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Vinegar Tom


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A: Caryl Churchill Pf: 1976, Hull Pb: 1978 G: Hist. drama in 21 scenes; prose with songs S: An English village, 17th c. C: 7m, 7f In a small rural community, Alice, a loose woman, lives with her eccentric old mother Joan Noakes, whose main company is her cat Vinegar Tom. An upright couple, Jack and Margery, make plans for their farm but are dismayed when their cattle get sick. Because Margery was cursed by Joan when she refused her some yeast, and Jack was rejected by Alice when he tried to seduce her, the two accuse Joan and Alice of being witches. Betty, the daughter of the local gentry, is bled by the doctor to cure her, because she refuses to get married. Ellen, the cunning woman, gives Alice a potion to win her lover and provides Susan, another villager, with a draught to rid her of an unwanted baby. Jack is now alarmed because he has become impotent, and demands his penis back from Alice. Henry Packer, the witchfinder, comes with his assistant Goody, and they arrest Joan and Alice, and prick them to find where the devil has made them insensitive to pain. Susan is examined for marks of the devil, and Ellen is condemned for being a cunning woman. Joan and Ellen are hanged, and Alice and Susan await their fate. In a final scene, the authors of The Hammer of Witches do a music-hall act citing their work about the evil that women induce in men.

A: Caryl Churchill Pf: 1976, Hull Pb: 1978 G: Hist. drama in 21 scenes; prose with songs S: An English village, 17th c. C: 7m, 7f

Written with and for the Monstrous Regiment Theatre Group, Vinegar Tom goes beyond Miller's The Crucible by showing how the persecution of witchcraft was a suppression of ancient wisdom and traditional medicine, as practised by the gentle Ellen, and is related to contemporary debasement of women: ‘Evil women | Is that what you want? | Is that what you want to see?’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Caryl Churchill (b. 1938) English dramatist


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