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26 May 2010 @ 06:26 pm
I am a spirit of no common rate  
(It was either going to be that or "but we are spirits of another sort." But I liked the pun on "rate" better.)

Anyway. From Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971):

"The late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods witnessed a series of episodes in which professional tricksters extracted money from their victims under the pretence of investing it with the fairies. Judith Philips, a London cunning woman, was whipped through the City in 1595 after being convicted for extracting large sums of money from gullible clients prepared to pay for the privilege of meeting the Queen of the Fairies. The nefarious couple, Alice and John West, were shown in 1614 to have squeezed forty pounds out of one client on the promise of forthcoming fairy gold. An even closer approximation to the fraud portrayed in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist occurred a few years earlier, when Sir Anthony Ashley and his brother were involved in a Chancery suit arising from their efforts to extract money from a dupe in return for their promise to marry him to the Queen of Fairies." (613)

The problem with this book is that I always want the rest of the story. Why on earth were these people so desirous to see the fairies (forty pounds is a huge sum during this period! Shakespeare bought the second-largest house in Stratford for sixty pounds), and why did they believe that these tricksters had access to them? How embarrassing must it have been to go to court because you got fleeced by someone who told you that you were going to marry the Queen of the Fairies? Why were Alice and John West so nefarious? (Aside from conning people out of money with the promise of fairy gold, I mean.)