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  • Making Magic In Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books Of Magic ed. by Frank Klaassen
  • Laura Sumrall (bio)
Making Magic In Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books Of Magic. edited by Frank Klaassen. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019. Hardcover. 160 pp. isbn: 978-0-271-08368-1. $89.95.

Making Magic in Elizabethan England brings together two early modern manuscripts on magic, both of which are from England and composed primarily in English. Editor Frank Klaassen has titled the manuscripts the “Antiphoner Notebook” and the “Boxgrove Manual.” They are, crucially, practitioners’ manuals: both allow him to draw attention to the medieval legacy of early modern magic while emphasizing the ways in which this legacy was transformed by the people who collected, edited, and rewrote these texts. The resulting volume provides access to practical manuals and their sources that will be of particular interest to specialists, with editorial notes allowing the work to double as an introduction to the history of magic uniquely focused on practices rather than theory.

The two manuscripts contain various forms of charms with everyday appeal as well as complex conjuration rituals that challenge the early modern theoretical boundaries separating illicit and tolerated forms of magic. Medicinal charms that favor words of power feature commonly in the “Antiphoner Notebook”: “Sweet Iesus on ye earth was found, he was beaten, he was bound, he was pricked, he was stonde, yet he never sweld nor bled, nor by ye grace of him noe more shall this. yt is to be sayd 9 times” (52). Alongside this charm for swelling appears a protective charm sourced from Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1583)—one of many examples of how Scot’s detailed and often sensationalized censure of magic unwittingly became a popular source for magical practitioners. The “Boxgrove Manual,” on the other hand, places its rituals in a framework drawn partly from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia (1578 edition), prominently featuring instructions for conjurations, consecrations, and the construction of magical figures. Klaassen’s effort to preserve the composition of the page is evident in the [End Page 332] formatting of the transcriptions and in the carefully rendered digital drawings of figures and inline characters. These digital renderings provide a highly legible transposition of the manuscripts that manages to preserve much of their material presence, which is essential to understanding works whose significance extends beyond their textual content.

Klaassen claims that the most significant surviving corpus of early modern manuscripts explicitly dealing with magical subjects was produced in England (1). By casting light on these English texts and the mysterious figures behind their construction, Klaassen significantly expands the focus of scholarship beyond the giants of European magic—such as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Marsilio Ficino—to include the often anonymous compilers of magical notebooks and manuals who made a living by practicing magic rather than elaborating on its philosophical framework. Without diminishing the importance of work on magical theory, Klaassen’s focus on these practical manuscripts continues to develop the discipline and to nuance the discussion to better reflect the textual evidence regarding the place of magic in the early modern world.

By placing his sources in the complex historical circumstances in which they were produced and then juxtaposing them, Klaassen reveals the ways in which these manuscripts take distinct approaches to magic that are nonetheless both responsive to their English context. The “Antiphoner Notebook” is a collection of fragments of magical texts assembled using pages from a liturgical manual likely discarded after the dissolution of the monasteries. Klaassen identifies it as the work of a single scribe who focused largely on charms and experiments, but who also included ritual magic likely sourced from necromantic manuals. The notebook includes sections both in Latin and translated from Latin by the scribe, although the scribe’s limited skill with the language is apparent, suggesting both the changing readership of early modern England and the enduring allure of Latinity in magical texts. The contents suggest that the scribe was a “cunning man,” a learned practitioner of magic who would charge for services such as thief hunting, treasure hunting, and minor healing (19...


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