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Director's Note

Scholars estimate over 50,000 people died during the European witch craze (which reached its zenith during the height of the Protestant Reformation, 1550 – 1650.) These unequivocally innocent victims were overwhelmingly female. Historians emphatically do not believe women were actually flying around on broomsticks smothered in dead baby fat and dancing in frenzied bacchanalian orgies. 50,000 people were falsely accused.

These tortured victims were guilty only of being alone (widows with no male figure to protect them), misunderstood (suffering from mental illness which caused erratic behavior and—the tell-tale sign of a witch—enraged cursing), and they were guilty of being women (subjugated, vilified, objectified.)

The evolution and implications of this historical belief in witchcraft as diabolical Christian heresy are profound (transformation of quotidian household objects into emblems of harmful sorcery, subversion of power destabilizing the status quo, etc.)

Our Jacobean playwrights (Dekker, Ford, Rowley) who wrote The Witch of Edmonton do not question Mother Sawyer’s guilt (from their perspective, witchcraft categorically exists.)  However, they singularly and stunningly show sympathy for her plight.

Of the many extant 16th/17th century plays dealing with witchcraft, The Witch of Edmonton is unique—Mother Sawyer is treated with immense compassion; of the many non-aristocratic characters populating the play, Mother Sawyer alone speaks in verse rather than prose.

Based on real events, The Witch of Edmonton is also exceptional because it shows characters from all levels of society—from struggling farmers to nobility. This notion of community is integral to the theme of the play: without charity and mobility, certain members of society will inevitably be ostracized and alienated—and this fact explains and leads to evil.

The central plot involves Frank Thorney—recently married to Winnifred, whom he believes is bearing his child (the child is actually Arthur Clarington’s, an immoral nobleman.) Frank is forced by his father to marry Susan to save the family estate (thus committing bigamy and gaining a sizable dowry.) Frank is a victim—trapped by an unfair society with strict and untenable codes. Like Frank, Sawyer lacks agency. She is destitute, alone, called a witch, beaten and treated as one—yet, even when the devil finally appears to her, he must threaten to “tear” her before she gives her soul.

The kindness the play shows for those we fear and its indictment of the aristocracy in promoting criminality through systematic inequity make this play extraordinary. I have tried to unite all the narratives in an appropriate manner; I hope that no one watching can divine the changes—since they all support the text. Most significantly, this play about community took a strong and brilliant community of actors to embody the characters and bring this world to life.  The excellent acting is, as always, all the actors' own.

It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and I did not choose a Shakespeare play for the festival.  I believe Shakespeare himself would approve of this choice. In the last year, there have been countless appalling violent deaths (the night club shooting in Florida and the Bastille massacre in Nice.) As Shakespeare did, we are striving to speak to our community, in this time. Only through love and charity can the cycle of fear, violence and alienation be overcome.

--Taurie Kinoshita

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