John Dee is accused of sorcery after staging a Greek play


The Elizabethan scholar and astrologer, John Dee (1527–1608/9), was plagued throughout his adult life by accusations of sorcery. This text, the Compendious Rehearsal of John Dee, reveals how those charges first arose following his creation of ‘magical’ illusions for the theatre. At Trinity College, Cambridge, around 1547, Dee staged a version of Pax, Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy. The magnificent stage spectacle of the Scarabaeus – a monstrously large dung beetle – ‘flying up to the Jupiter’s palace’ caused ‘great wondring’ and suspicion that it had been achieved by supernatural means.

The Compendious Rehearsal

The Compendious Rehearsal was first written in 1592 as a record of Dee’s petition to Queen Elizabeth I to grant him relief from the ‘injuries’ and ‘indignities’ he was suffering. He asked for the chance to prove his loyalty, resulting in a lengthy hand-written account of ‘his studious life’ (British Library manuscript, Cotton MS Vitellius C VII, p. 3r), first printed in this 1726 edition by Thomas Hearne.

John Dee as inspiration for Shakespeare’s Prospero

John Dee is often thought to be a model for Shakespeare’s magus, Prospero. Both men raise troubling questions about the use and abuse of their ‘Art’ or magical power. They conjure theatrical visions that soon dissolve before our eyes, prompting critics to draw connections between their magically ‘potent Art’ (The Tempest, 5.1.50) and the power of the playwright, Shakespeare himself.

Full title:
The compendious rehearsal of John Dee his dutifull declaration, and proofe of the course and race of his studious life, printed in Johannis confratris & monachi Glastoniensis, Chronica, vol. 2. pp. 497-551.
1726, London
Book / Octavo
John Dee, Thomas Hearne [editor]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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