Eastern characters on the Elizabethan stage: uses and abuses

Alruwaili, Ahlam M. (2021) Eastern characters on the Elizabethan stage: uses and abuses. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

In this study, I present representative samples of Eastern characters in four English plays of the late Elizabethan period. Pertinent historical material and travel narratives relating to contacts between West and East are consulted and used for support and contextualisation. Although I will be mainly focusing on the characters of the Moor and the Turk, at times my analysis will extend to cover Arabs and Saracens, non-Northern Africans, and Jews.
My thesis investigates the socio-cultural and ideological roles that Eastern characters played in Elizabethan drama and their relation to English national concerns and issues during the 1580s and 1590s. These issues include the threat posed by Spain to England, the English succession crisis, international trade, politics, religious reform, relations with Catholic Europe, and with Moorish and Turkish dominions and powers. These issues are dramatised in the commercial playhouses where Eastern characters, though abused, seem to have enjoyed prominence during the last three decades of the sixteenth century. I will argue that although the plays were enacted in distant foreign settings, London theatres bring these Eastern figures closer to home to speak to one or more of the English concerns identified above.
In the first chapter, I discuss the relationship between West and East prior to and during the Elizabethan period. I also note the presence of Easterners in England and Scotland. I then examine the uses and abuses of the figure of the Moor in recent scholarship. In the second chapter, I argue that George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar (1588/1589) examines the English succession crisis in relation to the Moorish succession conflict in North Africa, an issue he also articulates in his contribution to Titus Andronicus. In the third chapter, I maintain that Robert Greene’s Alphonsus, King of Aragon (1587) addresses the same issue of succession in the play’s first part, and then exposes the dangers of political prophecy, popular in the 1580s, through the staging of heathen Moors and Turkish characters in a foreign setting. In the fourth chapter, I contend that Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1589) shows the ease with which religion can be exploited to fulfil personal ends through the corrupt actions of culturally suspect strangers of various faiths and ethnicities. In the last chapter, I analyse the figure of the Moor in Titus Andronicus (1594) within the context of the Spanish Black Legend. William Shakespeare and George Peele use the Goths and Aaron, the exaggerated Moor/Jew evil figure, to underscore the Moorish-Jewish mixed lineage of the early modern Spaniards and to undermine their claim to true faith (Roman Catholicism). In my conclusion I briefly look at a few Moors/Turks on the immediate Jacobean stage (1603-1625). Though the Moor seems to undergo a shift in gender and function (more women than men), she/he still epitomises devilish evil attributes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Heavey, Dr. Katherine and Streete, Dr. Adrian
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82495
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 09:12
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2021 09:16
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82495
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82495

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