Macquarie University
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From first witches to funny witches: early modern reinterpretations of Circe and Medea myths and the witches of Terry Pratchett's discworld

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posted on 2022-03-29, 00:55 authored by Leeanne M. Goldsmith
The story of the witch has always been about dangers presented by her nonconformity and resistance to gender expectations. This thesis initially traces the development of the two major strands of witch stereotypes, the dangerous seductress and the ugly old hag, from the first examples we have of them, in the myths of Circe and Medea, to reinterpretations of these myths in select early modern texts. The main focus of this part of the thesis is on ways in which early modern reinterpretations of Circe and Medea intersect with traditionally English witches of the hag variety, and how in turn this relates to marked reductions in the power witches were said to possess, often in conjunction with more humorous representations of these figures in early modern texts. The thesis thereupon argues that by the end of the seventeenth century, the witch stereotypes that would be such an influence on the fantasy fiction genre of modern times had clearly developed. As the thesis subsequently argues, Terry Pratchett’s witches interact with, manipulate, and frequently resist the story of the witch as an evil woman so prevalent in early modern texts and consequently in fantasy fiction up until the late nineteen eighties. The performative nature of witchcraft and gender is evident in the story of the witch at many points in history and literature, and Pratchett’s good witches, like contemporary feminists, resist and re-write the conventional story of what it is to be a witch or a woman.


Table of Contents

1. Spenser's The Faerie Queene: myths, fairy tales and 'English' witches -- 2. Classical witches in early modern plays and masques -- 3. Shakespeare and witch stereotypes -- 4. Performing witchcraft in Stuart drama -- 5. Pratchett's witches -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 293-310

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Tony Cousins


Copyright Leeanne Marie Goldsmith 2017 Copyright disclaimer:




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