University Forum- The Grift of Renaissance Magic
One of the earliest accusations of demonic magic against John Dee originated in a theatrical setting. In 1547, at a staging of Aristophanes’ Pax at Trinity College, Cambridge, Dee orchestrated a fantastic special effect during which a gigantic dung-beetle flew up to the heavens of the stage. According to his much later Compendious Rehearsal of John Dee (written in 1597, printed in 1726), this mechanical feat aroused alarmed responses: some wondered if Dee had achieved this effect through supernatural collusion.
In his writings, Dee is careful to demonstrate that his magical practice has always fallen under the category of “natural” magic rather than demonic magic, nor, he claims, do his practices derive from financial motives. Throughout Dee’s protestation of his innocence and intellectual curiosity, he underscores some of the most pressing questions in the early modern period. What constitutes legitimate magic, and who defines where those boundaries lie? How is magic related to knowledge in the arts and within natural philosophy? And finally: what does magic have to do with the theater?
Open to the public.