Volume 8, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1566-5852
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9854
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The purpose of this paper is to describe the discourse strategies of the defendants of the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692. Evidence is derived from the original documents now being re-edited by an international team. A framework for the discussion is provided by politeness theory, although it cannot be applied as such to seventeenth-century courtroom circumstances. In four of the eight cases selected, the defendants followed successful discourse strategies and saved their lives; in another four, the strategies were less successful and the defendants had to die. Cooperativeness was vital for a successful defence. This included providing the court with details and admitting what the person was accused of but denying hurting other people intentionally. The defendant did not argue with the examiner but was humble and willing to help. Unsuccessful defendants stubbornly refused to admit their guilt, denied all involvement in witchcraft, questioned the validity of the evidence and even the intelligence of the court.


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