The Witch of Edmonton
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (June 2014)|
The play—"probably the most sophisticated treatment of domestic tragedy in the whole of Elizabethan-Jacobean drama"—is based on supposedly real-life events that took place in the village of Edmonton, then outside London, earlier that year. The play depicts Elizabeth Sawyer, an old woman shunned by her neighbours, who gets revenge by selling her soul to the Devil, who appears to her in the shape of a black dog called Tom. In addition, there are two subplots. One depicts a bigamist who murders his second wife at the devil's prompting, and the other depicts a clownish yokel who befriends the devil-dog.
A collaborative piece, the play was first acted by Prince Charles's Men at the Cockpit Theatre in 1621 (there is a record of a performance at Court on 29 December of that year). When first acted, it was a topical play, for Elizabeth Sawyer, the real-life model of the eponymous witch, had been executed on 19 April 1621.
The play was not published until 1658. It was entered into the Stationers' Register on 21 May that year; the edition that followed was issued by the bookseller Edward Blackmore. The title page of the first edition attributes the play to "divers well-esteemed Poets; William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, &c." Scholars have generally ignored the "et cetera" and assigned the play to the three named playwrights—though a few have noted that the three writers were working with John Webster at the time, on Keep the Widow Waking, and have suggested that the "&c." might stand for Webster.
The play draws heavily on a pamphlet by Henry Goodcole, The wonderful discoverie of Elizabeth Sawyer, Witch (1621), but takes a rather different attitude. Goodcole's witch is simply a bad woman, who has no particular need to seek magical aid since she has a husband to support her and a family. The Sawyer of the play, however, is a poor, lonely, and unfairly ostracized old woman, who does not turn to witchcraft until after she has already been unjustly accused of it, having nothing left to lose. The talking devil-dog Tom (performed by a human actor) becomes her familiar and only friend. With Tom's help, Sawyer causes one of her neighbours to go mad and kill herself, but otherwise she does not achieve very much, since many of those around her are only too willing to sell their souls to the devil all by themselves.
The severely limited extent of Sawyer's influence and power is underlined by the fairly rigid division of the play into separate plots, which only occasionally intersect or overlap. The other major plotline is a domestic tragedy centering on the farmer's son Frank Thorney. Frank is secretly married to the poor but virtuous Winnifride, whom he loves and believes is pregnant with his child, but his father insists that he marry Susan, elder daughter of the wealthy farmer Old Carter. Frank weakly gives in to a bigamous marriage but then tries to flee the county with Winnifride disguised as his page. When the doting Susan follows him, he stabs her. At this point, the witch's dog Tom is present on stage and it is left ambiguous whether Frank remains a fully responsible moral agent in the act. Frank inflicts superficial wounds on himself, so that he can pretend to have been attacked, and attempts to frame Warbeck, Susan's former suitor, and Somerton, suitor of Susan's younger sister Katherine. While the kindly Katherine is nursing her supposedly incapacitated brother-in-law, however, she finds a bloodstained knife in his pocket and immediately guesses the truth, which she reveals to her father. The devil-dog is on stage again at this point, and "shrugs for joy," according to the stage direction, which suggests that he has brought about Frank's downfall.
Frank is executed for his crime at the same time as Mother Sawyer, but he, in marked contrast to her, is forgiven by all and the pregnant Winnifride is taken into the family of Old Carter. The play thus ends on a relatively happy note—Old Carter enjoins all those assembled at the execution, "So, let's every man home to Edmonton with heavy hearts, yet as merry as we can, though not as we would."
The note of optimism is also heard in the play's other main plot, centering on the Morris dancing yokel Cuddy Banks, whose invincible innocence allows him to emerge unscathed from his own encounters with the dog Tom; he eventually banishes the dog from the stage with the words "Out, and avaunt!"
Despite the optimism of the play's ending it remains clear that the execution of Mother Sawyer has done little or nothing to purge the play's world of an evil to which its inhabitants are only too ready to turn spontaneously. Firstly, the devil-dog has not been destroyed, and indeed resolves to go to London and corrupt souls there. Secondly, the village's voice of authority, the lord of the manor Sir Arthur Clarington, is represented as untrustworthy, and Mother Sawyer utters a lengthy tirade indicting his lechery (he has previously had an affair with Winnifride, which she now repents) and general corruption, a charge which the play as a whole supports.
The Witch of Edmonton may be very ready to capitalize on the sensational story of a witch, but it does not permit an easy and comfortable demonization of her; it presents her as a product of society rather than an anomaly in it.
- Sir Arthur Clarington. A wealthy knight and the employer of Frank Thorney and Winifred. He has a secret affair with Winifred, and when she gets pregnant, he pushes Frank to marry her in order to cover his own indiscretion.
- Old Thorney. Frank Thorney’s father. He is a gentleman who has mortgaged all of his lands. He pushes his son to marry Susan Carter in order to escape his financial difficulties.
- Old Carter. The father of Susan Carter and Katherine Carter. He is a wealthy farmer who uses his daughters’ marriages as means to improve his social status.
- Old Banks. The father of Cuddy Banks. He beats Mother Sawyer at the beginning of the play for gathering sticks on his land.
- Warbeck. Suitor to Susan Carter. A stuffy scholar. He becomes bitter when Susan chooses Frank Thorney over him.
- Somerton. Suitor to Katherine Carter.
- Frank Thorney. Old Thorney’s son. He marries Winifred because he thinks she is pregnant with his child, enters into a second bigamous marriage with Susan, murders Susan as he attempts to escape with the dowry money, and is eventually executed for his crimes.
- Young Cuddy Banks. Old Banks’ son (the clown). A country yokel and Morris-dancer. He makes friends with the Devil-Dog, but due to his innocence and ignorance, he proves incorruptible.
- Old Ratcliffe. The husband of Anne Ratcliffe, a woman who is driven insane by the Devil-Dog at Mother Sawyer’s behest.
- Justice. The local Justice of the Peace. He passes judgment on Frank Thorney and Mother Sawyer at the end of the play.
- Dog. A devil or spirit who has assumed the form of a black dog. Sometimes called ‘Tom’. He performs mischievous acts for Mother Sawyer after she promises her soul to him. He can only be seen by Mother Sawyer and Cuddy Banks.
- Mother Sawyer (Elizabeth Sawyer). The ‘witch’ of Edmonton. At the beginning of the play, she is merely a poor old decrepit woman, but she makes a deal with a devil to get revenge on her neighbors when they treat her poorly and accuse her of using witchcraft to spoil their crops and kill their livestock.
- Anne Ratcliffe. Old Ratcliffe’s wife. At Mother Sawyer’s bequest, the Devil-Dog drives her insane and causes her to beat her own brains out.
- Susan Carter. Old Carter’s eldest daughter. She chooses to marry Frank Thorney rather than Warbeck. Frank murders her when she tries to follow him as he escapes with the dowry money.
- Katherine Carter. Old Carter’s younger daughter. She is wooed by and agrees to marry Somerton. While nursing Frank back to health, she finds the bloody knife he used to murder her sister Susan, thereby revealing Frank’s guilt.
- Winifred. Sir Arthur Clarington’s maid and Frank Thorney’s first wife. Sir Arthur gets her pregnant and offers Frank money to marry her. When Frank flees after his second marriage, she travels with him disguised as his boy-servant.
(This synopsis corresponds to the act and scene divisions in Arthur F. Kinney, ed. The Witch of Edmonton, (London: A&C Black, 1998).
Scene 1: Sir Arthur Clarington’s estate
Frank Thorney has just married Winifred, who is pregnant with Sir Arthur Clarnington’s child (but Frank thinks the child is his). Winifred says she is happy with the marriage, but she thinks it is strange they will not live together. Frank tells her that he has to keep the marriage a secret to placate his father, who will disown him if he finds out about it. He promises to make the marriage public as soon his father has given him his inheritance. Sounding a keynote for the play, he says that they must think about their financial security in order to protect their child from "the misery of beggary and want / Two devils that are occasions to enforce a shameful end" (17–19). Winifred agrees to follow Frank’s plan and asks where she will live. Frank says he will send her to live in Waltham Abbey with his Uncle Selman, who will take good care of her. She says that she will miss him. He promises to visit once a month. She reluctantly acquiesces, but warns him to stay away from other women. Frank vows to be faithful. As is typical for this sort of tragedy, his vow foreshadows his eventual fall: "whenever / The wanton heat of youth by subtle baits / Of beauty, or what woman’s art can practice, / Draw me from only loving thee; let heaven / Inflict upon my life some fearful ruin" (63–67). Winifred kisses him and exits. Sir Arthur Clarington enters and scolds Frank for bringing dishonor to his house (Frank and Winifred both work as Clarington’s servants). He says that Frank must repair the damage he has caused by marrying Winifred (in fact, it was Clarington who got Winifred pregnant). Frank asks how much money Clarington will give him if he goes through with the wedding. Clarington promises £200. Frank agrees to these terms and reveals that he has already married Winifred and sent her to live with his Uncle. Clarington is satisfied. Frank asks Clarington to send his father a letter of assurance that he and Winifred are not wed (he is afraid that his father will hear news of the marriage). Clarington says he will sign the letter if Frank writes it. Frank exits to write the letter. Winifred enters, dressed in her riding suit and ready to travel. Clarington kisses her and asks when he should visit to have sex with her again. Winifred is scandalized. She vows to remain a faithful wife to Frank. Clarington curses her and says she will change her mind when she runs out of money. Winifred vows never to take money from him again and exits. Clarington curses her again and says that he will not pay Frank the £200 he promised.
Scene 2: Old Carter’s property
Old Thorney (Frank’s father) makes arrangements to marry his son to the elder daughter of Old Carter (a wealthy farmer). Thorney flatters Carter by referring to him as "Master Carter," but Carter points out that he is not a gentleman, and should therefore be referred to simply as "John Carter" (he is notably self-conscious about his social standing, which is signified by his continual use of proverbs and straightforward style of speech). Hoping to improve his social status by marrying his daughter to a gentleman, he tells Thorney that he will provide the marriage dowry without a surety, thereby enabling Thorney to remain solvent and provide his son with an inheritance. He says that Susan has other suitors but she prefers Frank, so as long as Frank likes her too, he sees no reason why they should not be married. Carter’s daughters, Susan and Katherine, enter with Warbeck (suitor to Susan) and Somerton (suitor to Katherine). Carter tells the suitors that he intends to let his daughters choose their husbands for themselves. Warbeck says Carter is a kind father and asks Susan if she will marry him. Susan says she will not—Warbek is too scholarly for her taste, and uses too many big words. Somerton asks Katherine if there is any hope that she will marry him. Katherine slyly remarks that there might be a chance and encourages him to continue trying. Old Carter chuckles at his daughters’ use of their suitors. He tells Old Thorney that Warbeck is an "arrogant rake" (81), but Somerton is a "civil fellow" (80) with a fine estate near Essex. He says that he only puts up with Warbeck because he is Somerton’s friend. (His distaste for Warbeck seems to derive from the suitor’s lack of property.) Warbeck offers Susan joint ownership of his £300/year income if she will marry him. Susan refuses, once again remarking on his stuffy personality. Frank Thorney enters and greets everyone cheerfully. In an aside, Warbeck complains to Somerton that Susan might reject him in favour of Frank, a mere servingman. Old Carter invites everyone to go inside for dinner. Everyone exits except Frank and his father. Old Thorney tells Frank that he must marry Susan because all of his lands are mortgaged against his debts—without Old Carter’s marriage dowry, he will not be able to pass his lands to Frank. Frank says he will do as his father wishes. Old Thorney asks if Frank truly loves Susan and intends to marry her. Frank says he does. Old Thorney calls Frank a villain and asks if it is true that he has already married his fellow servant Winifred. Protesting, Frank says he would not risk his eternal soul for money. Old Thorney calls Frank a dissembler and orders him to get out of his sight. To prove his innocence, Frank produces the (false) letter from Sir Arthur Clarington (see 1.1). Old Thorney reads the letter. Convinced by the ruse, he apologizes. Old Carter enters with Susan. Arrangements are made for Susan to marry Frank on the following day. Old Carter promises to get the dowry money to Old Thorney right away. Frank worries about the mischief he has gotten himself into: "No man can hide his shame from heaven that views him. / In vain he flees, whose destiny pursues him" (231–32).
Scene 1: Old Banks’ property
Mother Sawyer (‘the Witch of Edmonton’) gathers sticks and delivers a soliloquy that emphasizes her social isolation. She says that everyone in Edmonton abuses her and calls her a witch because she is old, poor, and decrepit. Despite her class and professed ignorance, however, her lines are written in poetry rather than prose—an indication of the authors’ attempt to make her sympathetic. Old Banks—whom Mother Sawyer refers to as one of her chief adversaries—enters. He calls Mother Sawyer a witch and tells her to get off of his land. She begs him to allow her to pick up a few rotten sticks so she can make a fire to warm herself. Banks tells her to put the sticks down and go away. Mother Sawyer throws the sticks to the ground and calls him a "cut-throat miser" (24). Banks begins to beat her. She curses him. Banks exits. Cuddy Banks (Old Banks’ son, a Morris-dancing yokel) enters with his fellow Morris-dancers. (Morris-dancers make music by dancing vigorously while wearing bells strapped to their legs). As they discuss plans for an upcoming production, the dancers notice Mother Sawyer. Cuddy is frightened, but in a show of bravery, he pulls off his belt to defend himself. The other dancers superstitiously warn him not to cross Mother Sawyer’s path. They exit cursing her. Mother Sawyer says she is shunned and hated like a sickness. Blaming Old Banks for all her troubles, she calls on "some power good or bad" (106) to help her get her revenge. A devil appears in the form of a black dog and says that he will help her to get her revenge in exchange for her soul. Mother Sawyer agrees to these terms and allows him to suck her blood to seal the deal. Thunder sounds and lightning strikes! Mother Sawyer orders the Devil-Dog to murder Old Banks. The Devil-Dog says he can’t go quite that far, but says he will mildew Banks’ crops and kill his cattle instead. He teaches her a spell she can recite to summon him at any time and exits to begin work on Banks’ cattle and corn. Cuddy Banks enters and gives Mother Sawyer some money. Apologizing for his father’s treatment of her, he asks her to use witchcraft to make Katherine Carter (Old Carter’s younger daughter) fall in love with him. After summoning the Devil-Dog to demonstrate her power, Mother Sawyer tells Cuddy that if he waits in his father’s pea field until sunset and follows the first living thing he sees, it will lead him to his love. Cuddy agrees to follow these instructions and exits. Mother Sawyer laughs and says she will get her revenge on Old Banks by tormenting his son.
Scene 2: Old Carter’s property
Old Carter speaks with Warbeck and Somerton. Warbeck is disgruntled because Susan has chosen Frank over him. Old Carter and Somerton try to cheer him up. Warbeck warns Somerton that Katherine will also prove to be untrustworthy. Frank and Susan enter, now husband and wife (Frank now has two wives). Warbeck bitterly derides the new couple in an aside. Warbeck and Somerton exit, and Old Carter follows. Susan asks Frank why he looks unhappy (he is of course uncomfortable about the bigamous predicament he has gotten himself into). After a bit of cajoling, he tells her that a palm-reader once told him that he will have two wives. Susan assumes from this that his somber mood thus arises from a fear that she will die (and be replaced by a second wife). She tries to cheer him up. He tells her that he will have to leave for a long time (he is planning to flee with Winifred and the dowry money). Suspecting that he will go off to fight a duel with Warbeck, Susan refuses to let him go. Despite his assurances to the contrary, she accuses him of making up the story about the palm-reader in order to cover for his anxiety over the duel. He kisses her and makes promises of his faithfulness in order to calm her down.
Scene 1: Old Banks’ property
The Morris-dancers beg Cuddy to stay, but Cuddy says he has some private business to attend to (he wants to wait in his father’s pea field as Mother Sawyer instructed). With Mother Sawyer in mind, he says that he loves witches and suggests that they work a part for a witch into their act. One of his fellow dancers says that witches are not hard to find: "Faith, witches themselves are so common now-a-days, that the counterfeit will not be regarded. They say we have three or four in Edmonton, besides Mother Sawyer" (12–14)—an indication of the authors’ skepticism regarding contemporary accusations of witchcraft. Another dancer mentions that the troupe is scheduled to perform at Sir Arthur Clarington’s estate soon. Cuddy says that they should perform at Old Carter’s place soon, too (remember that he is in love with Old Carter’s daughter, Katherine). One of the Morris-dancers guesses that the reason Cuddy wants to go wandering off by himself is because he is in love. After a bit of teasing, the Morris-dancers exit, leaving Cuddy alone onstage. He walks to his father’s pea field and wonders aloud about the sort of creature that will appear to lead him to Katherine. The Devil-Dog appears and leads him to a spirit in the form of Katherine. In an aside, the spirit explains that he has assumed the form of Katherine in order to torment Cuddy, as Mother Sawyer commanded. Cuddy tries to follow the spirit he believes is Katherine and ends up running into a pond (offstage). He re-enters soaking wet, and starts talking to the Devil-Dog, whom he clownishly mistakes for an actual dog. The Devil-Dog tells him that Katherine prefers another suitor (Somerset). He promises to torment the rival suitor during the upcoming Morris-dance at Sir Arthur Clarington’s estate. Cuddy thanks him and promises to give the dog some bread in exchange for his troubles.
Scene 2: Old Carter’s property
With the dowry money from his bigamous second marriage now in hand, Frank prepares to flee to another nation with Winifred (his first wife), who is disguised as his servant boy. Winifred says that the dowry money is poor recompense for the sin Frank has committed. Frank urges her to put her regrets behind her and focus on the future. Susan (Frank’s second wife) enters, gives the ‘servant boy’ (Winifred) a jewel, and bids ‘him’ to serve Frank faithfully as his "servant, friend, and wife" (73). The ‘servant’ promises to do as Susan has asked. Frank tells ‘him’ to ride ahead a bit and wait for him further down the road. The ‘servant’ exits. Frank tries to say good-bye to Susan, but she is reluctant to let him go and insists on following him for a while.
Scene 3: A country road, not far from Old Banks’ property
The Devil-Dog sees Frank and Susan coming down the road and looks forward to tormenting them: "Now for an early mischief and a sudden. / The mind’s about it now. One touch from me / Soon sets the body forward" (1–3). Frank enters with Susan following. He scolds her for burdening him and tells her to go home. She asks why he has suddenly taken such an angry tone and notes that their fathers are likely close behind because they were quite alarmed when she told them about Frank’s sudden departure. The Devil-Dog (who is invisible to all characters except Mother Sawyer and Cuddy) rubs Frank. Noting the trouble Susan has caused for him, Frank suddenly decides to kill her (a decision influenced, it seems, by the Devil-Dog’s touch). He pulls out a knife and tells Susan that he is going to send her to heaven. Rather than running away in fear, Susan stands in place and passively asks Frank to at least give her an explanation for his actions. He tells her that, because he was already married to someone else, she is not in fact his wife, but a whore, and must therefore die. He admits that the sin is his and not hers, but goes ahead and stabs her in the stomach anyway. Susan says she is happy to die rather than live in adultery. She continues to profess her love for Frank. Frank stabs her again to shut her up. When she is finally dead, he gives himself a few superficial wounds and ties himself to a tree to make in look as though they were attacked by murderers. The (invisible) Devil-Dog helps him secure the ropes. Old Carter (Susan’s father) and Old Thorney (Frank’s father) enter and discover Susan’s corpse. They fear that Frank is almost dead as well. They ask Frank who the murderers were. Frank says that the murderers forced him to swear an oath not to reveal their identities. Instead, he offers a physical description strongly suggesting the murderers were Warbeck (his rival suitor) and Somerton. Old Thorney and Old Carter resolve to hunt Warbeck and Somerton down and make them answer for their crimes.
Scene 4: Sir Arthur Clarington’s estate
Warbeck and Somerton are at Sir Arthur Clarington’s estate. Clarington tells them that the Morris-dancers have arrived, and that the performance will begin shortly. Warbeck says that Morris-dancing is absurd. Somerton says that he isn’t feeling well (a result, perhaps of the torment the Devil-Dog promised Cuddy in 3.1). The Morris-dancers enter. Cuddy follows in his hobby-horse costume, accompanied by the Devil-Dog (who is invisible to all characters except Cuddy and Mother Sawyer). The dancers begin to perform, but the fiddler cannot get any sound out of his instrument. He says that the fiddle must be bewitched. Cuddy says he will play the fiddle and dance at the same time. The Devil-Dog plays the fiddle (but it somehow seems as though Cuddy is playing) and the dance recommences. When the dance is finished, a constable enters with some officers. He produces an arrest warrant for Warbeck and Somerton. In an aside, Cuddy notes that the Devil-Dog has done a good job of causing mischief for Somerton, as he promised (3.1). Warbeck and Somerton make earnest declarations of their innocence.
Scene 1: A public setting
Old Banks tells some fellow countrymen that his horse is sick. He blames the illness on Mother Sawyer. One of the countrymen says he found his wife having sex with a servant in a barn. He also blames his misfortune on Mother Sawyer. The men all agree that they must get rid of Mother Sawyer before the town is ruined. Another countryman enters chanting, "burn the witch" (15). He is carrying a handful of straw from Mother Sawyer’s hovel. He claims that, if Mother Sawyer is indeed a witch, she will come running when he lights the straw on fire. The other countrymen encourage him to burn the straw. As soon as the straw is ablaze, Mother Sawyer enters and curses the countrymen for defacing her home. Convinced that she is in fact a witch, the countrymen seize her and make plans to burn her at the stake. Sir Arthur Clarington enters with the local Justice of the Peace, who orders the countrymen to calm down. Old Banks tells the Justice that Mother Sawyer is a witch, as the burning straw trick has proven. The Justice says that a charge of witchcraft will require better proof. Old Banks says that Mother Sawyer has put a curse on him: ten times an hour, he has an uncontrollable urge to run to his cow in the backyard, lift up her tail, and kiss her behind. The Justice says that he still does not have enough proof for a conviction. Old Banks and the countrymen exit. The Justice and Sir Arthur Clarington interview Mother Sawyer, who responds to most of their questions with disdain, but admits that she made a deal with the Devil in order to get revenge on her neighbors. She defends herself by arguing that there are many people in the world worse than her, and that she is unfairly persecuted because she is old and poor: "A witch? Who is not? / Hold not that universal name in scorn then. / What are your painted things in princes’ courts? / Upon whose eyelids lust sits blowing fires / To burn men’s souls in sensual hot desires. / Upon whose naked paps a lecher’s thought / Acts sin in fouler shapes than can be wrought" (111–17). The Justice and Clarington tell Mother Sawyer to pray. They exit. The Devil-Dog enters and gives Mother Sawyer an update on his recent activities: He has made a horse lame, pinched a baby, and prevented cream from turning to butter (even though a maid churned it for nine hours). He also tells how he has driven a woman named Anne Ratcliffe mad. Anne Ratcliffe enters on this cue, spouting crazy nonsense. At Mother Sawyer’s command, the Devil-Dog touches Anne, which makes her even crazier: "Oh my ribs are made of paned horse, and they break. There’s a Lancashire hornpipe in my throat. Hark how it tickles it, with doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle. Welcome sergeants: welcome Devil. Hands, hands; hold hands, and dance around, around, around" (198–202). Old Ratcliffe (Anne’s husband) enters with Old Banks, Cuddy, Banks, and other countrymen. Old Ratcliffe is distraught to see the condition his wife has been reduced to. Blaming Mother Sawyer, he and the other countrymen carry her offstage, but return moments later to report that she went wild and beat out her own brains. Old Banks says that Ratcliffe’s death proves that Mother Sawyer is a witch. He tells his fellow countrymen that they should procure a warrant for her arrest and ship her off to Newgate Prison. Mother Sawyer curses him. Old Banks says that, according to rumor, Mother Sawyer has a spirit who comes to her in the likeness of a dog and performs mischief for her (the provenance of this rumor is unclear: the only characters who can see the Devil-Dog are Mother Sawyer and Cuddy Banks). He says that if anyone ever sees the Devil-Dog, it will be sent to prison along with her. Young Banks says that he has seen and befriended the Devil-Dog. The countrymen worry that Cuddy has been bewitched as well. The Devil-Dog enters and barks, scaring everyone, although Cuddy pretends that he himself had produced the barks. Old Banks, Old Ratcliffe, and the other countrymen all exit to procure a warrant for Mother Sawyer’s arrest. Cuddy greets the Devil-Dog warmly and exits. Mother Sawyer tells the Devil-Dog to attack Sir Arthur Clarington next.
Scene 2: A bedroom in Old Carter’s home: Frank in bed, Katherine at his bedside
Frank Thorney wakes up with Susan’s sister Katherine at his bedside. Katherine encourages him not to despair over the loss of his wife (she thinks that Susan was murdered by Warbeck and her own suitor, Somerton). She brings Frank a plate of chicken. The Devil-Dog enters (invisible). He shrugs for joy and dances—an indication that he is responsible for Frank’s impending misfortune. Katherine says she needs something to cut the chicken with and begins searching through Frank’s clothes. Frank suddenly realizes that the knife he murdered Susan with is still in his pocket. He tells Katherine that he has lost his appetite. Katherine finds the knife but doesn’t say anything about it. She exits to get her father, but pretends that she is only going to find something to cut the chicken with. Frank searches his pockets, finds the knife, and realizes that his ruse is ruined. The Devil-Dog exits. The spirit of Susan enters and stares at Frank. He tries to turn away from her, but she re-appears wherever he turns his head. Winifred enters, still disguised as Frank’s servant boy. The spirit vanishes. Frightened, Frank sits upright and mistakenly assumes that the spirit was Winifred playing some sort of trick on him. Winifred swears that she did not move from the spot where she is standing since she entered the room. She tells Frank that all his misfortune is a result of his bigamous second marriage. Brushing these concerns aside, Frank confesses that he murdered Susan and begs Winifred to help him cover the crime up. Katherine re-enters with her father (Old Carter) and subtly points out the bloody knife in Frank’s pocket. Old Carter is immediately convinced of Frank’s guilt, but rather than saying anything right away, he tells Frank that he will send for a surgeon. He exits for a moment and re-enters with servants carrying Susan’s body in a coffin. Forcing Frank to look at the massacred body, he accuses him of murder and calls on him to confess. Katherine exits to summon officers. Winifred begs Old Carter to leave Frank alone. Old Carter says that Winifred (the ‘servant boy’) is a rogue and Frank’s accomplice. Frank tells Old Carter to leave the "woman" (Winifred) alone. When Old Carter asks why Winifred is dressed like a man, she tells him that she is Frank’s first wife. She also tells him that Frank has confessed to Susan’s murder. Katherine re-enters to report that the officers have arrived. Frank exits to meet the officers, hoping that his judges will treat him leniently.
Scene 1: A public setting
Mother Sawyer says she has not seen the Devil-Dog for three days. She repeats her spell to summon him. When it doesn’t work, she curses him. The Devil-Dog appears, now white instead of black. He tells her that his term of service to her is now up and that she will soon be tried and executed. Mother Sawyer says that she will never confess. Old Banks enters with Old Ratcliffe and other countrymen. They drag Mother Sawyer away as she begs the Devil-Dog for help. Left alone on stage, the Devil-Dog laughs over his work: "Ha, ha, ha, ha! / Let not the world, witches or devils condemn, / They follow us, and then we follow them" (82–84). Cuddy Banks enters. The Devil-Dog tells him that Mother Sawyer will be executed soon. He also says that the ‘Katherine’ Cuddy followed into the pond (in 3.1) wasn’t actually Katherine at all, but a spirit in disguise. Cuddy asks if spirits can change into any form they please. The Devil-Dog says they can, but they usually assume the form of coarse animals such as dogs or toads. Mimicking conventional Puritan doctrine, he adds that anytime a person curses or lies, he opens up an opportunity for demonic possession. Cuddy says that he pities the Devil-Dog because he has to go around causing mischief for witches rather than doing more pleasurable dog things, such as hunting ducks (he still hasn’t caught on that the Devil-Dog isn’t like a regular dog). The Devil-Dog asks Cuddy if he would like to be his new master, now that Mother Sawyer is out of the picture. Cuddy refuses. He says that he never wants to see the Devil-Dog again. The Devil-Dog calls Cuddy a fool. Cuddy chases him off-stage.
Scene 2: A court The Justice fines Sir Arthur Clarington for his role in Frank's misfortune (Clarington had impregnated Winifred, then pushed Frank to marry her, but it is not clear how his guilt has been discovered). Old Carter says that Clarington ought to be hanged in Frank’s place. The Justice also sets Warbeck and Somerton free.
Scene 3 (and Epilogue): A place not far from the gallows where Frank and Mother Sawyer will be executed
Winifred weeps as she waits for Frank to be brought to the gallows. Old Thorney tries to comfort her. Old Carter says he pities Frank as well. Winifred faints. Mother Sawyer is brought in. Old Carter and other countrymen encourage her to confess, and she refuses at first, but soon repents, saying “Bear witness, I repent all former evil; There is no damnèd conjuror like the devil,” before she is taken off to be executed. Other officers enter holding Frank as prisoner. They are followed by the Justice, Sir Arthur Clarington, Somerset, and Warbeck. Frank delivers a penitent speech, apologizes to everyone present, and asks the assembly to look after Winifred and his father. The officers take him away to be executed. Old Carter tries to console Frank’s father (Old Thorney). Somerton says that he and Katherine have agreed to get married. The Justice tells Winifred that Sir Arthur Clarington has been ordered to pay her one thousand marks (a fairly large sum). Old Carter takes pity on Winifred and invites her to live with his family. In a short epilogue, Winifred ends the play on a relatively optimistic note: "I am a widow now, and must not sort / A second choice, without good report; / Which though some widows find, and few deserve, / Yet I dare not presume, but will not swerve / From modest hopes. All noble tongues are free; / The gentle may speak one kind word for me" (1–5).
- Logan and Smith, p. 15.
- Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 298.
- Logan and Smith, p. 29.
- Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
- Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Popular School: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1975.