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The Lancashire WitchesHistories and Stories$
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Robert Poole

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780719062032

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719062032.001.0001

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The pilot's thumb: Macbeth and the Jesuits

The pilot's thumb: Macbeth and the Jesuits

(p.126) 8 The pilot's thumb: Macbeth and the Jesuits
The Lancashire Witches

Richard Wilson

Manchester University Press

The fictionalising of the Lancashire witches had begun even before the trials. If the witches of 1612 were the first example in fact in England of an alleged devilish confederacy, the first example in fiction came six years earlier with the most famous witches of all: the ‘weird sisters’ in Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth. This chapter shows how far the connections extend, in both historical and literary references. The grisly contents of Macbeth's witches' cooking pot is detected, finding the macabre relics of English Catholic priests, martyred under Elizabeth I. Connections with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is established, to which, the activities of the Lancashire witches were compared by Thomas Potts, and whose conspiratorial connections reached into Lancashire. Finally, the manner in which Lancashire's gentry families were implicated in the underworld of persecuted Catholicism is shown, particularly through the mission of the martyred Edmund Campion, suggesting that their mostly Protestant Jacobean descendants sought to show their loyalty to the state by seeking out witches.

Keywords:   Shakespeare' Macbeth, weird sisters, cooking pot, Gunpowder Plot, persecuted Catholicism, martyred Edmund Campion, macabre relics

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