Malevolent Nurture: Witch-hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England

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Cornell University Press, 1995 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 264 pages
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Why were women far more likely than men to be executed for witchcraft in the early modern period? Questioning approaches that focus narrowly on the male role in witch-hunting in England and Scotland, Deborah Willis examines the fact that women were also frequently the accusers.

Willis draws on the strengths of feminist, new historicist, and psychoanalytic criticism and on such primary sources as legal documents, pamphlet literature, religious tracts, and stage plays. Both the witch and her female accuser, Willis concludes, were engaged in a complex, intricate struggle for survival and empowerment in a patriarchal culture, and they stood in uneasy relation to definitions of female identity that rewarded nurturing behavior.

Malevolent Nurture disentangles popular images of the witch from those endorsed by male elites. Among villagers, the witch was most typically imagined as a malevolent mother, while elites preferred to view her as a betraying servant of Satan. Analyzing King James VI and I's involvement in the North Berwick witchcraft trials, Willis shows how his elite atittudes were nevertheless influenced by his relationships with his brith mother, Mary Queen of Scots, and another maternal figure, Queen Elizabeth I.

Willis also shows that Shakespeare, in Richard III, Macbeth, and Henry VI, and other middle-class playwrights incorporated the beliefs of the ruling class and villagers alike in their representations of witches.


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User Review  - Angelic55blonde - LibraryThing

I used this book as part of an undergraduate research paper on why the witchcraft craze occured in England. This definitely focuses on why women were mainly the ones accused, as well as the accusers. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - imnotawitch - LibraryThing

Books in Print The American Historical Review. April 1997. Vol. 102, issue 2, 451-452. Renaissance Quarterly. Summer 1997. Vol. 50, issue 2, 661-663. Seventeenth Century Journal. 1996. Autumn 1996. Vol. 27, issue 3, 830-831. Read full review


TWO UnNeighborly Nurture
THREE Rewriting the Witch
FOUR James among the WitchHunters
FIVE Performing Persecution
SIX Strange Brew

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About the author (1995)

She has taught photography & the history of photography at New York University, City University of New York & the Brooklyn Museum. She lives in Washington, D. C..

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