Research Stream


Adam Hembree
The University of Melbourne

Reading Strange Matters: The Magic Word in Early Modern Drama

This project investigates the discursive parallels between the art of stage action and the occult and magical arts in practice in England in the decades surrounding the turn of the seventeenth century.

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Early modern English play texts bristle with magic. They prominently feature characters who practise the dark arts, both in their fearful power and their derisible earnestness. The ‘magic word’ is an action; its utterance is a remarkable physical change in the world. Plays that heavily feature magic emphasise magic’s theatricality: its presentational delivery and its revelatory purpose. These plays also invite such a reading’s inverse: a discovery of magic in theatrical practice.

Working its way through both the historical evolution of England’s dominant theatre companies and the conceptual overlaps between the dark arts and mimetic art, Reading Strange Matters seeks always to answer a simple question: what do actors do?

Adam’s past work focused on early modern staging of villainy and monstrosity, especially in Shakespeare’s works. He maintains an active extracurricular interest in early modern drama as a producer of Soothplayers, a troupe that improvises full-length plays in Shakespearean style throughout Melbourne and regionally.


Dr David McInnis and Prof. Stephanie Trigg

Image: Goodcole, Henry. The wonderfull discouerie of Elizabeth Sawyer, a Witch, late of Edmonton, her conuiction and condemnation and Death. London: William Butler, 1621. Web. EEBO. Marlowe, Christopher. The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. 1663. Web. EEBO.