The Witch of Edmonton – Introduction

The Witch of Edmonton was written in 1621, but not published until 1658.  According to the quarto, it was written by”William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford. &c.”  Rowley’s involvement is now considered doubtful by some, and may have been included on the title page merely to sell a few more copies.  But most believe that he did indeed have a hand in the play, in particular the comic scenes with Young Banks.  The “&c” is ignored by many modern editors, but some suggest it may represent John Webster, who is known to have been working with the other three around the same time on a lost play entitled Keep the Widow Waking.  In all likelihood, it was written hurriedly in order to capitalize on the real life incident on which the main plot was based.  A similar play, The Late Lancashire Witches, written by Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome, was published in 1634 and concerns people accused of witchcraft in the Pendle area of Lancashire.  Witchcraft had become a popular subject for plays ever since James I came to the throne in 1603.  Further examples, though not dealing with historical cases, are Thomas Middleton’s The Witch and, of course, Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The Witch of Edmonton

Elizabeth Sawyer was accused, tried an executed in that year of being a witch.  Allegedly, she had consorted with a demon in the shape of a dog, and had caused harm to her neighbors and their property, and of causing the death of Agnes Ratcliffe.  The play, quite naturally, sensationalizes the story, making her truly guilty.  The events surrounding the actual story, can be found here.

Besides the Elizabeth Sawyer story, there are two subplots.  The more serious of the two involved Frank Thorney who loves and secretly marries Winnifride.   His father orders him to marry Susan Carter of a wealthier family, and he enters into a bigamous marriage.  While attempting to flee with Winnifride, he is pursued by Susan.  Whether or not his murder of Susan is prompted by the Dog is left ambiguous.  The other, more comic, subplot, involves young Cuddy Banks, who also has dealings with the Dog, but his complete foolish innocence clears him of any wrongdoing.

We know who two of the actors were for a revival in the 1630’s.  The original edition contains the words “Master Bird” in the Prologue.  This would be Theophilus Bird, a player in Queen Henrietta’s Company in the mid-1630’s.  There is no indication which role he played beyond speaking the Prologue.  The Epilogue, spoken by Winnifride, contains the indicator “Phen.”  Ezekiel Fenn, born in 1620 was also known to be a member of Queen Henrietta’s Company.

Dramatis Personae

Act One, Scene One
Act One, Scene Two
Act Two, Scene One
Act Two, Scene Two
Act Three, Scene One
Act Three, Scene Two
Act Three, Scene Three
Act Three, Scene Four
Act Four, Scene One
Act Four, Scene Two
Act Five, Scene One
Act Five, Scene Two
Act Five, Scene Three

Return to Dekker page


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