Friday, 29 May 2015

The Old Napkin Trick in Compendium Maleficarum

Below is an extract from the Compendium Maleficarum. The tricks described are now a bit old hat, except when performed truly well. The napkin trick can sometimes be found in children's books of magic. Eschelles confession was very likely under torture. 


Coloniæ citabatur uirgo quædam, quæ mira in conspectu nobilium fecisset, quæ arte magica videbantur fieri: mappam enim quandam dicebatur lacerasse, et subito in omnium oculis re dintegrasse. Vitrum quoddam ad parietem a se iactatum, et confractum, in momento reparasse, et similia: manus Inquisitoris euasit excommunicata.

Narrat supra citatus quidam, quòd in Francia Triscalinus Circulator coram Carolo nono, aliàs laudato Rege, à quodam Nobili ab eo remoto pelliciebat cunctis videntibus torque annellos ad se sigillatim, eosque manu recipiebat aduolantes, vt videbatur, nihilominus mox torquis integer, et illæsus repertus fuit. Hic conuictus multorum, quæ, nec arte, nec artificio humano, nec natura fieri poterant, confessus est, opera Diabolica cuncta perfecisse, quòd ante obstinatua negauerat.

English translation by E. A. Ashton:

“A certain virgin of Cologne was said to have performed in the presence of the nobles wonders which seemed to be due to magic: for she was said to have torn up a napkin, and suddenly to have pieced it together again before the eyes of all; she threw a glass vessel against the wall and broke it, and in a moment mended it again; and other like things she did. She escaped from the hands of the Inquisition with a sentence of excommunication.

From the same source we hear of a conjurer in France named Trois Eschelles, who in the sight of all and in the presence of Charles IX, called the Praiseworthy King, charmed from a certain nobleman standing at a distance from him the rings of his necklace, so that they flew one by one into his hand, as it seemed; and yet the necklace was soon found to be whole an uninjured. This man was convicted of many actions which could not have been due to human art or skill or any natural cause, and confessed that they were the devil’s work, although he had obstinately denied this before.”

Friday, 1 May 2015

Juliette Binoche: Antigone at the Barbican

No two productions of Sophocles' Antigone are the same - even when the same translation has been used. There is something about the play and the issues it explores that make it a constantly ripe fruit to be repeatedly squeezed of yet another different flavour juice by directors and actors. So much so that George Steiner wrote a book called Antigones which included a critical gaze on the great range of productions and interpretations.

This year, Juliutte Binoche starred as Antigone at the Barbican; the director was Ivo van Hove and the translation was by Anne Carson.  

Newspaper reviews of the production were lukewarm and sometimes passive aggressive towards Binoche in their strangely equivocal praising put downs. Most of these articles suffer a bad case of Cleverdickitus where the journalist must appear more superior than any production that he or she reviews. A more informative review can be found at 

The BBC have broadcast the play and for another twenty-five days it can be viewed on BBC iPlayer (UK only) at 

If you are interested, watch the play and form your own judgement.