During the sixteenth century when William Shakespeare’s Tempest was created the notion of witchcraft was very alive much alive in England. Many individuals believed in the idea of magic and accepted that it existed and the few who didn’t believe in it feared to voice their unpopular opinions. One the biggest reasons that many individuals in England believed in the idea of witchcraft was because of King James, who took a special interest in the notion. King James believed himself to be a master in the subject of witchcraft and ultimately published his book, Demonology, in 1597 in rebuttal to Reginald Scot’s skeptical work, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which questioned the very existence of witches.
In his book King James clearly stated that he firmly believed in the notion of witchcraft, which he backed up with the fact that he, himself, had participated in numerous trials of alleged witches. “Before his reign, witchcraft persecutions had been rare in Britain. But that all changed in 1590 when James personally oversaw the trials by torture for around seventy individuals implicated in the North Berwick Witch Trials, the biggest Scotland had known.” (Sharratt). Due to King James’s power, individuals feared to deny James’s claims, thus essentially forcing themselves to act as if they believed that witchcraft was real in fear of retribution from the crown.
Many scholars still to this day to not know with a hundred percent accuracy if William Shakespeare, himself, believed in witchcraft. As scholars have confirmed, Shakespeare was a Catholic so it was probably unlikely that he would have believed in witchcraft, however, in Shakespeare’s time paganism was still a concept/religion that was very much alive and practiced upon. Therefore, suggesting that Shakespeare could have believed in some aspects of witchcraft or magic.
In addition, another popular belief for why Shakespeare often incorporated the notion of magic in his plays, including The Tempest, is that because at the time of publication King James was on the thrown. It was no mystery that King James was a prominent believer in witchcraft, as was most of the population in England, a fact that may have motivated Shakespeare to incorporate magic in his plays in order to attain positive attention. However, none of these assumptions can be confirmed leading Shakespeare audience to question if weather Shakespeare, himself, may have believed or practiced paganism or if Shakespeare had used all the attention that was being given to witchcraft and applied it to his plays in order to attract attention to them.
By Aisha Sakwall
Internet Shakespeare Editions. Witches and King James. 4 Jan. 2011. 1 Dec. 2016. http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/ideas/the%20supernatural/daemonologie.html
Internet Shakespeare Editions. Shakespeare’s Views. 4 Jan. 2011. 1 Dec. 2016. http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/ideas/the%20supernatural/danger.html
Sharratt, Mary. King James I: Demonologist. 14 April 2010. 30 Nov. 2016. http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/2014/07/king-james-i-demonologist.html