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were not imported from the Saracens in a later age ; the wars with the Saracens however gave occasion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a great distance.
The Reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually encreasing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of queen
Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of king James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumstances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival in England, not only examined in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given a very formal account of the practices and illusions of evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies used by them, the manner of detecting them, and the justice of punishing them, in his dialogues of Dæmonologie, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at Edinburgh. This book was, soon after his accession, reprinted at London ; and as the ready way to gain king James's favour was to flatter his speculations, the system of Dæmonologie was immediately adopted by all who desired either to gain preferment or not to lose it. Thus the doctrine of witchcraft was very powerfully inculcated; and as the greatest part of mankind have no other reason for
their opinions than that they are in fashion, it cannot be doubted but this persuasion made a rapid progress, since vanity and credulity co-operated in its favour. The infection soon reached the parliament, who, in the first year of king James, made a law, by which it was enacted, chap. xii. That“ if any person shall use “any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked
spirit; 2. or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or cursed spirit to
or for any intent or purpose ; 3. or take up any “ dead man, woman, or child, out of the grave,-or “ the skin, bone, or any part, of the dead person, to “ be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft,
sorcery, charm, or enchantment; 4. or shall use, “ practise, or exercise, any sort of witchcraft, sorcery, « charm, or enchantment; 5. whereby any person “ shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed, pined,
or lamed in any part of the body; 6. That every “such person being convicted shall suffer death.” This law was repealed in our own time.
Thus, in the time of Shakspeare, was the doctrine of witchcraft at once established by law and by the fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal, to doubt it; and as prodigies are always seen in proportion as they are expected, witches were every day discovered, and multiplied so fast in some places, that bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire, where their number was greater than that of the houses. The jesuits and sectaries took advantage of this universal error, and endeavoured to promote the interest of their parties by pretended cures of persons afflicted by evil spirits; but they were detected and exposed by the clergy of the established church.
Upon this general infatuation Shakspeare might be easily allowed to found a play, especially since he has followed with great exactness such histories as were then thought true; nor can it be doubted that the scenes of enchantment, however they may now be ridiculed, were both by himself and his audience thought awful and affecting.
DUNCAN, King of Scotland.
his sons. DONALBAIN, MACBETH,
Generals of the King's army.
Noblemen of Scotland.
Attendants, and Messengers.
through the rest of the play, in Scotland; and, chiefly, at Macbeth's castle.