'An honest dog yet': Performing The Witch of Edmonton

Roberta Barker

Abstract


The demonic Dog who binds together the three major plots of Dekker, Ford, and Rowley's 1621 domestic tragedy The Witch of Edmonton tends to be a favourite with theatrical audiences. Critics who read the play as an example of early modern domestic realism often view him with more ambivalence. This essay examines the Dog's fortunes both on the modern stage and within his original performance context in order to argue that he exemplifies, rather than compromises, the play's complex and sophisticated approach to the mimesis of everyday life. It explores the ways in which the early modern theatre might have represented the Dog, the town he invades, and the Morris Dance at which he fiddles while the town burns, and considers the haunting impact these representations might have had on early modern spectators steeped in demonology. A recent production of The Witch of Edmonton at Dalhousie University shows one way in which similar effects can be achieved on the modern, post-Stanislavskian stage. The Witch of Edmonton's intricate performative theology, in which the supernatural is a vital part of the quotidian and real demons peek from behind overtly artificial masks, retains its vitality in contemporary performance.


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