Sie sind auf Seite 1von 33

George Washington University

Turning Turk in Othello: The Conversion and Damnation of the Moor


Author(s): Daniel J. Vitkus
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 145-176
Published by: Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2871278 .
Accessed: 01/02/2012 09:53
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Folger Shakespeare Library and George Washington University are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,
preserve and extend access to Shakespeare Quarterly.

http://www.jstor.org

TurningTurk in Othello:The Conversionand


Damnation of the Moor
DANIELJ. VITKUS
Are we turnedTurks,and to ourselvesdo that
Which heaven hath forbidthe Ottomites?

(2.3.151 -52)1
HE TRAGEDY

OF OTHELLO

IS A DRAMA

OF CONVERSION,

in particular a

conversion to certain formsof faithlessnessdeeply feared by Shakespeare's audience. The collectiveanxietyabout religiousconversionfeltin
post-ReformationEngland focused primarilyon Roman Catholic enemies
who threatenedto convertProtestantEngland by the sword,but the English
also had reason to feel trepidationabout the imperialpowerof the Ottoman
Turks,who were conquering and colonizing Christianterritories
in Europe
and the Mediterranean.EnglishProtestanttexts,both popular and learned,
conflatedthe political/externaland the demonic/internalenemies,associating both the Pope and the Ottoman sultanwithSatan or the Antichrist.
Accordingto Protestant
ideology,the Devil,the Pope, and theTurkall desiredto
"convert"good Protestant
souls to a stateof damnation,and theirdesireto do
so was frequentlyfiguredas a sexual/sensualtemptationof virtue,accompanied bya wrathful
passionforpower.As VirginiaMason Vaughan has recently
shown in her historiciststudyof Othello,Shakespeare's Mediterraneantragedy,set at the marginsof Christendombut at the centerof civilization,"exploits... perceptionsofa global strugglebetweentheforcesofgood and evil,
a seemingbinaryopposition thatin realityis complex and multifaceted."2
Othello,like the culturethatproduced it, exhibitsa conflationof various
fromChristianto Turk,fromvirginto
tropesof conversion-transformations
whore,fromgood to evil,and fromgraciousvirtueto black damnation.These
formsof conversionare linked by rhetoricalparallelism,but fromthe perspectiveof English Protestantism,
these correspondenceswere not merely
metaphorical:the Flesh,the Churchof Rome, and the Turkwere all believed
to be materialmeansfortheDevil to achievehisends. Conversionto Islam (or

This essaywas made possible by generous summerresearchgrantsfromThe AmericanUniin Cairo. I would also like to thankthosewho providedhelpfuladvice and supportforthis
versity
project,especiallyJamesShapiro,David ScottKastan,Jean Howard,Jane McPherson,Gail Kern
Paster,Georgianna Ziegler,and the staffat the Folger Shakespeare Library.
1 Quotations fromOthellofollowthe New Cambridgetext,edited by Norman Sanders (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984). Quotations fromother Shakespeare plays follow The Riverside
Shakespeare,
ed. G. BlakemoreEvans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1974).
2 VirginiaMason Vaughan, Othello: A contextual
history
(Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1994), 27.
Vaughan's chapter"Global discourse:Venetiansand Turks" makes apparentthe importanceof
Turkeyin the imaginativegeographyof StuartEngland (13-34). Her workon Othellois partof
an emergingeffortamong scholarsof earlymodern drama to look beyond the New World and
historicizeEnglishculturein relationto the restof Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

146

SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY

to Roman Catholicism) was considered a kind of sexual transgressionor


spiritualwhoredom, and Protestantismproclaimed the same judgmenteternaldamnation-for all thosewho wereseduced byeitherthe Pope or the
Prophet.
Shakespeare's Othellodrawson earlymodern anxietiesabout Ottomanaggressionand linksthem to a largernetworkof moral, sexual, and religious
uncertainty
which touched English Protestantsdirectly.In part,the idea of
conversionthatterrifiedand titillatedShakespeare's audience was a fear of
the loss of both essence and identityin a worldof ontological,ecclesiastical,
and politicalinstability.
Othello's loss of identityis caused by his misidentificationsof Iago, Cassio, and Desdemona. The Moor failsto knowDesdemona,
and she is convertedin his mind fromvirginto whore. His fear of female
is linked in the play to racial and culturalanxietiesabout
sexual instability
"turningTurk"-the fear of a black planet thatgripped Europeans in the
earlymodern era as theyfaced the expansion of Ottomanpower.
Until recently,historicistanalysesof Shakespeare's textshave tended to
read representationsof the Other accordingto a teleologicalhistoriography
of Westerndominationand colonization. Stephen Greenblatt'slocation of
Shakespearean drama in the context of a nascent colonialism,closelyfollowed by the flood of "New World" scholarship that marked the fivehundredthanniversary
of Columbus's voyageto the Indies, establishedand
maintainedthe criticalpracticeof readingall EnglishRenaissancetextsas the
culturethatlooked acrosstheAtlantic
productsof a strictly
proto-imperialist
towardits American colonies-to-be.3Greenblattand other new historicists
have used a Westernimperialistdiscoursebelongingto latercenturies,someto framereadingsof Renaissance texts.What
timesquite anachronistically,
has often been forgottenis that while Spanish, Portuguese,English, and
Dutch ships sailed to the New Worldand beyond,beginningthe exploration
and conquest of foreignlands, the Ottoman Turkswere rapidlycolonizing
European territory.
Thus, in the sixteenthand seventeenthcenturies,the
Europeans were both colonizersand colonized, and even the Englishfeltthe
power of the Turkishthreatto Christendom.4
By the beginningof the seventeenthcentury,at the same time theywere
developing the trade in Africanslaves, the English faced the problem of
Britishsubjects-men, women,and children-being capturedand enslaved
by"Turkish" privateersoperatingin theMediterraneanand the northeastern
Atlantic.5This crisisled Englishwritersoftheearlymodernperiod to produce
I Perhaps the most importantessayin settifig
thistrendwas Stephen Greenblatt's"Invisible
bullets:Renaissance authorityand its subversion,HenryIV and HenryV" in PoliticalShakespeare:
New essaysin culturalmaterialism,
JonathanDollimore and Alan Sinfield,eds. (Ithaca, NY, and
London: Cornell UP, 1985), 18-47. For examplesof the scholarshipon New Worldimperialism,
see the essaysin New WorldEncounters,
Stephen Greenblatt,ed. (Berkeley,Los Angeles, and
Oxford:U of CaliforniaP, 1993). See also John Beverley,"MarvellousDispossession:On 1492,
40
Stephen Greenblatt'sMarvelousPossessions,
and the Academic Sublime," RomanceQuarterly
(1993): 131-40.
4 It is prematureto speak of earlyseventeenth-century
England as a societyexhibiting"culturalhegemony" and drivenby "the economic imperativesof imperialtrade"; see Kim F. Hall,
inEarlyModernEngland(Ithaca, NY,and London:
ThingsofDarkness:Economies
ofRaceand Gender
Cornell UP, 1995), 56.
5 For historicalstudiesof theBarbary
piratesand theslavetradein theNorthAfricanregencies,
1616-1642 (Aldershot,UK, and
consultDavid Delison Hebb, Piracyand theEnglishGovernment,
Brookfield,VT: Scolar Press,1994); G. N. Clark,"BarbaryCorsairsin the SeventeenthCentury,"

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

147

demonizingrepresentationsof "the Turk," not fromthe perspectiveof culturaldominationbut fromthe fear of being conquered, captured,and converted.As Anglo-Islamiccontactincreasedduringthe late sixteenthand early
seventeenthcenturies,the EnglishfascinationwithMuslimculture,especially
the power of Islamic imperialismto convertChristiansto Turks,was intensifiedbyand recordedin an outpouringof textsthatdealt withIslamicsocieties
in North Africaand the Levant. In England the early to mid-seventeenth
centurysaw an explosion of printed materialconcerned with the Barbary
pirates and the Ottoman Turks,indicatingthe sharpened interestthat accompanied the rise in English commercial activityin the Mediterranean.6
Othelloderived much of its anxious suspense and lurid exoticismfromthe
contemporaryEnglishperceptionof Turkishmightand the Englishengagementwiththe perilousMediterraneanworld.The Venetians' anxietiesin the
firstact-the sense of urgencyand dread aroused when "The Turk witha
most mightypreparation makes for Cyprus" (1.3.219) -would have reminded Shakespeare's audience of the Ottoman Turks' waxing power.
Rooted in a historyof holywarsand crusades,of Islamicconquest and Christian reconquista,
the fear of the Islamic bogey was well established in the
European consciousness.This long-standingfearand animosityreached one
of its high points in 1453, when the Turks captured Constantinople.As Ottoman-controlledterritory
continued to expand duringthe next twocenturies,WesternEuropeans grewincreasingly
anxious.Apartfromthe successful
defense of Malta in 1565 and the defeatof the Turks by a Christiannavyat
Lepanto in 1570, the fifteenth
and sixteenthcenturiescompriseda period of
seeminglyinexorable expansion forthe Ottoman Empire (Figure 1).
One mightassume that people in England feltsafelyremoved fromany
directIslamicthreat,but in factearlymodernEnglishauthorsfrequently
refer
to the menace of the Ottoman conquerors in termsthatexpress a sense of
immediacy.7An example of thisis the seriesof common prayersfordelivery
fromTurkishattackwhichwere directedbythe Englishecclesiasticalauthoritiesin the sixteenthcentury.For example, duringthe Turkishsiege of Malta
in 1565, one English diocese established "a form to be used in common
prayer"whichasked God

Cambridge
HistoricalJournal
8 (1945-46): 22-35; Peter Earle, CorsairsofMalta and Barbary(London: Sidgwickand Jackson,1970); Sir GodfreyFisher,BarbaryLegend:War,Tradeand Piracyin
NorthAfrica1415-1830 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1957); Ellen G. Friedman,SpanishCaptivesin
NorthAfricain theEarlyModernAge (Madison: U ofWisconsinP, 1983) and "ChristianCaptivesat
'Hard Labor' in Algiers,16th- 18thCenturies,"TheInternationalJournal
ofAfrican
Historical
Studies
13 (1980): 616-32; andJohn B. Wolf,TheBarbaryCoast:AlgiersUndertheTurks,1500 to1830 (New
York and London: W. W. Norton,1979).
6 For a discussionof Englishwritings
on the Barbarypirates,see N. I. Matar,"The Renegade
in EnglishSeventeenth-Century
Imagination,"StudiesinEnglishLiterature
1500-1900 33 (1993):
489-505; and Lois Potter,"Pirates and 'turningTurk' in Renaissance drama" in Traveland
Drama in Shakespeare's
Time,Jean-PierreMaquerlotand Michele Willems,eds. (Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1996), 124-40. For a descriptivesummaryof earlymodern textsthatinclude English
accountsof Turkishculture,consultSamuel C. Chew, TheCrescent
and theRose:Islamand England
duringtheRenaissance(New York: Oxford UP, 1937), 100-186; see also a recent articlebyA.J.
Hoenselaars,"The Elizabethansand the Turkat Constantinople,"CahiersElisabethains
47 (1995):
29-42.
7 Of course,some of theseauthors'statements
are designedto make theirsubjectmattersound
excitingand important,but the tone of alarm goes beyond mere catchpennyrhetoric.

THE

EMPIRE

Ol

THE

TVRKE.

all thecountries,vvhiche
arefubiaccto theTurkifht
rTNderthenameof Turkyearc comprehended
vvhichc
V Empire,the
a greate parteof thevvorlde,forinEurope
occupyeth
he pofeffeth
all the&ca
coatle,from
RagufavntilethemrutheofTanais, andfromBudaivntill
Conftantinople,
and fromthe
fighttideof the Tiras vntlieon theheather
fideof theSaua, foreitherallthisis theyre
ovvne, orelce
are tributarye
vntothem,asdoethecountries
of Valacbia,Moidaia, andTranfituania,
thebetterparteof
MHungarie,
as Bofina,Sergia,Bulgaria,AMacedoaia,Epirus,GreciaMoreaTbracia,
andthe4rchipelagbe,
vvithhew
Iles. In Africa
therurkepofefeth
all vvhatlyethfromBelisand Gomera,vntillAlexandrta. In Agipte.
and from augt',vntill
Gargala,andfromAtexandria,
vntillthecitticof Siene,and fromtheSej, vntill
Suachen. In Afa hehathefomanyeprouinces
'and countryes,
as it is a vvonder
to thincke
it, fromall
vvhicheherecenues
an infinte
yearlye
treafure,
beeingea veryfiron6and meruaillous
thingeto thincke
and cbfider,hovve
thatvvhithin
thetymeof 3oo yeares,or littellmore,thehoufeandraceof theOtthomans haue purchafed
fo hugean EmpirerforOtthomanbeeinige
thefirfteof
hisname,thefamewas
aftervvardes
geuenvntoall his fucceffours,
himfealfevvasa manof bafe condition
and elate, but a
he firfie
verygreatevvariour,
vfurped
Bithiniaand Capadocia. Orcbanes
hisfonneioynedtherunto
the
greatecittieof Prufa. AfterhimAmurathe
pafledfromAfiainto Europetooke Callipoli , Cherouees,
Abidos,
Philipoli,Adrianopoli,
vviththeregionsof Sergiaand Bulgaria.Bsiaqet
madehimfealfe
maderofa
greateparteofThraria,and
almoftofallGreciaandPhocida.mahomet
fubdueda parteof Scaleonia, and
all Macedonia,
thelandevntillthelonicadifea, and rcmouedthe feateof the Empireinto
ouerunninge
inTracia . Anirahethefeconde
Epirus,&belie,AcyaBeotia, Attica,
idrianopoli
Subdued
andthecittie
of rhefta~touza
the(econdetoke cConftawtnople,
Mahomet
of rrebinde , vvithCo.
andfubdued
th'Empire
the
rinthiaLemnosMitilenrEnboeand
feconde
tookeNegroponte,?dhtboeand
cafl. aialet
luraao.Selins
tooketheCaireandallEgipteAlexandriaandDamafce.Soliman
tookeBxlaBelgrade,and otherplacesin
Hungarye;the
lie of hedes
,andthecittic of lul-. SebimthefecondetookeCyprxs.imurathe
thethirde,
tookctheforteof G.uarino,and abomet
thethirdethe citticof .4gria, ( boathevvhicheplacesarea
Hunoarye) and threatens
to doe vvorsif God inrjpire
notthehartesof theChriftian
Princesvnitedlye
toretldehim. The Turkesare ofnaturegreateobfcruatours
of theyr
filfelavves , flaucsvntothep
lorde,good fouldieurs,
boatheonfooteandonhozLbacke,paticatcinlabourp
fparingcin tdcrfood##
andfortherclleveryiiconilantx

Fig. 1: Abraham Ortelius,AbrahamOrteliushisEpitomeofthetheater


oftheWorlde.
Now
latlye,sincetheLatine,Italian,Spanishe,and Frenche
Renewedand Augmented,
editions,
the
mappesall newegrauenaccording
togeographicall
measure(London, 1603), 102-3.

to repressthe rage and violenceof Infidels,who byall tyranny


and crueltylabour
utterlyto root out not onlytrueReligion,but also the veryname and memoryof
Christour onlySaviour,and all Christianity;
and iftheyshould prevailagainstthe
Isle of Malta, it is uncertainwhatfurtherperil mightfollowto the restof Christendom.8

When the news reached England that the Turkish siege of Malta had been
lifted, the archbishop of Canterbury ordered another form of prayer to be
read "through the whole Realm" everySunday, Wednesday, and Friday.9This
text refers to "that wicked monster and damned soul Mahumet" and "our
sworn and most deadly enemies the Turks, Infidels, and Miscreants," expressing thanks for the defeat of the invaders at Malta but warning of catastrophic
consequences if the Turkish campaigns in Hungary should succeed:
ifthe Infidels... should prevailwhollyagainst[the kingdomof Hungary](which
God forbid) all the restof Christendomshould lie as it were naked and open to
the incursionsand invasionsof thesaid savageand mostcruelenemies theTurks,
to the mostdreadfuldangerofwhole Christendom;all diligence,heartiness,and

8 From "A Form tobeusedin common


prayer
... to excite all godlypeople to prayunto God for
the deliveryof those Christiansthatare now invadedbythe Turk," reprintedin Liturgical
Services
of theReign of Queen Elizabeth: Liturgiesand Occasional Forms ofPrayerSet Forthin theReign of Queen

Elizabeth,
ed. WilliamKeatingeClay (Cambridge:University
Press,1847), 519-23, esp. 519.
9 From "A Form to be used in common prayer. . . To excite and stirall godlypeople to pray
unto God forthe preservationof those Christiansand theirCountries,thatare now invaded by
the Turk in Hungary,or elsewhere,"reprintedin Clay,ed., 527-35, esp. 527.

*0
#0

50

60

=s-_.

Tis:
pocke--:9:-t-si:-zed-:Lt
versio ofOrteis

. .

Ths c0g

..

... .

ar

ttfl70

Ept,

ro.

80

90

was pulihe

,,.,,,..
......... i

1-1----:

100

at:thetim thtSae

...............
..

the Ottoman

R E

rm

adane

This pocket-sizedversionof Ortelius'sEpito was published at the time thatShake-

textconcisely
Othe. The mapand accompanying
spearewasprobably
reprewriting
senttheEnglishconceptofOttomanpower.
is so
much
e oepnowto be usedin ourprayers
forGod'said,how
the
fervency
fargreaterthedangerand perilis now,thanbeforeitwas
ih
t

These campaigns were largely successful, and the Ottoman armies advanced
until a truce was signed in 1568. During the 1590s, however, the Turks again
launched major offensiveson the Hungarian front,and the war was ongoing
at the time that Othlellowas writtenand performedin London.
Although the naval battle of Lepanto was hailed as a major setback for the
Turks, it had no lasting impact, and Turkish territorialgains in the Mediter-

ranean soon resumed." Two years afterLepanto, the Turks took Cyprus.
of a Christianforcesuccessfully
united againsta
Nonetheless,the singularity
Turkish armada aroused a strongresponse throughoutEurope. In distant
Scotland,KingJameshimselfwrotea heroicpoem celebratingthe triumphat
Lepanto.12The opening lines ofJames'spoem describethe "bloodie battell
bolde, / ... Which foughtwas in Lepantoes gulfe/ Betwixtthe baptiz'd
race, / And circumsisedTurband Turkes" (11.6-11). As EmrysJones has
demonstratedin his seminal article "'Othello', 'Lepanto' and the Cyprus
Wars," thereare verbalechoes of these lines in Othello's suicide speech.'3
10 Clay,ed.,

527.
11On the strategiceffectof the Turkishdefeatat Lepanto, see AndrewC. Hess, "The Battleof
Lepanto and its Place in MediterraneanHistory,"Past and Present57 (1972): 53-73.
12JamesI, TheLepantoofIamesthesixt,KingofScotland
in His Maiesties
Poeticall
Execisesat vacant
houres(Edinburgh,1591), G3r-L4v.James's Lepantowas writtencirca 1585, firstpublished in
Scotlandin 1591,and thenreprintedin London at the timeofhisaccessionto the Englishthrone
in 1603.
13 See EmrysJones,
" 'Othello', 'Lepanto' and the CyprusWars," Shakespeare
Survey
21 (1968):
47-52; compare Othello,
5.2.349-52, withthe passages fromLepanto.

150

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

In limping verse, the king's poem stresses the heroic role of the Venetians
and presents the battle as a divinelyinspired mission. God decides that he has
had enough of the "faithles" Turks and sends the archangel Gabriel to rally
the Christians of Venice:
No more shall now these Christiansbe
Withinfidelsopprest,. . .
Go quicklie hence to Venice Towne,
And put into theirminds
To take reuenge of wrongsthe Turks
Haue done in sundriekinds.
(11.80-91)
After the victory,a chorus of Venetian citizens gives thanks to God for having
"redeemd" them "From cruell Pagans thrall."
Performed several times at court during the early years of James's reign,
Othellowas in line with some of the new king's interests."4 The play also
catered to a contemporary fascination with Moors and Turks, piqued by the
presence at the English court between August 1600 and February 1601 of a
Moroccan embassy of sixteen "noble Moors."''5 We see this fascination manifested again in Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones's Masque ofBlackness,presented at
court on Twelfth Night, 1605, when Queen Anne and other aristocratic
women appeared in blackface as "noble Moors." In the 1608 sequel to that
masque, the Masque of Beauty,the Moorish masquers are "converted" from
black to fair by the virtuous power of the monarch.
As the work of Samuel Chew and Nabil Matar has shown, English anxiety
about the Turks-and
their power to convert Christians-was intense.16
Richard Knolles's GenerallHistoraie
of theTurkes,firstprinted in 1603, refersin
its opening pages to "The glorious Empire of the Turkes, the present terrour
of the world.'' 7 During the sixteenth century,a stream of reports had arrived
in England from abroad testifyingto the success of the Turks' militarycampaigns in both the Balkans and the Mediterranean. While on a mission to
Vienna in 1574, Hubert Languet wrote to Sir Philip Sidney on 26 March:
These civilwarswhichare wearingout thestrengthof theprincesofChristendom
are opening a wayforthe Turk to get possessionof Italy;and ifItalyalone were
in danger,it would be less a subjectforsorrow,since it is the forgein whichthe
causes of all theseillsare wrought.But thereis reason to fearthatthe flameswill
14
See Norman Sanders's commentsin the introductionto his New Cambridge edition of
Othello,1-51, esp. 2.
15 Bernard Harrisgivesan account of thisMoorish embassyin "A Portraitof a
Moor," SS 11
(1958): 89-97.
16 See Chew, 100-149; and Matar," 'TurningTurk': Conversionto Islam in
EnglishRenaissance Thought," DurhamUniversity
Journal86 (1994): 33-41. Englishfeelingsabout Islam and
the Turkswere complicatedbycommercialinterests.In a pageantwrittenforthe Clothworkers'
Guild, on the occasion of the inaugurationof Ralph Freemanas Lord Mayor,Thomas Heywood
gave these lines to Mercury:"The potent Turke(although in faithaduerse) / Is proud thathe
withEnglandcan commerce" (LondiniEmporia,
orLondonsMercatura[London, 1633], B3v).Atthe
same time,Protestantreligiouspolemic,writtenbythosewho had no directinterestin theTurkey
trade,could sound like this:" 'the turkeand antichristdiffernot but as the devildiffereth
from
hel' " (quoted here fromJ. R. Mulryne,"Nationalityand language in Thomas Kyd's TheSpanish
Tragedy"in Maquerlot and Willems,eds., 87-105, esp. 93-94).
17 Richard Knolles, The Generall
HistorieoftheTurkes(London, 1603), 1.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

151

not keep themselveswithinitsfrontier,


but willseize and devour the neighbouring states.'8
In the following year, in the dedication to his translation of Curio's Sarracenicae Historiae,Thomas Newton wrote: "They [the Saracens and Turks] were
indeede at the firstvery far of from our Clyme & Region, and therefore the
lesse to be feared, but now theyare euen at our doores and ready to come into
our Houses....19
Curio reacts typicallyto the Ottoman menace, calling in
his preface for a crusade:
[If the Christians]would ioynein one and liue togetherin Christianleague, no
doubte, Constantinople
mightbe agayn recouered and annexed to the Romane
Empire ... thatSathanicalcrewofTurkishlurdensmightbe expulsed and driven
to trudgeout of all Europa.... But beholde, euen at our dores and readyto come
intoour houses,we haue thisarrogantand bragginghelhound,triumphyng
ouer
vs, laughyngat our misfortunes,
reioycingeto see vs thus to lye togetherby the
eares, and gapyngin hope shortlyeto enioyour goods and Seigniories.20
Thomas Procter warns, in 1578, that "the Turkes in no longe time, haue
subdued ... kinges and countreyes, and extended their Empyre ... into all
the three partes of the worlde, & yet prosecuteth and thrusteth the same
furtherdaylie."'21 Procter calls on Englishmen to undertake large-scale militarytraining and thus be prepared to meet this growing threat. Robert Carr,
in his 1600 translation Mahumetane or TurkishHistorie,sees a kind of Turkish
domino effectat work:
We see thisdaylyincreasingflame,catchinghould of whatsoeuercomes next,
stillto proceed further,
nor thatthe insatiabledesireof dominionin these Turkes
canne with any riches be content,or with the gayningof many mightieand
wealthieKingdomesbe so settled,but ofwhatis thisdaye gotten,to morrowthey
build a newladderwherebyto clymbeto theobteyningofsome newerpurchase.22
The anonymous Policyof The TurkishEmpirereports that "the terrour of their
name doth euen now make the kings and Princes of the West, with the weake
and dismembred reliques of their kingdomes and estates, to tremble and
quake through the feare of their victorious forces.' '23
Perhaps the authors quoted above speak out of a collective psychology of
fear that transcends the rational facticityof geographic distance, but English
fears of "the Turk" were not entirely paranoid or hysterical. By 1604, when
Othellowas firstperformed, there had been extensive, direct contact with
Muslim pirates-both in the British Isles and in the Mediterranean, where
English merchant ships sailed with greater frequency after trade pacts with
both the Barbary principalities and the Ottoman sultanate were signed.24
Othellowas written at a time when English commerce in Muslim entrep6ts
18
Languet to Sidney,26 March 1574, TheCorrespondence
ofPhilipSidneyand HubertLanguet,ed.
WilliamAspenwallBradley(Boston: Merrymount
Press,1912), 47-50, esp. 49-50.
19Newton in Augustine Curio [Curione], A NotableHistorie the
of
Saracens,trans. Thomas
Newton (London, 1575), A3v.
20
Curio, B4v-C1r.
21 Thomas Procter,Of theknowledge
and conducte
ofwarres(London, 1578), v.
22 TheMahumetane
or Turkish
Historie,
trans.R. Carr (London, 1600), 112r.
23 ThePolicyofThe Turkish
Empire(London, 1597), A3v.
24 See Fernand Braudel, TheMediterranean
and theMediterranean
Worldin theAge ofPhilipII,
trans.Sian Reynolds,2 vols. (London: Collins, 1972), 1:626.

152

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

such as Constantinople, Aleppo, Alexandretta, Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers was


expanding rapidly and the threat of Muslim pirates in the Atlantic and the
Mediterranean was on the rise.25 The power of Muslims was brought home
when "Turkish" pirates from the North African regencies began to raid the
Irish and English coasts in the early seventeenth century. According to one
historian's recent assessment, pirates from the Barbary ports captured, "on
average, 70 to 80 Christian vessels a year between 1592 and 1609."26 English
captives taken by the Barbary pirates were sold into slaveryor held for ransom.
Faced with the growing problem of Christian captives who "turned Turk"
in order to gain their freedom, the English authorities adopted a strategyto
prevent such conversions, using sermons to condemn the practice of conversion to Islam. Two such sermons, one preached by Edward Kellett on the
morning of 16 March 1627 and one that afternoon by Henry Byam, urged the
endurance of sufferingor even Christian martyrdomrather than conversion:
better to die than to turn Turk.27 In the second sermon, Byam claims that
some converts to Islam actually switched back and forth between religious
identities:
many,and as I am informed,manyhundreds,are Musselmansin Turkie,and
Christiansat home; doffingtheirreligion,as theydoe theirclothes,and keeping
a conscience foreueryHarborwheeretheyshall put in. And thoseApostatesand
circumcisedRenegadoes, thinke theyhaue discharged their Conscience wondrouswell,iftheycan Returne,and (the factvnknowne)make professionof their
firstfaith.28
Such returned renegades were thought to comprise a kind of unseen menace
lurking in the ranks of the Christian commonwealth, concealing their double
identities. In 1635 a "Form of Penance and Reconciliation of a Renegado"
(promulgated by Bishop Hall and Archbishop Laud) was established for those
who wished to confess their apostasy and be reinstated in the Church of
England.29

Post-Reformation anxiety about conversion produced a discourse about


"renegadoes" and "convertites" which applied to those who converted to
Catholicism as well as those who turned Turk, with the interest in ChristianMuslim conversions clearly related to contemporaneous polemical writings
about Protestants and Roman Catholics who renounced one brand of Christianityfor the other.30 English Protestant texts associated both the Pope and
25 Accordingto Hebb, "by theearly17thcentury
thecharacterofthe operationsof theBarbary
pirateshad changed dramatically"(15). Increasingly,theyused "tall ships" instead of galleys,
and theybegan to move out oftheWesternMediterraneaninto theAtlantic,takingcaptivesfrom
places as farnorthas Iceland.
26 Hebb, 15.
27 See EdwardKellett'sand HenryByam'ssermons,publishedtogetheras A Retvrne
fromArgier.
A Sermon
Preachedat Minhead in theCountyofSomersetthe16. ofMarch, 1627. at there-admission
ofa relapsedChristianintoour Chvrch(London, 1628). Anothersermon of thiskind is William
Gouge, A Recouery
fromApostacy
(London, 1639), also deliveredon the occasion of a readmission
into Christianity
fromIslam.
28 Byam,74.
29
The "Form of Penance and Reconciliationof a Renegado, or ApostateFrom the Christian
Church to Turcism" is reprintedin The WorksofJosephHall, 12 vols. (Oxford: D. A. Talboys,
1837-39), 12:346-50.
30 See the discussionof conversionand religiouscontroversy
inJamesShapiro,Shakespeare
and
theJews
(New York:Columbia UP, 1996), 131ff."In theirenthusiasmto underminethe positions

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

153

the OttomansultanwithSatan or theAntichrist.3'


Despite direwarningsfrom
theirreligiousleaders,manyChristiansconvertedfromtheiroriginalfaithto
Protestantism,
Roman Catholicism,or Islam for economic reasons. Others
convertedas a survivalstrategy-to avoid martyrdom,persecution,or discrimination-and not as a result of heartfeltreligious conviction.John
Donne, who was himselfa "convertite,"was sensitiveto thisissue and mentionsit in his "Satire 3" on religion.Donne's poem eroticizesthe drama of
religiousschismand conversion,sexualizingthe relationshipbetweenChristian worshippers(personifiedas men) and various branches of Christianity
(personifiedas women). The pursuitof "true religion" becomes a searchfor
thepossessionof a pure femalebodyin a worldfullof "whores" and "preachers,vile ambitiousbawds."32 Bishop Hall uses similarlanguage to condemn
Jesuitpriestswho were tryingto make convertsamong the English: "if this
great Courtezan of the World [the Roman Church] had not so cunning
panders,I should wonder how she should get any but foolishcustomers.33
Whetherlauded or condemned, religious conversionwas frequentlydescribedin eroticterms:convertsto Catholicismwereaccused of sleepingwith
the papal "whore of Babylon" and spirituallyfornicatingwith the Devil's
minions.In the storyof the seduction of Redcrosse by Duessa in Spenser's

of their adversaries,"observes Shapiro, "Protestantand Catholic writersalike hunted down


instancesof how theiropponents had betrayedtheirown faith" (138). A usefulnew studyof
Roman Catholic-Protestant
conversionis Michael C. Questier,Conversion,
Politicsand Religionin
England,1580-1625 (Cambridge: CambridgeUP, 1996).
31 The Pope and the "Great Turk" or "Grand Seigneur" (as the Ottomansultanwas called)
were frequentlyequated, conflated,or compared in antipapal literature.An importantexample
of this occurs in John Foxe's Actesand Monuments,
which includes a lengthy"historyof the
Turkes,"recounting"theircruelltyranny,
and bloudyvictories,the ruin& subversionofso many
ChristenChurches,withthe horriblemurdersand captiuitieof infiniteChristians"(Actesand
Monuments
ofmatters
mostspecialland memorable,
happening
in theChurch,
withan vniuersall
history
of
thesame,2 vols. [London, 1596], 1:675). Foxe goes on to declare that"the whole powerof Sathan
the prince of thisworld,goeth withthe Turkes" (1:675), and he calls fora fortification
of the
spiritto strengthenthe faithfulagainstTurkishexpansion: "though the Turke seemeth to be
farreoff,yetdo we nourishwithinour breastsat home, that [which]maysoon cause vs to feele
his cruell hand and worse,ifworse maybe, to overrunnevs: to lay our land waste: to scattervs
amongst the Infidels..." (1:677). Foxe's narrationof the Christians'resistanceto Ottoman
expansion ends witha ten-page section on "Prophecies of the Turke and the Pope, which of
them is the greaterAntichrist"(1:701-10), and the concluding paragraph of thissection gesturestowarda distinctionbetweenpapal and Turkishevil;but ultimately
Foxe declines to discern
the difference:
... in comparingthe Turk withthe pope, if a question be asked, whetherof them is the
trueror greaterAntichrist,
it were easy to see and iudge, thatthe Turke is the more open
and manifestenemyagainstChristand his church.But ifit be asked,whetherof themtwo
hath bin the more bloudyand pernitiousadversaryto Christand his members:or whether
of themhath consumed and spiltmore Christianbloud, he withsword,or thiswithfireand
swordtogether,neitheris it a lightmatterto discern,neitheris it myparthere to discusse,
which doe onelywritethe history,and the Actes of them both.
(1:710)
32JohnDonne, "Satire 3" in the OxfordAuthorsJohnDonne,ed. JohnCarey(Oxfordand New
York: OxfordUP, 1990), 29-31 (11.43, 64, and 56). For a vividdescriptionof the condition of
EnglishCatholicswho werefaced withpersecutionand the temptationto "turnProtestant,"see
thechapterentitled"Apostasy"inJohnCarey'sbiographicalstudyJohn
Donne:Life,Mind,and Art
(New York: OxfordUP, 1980), 15-36.
33 Hall, Quo Vadis?AJustCensure
ofTravel,reprintedin TheWorks
Hall, 12:97- 132, esp.
ofJoseph
124.

154

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

FaerieQueene,Book I, the false beauty of Spenser's Duessa representsthe


allure of Roman Catholic images, and the capture and imprisonmentof
Redcrosse (signifying
the Pope's control over BritishChristiansbefore the
Reformation)resultsfroma sexual encounterwithDuessa at the Fountainof
the Unchaste Nymph.ThroughoutSpenser's epic, papal power and wealth
are figuredas "oriental" prostitution.
The transformation
of Othello, the "Moor of Venice," froma virtuous
lover and Christiansoldier to an enraged murderermay be read in the
contextof earlymodern conversion,or "turning,"withparticularattention
to the sense of conversionas a sensual, sexual transgression.Othello's love
and his faithin Desdemona are turnedto hate because he believes,as he says
to Emilia,that" [Desdemona] turnedto folly,and she was a whore" (5.2.133).
Here Desdemona's alleged infidelity
is,forOthello,a "turning,"as it is when
he says to Lodovico, "she can turn,and turn,and yet go on, / And turn
again" (4.1.244-45). Othello seems to be thinkingof a physicalturningof
her body takingplace in the imaginarybed where "she withCassio hath the
act of shame / A thousand timescommitted" (5.2.210-11). To kill Desdemona is to put a stop to thisimage ofperpetualsexual motion:"Ha! No more
moving?/ Stillas the grave" (11.94-95), saysOthello, satisfiedthather adulterous turninghas been stopped.
In early modern English to turncould mean to change or transform,
to
convert,to pervert,to go back on one's word,or to turnthroughspace. The
Oxford
EnglishDictionary,
among the manydefinitionsand citationsthatare
pertinentto Othello,
givesa citationforthe transitive
verbformof turn:"To
induce or persuade to adopt a (different)religiousfaith(usuallywithimplication of its truthor excellence), or a religiousor godly (instead of an irreligious or ungodly) life;to convert;less commonlyin bad sense, to pervert."
As an example, the OED cites a threatused by Roman Catholic persecutors
duringthe Marian period: "So would theysayto all Protestants,
. . . Turn, or
burn.'3
In the scenes thatlead up to Desdemona's murderand Othello's suicide,
the trope of turning(in the sense of conversion) occurs frequentlyas the
effectsof Jago's evil are feltand Desdemona, once Othello's "soul's joy,"
becomes a "fair devil." Othello accepts the circumstantialevidence against
Desdemona as Jagomakes good his boast thathe will "turn [Desdemona's]
virtueinto pitch" (2.3.327). ConvertingDesdemona's virtue,Jago "turns"
Othello until Othello's "heart is turnedto stone" (4.1.173) and his mind is
"Perplexed in the extreme" (5.2.342). "I see you're moved" (3.3.226), declares Jago; and once Othello is moved, doubt and retreatseem no longer
possible.
"My bloodythoughtswithviolentpace / Shall ne'er look back,ne'er ebb to
humble love" (11.458-59), says Othello in the Pontic Sea speech, giving
rhetoricalforceto his irreversibleturnfromlove to hate. "Being wrought,"
Othello cannot stemthe tide of his vengefulpassion. "It is not words" that
3 Oxford
EnglishDictionary,
prep. J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner,2d ed., 20 vols. (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1989), 18:701. Shakespeare uses the word turnin a similarsense when the
Pucelle comments on Burgundy'sbetrayalof his English allies in 1 HenryVT:"Done like a
Frenchman-turn and turnagain!" (3.3.85). This line is thoughtto be an interpolatedreference
to Henry of Navarreand his conversionto Roman Catholicism.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

155

shake him but ratherthe false image in his mind of Cassio makinglove to
Desdemona. Crying"O devil!" he falls,in 4.1, into "a trance."Othello's
epilepticfitis a kind of sexual swoon,an impotentmockeryof the climaxhe
imaginesCassio experiencing.At the same time,the fitis a libidinousversion
of the religious ecstasythat would characterizea soul-shakingconversion
experience. Othello's perturbedspiritis "o'erwhelm&d" (1. 74) by the revelation of "honest" Jago'struthabout Desdemona. The Moor's ordeal in 4.1
parodies the physicalcollapse thataccompanies an episode of divineor demonic possession-he kneels withJago,fallsdown, and then undergoes a
seizure like those experienced by other prophesyingvictimsof "the falling
sickness,"a maladyassociatedwithboth sacred and Satanic inspiration.35
Othello's epilepsyrecalls thatof the ur-Moor,Mohammed. Christianpolemics againstIslam printedin Shakespeare's timefrequentlymaintainthat
Mohammed was an epilepticwho falselyclaimed thathis seizureswere ecstasies broughton by divinepossession.AccordingtoJohn Pory's1600 translation of Leo Africanus'sGeographical
Historaie
ofAfrica,a textthatShakespeare
seems to have consulted when composing Othello,Mohammed claimed to
have "conuersed withthe angell Gabriell,
vnto whose brightneshe ascribed
the fallingsicknes,whichmanytimesprostratedhim vpon the earth:dilating
and amplifying
thesame in like sort,bypermitting
all thatwhichwas plausible
to sense and the flesh."36Anti-Islamicpropagandistsclaimed thatMohammed's need to account forhis epilepticseizureswas the originalmotivefor
whatbecame a claim to divineinspiration.
In an extraordinarypassage fromEdward Kellett's 1627 sermon against
renegades, Mohammed's epilepsyis explained as a divine punishmentfor
lechery:
ThatgreatseducerMahomet,
wasa salaciouslustfull
Amoroso;
and hisintemperate
waswayted
lasciuiousnesse,
on byinfirmities
and sicknesses
correspondent
tohis
lewdnesse....he, forhis lust,and byit,was tormented
withtheGreatfallingand thatdisease,is a plagueofan high-hand;
sicknesse;
and in him,a testimonie
ofa verysinfull
soule,in a verysinfull
body.For,whereasitis appointed
forall men
todieonce,Heb.9.27forthatone first
sinneofAdam;Mahomet,
whohad so many,
so greatsinnes,was strikenalso withmanydeaths.For,whatis the FallingSicknesse,but a reduplication,
a multiplication
of death?He fellwithpaine,
lookedvgly,
witha foming
mouth,andwry-distorted
countenance
in hisfits.He
35 Even as late as the eighteenthcentury,
Europeans continuedto believethatepilepsyor "the
fallingsickness" was brought on by demonic possession. Other medical authoritiesargued,
followinghumoraltheory,thatan excess of black bile in the body caused the fits(forthe latter
explanation,see RobertBurton,TheAnatomy
ofMelancholy
(Oxford,1621), Part 1. For a discussion of the earlymodern understandingof epilepsyand the long-standingassociationbetween
epilepsy,prophecy,and possession,consultOwsei Temkin,TheFallingSickness:
A History
ofEpilepsy
fromtheGreeks
totheBeginnings
ofModernNeurology,
2d ed. (Baltimoreand London: JohnsHopkins
UP, 1971).
36 Leo Africanus,
A Geographical
HistorieofAfrica,Written
inArabicke
and Italian,trans.JohnPory
(London, 1600), 381. According to Africanus,"This falling sicknes likewisepossesseth the
women of Barbarie,and of the land of Negros;who, to excuse it,say thattheyare takenwitha
spirite" (39). On Mohammed's "fallingsicknes," see also Curio, 4v. Shakespeare's use of Leo
Africanusas a source is discussedin Lois Whitney,"Did ShakespeareknowLeoAfricanus?"
PMLA
37 (1922): 470-83; and in RosalindJohnson,"AfricanPresence in ShakespeareanDrama: Parallels between Othello and the Historical Leo Africanus,"Journalof AfricanCivilizations7.2
(1985): 276-87.

156

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

rose withhorror,like a pale carcase,and lukewarmecorpes,betweenethe liuing


and the dead. He was the But against which the Almightyshot his arrowes:
bearing the image and figureof an Apostata in his body by relapses; and the
tormentsof a vessellof wrath,in his soule, forhis Imposturage.37
In Western European texts,from the medieval to the early modern period,
Islam was usually defined as a licentious religion of sensuality and sexuality. A
long-standing tradition of anti-Islamic polemic denounced the religion of
Mahomet as a system based on fraud, lust, and violence. Kellett's attack on
Islam includes a colorful but commonplace description of Mohammed's imposture:
Let Mahometbe branded for a luggler, a Mount-bank, a bestiall peoplepleaser ... which Mis-beliefehe hath establishedby the sword,and not by Arguments;vpheld by violence and compulsion; or temptingallurementsof the
world; forcing,or deluding the soules of men, ratherthan perswadingby euidence of veritie.38
It is possible to see these highly negative images of Islam reconfigured in the
imposture of Jago and the militant furyand frustratedlust of Othello. The
fraudulent persuasions of Jago, whose false revelation deludes Othello's soul
"rather than perswading by euidence of veritie," lead the Moor into "Misbeliefe." In the guise of angelic informer, Jago plants a diabolical sexual
fantasy in the mind of the Moor. Jago is a fiend disguised as an angel, describing his own theology as the "Divinity of hell!" and explaining that
"When devils will the blackest sins put on, / They do suggest at firstwith
heavenly shows / As I do now" (2.3.317-20). lago is the evil angel who communicates a false message to Othello, inspiring him with distempered passion,
urging and justifying acts of cruelty and violence. Together they kneel in
prayer, and Othello makes "a sacred vow" to "heaven" (3.3.461-62) which
is really a deal with the Devil, who will possess him eternally. Through false
inspiration and "with heavenly shows," Jago brings on the "conversion" of
Othello, and that conversion is dramatized as a fall into a bestial, sex-obsessed
condition.
Edward Aston, in The Manners, lawes and customesof all Nations, claims that
the "incredible allurement" of Islam has been Mahomet's "giuing to his
people free libertyand power to pursue their lustes and all other pleasures,
for by these meanes, this pestilent religion hath crept into innumerable Nations."39 One of the "tempting allurements" offered by Mahomet to his
37 Kellett,23. Kellettalso refersto "Mahomet,
thatRake-shame
of the World... the Rauisherof
his Mistresse,the knownAdulterer
withone Zeid. . . " (20). In Byam's sermon,given later the
same day,the Prophetis describedin similarterms:

he was ... the verypuddle and sinke of sin and wickednesse.A thiefe,a murderer,and
adulterer,and a Wittall.And fromsuch a dissolutelifeproceeded those licentiouslawes of
his. That his followersmayauenge themseluesas much as theylist.That he thatkillsmost
Infidels,shall haue the best roome in Paradise: and hee thatfightethnot lustily,shall be
damned in hell. That theymay take as many Wiues as theybe able to keepe. And lest
insatiablelustmightwantwhereonto feed,to surfet,he allowethdiuorce vpon euerylight
occasion. He himselfhad but eleuen Wiues,besides Whores;but the Grand-Signiorin our
daies kept threethousand Concubines forhis lust.
(62-63)
38 Kellett,23.
39 EdwardAston, TheManners,lawesand customes
ofall Nations(London, 1611), 137.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

157

followerswas an infamousorgiasticparadise in the next world,40described


sarcasticallyin Byam's sermonas follows:
[In Mahomet's] Paradise, the ground thereofis gould wateredwithstreamesof
Milke,Hony and Wine. How therehis followersafterthe dayof ludgement,shall
haue a merrymadd world,and shall neuer make an end of eating,drinking,and
And these (ifyou willbeleeue it) are sweeteCreaturesindeed; for
collingwenches.
if one of them should spet into the Sea, all the watersthereofwould become
sweetei4

Christianwritersnot onlycriticizedIslam forofferingsensual pleasure to the


virtuousas a rewardin the nextlife;theyalso condemned the sexual freedom
allowed in thislife under Muslimlaw. Islamic regulationsgoverningconcubinage, marriage,and divorcewere misunderstoodand reviledby Western
Europeans.42According to Leo Africanus,the religiouslaw of Mohammed
"looseth the bridle to the flesh,which is a thingacceptable to the greatest
part of men."43Africanusand othersclaimed that the attractionof conversion to Islam-and the reluctanceof Muslims to convertto Christianity
stemmedprimarilyfromthe greatersexual freedomallowed under Islamic
law.
Given the conventionalassociationmade by European Christiansbetween
itis not surprisingthattheEnglishexpression"to turn
Islam and promiscuity,
we finda series of conTurk" carried a sexual connotation.44Significantly,
temporaryuses of thisphrase in the Englishdrama of the earlyseventeenth
century,where its meaning is "to become a whore" or "to commit adulfor example,
tery."45 In Philip Massinger's The Renegado,A Tragaecomedie,
when the heroine Paulina threatensto convert,saying"I will turneTurke,"
Gazet's bawdyrejoindermakes the usual connection:"Most ofyourtribedoe
so / When theybeginne in whore."46In an earlierplay,Thomas Dekker's The
40
Compare Mandeville's Travels,where the descriptionof Islamic religiouspracticeand doctrinedoes pointto beliefsthatChristiansand Muslimshold in common;butwhenit comes to the
Muslims'descriptionofparadisein the Koran,Mandevillecondemnsit as one of the greatestand
mostabsurderrorsofthe "saracens": "if theyare askedwhatparadisetheyare talkingabout,they
sayit is a place of delights,wherea man shall findall kindsof fruitat all seasons of the year,and
riversrunningwithwine,and milk,and honey,and clear water;theysaytheywillhave beautiful
palaces and finegreatmansions,accordingto theirdeserts,and thatthese palaces and mansions
are made of precious stones,gold and silver.Everyman shall have fourscore wives,who willbe
beautifuldamsels,and he shall lie withthemwheneverhe wishes,and he willalwaysfindthem
ed. C.W.R.D. Moseley [London: Penguin,1983], 104).
Mandeville,
virgins"( TheTravelsofSirJohn
England and was stillreMandeville's narrativewas frequentlyreprintedin sixteenth-century
ceived in Shakespeare's day as a factual account; it was also included in the firstedition of
Hakluyt'sPrincipallNauigations(1598).
41 Byam,64. See also Donne's "Elegy 2: To his MistressGoing to Bed," in which the speaker
comparesa sexual experience to "A heaven like Mahomet's paradise" (12-13 [esp. 1.21]). The
Turks,and especiallythe Ottomansultanwithhis harem,were proverbialforlust.For example,
Edgar in King Lear refersto sexual indulgence, claiming to have "outparamour'd the Turk"
(3.4.91-92).
Press,
TheMakingofan Image(Edinburgh:University
42 See Norman Daniel, Islamand theWest:
1958), 135-40.
43 Africanus,381.
44 See WarnerG. Rice, " 'To Turn Turk,' " ModernLanguageNotes46 (1931): 153-54.
whereMargarettellsBeatricethat
45 See also the use of thisphrase in MuchAdoAboutNothing,
she suspectsher of lovingBenedick: "Well, and you be not turn'dTurk,there'sno more sailing
by the star" (3.4.57-58).
46 Philip Massinger,TheRenegado,
(London, 1630), L3r.
A Tragaecomedie

158

SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY

Honest Whore,the man who has inspired Bellafront to forgo prostitutionwarns


her not to relapse, even though he rejects her advances:
tis damnation,
If you turneturkeagaine, oh doe it not,
Th[o] heauen cannot allure you to doe well
From doing ill let hell frightyou: and learne this,
The soule whose bosome lust did neuer touch,
Is Gods fairebride, and maidens soules are such:
The soule thatleauing chastitieswhiteshore,
Swimsin hot sensuall streames,is the diuels whore.47
A similar usage occurs in John Marston's The Dutch Courtezan.When Franceschina, a Dutch prostituteliving in London, is abandoned by the man who has
"converted" her from a common whore to a loyal mistress,she asks: "vat sal
become of mine poore flesh now, mine body must turne Turke for 2.d. 0
Diuila, life a mine art, Ick sall be reuengde, doe ten thousand Hell damme me,
Ick sal haue the rogue trote cut...48
Writers of the time frequently compared reformed prostitutes to religious
"convertites." In fact, there were nunneries on the Continent made up of
"converted" whores. Under convertist,
the OED cites Randle Cotgrave (1611)
"Filles repenties,an order of Nunnes which haue beene profest whores; Conuertists." And it defines convertite
as "A reformed Magdalen," quoting Bishop
Jewel's 1565 attack on the toleration of whorehouses in Rome, where Jewel
links this allowance to the issue of celibacy: "If they turne and repent, there
are houses called Monasteries of the Conuertites, and special prouision and
discipline for them, where they are taught how to bewaile their vnchaste life
so sinfullypast ouer."49
Though post-Reformation England lacked nunneries, plays and stories
about "converted" prostitutes were popular.50 At the time of Othello's first
performances, there was a contemporaneous fashion for plays that dramatized life in the stews or featured reformed prostitutes.5' These plays include
Thomas Middleton's Blurt,Master-Constable(1602) -set, like Othello,in Venice -Michaelmas Terme(1607), YourFive Gallants (1608), and A Mad World,My
Masters (1608); Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's The Woman Hater
(1607); Edward Sharpham's The Fleire (1607); as well as Marston's Dutch
Courtezan and Dekker's Honest Whore. (The latter appeared in its second
Thomas Dekker, TheHonestWhore(London, 1604), G2v-G3r.
48JohnMarston,TheDutchCourtezan(London, 1605), C3r.
4 OED, 3:874. Donne uses theword convertite
in twoof the poems he wrotewhilein France, Of
theProgress
oftheSoul. TheSecondAnniversary
and theverseepistle"A Letterto the Lady Carey,and
MistressEssex Rich,fromAmiens" (218-31 [1.518] and 231-33 [1.7]). In both of thesepoems,
Donne refersironicallyto those who convertto Catholicismfor material gain. A note in W.
Milgate's edition tellsus that " . . . in French converti
was a name given to beggarswho made a
professionof theirchange of religionin order to extractalms frompassers-by" (John Donne,
The Epithalamions
Anniversaries
and Epicedes,ed. W. Milgate [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978],
176n).
50 For one example of this genre, see the section entitled "The conuersion of an English
Courtizan" in Robert Greene's Dispvtationbetweene
a Hee Conny-catcher
and a SheeConny-catcher
(London, 1592).
51 For a briefdescriptionof thistrend (withoutreferenceto Othello),
see CyrusHoy, Introductions,Notes,and Commentaries
totextsin 'TheDramaticWorks
ofThomasDekker',
Fredson Bowers,ed.,
4 vols. (Cambridge: CambridgeUP, 1979), 2:10-14.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

159

printededitionunder the titleTheConverted


Curtezan.)Shakespeare'sMeasure
forMeasure(1604), writtenat almost the same time as Othello,
also refersto
scenes of brothellife.
Manyof thesecomedies include plotsor subplotsin whicha penitentwhore
eitherfallsin love withor is marriedto one of the male characters.A male
"wittol" is sometimestrickedinto marryingthe "honest whore," and this
duped husband thusbecomes an instantcuckold.Othello becomes convinced
thathe isjust such a cuckold and dupe, and the conventionalelementsof the
whore-cuckoldplot do seem to have been in Shakespeare's mind when he
wrotehis "domestic tragedy."52Both "honest" and "whore" are keysignifiers in the text ("honest whore" is the sexual equivalentof Othello's racial
oxymoron"noble Moor"). Cuckoldryand jealousy, basic concernsof comic
drama in seventeenth-century
England, are centralto the action of Othello,
where Jago plays the cony-catcherand Othello imagines himselfto be a
cuckoldwho is deceived bya "super- subtle" Venetiancourtesan.The case of
Desdemona is a tragicinversionor parody of the patternof the reformed
courtesan. Though Othello calls her "that cunning whore of Venice"
(4.2.88), she is "honest."
In one of his soliloquies,JagodepictsOthello as a lust-drivendupe, whose
idolatrousworshipof Desdemona makes him vulnerableto apostaticalbackslidingor conversionby a courtesan:
... for her

To win the Moor, were't to renounce his baptism,


All seals and symbolsof redeemed sin,
His soul is so enfetteredto her love,
That she maymake, unmake, do whatshe list,
Even as her appetiteshall play the god
Withhis weak function.
(2.3.309-15)

The same "weak function"thatled him to worshipDesdemona willallowhim


to "renounce his baptism" and convert(or revert)to the cruel waysof the
Turk. Othello's supposed propensityfor religiousinstability
is, at the same
time,a libidinalweaknesslike thatattributedto the Islamic convert.
The alleged sexual excesses of the Muslimswere linked to those of the
Moors or black Africans,who are frequentlydescribed in the Westerntradition as a people naturallygiven to promiscuity.53
Leo Africanussaysof the
NorthAfricanMoors thatthereis "no nation vnder heauen more prone to
venerie.... "54 Othello, the noble Moor of Venice, is, as we shall see below,
not to be identifiedwitha specific,historically
accurateracialcategory;rather
he is a hybridwho mightbe associated,in the minds of Shakespeare's audience, witha whole set of related terms-Moor, Turk,Ottomite,
Saracen,Maho52 For discussionof the comic conventionsin Othello,
see Barbara Heliodora C. de Mendonca,
" 'Othello': A TragedyBuilton Comic Structure,"SS 21 (1968): 31-38; Susan Snyder,TheComic
MatrixofShakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet,Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear (Princeton,
Tragedies:
NJ:PrincetonUP, 1979), 70-90; and Frances Teague, "Othelloand New Comedy," Comparative
Drama 20 (1986): 54-64.
53 See Jack D'Amico, The Moorin EnglishRenaissance
Drama (Tampa: U of South Florida P,
The Africanin EnglishRenaissanceDrama
1991), 63ff;and Eldred Jones, Othello'sCountrymen:
(London: OxfordUP, 1965), 1-26.
54 Africanus,38.

160

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

metan,Egyptian,Judean,Indian-all

constructed and positioned in opposition

to Christianfaithand virtue.More than being identifiedwithany specific


ethnic label, Othello is a theatricalembodimentof the dark, threatening
powersat the edge of Christendom.Othello's identityis derivedfroma complex and multilayeredtraditionof representation
whichincludesthe classical
barbarian,the saracen or "paynimknight"of medievalromance,the blackamoor,and (an earlymodernversionof themedievaltypesoflust,cruelty,and
aggression)the Turk.
For spectatorsat the Globe, the stage Moor (a "white" actorin blackface)
was essentiallyan emblematicfigure,not a "naturalistic"portrayalof a particularethnictype.55
AsJohnGilliesremindsreadersof Othello,
"the sharper,
more elaboratelydifferentiated
and more hierarchicalcharacter of postElizabethanconstructionsof racial differenceare inappropriateto the problems posed bythe Elizabethanother.''56 Nonetheless,a carefullyhistoricized
analysisof termssuch as Moorand Turkcan help us to reconstructmore fully
whatOthello signifiedin the historicallinguisticcontextof earlyseventeenthcenturyEngland.
Looking particularly
at the significanceof Othello's epithet,"the Moor,"
G. K. Hunter describeshow thistermwas understood:
Theword'Moor'wasvery
vagueethnographically,
andveryoftenseemstohave
meantlittlemorethan'black-skinned
outsider',
butitwasnotvaguein itsantitheticalrelationship
to theEuropeannormofthecivilized
whiteChristian.57
In various textsearlymodern Europeans characterizedthe Moors of Iberia
and North Africaas a treacherous,aggressive,and unstable people.58 Leo
Africanusdescribesthe Moors as honestand trustingbutjealous and givento
passionate, vengefulrage when wronged. In Gli Hecatommithi
Cinthio has
Disdemona say " . . . you Moors are so hot by nature that any littlething
moves you to anger and revenge,"59and Shakespeare's Jagotells Roderigo
"These Moors are changeable in theirwills" (1.3.336). Othello's changeabil5 For more information
about the figureof the Moor on the London stage,consultAnthony
Gerard Barthelemy,BlackFace,MalignedRace: TheRepresentation
ofBlacksin EnglishDramafrom
Shakespeare
to Southerne
(Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1987); Ruth Cowhig,
"Blacks in EnglishRenaissancedramaand therole ofShakespeare'sOthello" in Theblackpresence
in Englishliterature,
David Dabydeen, ed. (Manchester,UK: ManchesterUP, 1985), 1-25; and
Elliot H. Tokson, ThePopularImageoftheBlackMan in EnglishDrama,1550-1688 (Boston: G. K.
Hall, 1982).
56JohnGillies,Shakespeare
and thegeography
ofdifference
(Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1994), 32.
Accordingto Gillies's studyof the Shakespearean "mythologyof geographicdifference"(10),
Othello is both "other" and "voyager."He is also the figureof the barbarian,fromoutside the
circuitof civilization.The peripheryofcivilizationwas definedbythe Romansas the orbisterrarum
or orbisterrae(literally,"the circle of lands"), and the civilizedcenterdefinesitselfagainstthe
periphery,withwhich it is fascinated."Monstrous,savage and barbarous" races inhabit the
marginalspaces: thismythology
establishes"the link betweenmonstrosity,
marginsand sexual
promiscuity'" (13).
57 G. K. Hunter, "Elizabethans and Foreigners,"SS 17
(1964): 37-52, esp. 51. On the early
modern etymology
of Moor,see Barthelemy,
whose conclusionsconfirmthose of Hunter: "Moor
can mean. . . non-black Muslim,black Christian,or black Muslim.The onlycertaintya reader
has when he sees the word is thatthe person referredto is not a European Christian" (7ff).
58 See Chew, 518-21.
59 Giraldi Cinthio,Gli Hecatommithi
(1566). A modern English translationof Cinthio's Italian
text is provided in Narrativeand DramaticSourcesofShakespeare,
ed. GeoffreyBullough, 8 vols.
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Columbia UP, 1957-75), 7:239-52, esp. 245.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

161

ityis linkedto his "exorbitance" (Gillies's term)and to his ambiguousstatus


as a ChristianMoor and a mercenarywhose loyaltyis forhire. He is, in the
wordsof Jago,"an erringbarbarian" (1.343) who has strayedfromhis natural
course into the civilized,super-subtleenvironmentof Venice. As a "noble
Moor," Othello is a walkingparadox, a contradictionin terms.He is a "purified"and ChristianizedMoor, convertedto whiteness,washed clean bythe
watersof baptism.Or at leastit appears so at first.But the playseems to prove
the ancientproverb" abluis Aethiopem,quidfrustra"as the Moor showshis true
color-demonic black,burntby hellfireand cursed by God.60
We may inferfromJago'scommentat 4.2.216 that Othello is a nativeof
Mauritania,but the playmakesit clear fromthe beginningthatOthello is or
has become a Christian.Shakespearemayhave knownfromPory'stranslation
of Leo Africanusthatsome Moors "are GentileswhichworshipIdols; others
of the sect of Mahumet; some others Christians;and some Jewishin religion."'6' Popular knowledgeof ChristianandJewishminoritiesunder Islamic
rulewas limited,however,and earlymodernparlance oftendemonstratesthe
English Protestants'misunderstandingof Islam's ethnic and political complexity.The wordsMoor and Turk,forexample,weresometimesused to refer
to the people of Morocco or Turkey,but more oftentheysignified
specifically
a generalized Islamic Other.62English popular culture,including drama,
rarelydistinguishedbetweenMuslims:theMoors ofBarbarywereoftencalled
Turks, and, in spite of their iconoclastic monotheism,Muslims were still
condemned as "pagan idolaters" by manywriters.A fewpeople among the
educated classes of Shakespeare'sEngland mighthave knownthatnot all of
the BarbaryMoors were unenlightenedpagans or even benighted "Mahometans," but most English were unaware of the Muslim rulers' policy of
religioustoleration,which allowedJews,Christians,and Muslimsto live togetherpeacefullywithinthe same community.This policydifferedradically
fromthatof England, where the normwas religiouspersecutionand where
veryfewJewsor Muslimswere permittedto maintainresidence.
In Spain, too, persecutionand intolerancewere the rule. Afterthe Reconquista, the Moriscoinhabitantsof Spain and Portugalprovidedan example of
MuslimMoorswho wereofficially
convertedand baptizedbutwho engaged in
covertIslamicpracticesand were increasinglyregardedwithsuspicionbythe
Spanish Church.63Because he is a ChristianizedMoor, a mercenaryMorisco,
60
See Karen Newman," 'And washtheEthiopwhite':femininity
and themonstrousin Othello"
in Shakespeare
Reproduced:
Thetextin history
and ideology,
JeanE. Howard and MarionF. O'Connor,
eds. (New York and London: Methuen, 1987), 143-62.
61 Africanus,
6. See also the discussionin D'Amico, 63ff.If he consultedthe Englishtranslation
of Leo Africanus,Shakespearemayhave been influencedbyPory'saccount ofAfricanus,
who was
himselfa Moorish convertto Christianity.
For analysisof the similaritiesbetween Othello and
Africanus,see Whitney;Johnson; and Emily C. Bartels, "Making More of the Moor: Aaron,
Othello, and Renaissance Refashioningsof Race," Shakespeare
41 (1990): 433-54.
Quarterly
62 One contemporary
source definesTurkin the followingway:" . . . the wordTurke (being a
Tartarianword) signifieth
one thatis accursed and a vagabond" ( ThePolicyofTheTurkish
Empire,
7r). The OED entryfor Turkcitesan Englishtraveler,
Thomas Dallam, who visitedthe Ottoman
sultan's court at the end of the sixteenthcentury.He referredto his guide and translator,or
"drugaman," as "a Turke, but a Cornish man borne" (Thomas Dallam, The Diary ofMaster
ThomasDallam, 1599-1600, reprintedin EarlyVoyages
and Travelsin theLevant,ed. J. Theodore
Bent [London: HakluytSociety,1893], 1-98, esp. 79).
63 There was a Morisco uprisingin Spain in 1568-70, supported, to a limited degree, by
MuslimsfromNorth Africa.It was put down by a Spanish armyunder Don John of Austria.

162

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

Othello,like the Moors of Spain, is suspectand liable to relapse. His race and
his religiousidentity,his nobilityand his Christianity
are all questionable.
Othello's oxymoronicepithet,"the noble Moor," signifiesa split identity,
somethingunstableand unnatural.Othello's religiousaffiliation
at the time
of the playis Christian,but his originsare unclear. Indeterminacyand instabilityof identityformthe common denominatorforunderstandinghis character.He is a kindof renegade and thusan object of suspicionin a playabout
suspicion.

When Othello tells "Of being taken by the insolent foe / And sold to
slavery;of myredemptionthence" (1.3.136-37), are we to understandthat
he was a ChristianMoor taken captiveby Islamic corsairs,perhaps the renegades of Barbary,and then "redeemed" byChristians?Or did his "redemption" involve a conversionfrom Islam to Christianity?
The text does not
answerthisquestion, but the textdoes identifyOthello withthe renegades
themselves.On several occasions lago associates Othello withrenegade pirates,callinghim a "Barbaryhorse" and referring
to his elopementas an act
of piracy:"he tonighthath boarded a land carrack;/ If it provelawfulprize,
he's made forever" (1.2.50-51). Like a "Barbarian" pirateor a lustyTurk,
Othello has secretlyand suddenlydeceived Brabantio and stolen awaywith
Desdemona, Brabantio'sprized possession.
The play's firstact presentsa clear analogy between Othello's successful
theftof Desdemona and the Turks' equally treacherousattemptto steal Cyprus: "So let the Turk of Cyprusus beguile,/ We lose it not so long as we can
smile" (1.3.208-9), saysBrabantio,equating Othello with "the Turk" and
protestingthat "if such actions" as Othello's stolen marriage "may have
passage free,/ Bondslavesand pagans shall our statesmenbe" (1.2.98-99).
Brabantioexaggeratesforeffect,but his fear that "Bondslaves and pagans"
mightbeguile theirway to power,command, and possession reflectsa real
concernabout the growingstrengthof Islamicsea power,much of thatpower
based on galleysmanned byslavesor renegades and sometimescommanded
by renegade captainsor admirals.64
In fact,the Venetians' willingnessduring the sixteenthand seventeenth
centuriesto allow free passage in the Adriaticto the Turks in exchange for
tradeconcessionsand access to Ottomanportshad placed themin a controversialpositionin the eyes of theirChristianco-religionists,especiallythose
who heeded the Pope's call fora general crusade againstthe infidel.At the
time that Shakespeare was writingOthello,the Venetians were enjoying a
period of peace and good relationswiththe Ottoman sultanate,while the
Hapsburgswere engaged in a long, exhaustingwar againstthe Turks (1593terms
1606). Throughoutthisperiod the Englishgovernmentwas on friendly
withthe Ottomans.65

During thiswarthousandsof Moorishcaptiveswere takenbythe Spanish and sold into slaveryin


Italy.Manyof thembecame galleyslaves,and some would have servedas rowersat the battleof
Lepanto, in ships thatfoughtagainsttheirfellowMuslims;see Braudel, 1069-87.
64 The most famous renegade admiral was Aruj, known as Kheyr-ed-Din (or Barbarossa), a
Greekwho convertedto Islam and rose to commandthe Ottomanfleetin the Mediterranean.He
was the founderof the corsaircenter at Algiers,where constructionof the Great Mole began
under his sponsorshipin 1529.
65 The Englishhad been grantedcommercialcapitulationsbythe sultan,allowingtradein the
Levant,in May of 1580. See S. A. Skilliter,WilliamHarborneand theTradewithTurkey,
1578-1582:

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

163

The peace treatythat Venice concluded with the Turks in 1573 relinquished Cyprus,and, in 1595, the Venetiansreaffirmed
and expanded their
commercialalliance withthe Ottomansin yet another treaty.These agreementswere partlythe resultof Venetian resistanceto papal pressures.(The
quarrelbetweenVenice and the Pope was observedwithgreatinterestbythe
English,who expressedstrongsupportfortheVenetians.66)FromtheEnglish
Protestantpoint of view,Venice was a sphere of tolerance and rationality
located between the twintyranniesof papal superstitionon one hand and
Islamic "paganism" on the other.67During the late sixteenthand earlyseventeenthcenturies,the Englishfoes of Spanish/papal hegemonylooked favorablyon Venice because of its strongresistanceto counter-Reformation
papism and to the powerof theJesuits.In the imaginativegeographyof early
modern England, Venice stood for wealth, commerce, multiculturalexrationalwisdomand justice, tolerance,neutrality,
change, politicalstability,
ity,republicanism,pragmatism,and openness.68In fact,Venice was attempting to carryout a peaceable yetprofitabletradein an economic sphere that
was ruled byviolence.69The English,like the Venetians,were eager to establish and sustaintrade linkswithareas under Islamic rule. Nonetheless,most
Londoners would have thoughtof the Ottomansultanor "Grand Seigneur"
not as a commercial partnerbut as the absolute ruler of an empire that
menaced all Christendom.
As the Ottomansbegan to dominatethe easternMediterranean,the traditionalnotionof a marriagebetweenVenice and the sea led tojokes about the
Turk cuckolding the impotentVenetian patriarchsor raping the Venetian
virgin.A 1538 sonnet by Guillaume DuBellay makes thispoint:

A documentary
ofthefirstAnglo-Ottoman
relations(London: OxfordUP, 1977); Ralph Davis, "England and the Mediterranean,1570-1670" in Essaysin theEconomic
and SocialHistory
ofTudorand
StuartEngland,F.J. Fisher,ed. (Cambridge:University
Press, 1961), 117-37; H. G. Rawlinson,
"EarlyTrade betweenEngland and the Levant,"JournalofIndianHistory
2 (1922): 107-16; and
T. S. Willan,"Some Aspectsof EnglishTrade withthe Levantin the SixteenthCentury,"English
HistoricalReview70 (1955): 399-410.
66 See WilliamH. McNeill, Venice:
TheHingeofEurope1081-1797 (Chicago and London: U of
Chicago P, 1974), 183ff.
67 Protestantpolemics againstRoman Catholicismfrequently
equated Islam and Roman Catholicism(see Chew, 101). The notion of Islam (the religionof "Moors," "Mahometans," and
"Saracens") as a varietyof pagan idol worshipbegan in romance tradition(in the Chansonde
Rolandthe Islamic knightsworshipan unholytrinity
of idols-Mahound, Apollin,and Jupiter)
and had a remarkablepersistenceamong educated Europeans. See Norman Daniel, Heroesand
Saracens:An Interpretation
oftheChansons de Geste (Edinburgh:EdinburghUP, 1984), 263-64.
Spenser, for example, draws on this traditionwhen presentingRoman Catholic lawlessness,
in the formof threeSaracen knightsin Book I of TheFaerieQueene.
joylessness,and faithlessness
68 See David C. McPherson,Shakespeare,
Jonson,and theMythofVenice(Newark:U of Delaware
P; London and Toronto: AssociatedUniversity
Presses,1990). For furtherinformationon the
EnglishperceptionofVenice and theVenetiancontext,consultDonald E. Queller, TheVenetian
Patriciate:RealityversusMyth(Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1986); Eco 0. G. Haitsma
in theSeventeenth
trans.GerardT.
Mulier,TheMythofVeniceand DutchRepublicanThought
Century,
Moran (Assen,The Netherlands:Van Gorcum,1980);J. R. Hale, ed., RenaissanceVenice(London:
A Maritime
Faber and Faber, 1973); FrederickC. Lane, Venice:
Republic(Baltimore:JohnsHopkins
and theSublime
UP, 1973); LucetteValensi,TheBirthoftheDespot:Venice
Porte,trans.ArthurDenner
(Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell UP, 1993); and McNeill.
69 See Alberto Tenenti, Piracyand theDeclineof Venice,1580-1615, trans.Janet and Brian
Pullman (London: Longmans, 1967).

164

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY
Mais ce que l'on en doit le meilleurestimer
C'est quand ces vieux coquz vont espouser la mer,
Dont ilz sont les maris,et le Turc l'adultere.
(But thatwhichyou mustfinddoes best adorn her
Is when those cuckoldsold go wed the sea.
Venetianshusbands then,the Turk the horner.)70

The longevity and supposed civic virtue of Venice's republican government


led to a conventional comparison of Venice with virginity.David McPherson,
in his study of the English "myth of Venice," shows that "writer after writer
identifies her preservation of her liberty (freedom from domination by a
foreign power) with sexual chastity."'" But this virgin bride of the Mediterranean needed the protection of virile foreigners. According to Fynes Moryson,
the GentlemenofVenice are traynedvpp in pleasureand wantonnes,whichmust
needes abase and effeminatetheirmyndes.Besides that this State is not sufficientlyfurnishedwithmen and more speciallywithnatiue Commaundersand
Generalls,nor yetwithvictualls,to vndertake(of theirowne power withoutassistance) a warragainstthe Sultane of Turky.This wantof Courage, & especially
the feare lest any Citizen becoming a great and popular Commaunder in the
Warrs,mighttherebyhaue meanes to vsurpevppon the libertyof theirState,
seeme to be the Causes thatfortheirLand forcestheyseldome haue any natiue
Comaunders,and alwayesvse a forrayneGenerall.72
The desperate lack of manly leadership in Venice is dramatized in the firstact
of Othello,where an alien is given charge of the protection of the Venetian
empire against the Turk. To the English audience this reliance on a Moorish
renegade-type like Othello would have been almost as shocking as the elopement and miscegenation permitted by the Venetian senate.
To the people of Shakespeare's London, the Mediterranean maritime
sphere, including Cyprus and the Venetian territories,must have seemed like
a violentlyunstable sea of troubles -and yet one where vast fortunes could be
made by trade and plunder.73 It was the ultimate free market, in which privateers under many differentflags took what theycould by force. The English
translation of Nicholas de Nicolay's Nauigations, peregrinationsand voyages,
made into Turkie contains a typicallysensational account of the Turks' and
Moors' piratical activities:
The most part of the Turkesof Alger,whethertheybe of the kingshoushold or
the Gallies, are Christiansrenied, or Mahumetised,of al Nations,but most of
them,Spaniards,Italians,and of Prouience,of the Ilands and Coastes of the Sea
Mediterane,giuen all to whoredome,sodometrie,theft,and all other most detestable vices, lyuing onely of rouings, spoyles, & pilling. . . and with their
70 Quoted here fromMcPherson,32 (McPherson'stranslation).

71 McPherson,33. See also Vaughan, 16-21.


72 FynesMoryson,Shakespeare's
Europe:A SurveyoftheConditionofEuropeat

theend ofthe16th
century.
Beingunpublished
chapters
ofFynesMoryson'sItinerary(1617), ed. Charles Hughes, 2d ed.
(New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967), 139.
73 English and Dutch merchantmenwere increasingly
successfulin thisenvironment(due in
large part to superiornauticaltechnology)at the expense ofVenetian seapowerand prosperity;
see Tenenti, 56-86.

TURNINGTURKIN OTHELLO

165

practick
artbryngdaylytoo Algera numberofpore Christians,
whichtheysell
vntotheMoores,and othermerchauntes
ofBarbarie....74
Again,we see that"Turks" are not necessarilyfromTurkeyproper-anyone
who "turnsTurk" andjoins the Muslimpiratesis associatedwitha group that
is imagined as radicallyheterogeneousand, at the same time,united in evil.
The Mediterraneanlittoralin the sixteenthand seventeenthcenturieswas
a place where internationalalliances shiftedrapidlyand territorialchanges
wereconstantly
takingplace, includingtradeagreementsand mutual-defense
pacts betweenChristianand Muslimleaders.75Furthermore,the widespread
practiceof piracywas increasinglya free-for-allin whichmulti-ethniccrews
foughteach otherforspoils,the strongpreyingon the weak. ManyChristian
sailorsand shipcaptainshad "taken the turban,"formally
convertingto Islam
in order to enjoy the freedomand protectionof the Barbaryportsin North
Africa,while corsairsmanned by Christiancrewsroamed the Mediterranean
attackingboth Christianand Muslimtargets.76
In manycases itwas the temptationof lucrativeemploymentthatmotivatedChristiansailorsand soldiersto
turnTurk and become renegade piratesor join the Ottoman army.77
All of
thiswas a source of fascinationand bewildermentto the English,citizensof a
relativelyhomogeneous and isolated nation.
The choice of Cyprusas a settingfor much of the play is Shakespeare's
(Cinthio's textnot referringto such a locale), and there are particularfeatures of the island that make it well suited for Shakespeare's imaginative
geography.The voyagefromVenice to VenetianCyprusconstitutedajourney
from the marginsof Christendomto a surrounded and besieged outpost
(Figure2). Accordingto Knolles,"The Venetianshad euer had greatcare of
the island of Cyprvs,as lyingfarrefromthem,in the middestof the sworne
enemies of the Christianreligion,and had thereforeoftentimesdetermined
to haue fortifiedthe same...."78 If we look at a sixteenth-century
English
map of theMediterraneanworld,we findCyprusin the extremesouthwestern
corner,encircledby Egypt,Syria,and Turkey(Figures3 and 4).
Shakespeare's play does not providea historically
accurate representation
of the real invasionof Cyprusby the Turksin 1571 or of anyotherOttoman
attemptto conquer the island.79As noted above, Cypruswas formallyceded
byVenice to the Turksin 1573 afterthreeyearsof futileresistance,including

Nicholas de Nicolay,Nauigations,
peregrinations
and voyages,
madeintoTurkie,trans.T. Washingtonthe younger (London, 1585), 8r.
75 See DorothyM. Vaughan, Europeand theTurk:A Pattern
ofAlliances,1350-1700 (Liverpool:
University
Press,1954).
76 See Tenenti, 16-31; Wolf;and Fisher.
7 See Matar, " 'TurningTurk,' " 37.
78 Knolles,847.
79 Cypruswas conquered bycrusadersunder RichardCoeur de Lion in 1190. It was controlled
by the Lusignan dynastyuntilthe island was annexed by the Venetian republicin 1489. During
the fifteenth
centurythe Mamluksraised armiesand attackedCypruson severaloccasions,most
notablyin 1426,whenan invadingforcesentbySultanBaybarsconquered Nicosia and forcedthe
Lusignan monarchsto pay an annual tribute.When it fell to the invadingTurksunder Sultan
Selim II in 1571, it was the last remaining "outre-mer"territory
conquered by the Frankish
crusaderswhich was still in Christianhands. See George F. Hill, A Historyof Cyprus,4 vols.
(Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1940-52).

C- LA's

eft'1%

r t

ai-f
He~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~J

mw

Shakespeare

Library

waow

terty

iMnluding

Collection.

He XF D'MV,,N,[
'~~~~~~~~~

rr

i*

Venice.

Fr

- |d-.f

La.

slfms
oti,! fortezze, teremanimestoot
F?4-i
g 2 GiovaniAFracsoCmco
ceded Cyrus to th Turksz*
(Vnie
[54],70
ritd>A jut afte the Vneians
th
eeCpu
appeas surroundedby ar
to
Enls
edeso
hkspaestm.
y uks
ertre in whqichl
armis
map show
the isadsrone
Caoi'
Sg~o~iadiVeetaadaniPrncpiChzsiaietalSi~norTuco.
erenss~m
ala
mon
MnorI
resembling
a
with
the
coslarafmEgptoAi
Turkish
Empire,
to the Turks
ceded Cypus
[1574]) 70. Printed jut after the Ventians
(Venice,

nwihame
ertre
yTrks
h sadsrone
ap
hw
Caoi
olcin
C4U
ogrSaepreLbary
gatheringfratc.Foth
Ortelius,Thatu Oerbst
Trau
Detail fro Abaa
(Andterp, 155)
Fi|3
3:DtiArmArhmOtluTetmObsTtam(nwr,19)
Fig.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~A
nFgue4wr
ndteGneaBbema
a
reiu
ot
p.10
following~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~I
amn

heestr

tecatgrpiciagsofTrkyan

yrs

toEgihraeso4hkepaestm.Hr

ihtecatlae
Emie
Turkish~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

strous

oAi

rmEgp

maw readyto swallowChristian

territory, incluing

Mdternenbetknw

per

io

Venice.

uruddb

map
a
h

eebigamn

From the Folge

LirryClecin
Shakespeare~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~hsmpapae
9
esoso
olwigp
a
Gnv,16)
il
4:Hl
Fig.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bibles(of
of
, the
the midmid-to
to.late-sixteenth
at-ixteent centry
centu. Thi
ininman
Englsh..
atclrmp moap,
Thi paricuXlar
Bibes
English
many
reproducedfrom

Pal'.is.......aspsl

reroucdro

the

irst editon

of theGeneva

rmth

Bile,

ActsMan
betwen
is plced

ogrShksereLbayColcin

thE firstedition of theGnvili

place betweencs

an

Collection.
Paul' Firs
Faolgeprt ShakespeareLibrrmarym
Frocom the
Epoanistetthne Romas

Fig. 3

MAed

t;ta "ndiythina.

1~~~~~PLOI

.S

AMLONTA

a_ IS ij q,.,a "

MYS

Abt4~~~~~~~
~~
THE

SEA NIED1TERRAN

Len
1~~~~~~~~~~~~
1~~~~~~I

Ptf~sa-

MAC%

,';

Mefo

~ C~~~~'cn~~~~~k~~~~f-tr~~~~~T
t- -

~c -~-~ ~ .s~
~ ~ ~ ~greseni
~
cyas
uc
7
~.cvsreee
~ ~ ~ arf

f~~~i

LYAO

oc~~~~~TID

SIR&C\

sici 12,

4Th

.'..

<

C{

.~
-~
T

Gr1&SML
Fig.
4

t)~~

<31ASIAr.i
5%.Dironer
b \ Air

t.

Fig 4~~~~~~BB
^-

CALDE4

.sAd~

ein
is

12

168

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

bloodysieges at Nicosia and Famagusta.80This was thirty


yearsbefore Othello
was firstperformedin London.8' Thus Englishaudiences watchinga playset
in Cyprusunder Venetian rule could have interpretedthissettingas a vulnerable outpostdestined to be swallowedup by the Turksand convertedto
Islamicrule.82"Our warsare done" and "the Turkishfleet... are drowned"
(2.1.20, 17-18) would have had an ironic ringforan Englishaudience that
knewof theTurks'victory
overtheVenetiansand thelong-standingOttoman
possessionof Cyprus.
The sensationalcontextof militaryconflictbetween Christiansand Muslims,Italiansand Turks,is dramatizedin the firstscene of the playwhen Iago
tellsRoderigo thatOthello has foughtwithIago "At Rhodes, at Cyprus,and
on other grounds/ Christianand heathen" (1.1.29-30). The sense of urgencyin Venice, the fearsof its leaders faced withthe Turkishthreat,is the
forcethatsetsthebreathlessactionof theplot in motion.It is as ifOthello has
alreadyleftVenice beforewe meet him:
... forhe's embarked

Withsuchloud reasonto theCyprus


wars,
Whichevennowstandsin act,that,fortheirsouls,
Anotherofhisfathomtheyhavenone
To lead theirbusiness....
(11.148-52)
When we do meet Othello in the second scene,we see the duke's messengers
findinghim even more swiftly
than do Brabantio's urgentlyroused forces.
The Turkishthreatto Cyprusis "a businessof some heat" (1.2.40), and the
thirdscene continuesto emphasizea sense ofimpendinginvasionas the duke
calls for immediatemobilization:"Valiant Othello we muststraightemploy
you / Against the general enemy Ottoman" (1.3.48-49). Othello and the
ChristianVenetiansare describedas movinginstantlyin a directline to the
defenseof Cyprus,whilethe shifting
Turksresistinterpretation
bymovingin
a "backward course" which then turnsfromRhodes towardCyprus:"now
theydo restem/ Their backwardcourse, bearing withfrankappearance /
Their purposes towardCyprus" (11.38-39). The syntaxmakes theirmovementsunstableand contradictory,
implyingthe retentionof a morallyquestionable backwardnesseven as theyredirecttheircourse "towardCyprus."
The absentTurks,who neverappear onstagebut are definedas a powerful
threatjust beyondthe boundariesof the action,surroundthe playwiththeir
80 Aftera bloodyseige,Nicosia was takenin Septemberof 1570,itsinhabitantsput to thesword
(Knolles claimed thatmore than fourteenthousandChristianswere slain), its wealthpillaged,
and manyofitscitizenstakenas slaves.Famagustafollowed,aftera courageousresistance.Knolles
reportsthatMustapha,the Ottomangeneral,betrayedthe governorand officials
who came into
his camp to parley,killingand torturingall of them (848-68). EmrysJones showshow some of
Shakespeare's lines echo Knolles's account of the Turkishinvasionof Cyprus,and Jones claims
in his conclusion that "Shakespeare had the eventsof 1570-1 [on Cyprus] in mind" when
composing Othello(50). For a contemporary
account of the seige of Famagustabyan eyewitness,
see Nestore Martinengo,The TrueReportof all theSuccesseofFamagosta,trans.William Malim
(London, 1572).
81 The playalso refers
to Rhodes as a potentialtargetforTurkishaggression(1.3.14-35). It was
taken by the Ottomansin 1522 and was stillin Turkishhands when Shakespearewrote Othello
eightyyearslater.
82 See the sectionentitled"Of Armsand Beards: The Loss of Cyprusand the MythofVenice"
in McPherson,75-81.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

169

unseen presence. The urgent preparation for war presented in the firstact
sets up the expectation of a heroic confrontation between Othello's armyand
the treacherous Ottoman horde. This dramatization of Venetian panic played
on the widespread fears about Turkish expansion and conversion: the specific
uncertainties felt by the Venetians in the play (where will theyattack? Rhodes
or Cyprus?) convey a sense of dread that was felt even in England.83
The firstact of Othellothus prepares the audience for a dramatic blockbuster of global scope (like Marlowe's Tamburlaineplays), involvingone of the
greatest oriental despots of all time, the Turk of Istanbul.84 The play then
begins to build frustrationby violating the generic expectations raised in Act
1. James Calderwood points to the correspondence between coitusinterruptus
in Act 2:
and the milesinterruptus
[the audience is] led to expect a battle,to look forwardto experiencingsome
measure of the pomp and gloryand the downrightviolence thatOthello speaks
tempest,the battle
of later.But then,inexplicably,theTurksvanishin an offstage
comes to nought,and we must contentourselveswiththisweak piping time of
peace.
... the impulse to battle is displaced onto sex, issues of state divertinto domesticchannels,and violence to othersturnsreflexive.... The fatalbedding of
Desdemona consummatesthe marriageand our aestheticexpectationsat once.
WithOthello standingin fortheTurk,and Desdemona forCyprus,everyonerests
contentin the perfectionof form.85
The frustratedmale violence that was initiallydirected at the Islamic Other is
turned on the feminine Other, forming a link between militaryaggression
and sexual transgression, between the Turkish threat to Christian power and
the contamination of female sexual purity.
In Othellothe fantasyof divine protection keeps the Turks from encircling
Cyprus. The storm that prevents the Turkish fleet from invading Cyprus in the
play is a fictional version of the providential storms that protected the English
from Spanish armadas in 1588, 1596, 1597, and 1598.86 (" 'God breathed and
they were scattered' " was a motto inscribed on one of Elizabeth's Armada
medals.87) The idea of a tempest sent by God against the invading fleet of an
evil empire is found in providentialist propaganda directed against the Spanish and the Turkish powers (who were often associated in a Protestant historiography that found causal connections between the rise of papal tyrannyor
83 The marginalmenace of the Turksframesthe action in severalof Shakespeare'splaysset in
Night,MuchAdo AboutNothing,The Tamingofthe
the Mediterranean,including Othello,Twelfth
Shrew,and All's WellThatEnds Well.In these playsthisoffstagepower is associatedwithpiracy,
and war.
captivity,
84 In fact,therewere a numberof playswritten
in earlymodernEngland whichfeatured"the
Great Turk." Those extantinclude [Thomas Kyd], The TragedieofSolimonand Perseda(1599);
[Greene], TheFirstPartoftheTragicallRaigneofSelimus(1594); Fulke Greville'scloset plays,The
tragedie
Tragedy
ofMustapha(1609) and Alaham(ca. 1598-1600);John Mason, TheTurke.A worthie
(1610); and twoplayswrittenbyThomas Goffe,TheRagingTurke,orBaiazettheSecond(1631) and
The CovragiovsTvrke,Or, AmvraththeFirst.A Tragedie(1632). See Simon Shepherd's chapter
Theatre(Brighton,UK Harvester
"Turks and Fathers"in his Marloweand thePoliticsofElizabethan
Press,1986), 142-77.
85JamesL. Calderwood, The Properties
of Othello (Amherst:U of MassachusettsP, 1989),
126-27.
86 On the connection between these armada-dispersing
see
tempestsand the one in Othello,
Bullough,ed., 7:213-14.
87
1959), 390.
Quoted here fromGarrettMattingly,TheArmada(Boston: Houghton Mifflin,

170

SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY

corruptionand the coming of Islam as a divine scourge). Cypruswas like


England in being a "beleaguered isle," victimizedby an "Eastern" foe bent
on the extirpationof Christianrule.88
But the Turkishdemon is not so easilyexorcisedfromShakespeare's play,
and the destructiveenergyand crueltyof the Turk is repressedonly temporarilyand soon returns,appearingwithinthe Christiancommunity.
When the
drunken affrayinstigatedby Iago disturbsOthello's "balmy slumbers,"he
emergesfromhis nuptialbed to speak these lines:
Arewe turnedTurks,and to ourselves
do that
WhichheavenhathforbidtheOttomites?
ForChristian
shame,putbythisbarbarousbrawl.
(2.3.151-53)
These wordsimply,first,that "heaven" has providentially
intervenedon the
side of theVenetiannavy,preservingtheirshipswhiledispersingand perhaps
destroyingthe Turkishfleet;second, that the Turk's own religionprohibits
drinkingand brawling;and, third,thatChristianorder has been convertedto
Islamicviolence.Multipleironieshere point to the conversionthatOthello is
about to undergo.
This conversionoccurs in a text that relentlesslyemploys the Christian
language of damnation and salvation,and in which "diabolical imagery"is
used in almost everyscene.89 This is part of the play's rootedness in the
morality-play
tradition,though the moralityplay of Othellois a tragedyof
damnation,not a divine comedy,and it ends withthe triumphof the Vice,
that "demi-devil" Iago, who has won another soul forSatan.90
In the speeches that immediatelyprecede the killingof Desdemona, the
Moor's referencesto Christianmercyand to the salvationof hiswife'ssoul are
highlyironic,given his own lack of mercy.Othello entersprofessingpious
concern and attemptingto conferthe sanctionof divinejustice on the act of
murder."It is the cause, it is the cause" (5.2.1), he intones,in an effortto
justifythe executionofan accused adulteress.9'Othello presentshimselfas an
88 See F. Ferndndez-Armesto,
"Armada Myths:the FormativePhase" in God'sObviousDesign:
PapersfortheSpanishArmadaSymposium,
Sligo,1988, P. Gallagher and D. W. Cruickshank,eds.
(London: Tamesis Books, 1990), 19-39; and Carol Z. Wiener,"The Beleaguered Isle. A Studyof
Elizabethan and EarlyJacobean Anti-Catholicism,"Past and Present51 (1971): 27-62.
89 Many of the scholarlydebates on Othelloconducted in this centuryhave raised literalminded questionsabout the moral or religious"character" of Othello (questions thatperhaps
have been invalidatedby our poststructuralist
understandingof textual "character"). See, for
example, the debate on damnationand the "Christianness"of Othelloin SylvanBarnet,"Some
Limitationsof a ChristianApproach to Shakespeare," ELH 22 (1955): 81-92; S. L. Bethell,
"Shakespeare's Imagery:The Diabolic Images in Othello,"SS 5 (1952): 62-80; Edward Hubler,
"The Damnation of Othello: Some Limitationson the ChristianView of the Play," SQ 9 (1958):
295-300; Paul N. Siegel, "The Damnation of Othello," PMLA 68 (1953): 1068-78; and Robert
H. West,"The Christiannessof Othello,"SQ 15 (1964): 333-43.
90 Bernard Spivak explores this patternin Shakespeare
and theAllegory
ofEvil: TheHistoryofa
in RelationtoHis Major Villains(New York: Columbia UP, 1958).
Metaphor
91 Of course, the punishmentof an adulteresswas stopped by Christin a biblical scene that
resonatesironicallywiththe religiouslanguage of the murderscene and withOthello's claim to
be "merciful."The finalverse ofJohn 8:1-11 reads: "And Jesussaide vnto her, Neitherdoe I
condemne thee: Goe, and sinne no more" ( TheHolyBible,Conteyning
theOld Testament
and theNew
[London, 1611], K2v). The Elizabethan homily"Againstwhordome and adulterie" refersto
allegedlysevere punishmentforadulteryamong various Islamic peoples: "If anye amonge the
Egyptianshadde bene takenin adulterye,the Lawe was,thathe shoulde openlyin yepresence of

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

171

agent of divineretributionand male honor who is forcedto enact a terrible


but righteouspunishment- "else she'll betraymore men" (1. 6). Presuming
Othello triesto play the priestand asks forDesdean absolutistinfallibility,
mona's confession.Despite his efforts
to maintaincalm and control,thescene
ends injealous rage,withOthello hastilystiflingDesdemona's last requestto
pray.
As he finishesthe murder,Othello again takesup the pose of divineagent
and minister,declaring, "I that am cruel am yet merciful" (1. 88). These
wordsrepresentattributes
of both the Old Testamentand theNew Testament
deity.(Modern audiences mightalso hear in thisline an echo of the Islamic
epithetforAllah,the compassionateand merciful.)The Moor sees himselfas
a "scourge of God," come to mete out cruel but necessarypunishmentfor
Desdemona's "sin" (1. 53). His appropriationand perversionof Christian
ritualmaybe seen as a horriblymisguidedattemptto rationalizeand sanctify
his bloody deed in the name of religion.Here, Othello's religiousrhetoric
remindsus of theallegationsagainstMahomet,who was accused ofperverting
religiousdoctrinetojustifyhis own violentand lustfulways.
Othello's irreligiousassumption-or presumption-of an absolute power
over lifeand death demonstrateshis conversionto a kind of orientaldespotismor tyrannicallordship.92In this,the characterof Othello partakesof a
stereotypedeveloped byWesternauthors-the representationof the "cruel
who hastily
Moor" (1.247) or bloodyTurk,especiallythesultanor slavemaster
and merciless"justice." The Islamic prince is freenacts a violent,arbitrary,
quentlyrepresentedin earlymodern textsas a tyrantwho rules bywill and
appetite,committingrash acts in the name of honor or falsereligion.93This
sortof stockcharacterhas a long history,going back to the Moorishvillains
of the romance traditionand the stage tyrantsof medieval drama. Once
Othello gives way to his jealous will and "tyrannoushate" (3.3.450), the
audience sees him transformed
into a versionof the Islamic tyrant.
In particular,themurderofDesdemona bytheMoor would have reminded
audiences of the storyof the sultanand the fairGreek,Irene, an exemplary
tale of Islamic crueltywhichfeaturesan Ottomanemperor (usuallyAmurath

all the people bee scourged naked withwhipps,vnto the number of a thousande stripes,the
woman thatwas takenwithhim had her nose cut offwherebyshee was knoweneuer after,to bee
a whore,and therforeto be abhorredof all men. Among the Arabians,theythatwere takenin
adulterie,had theirheads strike[n]fromtheirbodies.... Amonge the Turks euen at thisday,
theythatbe taken in adulterie,both man & woman are stoued [stoned] straightwayeto death
withoutmercie" ( CertaineSermonsappointedby the QueensMaiestie,to be declaredand read...
[London, 1595], L3v-L4r).
92 The word lordoccurs repeatedlyin thisscene, withDesdemona referring
to Othello as her
lord and husband in the quarto text and calling on the Lord God. Just before her death,
Desdemona addressesOthello as "mylord" fivetimes,and Emilia refersto himbythistitlemore
than ten times.In the quarto textDesdemona cries "O, Lord, Lord, Lord" as she is smothered,
and her finalwordsare "Commend me to mykind lord. 0 farewell!"(5.2.126).
93 Take, forexample,the characterof Mullisheg,Kingof Fez, in Heywood's TheFairMaid ofthe
West.Or,A Girleworth
gold.Thefirstpart (London, 1631), who declares,
If Kingson earthbe termedDemi-gods,
Whyshould we not make here terrestriall
heaven?
We can, wee will,our God shall be our pleasure,
For so our MecanProphet
warrantsus.
(47)

172

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

I or MahometII) who mustchoose betweenmasculine,military


"honor" and
attachmentto a Christianslavewithwhomhe has fallenin love. This storywas
dramatizedon the London stagein at leastfourdifferent
versionsduringthe
sixteenthand seventeenthcenturies.It was printedin both prose and verse
formsand was widelydisseminated.94One versionof this tale is staged in

Thomas Goffe's The CovragiovsTvrke,Or,AmvraththeFirst,writtencirca 1613-

18 for performanceby Oxford University


students.Goffe'splay followsthe
standardplot but changes the name of Irene to Eumorphe.95Though The
Covragiovs
Tvrkewas writtenafter,and influencedby,Shakespeare's Othello,
the storyit tells was well known long before Shakespeare wrote his play.
Significantto myargumentare the correspondencesbetweenAmurathand
Othello and betweenIrene/Eumorpheand Desdemona, whichdemonstrate
the "Turkish" characterof Othello and allow us to see how Desdemona
would have been recognizedas the victimof Islamic-erotictyranny.
In a scene thatdrawsheavilyon Othello,
forexample, Amurathkissesthe
sleepingEumorpheand is temptedbyher beauty,but he is worriedthat"The
Christiansnowwillscoffeat Mahomet"ifhe allowshis "manlygovernment"to
be weakened by his infatuationwithher.96Urged on by his tutor (who appears disguisedas theghostofAmurath'sfather),Amurathpersuadeshimself
to kill Eumorphe by imaginingthatshe willcuckold him:
For thinkethis(Amurath)thiswomanmay
Prostrateher delicate and Ivorylimbes,

To somebase Page,or Scul,or shrunkup Dwarf:


Or letsomeGroomelyefeedingon herlips,
She maydevisesomemishapentrick,
To satiatehergoatishAmurath,
Andfromherbendedkneesat Meditation,
Be takenbysomeslaveto th' deepe ofHell!97
He then calls in his captainsand nobles to have themwitnessthe "spectacle"
of his masculine strengthand untemptedhonor,whichenable him to resist
"intemperateLust" bykillingthewomanon whomhe dotes.98Beforeslaying
her,however,he askshiswitnessesifthey,too, are not temptedbyher beauty:
Now,whichofyouall is so temperate;
That,did he findthislewelin hisBed
(Vnlessean Eunuch)couldrefraine
to grapple,

And dallywithher?99

They all confesstheirattractionto her and agree thatnothingcould make


themdestroysuch beauty,wereshe theirs.Hearing this,the sultan,in a rage,
9 See Chew's thoroughreconstruction
of the originand reproductionof thisnarrativein early
modern England (478-90). The tragicstoryof the sultanand the slave girlwas staged in a lost
playby George Peele (" 'the famousplayof The TurkishMahometand Hyrinthefair Greek'"); in
Goffe'sThe Covragiovs
Tvrke;in Lodowick Carlell's The Tragedy
ofOsmondtheGreatTurk;and in
GilbertSwinhoe's The Tragedy
oftheUnhappy
Fair Irene(Chew, 483).
95 My quotations fromthe play followGoffe's1632 edition; for dating and commentaryon
sources, consult the introductionin A CriticalOld-Spelling
Editionof ThomasGoffe's
The Courageous Turk,ed. Susan Gushee O'Malley (New York and London: Garland, 1979), 1-73.
96 Goffe,The Covragiovs
Tvrke,D2v and D2r.
97 Goffe,The Covragiovs
Tvrke,D3v.
98 Goffe,The Covragiovs
Tvrke,D4r and D3r.
99Goffe,The Covragiovs
Tvrke,D4r-v.

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

173

cutsoffthe head of the sleepingEumorphe.He then


grabsa swordand swiftly
holds up her bleeding head while sayingto his men, "There, kisse now
(Captaines) doe! and clap her cheeks." "Now," announces Amurath,"shall
our swordsbe exercised,/ In rippingup the breastsof Christians.... forhe
surelyshall / That conquers firsthimselfe,soone conquer all."'00?Despite this
prediction,Amurath'sbeheading of Eumorphe leads not to a long and glorious career but to his imminentdeath and eternaldamnation.
In Goffe'sEpilogue the audience is asked to applaud and therebyhelp
assure the damnationof Amurathand the other Turks,who are crossingto
the underworldover the riverAcheron:
Andas theypass,withioyndstreinght
sinkthebarge
Whichhavereceav'dtheTurkesblackesoulein charge
our hope stands
Allheerwishturkesdestruction
Thatto theirruineyou'leall setyourhands.'0'
The Great Turkjoins his "Predecessors," and the audience participatesin
sendingAmurathto hell.
The CovragiovsTvrkesuggeststhat when English readers and spectators
thoughtof Moors and Turks,theyimaginedthemas rash and violentoppressors who made it a point of religiousand militaryhonor to kill innocent
women. Both Amurath,the "courageous Turk," and Othello, the "noble
Moor," exhibita masculine"courage" whichtheydirectagainsta demonized
Both believe that theyare nobly resistingthe temptationof a
femininity.
"damned whore" whose femininecharmsand wileswillsupposedlyweaken
theirmilitary"virtue." Both Othello and Amurathbelieve thattheirminds
have been hardened against soft,feminineenticementsthat would master
them."Thinke you myminde is waxieto be wrought[?],"asksAmurath,as he
preparesto decapitateEumorphe.102 The ironyis thatAmurath,like Othello,
has been "wrought"upon by a male followerwho succeeds in turninghim
againstthe virtuouswoman he loves and in bringingon his death and damcode
nation. In both cases dramaticironyexposes the murderer'smisogynist
as damnable and deadly to himself.
Kings,butblacke"arise
In Goffe'stragedy,"foureFiends,framedlikeTurkish
fromthe "hell" under the stage to curse Amurathand predicthis damnation.103These infernalfiguresare damned souls, and like the actor playing
Othello, they are disturbingrepresentationsof blackness combined with
Turkishpuissance,but the anxietytheyprovokeis eased, in Goffe'splayas in
Shakespeare's,bythereassuringfactof theireternalpunishment.'04Othello's
damnationis explicitlyannounced in the finalscene. Accordingto Emilia,for
example, Othello's blackness (contrasted with Desdemona's white innocence) is the markof a devildamned: "O, the more angel she, / And you the
blackerdevil!" (5.2.131-32). By the end of Shakespeare's tragedy,Othello's
skincolor has become the external,carnal sign of an internal,spiritualcon10

Goffe,TheCovragiovs
Tvrke,EI r.

101The Epilogue fromwhichthisquotationis drawndoes not appear in the 1632 printedtext

of The Covragiovs
Tvrke,but O'Malley has transcribedit froma privatelyowned manuscriptof
Goffe'splay and included it in her edition (171).
102 Goffe,The Covragiovs
Tvrke,D4v.
103 Goffe,The Covragiovs
Tvrke,H1V.
104 See Barthelemy,
4.

174

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

dition,as the fireand smoke of his passionatejealousy tarnishthe mirrorof


his soul.
In his finalspeeches Othello turnsaway,firstfromthe divinejudge toward
his adversary,Iago; then, when that adversaryis revealed to be the Devil,
Othello turnsto his auditors,onstageand in the audience, to persuade them
of his honorable intentions.This "turning"is a formof apostrophe,addressing the enemyhe has become:
... in Aleppoonce
Wherea malignant
and a turbaned
Turk
Beata Venetianand traducedthestate,
I tookbyth'throat
thecircumcised
dog
Andsmotehimthus.
(11.348-52)
The language here suggestsa circularcutting,as Othello turnson himselfand
plunges the sword into his own bowels, forminga circle with body and

weapon.

105

Circumcision,accordingto Protestanttheology,is an Abrahamicpractice,


abrogated by the coming of Christand the new covenant:
as theleweshaue shewedthemselues
mostobstinate
in theblindnesse
of their
heartsbytheretaining
ofthisceremonie
and theirolde traditions:
so theTurkes
no lessevainein theidlenesseoftheirowneimaginations,
likewise,
haueand do
vse Circumcision,
as a specialltokenor markeof theirfondand superstitious
sect....106

Seventeenth-century
EnglishChristiansbelieved thatadult-maleconversion
to Islam required circumcision.'07In theirminds circumcisionemphasized
the sexual significanceof the change of faith,imagined both as a kind of
castrationor emasculationand as a sign of the Muslims'sexual excess-the
reduction of the phallus signifyingthe need to curtail raging lust.'08 For

Othello to cut himselfreiteratesthe ritualcuttingof his foreskin,whichwas


the sign of his membershipin the communityof stubbornmisbelievers,the
Muslims.To smite "the circumciseddog" is at once to kill the "turbaned
Turk" and to reenacta versionof his own circumcision,signifying
his return
105
Aftercompletingwork on this article,I came across an essay byJulia Reinhard Lupton
whichconfirmsand complementsmanyof mycommentson circumcisionin Othello;
see Lupton,
"OthelloCircumcised:Shakespeare and the Pauline Discourse of Nations," Representations
57
(Winter1997): 73-89.
106 ThePolicyofThe Turkish
Empire,22v.
107
See, forexample, the circumcisionscene in RobertDaborn's playA Christian
turn'dTurke
(London, 1612), F2v-F3r. Accordingto Nicolay,those who change "frombaptismeto circumcision," convertingto Islam fromChristianity,
bringupon themselvesthe "eternallperditionof
theirsoules" (69r). Kelletttakesverse5:2 fromPaul's epistleto the Galatiansas his text:"If yee
be circumcised,
Christshall profit
you nothing";he also refersto the renegades' "stayningand
ingrayningof the Christalclere-sauingwaterof Baptisme,withthe bloud of Circumcision" (1
and 18).
108 At the end of Heywood'splay TheFair Maid oftheWest,
the clownishtapster,Clem,foolishly
asks to receive the "honour" of an appointmentas Mullisheg's "chiefe Eunuch" in the royal
haremand discovershisfollywhenhe is about to be castrated(see 60-63, esp. 62 and 61). In that
playand in otherEnglishrepresentations
of Christiansconvertingto Islam, thereis a confusion
of castrationand circumcision,of eunuchs and renegadeswho "turnTurk." See also Shapiro's
commentson the theologicaland culturalsignificanceof circumcisionin his chapter entitled
" 'The Pound of Flesh' " (113-30).

TURNING TURK IN OTHELLO

175

to the "malignant" sect of the Turks and his reunion withthe misbelieving
devils.'09
The play'srecurrentreferencesto hell and damnationlead the audience to
consider the eternalconsequences of Othello's suicide forhis soul. Suicide,
fora Christian,is a faithlessact of despair,bringingcertaindamnation.Having toldDesdemona "I would not killthysoul" (1.32), Othello goes on to kill
his own soul bytakinghis own life,once again usurpingGod's poweroverlife
and death. Taken out of context,Othello's suicide mightbe interpretedas a
noble act in the traditionof pagan heroes likeAntony;but read in the context
of the play's persistently
Christianlanguage of divinejudgment, it merely
confirmshis identityas an infidel-an irasciblecreaturewhose recklessviolence leads him to damnation.
The desperate griefthatOthello expressesjust before his suicide may be
called a 'Judas repentance." And indeed, in his despair Othello compares
himselfto thatcircumcisedrenegade and suicide, "the base Iudean" (if we
followthe Folio text [TLN 3658]).' 10 Judas's suicide, according to Byam's
sermon,was promptedby the Devil's eagernessto see Judas damned: "Yea I
know some that tell vs how for thisverycause [fear of a last-minuterepentance leading to salvation]the Deuill hasted to takeIudas out of thislife,least
knowingthat therewas a wayto turneto Saluation, He mightby pennance
recouer his fall. I' I I
The EnglishProtestant"Homily of repentance,and of true reconciliation
vnto God" warns that those who "onely allowe these three partsof repentance, the contritionof the heart, the confessionof the mouth, and the
satisfactionof the worke," will not receive divine mercy."12 In the homily,
repentanceis repeatedlyfiguredas a turning.True repentanceis definedas
"the conuersion or turningagain of the whol man vnto God, fromwhome
wee goe awaybysinne."ll13 The opening sentencesof the homilydeclare that
repentance is essential to prevent"eternall damnation." There are "foure
principallpointes,that is, fromwhatwe must returne,to whome wee must
returne,bywhomewee mayebee able to conuert,and the mannerhowe for
to turne vnto GOD.... Reuertimini
vsquead me,saith the Lord.""'4 Rather
than turningto God and askingforHis mercy,Othello disregardsthe words
of the homily:"theydoe greatlyerre,whichdonot turnevnto God, but vnto
the creatures,or vntothe inuentionsof men, or vntotheyrowne merites.""15
Like Judas, Othello exhibitsa self-destructive
remorse
(as opposed to true
repentance
and humble submission to God's will); like Judas, Othello is
damned forhis betrayalof innocence.
Damnationis thefateChristiansliked to imagineforall thosewho followed
the path of Islam. Robert Carr's commentsin The Mahumetaneor Turkish
Historietypify
English beliefsabout how God willjudge the Muslims: "the
109It is interestingto note that in Aleppo for a Christianto strikea Muslim was a crime
punishable by death, and that the only way for a Christianto avoid the penaltywould be to
convert;see Matar, " 'TurningTurk,' " 35.
110See RoyBattenhouse,"Othello as ajudas" in Shakespeare's
Christian
Dimension:
An Anthology
ofCommentary,
RoyBattenhouse,ed. (Bloomingtonand Indianapolis:Indiana UP, 1994), 423 - 27.
1 Byam,68.
112 TheSecondeTomeofHomilies(London, 1595), Kk6v.
113 TheSecondeTomeofHomilies,
Kk2v.
114 TheSecondeTomeofHomilies,
Jj3rand Ii4v-Ii5r.
115 TheSecondeTomeofHomilies,
Ii6v.

176

SHAKESPEARE
QUARTERLY

Mahumetans,
who [,] misledbythe lyesof thatwickedImposter,and following
his damned positions,diuertingfromthe eternallpath of saluation,are carryedheadlong in theyrmisbeliefeto hell torments,and euerlastingdamnation...."116 Accordingto Knolles, the religionof "the false Prophet Mahomet,borne in an vnhappie houre, to the greatdestructionof mankind" had
not only "desolat[ed]" the ChristianChurch but had created a vastpopulation of Muslimswho would all be damned, "millionsof soules cast headlong
into eternall destruction.""117
Part of WesternEuropeans' fascinationwith
Islam and the Turks was a feelingthat theirawesome power,raised by the
wrathof God, would experiencean equallyawesomepunishmentin the form
of mass damnation.In Kellett'sviewthe same fateawaitedthe renegade: "By
not adhering to Christ,by wauing thybeliefe, by disclaymingthyvow in
Baptisme,by professingTurcisme,thou hast sold heauen, art initiatedinto
hell, and hast purchased onely a conscience,frightedwithhorror.""18
A baptized Moor turnedTurk,Othello is "doubly damned" forbacksliding. Sent out to lead a crusade againstIslamic imperialism,he "turnsTurk"
and becomes the enemywithin.He has "traduced" the stateof Venice and
convertedto the black MuslimOther,the Europeans' phobic fantasy:Othello
has become the uglystereotype.His identityas "the noble Moor of Venice"
dissolvesas he revertsto the identityof the black deviland exhibitsthe worst
featuresof the stereotypical"cruel Moor" or Turk-jealousy, violence,mercilessness,faithlessness,
lawlessness,despair.Faced withthisterribleidentity,
one that"shows horribleand grim" (1. 202), Othello enacts his own punishment and damns himselfby killingthe Turk he has become.

"6Carr,

113v.

Knolles, "The AvthorsIndvctionto the ChristianReader," A4r-A6v, esp. A4r.


118 Kellett,16. Samuel
Rowlands'sepigramon the renegade pirateWard also underscoresthe
connection between conversionto Islam and damnation: "Perpetuall flamesis reprobatesRewarde" ("To a ReprobatePiratthathathrenouncedChristand is turn'dTurk,"reprintedin Vol.
2 of TheComplete
Works
ofSamuelRowlands,1598-1628, 3 vols. [Glasgow:R. Anderson,1880], esp.
B2).
117