Alive (Trapped in Hell)
| Spoiler warning!|
This article contains plot details.
|“||I've been expecting the angel of death since I was ten. I didn't see him myself, but I knew from the look in grandfather's eyes just before he went, the angel bore a most terrible face. Quite like yours, I expect. So come, angel. You find me fully prepared to burn like a human candle for eternity in a pit of burning black tar with all the other damned.||”|
— Cotton Mather in The Stone Child
Cotton Mather is one of the main male characters of Salem.
Driven by secret obsessions and desire, Cotton Mather is the well-educated local aristocrat who fans the flames of Salem’s witch hunt. The foremost expert on witches and malice, Cotton is a Puritan Reverend, son of the infamous witch hunter Increase Mather. But even as he is hunting witches, he lives under the shadow of his very famous father and agonises about living up to him. Cotton is a man of contradiction. He is a God-fearing believer that strives to uphold the law, and yet he has demons inside himself that he is too afraid to exorcise.
He is portrayed by American actor Seth Gabel.
After at least seven years of separation, John Alden saw his old acquaintance assist the raising of a gallows and later, during a conversation with Giles Corey, John Alden reminded of how Cotton wore "feminine" clothing when he was a child and of his rather puny constitution. While his peers went to war or built a career, Cotton was sent to study theology at Harvard University and became an avid reader and scholar, a great expert of witchcraft from the hunters' point of view.
Cotton Mather is a handsome man in his twenties, with brown hair, green eyes, and fair complexion. His body is athletic as it could be to his own age, whose activities do not require much physical prowess as that of the militia. From nude scenes at the brothel, it is possible to notice a hairy chest and barely sculpted abdominal muscles and biceps. His black dress is those of a high social class, with starched shirts, redingote, and expensive shoes, suitable for the office of governor and reverend. During the second season, his clothes are less sophisticated and more colourful, being made of a simple shirt, pants, and boots.
|“|| John: I remember when we were kids he used to dress like a girl. Fought like one, too.
Giles: Well, he's all grown-up now. A fine fool in fine silk clothes, and not just any fool, the most dangerous kind the kind that thinks he knows everything.
— describing Cotton Mather
Cotton Mather is a man with a multi-faceted personality since he is responsible for both horrible and severe gestures and loving compassion. His childhood has undoubtedly marked him, having grown up with a despotic father who took all the decisions for their child, even resorting to physical punishment and psychological terror. The education he received made him a skilled orator, able to agitate and control the masses at will, thus showing to be more adept at taming the demons of other people, and not his own. Raised according to Puritans precepts, Cotton is a fervent believer in the Almighty's plan, however, the closeness to real evil in Salem made him aware of the discrepancies and probably false beliefs, prompting him to seek not exactly orthodox answers to his questions. Emotionally, Cotton constantly needs reassurance and comfort, whether they come from God, from a woman or the bottom of a liquor bottle, is irrelevant. He is also on a perennial search for his father's approval. On a romantic level, Cotton shows again a split personality, as he can be so loving and kind, but also jealous and violent, using as an excuse the fact of being an only child not used to sharing. On several occasions, Cotton showed paranoid behaviour, as well as depressed as he tried to take his own life.
Throughout The Salem series
Skills and abilities
- Theological knowledge: as Protestant Reverend, Cotton possesses extensive knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. His interest in religion is, however, almost totally focused on the subject of Witchcraft, of which is one of the greatest connoisseurs, at least from the point of view of a witch hunter, as he showed ignorance on some rituals used by witches and their nature (ignoring, for example, the exact difference between a born witch and a contract witch).
- Knowledge of the classical languages: due to his education, Cotton knows the classical languages such as Latin and Greek, which are also two of the three Christian language par excellence used in the writing of the Holy Scriptures.
- Scientific knowledge: even in a rough and patchy way, Cotton has a scientific knowledge, or at least empirical knowledge of medical science and the use of herbs in the preparation of specific potions and poisons. He also knows how to calculate the motion of the stars.
- Melee combat: Cotton Mather is a decent swordsman, discipline learned at Harvard while studying theology. His alcoholism is not helpful for the accuracy required by this discipline. Cotton Mather proved to be a decent fighter, though again alcoholism is not helpful to him in his movements, as he is weakened by alcohol.
Main article: Cotton and Increase
|“||Imagine how proud I am to have raised a son so steadfast in his ability to consistently make the wrong decisions.||”|
— Increase to Cotton in Cat And Mouse
A destructive relationship in which the despotic father has cancelled almost completely the self-esteem of the child. Increase dreams for his son an illustrious political career, driving away from him what he thinks is not good for Cotton. Increase sent away from Cotton, in fact, his lover Gloriana, burns his books and makes throwing trinkets and bizarre tools used by Cotton in his research and experiments, leaving the entire room a bed and a Bible.
Main Article: Cotton and John
|“||I admire your sangfroid-- It's French for cold blood. It's a compliment.||”|
— Cotton to John in The Red Rose and the Briar
John and Cotton both knew each other briefly as children, though how much contact they had is unknown. Both are first born sons in the new world but while John became a war hero, Cotton chose to become a scholar studying at Harvard and spoke of his shock that John did not join him there. They are reunited when John returns to Salem and often come at odds especially after Cotton stones John's old friend Giles Corey to death. The pair is forced to join forces to combat the witches though they both have different ideas on how to defeat them but soon develop a friendship. When Cotton's lover Gloriana Embry is accused of being a witch John tries to plead her case on Cotton's behalf and when John himself is arrested for witchcraft, Cotton defies his father and vows to defend his friend during his trial.
Main Article: Cotton and Gloriana
|“||Nothing is going to happen to you.||”|
— Cotton to Gloriana in In Vain
Cotton and Gloriana establish a loving relationship blossomed as a result of Cotton's many visits at the brothel in town. The girl was able to break the shell of Cotton, loving him for the man who is fragile. Increase Mather, however, doesn't see the love between the two as something morally ethical nor useful to the possibility of Cotton to hold high political positions. When the girl is banned for immorality, Cotton it is psychologically destroyed, letting go totally adrift.
Main Article: Cotton and Isaac Walton
|“||Half of Salem takes you for a fool, the rest dismiss you as a pervert. Am I mad to think I saw something in you? Something of a man. Just the sort Salem needs to fight the Devil.||”|
— Cotton to Isaac in In Vain
Not much is known of their past history but it is presumed they first met when Cotton came to Salem on Mary Sibley's behest to oversee the witch trials. In the course of events, they become friends and allies in the fight against witches, both stifled by the despotism of Increase Mather.
When Cotton is deprived of all his possessions from his father and John Alden is accused of Witchcraft, Isaac reminds Cotton the value of friendship spurring him not to give up.
Main Article: Cotton and Mary Sibley
|“||What luck for Salem that your father was unavailable. We will owe our future to you, Reverend.||”|
— Mary Sibley to Cotton in Lies
Families Mather and Sibley are old friends. Is possible, therefore, that the two are known before the arrival of Cotton in Salem. Mary Sibley uses the fervent religious conviction of the young man to carry out her Machiavellian plan to sacrifice victims to the Grand Rite. In fact, the woman is a skilled manipulator and is able to use Cotton as a puppet until her plans are ruined by his father, Increase Mather.
Main Article: Anne and Cotton
|“||We are a father's children and we can no more control who they be and how they come to form us than we can the rise and setting of the sun.||”|
— Anne Hale to Cotton Mather in Children Be Afraid
Anne and Cotton relationship first began as being antagonistic towards each other due to Cotton having her friend Bridget Bishop hanged for being a witch. Originally Anne's parents had hoped to arrange a match between the pair much to Anne's dismay particularly as she had developed feelings for John Alden. After Cotton's lover Gloriana was banished from Salem, Anne began to see a different side to Cotton feeling more compassionate towards him but he mistook her empathy to mean something more leading him to kiss her much to Anne's surprise. When Anne feared she was a witch, she turned to him for help requesting that he examine her for the devil's mark, but found nothing to suspect that she was actually a witch.
|The Stone Child||Appears|
|The Red Rose and the Briar||Appears|
|Our Own Private America||Appears|
|Children Be Afraid||Appears|
|The House Of Pain||Appears|
|Cat And Mouse||Appears|
|All Fall Down||Appears|
|Book of Shadows||Appears|
|The Wine Dark Sea||Appears|
|Ill Met by Moonlight||Appears|
|The Beckoning Fair One||Appears|
|Wages of Sin||Appears|
|Til Death Do Us Part||Appears|
|On Earth as in Hell||Appears|
|Midnight Never Come||Appears|
|The Witching Hour||Appears|
|After the Fall||Appears|
|The Heart Is A Devil||Appears|
|Night's Black Agents||Appears|
|The Commonwealth of Hell||Appears|
|The Man Who Was Thursday||Appears|
- Cotton Mather: Fear no man's war. For only a war from hell could destroy Salem. The Devil was never going to let a promised land be built here without a fight, without a battle! And witches armed with deadly malice are the most malignant and insidious weapons in that battle In that war. Even a single witch in Salem is enough to destroy everything we have built and ever hope to build here! Now, we have already killed three of them, and yet their malice continues unabated. Why? Because there are still witches here among us! Perhaps in this very hall!
- -- The Vow
- Cotton: Imagine a foe you can't see armed with weapons unknown and the ability to appear as any one of us!
- -- The Vow
- Cotton Mather (to Giles Corey): Are you guilty or not?
- -- The Vow
- Cotton Mather: Most of those who have ever lived are now dead. All but very few must surely burn in hell. We may someday over people this vast, empty new land, but I fear that we have already over-peopled hell. So that, as it is written in Isaiah, "Hell hath enlarged itself" and is now called America. I have been in Salem a fortnight, and I have already hung three witches. Is this the price of building heaven on earth? I have laid my hands upon his most deadly servants, the witches. Or have I? I obeyed every one of your instructions. I even pressed a possibly innocent man to death. I still taste his spattered blood on my lips.
- -- The Stone Child
- Cotton Mather: Please, Lord, I beg thee. Give me a sign.
- -- The Stone Child
- Cotton: I've been expecting the angel of death since I was ten. I didn't see him myself, but I knew from the look in grandfather's eyes just before he went, the angel bore a most terrible face. Quite like yours, I expect. So come, angel. You find me fully prepared to burn like a human candle for eternity in a pit of burning black tar with all the other damned.
- -- The Stone Child
- Cotton (to John Alden): Every morning, we have a choice. Forget our dreams, or live them.
- --Our Own Private America
- Cotton Mather (to Isaac Walton): Half of Salem takes you for a fool, the rest dismiss you as a pervert. Am I mad to think I saw something in you? Something of a man. Just the sort Salem needs to fight the devil.
- -- In Vain
- Cotton Mather: What is the opposite of a miracle? A force beyond human or natural power, but not, as in a miracle, for good, but for evil. Not to spread faith, but to spread terror. Inexplicable flames that blackened this Meeting House, the very heart of Salem, was just that a miracle of evil, an act of terror, a warning shot from an enemy far darker than Salem has yet seen.
- -- The Heart Is A Devil
- Cotton: From the English word "cotton" referring to the "plant encased in a thin fiber that is harvested to make cloth or fabric". A noted bearer is, indeed, the New England Puritan minister Cotton Mather on whom this character is based on. Mather was born in Boston, the son of Maria (née Cotton) and Increase Mather, and grandson of both John Cotton and Richard Mather, all also prominent Puritan ministers. Mather was named after his maternal grandfather, John Cotton.
- Mather: an English medieval surname of occupational origins. It usually derives from the pre 7th century Olde English word "moethere", meaning one who mowed or who possibly operated a primitive form of mowing machine. Alternative spellings are Madder and Mathere.
Status and Rank
- Reverend, member of the Protestant clergy. In some situations, the title "reverend" is used synonymously with a pastor (as a priest of a church), but more properly denotes the ministerial office.
- Governor, as head of a public institution. Mab addressed Cotton Mather as "Governor" in The Vow.
- Cotton Mather is based on the real Cotton Mather who was a socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister, prolific author, and pamphleteer. Noted for fostering the Salem witch trials, Cotton Mather also has a scientific legacy due to his hybridization experiments and his promotion of inoculation for disease prevention.
- Cotton has extensive knowledge of Witchcraft, learned from the many books in different languages he studied over the years.
- Cotton suffers from an inferiority complex toward his father.
- Ironically, the real Cotton Mather was an erudite connoisseur of languages, including some indigenous dialects, while in the WGN's Salem series is John Alden who know the language of Native Americans.
- His name comes from the last names of his parents; his mother, in fact, was a Cotton, while his father was a Mather. Cotton Mather is the heir of two prominent Puritan families.
- The description given on Official Instagram with the promotional photos of the third season, reads as follows: "Cotton Mather: the reverend of a people destined for Hell."
- Cotton's updated description for the third season, released on WGNA Salem, reads as follow:
"Well educated aristocrat and former reverend, Cotton Mather finds himself married to a witch and is trying to find a way to escape, which is hard to do with Brown Jenkins eating his insides every time he does something wrong."
- During Ask Salem interview, Seth Gabel stated that the Witch's shaft is his favourite prop. If he could choose to play another character, he would like to be a witch. Seth Gabel is the only main actor not to have suffered accidents during the filming of the first season. After long days of shooting, Seth Gabel finds it difficult to shake off the character and creepy situations filmed on sets and to relax, he watches Futurama episodes.
- Seth Gabel studied and read books about the Colonial period and, above all, books written by Cotton Mather himself for a better rendering and understanding of his character.