Secret Arts and Public Spectacles: The Parameters of Elizabethan Magic


Barbara A. Mowat’s essay “Prospero’s Book,” published in Shakespeare Quarterly in 2001, discusses an Elizabethan manuscript conjuring book, a grimoire, in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection that has significant relevance to Shakespeare through its obvious relation not only to The Tempest but also to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, since one of the spirits raised through its spells is Oberon. “Secret Arts and Public Spectacles” contextualizes the Folger’s grimoire through the much more mundane and ubiquitous books of secrets in the period, handbooks of “natural magic” that teach ordinary householders the arts that will enable them to protect their property, cure ailments, and especially, over and over, keep them safe from enchantment. Enchantment in these books is everywhere and is a constant danger. The Elizabethan world was full of magic.