In Caryl Churchill‘s play, ” Vinegar Tom” , we meet several people in a town that believe in witches and witchcraft. Throughout the play we follow meetings of people and conversations that lead to this belief and/or desire to call someone a witch.
“MARGERY: I’ve no yeast.
JOAN: But you don’t give and they say what a mean bitter woman and curse you.
MARGERY: There’s nobody curses me. Now get out of my dairy. Dirty old woman you are, smelling of drink, come in here day after day begging, and stealing, too, I shouldn’t wonder…
JOAN: You shouldn’t say that.
MARGERY: … and your great ugly cat in here stealing the cream. Get out of my dairy.
JOAN: You’ll be sorry you spoke to me like that. I’ve always been your friend, Margery, but now you’ll find I’m not.
MARGERY: I’ve work to do. Now get out. I’m making my butter,
JOAN: Damn your butter to hell.
MARGERY: Will you get out?
JOAN: Devil take you and your your man and your fields and your cows and your butter and your yeast and your beer and your bread and your cider and your cold face…” (1245).
In this conversation the reader can see the harmlessness in Joan’s curse. Most likely the curse is sprouted from her anger developed due to her friend’s stinginess. But in this town where something has to be blamed when things go wrong, these words become deadly when mishaps do occur.
” MARGERY: The calves are shaking and they’ve got a terrible stench, so you can’t go near them and their bellies are swollen up. (JACK goes off) There’s no good running. There’s nothing you can do for them. They’ll die like the red cow. You don’t love me. Damn this stinking life to hell. Calves stinking and shaking there. No good you going to see, Jack. Better stand and curse. Everything dying on us. Aah. What’s that? Who’s there? Get out, you beast, get out. (She throws her shoe.) Jack, Jack.” (1250).
“MARGERY: The devil can’t bear to see us so good.
JACK: You know who it is?
JACK: The witch. Who it is.
JACK: You know who.
MARGERY: She cursed the butter to hell.
JACK: She cursed me when I got the bowl.
MARGERY: She said I’d be sorry I’d spoken to her.
JACK: She wished me trouble at home.
MARGERY: Devil take your man and your cows, she said that, and your butter. She cursed the calves see and she made them shake. She struck me on the head and in the stomach.” (1251).
Churchill did an amazing job at setting up each moment in the story so that even the readers would fall into the hysteria. Using certain moments as harmless conversation and then turning them around as criteria for being a witch was a ploy that sucked the reader right into the mentality of the towns people.
An important lesson that could be gained from this play, is one that most people know. Don’t blame others for your misfortune. It is easy to point fingers at what we don’t understand or what when we can’t label something as familiar to us. That seems to be the human way. But shunning someone or something is not the human thing to do.