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Demons & Madness

Passages with obscure references send scholars on treasure hunts in search of the influences on Shakespeare's works. In King Lear, Act 3 Scene 6, one such hunt starts with the question, “Who were Frateretto and Hoppedance, or Purr the cat for that matter?” Turns out that in 1603, Samuel Harsnett, the Vicar of Chigwell, wrote a short tract titled, A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures, which was commissioned by the Anglican Church to discredit Catholic priests, particularly those who used exorcism to scare Protestants into becoming Catholics. On pages 48 through 50 of the Declaration, Harsnett lists numerous names priests gave demons they claimed took possession of people. Shakespeare lifted a number these names either precisely or with corrupted spellings and used them in King Lear. Frateretto and Hoppedance, are two such names. Purr may also be one of Harsnett's demons but some scholars question that based on their examination of typography and punctuation in the quarto editions of Lear. Some scholars believe the relationship between possession and madness as well as the storm imagery of Lear trace their source to this tract.

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Frateretto calls me and tells me Nero is an angler

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