ENG 3715 - American Witches : In Salem and On Screen
The Salem witch trials have gripped American imaginations since they occurred in 1692. At the end of the 17th century, Puritans in New England found themselves facing a conspiracy of witches in a war against Satan and his minions. What caused this conflict to erupt? Or rather, what caused Puritans to think of themselves as engaged, at that moment, in such a cosmic battle? These are some of the mysteries that the Salem witch trials have left behind, taken up and explored by the imaginations of American writers and directors ever since.
This course studies the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and their many invocations over the course of American Literature and film. We will spend the first half of the semester in the archive, studying diary entries, trial transcripts, and other records of the Salem Witch Trial, as well as interpretations of the trials in their immediate aftermath. The second half of the course will trace the reincarnations of the American Witch in film in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Not only will we measure our modern witches against the treatment of their historical antecedents in seventeenth-century Salem, but we will also consider what modern witches in The Wizard of Oz, Bewitched, The Craft, and American Horror Story: Coven have to say about their own historical contexts. Drawing upon feminist, literary, and film theory, this course will consider the witch as an often radical figure who possesses self-directed feminine power within a patriarchal world.