The Trial of Witchcraft

Shakespeare’s Library –  Witchcraft

#15 John Cotta, The Trial of Witchcraft (1616)

Cotta’s Trial focuses on the faulty methods used by those who attempted to prove the existence of witchcraft. Cotta was a physician, and his goal was not to refute a popular belief in witches, but rather to use the debate as an opportunity to critique contemporary scientific thinking. One early owner annotated a passage that casts suspicion on the “cures” performed by witches, arguing that “learned men” have observed their imperfect and failed treatments. On the opposite page here, he draws a distinction between “impostors”—those who pretend to be truthful, and whose actions are plausible, yet who intend harm—and witches and wizards, who engaged in apparently supernatural behavior. The continuing debates over the relationship between science and religion would have brought new meaning to Shakespeare’s references to witchcraft and supernatural phenomena.

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