MASSOLIT: Witchcraft and Witch-Trials, c. 1450-1750 – Gender (4)

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In this module, we think about the extent to which the witch-trials of the period 1450-1750 was a gendered phenomenon, focusing in particular on: (i) the stereotypical view of the witch as a poor, elderly crone, often with some physical deformity – a crippled leg, hunchback or harelip; (ii) the extent to which the historical record of witch trials confirms this stereotype; (iii) the view of feminist critics such as Andrea Dworkin and Anne Llewelyn Barstow that the witch-hunts represented a form of 'gynocide', in which female witches were the passive victims of the male establishment; (iv) the views of the more recent critics such as Diane Purkiss, Deborah Willis, Lyndal Roper, and Robin Briggs, who have complicated this picture; (v) the misogynistic view of women contained in works such as the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) that made them susceptible to accusation; (vi) the concept of witches as 'anti-mothers'; (vii) the phenomenon of male witches, especially in particular regions, Estonia, Russia, Normandy, Iceland; and (viii) the cases of Thomas Holt, the musician from Coventry who sold his soul to the devil, and Peter Stumpf, who confessed to becoming a werewolf and cannibalising two pregnant women and fourteen children.


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