The Sources and Analogues of 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream'/Discovery of Witchcraft

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Reginald Scot - Discovery of Witchcraft (1584)[edit]

From "To the Readers."

I should no more prevail herein [i.e. in securing attention] than if a hundred years since I should have entreated your predecessors to believe, that Robin Goodfellow, that great and ancient bull-beggar, had been but a cozening merchant and no devil indeed.... But Robin Goodfellow ceaseth now to be much feared, and popery is sufficiently discovered.

Book I, chap. iv.—"What miraculous actions are imputed to witches by witchmongers, papists, and poets."

[Quoted here to show that certain attributes of Shakespeare's fairies belong also to witches.]

[They] raise hail, tempests, and hurtful weather, as lighting, thunder, &c.... These can pass from place to place in the air invisible.... These can alter men's minds to inordinate love or hate.... Ovid affirmeth that they can raise and suppress lighting and thunder, rain and hail, clouds and winds, tempests and earthquakes. Others do write that they can pull down the moon and the stars.... They can also bring to pass, that, churn as long as you list, your butter will not come.

Book III, chap. iv.

The Fairies do principally inhabit the mountains and caverns of the earth, whose nature is to make strange apparitions on the earth, in meadows or on mountains, being like men and women, soldiers, kings, and ladies, children and horsemen, clothed in green, to which purpose they do in the night steal hempen stalks from the fields where they grow, to convert them into horses, as the story goes.... Such jocund and facetious spirits are said to sport themselves in the night by tumbling and fooling with servants and shepherds in country houses, pinching them black and blue, and leaving bread, butter, and cheese sometimes with them, which, if they refuse to eat, some mischief shall undoubtedly befall them by the means of these Fairies; and many such have been taken away by the said spirits for a fortnight or a month together, being carried with them in chariots through the air, over hills and dales, rocks and precipices, till at last they have been found lying in some meadow or mountain, bereaved of their senses and commonly one of their members to boot.

Book III, chap. xvi.

It may not be omitted that certain wicked women ... being seduced by the illusion of devils, believe and profess that in the night-times they ride abroad with Diana, the goddess of the Pagans, or else with Herodias, with an innumerable multitude, upon certain beasts, and pass over many countries and nations in the silence of the night, and do whatsoever those fairies or ladies command.

Book IV, chap. x.

Indeed your grandam's maids were wont to set a bowl of milk before him and his cousin, Robin Goodfellow, for grinding of malt or mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight; and you have also heard that he would chafe exceedingly, if the maid or goodwife of the house, having compassion of his nakedness, laid any clothes for him, besides his mess of white bread and milk which was his standing fee. For in that case he saith: What have we here? Hemton hamton[1], here will I never more tread nor stampen.

Book V, chap. iii. "Of a man turned into an ass, and returned again into a man, by one of Bodin's witches: S. Augustine's opinion thereof." (See p. 30.)

It happened in the city of Salamin in the kingdom of Cyprus, where there is a good haven, that a ship loaden with merchandise stayed there for a short space. In the meantime many of the soldiers and mariners went to shore, to provide fresh victuals; among which number a certain Englishman, being a sturdy young fellow, went to a woman's house, a little way out of the city, and not far from the sea-side, to see whether she had any eggs to sell. Who, perceiving him to be a lusty young fellow, a stranger, and far from his country (so as, upon the loss of him, there would be the less miss or enquiry), she considered with herself how to destroy him; and willed him to stay there awhile, whilst she went to fetch a few eggs for him. But she tarried long, so as the young man called unto her desiring her to make haste; for he told her that the tide would be spent, and by that means his ship would be gone, and leave him behind. Howbeit, after some detracting of time, she brought him a few eggs, willing him to return to her, if his ship were gone when he came.

The young fellow returned towards his ship, but before he went aboard, he would needs eat an egg or twain to satisfy his hunger; and within short space he became dumb and out of his wits, as he afterwards said. When he would have entered into the ship, the mariners beat him back with a cudgel, saying, "What a murrain lacks the ass? Whither the devil will this ass?" The ass, or young man—I cannot tell by which name I should term him—being many times repelled, and understanding their words that called him ass, considering that he could speak never a word and yet could understand everybody, he thought that he was bewitched by the woman at whose house he was. And therefore, when by no means he could get into the boat, but was driven to tarry and see her departure, being also beaten from place to place as an ass, he remembered the witch's words, and the words of his own fellows that called him ass, and returned to the witch's house; in whose service he remained by the space of three years, doing nothing with his hands all that while, but carried such burthens as she laid on his back; having only this comfort, that, although he were reputed an ass among strangers and beasts, yet that both this witch and all other witches knew him to be a man.

After three years were passed over, in a morning betimes he went to town before his dame, who upon some occasion ... stayed a little behind. In the meantime being near to a church, he heard a little sacring-bell ring to the elevation of a morrow mass; and not daring to go into the church, lest he should have been beaten and driven out with cudgels, in great devotion he fell down in the churchyard upon the knees of his hinder legs, and did lift his forefeet over his head, as the priest doth hold the sacrament at the elevation. Which prodigious sight when certain merchants of Genoa espied, and with wonder beheld, anon cometh the witch with a cudgel in her hand, beating forth the ass. And because, as it hath been said, such kinds of witchcrafts are very usual in those parts, the merchants aforesaid made such means as both the ass and the witch were attached by the judge. And she, being examined and set upon the rack, confessed the whole matter, and promised that if she might have liberty to go home, she would restore him to his old shape; and being dismissed she did accordingly. So as notwithstanding they apprehended her again, and burned her; and the young man returned into his country with a joyful and merry heart.

Book VII, chap. ii.

"Know you this by the way, that heretofore Robin Goodfellow and Hobgoblin were as terrible, and also as credible to the people, as hags and witches be now: and in time to come a witch will be as much derided and contemned, and as plainly perceived, as the illusion and knavery of Robin Goodfellow. And in truth, they that maintain walking spirits with their transformation, &c, have no reason to deny Robin Goodfellow, upon whom there hath gone as many and as credible tales as upon witches; saving that it hath not pleased the translators of the Bible to call spirits by the name of Robin Goodfellow, as they have termed diviners, soothsayers, poisoners, and cozeners by the name of witches."

Book VII, chap. xv.

"But certainly some one knave in a white sheet hath cozened and abused many thousands that way; specially when Robin Goodfellow kept such a coil in the country.... They [our mothers' maids] have so fraid us with bull-beggars, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs, pans, fauns, sylens, Kit with the canstick[2], tritons, centaurs, dwarfs, giants, imps, calkers, conjurors, nymphs, changelings, Incubus, Robin Goodfellow, the spoorn, the mare, the man in the oak, the hell-wain, the fire-drake, the puckle, Tom Thumb, hobgoblin, Tom tumbler, boneless, and other such beings, that we are afraid of our own shadows."

Book XIII, chap. xix. [To set an horse's or an ass's head on a man's neck and shoulders.] (See p. 30.)

The words used in such case are uncertain, and to be recited at the pleasure of the witch or cozener. But at the conclusion of this, cut off the head of a horse or an ass (before they be dead, otherwise the virtue or strength thereof will be the less effectual), and make an earthen vessel of fit capacity to contain the same, and let it be filled with the oil and fat thereof, cover it close, and daub it over with loam; let it boil over a soft fire three days continually, that the flesh boiled may run into oil, so as the bare bones may be seen; beat the hair into powder, and mingle the same with the oil; and anoint the heads of the standers by, and they shall seem to have horses' or asses' heads.

Discourse upon Devils and Spirits, chap. xi.

"The Rabbins and, namely, Rabbi Abraham, writing upon the second of Genesis, do say that God made the fairies, bugs, Incubus, Robin Goodfellow, and other familiar or domestic spirits and devils on the Friday; and being prevented with the evening of the Sabbath, finished them not, but left them unperfect; and that therefore, that ever since they use to fly the holiness of the Sabbath, seeking dark holes in mountains and woods, wherein they hide themselves till the end of the Sabbath, and then come abroad to trouble and molest men."

Discourse, &c., chap. xxi.

"Virunculi terrei are such as was Robin Goodfellow, that would supply the office of servants—specially of maids: as to make a fire in the morning, sweep the house, grind mustard and malt, draw water, &c.; these also rumble in houses, draw latches, go up and down stairs, &c.... There go as many tales upon this Hudgin[3] in some parts of Germany, as there did in England of Robin Goodfellow."


1 ^  (Book IV, chap, x.) Hemton hamton. Cf. "himpen hampen" in Robin Good-fellow, and note.

2 ^  (Book VII, chap, xv.) Kit with the canstick. Christopher-with-the-candlestick is another name for Jack-o'-lantern. calkers = diviners. For spoorn, see Wright, Dialect Dictionary, s.v.

3 ^  (Discourse, chap. xxi.) Hudgin is more usually spelled Hodeken, the German familiar fairy. Cf. the French Hugon, a bugbear used to frighten children.