The Witch (1615/16?), categorised by its author as ‘a tragi-comedy’, pits the intrigues of a group of Italian aristocrats against the malevolent practices of Hecate and her witches’ coven, leaving the audience with the impression that human malevolence is by far the fiercer and more effective. This edition sets the play into its dramatic and literary contexts, ranging from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Middleton’s own later tragedies to Reginald Scot’s sceptical Discovery of Witchcraft and King James’s virulent Daemonologie . It also argues that Middleton wrote it as a topical satire to capitalise on the scandal involving Frances Howard, who obtained a divorce from the Earl of Essex on the grounds that he had been sexually incapacitated by witchcraft; she was also rumoured to have tried to poison him. Middleton exposes his noble characters precisely by letting them get away with murder.
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