Talk of witchcraft tends to pique people’s interest but in the 15th century it was cause for capital punishment. Somewhere between 50,000 to 80,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Europe over a 100-year time span.“It’s a very odd period in history,” said Peter Remien, professor of humanities at Lewis-Clark State College. “The Christian church splits into two, Protestant and Catholic. Modern science was born. It is supposed to be a period of rational thought but it’s also a period that gives rise to this incredibly massive, irrational persecution of people.”
The most common victims on trial were old, poor women, often widows, Remien said. Frequently they were accused of being scolds.
“A scold is a sexist term for a woman who talks too much, who controls the men in her life too much. It has the connotation, also, of women speaking out in the community in a way that is threatening to people,” Remien said.
Enter Shakespeare, inspired by the times to write “Macbeth,” a tale of witches, a king obsessed with them and his ambitious wife whose power leads to his undoing.
Witchcraft in “Macbeth” is one way to talk about masculine anxiety about feminine power, said Remien, who will present “She’s a Witch—Burn Her!” Monday as part of Women’s History Month events at Lewis-Clark State College.
Remien is one of a dozen speakers in the series examining gender issues past and present. Poet TC Tolbert will give the keynote address, “I Want to Fail with You,” at noon today. Tolbert, on the faculty of Oregon State University — Cascades, is creator of Made for Flight, a youth empowerment project remembering transgender people who were murdered. Other topics include Idaho women’s ranching narratives and stories of Nez Perce women.
What: “She’s a Witch—Burn Her! Witchcraft in Early Modern Literature and Culture”
by Peter Remien
When: Noon to 1:15 p.m. Monday, March 7
Where: Meriwether Lewis Hall 100, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston