Shakespeare & Magic

Discuss the latest news and rumors in the magic world.
Joe Mckay
Posts: 1975
Joined: April 13th, 2008, 6:56 am
Favorite Magician: Lubor Fiedler
Location: Durham, England

Shakespeare & Magic

Postby Joe Mckay » September 24th, 2021, 6:36 am

I am working on a magic show that briefly touches on William Shakespeare.

I was researching Shakespeare and was surprised he does not have many quotes about magic. He seems to have only mentioned magic on three occasions.

https://www.azquotes.com/author/13382-W ... /tag/magic

And apparently the quote about the tangled web we weave when at first we practice to deceive actually belongs to Sir Walter Scott.

Now there is one quote that did catch my eye:

"If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating."

This is from The Winter's Tale. This play was written 1609-1611. And the first performance was in 1611. In that same year, a performance was held at Westminster Hall in front of King James I.

Now King James I passed a law to ban witchcraft in 1605. He had been persecuting witches since 1590 (when he was King of Scotland). He also wrote a book on witches and seems to have been obsessed with the topic.

As such - does that mean it was illegal to be a regular magician during the time of King James I? And if so - is it possible that the quote above was a message from William Shakespeare to the King saying that magic should be legal?

I note as well that scholars believe that Shakesepare studied The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scott (who was also a member of parliament) that was published in 1584. This is the book that is commonly thought to be the first magic textbook. There is also a belief that King James I had all copies of this book burned when he came to the throne of the United Kingdom in 1603.

So, I am wondering if Shakesepare was a secret magic fanboi who was trying to use his influence to help make magic legal?

Or was magic already legal back then? And people performing magic for entertainment were not at risk of being persecuted as witches?

I don't know much about Shakespeare (or history) - so I am just curious if my interpretation here is reasonable, or way off base for some obvious reason I have overlooked?
Last edited by Joe Mckay on September 24th, 2021, 6:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

Joe Mckay
Posts: 1975
Joined: April 13th, 2008, 6:56 am
Favorite Magician: Lubor Fiedler
Location: Durham, England

Re: Shakespeare & Magic

Postby Joe Mckay » September 24th, 2021, 6:48 am

Here is the full quote from Shakespeare.

It seems he is comparing love to magic, and then making the point that magic itself should no longer be illegal.
O, she's warm! If this be magic, let it be an art Lawful as eating.

Tarotist
Posts: 53
Joined: July 29th, 2021, 7:16 am
Favorite Magician: David Nixon

Re: Shakespeare & Magic

Postby Tarotist » September 24th, 2021, 8:33 am

I think there is a very good case for magic to be made illegal!

Joe Mckay
Posts: 1975
Joined: April 13th, 2008, 6:56 am
Favorite Magician: Lubor Fiedler
Location: Durham, England

Re: Shakespeare & Magic

Postby Joe Mckay » September 24th, 2021, 8:58 am

haha

Jack Shalom
Posts: 1098
Joined: February 7th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Brooklyn NY

Re: Shakespeare & Magic

Postby Jack Shalom » September 25th, 2021, 12:53 am

He wrote a play where the main character is a magician.

He puts down a wand and says, "lie there, my art."

An art, like theater, of lies: https://jackshalom.net/2014/12/17/lie-there-my-art/

Bob Coyne
Posts: 666
Joined: January 26th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Charlies
Location: New York, NY

Re: Shakespeare & Magic

Postby Bob Coyne » September 25th, 2021, 9:44 pm

In addition to Prospero in The Tempest (mentioned by Jack Shalom above), there's also a minor character, Dr Pinch, in Comedy of Errors, who is a conjuror and exorcist. In Midsummer's Nights Dream the whole plot line is centered around magic and spells/potions. And there's also a strong supernatural/magical element with the witches in Macbeth. This play is sometimes thought to have been written to appeal to King James and his interest/dislike of witches. Note also that James, himself, was a descendent of the historical Banquo.

Some searches reveal more instances:

Conjuring spirits in magic circles: Romeo and Juliet "To raise a spirit in his mistress' circle" and "I conjure only but to raise up him." and Henry V " If you would conjure in her, you must make a circle;" and Troilus and Cressida: "I'll learn to conjure and raise devils"

Magic words and potions: Henry VI: "conjurers and sorcerers, that afraid of him By magic verses have contrived his end?" and King Lear: "Mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon" and Othello: "what drugs, what charms, What conjuration and what mighty magic,"

Also, one tangential aspect to magic is cheating at games and gambling. There's mention of the scam "fast and loose" in more than one play. This is performed as a magic trick to this day. Also cheating at cards "But whiles he thought to steal the single ten, The King was slyly fingered from the deck." There's also mention of crooked dice.


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