Chapter

The pilot's thumb: <i>Macbeth</i> and the Jesuits

Richard Wilson

in The Lancashire Witches

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780719062032
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700150 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7228/manchester/9780719062032.003.0008
The pilot's thumb: Macbeth and the Jesuits

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The fictionalising of the Lancashire witches had begun even before the trials. If the witches of 1612 were the first example in fact in England of an alleged devilish confederacy, the first example in fiction came six years earlier with the most famous witches of all: the ‘weird sisters’ in Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth. This chapter shows how far the connections extend, in both historical and literary references. The grisly contents of Macbeth's witches' cooking pot is detected, finding the macabre relics of English Catholic priests, martyred under Elizabeth I. Connections with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is established, to which, the activities of the Lancashire witches were compared by Thomas Potts, and whose conspiratorial connections reached into Lancashire. Finally, the manner in which Lancashire's gentry families were implicated in the underworld of persecuted Catholicism is shown, particularly through the mission of the martyred Edmund Campion, suggesting that their mostly Protestant Jacobean descendants sought to show their loyalty to the state by seeking out witches.

Keywords: Shakespeare' Macbeth; weird sisters; cooking pot; Gunpowder Plot; persecuted Catholicism; martyred Edmund Campion; macabre relics

Chapter.  10212 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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