Rabat - A Moroccan ambassador’s visit to London in the year 1600, which started a new era of political relations between the Islamic world and Britain could have prompted William Shakespeare to write progressively more inclusive roles for Muslims characters, a recent article by The Economist said.
Rabat – A Moroccan ambassador’s visit to London in the year 1600, which started a new era of political relations between the Islamic world and Britain could have prompted William Shakespeare to write progressively more inclusive roles for Muslims characters, a recent article by The Economist said.
“The life of Britain’s most celebrated writer coincided with significant diplomatic relations between Protestant England and Muslim dynasties in Morocco, the Ottomans and the Safavids of Iran,” the article read. “As trade routes opened up and Queen Elizabeth I courted new alliances, dramatic ideas about Muslims seeped into society. Britons were fascinated and alarmed simultaneously; between 1576 and 1603 more than 60 plays featuring Muslims in the guise of Turks, Moors or Persians featured on London’s stages.”
The piece offered a timeline of major Muslim characters found in Shakespearean plays. The playwright’s first such an endeavor was a part of the play “Titus Andronicus” in which Aaron the “blackamoor” takes the role of Muslim villain who has “a soul black like his face.”
The article’s analysis said Shakespeare tried to suggest that Aaron’s villainy stemmed from the racism he faced in home society, instead of his religion. A nurse speaking to Aaron’s child says, in dehumanizing terms—a “joyless, dismal, black and sorrowful issue.” The angry father responds: “Zounds ye whore! Is black so base a hue?”
Shakespeare offers a less villainous Muslim character in “The Merchant of Venice”. The Prince of Morocco lined up behind other prominent European bachelors in hope of winning Portia’s hand in marriage. Upon their meeting, she is disgusted by his skin color, saying “If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.”
The prince tries to convince his would-be wife to “mislike [him] not for [his] complexion and to see him instead as a man of merit who “slew…a Persian prince | That won three fields of Sultan Solyman.”
Othello “unavoidably” represents Shakespeare’s most nuanced shot at a Muslim character, the article said.
“A general in the Venetian army, he is repeatedly praised by his peers as “a very gallant man”, “noble” and “valiant” and he speaks in eloquent blank verse,” according to the text. “It is mostly Iago, the villain of the play, who refers to him as a “Moor” and in debasing terminology; it is he who refers to his sexual relationship with Desdemona as “an old black ram tupping…[a] white ewe”, where the word “tupping” is reserved for the copulation of animals. He continues this animalistic train of thought to Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, by saying “your daughter [is] covered with a Barbary horse / you’ll have nephews neigh to you.’”