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Shakespeare and Witchcraft

3. Witches and Kitchens

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In this module, we look at the connection between witches and the destruction of food, focusing especially on: (i) the witches’ cauldron in Macbeth and its relevance to cooking, (ii) the frequent charge that witches had made efforts to produce food from raw ingredients, like butter, fail, and (iii) the portrayal of witches as post-menopausal interferers with ‘maternal processes’ like food provision.


In this course, Professor Diane Purkiss (University of Oxford) explores the historical context around the witches in Shakespeare’s plays, especially Macbeth (1606). In the first module, we consider why Shakespeare might have written witches into Macbeth. In the second, we dispel popular myths around Early Modern witches, exploring what witchcraft really looked like in Shakespeare’s day. In the third, we focus on the Early Modern understanding that witches commonly spoiled food, and disrupted maternal processes. In the fourth, we examine the relationship between witches and storms at sea. In the fifth, we consider the connection between witches and bodies, namely between Roman Catholic relics and witchcraft. Finally, in the sixth, we do a close reading of Lady Macbeth’s two speeches in Act 1, Scene 5 and Act 1, Scene 7, understanding how these mark her as a witch according to the norms of her time.


Diane Purkiss is a Professor at Keble College, Oxford. She has published two books on the English Civil War - 'The English Civil War: A People's History' (2006) and 'Literature, Gender, and Politics during the English Civil War' (2005).

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APA style

Purkiss, D. (2022, October 27). Shakespeare and Witchcraft - Witches and Kitchens [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Purkiss, D. "Shakespeare and Witchcraft – Witches and Kitchens." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Oct 2022,

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