You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

Shakespeare and Witchcraft

4. Witches and the Sea

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this module, we consider the perceived relationship in Early Modern England between witches and the sea, focusing especially on: (i) the first witch in Macbeth’s cursing of a sailor’s wife in Act 1, Scene 3, (ii) the common belief that witches could control the wind, especially indigenous people encountered by Elizabeth explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, (iii) Shakespeare’s preoccupation with storms at sea, (iv) the name of the Tiger in Macbeth, and its relevance to Sir Richard Grenville’s ship of the same name, which he took to the colonies, and (v) the swimming test for witches.


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).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

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

Get instant access to over 6,700 lectures