Witch of Islington, The

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Anon. (1597?)

Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 27v (Greg, I.54):

[July 1597]
tt at the wiche of Jslyngton
01— 07— 02-00-00
(marginal note: "marten slather went for the company of my lord admeralles men the 18 of July 1597")
[July 1597]
tt at the wiche of Jselyngton
01— 08— 00-13-00

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Company.

Probable Genre(s)

Realistic tragedy (?) (Harbage, 74-5); domestic drama?

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Ben Jonson writes, in an annotation to his Masque of Queenes (1609), on witches making pictures of their victims in wax, etc.:

Bodin... hath... much of the witches later practise in that kind, and reports a relation of a French Ambassadours, out of England, of certaine pictures of wax found in a dunghill, neere Islington, of our late Queenes, which rumor I my selfe (being then very younge) can yet remember to haue bene current. (B2r, n.)

It has been suggested that it was on this episode that the play was based. Fleay writes: 'This must have afforded the plot to The Witch of Islington' (II, 4-5). The supposed attack on the Queen took place in 1578 (Sharpe, 45).

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

H. W. Herrington posits a “dramatic vogue” for witchcraft plays in the late 1590s (478), and, after discussing Mother Redcap, writes:

Earlier in the same year [1597] Henslowe notes a performance of "The Witch of Islington." By the next year had been written "Black Joan." The former was either an out-and-out witch play, or else such a play with political bearings. The latter, in all probability, was a witch play also. If we may judge from the titles and the growing realism of dramatic treatment, they were of a kind far closer to actual life than those hitherto considered. (478)

Adams suggests that Henslowe's omission of 'ne' (i.e. new) in the diary entries indicates that it was a revival of an old play (95).

See also Wiggins serial number 978.

For What It's Worth

(Information welcome)

Works Cited

Adams, H. H. English Domestic Or, Homiletic Tragedy 1575 to 1642. New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1943. Print.
Fleay, F. G. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642. 2 vols. London: Reeves & Turner, 1891. Print. Web.
Herrington, H. W. “Witchcraft and Magic in the Elizabethan Drama”. The Journal of American Folklore 32.126 (1919): 447–85. Print. Web.
Jonson, B. The Masque of Queenes. London: Nicholas Okes for R. Bonian and H. Wally, 1609. Print. Web (EEBO); web (ed. W. Gifford, 1855, Google Books).
Sharpe, J. Instruments of Darkness - Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Print.

Site created and maintained by Simon Davies, University of Sussex; updated 13 May 2011.