The Discovery of Witchcraft

Shakespeare’s Library –  Witchcraft

#14 Reginald Scott, The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584)

Scott’s Discovery was one of the most important and influential treatises on witchcraft in the entire period, familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as to subsequent generations of scholars. Scott’s rational, erudite approach demonstrated that the belief in witchcraft was a sociological, rather than a spiritual, problem: the majority of accusations were levelled at poor women seeking charity who may have “cursed” their neighbors if refused charitable offerings. Scott also exposed other forms of superstition, including conjuring tricks that could be used to confuse credulous observers. The diagram on this page demonstrates how to “cut off one’s head, and to lay it on a platter,” a trick known as “the decollation of John the Baptist.”

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