Shakespeare, William - The witches in Macbeth
During the reign of Elizabeth I nad James I, the laws regarding withcraft changed in England. Witches were no longer tried by church courts. Witchcraft was now an ordinary crime, and was defined as ‘the use, practise or exercise of any witchcraft, Enchantment, charm or sorcery, whereby any person shall be killed or destroyed.’ Now, someone who was found guilty of being a witch was no longer burnt: she was hanged. Also, the person who was convisted could lose his or her property to the crown. This made it profitable for government officials to convict somebody of witchcraft and as a result the number of trials increased greatly.
James listed the ain characteristics of witches:
- They are almost always women.
- They are often old.
- They have familiars - animal - shaped spirits that help the witches do their magic. - They have ‘witch’s mark’ or ‘devil’s mark’-this was supposed to be a sign made by the Devil himself on the witch to show that she belonged to him. In reality, they were any ordinary markings on the skin. - They amake models of their victims in wax and put spells on them.
- They generally live by themselves.
- They hold odd ceremonies.
It is not hard to imagine how almost any woman could be accused of being a witch. It is also not hard to imagine somebody confessing to practising witchcraft after being tortured-even if the punishment was death.
The last piece of Legislation in Britain associated with witches was the Act of 1735. It was in force untill 1951. In fact, two women Helen Ducan and Jane Rebecca Yorke, were accused under this law in 1944. However, by 1700, the government no longer acted as if witches existed and this 1735 law did not punish people who were witches but people who pretended to be witches by calling up spirits, foretelling the future, casting spells and discovering spirits. So, some people believed that the publishers of astrology columns in newspaper could be punished under thw witchcraft Act. Fortunately, in England the tragedy of witch-hunts had been trasformed into the comedy of astrology.