houdini then – lawyer-like – produces witnesses of his own. Kasson. H. Houdini’s exposure of the male body was relentless. Bess was nearly 50 at the time. One of the witnesses said that I was a brute. Houdini. Harry Houdini ‘had the essential masculine quality of courage to a supreme degree’. Masculine qualities According to his friend and eventual antagonist.’) The witness he produces is ‘this girl’. that I was vile and that I was crazy… I will have been married. Studious concentration on antique sculpture and muscular development provided the crucial fig leaf. thirty-two years to this girl… Outside of my great mother. : Yes. As he began to specialize in escapology routines.

NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS POSITIVELY The only Conjuror in the World that escapes out of all Handcuffs. like the pornographer. Brandon and Phillips all indicate is the extent to which Houdini was ‘performing the body’ – and. after being STRIPPED STARK NAKED. many of whom are fans and champions. John F. for example. The naked body is used to validate the essential truthfulness of the conjuror – to answer the charge of deception. in particular. emerging from the tank. since there is no sleeve. There may be other levels of meaning involved too. the cell. doesn’t want to change his audience. of authority in the face of subjection. narratives of mastery in the face of helplessness. but they needed a minimum of variation to sustain their excitement: in Houdini’s case not a different body. WIRES or other concealed accessories…445 Such nakedness is. Because their arts depend on simplifying rather than complicating what they depict. Harry Houdini has begun to assume some importance among the various iconic ‘masculine’ figures to whom reference is frequently made (along with screen personae such as those of Sylvester Stallone and John Wayne. examples of physical perfection such as Eugene Sandow or Johnny Weissmuller. mouth sealed up. tend to stress the latter: the figure of the victorious escapologist. for example. having successfully challenged death or immobilization. In a sense Houdini was to escapism what pornography is to sex: dazzlingly literal. performing a version of the male body which positioned it both as victim and as victor. Ruth Brandon has suggested the ‘sexual agenda underlying Houdini’s insistent professional nudity. but different props and new positions. It is a form of guarantee that there is nothing hidden up the sleeve. or sporting icons such as Mike Tyson or David Beckham). whether intentionally or not. and thoroughly searched from head to foot. SPRINGS. Leg Shackles. the shackles.’446 In a suggestive parallel argument. he wants to keep them the same…447 What Kasson. reads him in the following way: 153 . the escape artist. demanding nothing of the consumer but his money and his fascination. Insane Belts and Strait-Jackets. Within current academic masculinity studies. proving he carries no KEYS. the audience knew what they would be getting. the river. and part of the challenge. of course part of the act. Writers on Houdini. Kasson. Like these icons of popular culture Houdini has come to be seen as embodying certain kinds of historically gendered meanings – enacting. Adam Phillips has – not entirely whimsically – suggested a similarity between Houdini and the pornographer: As with pornography.

Barrow-in-Furness. Clement H. Joseph Benson. central to his art and to the male body… In an age of often bewildering obstacles and intimidating authorities. having heard of your ability to escape from apparently impossible and peculiar places. I would argue. Dennis Shipwrights Employees of Vickers Ltd. Houdini accepts the above challenge for the Second House. challenge you to allow us to construct a large and strong Packing Case of 8’ x 1’ timber. but reserve the right to re-nail each and every board. and then shown to triumph over its subjection. in which the male body is displayed. Dennis. into which we will rope and nail you. secured by 3’ French wire nails. We. the publicity material from his 1914 tour of Britain announces ‘The Shipwrights’ Challenge to Houdini’ in the following terms: January 12th 1914 Dear Sir. he dramatized the ability of a lone figure to triumph over the most formidable restraints and the most implacable foes and against the most impossible odds… the masculine power he embodied was a claim of invincibility.448 There is certainly some validity to Kasson’s reading. Thomas C. Wednesday January 14th. 1914. as ‘Handcuff King’. Let us look in detail at a couple of instances of Houdini’s live act at the height of his fame. and believe that you will not be able to escape therefrom. Both spoke to dreams of dominance and authority in the modern world… [Houdini’s special take on this involved] making themes of risk and control. Houdini’s escape act dramatized an archetypal narrative. Shipwrights employed at the yard of Vickers Limited. the undersigned. We will send Box for examination. James Flett. that Houdini is a more ambivalent figure than Kasson’s interpretation suggests. in the middle of his career. on the Stage of the Tivoli Theatre. under the condition that the Box is not air-tight. If you accept this challenge it must be clearly understood that you are not to demolish the box in your attempt to escape. the magician became an exemplary masculine figure to complement the strongman.449 154 .PERFORMING DARK ARTS By performing amazing feats of mastery over objects and situations. and that the iconography of his escape acts. For example. though. performs a more complex kind of cultural work than simply ‘embodying a claim of invincibility’. to prevent any preparation on your part. helplessness and mastery. subjected to imprisonment or danger.

packers. as well as various individuals. if compelling. Houdini. To this extent.and early-twentiethcentury capitalism and its systems of control. but he was challenged too by life guards. 155 .450 And it became one of the high points of Houdini’s act as his reputation grew. the gunfighter. In order to keep up public interest in his escape act he regularly invites (or arranges) public challenges from particular sectors of the communities to whom he was about to perform. Peter Ackroyd talks of Dickens as being ‘heroic’ because he dramatized the two key institutions of nineteenth-century western society. These challenges usually came either from the legal or medical authorities (especially those with access to cells and straitjackets) or else from fraternities of industrial workers. shippers. riggers. as the spectators attempt to outguess the performer who is trying to fool them. dramatizing the triumph of the will. It is an aggressive form of showmanship. Dickens’ successor. which shares a mythology with the knight errant. His roots in the performances and images of the nineteenth century are tangible. I suggested earlier in this book that the implicit contract between the conjuror and the audience involves challenge rather than co-operation.NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY AND CONTESTED MEANINGS This is a fairly typical publicity tactic of Houdini at this stage in his career. He is travelling from town to town both in the United States and in Europe on an international variety circuit. the repeated ploy of the public challenge may also be regarded as a stereotypically masculine way of framing a stage performance. routine. His most famous challenges were of those from police forces. envelope manufacturers. Thus Houdini effectively dramatizes himself as the ordinary man. As well as being an integral part of the conjuror’s relationship to the audience. cells. In his biography of Charles Dickens. packing cases. and he in his turn was challenged to escape by all manners of institutions and individuals. He challenged the world at large to restrain him. with its locks. construction workers. however. milk churns – the images of containment and containerization which are both the products and the producers of late-nineteenth. locksmiths. made challenges an explicit and central element of his act. the factory and the prison. using them to structure his show and to give it both variety and local interest. stripping these themes of the nineteenth-century novel down to their very basics and bringing them up-to-date for a variety-show audience by focusing them on the image of his own body. doing what is in essence an extremely repetitive. bolts. Houdini is. leather manufacturers. pitting himself against the apparatus of a mechanized and massproducing industrial society. chains. mental hospital physicians. He escapes from things. the inner strength and coherence of the individual which are the recurrent themes of modernism. too. but he is also very much of the modernist period. trunks. either in the fairground booth or in the professional ring. brewers. boxes. dairymen. one of the toiling masses. physical culturists and rival magicians. in a strange way. the wandering Eastern master of martial arts – or indeed with the champion Western fist fighter. sailors.

and so far.453 And on the 27th November Houdini answered the following challenge: OXFORD SUFFRAGETTES CHALLENGE TO HOUDINI Mr Harry Houdini. only men have tried to fasten you. who requested to be allowed to ‘come on stage so that we can bind you to a Sangnau’ – which they explained was ‘a form used for punishing criminals in our own country’. (Signed) Peggy Wheatley. ‘If you will allow us to send along 60 gallons of Milk and fill up the Can’. any night during your engagement. and allow us to put our theory into practice. 53 Camberwell Road. we wish you would allow us to secure you to a Mattress with Sheets and Bandages. We challenge you to allow us to come on the stage of the Oxford Music Hall. emerging unscathed from society’s apparatuses of restraint. Houdini represents the vulnerable man as hero. Chang and Youn’. Peckham 156 . he was challenged by the Alliance Dairy. ‘…our opinion is that you will be unable to make your escape in this fashion’. On 13th November. The challenges led Houdini into some strange versions of his escape act. the dairymen added. who had thrown down the gauntlet in the belief that Houdini’s famous ‘Milk Churn’ escape was possible only because Houdini could see through the water. He creates a narrative of heroic escape from apparent humiliation or doom. and think that we will be able to fasten you so that you will not be able to effect your escape. Dear Sir. Chaplin and Keaton. Indeed. having heard that it is impossible for you to be secured. Pony and Elephant’451) and engaged in a typical series of dramatic and rather surreal Friday night confrontations.PERFORMING DARK ARTS And like those other great early-twentieth-century exponents of physical theatre. Mabel Stacy 16 Old Kent Road. We. putting centre stage the escape motif which had been a dramatic and literary theme from the early Jack Sheppard plays through to the cliffhanger structures of the emerging movie serials which Houdini himself so desperately wanted to master. At the Oxford Music Hall at 14/16 Oxford Street in November 1908. this was his essential routine: repeatedly to make himself vulnerable in order to become the victorious hero. the undersigned Members of the Women Suffragettes. on the 20th. he was challenged by an unlikely sounding quartet of Chinese seamen called ‘Ching.452 the following week. he topped the bill (above both Harry Randall and ‘Max Gruber’s Horse. Wang.


Ethel Gibson 26 Stafford Road Roman Road, Bow R. Cecil Clapham Park

M. Guy-Browne Clarence Gate

Maud Fern 23 Holmes Road, Kentish Town NW The test will take place at the OXFORD, Friday Nov. 27454 Very few women feature in biographies of Harry Houdini. Notable exceptions are the ever-present figure of his mother, whom he adored, and his wife, Bess, to whom he was likewise devoted. The rest are bit-part players, such as the actresses who co-starred with him in his rather dreadful movies, and with whom he was too physically awkward and embarrassed ever to manage a decent screen kiss. Which makes these suffragettes, who pose their challenge to Houdini in specifically gendered (and thus political) terms, all the more interesting because of their comparative rarity. Gendered readings of magicians’ routines can often be fairly simple. There is, of course, the aspect of power which lies at the heart of the magic act: the performance of the magician constitutes a theatrical display of power and control – over the natural world, over the very laws of Nature themselves, which the rational world since the Enlightenment had understood to underlie all being. The overwhelming majority of these performers of power on the stage have been men. While there was plenty of room on the European stage for female actors, singers, dancers, acrobats and other kinds of performing artist since the eighteenth century, female magicians were always (and continue to be) in the minority.455 At any rate, the magician’s appearance often constructed in terms which refer to both gender and class. The typical magician’s costume – the classic top hat, white tie and tails – signifies power and authority which is class-specific, but also when contrasted with the more submissive and decorative costuming of his equally typical ‘lovely assistant’ (which is either domestically demure or enticingly under-clad) gender-specific. This can be taken further. It is hardly controversial to point out that lots of fairly terrible fantasies have been acted out on the bodies of women – in the guise of this lovely assistant – during the past century or so of conjuring acts. They have been locked in cabinets, stuffed into baskets, pierced and impaled with swords, daggers, spears and knives, made to disappear, dismembered, decapitated and – most famously – sawn in two. Houdini’s encounter with the suffragettes at the Oxford Playhouse represents a different – and more complex – staging of a gender confrontation. He is challenged not only by women but by self-identified suffragettes: the political group whose own theatrical and performative tactics of protest contributed to the raising of public awareness which eventually resulted



in the Emancipation of the People Act of 1918. Their challenge, moreover, is couched in the terms of gender politics. Men have not subdued Houdini, they proclaim – but we will. The challenge – like so many of Houdini’s challenges – is good publicity for both sides. And, of course, the challenge ends in masculine triumph: Houdini – eventually – escapes.456 Tension, followed by release. It is perhaps the most basic of narrative patterns. The escapologist’s performance, in a way, is the distillation of this narrative – it is the narrative stripped down to its most basic elements. In Harry Houdini’s version of this, there is perhaps a particularly gendered meaning. His repeated insistence on bodily display turns the performance into a narrative about masculinity, a small morality play in which subjection is followed by escape; submission followed by the re-establishment of authority. If the male body is – briefly – feminized by being bound and subjected, it then – through its own resources – reclaims its dominance by escaping. John F. Kasson’s reading of Houdini, places him, appropriately enough, between the real-life Sandow and the fictional Tarzan. It also casts him in the role of hero and victor, as exemplar of a triumphant (and triumphalist) masculinity. This interpretation works well on one level: it is a gender-inflected reading of the overt narrative that Houdini himself appears to be consciously presenting. It is, however, incomplete: the masculine exemplar is being oversimplified. And Houdini is anything but a simple figure. We can see this in the complex relationships between the public figure Harry Houdini and the private man Ehrich Weiss; in the way in which the relentless energy which was invested in acting the part of Harry Houdini onstage and off eventually led to the virtual obliteration of Ehrich Weiss; in Houdini’s obsessive relationship with his mother; in his projection of that relationship onto his relationship with his wife and his extreme diffidence in the company of any other women; in his almost pathological attempt to destroy the reputation of his adopted father figure, Robert-Houdin; in the metaphorical or psycho-sexual meanings which his repeated performance of a sado-masochistic gestus might have had for Houdini himself. All of these will reveal a complex and contradictory figure. But these complexities and contradictions are not just backstage affairs; they also permeate the theatrical experience of Houdini’s public persona and performances. If we see in Houdini only the figure of the heroic masculine it may be because we are oversimplifying the narrative ‘transaction’ in which his performances engaged their audiences. Tension is followed by release, certainly – but the reading which stresses ‘the ability of the lone figure to triumph… against the most impossible odds’ focuses only on the second part of that equation. Freud pointed out that the greater pleasure of the fort/da sequence is attached to ‘the second act’ – but this is not the only pleasure. Meaning lies not only in the outcome of the story but in the experience of the performance as a whole: the journey



towards the ending is important, as well as the ending itself. The imaginative collaboration between the audience and the stage certainly involves awareness of generic elements – such as the importance of the happy ending in a comedy, or the knowledge of impending downfall in a tragedy. But the meaning of the whole is not totally determined by that awareness. In fact, it is often the case that in those performative forms where generic markers are at their strongest, those generic markers are, for an audience, the least engaging part of the whole experience, not the most engaging. We do not go to see action/adventure movie merely to see if the hero will prevail, but to take part in the struggle that leads to the outcome. We do not watch a tragedy to see if the heroine will die, but to share vicariously her journey towards that death. Something similar operates with the escapology act. The generic markers of the escapologist’s act are extremely strong: the audience knows what the ending is going to be – it is going to be the artist’s escape. Consequently, in the audience’s experience of the performance, the climax of the achieved escape becomes, in some ways, the least interesting thing about what is happening, because it can be taken for granted. The climax of the performance is also its anti-climax. And so, paradoxically, the escapologist needs to stress the restraint rather than the liberation, in order to invite the audience not only to witness, but also in some sense to share imaginatively in the hero’s predicament. Houdini the showman knew this perfectly well. As one of his brother’s pupils put it, Houdini’s genius was that ‘he could make it look extremely tough’457 – even when it wasn’t! One of his famous challenges, at the Euston Palace of Varieties, involved an apparently impenetrable bank safe. Houdini invited audience members to inspect the safe, and to search him for hidden devices; he shook their hands and was locked into the safe. The audience watched with mounting tension as nothing happened. Concern turned to anxiety; anxiety to fear, fear to panic. Eventually,
the audience… went wild with anxiety and after 45 minutes demanded he be released. A sweating, haggard Houdini emerged exhausted from the safe. What the audience didn’t know was that Houdini had been watching them through the curtains, having escaped in a matter of seconds thanks to a three-pronged gimmick attached to the finger-ring of the last person to shake his hand.458

To escape in three seconds is poor showmanship. What matters is what precedes it: the build-up of suspense, the playing on the audience’s fears, and increasing its involvement with the plight of the apparent victim. Moreover, the mode of that involvement may be quite complex. The audience is, after all, watching someone suffer. Or to be precise, actually, very often they’re not watching at all – the escapologist in his chains, his bank safe, his milk churn is hidden, for very good practical reasons, behind a curtain. But that, of course,



allows the spectator’s imagination even more room to imagine what unseen tortures the escape artist might be going through. The audience, then, creates in its own imagination the scenes of horror which take place behind the curtain. And just as recent film theorists have argued about the subject position of the spectator in the Hollywood horror film, and the extent to which that position is constructed in terms of a sadistic or a masochistic gaze, so the audience who witnesses the escapologist act is offered a range of subject positions. The very sparseness of the narrative allows great freedom of choice in this respect, and, indeed, may allow for more than one position at any one time: empathy and Schadenfreude may not be mutually exclusive responses. Theatrical spectatorship is more complex since the stage, even at its most naturalistic, offers only an incomplete image which always leaves something to the imagination, a dimension which the audience itself must supply in order to complete the imaginative transaction. Then, in Houdini’s escapes, the spectator’s subject position is problematized still further by the contradictory messages which the audience receives concerning the level of actual difficulty or danger which is involved. On the one hand it is watching a show: sitting (usually) in theatre seats having paid money for an evening’s theatrical entertainment. On the other hand, what it is watching may involve actual physical risk – and even the death of the performer. The messages are contradictory, but once more generic expectations become important. On the whole, the audience is able to indulge, without too much guilt, some of the darker pleasures of witnessing suffering because they know that this is NOT a public execution, or a traffic accident, or a public punishment, but part of an ‘act’. Houdini’s escapes were his trademark, but in performance he surrounded them with other, more traditional, conjuror’s illusions: making objects vanish, making them appear, transposing them… The escape act sets the notion of physical danger within the broader context of the conjuror’s performance as a whole, which (on one level at least) the audience knows – or suspects that it knows – is a fake, all done with smoke and mirrors. To read Houdini as a kind of exemplar of the heroic masculine is not wrong, but it is only part of the picture. Houdini is a fascinating figure for those who are trying to make sense of twentieth-century masculinities, but not because he embodies the hero who triumphs against the most impossible odds. Houdini exemplifies something far more kaleidoscopic: he is a figure who changes with the change of the light; not a heroic unity so much as a fragmentation of meanings, an appropriate elusiveness which defies a single reading. Thus the generic expectations associated with the magician mean that the heroic masculinity you are being presented with is already encoded as an illusion, a cheat. What you see is not what you get. The masculine power he embodied was not so much invincibility as contradiction – which, in another sense makes him a very appropriate icon of that slippery, ill-defined thing called ‘masculinity’.



I have not discovered any first-hand verbal descriptions of Houdini’s challenge from the suffragettes at the Oxford playhouse in 1908. There is, however, a pictorial record of the event, in the form of two (posed?) performance photographs. The first shows Houdini, the ‘justly world famous self-liberator’ as his publicity described him,459 being secured with sheets and bandages by the six respectably bonneted suffragettes; the second shows him lying, almost peacefully, in his bonds, beginning the attempt to escape.460 The posts and legs of the metal-frame bed seem to be adorned with ribbons – in the symbolic colours of the Suffragette movement? The whole image takes on a surreal nature: very different from the usual ones associated with the muscular heroic escape artist. Here we have instead a grown-up child, tucked up in bed by a bevy of mother-nurses, who seem both comforting and threatening. If we want to understand Houdini’s performances of masculinity in all their complexity, we need to pay attention to this picture as well as all the others.


Chapter Nine

Mediums and the media
Doyle interprets Houdini
Ehrich Weiss, then, created a complex projection of himself which became the quasi-mythical ‘Harry Houdini’ – an ambiguous figure who for later generations has become a site of contested meanings. One of the starkest disagreements about the ‘interpretation’ of Harry Houdini, however, took place between Houdini himself and his erstwhile friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It concerned Houdini’s relationship to the spirit world. Much of the latter part of Houdini’s career was spent in the unmasking of fraudulent ‘mediums’. In terms of performance traditions, the step from the world of escapology to that of spiritualism was not a large one. On a metaphorical level, there is clearly an element of ‘liberation’ in the spiritualist enterprise: both for the medium who escapes the limitations of the flesh, and for the spirit voices who are freed back into the world of the living. On a more mundane level, however, the escape artist and the stage medium shared a common heritage of performance, since many of the spiritualist acts of the previous generation were also effectively escapology acts. Bound and restrained in various ways in order to ‘prove’ that the spirit-effects could not be made by any human agency, the Victorian medium’s act depended on an ability to free him- or herself surreptitiously. Houdini and his fellow escapologists simply made explicit and central what had been functional and implicit. It may be that here, too, there was something of a ‘gender agenda’ at work. Escapology, it is suggested, is a particularly masculine mode of magic performance, demanding muscularity, physical prowess and what Conan Doyle called ‘the essential masculine quality of courage’461 and related to the masculine arts of display like that of the physical culturist. Spiritualism, on the other hand, was one of the few areas of magic which offered women the chance of competing on anything like equal terms with their male counterparts. There were, of course, many male mediums, such as Daniel Dunglas Home and the Davenport brothers. But the female medium played into a convenient Victorian and Edwardian stereotype of women as being more ‘spiritual’ than men, and female mediums such as the Fox sisters, Florence Cooke and Houdini’s particular antagonist, Mina Crandon (‘Margery’), were just as numerous, and just as successful, as men. At a symbolic level, the spiritualist phenomenon may have suggested an element of a feminine magical power with which Houdini was particularly uncomfortable.462 At an overt level, however, Houdini presented the issue simply as the distinction between the honest illusion of the performer and the dishonesty of those who imply that their powers may be more than just make-believe. In the



early years, before he became the Handcuff King, and well before he turned his energies to exposing fake mediums, Houdini worked as a jobbing performer in travelling shows, across America. Among his many early acts was one he performed with Bess: a spiritualist routine, consisting of psychic demonstrations and ‘tent-show séances’.463 Harry and Bess used all the usual tricks of the stage psychic, gathering information beforehand about likely audience members.
Houdini compiled a book containing lists of people who attended séances in various towns. To add to his stock of information, the magician visited graveyards to make careful notes from tombstones and attended places where local gossip was to be heard. In the guise of a canvasser he would call at houses and obtain opportunities to inspect family Bibles which often contained much useful information.464

Paid tipsters would also pass on information about the identities of those in the audience, and Houdini’s memory, his ‘cold reading’ skills465 and his showmanship would then provide the spectators with the paranormal experiences they craved, while Bess fell into trances to receive messages from ‘the other side’. According to Houdini, they eventually gave up the Spiritualism routine out of a sense of guilt: people were too easily fooled, and the belief which they had in the reality of the Houdinis’ powers made him uncomfortable. ‘When I noted the deep earnestness with which my utterances were received… I felt the game had gone far enough, for I most certainly did not relish the idea of treading on the sacred feelings of my admirers.’466 Houdini had both an expert inside knowledge of the tricks of the spiritualist trade, and a moralistic distaste for them. It is particularly ironic then, that in later years, when these feelings resurfaced, leading Houdini to attempt to make clear distinctions, after all, between the freak world and the normal world, and to mount a campaign of exposure against all fraudulent (and therefore, as he came to believe, against all) mediums, he found himself, paradoxically, having to defend himself against the charge – made by defenders of Spiritualism – that he himself possessed genuine paranormal powers and was able to perform some of his feats by dematerialisation, or by use of psychic energy.467 ‘It has been stated in print by a staunch believer in Spiritualism’, he complained, ‘that I possess psychic power, but were I to accept that statement as being true, I should be pluming myself with false feathers’.468 Despite his vigorous defence of the claims of material reality, and his insistent debunking of the claims of the mediums and spiritualists, many refused to take him at his word, and continued to attribute to him supernatural powers which they simply believed he himself suppressed and/or denied. The most famous – and one of the most insistent – of those who tried to convince Houdini of his own powers as a medium was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is perhaps not surprising that Doyle was a great fan of Houdini: his own most



famous creation, Sherlock Holmes had something of the magician’s style about him – producing startling and unexpected results from a logical chain which remains hidden to the observer until the maestro deigns to explain it. Holmes himself notes the similarity in ‘A Study in Scarlet’: refusing to explain his reasoning to the long-suffering Watson, he remarks, ‘You know a conjuror gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.’469 The budding friendship between the two men foundered, however, on their disagreement about spiritualism. Doyle was as fervent a believer as Houdini was a sceptic. Not only did Doyle believe in Spiritualism in general, he also believed in fairies: he was an outspoken champion of the Cottingley ‘spirit photographs’, the famous hoax in which two young girls convinced the British press that they had captured images of fairies on film.470 Doyle believed, too, that Houdini himself was in touch with the spirit world, and that Houdini’s own claims that he performed all his feats through a combination of physical prowess and sleight of hand were either disingenuous or simple denial. Before their friendship completely soured, Doyle asked Houdini:
My dear chap, why go around the world seeking a demonstration of the occult when you are giving one all the time? Mrs Guppy could dematerialize, and so could many folk in Holy Writ, and I do honestly believe that you can also… My reason tells me you have this wonderful power, for there is no alternative.471

Doyle’s words contain an echo of the famous words of his own creation, Sherlock Holmes: ‘How often have I said to you’ Holmes scolds Watson, ‘that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?’472 But Doyle and Houdini clearly differed in their assessment of what falls into the category of ‘the impossible’. They also differed in their interpretation of what was going on in Houdini’s own act: Doyle was convinced that Houdini misunderstood the nature of his own powers and that what Houdini performed as entertainment was (unbeknown to the performer himself) actually accomplished through his ‘mediumistic powers’. It was a belief Doyle never renounced. A few years after Houdini’s death, Doyle wrote to Houdini’s first biographer, Harold Kellock:
I have written a little pamphlet, expounding my reasons for thinking that Houdini had mediumistic powers, as the Davenports undoubtedly had, and that he used them upon the stage. My reasoning is cumulative, coming from many quarters, and all pointing to the same end, though he was most clever about the use of trick boxes and so on, in concealing the true source of his powers.473

Houdini, on the other hand, had no doubt that the source of his powers had nothing to do with the spirit world. He knew how to perform all the mediums’


But while Houdini remained sceptical. It portrays a clash of world-views. of course. but also that his own wife was able to speak to the spirit world. the creator of the ultra-rationalist Sherlock Holmes. In this séance. Lady Doyle ‘contacted’ Houdini’s mother through spirit writing. that Lady Doyle was fooling him or was fooling herself. Arthur invited the Houdinis to stay with them in Atlantic City. Houdini was in no doubt that it was the latter. It is easy to look back with superiority and condescension at those who took Doyle’s line. On one level. On the side of pragmatic rationalism is the showman and purveyor of illusions. asking in a tremulous voice ‘Is anybody there?’ has become a cultural cliché. The image of the medium in the darkened room. He refused to take seriously the claims of the spiritualists. the self-educated Houdini. The story is famous partly because there is something iconic about it. seems to have got it right and to have been more ‘scientific’ in his outlook than his opponent. when the Fox family of 165 . His obsession with talking to the dead was. Doyle was thoroughly persuaded not only that his son had contacted him through professional mediums. publicly honoured by the British establishment. producing some exceptionally unconvincing messages (in English – a language his mother could not read. Left with the choice between two possibilities. speak or write) which Houdini found embarrassing in their improbability. Promoting the cause of the irrational is Doyle: highly educated. was hardly an isolated one. the intellectual debate had taken too personal a turn. very much of its time. And it is true that Doyle and his fellow believers were in some fairly uninspiring company: it seems hard to credit how some of the most famous figures of nineteenth-century spiritualism were ever taken seriously. In June 1922 the friendship between Houdini and Doyle finally foundered on a particularly disastrous attempt by the Doyles to convince the hitherto politely sceptical Houdini. He was taking a position in a larger argument about communication with the dead which had begun in the middle of the nineteenth century and continued to be hotly debated until the middle of the twentieth. while the death of Houdini’s adored mother. had shaken the conjuror to the core. The origins of the Spiritualist movement are generally traced back to 1848. The high culture of the old world confronts the popular culture of the new – and it is the champion of American popular culture who. Sisters and Brothers Doyle’s position. However. from the vantage point of the twenty-first century. a doctor and man of science turned novelist. to this extent. since Doyle had lost a beloved son in the First World War. Cecilia. the rational versus the irrational – but with a twist. both men had an urgent desire to see proof of contact beyond the grave. and the friendship cooled. an American popular hero and man of the people.MEDIUMS AND THE MEDIA effects – and he was continually astounded and appalled by Doyle’s naïveté about the simplest conjuring tricks. and looked upon Doyle as a well-meaning and sincere but gullible romantic. where a séance was arranged.

who became instant celebrities. Leah. or broken to bits by angry mobs.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Hydesville. The spirit cabinet within which the Davenports conducted their conversations with spirits was simply a large wooden box. took charge of the children.474 T young daughters. such as hidden strings and being able to click her toe joints against the floor. this meant that [t]he performers could standardize the rope tying. Nor could the unmasking of other stage spiritualists such as William and Ira Davenport – brothers who. however. and the possible fraud of an eight-year-old girl forty years earlier could have little effect on its progress. who soon after. made a public confession of the tricks she had used to produce the effects of spirit rapping. Like the performances of the Cree and Ojibwa shamans. at the age of about 9 and 10 years old had first seen the Fox sisters in Rochester and. in adulthood: drink. and Margaret’s confession was simply discounted by many believers – especially when the story emerged that she and her sister had been offered a large sum of money by a reporter for their confession. New York began to experience a series of random and mysterious wo rapping sounds around their farmhouse. Margaret (8) and Kate (6). and then on tour across America and Europe. Splitfoot’ and seemed to be able to interpret his rappings as messages from the beyond the grave. However. Spiritualism had taken on a life of its own. Margaret.475 first of all in Rochester. Barnum. The Davenports would appear in the next city with a sketch for a local carpenter and would quickly be back in business. feeling betrayed and exploited by her elder sister. Over the years their various cabinets were pawned. Child celebrity brought with it the inevitable problems . then New York and Philadelphia. By now the spiritualist craze had grown into a religious movement. In 1888. Margaret later recanted. communication with the spirit world is enabled by escapology. They called the presence that caused it ‘Mr. putting audiences and individuals in touch with the spirit world at $100–$150 per night. formed a society to promote spiritualism – and in particular to promote the talents of her two sisters. began to give their own private séances in darkened rooms in New York State and New York City. lost. appeared to be at the centre of it all. as Jim Steinmeyer has pointed out.477 166 . and carry the ‘darkness’ with them – the headline-making subject of Spiritualism could take the stage and be exhibited before hundreds of people at a time. Their older married sister. promoted by – amongst others – the great showman and entrepreneur P T. control the sequences.476 After incidents in which they were discovered wandering round the room. making noises on the ‘spirit instruments’ which were supposed to be their means of communication with the dead. but neither her confession nor her recantation made much difference to a movement that had entirely outgrown them. they developed a stage act in which their spirit communications took place while they were tied up inside a special cabinet. depression and eventual poverty.

in fact. despite P T. walked offstage and left the crowd demanding their money back.MEDIUMS AND THE MEDIA The Davenports. Their initial American tours between 1855 and 1864 were comparatively successful. Spiritualism thrived because ‘the exhibiting sort’ were only peripheral to its main popularity. seem to have been repeatedly unmasked. He was sitting to one side of the stage at a performance in Cheltenham when a small piece of drapery fell from the window behind me. and when Christian theologians 167 . Science and spiritualism This is one of the reasons why Spiritualism is such an important cultural phenomenon in the nineteenth century. where audiences waited eagerly for the chance to show up the frauds for what they were. Barnum’s claim that ‘the very . This Cheltenham performance took place in March 1865 – weeks after the Northern tour had left the Davenports’ reputation in tatters. By the 1860s it had become both a mass religious phenomenon and an important area for scientific investigation. with great Schadenfreude how they ‘suffered an unpleasant exposure in Liverpool. Similar fiascos followed in Huddersfield and Leeds and on the Continent. when each major scientific discovery made the hypothesis of a divine creator seem less and less necessary. On one level it might appear to be a romantic reaction against the increasingly mechanistic and materialist worldview of nineteenth-century Europe and America – and for some people that is undoubtedly how it was experienced. But it also offered the possibility for a reunion between a religious and a scientific world-view.480 both spiritualism and the Davenports thrived. Yet.479 But it hardly needed Maskelyne to expose the brothers’ techniques. whose actions thus became visible to me. In later years. not only in Britain but also in continental Europe. was fast becoming a favourite audience occupation. seemed set on opposite paths. A ray of sunshine shot into the cabinet. and the other in the act of throwing the instruments out… I had discovered the secret. with one hand behind him. The Davenports thrived because their growing reputation for fallibility seemed to attract audiences rather than deter them. they found the audiences far more suspicious. religion and science. There sat Ira. Unmasking the Davenports. Barnum describes . P T. lighting up Ira Davenport. but when the American Civil War affected business and they attempted to transfer their act to the UK. thorough exposure of the Davenports… is an additional proof – if such were needed of the truth of what I have alleged about the impostures perpetrated by them and their “mysterious” brethren of the exhibiting sort’. England’478 when they refused to be tied by a particular member of the committee. in fact. the great John Nevil Maskelyne claimed to have begun his own career of stage magic by unmasking the Davenports. It arose at a time when the two great ways of explaining the universe.

a Nottinghamshire inventor who. As a recent BBC television programme put it: Some of science s biggest names have not only dabbled in. Melton. then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory. the importance of which went far beyond the reputations of the Fox sisters or the Davenport brothers. Guglielmo Marconi. when made available.484 However. in the 1920s. developed a ‘spirit telephone’ with which he believed he would be able to amplify psychic voices which were already in the ether. If this reasoning be correct. intellect and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on this Earth. through an understanding of spiritualism. then. The question provoked immense scientific controversy. such an instrument.482 Towards the end of his life Edison seems to have seriously considered the possibility of a machine which he hoped would do just that and be able to communicate with the dead.PERFORMING DARK ARTS made their strongest arguments for faith in despite of. In an article in Scientific American for 30th October 1920 he argued that [i]f our personality survives. A belief in both science and Christianity was by no means impossible. which depended on strange forces being demonstrated through bizarre phenomena. and many other Victorian scientific pioneers. But the attraction to spiritualism they all shared is definitely not part of the GCSE science syllabus. after Edison’s death. Many of the greatest scientific minds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were engaged in the debate on one side or the other – and many of them as committed spiritualists or defenders of the spiritualist movement. if personality exists after what we call death. became involved with the religion. Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird are familiar to most for the household indispensables they invented. John Logie Baird – another of the pioneers of television – claimed 168 . R. science and religion might once more be reunited was a deeply seductive one. rather than because of. Therefore. it is reasonable to conclude that those who leave this Earth would like to communicate with those they have left here… I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. All three men.481 The possibility that. ought to record something’. 483 There is no evidence of Edison’s having attempted to construct a machine – that was left to others such as F. but attempts to reconcile these two kinds of knowledge and belief were becoming increasingly problematic – and not infrequently led those individuals who tried to catastrophic crises of faith and of conscience. scientific advances. if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected or moved or manipulated… by our personality as it survives in the next life. but been entirely convinced by the world of the seance.

including the identification of elements. he soon rejected the possibility of spirit communication. His investigations into cathode rays. sounds which they believed to be communications from another world. and he wrote several books and papers on the subject. led to the development of television technology. a year before Marconi. like him he had lost a son in the First World War. who. the Society of Chemical Industry. in letters to The Times and lectures to the Royal Society.491 And while Alexander Graham Bell.487 He was a friend of Doyle. is often enlisted in support of the spiritualists. a chemist and physicist who was at various times in his life President of the Chemical Society. were both reported to have received strange and unexpected signals on their wireless equipment. both of whom take some share of the credit for the invention of radio. the inventor of the telephone. Indeed.MEDIUMS AND THE MEDIA to have been at a séance in which the spirit of Edison was contacted.489 Speaking to the British Association in 1898 he said. Foremost amongst the sceptics was the fundamentalist Christian and the most brilliant physicist of his generation. Mabel Hubbard. and assuming it to be superstition and trickery.485 Guglielmo Marconi and Nikolai Tesla. the British physicist whose contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy led him to become the first person to transmit a radio signal.488 Perhaps the most impressive of all the scientific spiritualists was Sir William Crookes – an extraordinary experimental scientist. Michael Faraday. His work touched on a number of key areas in earlytwentieth-century science.486 Oliver Lodge. I might add much thereto. convinced him of the reality of Spirit phenomena. however. the Institution of Electrical Engineers. I adhere to my already published statements. in 1875: The subject of ‘Spiritualism’ is one that interests me exceedingly although I haven’t a particle of belief in the reality of the manifestations… My brother 169 . spectroscopy and radiography. the British Association and the Royal Society. There was plenty of opposition too. including early versions of the cathode ray tube. proclaimed his contempt for the claims of spiritualism.’490 It is important not to overstate the case or to swing to the opposite extreme and suggest that the weight of orthodox scientific opinion was actually on the side of the spiritualists. ‘Thirty years have passed since I published an account of experiments tending to show that outside our scientific knowledge there exists a Force exercised by intelligence differing from the ordinary intelligence common to mortals. His studies of celebrated mediums such as Daniel Dunglas Home and Florence Cook. I have nothing to retract. intending to apply a strictly scientific rigour to the study. He wrote to his fiancée. and was indeed interested in its possibilities as a young man. Crookes first approached Spiritualism in a spirit of scepticism. and believed that he was in spirit contact with his lost boy. looked to a combination of psychical and physical research to provide the missing link between the spiritual and the material.

but nothing has happened to make me alter my opinion concerning Spiritualism. Doyle was not simply seduced by a lunatic fringe: he was taking an intellectual position which was not only theoretically tenable within the scientific paradigms of the day.493 The caricature which Houdini draws of his opponents does not fit the reality. If Doyle’s position meant that he was aligned with the discredited Fox sisters and Davenport brothers. the argument about spiritualism was not between science and superstition: it was taking place within the scientific community itself.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Melville and I were at one time much interested in Spiritualism. and lays the flattering unction to his soul that he is investigating ‘psychic phenomena’. but actually supported by many of the most practical and forward-looking of the great names in science: the pioneers whose work laid the foundation for the communications revolution of the twentieth century. Houdini’s career was built on an aesthetic of bodily presence: the escapologist displayed his body. Some of them. he gravely follows that Will-of-the-wisp. and while his serious-minded brothers are wringing from Nature her jealously guarded secrets. spiritism.492 The point is that while many scientists remained sceptical about the claims of spiritualism. It is perhaps not surprising that those who were working with the ‘invisible’ communication technologies that would come to dominate the twentieth century should show most interest in imagining how far the implications of their discoveries might extend into the realms of metaphysics. it also meant that he was aligned with Marconi. Logie Baird and Lodge. such as Crookes and Lodge. Crookes. In his disagreement with Houdini. allowed his body to be restrained. Doyle’s argument with Houdini becomes more than just the conflict between the naïve (and rather romantic) novelist and the hardheaded showman.494 There is another philosophical conflict underlying this one. Seen from this perspective. the knowledge of which benefits all mankind. wonder-loving scientist [who] still abides with us. devoted much of their energy to an attempt to establish a scientific basis for the study of spirit communication. We made a solemn compact that whichever of us should die first would endeavour to communicate with the other if it were possible to do so… It is now between five and six years since my brother died. It is a fortuitous pun: those scientists who were most willing to countenance the spiritualist mediums were the ones who invented the electronic media. Houdini himself acknowledged this even while pouring his contempt on the credulous. Edison. Tesla. liberated his body from bonds… Live performance and bodily presence were the essence of his act – so much so that 170 . It was major figures from the scientific establishment who showed serious interest in the possibilities of Spiritualism over a period of nearly a hundred years.

the separation of spirit from flesh is thought to occur in the surrealist realm of dream. in the field or on the hunt.MEDIUMS AND THE MEDIA when he attempted to transfer his performance to the movies the results were disastrous. the twentieth century was to be the century in which the great discovery – even before the digital revolution – would be that [e]lectricity has made angels of us all… spirit freed from flesh. myth. Marconi. Crookes and Lodge. however. Thanks to pioneers such as Edison.496 And when he invited Harry and Bess Houdini to the fateful séance in Atlantic City. he too was a literalist. and for him the real task was to establish and maintain communication with those individuals who had died and ‘passed over’. We reverse this. Daily life.497 171 . he was there to investigate a huge and powerful radio amplifier which he believed might prove useful in communicating with the spirit world. He continued to believe that the blatantly phoney Davenport Brothers ‘undoubtedly’ had mediumistic powers. ritual.495 Not that Doyle saw things in this metaphorical way. In a sense. Our electronic workaday world divorces images from physical reality. with all senses alert. is intensely sensate. and the spirit imprisoned in the body. capable of instant transportation anywhere… In preliterate societies. art.

and even a venerable tradition in academic inquiry. For Jean-François Lyotard. The tradition. the postmodern condition. another in the Enlightenment. a referential being. amount by now to a respectable. a fragmentation of the self and the rejection of the unified subject. Television is the crap end of magic. there is no real agreement as to what postmodernism actually is. or a substance. Firstly.500 for Jean Baudrillard (see epigraph abov) it is about a world of simulations. yet another in the era of high industrial capitalism. Magic has one kind of meaning in the Renaissance. nor does it survive it. and of using the standpoint of postmodernism as a theoretical perspective from which to analyse all sorts of cultural phenomena both past and present. The territory no longer precedes the map. it is about ‘an incredulity towards metanarratives’. however. many of its key philosophers themselves differ or disagree about its definition. But how useful is the word in a discussion of magic and conjuring? The twin projects of exploring the direct influence which postmodern thinking has had on particular aspects of contemporary culture. media and postmodernism Today abstraction is no longer that of the map. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. or the concept. avant-garde 172 . It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory… Jean Baudrillard498 Who wants to work on TV? There’s no money in it. These concepts include the refusal of ‘grand narratives’ or ‘metanarratives’ (such as Marxism and Christianity). more significantly. simulacra and hyperreality… In more general intellectual discourse the word is used to refer to a whole range of overlapping concepts drawn from a range of largely French philosophers. The logic of the argument means that inevitably this final chapter should address the recent past: the era of the modern and. The term ‘postmodern’ can hardly be avoided by anyone attempting to write about contemporary culture – especially contemporary popular culture. It’s the bottom end of showbusiness… Paul Daniels499 Magic and the postmodern A theme of this book has been the way in which the meanings of magic change in relation to the society in which the magic is produced. has its problems. the mirror. Insofar as it is a technical term. Simulation is no longer that of a territory.Chapter Ten Magic. the double.

At the most basic level. In 1984 Fredric Jameson claimed that postmodernism is the cultural dominant of late or multinational capitalism.g. it is important to take seriously those descriptions of the contemporary world offered by postmodern philosophers and cultural critics. but to explore some of the ways in which the alleged abandonment of that 173 . a world in which traditional epistemological distinctions. a rejection of categorical certainties and a corresponding dissolution of distinctions between (e. scientific humanism. and apparently increasing.502 in 2006 the revival of religious fervour which is a dominant factor in global politics suggests a resurgent commitment to grand narratives on the part of societies and individuals. The point of this is not to prove that such-and-such a performer can be fitted into the box marked ‘postmodernism’. a mistrust of language’s ability accurately to describe the world. At times the word seems to be used to refer to so many things that it ceases to be useful as a category – which is. consequently. by the ‘precession of simulacra’. postmodernism is a term which cannot be ignored. impact on the everyday lives of a large proportion of the planet’s population. A world characterized by the hyper-real. cool or sexy because it is postmodern. for example. the conjunction seems an appropriate one. and a mistrust of the truth claims of previously privileged discourses.and early-nineteenth-century conjuring operated in terms of an Enlightenment world-view. so the postmodern age is postmodern only in parts. In many ways. I now want consider its operation in terms of the apparent abandonment of that world-view.MAGIC. and by a distrust of the rational.501 Yet even this broad concept needs to be treated with some care lest it turn into a kind of grand narrative itself: no movement is ever total – we are only ever talking about tendencies. of course. as we have seen. and where ‘the real and the imaginary continually collapse into each other’503 seems like fertile ground for the magician. Magicians. ironically in keeping with some of postmodernism’s own tenets. Earlier in the book. mediated through the policies of a Republican presidency.) high and low culture. and. especially those involving a degree of aesthetic fragmentation. or to insist that magic is relevant. postmodernism might be defined as the result of the abandonment of the Enlightenment project of rational enquiry into the human condition. have a massive. have traditionally blurred the line between truth and reality. I was attempting to show how eighteenth. the beliefs and concerns of the American religious right. as does irony (a term which now seems hardly to exist in its own right without the ‘postmodern’ tag). moreover. hierarchies and categories have been replaced by relativism. self-reference or intertextuality. many of the distinct features now commonly associated with it are not in themselves new or unique to postmodernism: experiments with fragmentation of aesthetic form pre-date postmodernism. Thus. Besides. Despite all these caveats. It has dominated cultural analysis over the last twenty or so years. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM experiments with form. Just as the Enlightenment itself was not only about rational.

manifestation had an unquestionable sense of danger. Robert Harbin (who had appeared on television as early as the 1940s) transformed the routine into ‘The Zig-Zag Girl’ 174 . Houdini had a few unsatisfactory forays into film-making. which aired for five years on ABC and CBS507 from 1959. downplaying any suggestions of danger or darkness.506 In the United States the earliest successful television magician was Mark Wilson. where television advertisers and sponsors were particularly influential in the decisions of the programmers.505 (This combination of conjuring and crime-busting was revived on US television by the Magician series in the 1970s. And in fact. In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. and thus able to escape. the rest of this chapter will focus on conjuring in the broadcast media. were experiments which utilized the medium of radio. ‘Blackstone’ (actually played by actor Ed Jerome) featured on prime-time US radio as ‘The Magic Detective’. Selbit’s ‘Sawing the lady in half’. a response to a world dominated by mass communication and mediated reality. And since postmodernism is. his glamorous assistant and the hapless criminals by applying the techniques of the conjuror to the process of detection. whose Time for Magic on WFAA local TV station in Texas in the Fifties was picked up by ABC and became The Magic Land of Alakazam. At the end of each episode he then explained to listeners how to perform a simple magic trick. This was especially true in America. for example.508 In Britain.504 More successful. a series which exploited structural similarities between the narrative of the conjuror’s act and that of the detective story. a trick such as P T. Thus. Blackstone would mystify his friends. Called in to help solve various crimes. in part at least. who is. and again on British television in the 1990s with BBC’s Jonathan Creek. television has been quite hospitable to ‘straight’ conjuring acts – partly because broadcast television in its early days was live. at the time of writing. conjurors found various ways of coming to terms with the impact which recorded and broadcast media had on a performance art which initially appeared viable only in a live situation. The price television demanded. was that conjuring should increasingly learn to package itself as family viewing. the stigma of what Houdini called ‘camera trix’. becomes in Wilson’s hands something much less threatening. which added a conjuring twist to the classic locked-room mystery format). the magician who is using that media most intensely and receiving its most constant attention. initially at least.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Enlightenment project of rational criticism has influenced this aspect of popular culture. and will look in particular at the work of David Blaine. while Howard Thurstone and Harry Blackstone followed a more traditional route by incorporating films as part of the entertainment in their live shows. paradoxically. which in its theatrical . among other things. Magic on television We have already considered the ways in which magic and recorded media first encountered each other: as the twentieth century progressed. the US’s first networked magic series.

Thus. this is me. Geller’s most effective stage was not the theatre. This is the showman apparently offstage. then we have to re-think the whole way in which we understand the laws of nature and our place in the cosmos. ran from 1998 to 2001 on Channel 5. Fellow conjuror James Randi has carried on a debunking campaign against Geller which is comparable to Houdini’s crusade against the spiritualist Marjorie. an extremely effective form of misdirection in itself. Paul Daniels adopted a persona which combined conjuring skills with the patter and audience rapport of the Northern stand-up. I’m really doing this. in fact. standing on its head the commonplace that magic only really works in a live setting: the theatre. bring the cameras in as close as you like. He used – and at the time of writing continues to use – television as an essential tool of his magic. however. he was doing so in a way that was commercially enormously successful. bending spoons on stage in a magic show is one thing: doing it in the relaxed environment of the chat show is another thing entirely. Randi takes the part of the Enlightenment rationalist. This is reality. as he suggests. iconoclastic and often very funny Jerry Sadowitz has two showbiz personae: as magician and standup comedian. in effect. More recently. the misanthropic. become a regular combination in television conjuring in the UK: the avuncular David Nixon developed a gentle comic routine. and the distance between Sadowitz and Tommy Cooper says much about the changing relationship between television and conjuring. He is making a huge claim: if.509 Comedy and magic. One of the most brilliant TV magicians. or even the televised magic spectacular. while the great Tommy Cooper made his apparent ineptitude as a magician a central part of his comedy act. It was the TV chat show – a genre of popular entertainment which appears to position itself as a form of live encounter. By claiming a genuine paranormal power he sets himself apart not only from rival conjurors. In this ongoing confrontation. An Audience with Jerry Sadowitz. Geller was implicitly saying – ‘This is not showbiz. come closer. It is. In that context. Look. He was turning himself into a celebrity – one of the most powerful forms of twentieth-century metamorphosis. but one whose imagery is light-heartedly comic rather than grotesque. since it carries with it the implication that the audience is being given a privileged – and honest – view behind the scenes of celebrity life. In fact Randi has developed his initial position of rational scepticism 175 .’ The patter is the same but the framework is different. street or the close-up of table magic. he can bend the spoon or make your watch stop simply by the power of his will. Little wonder that fellow magicians denounced him: not only was Geller breaking some kind of unwritten rule by claiming paranormal powers. And as a piece of showmanship it is superb. His TV anti-talk show. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM – an equally effective magic illusion. The chat show creates and exploits celebrity at the same time as its contrived intimacy appears to deny the falseness of celebrity. was Uri Geller.MAGIC. but also from the dominant ways in which the western mind has traditionally explained the universe. who first rose to fame in the Sixties and the early Seventies.

the slasher movie. where television villains are confronted in the street and warned about the possible future consequences of their villainous behaviour. distinctions between the simulated and the real have collapsed. set. Using the structural techniques of the rock video. include David Blaine (of whom more later). and to conflate the pleasures of the horror film with those of the conjuring performance. now means that there is a widespread audience for conjuring of one kind or another. is to see Geller as exploiting the very condition of postmodernity which Baudrillard terms the ‘precession of simulacra’. The Secret Cabaret became a cult TV show on Channel 4. in terms of success with young adult audiences. Magic was never quite the ‘new rock and roll’ but Drake himself was certainly capable of playing to the rock audience: he developed his idiosyncratic style touring largescale rock venues with Kate Bush. Another way of looking at it. Penn and Teller. Drake’s Secret Cabaret was a rare example of a conjuring act which achieved a measure of ‘cool’. television lawyers and television detectives regularly receive requests for help and advice. in very different mode. and has appeared live with many other rock bands. Drake invited them to read his illusions intertextually. and the British conjuror Simon Drake. costume and music worked together to evoke the world of the vampire movie. Playing to an audience well educated in such conventions of popular culture. tied to sacrificial altars or impaled on monstrous spikes.510 But where does that leave Geller? Randi would say it leaves him among the ‘miracle-mongers’ who attempt to deceive a gullible world by claiming that their sleights of hand are genuine wonders. Nonetheless. in societies saturated by images. however. where television doctors.511 In this context. with their self-referential and ironic mode of performance. or the supernatural thriller. On the one hand the audience was invited into the fantasy world of the horror movie. During the early 1990s.PERFORMING DARK ARTS into a kind of intellectual mission: the website of the ‘James Randi Educational Foundation’ is no ten-cent School of Magic like the young Professor Houdini’s. wide-ranging and intelligent ‘non-profit learning resource aimed at promoting critical thinking everywhere’. These are societies in which men and women make offers of marriage to characters in soap operas. but when Drake’s Secret Cabaret was first broadcast this was by no means the case. perhaps Uri Geller should be seen. but a well-presented. not as a traditional charlatan but as the first truly postmodern magician? Other contenders for that title. The success of magicians such as Blaine and Derren Brown. as well as Channel 5’s Monkey Magic. where. in which the spectator’s gratification lies in a complex interplay of ‘spectator-positions’. in which darkly erotic figures were threatened with gruesome deaths. it drew on the imagery of horror films: lighting. in which the sadistic pleasure of watching the horrors unfold on the body of the 176 .

In fact The Secret Cabaret is an effective exercise in Brechtian theatrical technique. Mesmer himself was somewhat of a paradox: before his fame. he had been a successful doctor in Vienna. the therapeutic claims Mesmer made for his theory were attractive to large sections of society in the Paris of the Enlightenment. laced with equal parts of showmanship and mysticism. On the other. The intertextual play between the horror movie and the conjuring trick which lay at the heart of The Secret Cabaret meant that the spectator was always caught between these two modes of engagement. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM victim is intertwined with the masochistic one of identification with the victim him.512 and on the nature of the fantasies through which (say) the horror movie engages its audience.MAGIC. who saw in them the promise of a rational explanation for all kinds of illness 177 . as we have seen.or herself. Brecht’s theories of theatre are rooted in his famous distinction between Aristotelian theatre (which draws the spectator into sympathetic feeling for the protagonist) and Epic theatre which continually interrupts that involvement by means of various techniques of alienation. Is it also ironic that Drake now maintains a successful career in corporate entertainment. but in all probability had plagiarized the doctoral dissertation which won him his qualification. another kind of question is raised by the revival of the ‘mentalist’ act in the hands of modern conjurors such as Derren Brown. Drake’s illusions become ironic reflections on illusion itself. it was challenged – as a conjuror’s audience is typically challenged – to guess how it is done. Such complex ironies and intertextualities are now habitually referred to as postmodern. the magician was ready to learn – or steal – from the scientist. As ever.513 His demonstrations of ‘animal magnetism’. the basic techniques of the ‘mind-reading’ routine had been established several centuries earlier. never present in the screening of a horror movie. from which. in the 1770s. on the very notion of what Coleridge called ‘that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment. and the advent of clinical hypnotism. were not universally accepted in his lifetime: many of his peers believed him to be a fraud. Mental magic had its heyday in the golden age of magic during the nineteenth century – although. The act was experienced by most spectators as a television programme. forcing the spectator to step back and evaluate what she has just seen. specialising in ‘lighthearted amputations and decapitations of senior executives for corporate events and private functions’? And how postmodern is that? If. that there might be some real blood this time. Franz Anton Mesmer’s theories of mesmerism/hypnotism began with attempts to cure patients using magnets. he developed his celebrated theory of ‘animal magnetism’. as part of the Channel 4 series – but for the live audience there was the additional level of the liveness of the performer’s body. Thus. which he described as a physical fluid in the bloodstream. performances such as those of Stelarc and his prosthetics ask one kind of question about the integrity of the unified human subject. as I suggested earlier. the tantalizing possibility. Nonetheless. which constitutes poetic faith’.

Brown opened an envelope to demonstrate that he had predicted precisely that design on 178 . smoking and self-confidence. but the strange part of his story is that his notion of animal magnetism is still with us today. is now struggling for survival. who was a successful defendant in one of these negligence cases. show us the showman changing back into shaman. Interestingly. stage hypnotism as a branch of entertainment has undergone a sudden and serious decline in very recent years. Brown explains. but influences their thoughts. as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of hysteria. at least in the UK. which he had learned from Charcot. but in truth both hypnosis and Freud already threaten that concept – the one by demonstrating that the mind can be invaded and controlled from outside. along with McKenna’s books and DVDs on weight loss. A broadly sensible self-help book.514 Freud’s investigation of the subconscious began with his use of hypnotism. but as a life skills guru.’. he operates through the planting of various subliminal images. McKenna himself.PERFORMING DARK ARTS whose causes were otherwise unknown. the Good and Bad Angels of Doctor Faustus’s conscience do something very similar for the Renaissance subject!) But a particularly postmodern twist is added to the mentalist act by Derren Brown. when hypnotist Paul McKenna was one of Britain’s best-paid and most successful television entertainers. has successfully relaunched his career. the other by positing a multifaceted subjectivity. As Robert Silverberg puts it. When they produced their designs. manipulating his subjects at a deep unconscious level in the same way that advertisers are supposed to manipulate us through subliminal advertising. His book Change Your Life in 7 Days (including free mind-programming CD) was a bestseller in 2004. Postmodernist philosophy rejects the liberal-humanist concept of the unified subject. whose ‘Mind Control’ act skilfully skirts round the muddied waters of stage hypnotism. One of the most memorable routines in his television show Mind Control was one in which he used as voluntary subjects two men from the advertising industry. They had been asked – under closed conditions – to come up with a logo for a particular firm (of taxidermists). In fact. (For that matter. which says little that has not been said by self-help books before it. healer and therapist. all of which frequently pull in different directions. insisting that he does not read his subjects’ minds nor hypnotize them. What had been a thriving branch of show business in the early Nineties.516 have dealt a body blow to the profession. re-inventing old routines for a new audience. and in particular the legal case of Howarth v Green. ‘Mesmer was a charlatan who grew rich from the foolishness of his patients. Change Your Life in 7 Days. and is widely used in medicine as well as in the world of entertainment. not as an entertainer. a superego and an id. split between the conscious and the subconscious and consisting of an ego. In particular.515 A series of incidents in which subjects suffered real-life psychological disturbances after being hypnotized on stage.

to be the Daily Mail. We. Then – to explain how it had been done – he played back to them parts of the programme which had been shown earlier. for just 1/3000th of a second at a time.1 per cent rise in Coca-Cola sales. the word ‘executive’ was selected – and that was the word in the sealed envelope. a variety of audience volunteers had chosen which page of the paper (page thirteen). Brown’s 2005 live touring show. and with us. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM their part. which article on the page. Brown now plays back videotaped moments from earlier in the show to demonstrate that he had implanted similar subliminal messages in our minds. taken from an article in that day’s paper. It’s similar to the advertising-exec routine. A video camera (the audience had been shown it earlier in the show but not told its function) had been running throughout the performance. to demonstrate that earlier on they had been subject to a series of subliminal messages. who conducted a series of experiments on cinema viewers in a New Jersey movie theatre in order to prove that by flashing advertising suggestions (‘Drink CocaCola’ and ‘Hungry? Eat Pop-Corn’) onto the screen during the playing of the movie. the number 13. as the edited footage now proves to us in action replay. but in the context of a live performance. Vicary’s experiment seemed to result in a 57. It was particularly sweet to see advertising executives on the receiving end of such manipulation! It was explained to the advertising executives that they had been influenced by subliminal advertising – that form of hidden persuasion whereby the public can be coerced into making certain decisions by means of images and messages which do not even register with the conscious mind. as the victims. Brown eliminated all but the final envelope – which was locked inside a suitcase much earlier in the show. the audience. The word ‘Mail’. the audience. acting 179 . the word ‘executive’ itself – all these were. Brown again ‘explains’ the trick. subliminal advertising featured again: the finale involved a long and complex sequence which involves sealed envelopes and audience volunteers. In the taxi on the way to the experiment and in the lobby of the building in which it had been carried out. a series of steps led to a final prediction: a word. This term ‘subliminal advertising’ comes from the late 1950s. Through a series of correct predictions. was on a card inside the case. locked within the suitcase! By way of finale.8 per cent rise in popcorn sales and an 18. each one apparently random. they had been deliberately exposed to images which subconsciously they had then incorporated into their final design because he. had manipulated them into doing so. from the work of James Vicary. on the night I saw it. which word in the article… By a series of separate stages. The audience as a whole had made the choice which newspaper to go for: it had turned out. we are informed. Brown. In Something Wicked This Way Comes. below the threshold of conscious perception. continually repeated to us at odd times and in unlikely contexts during the earlier parts of the show in order to influence us. the audience could be coerced into buying these products. Once more.MAGIC.

Subliminal advertising clearly works. The camera after all never lies… And we all know about the subtle ways in which late capitalism seeks to manipulate us as consumers. The power of subliminal advertising is nothing but an urban myth. In a culture which is saturated by advertising. That. We go home. the Federal Communications Commission banned it from TV and radio broadcasting in 1974. it is hard not to believe in the almost limitless power of the hidden persuaders to creep beneath the thresholds of our consciousness and tinker with our minds. had made a series of unconscious choices which took us to the point where the word ‘executive’ on that piece of paper was (Brown explains) the inevitable choice. choose. by his use of the video camera. The detailed explanation of how we had been fooled forms the climax to the show. vote in a particular way. however a very potent one. It is. had been the victims of a form of subliminal advertising. most importantly. and Brown’s powers – not as a psychic. Except that it doesn’t. The experiments and their apparent conclusions remain in the public memory: the US Congress drafted legislation forbidding subliminal advertising.518 James Vicary’s experiment was a fraud: subsequent attempts to duplicate it failed to establish any increased pattern of purchasing. Later writers repeated Vicary’s unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of subliminal advertising. It seems that there is a will to believe in the almost limitless power of the advertising industry. but as a ‘Jedi Master’517 of mass psychology – are confirmed. his explanation of it – offers a satisfactory explanation for otherwise amazing phenomenon because it mobilizes our expectations of being manipulated by mass media. there is no evidence to suggest that such sense-impressions can be used to influence us directly – to make us buy. no longer asking how he did it. and the 180 . is satisfying to us on a deep cultural level. We. by the advertising industry. While subliminal perception is a well-substantiated psychological phenomenon (our senses can indeed take things in which our conscious minds do not register). is the narrative which we are asked to accept. not as a prestidigitator. All is revealed. at least. and was soon forgotten.PERFORMING DARK ARTS both communally and individually. by politicians. we know that mass media has the power to influence us at levels which we ourselves do not perceive. but knowing how it was done – and both amazed and disturbed. by industrial/military complex etc. like the advertising executives. If Vicary’s experiment chimed very much with the mood of its own time (1957 was also the year that Vance Packer’s The Hidden Persuaders made the best-seller lists with its analysis of the power of the advertising industry) it continues to resonate with ours. while Vicary’s own confession of his fraud received very little media coverage. And. We. like the advertising executives on the television show. Derren Brown’s explanation – his apparent demonstration – of his power to do this. The routine – and. and Vicary himself eventually admitted that he had falsified his original experimental data. had been manipulated into choosing what Brown wanted us to choose.

in London for so long. it is probably David Blaine. self-referential and ironic – it is a very sophisticated routine.522 Whereas most celebrities are constructed in the public consciousness on the basis of a spurious ‘knowability’ or familiarity. who was elected President of the American Association of Magicians. and one well-suited to the postmodern age of late capitalism. Like Houdini (with whom he himself constantly invites comparison) Blaine is a celebrity figure. Brown wittily employs the technology of the mass media to do it. The consensus among conjurors seems to be that Blaine is a competent but not spectacularly good performer. In the history of stage magic it is virtually a cliché to say that one of Houdini’s greatest tricks was the creation of Houdini. this points to an important truth.519 David Blaine: acting the part of a martyr I felt I was in the middle of a Kafka novel. He didn t escape or anything! That *might* be endurance. ‘I was a bit baffled when Blaine was stuck up that pole. very. in a little box. ‘David Blaine is just a good club level magician that got lucky’. 181 . one of the interesting things about Blaine is the difficulty which so many people have of knowing what to make of him. Not that this is such a bad thing for a magician: Houdini was as skilled a self-publicist as he was an illusionist. It s time for magic’s postmodern period. like so many clichés. but it s not *magic* for me! Actually it was very. have a very high reputation among fellow conjurors. Witty. Discussions on TalkMagic. very boring!’ Another adds. it seems. The ambiguity in contemporary film and literature had been missing from magic. His friends include – or have included – film and pop megastars such as Leonardo di Caprio and Michael Jackson as well as magicians from previous eras such as Uri Geller. very. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM instant editing it affords. however.MAGIC. he reappears. Unlike Houdini. Like Houdini. David Blaine520 Resolution – the tidy ending – is the tradition in magic… Someone disappears. and the arts of illusion and self-publicity are closely aligned. and that his real skill is for self-publicity. Ehrich Weiss created his alter ego. David Copperfield521 If any one conjuror might be credited with (or accused of) taking contemporary magic into the ambiguous postmodern period that David Copperfield describes. Blaine is capable of pulling large crowds and of staging performances which seem in some way to have some cultural importance – to matter. a UK online chat forum for enthusiasts and practitioners reveal evidence of scepticism about him: one contributor writes. however. Blaine does not.

my blood boils. Blaine has plenty of fans. creates such mythical resonances in the figure of the conjuror. there is no real comparison.525 make him a natural target for resentment. Houdini was a master of controlling the media and he did this on his own. Add to this the fact that Houdini was loved by the general populace and Blaine’s latest stunt. pushes such buttons. Blaine has a team of publicists. Men bared 182 .’ [sic] left him the butt of many jokes in England and quite despised. ‘People merely mocked him’. The discussion of Blaine’s performance on TalkMagic continues: A: …when I hear people comparing Houdini with Blaine. But even taking this into account. Perhaps even more difficult to explain is the violent and aggressive response to his act by many members of the public. But where Houdini’s myth-making is regarded with affection. but not Blaine himself. Simply put. it seems. He expected every body to stop and actually take notice of him when in actual fact people merely mocked him. too. Blaine’s media status. Vertigo which saw him stand perched on a ninety-foot-high pole for 35 hours.524 It was only later that he progressed to larger stunts. Another attached a beefburger to a remote-controlled toy helicopter and flew it up to his box to taunt him. As one or two of the more generous voices on TalkMagic acknowledge. One man with a golf iron and several dozen balls used Blaine’s perspex cage as target practice. Blaine-baiting took various forms during ‘Above the Below’. and the reputed dollars which accompany it.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Harry Houdini. like Above the Below and Frozen in Time in which he was entombed in a block of ice for three days. says one of the contributors to TalkMagic – but the word hardly does justice to some of the responses from the crowd below.523 To the outsider the professional criticisms of Blaine seem somewhat meanminded: Blaine paid his dues as a jobbing magician and made his name with close-up magic in restaurants and clubs before embarking on a media career that successfully brought some of the excitement of street magic to the small screen with the networked show ‘Street Magic’. Perhaps some of the responses can be put down to professional jealousy: in a profession in which few are able to make a living wage. you could compare Blaine’s collective publicists to Houdini. Blaine’s is frequently derided. It may be that Blaine is a controversial figure in the world of magic (and popular entertainment in general) because he. or the self-explanatory Buried Alive. B: Blaine s ego was obviously demonstrated in his poor judgment of staging ‘Above the Below’ here in Britain. in particularly vitriolic ways. Possibly. who grew from a popular entertainer into (eventually) a quasimythical figure – a carefully constructed nexus of symbols and suggestions which pushed important buttons in the psyche of early. ‘Over the Under. Blaine’s reputation was – and remains – remarkably low amongst his fellow magicians.twentieth-century America and Europe. and the comparisons really begin falling apart. he ‘made magic cool again’. yet those who take against him do so.

527 A more sympathetic review had appeared a few weeks before McCade’s in the Guardian – one which was given weight by the fact that it was written by Michael Billington. who has made a whole career out of not being magical. What the American Blaine failed to grasp is that the British like their magic to be magical. self-obsessed and involved bad hygiene and Perspex. it was crap… So what was it? …It was pointless. together with an explanation based on national character. entombed in concrete for. We’d have appreciated Paul Daniels. Billington talks of how he started off in a mood of Beckettian scepticism. having arrived at the South Bank as a metaphorical Blaine-basher. More common were the eggs. but even that wouldn’t have entranced us. A white rabbit starving to death in a top hat would have been a better idea. but that he is making a mistake trying it on with the sceptical British – captured a sentiment that was commonly expressed at the time. what gradually hits me is that. but then the old British love of animals would have kicked in. The British audience. of course. well. she tells us. It’s all very well being told that someone’s internal organs are digesting themselves. or at least a small haemorrhage. Fiona McCade’s wittily unsympathetic review of Above the Below sums up the general tone of anti-Blaine camp. Much as Blaine’s head would have been if he’d messed with a bunny.MAGIC. one woman mockingly displayed herself naked beneath the box in order to arouse him sexually. However. to relieve the monotony. Certainly the nationalistic suggestion made by the TalkMagic contributors quoted above – that American audiences may be stupid enough to be fooled by Blaine’s antics. and the failure of the hunt for the illusory weapons of mass destruction on which the British involvement in the invasion of Iraq had been predicated. but unless you’re watching When Good Organs Go Bad on the Discovery Channel. for twenty years probably the most continually influential theatre critic in the UK. were just bored and hoping for a seizure. In short. helps. the perfect modern art installation. as long as you like really. But the bizarre paradox is that 183 . paint and various foodstuffs with which some of the onlookers jeeringly pelted the dangling conjuror. When a magician steadfastly refuses to be magical – and Blaine’s friend Uri Geller. self-absorption – be it physical or mental – is a dull business. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM their arses at him and women their breasts.526 It may be that Blaine was on the receiving end of a rising feeling of anti-Americanism in the wake of the Second Gulf War earlier in the year. insisted Blaine’s ordeal was officially Not Magic – then what’s left? As a stunt. I am now succumbing to the carnival atmosphere. The sunshine.

is ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. But in the case of Blaine. it seems. though rarely so succinctly expressed. from the plausible to the preposterous. replacing the lost mass with inflatable material…?530 The possible explanations proliferate: whether your conclusion is that ‘as a stunt it was crap’ or that ‘Blaine’s action acquires something of the unresolvable 184 . the desire to test human powers of endurance?’ That was the same question everyone was asking. precisely because we can all attach our own private meaning to Blaine s action. supervising a party of busily sketching 11-yearolds from Alexandra Park School. But.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Blaine s act of imprisonment seems to have a liberating effect on the rest of us. It says something about our own form of solitary confinement that it takes a man in a glass box to get us to open up to other human beings. exhibitionism. It may not be drama or magic but the Blaine experiment also has the power of a puzzle. ‘the intriguing question is: what are we really watching? A piece of performance art? A 44-day play? A theatrical illusion?’ He contrasts Blaine’s stunt to an account of a Houdini escape from a locked trunk. 528 For Billington. in which Houdini escaped very quickly but then let the audience sweat it out for 45 minutes before appearing. apparently exhausted. as Billington acknowledges. An article in The Independent on the same day observed that ‘Plenty of people have turned out to see Blaine. Blaine insisted that all he was doing was sitting in a box losing weight. But hardly anyone is willing. vanity. ‘there is no gimmick: he really does seem to be going through a form of living hell. money. Stay there long enough and you not only begin to forget your own rushed daily routine but meet lots of interesting new people. to believe that what they see is what they get. There is no easy answer: the truth is that Blaine.’ Magic that ‘steadfastly refuses to be magical’ breaks certain boundaries. leaving behind a hologram or automaton or body double in his place? Was the duvet which was his only covering. and the audience wanted to know where the tricks were. Various theories circulated among the crowd which watched below at Tower Bridge. actually made of a giant marshmallow which he secretly ate. this strange public confinement in the end acquires something of the unresolvable ambiguity of art. as for McCade.’529 Houdini insisted that his act was based on mechanisms and tricks – and Doyle refused to believe him. as Churchill once said of Russia. Did the water which was supposed to be Blaine’s only sustenance for 44 days actually contain an invisible but nutritious soup? Was his lip salve impregnated with nutrients? Was there a secret escape hatch which allowed him to leave the box at night for a slap-up meal. not least by refusing the audience’s expectation of being fooled. George Stratis. said to me: ‘The question I keep asking is Why? What drives him? Is it self-fulfilment.

in which autobiography is interwoven with a history of magic. Dedi’s decapitation routine. it does so in company with nearly every other magician who ever performed. As writer and as performer. hardly makes him unique among magicians. Even more obvious is the way in which Blaine’s illusions continually refer to Harry Houdini. It is. He re-creates the first recorded magic trick. perhaps. Blaine’s book is a good example of this: Mysterious Stranger is part of that larger social performance which is the David Blaine show.MAGIC. hardly anybody is willing to believe that what they see is what they get. on the streets of New York. he does so in the full knowledge – a knowledge which he knows the audience shares – that he is repeating a routine performed by previous practitioners. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM ambiguity of art’. So if Blaine’s act seems to gesture towards earlier illusionists. the kinds of questions that avant-garde art forms tend to attract: on the one hand. There is something implicitly intertextual in the most standard of magic routines: the meaning of which is derived from the way in which it both repeats and varies narratives derived from earlier practitioners. The posters for Buried Alive (like much of Blaine’s publicity) were couched in a graphic style redolent of the 1920s: the connotations of Houdini are already unmistakeable. questions about justification: what’s the point? They pose an epistemological conundrum: what does it all mean? Yet. and in which Blaine writes himself into the history of magic. hard for an illusionist to escape the shadow of Houdini. The skilful magician allows the audience both the pleasure of recognition – the knowledge of the kind of trick they are about to see – and of novelty: this time the trick is done slightly differently or has a twist. When a magician produces a dove from nowhere. the main difficulty with understanding Blaine’s act has less to do with an absence of meaning than with an excess of possible meanings. As I have already suggested. on the other hand. when magicians write about magic. Mysterious Stranger. they are engaged in a performative act. and the public. The intertextuality with which he engages is most often with the great illusionists of the past. It is a comparison which Blaine encourages and exploits – and which so irritated the contributors to TalkMagic. questions of categorization – what are we dealing with here? – and. David Blaine resolutely and repeatedly stages illusions – if they are illusions – which operate intertextually and referentially. It is not surprising that he has written a book. He does this both by means of his illusions and by the way in which the narrative of magic history is woven into those illusions. crowd-gathering feats of endurance and confinement which constitute many of Blaine’s most high-profile acts make it 185 . there is something particularly knowing about the referential nature of Blaine’s performances: the references to other magicians are part of the meaning of the act itself. paradoxically. Blaine has made no secret of his admiration for the great escapologist. of course. in a sense. Blaine presents himself both as a practitioner and as a scholar of magic. The questions raised by Blaine’s act are. This. Nonetheless.

Houdini. Blaine himself elaborates the comparison. another is altogether more mythical. writes Houdini. Then. for example. he stresses not only the links with Houdini.’ said Marie Blood. ‘He was so athletic and active that he wouldn’t have had the patience that David showed. He breezed through the shallow burials. Houdini and his party left Los Angeles and drove to Santa Ana.534 The point of the narrative in Mysterious Stranger is to underline the sense in which he. then two. had been contemplating a similar feat before his death in 1926. He reproduces a poster which Houdini designed for a live burial routine within his stage act. that he could be buried alive six feet underground and escape: Houdini’s only condition was that the burials be graded. in Mysterious Stranger. from. for example. adding dryly. ‘My friends about the grave’.533 Houdini panicked. ‘said that. but he had some difficulty with the four.535 186 . where he knew the soil was sandy and would allow some oxygen to penetrate it. first escaping from one foot under. I presented a perfect imitation of a dead man rising’. on the cover page of the ‘Now’ section of New York’s Daily News for 5 April 1999).532 and quotes Houdini’s own account of a bet he had made. but also with traditions of sacred endurance. After the successful completion of the feat. But yesterday Houdini’s niece said the master escapist would not have survived seven days… ‘My uncle did some amazing things but he couldn’t have done this. India: By the 1950s burying oneself alive was common practice in India. the New York Post reported how Blaine said he devised the ‘Buried Alive’ stunt because his idol. Their numbers were so large that in 1955. Blaine’s performances continually draw on imagery from religious traditions. ‘He never performed it’. yelled and only barely escaped with his life. In the Mysterious Stranger account of ‘Buried Alive’. slowly working his way to six feet deep. chalky and pale and wild-eyed as I was. he got the scare of his life.and five-foot plantings. But if one of the referential sets which Blaine mobilizes is comparison with great figures from the history of magic. Later. Blaine. The sincere holy men who attempted this feat without resorting to trickery invariably wound up suffocated and dead.’531 The compliment is perhaps a little double-edged. competes with – and in this case outdoes – Houdini. the Indian government formally outlawed living burials.PERFORMING DARK ARTS almost inevitable that journalists would attach such labels as ‘The Next Houdini’ to him (as. when he attempted to escape from a six-foot grave.

And I thank you all so much. A smile from a strange one or a loved one. Everything that God has given us. How disingenuous. and I was going to spend my birthday. The sunrise. who during more than six centuries acquired by their strange form of asceticism a great reputation for holiness throughout eastern Christendom. Blaine’s own reference to Kafka in the epigraph to this section is significant. about this performer that put himself on display in a little cage and starved himself. undertook increasingly intense feats of self-deprivation. high art and popular culture. Blaine. But most importantly. Christian traditions. underground. The image of death and resurrection which is implicit in ‘Buried Alive’ has. weeping: This has been one of the most important experiences of my life. When he emerges from his self-imposed seclusion he addresses the crowd. or “pillar-hermits”. re-enacts the feat of the mystical figure of St. ‘Vertigo’ in which he stood on a high column. Of Above the Below. but we delayed it until the religious holiday was over’?536 A similar theme of death and resurrection is apparent elsewhere in Blaine’s routines: ‘Frozen in Time’ sees him frozen in ice for the religiously symbolic period of three days. as a parable of the suffering artist. fasting. blessing them. then is Blaine being.’ 539 Kafka’s ‘Hunger Artist’ is written to be understood on a metaphorical level. I’ve learned more in that – in that little box than I have in years. when he casually drops into his description of this feat the fact that ‘I had originally planned to be buried on Good Friday. an object of curiosity and fascination to the crowds below. for Kafka inhabits the same kind of cultural niche as the performance artist. The high art comes courtesy of Franz Kafka. I learned to appreciate all the simple things in life. however. I learned how strong we all are as human beings – how strong we all are. his (apparently sincere) attempt to retreat from society only increased his celebrity: crowds of pilgrims followed him into the wilderness in an attempt to benefit from his enlightenment. mortifying his own body. a fourth-century Christian monk. of course. Blaine’s ‘Above the Below’ exploits similar connotations. For more than forty days he exists without food and sustenance.538 It is a performance which is distilled from a heady mix of Houdini. the sunset.MAGIC. huge resonances within Christian thought. fasting. ‘I think of it as [a] performanceart piece… it also had to do with the Kafka short story called “The Hunger Artist”. Blaine draws on Christian traditions.’537 Simeon. Blaine has said. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM Much more significantly. Paradoxically. A man sits in a box. in whose terms Blaine seems to frame his own act. and eventually withdrawing to the desert where he imprisoned himself on a platform on a pillar fifty feet above the ground. sharing with them the enlightenment he has attained through his ordeal. which fell that year on Easter Sunday. Simeon Stylites – ‘the first and probably the most famous of the long succession of stylitoe. however. I learned… nothing makes any sense anyway. engages 187 .

It may be a matter of private devotion. Near the Porte Saint-Martin there lay on the damp pavement a death pale. With the benefit of such hindsight. which might involve giving up a luxury. or of public celebrity.PERFORMING DARK ARTS with it on a literal level – and actually does so in a very precise way. mortification or enlightenment. But my companion assured me that this man died of hunger every day in another street and got his living by it. A more modern diagnosis would probably read her symptoms as a sign of anorexia. being paid for it by the Carlists. that this cannot be a very remunerative calling. In the Middle Ages. in order that the mob by such a sight might be goaded against the government. of whom the crowd said that he was dying of hunger. It can take various forms: it may be governed by the calendar or by the needs of the individual. periodic fasting is a traditional activity within many religions. but many others simply starved. accepting. they had a celebrity on their hands. leads to some outlandish places. of course. achieving fame in their own lifetimes in the process. The German poet Heinrich Heine described one example in which the real-life hunger artist appears as political propagandist. the same fascination which gave rise to the freak show. it may be of varying degrees of intensity – from the comparatively light abstinence of Lent in contemporary western culture. and it may not always be easy to tell the difference between the two. Catherine may have achieved sainthood. too. behind this fantasy of the hunger artist lies a tradition of real-life figures. saints such as Saint Catherine of Siena were known to establish their holiness by periods of intense fasting – often. The nineteenth-century’s fascination with the body as exhibit. hoarsely coughing man. done for the sake of purification. The Church accepted this as a sign of her holiness. The spectators in Kafka’s story lose interest in the Hunger Artist because they are never quite convinced that he is really suffering. to the intense deprivations of the devotee in the desert. In fact.540 In another context. fasting as a way of making one’s name as a holy man or woman became increasingly disturbing to the medieval church – which had originally been quite enthusiastic about the mortification of the flesh. Blaine’s performance-art piece evoked the same puzzle for many of the spectators at Tower Bridge. It would appear however. Kafka’s narrative seems idiosyncratically surreal. she was simply unable to do so. In fact. it may be undertaken communally or in solitude . she replied however that although she had prayed to God for the ability to take food. because such numbers of those who follow it actually do starve to death. that whether they wanted it or not. like Simeon Stylites. it is certainly tempting to look to a simple 188 . recreating the conditions of Kafka’s fiction in terms which would not have been apparent to the audience of Above the Below. In 1573 the Church officially requested St Catherine to stop her fasting.

Its form is more radical: Billington’s comparison with performance art is appropriate. that pre-meditation that generates the ambivalence that Blaine seems to generate in so many of his audiences and fellow-professionals. This is non-matrixed magic.MAGIC. and Sarah. Both were found guilty: Evan was sentenced to a year’s hard labour and Hannah to six months. that David Blaine’s unusual and much-derided performance is located. He wrote to his local paper. shocked. first of all as the handcuff king. The conjuror. who was already a local celebrity. Sarah died and Evan and Hannah Jacob. in the interstices of the canonized and the anathematized. a form of performance which deliberately eschews the pleasures of the well-made play. like the minister. to whom Sarah seemed to be a saintly figure. it also engages with the traditions of popular sainthood exemplified by both Catherine of Siena and Sarah Jacob. Its subject matter is deprivation. is an actor playing the part of the magician. saw things differently.541 Sarah’s case was first brought to national attention by a local minister. of the holy and the pathological. Sarah was not emaciated or wasted. It is here. confinement and starvation – those traditional themes of the performance of Sainthood. mortification of the flesh. were committed on 15 March 1870 and tried at the assizes for the manslaughter of their daughter. abandoning narrative and concentrating on the fact of its own being to the extent that the spectator seems to become irrelevant. secondly. saw her as a holy figure: her nickname. And – at some deep level – perhaps it is that consciousness. So much of Blaine’s act is quotation. Above the Below quotes not only Houdini’s many heroic escapes and gestures towards the theme of death-and-resurrection. in the tradition of the fasting saints and holy men and women of the Middle Ages. as the self-appointed nemesis of fraudsters and charlatans. If it is not Magic. however. then what is it? It is myth-making: conscious and pre-meditated. Blaine chooses a more dramatic. said Robert-Houdin. The legal authorities. on the contrary her many visitors were continually impressed by her vivacity and her prettiness. But what part is the magician playing? Houdini played the part of the hero. or more grandiose. Although she was confined to her bed and suffered from various ailments. Many. the ‘Wonderful Little Girl’. and. The most famous of the nineteenth-century British instances was Sarah Jacobs. the focus of theological as well as medical attention. the ‘Welsh Fasting Girl’. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM medical model to explain the strange phenomenon of ‘fasting girls’ which was a feature of both European and American folk culture. attests to the reverence which some felt for her. It is a more 189 . bewildered. escaping miraculously against the odds. for Blaine’s performance has the same relation to traditional magic routines as some kinds of performance art has to traditional drama. her parents. soon became a national one. Their gaunt faces stare out of the mugshots in the Carmarthen Record of Felons: numb. role still: that of Saint and martyr. asks Fiona McCade in her grumpy review of Above the Below.

and the memory it leaves in the cultural consciousness is not one of success. heroic figure. by TimeWarner/AOL. and when neither the forms nor the consequences of celebrity were fully understood. No longer the author of his own script. ‘very real’. and the rituals of humiliation which they perform contribute to the very drama of martyrdom which Blaine is enacting. David Blaine544 David Blaine is one of the many modern conjurors who have explored the encounter between his own illusions and the ritual performances of shamans in societies where magic is. There is. Above the Below remains problematic. Even so. however. TV programmes. Blaine’s books. he did so more or less unconsciously: the Houdini myth was an experiment. The audience become part of the performance. by Sky TV. since when people start to suspect the probity of the Saint they can turn nasty. Burger and Neale543 Magic is very real to the Haitians. seems to know what the blueprint is.and egg-throwing. undertaken at a time when the mass media was still in its birth throes. not real magic. Nearly a century on from Houdini. And Houdini shared the authorship of his own myth with his public: the most important part of its creation took place in the minds and the imaginations of those Americans and Europeans who responded to that vulnerable. by Random House. the missiles. Blaine’s saintly figures appear somewhat commodified. doing magic for the Yanomamo Indians of the Venezuelan rain forest was a walk in the park. websites. videos and DVDs are the inevitable product of an age where the process of canonization through celebrity is conducted so much more efficiently: the suspicion arises that. As much as I tried to explain that what I was doing was entertainment. like most celebrities. by contrast. and it has sinister connotations. It is a particular hazard of postmodern art: to be subsumed by the global technologies by which you were initially enabled. a paradox in this: on one level. It throws into sharp relief the 190 . but a relatively safe place for us to experience the sacred. they weren’t buying it… Compared with Haiti. the paint. Blaine is that which has been scripted – by Channel 4. as he puts it.PERFORMING DARK ARTS difficult and complicated part to play than that of the hero or the fool. the taunting actually help to create the very effect that Blaine is seeking. Magic in an age of technological rationalism A real magic show is not an arena for secular distraction. When Ehrich Weiss created the heroic figure of Houdini.542 The contributors to the TalkMagic forum locate the problem as being rooted in Blaine’s ‘ego’ on the one hand and his ‘team of publicists’ on the other. Blaine.

MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM argument. In most of these. Another kind of magic – the magic of being able to communicate with spirits – is the subject matter of documentary-style television series such as Living TV’s Most Haunted. S. but with a much 191 . there is also a rich alternative culture. The implied audience is often of teenage years (though the actual audience demographic may be much wider) and the heroes are frequently either actually children or. By engaging in a theatrical context with the skills of the stage conjuror. unexplained fluctuations in temperature. echoes of shamanic rituals and magical practices now emptied of their efficacy and re-born as entertainment. sceptical and scientific in tone. while the descendants of Eighties ‘Swords-and-Sorcery’ fictions are the basis of a large percentage of digital role-playing games. the age is actually schizophrenic – or more accurately. which we considered in Chapter One.MAGIC. If the dominant mode of modern knowing is rational. magic tends to be seen largely in terms of thaumaturgical self-defence: it is a survival tool. footfalls. the re-emergence of The Lord of the Rings as a significant cultural presence and the revived interest in the magical Christian allegories of C. Lewis’s Narnia all offer magic as an ingredient of that fantasy staple. The success of programmes such as this bear witness to the continuing importance of the supernatural in many peoples’ cultural lives. If this is so. in some way. the conjuror seems to offer a form of compensation for something lost: in an age of science and technology. remnants of pre-industrial beliefs. In fact. wonder. Magic is certainly in the air: the popular culture of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is saturated with images of magic. These. though. In the area of popular fictions the phenomenally successful Harry Potter books and films. multiphrenic – in its attitude to questions of magic. objects that move on their own and other paranormal activities are repeated features of the series. the eternal battle of good and evil. are only the tip of the iceberg. in which teams of reporters explore reputedly haunted buildings in order to investigate and experience the presence of the paranormal: ghostly shapes. that the art of the conjuror contains a level of hidden symbolism which links us with a sacred past. In a similar vein. we can experience imaginatively a kind of echo of the past and convince ourselves temporarily that the world is still full of wonder and magic. childlike. belief in magic (which came naturally to earlier societies) is no longer available to us. It is possible to construct a provisional taxonomy of magic in contemporary popular culture. the irrational. Fantasy programmes about witches (teenage and otherwise) and vampire slayers with magical powers are scattered liberally through the television schedules. Yet to describe our culture as being ‘an age of science and technology’ is to oversimplify things – especially if we then assume that scientific/technological thinking has somehow made irrational belief impossible. however. The magical powers of these fictional narratives offer the fantasy of being able to win out against the greater odds of an adult world whose own powers appear supernaturally destructive. whether in the corridors of Hogwarts School or in the last great battle against the Dark Lord.

as centrist religious institutions see attendances fall. potions and books of spells for all sorts of purposes. urban myths. the ‘monthly magazine of news. as well as of groups such as ‘Buddhists. were gaoled for ten years. of course.PERFORMING DARK ARTS broader frame of reference. Nonetheless. together with a surviving mystical strand of New Age thinking. forms of magical belief continue to exercise massive influence on millions of people in various ways. crop circles. Norse. While not recognized as standard religious denominations in most countries. Nor are such forms of occultism limited to marginalized sectors of the community in the West: in a way that makes the X-Files look mundane. Both television and the printed media have found a substantial contemporary market which both exploits and perpetuates folkloric beliefs in the uncanny. there are 192 . amulets. many of these new religions are sufficiently developed to be classed as fullyfledged faith communities with legal rights (such as the right of access to a pagan ‘chaplain’ in UK prisons). Outside the world of the media. In July 2005. reviews and research on strange phenomena and experiences. remains popular enough that few English towns are without a shop in which you can buy crystals. Sometimes it goes beyond fundamentalism. Six million pilgrims travel to Lourdes each year in the hope of a miraculous cure for ailments. spiritual healers. Sebastian Pinto and one other unnamed woman.545 is thriving.’547 To this might be added the various branches of pagan and neo-pagan spiritualities. with their various Wiccan. while maintaining ‘a position of benevolent scepticism towards both the orthodox and the unorthodox’546 which often amounts to a drily ironic attitude. Druidic. psychic healing. prodigies and portents’. the spirituality in business consultants and so on… may well develop into something like a community across the great religious divides. the rise of alternative spiritualities has proved to be a significant phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. renewal Jews. esoteric Christians. four years and ten years respectively for torturing an 8-year-old girl they believed to be a witch.548 At the same time. It covers such topics as ghosts. Within the mainstream Christian Church itself. charms. calendrical customs. Sita Kisanga. In America an ABC News poll in February 2004 found that 61 per cent of Americans believe in the literal truth of Biblical narratives including the Creation story and Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.’549 Witchcraft beliefs are alive and well and thriving in North London. Taoists. and not all of them would claim a ‘magical’ dimension. symbology and earth mysteries. In our community in the UK everyone believes in it. their status on the fringes of mainstream religious belief. the rise of ‘magical’ religious fundamentalism of various kinds continues. alien contact. Roman. Neo-advaitan meditators. the magazine Fortean Times. members of a North London Church. Greek and Egyptian variations. According to one member of the North London community in which the torture took place. Celtic. Robert Forman has argued that the apparently diverse activities of unaffiliated individuals who practice their own private spirituality. curiosities. flying saucers. ‘In our community ndoki [witchcraft] happens because it is killing people. mythical beasts.

by religious fanatics.550 What is this about? Is it some nostalgic reaction against the sceptical secularism of the rational. More to the point: does the current cultural fascination with boy wizards and teenage witches. although Koch and Smith’s thesis is worth consideration: that western science has eaten away at the very intellectual conditions (i. aims at turning out warriors who are a combination of Ninja. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM substantiated reports that a sector of US Military command has moved on from its long-standing fascination with UFOs and has been developing a special unit for use in the ‘war against terror’: the First Earth Battalion. the family and authority in general? The result of intercultural encounters on a spiritual level due to immigration and travel? A simultaneous disenchantment both with the established churches and with scientific orthodoxy? A combination of all of these. yoga. and guided imagery. prestidigitators and stage illusionists: thus the July 2004 issue contains an interview-based article on Derren Brown. Jedi knight and advanced Zen master. The journalist Francis Wheen. and that this should alert us to some of the complexities of the function of performed magic in the present day. by postmodern relativists. descent into superstition… There is an apparent belief in magic that has no parallel since the Middle Ages. it goes extraordinarily deep. a belief that (in Francis Bacon s words) knowledge is indeed power’552 – are being undermined by New Age mystics. by crystal-gazers and academics. a rejection of tradition and authority as the infallible sources of truth.e. has argued despairingly that the values of the Enlightenment – ‘an insistence on intellectual autonomy. technological age which characterizes late capitalism? Is it a protest against the alienation of contemporary urban life? A consequence of changes in traditional roles relating to gender. A recent article in New Scientist by Richard Koch and Chris Smith (the former UK Minister of Culture) talks of the ‘widespread western. and of killing an animal – or a human being – simply by staring at it. combined with ‘an innate human drive for spirituality’?551 Whatever its causes. with astrology and grimoires. have anything to do with conjuring and stage magic? I would say that it does. Certainly there are areas of overlap. in a tirade against the ‘mumbo jumbo’ which he sees as having conquered the world. a cosmology based in a belief in a one all-powerful God whose perfect creation awaited rational scientific explanation) which made it possible in the first place. but it also has a healthy interest in the doings of conjurors.. Fortean Times concentrates mainly on the uncanny. in which the author concludes: ‘I for one am looking forward to being further deceived and enchanted – but Brown’s version of magic is not merely 193 . For example. capable of telepathy. management gurus and alternative therapists… The list goes on.’553 The sociological and cultural causes which lie behind the current appetite for fantasy magic. a loathing for bigotry and persecution.MAGIC. a commitment to free inquiry. of walking through walls. and especially American. by using New Age techniques such as meditation. and the persistence of what Wheen refers to dismissively as ‘Mumbo-Jumbo’ are subjects too large to tackle here in any detail.

Moreover. Magical thinking in contemporary western adults has received rather less attention. Sceptics tend to be more impressed when the trick is declared to be a magic trick from the start. It is.’554 The same issue also has two articles on magicians. Yet we too have our magical beliefs and the complexity of present-day culture allows for many strands. and cultures of the past (or the distant present) with superstition and magic.555 Moreover. and one which is thrown into sharp relief when brought up against stage magic and conjuring tricks.PERFORMING DARK ARTS entertaining. They have a greater tendency to assume fraud or dismiss the whole thing as a trick. while the opposite is true for believers in paranormal phenomena. they are less amazed than believers in paranormal phenomena. Psychologist Andreas Hergovich conducted a series of experiments in which two groups of subjects – believers in paranormal phenomena and sceptics – were shown a series of conjuring tricks (‘pseudo-psychic demonstrations’) and asked about what they thought they had experienced. believers in paranormal phenomena in line with the results of Wiseman and Morris (1995) have a greater tendency to categorise the presentation as paranormal than do sceptics. a widespread phenomenon. however. They exhibit a greater degree of amazement and do not assume that such phenomena are based on fraud or a simple trick. it is significant that the current appetite for magic and occult phenomena in the more general sense has coincided with a general revival of interest in magic in the sense of conjuring and illusion. especially among the young. we should be careful how we represent the implications of this. Television programmes on magic are thriving like never before. Not surprisingly the experiments proved that …belief in paranormal phenomena has a major effect on the reception of pseudo-psychic demonstrations. It seems natural to identify our ‘own’ culture with the values of reason and science. If we do see something vestigial in the act of the contemporary conjuror. something which bears traces of an efficacious ritual. conjurors and illusionists at war. Independently of whether a magic trick or a paranormal demonstration is expected. They are more amazed when told that they are about to witness a demonstration of a paranormal phenomenon. Particularly successful at the present time are performers whose work suggests something rather more ambiguous than the traditional skills of legerdemain associated with the conventional stage conjuror: performers such as Derren Brown and David Blaine. They remain sceptical even after being told that they are about to witness a paranormal phenomenon. Magical thinking in children has been studied in quite some detail.556 194 . it challenges you to examine your own beliefs. The same mechanism of ‘‘immunisation’’ of one’s own position also seems to apply to sceptics. covering incidents ranging from Robert-Houdin’s deception of the Marabouts (see Chapter Six) to Jasper Maskelyne’s large-scale illusions which managed to make the Suez Canal invisible to enemy aircraft during the Second World War.

And at its most effective. perhaps. it is by no means incompatible with an informed understanding of modern technology: Wiccans and other pagan groups can claim a high percentage of university-educated members. that there is something more marvellous going on than the conjuror himself will admit. while simultaneously offering tantalizing glimpses of wonder which suggest that. nor is it simply the false beliefs of pre-literate peoples. whereas sceptics are more likely to be sceptical. postmodern world. Sometimes it leaves us wanting to insist. In the technology-driven societies of the western world in the twenty-first century. a way of being in the world which we share with our earliest ancestors. lies and misdirections. there may indeed be …more to these feats and to our pleasure in them than we are likely to be conscious of… And the magician who escapes from the box: what is he but Adonis and Attis and all the rest of the corn gods that are buried and rise?557 195 . is not limited to ‘primitive’ cultures. It is a double-game which magicians have played through the ages. practisers of New Age spiritualities. but with an odd suspicion that. But the point is that the experiments of Hergovich and others indicate there are a statistically significant number of subjects for whom the paranormal explanation of a magic trick is plausible.MAGIC. they represent a vein of contemporary consciousness which writers and film-makers have not been slow to tap into. as Edmund Wilson says. they may be something more deeply rooted in the human psyche: an aspect of being human. Magical thinking is not merely something which mankind is destined to transcend as rationalism and science triumph: that linear/progressive view. it leaves us in two minds and somewhere in-between: sceptical still. Either way. These explorations may in part be historically specific responses to a globalized. many of whom work in fields such as information technology. after all. In the process. Indeed. exploits it in two apparently contradictory ways: debunking mysticism in the name of rationalism. which was once the accepted ethnological wisdom. We know that. MEDIA AND POSTMODERNISM It is easy to be critical of such an apparently predictable – not say circular – conclusion: that believers in the paranormal are more likely to see paranormal meanings in a magic trick. trick equipment. there are possibilities that lie beyond the everyday realities of ‘common sense’. occultists and esotericists of all kinds in actively engaging in an exploration of alternate kinds of connections between man and the natural world. The conjuror’s act is made out of sleights of hand. electronics and new media. The conjuror. perhaps. in the broadest sense of the phrase. believers in the paranormal. appears to fly in the face of experience. as always. And yet its effectiveness depends on its ability to make suckers of us nonetheless. Magical thinking. sometimes it leaves us as disillusioned as the eighteenth-century London audience waiting in vain for the ‘Bottle-conjuror’ to appear. as Houdini’s spiritualist admirers insisted. followers of nature religions and western shamans join together with horoscope readers.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. then perhaps that revenge was on a rather slow burn. A Reader Second edition (1998) p. 10 I believe that this is a perfectly valid historical reading of Selbit’s routine – though the three-year gap between the legislation and the appearance of the trick suggests that if this is to be seen as repressed male revenge. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Mythologies (London: Jonathan Cape. 96. 8 Selbit’s claim to be the trick’s originator was vigorously challenged at the time by Horace Goldin. Esquire. 9 Women over thirty had been granted the vote in 1918. 98. 92. What Is Cultural History? (Cambridge: Polity Press. Norrell (London: Bloomsbury Publishing. spirits. 190. 1937). my own preference is for the historically. largely for the sake of variety. Performance Studies: an Introduction (New York and London: Routledge. 12 Milburne Christopher. A more optimistic reading might stress the resilience of the female. 97. 3 See Dick Hebdige ‘Postmodernism and ‘The Other Side’’ in John Storey (ed. 6 Richard Schechner. Neale. Magic and Meaning (Seattle: Hermetic Press Ltd. 2. 1998) p. 11 Roland Barthes. 13 Burger and Neale. Magic and Meaning. 90–91. 83.and genderspecific reading. Magic: A Picture History (New York: Dover 1991.) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. 1995) p. 4 Reginald Scot. Discovery of Witchcraft proving the common opinions of witches contracting with divels. A Reader (Harlow: Longman Pearson. See Horace Goldin. however. Equally. 14 For what it is worth. Reprint of Panorama of Magic. 2004) pp. 2004) p.. 1972) quoted in John Storey. 5 I shall be using both terms. it could be pointed out that the routine involves not only dissection but also subsequent restoration. The trick is ‘Sawing a Woman in Half ’ – not ‘Sawing an 196 . 11. erronious conceptions and novelties… written and published in anno 1584. 372. 2 Eugene Burger and Robert E. 2002) p. 7 Peter Burke. or familiars… to be but imaginary.Endnotes 1 Susannah Clarke. It’s Fun to Be Fooled (London: Stanley Paul & Co. 117. by Reginald Scot. (London: [Richard Cotes] 1651) p. pp. 1962) p.

theatrical devising. ‘Dusty Tomes: A Guide to the History of Magic’. ‘Magic History and Magical Myths: The Historian s Challenge’. This. A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 25 Sara Crasson. Dumbstruck. http://illusionata. Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned How to Disappear (New York: Carroll and Graf. The Great Illusionists (Newton Abbot: David and Charles. 1987). Peter Lamont. of course. Dawes. 2005). 18 Ricky Jay. An older use of the term would mean simply ‘writing for performance’: playwriting. 2003). Magic on the Early English Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. your note-taking in class. 2005). 26 This phrase is used differently in some other contexts. The First Psychic: The Peculiar Mystery of a Victorian Wizard (London: Little. The Indian Rope Trick (London: Abacus.) Theorizing Practice: Redefining Theatre History (London: Palgrave Macmillan.com/mpt/view. 15 Una Chaudhuri. (London: Channel 4 Books. in Magical Past-Times: The On-Line Journal of Magic History. 24 Gary Brown and Michael Edwards.uk/eh/skc/hpc/ Accessed 8th June 2004. 2002). Worthen (eds. has something to do with the ease with which a small-bodied woman will fit inside the trick box – but I believe that it also has something to do with the way in which gender politics operates in the mind of the trick’s typical audience. ‘Sleights of Voice: Ventriloquism.ac. 19 David Blaine. on the other hand. Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (London: Hale. Mysterious Stranger. Archived online at http://www. or composing performance poetry. For an educationalist. your research. 197 . the phrase can mean simply ‘writing to demonstrate what knowledge you ve acquired when you ve performed your lab experiment. scriptwriting. 2004) pp. 1979). your reading of the textbook’ (James Seitz. 2005). Magic and The Harry Price Collection’ (talk given to the Friends of the University Library.php?id=39&type=articles (2004) Accessed 7th August 2005. Brown.ENDNOTES Assistant in Half ’. B. 20 Philip Butterworth. 136–150. 22 Peter Lamont. 23 See Steven Connor. 16 Edwin A. 2000). in Magical Past-Times: The On-Line Journal of Magic History http://illusionata. 17 Jim Steinmeyer.bbk.php?id=77&type=articles (1999) Accessed 20th January 2006.com/mpt/view. ‘Zoo Stories: ‘Boundary Work’ in Theater History’ in Peter Holland and W. 21 Steven Connor.

2003) p. 31 See Christopher. 3. The Ends of Performance. January 1876. revised 1996 and reprinted Aldershot: Ashgate Press. 1976) p. 367. White’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica 9th Edition (Edinburgh: Algernon and Charles Black. 34 Reginald Scot. in Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane. I want to distinguish the way in which the phrase is used in performance studies from these. 108. 36 For a more detailed account of gypsy culture and its history see J. in Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London: Maurice Temple Smith. 28 See for example Della Pollock. 108. 1998. P Clébert. http://www.com/ educator/syll-perfcrit. Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft proving the common opinions of witches contracting with divels. eds. or familiars… to be but imaginary. 1978. ‘Ann Daly: Performative Criticism’ http://www. The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine (London: 1612) sig. and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. 27 Ann Daly. 2002) argues for the importance of the gypsy tradition in early modern popular culture. 103–4.html Accessed 25th February 2005. 29 Unattributed notes to ‘Houdini on conjuring’. New York: New York University Press. 1898) Reprinted as Magic: Stage Illusions. Peter Burke. New York: New York University Press. spirits. in Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane (eds).PERFORMING DARK ARTS quoted by Peter Hart in ‘Using Writing to Promote Learning’.) Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions. erronious conceptions and novelties… written and published in anno 1584. Duff (Harmondsworth: Penguin. Albert A. Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned How to Disappear (New York: Carroll and Graf. 37 Judith Okeley. Gypsies of Britain (Newton 198 . 1875–1889) cited in Steinmeyer Hiding the Elephant p. See also B.edu/ utimes/issues/35/021121/13. Hopkins (ed. 148–9. Special Effects and Trick Photography (New York: Dover Publications.pitt. University Times (University of Pittsburgh) 35: 7 (November 2002).anndaly. 1967). including Trick Photography (New York: Munn / Scientific American. Bv. . 1983) p. 1998. Cambridge University Press. The Gypsies trans. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online http://www. Steinmeyer Hiding the Elephant pp. 33 Macmillan’s Magazine. 30 Jim Steinmeyer. Vesey-Fitzgerald. Magic: A Picture History pp.html Accessed 25th February 2005). 35 Samuel Rid. by Reginald Scot.com/original?content_id=1323. The Traveller-Gypsies (Cambridge. (London: [Richard Cotes] 1651). Esquire. 32 John Algernon Clarke. ‘Performative Writing’. ‘Teaching “Experimental Critical Writing”’. The Ends of Performance. ‘Magic.britannica. Accessed 11th June 2004.

48 Milbourne Christopher. Reprint of Panorama of Magic. trans.. 2002) p. 28 and Clébert. who flourished about 220 A. 1.org. Magic and Meaning (Seattle: Hermetic Press. including Trick Photography (New York: Munn / Scientific American. 51 Philip Butterworth.ENDNOTES Abbott: David and Charles. The Lives of the Conjurors (London: Tinsley Brothers. Egyptian Myth and Legend. 42 Milbourne Christopher. 50 Hippolytus. 122.magicandillusion. 49 Albert A. Magic: A Picture History (New York: Dover 1991. Archived online at http://thelearnedpig.D. or the Refutation of all Heresies.pa/magos/books/frost/ index. 96. Magic on the Early English Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Egyptian Myth and Legend. 43 Geoffrey Graham. 1944. papyrus Westcar (website) http://www. 24. 52 Letter from John Hoker of Maidstone to ‘Bullinger’.HTM#anchor688833 Accessed 16th August 2005. Conjuring (New York: St Martin’s Press.uk/ WESTCAR/PURPOSE. Formerly attributed to Origen. 124. 38 Thomas Frost. 1907) Archived online at http://nefertiti. 1876) Chapter One.crystalinks. Philosophumena. 27. 45 Mackenzie. 2005) p. 1976) p. 1973) p.com/thirdynasty. 65.rostau. 44 Donald Mackenzie. 1995) p. xi cited in Burger and Neale Magic and Meaning p. The Gypsies p. Magic on the Early English Stage p.com. Enlarged edn.com/libr/orig/west/ west01. Legge (London and New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. 39 David Blaine Mysterious Stranger (London: Channel 4 Books. Neale. 47 James Randi. 41 See also Blaine Mysterious Stranger p. 1898) Reprinted as Magic: Stage Illusions.html Accessed 15th January 2006. html Both Accessed 16th August 2005. but now to Hippolytus. 24 February 1538 cited in Butterworth. 66.iwebland. 1992) p. Magic and Meaning pp. 21.com/texts/westcar_ papyrus. 1921) p.htm Accessed 16th August 2005. http://www. 12 cited in Burger and Neale. 123. F.. 219. Hopkins (ed. 1973) pp. (London: Gresham Publishing Co.) Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions. 46 Eugene Burger and Robert E. Bishop and Martyr. 1962) p. The Illustrated History of Magic (London: Robert Hale and Co. 199 . Special Effects and Trick Photography (New York: Dover Publications. 65–6.html See also Third Dynasty http://www. 40 See ‘The Westcar Papyrus’.

Successive attempts to define what myths meant to the cultures which produced them have led to a broad range of interpretive strategies. 68. Ed. 56 Burger and Neale Magic and Meaning p. Myth and Reality.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 53 ‘Myth’ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1963). Willard R. in Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties. Performance Theory p. 57 Edmund Wilson. 1992). 61 Walter Hoffman. ‘John Mulholland and the Art of Illusion’. 59 We may want to compare this to the arguments between Catholics and Protestants at the time of the Reformation (and subsequently) as to what actually happened during the Mass. limited and technical sense it refers to social functions and belief systems specific to peoples of the Siberian Tungus. See Mircea Eliade. 68.(New York: Farrar. 55 Burger and Neale Magic and Meaning p. 65n. 1950) pp.J. 1947) p. Oxford Reference Online. The Menomini Indians (Washington: Government Printing Office. Even more broadly.e5023 Accessed 18th August 2005 The complex field of myth interpretation is still contentious.com/views/ENTRY. The Protestant insistence on the symbolic nature of the bread and the wine may be contrasted with the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. 52. A second meaning expands the term to include similar practices and beliefs held in other tribal peoples in Europe. N. Oxford University Press. In its original. 97–9. 88. like so many words that we have to deal with. Shamanism and the Eighteenth Century (Princeton. 60 Margaret Lantis.html?subview=Main&entry=t101. 200 . http://www.). I am using the term in its second sense. Asia.: Princeton University Press. Trans. Straus and Giroux. 2000. the term is now used to refer to a variety of contemporary cultural practices ranging from New Age consciousness-raising techniques to modern modes of experimental performance. and which became an object of fascination for Europeans in the eighteenth century (see Gloria Flaherty. John Bowker. in which the body and blood of Christ are made manifest in the consecrated host. has a range of meanings. 1896) pp. North and South America and Australia: these practices include ‘all kinds of ceremonial systems combining curing by means of spirit journey and exorcism with techniques drawn from the performing arts’ (Schechner. 54 Burger and Neale Magic and Meaning p. 58 The word ‘shaman’ and its cognates. Trask (New York: Harper & Row. Alaskan Eskimo Ceremonialism (Seattle: University of Washington Press. 147–152. oxfordreference.

Social Life of Indians in Kitimat p. p. 71 Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Social Life of Indians in Kitimat p. Performance Theory p.e.. 65 Levi-Strauss. 70 Taylor. Angelo John Lewis] (London: George Routledge & Sons. more suggestively. The Death and Resurrection Show. Kirby describes this trick as being ‘characteristic of shamanism the world over. 78 Schechner. 123. 5–15. 69 Taylor. 62. 44. cited in Taylor Death and Resurrection Show p. or. How to become a Wizard… Translated and edited. 175–81. and Richard Schechner Performance Theory Revised edition (London and New York: Routledge. 44. 64 E. 225–7. 67 Kirby. 76 Elsewhere. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (Harmondsworth: Penguin. i. 120. 1988) pp. 176. the apparent extraction of the disease agent from the patient in the form of some material object – a bone. 48. 14.ENDNOTES 62 E. T. 48. with notes. 75 Taylor. 74 Lopatin. by Professor Hoffmann [pseud. Performance Theory p. The Death and Resurrection Show. 43. Taylor talks about modern showbusiness as a ‘consciously worked disguise of [the shamanic] mystery’ (p. The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic. The Death and Resurrection Show. 73 Lopatin. 50). British Columbia (Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press. Structural Anthropology p. See Kirby. 77. 1878) p. p. Kirby ‘The Shamanistic Origins of Popular Entertainments’ The Drama Review 18: 1 (March. 1968) pp. 49. Lopatin. 63 Quesalid’s story is recounted and analysed by many commentators. T. Death and Resurrection Show p. cited in Taylor Death and Resurrection Show p. Structural Anthropology p. 1945). 72 Ivan A. 1985) p. (London: Reed. ‘Shamanistic Origins’ pp. The Social Life and Religion of Indians in Kitimat. 66 Levi-Strauss. passim. 1974) p. ‘Shamanistic Origins’ p. 79 Taylor. 77 Schechner. 78. See Claude Lévi-Strauss Structural Anthropology trans. 178. 201 . stone or tuft of fibres – that has been concealed in the shaman’s mouth and is produced at the crucial moment’. The Death and Resurrection Show. 68 Rogan Taylor. 7.

1976) p. 101. Philosophumena. D. Compare to Robert-Houdin. 86 Henry Ridgely Evans ‘Introduction. Philosophumena. Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft proving the common opinions of witches contracting with divels. the magicians of Pharaoh. 2. who ventured to compete with the miracles of Moses’. C. spirits. Special Effects and Trick Photography (New York: Dover Publications. where he asserts that ‘The Egyptians.D. 93 Hippolytus.) Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions. 83 Exodus VII 6–12. Hopkins (ed. (London: [Richard Cotes] 1651) p. 202 . who flourished about 220 A. in The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic. astronomer and naturalist in his own right. 1683). The Amateur Magician’s Handbook. 1. 81 Henry Hay. the Chaldees. p. 1. 1976) p. 1982) p. or familiars… to be but imaginary. by Reginald Scot. 92 Hippolytus. Esquire. 88 Christopher Marlowe. p. The Mysteries of Modern Magic’ in Albert A. 84 Exodus IV 5 (New International Version).PERFORMING DARK ARTS 80 Although there are exceptions to this rule: see the final chapter of this book. including Trick Photography (New York: Munn/Scientific American. Bishop and Martyr. the Ethiopians and the Persians have each boasted many experts in this mysterious art [such as] Jannes and Jambres. 31.e. 90 Hippolytus. Supported by Raleigh’s patronage. erronious conceptions and novelties… written and published in anno 1584. but now to Hippolytus. Dent and Sons. 99. Description of Louisiana (Paris. 92. Jannes and Jambres) and the true ‘miracles’ of the prophets of Jehovah. Legge (London and New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Maxwell (London: J. Cited in Flaherty. 1898) Reprinted unaltered as Magic: Stage Illusions. who was much more than a ‘juggler’ in the sense Baines uses the word (i. Pendry and J. M. F. (New International Version). 1921) p. p. 87 Evans ‘Introduction’ in Hopkins Magic p. or the Refutation of all Heresies. trans. Hariot was a respected mathematician. 89 The ‘Heriots’ concerned is almost certainly Thomas Hariot (1560–1621). Philosophumena. 52. Complete Plays and Poems edited by E. Shamanism and the Eighteenth Century p. 4th edition (Edison NJ: Castle Books. 513. a conjuror). Note the slight but important distinction that he makes between Pharaoh’s ‘magicians’ (whom he names. Philosophumena. 82 Louis Hennepin. 91 Hippolytus. Formerly attributed to Origen. 85 Reginald Scot. according to tradition. 222.

Brauer (ed.htm Accessed 15th January 2006.).ENDNOTES 94 Acts 8:9–24 (Quotations from NIV Study Bible). 2000): 4. 107 Marlowe. 106 Alizon Brunning. according to the account in Exodus Chapter Seven it was Aaron whose staff metamorphosed. 1978) p. Wright catalogues and analyses over fifty examples of and references to conjuring. 98 Jerald C. James (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Magic and Science in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press.oclc. 96 Acts 8:19–21.2 (September.com/text/actspeter. R. 104 Thomas Religion and the Decline of Magic p. In a useful seminal article. 110 This has been of increasing interest to scholars of the early modern theatre. 68. juggling and illusions in plays before 1642. 95 Acts 8:11. 108 Samuel Rid.1–32 Archived online at http://purl. concentrate all the power in Moses. Pennsylvania: Westminster Press. Modern Philology (1927) vol. 392. Elliott (ed. Medieval Drama (Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 102 Acts of Peter Chapter Thirty Two. 362. 203 . Early Christian Writings http://www. 513. See Louis B. 97 J. 24 pp.) Westminster Dictionary of Church History (Philadelphia. 101 Brauer(ed. cited in Randall Styers.org/emls/06-2/brunvol. 2004) p. The Wakefield authors. 1975) p. ‘Jonson s Romish Foxe: Anti-Catholic Discourse in Volpone. 103 Keith Thomas. 1924) Online publication by Peter Kirby. 1971) p. Complete Plays and Poems p. B2 v. K. James (trans) The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 362. R. ‘Juggling Tricks and Conjury on the English Stage Before 1642’. The Apocryphal New Testament.html Accessed 29th August 2005. 99 Acts of Peter Chapter Thirty One From M. who had a good sense for the dramatic. 68. 331. More recently. 100 Acts of Peter Chapter Thirty Two. A Collection of Apocryphal Literature in an English Translation based on M. 269–284.’ Early Modern Literary Studies 6. 1993) p. Strictly. The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine (London: 1612) sig. 105 Daniel Defoe.earlychristianwritings. Making Magic: Religion. Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth: Peregrine Books. Louis B. Westminster Dictionary of Church History p.). Wright. 109 David Bevington. 37.

120 Frost. 1923) p. 117 There may well have been some overlap between the professional clown and the juggler.PERFORMING DARK ARTS Philip Butterworth’s Magic on the Early English Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. D. 217. 337. 114 Thomas Frost The Lives of the Conjurors (London: Tinsley Brothers. Chambers. 118 Reginald Scot. 217. 115 Milbourne Christopher. Feats and Hocus Pocus: Jugglers Three’ in Theatre Notebook: A Journal of the History and Technique of the British Theatre vol. 423.html Accessed 15th August 2005. 123 Thomas Nashe. Discovery p.. Discovery p. edited by E. Doctor Faustus Epilogue ll 25. (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 89–106. B. the ‘man named Reatius’ who is mentioned in passing by Milbourne Christopher (Illustrated History pp. rather than being one of those ‘innocent victims’ who ‘claimed no demonic powers’. Steane. 146. K. 116 Philip Butterworth. Pendry and J. Heavenly Necromancers. erronious conceptions and novelties… written and published in anno 1584. The Illustrated History of Magic (London: Robert Hale and Co. 57 number 2 pp. 113 E. 16–17. Otherwise it is hard to see why – as Christopher tells it – he had to be tortured before admitting to achieving his illusions by means of legerdemain. 270. The Unfortunate Traveller ed. 16–17. Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft proving the common opinions of witches contracting with divels. 1876) Chapter V. Archived online at http://thelearnedpig. Dent and Sons. (London: [Richard Cotes] 1651) p. 1976) p. see above) seems to have been claiming to do real magic. 1984) p. M. Lives of the Conjurors Chapter V. 119 Scot. or familiars… to be but imaginary. See Wright. 326. 297. 112 Barbara Howard Traister. Complete Plays and Poems. spirits. ‘Brandon. J. C. Maxwell (London: J.com. Esquire. 1972) p. by Reginald Scot. 121 Scot. which appeared too late for me to use more extensively in this chapter. the Magician in English Renaissance Drama (Columbia: University of Missouri Press. See also Butterworth Magic and the Early English Stage pp. 2005). 122 Similarly. 27 in Christopher Marlowe. ‘Juggling Tricks and Conjury on the English Stage’ p. 9–14.pa/magos/books/ frost/index. The Elizabethan Stage vol. 111 Christopher Marlowe. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 204 . 1973) pp. looks at the whole issue in more detail.

27. Great Illusionists p.ENDNOTES 124 Christopher. Jean E. Ben Jonson Works ed. 88. 91. and the poem was subject to revisions. Art of Jugling sig. J. 126 Dawes.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Howard and Katherine Eisaman Maus (New York and London: W. 1591–1637). which Theophilus Higgons hath lately obiected against D. 127 Shakespeare. 131 Dando and Runt. 1844) pp. Art of Jugling sig.156–8. 1975) p. H. The publishing history of Jonson’s ‘On The Famous Voyage’ is complex. Greenblatt. A Discourse set downe in a merry Dialogue. 23–4. Walter Cohen. 132 Thomas Morton. p. between Bankes and his beast: Anatomizing some abuses and bad trickes of this age (London: Cuthbert Burby. 130 John Dando and Harry Runt. Bankes’ Bay Horse in a Trance. Or.oxforddnb. 1595). Maroccus Extaticus. VIII. 135 According to most accounts. B. Norton and Co. Morton (London: Edmund Weaver. although ‘Richard’ occurs in a few German sources. 1925–53) vol. 129 Rid. (1598) in The Norton Shakespeare. 134 Ben Jonson. Percy and Evelyn Simpson. H. Gv. 133 Morton.. but the lines about Banks and Morocco being burned date from no later than 1625. 59–73. 21–2. Lives of the Conjurors Chapter V. Thomas Nashe. 136 Frost. A direct answer vnto the scandalous exceptions. Herford. G-Gv. 2004. ‘Banks. William (fl. 742. ‘On the Famous Voyage’ ll. 11. 1997) p. G. edited by Stephen B. 125 See Eva. 24. 128 Rid. (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Steane (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1609) p. The Unfortunate Traveller. Also Butterworth Magic on the the Early English stage pp. 1972) p. 275. The Long Vacation in London. A direct answer p. Banks was still alive in the 1637 – probably eking out his retirement as a vintner in Cheapside. W. Maroccus Extaticus sig. in The Complete Poems edited by George Parfitt (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 205 . Griffith. C. (1594) ed. Most English accounts give Banks’ first name as William.com/view/article/1292 Accessed 12th August 2005. See also William D’Avenant. 1697) p. Archived online at http://www. (London. Oxford: OUP . Cv. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 11. Ed. C. Anon Tarlton’s Jests (1611) (reprinted London: London Shakespeare Society. William Love’s Labor’s Lost. Illustrated History pp.

142 Recently. a contemporary conjuror has gone one better. 140 Hill Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions p. 58. 233. Discovery p. 234. Discovery p. Daemonologie (Edinburgh: R. A Book of Elizabethan Magic. 146 See Randall Styers. 149 Scot. 150 Scot. 13. 234. 342. 143 Thomas Ross in Hill.00. 154 Scot. 158 Scot. in claiming to recreate the miracle of the Virgin Birth. 8.’ Archived online at http://www. 278. Magic and Science in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press.guardian. he said: ‘In my next show I’m going to make a girl pregnant on stage… naturally it will be without sex. 138 But see below for a discussion of likely authorship. Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth: Peregrine Books. Speaking to German magazine Galore. Discovery p. Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions p. 139 Hill. 141 Hill Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions p. Discovery pp. Discovery p. 340. Discovery p. 216. Making Magic: Religion.html Accessed 9th January 2006. 147 James I.1596125. 144 Keith Thomas. 252–300. 234–5. Discovery p. 1974) p.3604. Waldegrave.uk/comment/story/ 0. 9. 2004) p.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 137 Frost Lives of the Conjurors Chapter V. 152 Scot. 235.co. 153 Scot. Discovery p. 148 Scot. 233–4. Thomas Hill’s Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions (1567) edited by Thomas Ross (Regensburg: Verlag Hans Carl. 151 Scot. Discovery pp. 40. 156 Scot. Discovery p. 155 Scot. Thomas. 1978) pp. A report in the Guardian for 20/10/05 announced that ‘the illusionist David Copperfield is promising to impregnate a girl on stage. Discovery p. 206 . 279. 145 Scot. 278. 1597). Discovery p. 157 Scot.

Art of Jugling sig. Bawcutt. B3. pp. 180 N. 248. B3v. 174 Scot.’ 177 Ady.ENDNOTES 159 Scot. 324. 332. 167. 235. 175 Thomas Ady. sets little store by such charms.. as we have seen. B2v. 176 ‘The senses are never deceived about their own objects. 162 Scot. A Candle in the Dark p. Philip Butterworth confirms Bawcutt’s identification. Alias Hocus Pocus: A Travelling Entertainer of the Seventeenth Century’ Theatre Notebook 54:3 (2000) pp. Discovery p.e. 1655) p. 171 Rid. 165 See. for example. 40. 125. Scot. that ‘Hocus Pocus’ was not so much the name of individual as ‘the generic name 207 . I have not been able to find out who ‘Cooper’ is. 173 Compare the language of the spells which Faustus and his confederates use to conjure the Devil in Marlowe’s play. 340. 130–8. Discovery p. 238–9. for example. Discovery p. something false and untrustworthy. 160 Scot. Art of Jugling sig. Discovery p. Art of Jugling sig. 166 Scot. Discovery p. 179 Scot. 168 Rid. 172 Rid. Discovery p. 163 Scot. 169 Rid. For the alternative view. W. but he describes in detail the practises of those who do. A Candle in the Dark shewing the divine cause of the distractions of the whole nation of England and of the Christian world (London: for Robert Ibbotson. 285. Discovery p. 164 See. 161 Scot. 314. Art of Jugling sig. 185. Art of Jugling sig. E3v. pp. 170 Rid. 36. 296. B3v. 219. ‘William Vincent. B2v-B3. 167 The name contains a pun: Archimago is both an ‘arch-magician’ (compare Scot’s ‘arch-conjuror’) and also an arch-image – i. Discovery pp. 238. 178 Rid Art of Jugling sig.

in performing the pigeon trick. H3v. The anatomy of legerdemain sig. 131. E. is really a convenient shorthand: the theatre’s enemies were more broadly based than the sectarian label suggests. at Exeter. 1974) p. trans. H3v-H4. He responds legalistically insofar as he forbids Brandon to repeat the trick. 184 See Butterworth. 190 Jackson.PERFORMING DARK ARTS for legerdemain performers’ see Louis B. Wright ‘Juggling Tricks and Conjury on the English Stage’ p. 182 ‘Hocus Pocus Junior’. 271. 183 ‘Hocus Pocus Junior’. 195 The word ‘Puritans’. Hocus Pocus Junior The anatomy of legerdemain. 1981) p. In this case Henry’s own response seems to have been ambivalent. 192 Sir Thomas Browne. The anatomy of legerdemain sig. N. plainly. 24. hanged in 1684 – coincidentally. it is true. 188 Theodor Adorno. 1638) sig. 186 Bawcutt. which is usually used to refer to the anti-theatrical contingent. 19. Brandon’s audience. 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 29. 194 Scot. 193 Browne. 191 There are times. 181 ‘Hocus Pocus Junior’ [William Vincent?]. M[ab] and are to be sold by Francis Grove at his shop upon Snow-hill. G3v-G4. 240. 19. which seems to have been a place particularly susceptible to superstition. 1981) p. after a little practise. ‘William Vincent alias Hocus Pocus’ p. F. 19–20. 3rd edition (London : Printed by I. The art of iugling set forth in his proper colours. so that an ignorant person may thereby learn the full perfection of the same. Or. 185 Ady. where it is needfull for instruction. Jephcott (London: New Left Books. ‘Theses against Occultism’ in Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion (London. fully. Unto each trick is added the figure. 189 Rosemary Jackson. Magic on the Early English Stage p. 17. Fantasy p. neer the Sarazens-head. is the King himself – who is also the ultimate legal authority. 216. when the distinction between the audience and the authorities is not clear-cut. but takes no further action. A Candle in the Dark p. and exactly. 208 . D[awson] for R. 187 The last witch in England to be executed was Alice Molland. Discovery p. Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646) edited by Robin Robbins. Pseudodoxia pp. Methuen.

The Beggars Bush (London: Humphrey Moseley.. 238–43. ‘An Anatomy of the World’ (London: Samuel Macham. (London: 1612) sig. 210 John Donne. 199 Samuel Rid. Henry V Prologue ll. by Reginald Scot. alias Hocus Pocus: a travelling entertainer of the seventeenth century’ Theatre Notebook 54:3 (2000) p. spirits. 207 The standard modern collection of Elizabethan coney-catching pamphlets is still Gamini Salgado’s Coney-Catchers and Bawdy Baskets (Harmondsworth: Penguin. Jean E. 203 In this context the word ‘Boor’ means ‘countryman’ – the Flemish equivalent of a yokel. 209 . 120–5. 205 Beaumont and Fletcher. 23–8. 1647). 728. 202 Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Norton and Co. 89–106. or familiars… to be but imaginary. Beggars Bush III i. 44 ff. 98–9. Greenblatt. Feats and Hocus Pocus: Jugglers Three’ in Theatre Notebook: A Journal of the History and Technique of the British Theatre vol. 1972).uk/report. W. erronious conceptions and novelties… written and published in anno 1584. 208 N. 206 Beaumont and Fletcher. ll. ll. 77–89. first performed in 1622. Archived online at http://www.) 204 Beaumont and Fletcher. The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine. Philip Butterworth ‘Brandon. (The play is set in Bruges. 197 William Rankins A Mirror For Monsters (London. Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft proving the common opinions of witches contracting with divels. Bv.i. ll. 1997) V. It was chosen as the production with which Thomas Killigrew and the King’s Company reopened their re-built Drury Lane Theatre in 1674. 1611) line 205. 198 William Shakespeare.british-history. Beggars Bush III i. Howard and Katherine Eisaman Maus (New York and London: W. Bawcutt ‘William Vincent. remained popular throughout the Restoration period and into the eighteenth century. (London: [Richard Cotes] 1651) p. Accessed 19th January 2006. edited by Stephen B. 209 This is a necessarily condensed account of a complex pattern of social changes taking place over a century or so. 2v. 1587) fol. p. 130. Esquire. 200 Reginald Scot. 342. A Comedy of Errors in The Norton Shakespeare. Beggars Bush III i. 57:2 (2003) pp. Journal of the House of Lords: volume 1: 1509–1577 (1802). Walter Cohen. W.asp? compid=31838 .ac. ll. The play.ENDNOTES 196 ‘Note of acts’. 201 William Shakespeare.

Harding. The Illustrated History of Magic (London: Robert Hale and Co. Gay and Arbuthnot also contributed to this volume. 1960) p. written by Gay’s friend Alexander Pope. C. 83.: South Illinois University Press. 210 . 225 Such as the anonymous Letter to the Town Concerning the Man and the Bottle (London: 1749). 1974) p. 59. 93. Dudley Bradstreet. 222 Milbourne Christopher. Illustrated History p. for example. Fable XLII ‘The Jugglers’. 90–3. 223 George Winchester Stone. London Stage Pt Four p. pp. H. 334. The Third Volume (London: for Benjamin Motte and Charles Bathurst. 224 General Advertiser 17 January 1749. 215 Compare. pp. 213 Dawes. 1973) p. 227 Christopher. cxcvii. 214 See J. 212 Edwin A. The Great Illusionists p. 91. but the Dublin setting makes it almost certain that Swift was indeed the author. 1747–1766 (Carbondale. The London Stage 1660–1800. 15–26. See also pp. 48. The Great Illusionists (Newton Abbot: David and Charles. 1054. 46. Lawton Gilliver and John Clarke. 217 Gay ‘The Jugglers’ ll. 221 Jonathan Swift A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people from being a burthen to their parents. 226 Dudley Bradstreet. cxcviii and 59. cited in Stone. Powell. 220 Jonathan Swift Miscellanies. Entertainments and Afterpieces Part four. the figure of Dullness in the Dunciad. The Faerie Queene edited by Thomas P Roche Jr . 1979) p. 1729) p. See Stone London Stage Pt Four pp. Being the most Genuine and Extraordinary. 6–11 in The Poetical Works edited by G. (Harmondsworth: Penguin. The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Capt. Dawes. 216 John Gay. or the country. A Calendar of Plays. perhaps. 228 Stone. 69–74. 83. ll. (Dublin: S. pp. London Stage Pt Four p. ever published (Dublin: S. 1926) pp.. 1978) p. Ill. and for making them beneficial to the publick. 218 Gay ‘The Jugglers’ ll. 39–42. See also below. Plumb. 267–8.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 211 Edmund Spenser. 1755) p. 219 Gay ‘The Jugglers’ ll. England in the Eighteenth Century (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 59–62. 7. 1736) pp. Faber (London: Oxford University Press / Humphrey Milford.


229 Stone, London Stage Pt Four p. 93. 230 The village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire was legendary for the supposed stupidity of its inhabitants. 231 See Christopher, Illustrated History pp. 83–4, Dawes, The Great Illusionists pp. 48–51 and Stone London Stage Pt Four p. 59. 232 Bradstreet, Life, title-page. 233 Bradstreet, Life pp. 249–333. 234 Bradstreet, Life pp. 247–8. 235 Bradstreet, Life p. 304. 236 Bradstreet, Life p. 296. 237 Bradstreet, Life pp. 296–7. 238 Bradstreet, Life p. 334. 239 Bradstreet, Life p. 334 (Although Bradstreet is wrong in his reading of this if, as I suspect, he is referring to the ironic advertisement for Don John de Nasquitine – see above). 240 Stone, London Stage Pt Four p. cxcviii. 241 David Hume, ‘An Essay on Miracles’ (1748) in Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. A New Edition (London: A. Millar, 1758). The essay also appeared later in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, a work which Hume revised continually until his death in 1776. 242 Hume, Essays p. 354. 243 Daily Advertiser 17th January 1749, cited in Stone, London Stage Pt Four p. 90. 244 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation translated by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994) pp. 133, 136. 245 Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–1800 (London: Penguin, 1984) pp. 34–5. See also Susan Greenwood, The Nature of Magic. An Anthropology of Consciousness (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005) pp. 1–4. 246 See Charlotte Fell-Smith John Dee (London: Constable and Co. 1909) pp. 3–4 and John Dee Essential Readings edited by Gerald Suster (Great Britain: Crucible, 1986) p. 10. 247 John Collier, Essays on the progress of the vital principle from the vegetable to the animal kingdoms and the soul of man, introductory to contemplations on deity (London: T. Gillett, Nathaniel Scarlett, 1800) pp. 128–9.



248 Roy Porter, The Enlightenment (London: Penguin, 2000) p. 144. 249 Newton’s third law of motion, formulated in Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis (1686). 250 Gloria Flaherty, Shamanism and the Eighteenth Century (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992) p. 7. 251 Poster for Signor Castelli and his dog Munito. 252 Sarah Trimmer, Fabulous histories, designed for the instruction of children, respecting their treatment of animals (Dublin, 1794) p. 68. 253 Sarah Trimmer, Fabulous histories pp. 72–3. 254 William Frederick Pinchbeck, The Expositor; or Many Mysteries Unravelled. Delineated in a series of letters, between a friend and his correspondent. Comprising the learned pig, invisible lady and acoustic temple, philosophical swan, penetrating spy glasses, optical and magnetic, and various other curiosities on similar principles: also, a few of the most wonderful feats as performed by the art of legerdemain: with some reflections on ventriloquism. (Boston: 1805) Preface ‘To the Public’. 255 Pinchbeck, The Expositor Letter I, from AB to WFP . 256 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (London: 1817) Chapter XIV. Archived online at http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/biographia. html Accessed 20th June 2005. 257 Jane R. Goodall, Performance and Evolution in the Age of Darwin (London and New York: Routledge, 2002) p. 13. 258 Advertisement for P T. Barnum’s 1842 exhibition, cited by Goodall, . Performance and Evolution p. 24. Conversely, when George Shaw, the Keeper of the Department of Natural History of the British Museum, received from Australia in 1799 a stuffed duckbilled platypus, it took some time for him and his fellow naturalists to be convinced that this was not simply a hoax: a moleskin with a duck’s bill attached. See Ann Moyal, Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. (New York and London: Allen & Unwin. 2002). 259 And both have been the subject of successful feature films: Ron Howard’s Splash (1984) and Chris Noonan’s Babe (1995) respectively revive the fantasy of the liminal space between human and animal – or fish! 260 Ernst T. A. Hoffmann, ‘The Sand-man’ (1817) from Weird Tales, volume 1, translated by J. T. Bealby (New York: Charles Scribner s Sons, 1885). Online version at http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/sandman.htm Accessed 29th December 2005.



261 Pinchbeck, The Expositor Letter IX ‘From A.B. to W.F.P .’ 262 Pinchbeck, Expositor Letter IX ‘From A.B. to W.F.P .’ 263 Pinchbeck, Expositor Letter IX ‘From A.B. to W.F.P .’ 264 Also, confusingly, surnamed Pinchbeck. 265 Sylvio Bedini, ‘The Role of Automata in the History of Technology’ Technology and Culture 5 (winter 1964) reproduced online at http://xroads.virginia.edu/ ~DRBR/b_edini.html Accessed 20th December 2005. 266 Bedini, ‘The Role of Automata’. 267 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation translated by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994); Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp. 149–181; N. Katherine Hayles How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Philip Auslander, Liveness (London and New York, 1999) and ‘Humanoid Boogie, Reflections on Robotic Performance’, (unpublished paper). 268 Jessica Riskin, ‘The Defecating Duck, or the Ambiguous Origins of Artificial Life’ Critical Inquiry summer 2003 29:4 p. 602. 269 Vaucanson, Jacques An Account of the Mechanism of an Automaton trans. J. T. Desaguliers (London: T. Parker for Stephen Varillon, 1742) p. 21. 270 Riskin, ‘Defecating Duck’ p. 601. 271 Riskin, ‘Defecating Duck’ p. 601. 272 Vaucanson, Account of the Mechanism title page. 273 Friedrich Nicolai, Chronique à travers 1’Allemagne et la Suisse, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1783), vol. 1 p. 284. 274 Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, Memoirs of Robert-Houdin¸Ambassador, Author and Conjuror Written by Himself translated by Lascelles Wraxall (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859; reprinted by T. Werner Laurie Ltd., 1942) p. 140. 275 See Riskin, ‘Defecating Duck’ p. 609 note 18. 276 For a detailed account of von Kempelen’s automaton, see Tom Standage, The Mechanical Turk (London: Penguin, 2002). 277 Standage, The Mechanical Turk p. 52. 278 Standage, The Mechanical Turk p. 229.



279 ‘Eliza’ [Jozef Stefan Institute], ‘ELIZA – a friend you could never have before’ Online at http://www-ai.ijs.si/eliza/eliza.html Accessed 15th December 2005. 280 Royal College of Psychiatrists press release 1st July 2003. http://www.rcpsych. ac.uk/press/preleases/pr/pr_445.htm Accessed 15th December 2005. 281 Riskin, ‘Defecating Duck’ p. 623. See also Katie Hafner ‘In an Ancient Game, Computing’s Future’ New York Times 1st August 2002 p. 5. 282 cf Philip Auslander, ‘Humanoid Boogie, Reflections on Robotic Performance’, paper presented at the Centre for Performance Research’s Towards Tomorrow conference (University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 2005). 283 Pinchbeck, Expositor Letter IX. 284 Standage, The Mechanical Turk pp. 206–7. 285 Porter Enlightenment p. 422. 286 William Paley, Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Collected from the Appearances of Nature. (London 1802; 12th edition 1809). 287 Paley, Natural Theology p. 3. 288 An image which writers on the human condition have been revisiting ever since Paley coined it; see, for example, Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: why the evidence of Evolution reveals a world without design (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990). 289 Paley, Natural Theology p. 81. 290 Paley, Natural Theology p. 20. 291 William Blake, ‘Milton’ II:37 line 46 in Complete Writings edited by Geoffrey Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1972) p. 528. 292 William Blake, Letter to Thomas Butts, 22nd November 1802, in Complete Writings edited by Geoffrey Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1972) p. 816. 293 William Wordsworth, ‘Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey’ (1798) ll. 96, 101, 103 in Poems Volume 1, edited by John O. Hayden (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977) p. 360. 294 Riskin, ‘Defecating Duck’ p. 612. 295 See Jackson Fantasy p. 65. My account of the multiple meanings of ‘das Unheimliche’ is indebted to Jackson’s response to Freud. 296 Margaret Iversen, ‘The Uncanny’ review of Michael Kelley The Uncanny (Cologne: Walther König, 2004) in Papers on Surrealism Issue 3 winter/ spring



2005, http://www.surrealismcentre.ac.uk/publications/papers/journal3/ acrobat_files/iversen_review.pdf Accessed 20th July 2005. 297 Christophe Lombardi ‘The Cyborg Magician’ in Visions: the Online Journal of the Art of Magic www.online-visions.com/other/0405christophe.html Accessed 2nd January 2005. 298 Stelarc ‘The Body is Obsolete’, Stelarc website at http://www.stelarc.va.com. au/index2.html Accessed 3rd January 2006. 299 See Hopkins Magic p. 69. Other versions of (essentially) the same trick were ‘The Living Half-woman’ and ‘The Decapitated Princess’. Compare, too, the mythical talking brazen head which was supposed to be owned by the medieval scholar/wizard Roger Bacon. 300 Stelarc et al., ‘Stelarc – Prosthetic Head’ Australian Centre for the Moving Image, website http://www.acmi.net.au/7E8A5C8E6F304A839116C3C74F81440C.htm Accessed 2nd January 2006. At the Centre for Performance Research’s conference ‘Towards Tomorrow’ Conference (Aberystwyth, 2005) Stelarc presented his Prosthetic Head to a large audience of sophisticated Performance Studies scholars in conference mode. The audience responded with a wave of naïve delight. 301 Bernard Beckermann, Theatrical Presentation: Performer, Audience, and Act (London: Routledge, 1990) p. 33. 302 Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic; or, How to become a Wizard… Translated and edited, with notes, by Professor Hoffmann [pseud., i.e. Angelo John Lewis] (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1878) p. 43.

303 Marvin Carlson, Performance: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 1996) p. 54.
304 Michael Kirby, A Formalist Theatre (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987) and ‘On Acting and Not-Acting.’ [1972] in Acting (Re)Considered, edited by Phillip Zarrilli, (London: Routledge, 1995) pp. 43–58. 305 Schechner, Performance Studies: an Introduction (New York and London: Routledge, 2002) p. 147. 306 Schechner, Performance Studies p. 147. 307 Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic; or, How to become a Wizard… Translated and edited, with notes, by Professor Hoffmann [pseud., i.e., Angelo John Lewis] (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1878). 308 ‘Escamotage (conjuring) comes from the Arab word escamote, signifying the little cork ball subsequently known as a muscade (nutmeg), from a fancied resemblance to that fruit. Originally the term Escamotage was applied solely to cup-and-ball conjuring, but it was subsequently used as a comprehensive


III p. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. 319 Mayhew. 320 Mayhew. (New York: Farrar. 148. (London: Griffin. 104. 312 This seems to be Robert-Houdin’s own phrase. 216 . which he performed at the Garrick Theatre in London. Ramo Samee was a well-known popular entertainer whose career in the US and the UK spanned the years from 1819 until his death in 1850. 106. 317 Mayhew. The literary critic Edmund Wilson described these as being ‘a series of treatises in the soundest tradition of British expository writing: dense.PERFORMING DARK ARTS term to describe the performance of conjuring tricks generally. III p. and it is rather a good one: ‘fictitious magic’ is. 65. 1861) p. 43. The Lives of the Conjurors (London: Tinsley Brothers. 105. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. 316 Mayhew. 318 Mayhew. 1876) chapter VI. volume. III p. III p. 314 Thomas Frost. and Those That Will Not Work. 104. London Labour vol. books such as Modern Magic. and he is credited with being the first famous performer of the Needle Swallowing Trick. London Labour vol. 309 Hoffman wrote some of the classic nineteenth-century books on magic. 313 Robert-Houdin. Described in the Salem Gazette for 5 October 1819 as ‘East Indian’. 107. III. who on other occasions does in fact refer to himself as a ‘Prestidigitator’. 104. Samee’s act included sword-swallowing and prestidigitation as well as juggling. London Labour vol. By implication. Bohn and Company. More Magic. 311 Robert-Houdin. non-fictitious kind of magic. 42). London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work. however. 310 The debate was an ongoing one for Robert-Houdin. London Labour vol. III p. exact and ornamented with Latin quotations’ (in Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties. it leaves open the possibility that there exists another. London Labour vol. Later Magic and Latest Magic. Those That Cannot Work. comprehensive. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. Straus and Giroux. Samee’s success both contributed to and was a consequence of the rise of the vogue for orientalism in nineteenth-century popular culture.’ (RobertHoudin. 315 Henry Mayhew. perhaps a better phrase than ‘stage magic’ since it acknowledges that not all magic of this kind is performed upon a stage or in a theatre. 1950) p.

217 . 1859. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. 329 Robert-Houdin. 107–113. 331 Milbourne Christopher. 338 Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. 29. Reprint of Panorama of Magic.ENDNOTES 321 Mayhew. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. 76. Werner Laurie Ltd. 26. 1942) pp. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. See London Labour. 334 Robert-Houdin. 340 Randall Styers. It should be noted that the street conjurors also see ‘dexterity’ as the foundation of their art – although several of the tricks they describe involve dubious bets with the audience. who was so impressed by the ‘sorcery’ with which he read her mind that she immediately attempted to hire him to put a curse on her enemies. Ambassador. London Labour vol. 336 Robert-Houdin. III p. 36. 208–9. slightly disturbed. 78. 332 Robert-Houdin. Magic and Science in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 325 Mayhew. Magic: A Picture History p. 77. Magic: A Picture History (New York: Dover 1991. but the Hall had been the home of magic and illusion for many years before that. 323 Mayhew also interviews two ‘Street-Conjurors’. London Labour. 333 Robert-Houdin. 107. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. 223–6) Robert-Houdin tells the story of the young woman. III p. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. reprinted by T. Author and Conjuror Written by Himself translated by Lascelles Wraxall (London: Chapman and Hall. 32. Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. 330 Robert-Houdin. III pp. 322 Maskelyne and Cooke’s thirty-year residency at the Egyptian Hall in London began in 1873. 36. 337 Christopher. 29. who confirm this impression. 104. 269–70. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p. Making Magic: Religion. 29–30. III p. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic pp. 339 Elsewhere in his Memoirs (pp. 335 Robert-Houdin. 324 Mayhew. 328 Robert-Houdin. 326 Robert-Houdin. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p.. 107. 2004) pp. 43. 1962) p. 35. 327 Robert-Houdin. vol. London Labour vol. vol. Secrets of Conjuring and Magic p.

rm See also Méliès the Magician DVD (Chicago: Facets Multimedia. 355 Robert-Houdin. 326. Memoirs p. 350 Robert-Houdin. Harry Houdini ‘unmasked’ all sorts of things about Robert-Houdin (many of them utterly mistakenly) but completely missed this imposture. Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned How to Disappear (New York: Carroll and Graf. He probably provided the youth with the rudiments of the art. 2. 141. 2002).btinternet. 53–4. 17. Memoirs pp. A wealthy amateur magician named Mr. Houdini never guessed that Torrini was nothing more than a literary construct. 361 Auslander. 52. 353 Steinmeyer. Memoirs p. 1999) p. 327. 335.co. 320–1. 358 The clip can be viewed online at http://www. 2003) p.mshepley.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 341 Robert-Houdin. Hiding the Elephant p. 214. Memoirs pp. Liveness. in his mid-life attack on his childhood hero. 356 Robert-Houdin. 1993). David was a friend of Jean Robert’s uncle. 334. Memoirs p. 1. 360 Peggy Phelan. Illuminations translated by Harry Zorn (London: Pinlico Press. 53. Memoirs p. 18. 347 Robert-Houdin. 332. Memoirs p. 218 . 352 Robert-Houdin.uk/ vlady. 348 Robert-Houdin. Liveness (London and New York. 357 Walter Benjamin. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (New York: Routledge.’ 354 Oddly. p. Memoirs pp. 143. 349 Jim Steinmeyer. 345 Robert-Houdin. 344 Robert-Houdin. Memoirs p. 343 Robert-Houdin. 328–9. Steinmeyer adds ‘In recent years researchers have discovered a more likely story. 342 Robert-Houdin. 359 Philip Auslander. Memoirs p. 351 Robert-Houdin. Memoirs p. Memoirs p. Memoirs p. 1999) p. 332. 346 Robert-Houdin.

‘A Brief History of the Magic Lantern’ (c. ‘Camera Ludica’ in Laurent Mannoni. Nekes and Warner. Lies and Illusions (London: Hayward Gallery. ‘Traditional Holiday Magic Lantern Shows’. Werner Nekes and Marina Warner. Lies and Illusions (London: Hayward Gallery.htm?/mls_uk. ‘A Brief History of the Magic Lantern’. Janet Tamblin.uk/Méliès2. The History of the Phantasmagoria (unpublished Ph. handbill in Bill Douglas Collection. It also contains links to clips of many of the extant films discussed. Werner Nekes and Marina Warner. Shepley. 347.D.co.htm Accessed 22nd December 2005. Ars Magnae Lucis et Umbrae (Rome.htm Accessed 20th December 2005.btinternet. and gives a very good account of Méliès’ contribution to film-making in this period.com/history. Eyes. 1996) Archived online at http://www. ‘Camera Ludica’ in Laurent Mannoni. 1979). 365 See below. 363 See. 83. Eyes. 1979) p.net/skladanowsky.and earlytwentieth-century cinema.com/newframe_uk. Full text available online at http://toytheatre. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Eyes. 366 For the debate as to whether Kircher or Huygens should be credited with the invention of the Magic Lantern. and Mervyn Heard. 1998). 14.victoriancinema. University of Exeter. 2004) p. 2004) p.htm Accessed 22nd December 2005.htm Accessed 25th March 2005).htm Accessed 20th September 2005. Knopf. 1986) p. 371 Tamblin.magiclanternshows. The embedded quotation is from Jim Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear (New York: Carroll & Graf. University of Exeter. (London: British Film Institute. 368 Athanasius Kircher. ‘Méliès and Early Film’ in The Missing Link. http://www.ENDNOTES 362 Marina Warner. Second edition (New York: Alfred A. for example. 20. This useful website concentrates on late-nineteenth. Terry Borton. 2001). 370 More information about Skladanowski and Magic Lanterns can be found in Deac Rossell ‘Max Skladanowsky’ in Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema: A Worldwide Survey ed. 369 Marina Warner. published in The Bulletin of The League of Historic American Theaters. 367 Joscelyn Godwin.mshepley. Athenasius Kircher: A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge (London: Thames and Hudson.info/Technic/Magic/History. (Nov. Archived online at http://www. 1646). Stephen Herbert and Luke McKernan. 219 . Film Art: An Introduction. Lies and Illusions. 364 Cited by M.luikerwaal. Mannoni.. see the webpages of the Magic Lantern Society at http://www. 2003). Chapter Seven.

In the early 1900s (the exact date is unknown) he made a short film – probably about three and a half minutes long – for Pathé-Frères called Merveilleux Exploits du Célèbre Houdini à Paris. Maskelyne doing his multiple plate-spinning routine. The story involves Houdini’s wrongful arrest on a Paris street. ‘Traditional Holiday Magic Lantern Shows’. Shepley. See below. 96. 377 Cited by M. 500+ is a conservative 220 . 1996) p. ‘Magic and Illusion in Early Cinema’ in Studies in French Cinema. 378 Erik Barnouw. view/article/60049 Accessed 7th September 2005. cited in Frost Lives of the Conjurors Chapter III. Because of its simplicity. 375 Dan North. Dawes. features a much more assured J. For a more detailed description. handcuffs and cell. it is true. having been first exhibited twenty years earlier. Even so. 374 Sir David Brewster. 376 Maskelyne. 381 Another clip from 1896. 45ff. 380 Exhibited publicly summer 2005 at the British Library in the exhibition Hey Presto! which commemorated the centenary of the Magic Circle. and its absence of ‘camera trix’ this works surprisingly well on celluloid. 1: 2 (2001) p. see Kenneth Silverman. ‘Traditional Holiday Magic Lantern Shows’. 382 Edwin A. Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (New York: HarperCollins. ‘Méliès and Early Film’ website.oxforddnb. 385 IMDB credits him with 564 separate titles as Director – though a few of these appear to be reissues of the same footage.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 372 Borton. he was also involved in that early scramble to marry magic and the movies. David (1868–1941)’. 76. Archived online at http://www. ‘Devant.com/ . 383 Houdini’s serious involvement with films did not start until 1918. followed by (inevitably) his escape from straitjacket. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP 2004). 373 Borton. was still making good use of ‘Psycho’ at this point – though even he was a bit faded. fragments of which still exist. with The Master Mystery. The ‘Professor Anderson’ mentioned here is not the famous ‘Wizard of the North’. 60. 384 From David Devant. now operating under ‘the Professor’s’ name. 379 Barnouw. N. 1981) pp. in which he tried doggedly but unsuccessfully to turn his live show persona into an action hero of the silent screen. The Magician and the Cinema (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. However. who had died in 1874 – though it may have been one of his erstwhile assistants. shown in the same exhibition. its reliance on physical skill. The Magician and the Cinema p.

393 Tom Gunning.com/p/articles/mi_qa3768/is_200401/ai_n9406989 Accessed 30th March 2005. 34–8.uk/ Accessed 9th August 2005. 392 The féerie was never a pure form. ‘Magic and illusion in early cinema’ p. Fell (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1970) pp. ‘The Voice that Fills the House: Opera Fills the Screen’ in Literature/Film Quarterly.findarticles . The Missing Link http://www. IMDB has no record of a 1904 version of Faust et Marguerite. 2002) pp. John L.fsnet. ‘An aesthetic of astonishment: early film and the (in)credulous spectator’ in L. cited in Georges Sadoul. Shepley. 396 John C.mshepley.) Early Cinema: Space. In its early days the term melodrama-féerie was often used to designate these plays. affirms that that year Faust et Marguerite ‘featured a synchronised soundtrack of Gounaud’s (sic) opera that was played alongside the projection of the film’. Jenkins. 1983) pp. Narrative (London: BFI 1990). Hand and Michael Wilson. Meanwhile. Grand-Guignol: the French Theatre of Horror (Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Later on there were.kjenkins49. in addition. Elsaesser & A. 390 ‘A Hypnotist at Work’ was the title of the film for its American release. This could well be the twenty-minute adaptation of Gounod to which Tibbett refers. pantomime-féeries.uk/Méliès2. 32: 1 (2004) Archived online at http://www. 394 Tom Gunning. ‘Magic and illusion in early cinema’. 397 It is possible that the Lumières produced an 1897 Faust short. 1995). Williams (ed. 387 Méliès. See North. 244–57. Georges Méliès (Paris: Editions Seghers. 389 Cited M.ENDNOTES estimate: other sources suggest that Méliès had as many as 1200 short films to his name.htm Accessed 9th August 2005. Barker (eds.co. opéra-féeries and vaudeville-féeries. Jacques Malthête. 1996) lists a production in 1902 of Faust aux Enfers with the subtitle Pièce Fantastique en 16 Tableaux. The Missing Link http://www. It may be that Tibbetts is thinking of Méliès own Faust et Marguerite. although M. but the usually authoritative Internet Movie DataBase has no record of it – nor indeed of any film on the Faust theme by the Lumières.btinternet. Again. 388 K. 106–7. cited in North. 391 See Katherine Singer Kovacs ‘Georges Méliès and the Féerie’ in Film Before Griffith ed. Tibbetts. 221 . 386 Georges Méliès. 74. ‘The Cinema of Attractions’ in T. in The Missing Link. In 1904.) Viewing positions: ways of seeing film (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Frame.co. p. in the filmography of his book Méliès: Image et Illusions (Paris: Éditions Exporégie. Shepley in ‘Méliès and Early Films’. 395 See Richard J. 74.

405 Chronomedia. C. 2004) p. 105–9.PERFORMING DARK ARTS again according to Malthête (but not IMDB). http://www. Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (New York: HarperCollins.terramedia.com/eng/ lectures/lecfindex. 11. Lies and Illusions (London: Hayward Gallery.imdb. Doctor Faustus V.iv.i.com/title/tt0000301/plotsummary. Lisa Watts and Brian McClave Escape Mechanism http://www. Life and Many Deaths p. ‘Camera Ludica’ in Laurent Mannoni. Shepley. p. Pendry and J.html Accessed 31st December 2005 and http://www. Mirrors and the Art of Escapology. Doctor Faustus II. 1 www. 1976) p. ‘Méliès and Early Films’. 402 Marina Warner.uk/arcdet/xjava.co. as far as I can find. 404 Marlowe. 1996) p.uk/indexes/index2. 406 Quoted in Ruth Brandon. 78–84 and I.htm Accessed 31st December 2005. Eyes.mille. Doctor Faustus I. 408 Talking Birds’ Smoke. 320. 401 Marlowe. quoted with confidence in reputable popular educational sites such as PBS’s The American Experience Teacher’s Guide (http:// www. 286. 1994). ii l. It is. Méliès returned to the Faust theme with Le Damnation de Docteur Faust – which itself may have been either a re-make or a re-release of his own 1898 Le Damnation de Faust! 398 Plot summary written by Edison Films Catalogue. Maxwell (London: J. uk/arts/shootinglive/2002/wattsmcclave/ Accessed 31st December 2005. 400 M. The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini (London: Mandarin.102 in Complete Plays and Poems p.org/wgbh/amex/houdini/tguide/ Accessed 30th December 2005) and Massimo Polidoro’s lecture site (http://www. 403 Christopher Marlowe. Accessed 30th March 2005. Online version at http://us. it appears to be one of the many reported verbal witticisms attributed to him.theatredesign.PDF Accessed 8th September 2005.85. no published source for this in any of Shaw’s writings. 410 Silverman.D.i l. 222 .html Accessed 30th December 2005).pbs. 399 Fred Nadis. Dent and Sons.massimopolidoro.htm Accessed 9th September 2005. http://www. Werner Nekes and Marina Warner. ‘Facing the Divide: Turn of the Century Stage Magicians’ Presentations of Rationalism and the Occult’ Journal of Millennial Studies (winter 2000) p.org/publications/winter2000/nadis. talkingbirds. however. 107. 14.bbc. 407 There is.co.co. 52.org.uk/Chronomedia/years/1909. 409 Brandon. in Complete Plays and Poems edited by E. M.

1993). Houdini!!! p. Victoria. 417 See Brandon. 415 Manuscript by Theodore Weiss quoted in Brandon. November 22nd 1913.. but both contain much useful biographical insight. 9. 2001) are not strictly speaking biographies. 1976). cited and corrected by Bernard Ernst and Hereward Carrington in Houdini and Conan Doyle: the story of a strange friendship. never felt he understood him and put his inability to do so down to Houdini’s ‘Oriental’ nature. 7. 420 Walter F. 2001) and John F.ENDNOTES 411 As well as those of Brandon and Silverman mentioned above. 1992) p. 419 He was quite justified in this. Freuds and Woody Allens (London: Viking. 41. 412 Letter to Theodore Weiss. Adam Phillips Houdini’s Box. 7. however. (London: Hutchinson and Co. 1969). As Kenneth Silverman says. 29. Tarzan. 147). Bernard C Meyer. controlled powered flight’ in Australia – an impressive three-anda-half-minute flight at the height of a hundred feet on 18th March 1910 at Digger’s Rest. 1933) p. James Randi and Bert Randolph Sugar Houdini: His Mind and Art (New York: Grosset and Dunlap. Life and Many Deaths (p. He is recorded as the first person to complete an ‘officially recorded. Reproduced in Frank Koval The Illustrated Houdini Research Diary Parts 1 and 2 (Oldham and Chadderton: Koval. 413 Silverman. The previous day. a racing driver named Fred Custance had flown a Bleriot monoplane for five and a half minutes – but reaching a height of no more than a dozen feet before trying a higher flight in which he lost control and crashed the plane. 1976). Custance ‘may not have flown so much as hopped’ (Houdini!!! p. Houdini’s Box p. in The Enchanted Boundary (Boston: Boston Society for Psychic Research. 1930) p. Houdini: A Mind in Chains A Psychoanalytic Portrait (New York: Dutton. 414 Phillips. 416 Brandon. which he shared with ‘our own Disraeli’ (quoted Brandon. Life and Many Deaths p. Life and Many Deaths p. who became for some while a close friend of Houdini. Conan Doyle. 152. Brandon retains Theodore’s original spelling. 11. 223 . Kasson’s Houdini. 234). Houdini: The Untold Story (London: Cassell. authoritative biographies of Houdini include Milbourne Christopher. The Trotskys. Life and Many Deaths p. On the Arts of Escape (London: Faber and Faber. 418 Ivan Kalmar. 421 He failed – just. and the Perfect Man: the White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (New York: Hill and Wang. near Sydney. 8). Prince.

This quotation p. acting the clown. Mass. 1908). 79–94. ‘The Shamanistic Origins of Popular Entertainments’ The Drama Review vol. 1953) opposite p. 81. 82. T. Life and Many Deaths. London and Sidney: Corwin Sterling and Oak Tree Press. 85. 429 Houdini. Houdini on Magic (New York: Dover Books. Magic Made Easy pp. 7–8. Magic Made Easy pp. 428 Magic Made Easy is reproduced in facsimile in Walter B Gibson. Magic Made Easy p. 88. Reprinted in Anna Freud (ed. performing a ventriloquial act. ‘Ehrich. 1987). Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned How to Disappear (New York: Carroll and Graf. 18 no. See Jim Steinmeyer. 269. 225.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 422 Brandon. 424 Harry Houdini. 427 Though opinion differs as to how good a conjuror he was. 433 Houdini. for his argument that ‘Houdini was a terrible magician’. 436 Houdini. 94. Also. 224 . See also Brian Lead and Roger Woods. Magic Made Easy p. 2003) p. 93. according to Webster’s New Biographical Dictionary (Merriam-Webster Inc. 53. The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (New York: Publishers Printing Co. though this is more likely a reference to one of the stories about his childhood persona. Magic Made Easy p. 1974) pp. All quotations are taken from the Gibson facsimile. 5 ff. 426 Jack Flosso quoted in Brandon. 1983) he was ‘a trapeze artist’ (p. Magic Made Easy p. and playing cymbals in a band’ (cited in Kovals Illustrated Houdini Research Diary p. 86. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). The Original Houdini Scrapbook (New York. Gibson and Morris N. 435 Houdini. 81. Magic Made Easy p. 87. 432 Houdini. 81. 490).) The Essentials of Psychoanalysis (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 425 Freud. Young. 1986) p. Springfield. Magic Made Easy p. 83. Kirby. 437 The National Cyclopedia of American Biography vol XIV states that Houdini’s duties in his early days included ‘handling the Punch and Judy show.. 438 E. 34). Life and Many Deaths p. 430 Houdini. 84. 423 Walter B. Houdini the Myth Maker: the Unmasking of Harry Houdini (Accrington: Caxton Printing. 434 Houdini. Prince of the Air’. 1 (March. 431 Houdini. 1977) pp.

35. Houdini’s Box p. 154. Life and Many Deaths p. reproduced in Gibson. 440 Brandon. 448 Kasson Houdini. Houdini Scrapbook p. cited in Phillips. reproduced in Gibson. Life and Many Deaths p. quoted by Brandon. 1930) p. 452 Houdini. 79. 445 Publicity for Houdini. Life and Many Deaths p. 225 . reproduced in Gibson. 451 Houdini. 443 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It could be a testament to the secure grip which patriarchy has always had on representations of power. Houdini. 34. who knew many of Houdini’s friends and family noted (but on what evidence?) that the illusionist ‘regarded this as one of his most difficult escapes’ (The Houdini Scrapbook p. 90. Publicity poster. 455 This gender imbalance. incidentally. it could signal one of those repressed anxieties about women which patriarchy so often throws up: a fear of the female as ‘other’. Houdini Scrapbook p. Life and Many Deaths p. Gibson. 1913–14. 51. 2. Houdini’s Box p. Tarzan p. Conversely. 44–45. 1977) p. Houdini Scrapbook p. 167. 441 Brandon. 140. 456 Although one of Houdini’s foremost chroniclers. Houdini Scrapbook p. Life and Many Deaths pp. Publicity poster. 444 Kasson. 447 Phillips. a fear that the feminine may really be possessed of some form of darker power and that to represent this however light-heartedly may be dangerous. Tarzan and the Perfect Man p. Publicity poster. 449 Local poster from Houdini’s tour of northern Britain. 119. Houdini. could be read in more than one way. reproduced in Gibson. 153.’ Quoted in Walter B. 109. printed in Kasson. 76. 38. 39). 446 Brandon. The Original Houdini Scrapbook (New York. 453 Houdini. 454 Houdini. 442 Brandon. 450 The Los Angeles Record of 1st December 1915 chronicled a strange confrontation between Houdini and the then world heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard ‘precipitated by Willard’s gruff refusal to comply with a friendly request made by Houdini that he act on a committee to watch the performer’s act from the stage. Gibson. Publicity poster. Tarzan and the Perfect Man pp. 100. Walter S. The Edge of the Unknown (London: John Murray.ENDNOTES 439 Poster advertising the Houdinis’ act. London and Sidney: Corwin Sterling and Oak Tree Press. 37.

461 Quoted in Brandon. ‘Fairies Photographed: An Epoch-Making Event…’ Strand Magazine. Houdini Scrapbook p. Cannell. 240. Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1888). 2004). 463 National Cyclopaedia of American Biography vol. 467 See. 111. Tarzan and the Perfect Man p. 123. 471 Cited in Phillips. see Barbara Weisberg. Gibson and Morris N. 459 Gibson. 1982) p. 469 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 141ff. An Illustrated Monthly December 1920 pp. Houdini’s Box p. 1953) p. Houdini!! p. Houdini’s Box p. 458 Michael Billington. See also Phillips Houdini’s Box p. ‘A Study in Scarlet’ in The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes (Harmondsworth: Penguin. Houdini. 126 and Brandon. 463–8. 1973) p. Spirit Intercourse: its theory and practice (London: Simpkin. 465 Cold reading is the generic term referring to the techniques used by many pseudo-psychics to persuade a subject that the reader.. 470 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. through some sort of mysterious special ability. ‘After 22 days of turning starvation into a stunt. Marshall & Co. Houdini and Conan Doyle p. knows supposedly hidden details about him or her. the puzzle of David Blaine’s ordeal remains – why?’ The Guardian. Dillingham. For a contemporary account. Talking to the Dead. 468 Walter B. Young. 97. 175. W. Houdini Scrapbook p. 34. 101. 33. 1916). 124. Houdini on Magic (New York: Dover Books. Life and Many Deaths p. see Reuben Briggs Davenport. as revealed by authority of Margaret Fox Kane and Catherine Fox Jencken. (New York: G. 27th September 2003. 22. The Secrets of Houdini (New York: Dover Publication. 462 See Kasson. 123. James Hewat Mackenzie. C. 473 Ernst and Carrington. 4 cited Koval Research Diary p. 466 Cited in Phillips. The Complete Sherlock Holmes p.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 457 Silverman. for example. 39. Life and Many Deaths p. 464 J. 460 Reproduced in Gibson. 474 For a detailed recent account of the Fox sisters. 226 . 153. 472 Doyle. The Death-Blow to Spiritualism: being the true story of the Fox sisters.

74–5. article at http://news. 481 One of the most dramatic and poignant accounts of such a crisis is Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (London: Heinemann. T. N. Edison – The Man Who Made the Future (London: G. Phone Calls from the Dead (London: New English Library. 57. ‘Science and the Séance’. 1981) p. quackeries. Barnum. 491 Michael Faraday. 1866.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/magbell: @field(DOCID+@lit(magbell03400114)) Accessed 5th September 2005. 151. Raymond. 137. 487 Lodge.stm Accessed 5th September 2005. 477 Steinmeyer. The programme was broadcast on BBC2. P. Or Life and Death (London: Methuen & Co. 68–9. (London: Ernest Benn. 488 See Oliver Lodge. 479 J. Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless. 1977). 478 Barnum. The Humbugs of the World. 476 P. impositions. 1907). 484 D. Representing my views on the many functions of the ether of space. Presidential Address to the British Association. Sir Oliver My Philosophy. Hiding the Elephant p. delusions. Letter to The Times 30th June 1853.loc. 26th September 1875. Soap and Television – Autobiographical Notes (London: Royal Television Society. 1933). The Humbugs of the World. Maskelyne. 485 John Logie Baird. 1979) pp. Sermons. Lecture to Royal Institution.uk/1/hi/ magazine/4185356. 135–6. 486 Margaret Cheney Tesla: Man Out Of Time (New York: Dorset. 136–9. ‘Mental Education’. deceits and deceivers generally. 31st August 2005. Clark. Medhurst (ed. 482 Hannah Goff. p. Putnam’s Sons. in The Alexander Graham Bell Collection in the Library of Congress. in all ages. 1988) pp. 17–24 480 Barnum. 227 . 489 Collected in R. (London: Souvenir. 1916). 6th May 1854. 492 Alexander Graham Bell. p. An account of humbugs.bbc. Hiding the Elephant p.) pp.ENDNOTES 475 Steinmeyer. 54. Letter to Mabel Hubbard [Bell]. 483 Cited in Ronald W. (New York: Carleton. 490 Sir William Crookes.) Crookes and the spirit world: a collection of writings by or concerning the work of Sir William Crookes in the field of psychical research. The Humbugs of the World. G.co. 1972). ‘My Reminiscences’ Strand Magazine 39 (1910) pp. 1898. Online version at http://memory..

1976) pp. Accessed 2nd January 2006. ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ in Simulacra and Simulation trans. 499 Interview in Radio Times 26 March–1 April 2005 p. 502 Fredric Jameson. 504 Harry Blackstone Jr. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 2005). with Charles and Regina Reynolds. professor of physics at Cambridge University. 503 John Storey (ed. 1994) p. Among Josephson’s critics on the programme was magician James Randi. 11. Miracle-Mongers and their Methods: A Complete Exposé (Buffalo. 228 . Sue MacGregor chaired a debate arising out of ‘a stir in the scientific community because of claims made in a booklet [of Royal Mail stamps issued to commemorate the Nobel prize] that telepathy.’ The claim was made by Professor Brian Josephson. 497 Kenneth Silverman. 35. 1. xxiv. The Postmodern Condition (Manchester: Manchester University Press. will one day be explained by modern physics. 2002) p. 294. 53–92.htm. N. 280. Chapter Seven.).PERFORMING DARK ARTS 493 Houdini. 500 Jean-François Lyotard. p. 505 Jerry Haendiges. Alban’s: Paladin.magicwebchannel. ‘Postmodernism. A large selection of these radio shows are reproduced on José Antonio Gonzalez (ed. 1998) p. or the cultural logic of late capitalism’ New Left Review 146 (1984) pp. 347. 1986) p. Oh What a Blow that Phantom Gave Me! (St.Y. Vintage Radio Logs http://otrsite. Houdini and Conan Doyle. 1996) p. 507 Anonymous article on MagicWeb Channel http://www. and other paranormal activity. com/hall_wilson. 19. A Reader 2nd edition (Harlow: Longman Pearson. The Blackstone Book of Magic and Illusion (New York: Newmarket Press.com/logs/logb1020. 496 Ernst and Carrington.htm. 506 See above. and a winner of the Nobel prize for physics himself – no scientific lightweight. 96–7. 494 Similar debates continue to simmer. 501 Andrew Edgar and Peter Sedgwick. Cultural theory: the key concepts (London and New York: Routledge. 498 Jean Baudrillard.) TLPP Magic CD 3 (The Learned Pig Project. Cultural theory and Popular Culture. 2nd October 2001. 1985) p. 64. Sheila Fariah Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 495 Edward Carpenter. 1993) pp. Houdini!!! The career of Ehrich Weiss (New York: HarperCollins. Accessed 2nd January 2006. 175.: Prometheus Books.

that. 519 Elsewhere Derren Brown presents himself very much as Enlightenment sceptic. A detailed account of Richiardi’s sawing can be found in Eugene Burger and Robert E. however.qst?a=o&d=14913056 Accessed 4th January 2006. 511 Storer.english.upenn. Magic and Meaning (Seattle: Hermetic Press. for example. 520 David Blaine. Neale.. retained and emphasized all the horror of the routine. 207–230. 1995) pp. KY 1989. 10th January 2005). Richiardi. 78.org Accessed 4th January 2006. 2002) p.com/PM. A. Mysterious Stranger (London: Channel 4 Books. 515 In some other European countries. F. This seems a very long way from the kinds of targeted precision implied by Brown’s routine. His TV special Messiah (broadcast on Channel 4. Jr. Social Cognition. 6. Cultural Theory p. 512 Samuel Taylor Coleridge.questia. continued the act with equal effect. Scientists and Scoundrels: A Book of Hoaxes (New York: Thomas Y.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/ biographia. Lexington. 516 Howarth v Green [2001] All England Law Reports (D). 229 .html Accessed 20th June 2005. Neuberg. in which he attempted to pass himself off as the real thing to various American New Age and charismatic Christian groups carried on the Houdini/ James Randi tradition of debunking mysticism. 517 The phrase is used in the programme for the show. 90–93. The James Randi Educational Foundation. Biographia Literaria (London: 1817) Chapter XIV. His son. Mesmer and Animal Magnetism: A Chapter in the History of Medicine. such as Norway and Sweden. http:// www. during this same period the South American illusionist Richiardi. it is banned altogether. http://www. 513 Pattie. Crowell. ‘people with a competitive disposition were more likely to compete in a game after subliminal exposures to competitive words’. (1988) pp. who used a buzz saw for the illusion in his live shows. L. Archived online at http://www. 509 In marked contrast.ENDNOTES 508 See Introduction. 518 Some social psychology experiments have suggested. 1965) Archived online at Questia website. See S. Unpublished manuscript. randi. 510 James Randi. 346. 514 Robert Silverberg. ‘Behavioral implications of information presented outside of conscious awareness: The effect of subliminal presentation of trait information on behavior in the prisoner’s dilemma game’.

531 Marie Blood. Blaine’s out of his box’ The Scotsman Monday 20th October 2003. 165. 528 Michael Billington. 532 Blaine Mysterious Stranger p. 522 Contributors to the TalkMagic forum at http://www. 159. 159.talkmagic. 2003). 537 The Catholic Encyclopaedia Archived online at http://www.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 521 Quoted in Magic Times 36: 1082 (15th December 2000) http://www.talkmagic. ‘After 44 days. directed by Harmony Korine (Video Collection Int. Blaine’s out of his box’. 530 See Doherty.co.com/uk. 230 .cfm?id= 1158142003 Accessed 5th September 2005.newadvent.uk/ ftopic2099-0-asc-30. 534 Cited in Blaine. magictimes. 527 Fiona McCade. Blaine’s out of his box’. 529 The Independent 20th October 2003.co.htm Accessed 9th June 2005. All these explanations were seriously proposed. 524 Contributor to the TalkMagic forum at http://www.talkmagic. See James Doherty. 88. 160.uk/ ftopic2099-0-asc-15. interviewed in video Above the Below.co.. Accessed 9th June 2005. ‘Maybe Blaine had the right idea after all’ The Scotsman 20th October 2003.scotsman.php Posted 3rd May 2005 Accessed 9th June 2005. Archived online at http://news. Mysterious Stranger p. 526 Doherty. 14. the puzzle of David Blaine’s ordeal remains – why?’ The Guardian 27th September 2003.uk/ ftopic2099-0-asc-15.org/ cathen/13795a. 525 Blaine’s fee for the stunt was reported in the media at $600. interview in New York Post 13th April 1999. ‘After 22 days of turning starvation into a stunt. 28th November and 30th July 2004 Accessed 9th June 2005. ‘After 44 days. p. 523 Contributors to the TalkMagic forum at http://www. 538 David Blaine. Ltd. Posted 9th November. 535 Blaine Mysterious Stranger p. ‘After 44 days.php Posted 9th November 2004 and 28th November 2004.000. 536 Blaine Mysterious Stranger p.php.htm Accessed 31st December 2005. 533 Blaine Mysterious Stranger p.com/archives/2000/2000-12_11-17.

1893) p. 130. 540 Heinrick Heine.co. 2004). Archived online at http://www. Online at http://www. 547 Robert Forman. Archived online at http://news.000 respondents) but other surveys have produced similar figures. 548 Jennifer Harper.uk/cla/archive/forman. Hammond. ‘Most Americans Take the Bible Stories Literally’ Washington Times. July 2004.ENDNOTES 539 Quoted in Fiona McCade.htm.’ Edinburgh Evening News 29th December 2003. 549 The Times 9th July 2005. Spiritualism and Allied Causes and Conditions of Nervous Derangement (New York: G. ‘Maybe Blaine had the right idea after all’ The Scotsman 20th October 2003.uk/fasting_girl. Blaine was voted the biggest failure of 2003. 116–7. ‘The Fall of Reason’ New Scientist 190: 2557 (24th June 2006) p. (London: Heinemann. Magic and Meaning p. 544 Blaine. com/topics.hutch. 5–6. 25. 551 Forman.cfm?tid=577&id=1418592003 Accessed 5th September 2005. translated by Charles Leland. 552 Francis Wheen. 542 In one end-of-year media poll.ac. Grassroots Spirituality: What it is. 543 Burger and Neale. 78. How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World. 553 Richard Koch and Chris Smith. Reviewed by William S. Haney II in Consciousness. Mysterious Stranger pp.com/national/20040216-113955-2061r. He ranked higher than ousted Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. ‘One in four Britons ranked the American illusionist as the top flop of the last 12 months for his 44-day starvation stunt. 98. Why it is here.scotsman. 17–18. 2004) pp. A Short History of Modern Delusions (London: HarperCollins.aber. The sample was relatively small (just over 1. 132. 17th February 2004. 550 Jon Ronson. 541 See William A.htm Accessed 4th January 2006. Literature and the Arts 6:1 (April 2005) http://www.html Accessed 3rd May 2006. Grassroots Spirituality p. 2004) pp. 545 Fortean Times. Where it is going (Exeter: Imprint Academic.demon. Accessed 12th January 2006. Eurovision duo Jemini and the entire Australian nation in a poll of 1000 people to find the failures of 2003. 231 . Putnam’s Sons. p. Works. 1876) Chapter XIV. washtimes. 546 ibid. The Men Who Stare at Goats (London: Picador.

557 Edmund Wilson. ‘John Mulholland and the Art of Illusion’. 378. 46–50. Straus and Giroux. 555 David Sutton. 38–45.PERFORMING DARK ARTS 554 Jack Phoenix. in Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties. ‘The effect of pseudo-psychic demonstrations as dependent on belief in paranormal phenomena and suggestibility’. (New York: Farrar. 1950) pp. 232 . 28–32. 147–152. ‘Magic Goes to War’ in Fortean Times 185 (July 2004) pp. Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) p. 556 Andreas Hergovich. Gordon Rutter. ‘The Modern Mentalist’ in Fortean Times 185 (July 2004) pp. ‘Bodyguard of Lies’ in Fortean Times 185 (July 2004) pp.

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he has published in the subjects of theatre and gender.. The conjuror’s act of demonstrating the apparently impossible.Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring By Michael Mangan Magic and conjuring inhabit the boundaries and the borderlands of performance. but also the broader cultural contexts in which their performances were received. University of Plymouth Michael Mangan holds the Chair in Drama at Exeter University. and the meanings which they have attracted. Performing Dark Arts is an exploration of the paradox of the conjuror. Shakespeare and Renaissance theatre. the cultural history of popular performance. and to throw light on aspects of performance studies by testing them against the art of conjuring. and contemporary British theatre.intellectbooks. the marvellous. a director. It aims to illuminate the history of conjuring by examining it in the context of performance studies. the uncanny. it asks the spectator to re-evaluate his or her sense of the limits of the human. ISBN 978-1-84150-149-9 00 intellect PO Box 862 Bristol BS99 1DE UK / www. and the book’s argument opens up new implications and applications for the study of magic as performance. He has also worked as a playwright. His main research interests lie in theatre and society – more specifically. Complex theoretical frameworks are introduced in ways that will make them accessible to the general reader. – Roberta Mock. Department of Theatre and ’ Performance..com 9 781841 501499 . the actor who pretends to be a magician. a dramaturg and an actor. or the grotesque challenges the spectator’s sense of reality. ‘This is an erudite book which wears its scholarship lightly and is a pleasure to read. a literary manager. It brings him or her up against their own assumptions about how the world works. The book examines not only the performances of individual magicians from Dedi to David Blaine. at its most extreme.

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