A Dog, a Witch, a Play: The Witch of Edmonton

Meg F. Pearson


The Witch of Edmonton (1621) is no witch play. Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley base their play on the trial and execution of Elizabeth Sawyer for witchcraft, but the spectacular Tommy the Dog displaces the titular villainess to become the agent of Edmonton's woes. His influence over all of the play's plot lines and his own thrilling, fluid presence confuses the play's genre and unsettles the viewer's sense of right and wrong. Dog's destabilizing potency recalls the improvisational talents of clowning dogs in Tudor interludes and the early comedies in the public theaters, but his theatrical abilities push beyond laughs to unhinge the ethical underpinnings of the society of Edmonton and the justice of the town. The resulting product unmoors audience's expectations about devilry by unleashing the unstoppable Dog to reveal how women like Sawyer and towns like Edmonton are mired and unable to change. Stasis, here the inability to change one's role, becomes the real evil in Edmonton.

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