chapter  10
26 Pages

The witch on the margins of ‘race’: Sycorax and Others

The witch is always located on the edges, at the margins. The village witch works through thresholds, doorways, liminal states. She attacks in such spaces, or in debatable open country or forests. Though she may be part of social networks and interactions, she is problematic in relation to them. The stage-witch, too, is conceptually and topographically removed from the centre of the dramatic action; either she is isolated from community affairs or she is geographically located elsewhere. The Sicilians are willing to speak of witches only as ‘the ladies from outside’.1 These different kinds of ex-centricity are all used to define the witch in the different layers of discourse she occupies. I now want to add two further layers of discourse, layers which show the figure of the witch being appropriated for explanatory and ideological purposes in new topographies. These new topographies, and the discourses used to interpret them, in turn inflected the representation of the figure of the witch in a pair of crucial though neglected witch-dramas. The first of these new layers is the Renaissance reception of classical witch-texts, and the second is the tentative discourses of exploration, discovery and colonialism in the New World. The two plays are Marston’s Sophonisba and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, both of which contain the story of a witch who is marginal to but also important for all the other stories the text wants to tell and the stories it does not want to tell, and whose narrative marginality is reciprocally reflected in her geographical and ethnic alterity. This alterity is also interpreted by and through the figure of the nearly absent witch.