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«Primavera Cuder Universidad de Jaén ABSTRACT In the early modern literary and non-literary production, Catholics and Muslim ‗Moors‘ are often ...»

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Primavera Cuder

Universidad de Jaén


In the early modern literary and non-literary production, Catholics and Muslim ‗Moors‘ are

often strategically presented as having similar —mainly negative— features. The anxieties about the menacing presence of these Others can be perceived in dramatic works such as Thomas Dekker‘s Lust‘s Dominion (ca. 1600) or Othello (1603-04) by William Shakespeare. While reflecting their cultural context, these works might be influential in a society characterized by its changing attitudes towards these strangers, and who could be, in turn, instrumental to (apparently) support or challenge the contemporary ideologies and the established principles.

KEYWORDS: ‗Moor,‘ Spaniard, Other, identity, attraction and rejection, sedition and containment.


En la producción literaria y no literaria de la época pre-moderna, las figuras de católicos y ‗moros‘ musulmanes a menudo se caracterizan por presentar rasgos similares, principalmente negativos. Las ansiedades inducidas por la amenazadora presencia de estos Otros se puede apreciar en obras dramáticas como la de Thomas Dekker, Lust‘s Dominion (ca. 1600), o Othello (1603-04) por William Shakespeare. Tales trabajos se caracterizan por reflejar su contexto social y por su posible influencia en una comunidad que presenta actitudes cambiantes hacia estos extranjeros, quienes, a su vez, pudieron constituir un medio para (aparentemente) apoyar o desafiar las ideologías y los principios contemporáneos establecidos.

PALABRAS CLAVE: ‗moro‘, español, Otro, identidad, atracción y rechazo, sedición y represión.

133 A preliminary version of this paper, entitled ―The Representation of the Moor in Shakespeare‘s Othello and Titus Andronicus, and Thomas Dekker‘s Lust‘s Dominion‖ has been presented at the 22nd International SEDERI Conference (UNED, Madrid, 2011). This article was written as part of the Research Project Muslims, Spaniards and Jews in Early Modern English Texts: The Construction of the Other of the Spanish National Research Programme (I+D+I 2008-2011—Ref.


Relaciones interculturales en la diversidad Página 125... And for this Barbarous Moor, and his black train, Let all the Moors be banished from Spain.

(Thomas Dekker, Lust‘s Dominion 5.6) During the early modern period, the socio-political and economic changes developing within the European milieu initiated a movement towards the transformation of the prevalent conventions existing until then, an event that would eventually influence the relationships among different communities as well as the way certain cultures were perceived in the Western world. Culturally speaking, the differences between Protestants, Catholics and nonChristian communities, could be considered as instrumental in this process of change. Such conflicts are particularly noticeable in the discussions about the treatment and representations of Muslim ‗Moors‘ and of Catholic societies, two different communities that, from an early modern English perspective, are strategically presented as having common —mainly negative— features. The anxieties about the menacing presence of these Others can be perceived in dramatic works such as Thomas Dekker‘s Lust‘s Dominion (ca. 1600). However, the consequence of establishing contact with the stranger was by no means something uncommon in the early modern English literary production and was explored in several works such as the popular Othello (1603-04) by William Shakespeare, among others.

It may be argued that such documents —notably dramatic texts— not only constitute and reflect a given culture and its economic and political situation, but that they also exerted an important influence in society, and were used either to (apparently) support the established principles, or as a means to challenge such ideologies. Several Elizabethan and Jacobean texts provide an essential overview of the self-alien relations during this period, presenting an ambivalent attitude of approximation and rejection of these foreign Others that may be considered a simultaneous attempt at dissidence and containment of the social and ideological movements operating around the fashioning of strangers. As a result, these plays (re)produce a shifting and ambivalent figure of the Other, a movement presented by means of a process of cultural construction on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and ideology.

In 1596 and 1601, the deportations of some black slaves, or ―blackamores,‖ ordered by Elizabeth I, and the massive expulsions of around 300.000 Spanish Moriscos from Philip III‘s reign in 1609, corroborate a sustained rejection within Christianity towards the alleged otherness of these individuals. Yet, such situation was by no means a recent concern. Long before these events occurred, several early modern texts had already illustrated the tense circumstances operating in the Western world, perceiving in the figure of the extra-European foreigner (as in the case of the black sub-Saharan slaves), but also of the European Other (such as the Spanish Moriscos), a competing, menacing, or simply oddly different individual.

With these anxieties developing in the European milieu, the early modern period constituted the starting point of a movement towards the creation of an English national identity, a disposition that at this stage was still unfixed and changeable (Loomba, 2000: 201).

Such identity is shaped in a situation where a series of transformations are taking place in England and where there is a shifting and ambivalent approach in the formation of the image of the stranger that could be considered a business partner or political ally, but also a competitor or a military opponent.

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the way the two attitudes alternate in the English imagination, and in the dramatic production of the period, in the representation of southern Europeans and Moors.134 These strangers are described either positively and/or negatively, as in the case of the Spaniards and of some Muslim societies (such as the Ottoman community) who are contemplated with envy and resentment for their military superiority and 134 The term ‗Moor‘ in early modern Europe was often used indistinguishably to designate members of communities as different as those of Northern Africa and the Levant, Sub-Saharan Africa, or even those of the New World.

Relaciones interculturales en la diversidad Página 126 economic potential, but at the same time, with admiration towards their wealth and technological expertise. The English desire to take part in the Mediterranean trade, the occasional alliances created for this purpose, or the unspoken aspiration of contact with an appealing and advanced foreign culture, could incite the temporary fluctuation in the community —and thereafter in drama— towards a positive vision of these unexpected allies.

Such attitudes, however, were never present in discussions on the sub-Saharan African or the inhabitant of the New World. In this case, the factors affecting the oscillation of opinions concerning these individuals depended on utterly different approaches, which would be impossible to direct towards the Muslim Moor. On the one hand, the interests on colonisation promoted the descriptions of the natives of the New Worlds, and especially of black Africans, as harmless and amiable individuals allegedly ready to welcome the European coloniser; but, on the other, they were pictured as underdeveloped or even non-human and soulless individuals in order to justify their enslavement and labour exploitation.

Nevertheless, in the Mediterranean context, and finding itself in a military and/or economically aggressive proto-capitalist world, England had to struggle to achieve a central position from a respectable but less competitive situation. Hence, the figure of the Moor or the Spaniard is often presented in terms of excess and immorality, treacherousness and corruption, eventually providing a contrasting image employed to enhance with its negative features the positive representation of the islanders.

The literary production of early modern England presents a picture of how the events and anxieties of the period could affect the community, while they also reflected and, perhaps, on occasions produced social change (López-Peláez, 2007b: 125-26). In fact, despite the traditional hostility towards Otherness and difference, literature could be strategically designed, either voluntarily or unintentionally, with a double purpose: it (re)created the acts of individuals who seemed to represent an ideal image of the English identity by highlighting the differences between their behaviour and that of Others (such as the member of a foreign culture or the local unruly individuals); but, at the same time, it could undermine the prevailing national conventions presenting antithetical positions (Sinfield, 1992: 48). This way, such judgments were inevitably made public and could be questioned by the reader or

spectator, who may consider them a plausible alternative to the established principles (1992:

48). In a society torn between fears about foreign influence or invasion, and worried about the presence of English insubordinates who could be inspired by alien ideologies or even bear allegiance to foreign communities (Demetriou, 2011: 196; Fuchs, 2007: 96), we may recognise in drama an unconscious internal struggle, or perhaps a conscious effort, towards dissidence, hidden behind an apparent conformity to the accepted social conventions. Such elements could provide, for instance, a brief glimpse of a wealthy and cosmopolitan world where class mobility was possible and, by means of which, the traditional fixed position of the high classes could be subtly challenged (Dollimore, 1989: xxi).

In the 1980s Jonathan Dollimore already suggested the possibility that, during this period, several plays did question the structures of the accepted conventions, while such traditionalist ideologies were also introduced in the text to comply with the demands of the powerful local authorities, and (apparently) employed in order to support their principles and their actions (1989: xxiii). This could be done by introducing subtle allusions that would collide with such ideas or by representing the disagreement of an individual with these factions (1989: 8). In fact, even if the strict censorship that analysed literary production forced playwrights to hide possible allusions to dissidence, theatre could be a particularly dangerous medium to expose the gaps and the contradictions of the socio-political structure of a state or even as a means to undermine the ideological legitimacy of monarchy, law, religion or the accepted morals (1989: 22-25). Even if a dramatic work presented a collapse within the social order and its final restoration, the lapse of time when anarchy was on stage could be used to Relaciones interculturales en la diversidad Página 127 give to the audience a glimpse of political insubordination. Perhaps, to escape censorship, dissidence was strategically demonised and condemned —eventually favouring the reestablishment of such stability—, but the dissenting aspects could be the actual message for the audience (1989: 22-25). This rebellion was often initiated by an Other: an individual with a different religion, a rebellious woman, an unprivileged individual, or a foreigner, as we can observe in works such as George Peele‘s The Battle of Alcazar (ca. 1588), Titus Andronicus (ca. 1592) and Othello (1603-04) by William Shakespeare, Thomas Dekker‘s Lust‘s Dominion (ca. 1600), and Thomas Middleton and William Rowley ‗s All‘s Lost by Lust (1618-20), to mention only a few English plays from 1500 to 1660 where a foreigner is presented as an individual who shakes the foundations of social order.135


Since the Muslim invasion of Spain in 711, for the English of the early modern period the image of the Moor was deeply intertwined with that of the Spaniard and the Portuguese (Bartels, 2008: 127-28). In fact, among the first contacts between Moors and Europeans we could stress the ones with the Moriscos, the baptized Moors who remained in Spain after the decisive outcome of the Reconquista (1492). These individuals nominally adopted the Spanish language, religion, and customs, but they secretly remained Muslims, spoke Arabic and kept their own Moorish customs. At the same time, the economically admired and envied Italy shared with Habsburg Spain a Mediterranean geographical position, their association — as Catholics— to the Pope, and a significant commercial exchange with several non-European communities. Associated with wealth but also with lust, Machiavellianism and corruption, it was no coincidence, hence, that the busy Mediterranean could represent quite a complex idea in the English imagination and, perhaps, a cohesive economic force —or, in the case of Spain, an actual military menace—, gradually influencing and approaching England from southern Europe. To exemplify this complicated relationship with alien societies, we could consider The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) where Robert Burton not only corroborates the hostility towards the Muslim Others, but also their common traits with European communities such as

Spain and other Catholic or Mediterranean Others:

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