Collective violence : a study of the gendered and socio-economic factors behind early modern Italian and English witch hunts
MetadataShow full item record
In this study, I build upon my previous research in which I focus on religious doctrine as a gendered disciplinary apparatus, and examine the witch trials in early modem England and Italy in light of socio-economic issues relating to gender and class. This project examines the witch hunts/trials and early modem visual representations of witches, and what I suggest is an attempt to create docile bodies out of members of society who are deemed unruly, problematic and otherwise 'undesirable'; it is the witch's body that is deemed counternormative. This study demonstrates that it is neighbours and other acquaintances of accused witches that take on the role of the invisible guard of Bantham's Panoptic on. As someone who is trained in the study of English literature and literary theory, my approach is one that is informed by this methodology. It is my specialization in early modem British literature that first exposed me to witch-hunting manuals and tales of the supernatural, and it is for this reason that my research commences with a study of representations of witches and witchcraft in early modem England. From my initial exposure to such materials I proceed to examine the similarities and the differences of the cultural significance of the supernatural vis-a.-vis women's activities in early modem Italy. The subsequent discussion of visual representations of witches involves a predominance of Germanic artists, as the seminal work on the discernment of witches and the application of punishment known as the Malleus Meleficarum, was written in Germany circa 1486. Textual accounts of witch trials such as: "A Pitiless Mother (1616)," "The Wonderful Discovery of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Philippa Flower (1619)," "Magic and Poison: The Trial ofChiaretta and Fedele (circa 1550)", and the "The Case of Benvegnuda Pincinella: Medicine Woman or Witch (1518),"and witchhunting manuals such as the Malleus Melejicarum and Strix will be put in direct dialogue with visual representations of witches in light of historical discourses pertaining to gender performance and gendered expectations. Issues relating to class will be examined as they pertain to the material conditions of presumed witches. The dominant group in any temporal or geographic location possesses the tools of representation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the physical characteristics, sexual habits and social material conditions that are attributed to suspected witches are attributes that can be deemed deviant by the ruling class. The research will juxtapose the social material conditions of suspected witches with the guilt, anxiety, and projection of fear that the dominant groups experienced in light of the changing economic landscape of the Renaissance. The shift from feudalism to primitive accumulation, and capitalism saw a rise in people living in poverty and therefore an increased dependence upon the good will of others. I will discuss the social material conditions of accused witches as informed by what Robyn Wiegman terms a "minoritizing discourse" (210). People of higher economic standing often blamed their social, medical, and/or economic difficulties on the less fortunate, resulting in accusations of witchcraft.