Blasphemy, Swearing, and Bad Behaviour in The Witch of Edmonton

  • David Dean Carleton University


This essay considers the key moment in Dekker, Ford, and Rowley’s The Witch of Edmonton when Elizabeth Sawyer’s cursing encourages a liaison with the devil taking the form of a black dog, a scenario taken from a real-life account of her trial and confession. By situating the episode in the larger context of contemporary discussions about swearing and blasphemy, through an examination of local histories, literature, parliamentary debates, and statutes, it offers a nuanced assessment of the play in light of what historians have called ‘the reformation of manners’ in early Stuart society.

Author Biography

David Dean, Carleton University

David Dean ( is professor of history at Carleton University, Ottawa.

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