Word of the Week

Modo, Lr. iii. 4. 149; iv. I. 63: In the first passage of our text, according to what seems to be a quotation, Modo is another name for “the prince of darkness;” in the second he is described as the fiend “of murder;” and in Harsnett’s Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, 1603, a book which Shakespeare appears to have used for the names of several fiends in King Lear, we find “Modu, Ma[ister] Maynies deuill, was a graund Commaunder, Muster-maister ouer the Captaines of the seuen deadly sinnes,” p. 48; “Modu the General of Styx,” p. 54, &c.

[From: Dyce’s Glossary to the Works of William Shakespeare (Littledale Revision), Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.]


  1. Both stile and gate, horse-way and foot-path. Poor Tom hath been scared out of his good wits: bless thee, good man’s son, from the foul fiend! Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of lust, as Obidicut; Hobbididance, prince of dumbness; Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder; and Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing; who since possesses chambermaids and waiting-women. So, bless thee, master!

  2. The prince of darkness is a gentleman.
    Modo he’s call’d, and Mahu.

  3. Steven Connor says

    On the whole, Protestants like the Bishop of London, Samuel Harsnett, who mounted a campaign in the early 1600s to banish the practice of exorcism from the English Church, as unholy, pagan and politically subversive, did not attach much credence either to the power of demons, or to the pretended power of the priests who claimed to dismiss them. Harsnett published his Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures in 1603 in order to discredit some contemporary Protestant exorcisms by comparing them to some spectacular exorcisms practised by recusant Catholic priests under the leadership of one William Weston some fifteen years previously. Harsnett’s horror at the absurd mummeries of Catholic exorcisms, is a horror at the devilishness of demonic pretence. There can be no absolute distinction between real and counterfeit demons when counterfeit itself appears so demonic.

    “Et quis haec daemon? And who was the devil, the brocher, herald, and perswader of these unutterable treasons, but Weston the Jesuit, the chief plotter and arch-impostor, Dibdale the priest, or Stemp, or all the holy Covey of the twelve devilish comedians in their several turnes? For there was neither devil nor urchin nor Elfe but themselves, who did metamorphoze themselves in every scene into the person eyther of the devil himselfe or of his Interpreter; and made the devils name their Puppet, to squeak, pipe, and fume out what they pleased to inspire…O lamentable desolation! Weston and his twelve Priests doe play the devils themselves, and all to grace from hel (being now forsaken of heaven), their pope, their Masse, their Sacraments, their Medalls, their agnus dei, their charmes, their enchauntments, their conjurations, their reliques, their hellish sorceries.”

    Much rested on the vexed question of the propriety of what Harsnett called `dialoguizing with the devil’. Even Catholics in France were divided over the question of whether, given the reality of a demonic possession, one should allow the demon to speak, and hold converse with it. The more enthusiastic Catholic exorcists enthusiastically drew or drove the demon into utterance, in order either to score sectarian points (Catholic devils are always boasting of their intimate relations with Huguenots), or to demonstrate the necessity even for demons to acknowledge the apostolic power of the Catholic priest, as the representative of Christ, or the magical sanctity of the host and other holy objects.

    As Michel de Certeau has argued, a place is always prepared for the demon in discourse before it begins to speak. The demon is expelled from discourse precisely by being taken into it; made to speak, and to name itself, before silence can be enjoined upon it. The victims of possession, who sometimes began their episodes claiming to have a `good’ possession, by an angel, or the Holy Ghost, knew full well that for their devils to be made to speak was the beginning of the end. For Protestants, the ceding of a voice to the devil was regarded as extremely dangerous; for Catholics, the giving of a voice was the submission of the devil to rule and rote. The procès-verbal of exorcism performed on 24 November 1632 during the famous possessions at Loudun records the following: `M. Barré holds up the Host and asks the devil, “Quem adoras?” Answer: “Jesus Christus”. Whereupon M. Daniel Drouyn, Assessor of the Provost’s Office, said in a rather loud voice, “This devil is not congruous.” The exorcist then changed his question to, “Quis est iste quem adoras?” She answered, “Jesu Christe.” Upon which several persons remarked, “What bad Latin!” But the exorcist retorted that she had said, “Adoro te, Jesu Christe.” The devil is drawn into the human, in order to be the more satisfactorily expelled from it. Once the devil has a name and a number (Catholics were keen on multiple possessions, and on identifying all the participants in a particular case), its days were numbered.

  4. Gwynneth Bowen says

    In the first place, can we be sure that Harsnett did not borrow from King Lear; could he, perhaps, have read the play in manuscript? Secondly, is it possible that both writers borrowed from a common source?

    It is no doubt assumed that Harsnett could not have borrowed from Shakespeare, because his book is not a work of fiction. On the other hand, it is well known that from 1597 to 1604, as Chaplain to the Bishop of London, Harsnett had the job of censoring plays for the press, so he certainly could have seen King Lear in manuscript, if such a manuscript existed before his own book was published which is the very point at issue. It has also been noted that his own language and imagery bear witness to his knowledge of theatrical terms and keen interest in the drama. Nevertheless, the real answer to our question lies in a common source for, as it happens, Harsnett not only had a source, but named it; quoted from it at some length; and gave his page-references. In his preface he writes:

    “And that this declaration might be free from the carpe and cavill of ill-affected, or discomposed spirits, I have alledged nothing for materiall, or authenticall heerein, but the expresse words eyther of some part of the Miracle booke, penned by the priests, and filed upon Record, where it is publique to be seene (italics mine), or els a clause of theyr confessions who were fellow actors in this impious dissimulation. Whose several confessions and contestations (the parties being yet living) are heere published in print, that the world may be a witnesse of our integrity herein.”

    The Examinations are carefully documented as having been taken upon oath before the Bishop of London, the Dean of Westminster and other ecclesiastics, on 2nd and 12th March 1598 (by our Calendar 1599, since New Year’s Day was then 24th March), and on 24th April and 6th June 1602. If Edmunds, himself, was examined in this connection the results were not published, but it is perhaps significant that in December, 1598, he was conveyed from Wisbeach Castle, then used as a special prison for Catholics, to the Tower of London, where he remained in solitary confinement, and conveniently at hand. Many years later Edmunds was to give his own very different account of the exorcisms in his autobiography, written as a free man at Rome, and recently published in an English translation from the Latin, by Philip Caraman, to whose notes I am indebted for some of the historical facts. [William Weston, The Autobiography of an Elizabethan (Longmans, Green and Co.) 1955.] Edmunds does not refer to Harsnett’s book, or to any Examination on this subject.

    The first chapter of the Declaration—to give it a short title—is headed “The occasion of publishing these wonders, by the coming to light of the penned booke of Miracles,” and begins:

    “About some three or foure yeeres since, there was found in the hands of one Ma. Barnes a Popish Recusant, an English Treatise in a written hand, fronted with this Latin sentence, taken out of the Psalmes, Venite, et narrabo, quanta fecit Dominus anima mea, come and I will shew you what great things the Lord hath done for my soule.”

    This was the “booke of Miracles,” so-called by Harsnett and attributed by him to Edmunds, and it seems to have been a kind of diary, or case-book, kept by the priests at the time of the exorcisms, though there may have been more than one copy.

  5. Bill Alexander says

    There was, at the time, an apocalyptic mood around, a feeling that the end of the world was nigh. Manic preachers were out on the streets inviting everyone to repent their sins before judgement day. There were Jesuit priests in the country trying to attract followers to the Catholic cause by practicing exorcism and demonstrating their power over evil spirits in what I suppose you might call a form of popular theatre. Priests would hire groups of out-of-work actors to pretend to be possessed by devils and, as the crowds gathered round, they would be seen, effectively, to ‘cure’ them. Shakespeare had obviously read a book by Samuel Harsnett called A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603) a lot of what Poor Tom says is taken word-for-word from the book.

  6. It has been pointed out by several scholars that Harsnett is often insincere in order to make these political points. Ostensibly addressed to Catholics, the pamphlet actually connects Catholic traditions to paganism and blasphemy in order to play on Protestant fears. For example, Harsnett scorns both vestments (in chapter 16) and tithes (in chapter 21), two traditions he accepted, advocating them in his role as minister and later bishop in the Church of England.l His language is often inflammatory, since exorcism was seen as a threat to the Church of England, and by extension, to the queen. For these reasons, Harsnett’s pamphlet, although stridently anti-Catholic, is primarily a political document, not a religious one.

    Shakespeare’s overall imagining of evil and the tragic consequences of human cruelty is very different from Harsnett’s. There are devils in the world of King Lear, yet they are not supernatural but human ones, and their exorcism has little to do with superstition, priests, popery, or even religion. King Lear is a religious play only in an elemental sense, as M. C. Bradbrook writes, in “that it deals with ultimate suffering and finds no answer to the mystery of evil.” It is not Catholic or Protestant; the gods never answer the humans’ pleas, and the rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning merely punctuate the very human suffering and madness of Lear. But King Lear does capture a world in which sympathy can bloom, and Edgar can finally reclaim an identity through his sympathetic relationships with others in order to be able to answer Gloucester’s question, “what are you?” with:

    A most poor man, made tame to fortune’s blows, Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows, Am pregnant to good pity. (IV.vi.221-3)

    Clearly, Shakespeare does not borrow from Harsnett so much as thoroughly critique him; both the language and imagery of King Lear attack Harsnett’s lack of “good pity” and the slanted vision he presents of both exorcism and the demoniacs at Denham

  7. Stephen Greenblatt says

    If Satan can counterfeit counterfeiting, there can be no definitive confession, and the prospect opens of an infinite regress of disclosure and uncertainty.

    …with our full complicity Shakespeare’s company and scores of companies that followed have catered profitably to our desire for spectacular impostures.

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