Mirrors of Governance: 'The Mighty Turkish Diadem' and English Drama (Selimus. Sc.xxvi.2340).
A new status quo prevailed in Anglo-Ottoman relations from 1579 when the English, following the precedent of the other mercantile European nations like the French and Italians, established the Turkey Company, after the grant of privileges from the Sultan. As in other fields of public and national life, the impact of this contact with the Turks, and their satellite nations, also affected the literary and theatrical circles of the time. There were some early modern dramatists of some acclaim who accommodated their dramatic vision to this development and reconstructed their own versions of the Eastern governments, with whom the English were negotiating. After Elizabeth I was excommunicated by the Pope (1570), 'English merchants could operate outside the bounds of papal edicts that forbade trade with Muslims'.
Indeed, in his documentary survey of the religious aspect of England's relations with the Islamic East, Nabil Matar has stated that during this period "Islam left its mark on Britain in a way that was unparalleled by any other non-Christian civilization which the British encountered. For at this stage in its history, Islam could neither be ignored nor 'dominated'." In this author's view, the works of Christopher Marlowe, George Peele and Thomas Kyd, for instance, exemplify the early individual response of dramatists who acknowledged the reality of the Sultan as a significant ally of England rather than a foe. The following survey of Eastern plays of the period reveals the English dramatists' consideration of the history of Eastern dynasties, with the aim of studying the methods of imperial government, procedures of succession and political consolidation of power and authority, once it has been achieved.
This author sees the early modern approach as being in direct contrast with the later English attitude evident in eighteenth and nineteenth century colonial narratives which assumed and justified the West's superiority and the logic of imperial dominance of the East, as noted in Edward W. Said's discourse about the Orientalism of the Franco-British Empires.
Instead of western power, the subject of these early plays were the rival rulers within the Eastern Empires, who became a source of inspiration for the English, at the time, very minor players on the world stage. One of the most popular plays of the era, Tamburlaine, was about the Muslim conqueror from Central Asia who possessed a "combination of personal charisma, capacity for diplomatic subterfuge and ultimate readiness to use brute force which the Elizabethans called vertu". Critics like Trusssler have located such plays in the culture of emergent capitalism in which imperial and proto-capitalist Eastern characters engaged the audiences, either because of envy or the desire to emulate them where possible, despite their perceived alien and Islamic contexts.
Tamburlaine is the first materialist hero who measures himself by his ruthless accumulation of wealth. The palpable effect of this dramatic recognition, of the concerns of the government of Elizabeth I, can also be observed in the impressions of Turkish royalty that were modified in conjunction with historical accounts, translated from European records, and travellers' tales.
Pseudo-histories of Ottoman rulers like Amurath, Soleman, Baiazet and Selimus were dramatized on stage to entertain and familiarize the audience with the regimes in the East, even though they were perceived as enemies by the English public due to the legacy of the medieval crusade propaganda. The theatre was used by dramatists as a means of mediating between the English public and their new partners on the other side of the world. Hitherto, the Muslim empires had been considered as the traditional enemy against whom European Christendom had fought for centuries.
However, after the English mercantile ventures to the East began, instead of alienating the spectators, the dynastic sagas of the Turks and their Empire sought to communicate aspects of Eastern courts that appealed to the English in terms of common issues with which they were familiar in Europe's own history of war and politics. Plots and themes based on principles of statecraft, imperial strategies, problems of succession and internecine conflict brought the Ottomans and their followers closer to the English. To Renaissance English writers and playwrights, disposed to consider concepts of political economy in secular terms, it seemed that the early modern English state could learn from various models of Ottoman administration.
The Turkish example, of a state under one absolute Sultan and a hierarchy independent of feudal allegiances, suggested alternative systems of governance to a nation that was evolving into a modern state with its own agenda. In this context, a review of minor plays about Turkey, generally ignored by critics, is rewarding. Although, these are some of the lesser known plays that have not stood the test of time in retaining their popularity, they were written by some of the great playwrights of their age. Their significance lies in the influential role they played in constructing and perpetuating images of the Turks that were congruent with the contemporary imperatives of the commercial and strategic collaboration between England and the Turks. Plays about Turkish rulers were usually dismissed in the period of English colonial ascendancy, and considered to be merely traditional denunciations of the Islamic world.
But in the light of the latest historicist research on early modern East-West negotiations, they present facets of the Ottomans that invite a critical response at a more complex level. The dramatic works reveal views that reflect the contemporary debate about the Turks in treatises written by renaissance scholars of statecraft. "A secular approach along the lines of real politik is embedded in their dealings with the problem of the threat of the Ottomans".
In this regard, it is significant that as early as the fifteenth century, Machiavelli had also employed the example of the Ottoman Empire in his study of efficient government. He had paved the way for a considered analysis of the various systems of administration and expansion of power by referring to contemporary empires, both in the East and the West. An extract from The Prince reveals the lasting effect of his discussion of the 'Turk' on the succeeding generations of English dramatists who were inspired by Turkish Sultans:
Examples of these two kinds of government in our own time are the Turk and the King of France. All the Turkish monarchy is governed by one ruler, the others are his servants, and dividing his kingdom into "sangiacates," he sends to them various administrators, and changes or recalls them at his pleasure[....] Whoever now considers these two states will see that it would be difficult to acquire the state of the Turk; but having conquered it, it would be very easy to hold it. The causes of the difficulty of occupying the Turkish kingdom are, that the invader could not be invited by princes of that kingdom, nor hope to facilitate his enterprise by the rebellion of those around him, as will be evident from reasons given above. Because, being all slaves, and bound, it will be more difficult to corrupt them, and even if they were corrupted, little effect could be hoped for, as they would not be able to carry the people with them for the reasons mentioned.
Therefore whoever assaults the Turk must be prepared to meet his united forces, and must rely more on his own strength than on the disorders of others; but having once conquered him, and beaten him in battle so that he can no longer raise armies, nothing else is to be feared except the family of the prince, and if this is extinguished, there is no longer any one to be feared, the others having no credit with the people; and as the victor before the victory could place no hope in them, so he need not fear them afterwards.
Machiavelli's purpose in describing the differences between the European and Turkish forms of administration was clearly to illustrate the rival merits of the two models of government. It has been suggested that familiarity with The Prince was common among English students and intellectuals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Barabas, in the Jew of Malta, has been described as a true Machiavellian, both by critics and by Marlowe himself in the prologue of the play. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that other English dramatists influenced by Machiavelli's work also made their own efforts to learn about the Turkish methods of government in which the family of the Sultan, his Bassas and his soldiers played a crucial role.
Thus, Machiavelli's references to the Turkish order had some bearing on the playwrights' perceptions of the Ottomans, as can be seen not only in Marlowe's work but also in the drama of Thomas Kyd, Fulke Greville and Thomas Goffe. Moreover, dramatizations of Turkish histories revealed some of the new strategies of governance and expansion that the English could relate to, in their own national affairs. The vicissitudes in the careers of Ottoman Sultans conveyed the felt experiences of the playwrights in their own world. Plays about the Ottoman monarchy were uniquely appropriate in raising revolutionary theories that challenged traditional ideology. The dramatists could draw parallels between the turbulent lives of their Eastern protagonists and the upheavals in English society.
The debate on the divine right of kings and the opposing concept of justified usurpation, was topical in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. Struggles for the throne cost several members of the royal family their lives. Both Elizabeth and James suffered the loss of their respective mothers who were sacrificed for the sake of the Crown. Familial ties and kinship could not survive the uncertainty of the royal succession. It was not mere coincidence that the playwrights' versions of civil wars, parricide and fratricide perpetrated in certain Ottoman eras reflected the turmoil in the English court and the royal household during the Tudor and early Stuart reigns. In this author's view sceptical and dissident voices found expression in dramatic portrayals of the succession of kings in the chronicles of Ottoman history. Another feature that can be noted in these Turkish plays is the cyclical understanding of history that was a particular form of Renaissance thinking.
According to this theory of historical process, the strength of the Ottoman Empire was subject to a rise and a fall. It may be added here that the plays are also a testament to the renewal of Turkish power after each fall, indicating how impressed the English government and people were by the Turks' ability to survive even the most tyrannical of regimes, from the western perspective.
This topical aspect of the plays about Turkey can also be seen in English travel accounts. Attempts were made to keep a close watch on the internal affairs of the Ottoman Porte. In order to safeguard English interests in that court, the customs and manners of the Turkish Sultans were carefully observed by the resident English representatives in Constantinople, both in times of war and peace. It was to maintain a close surveillance over the Turkish monarch that Edward Barton, the English ambassador, travelled with 'Sultan Muhamet' on an expedition against some rebellious European forces in 1596. Barton's conduct "in acompanying the Turke in this warre against Christendom" was excused by Purchas on the pretext that the ambassador was only intent on serving the Christian cause when occasion arose. Purchas' publication of Thomas Glover's narrative of this journey and Barton's own letters signify the importance of these Turkish experiences for the English nation .
Literary criticism, therefore, acquires a greater insight into characters such as Sultan Amurath, Baiazet I and II, Selimus and Soleman, if the then state of English relations with the Ottomans is also considered in the development of the images of these Turkish monarchs. The mercantile sector was keenly interested in the outcome of various internal Ottoman conflicts as this directly affected their trade. In the context of these early modern preoccupations, both internal and external, English playwrights were assured of public interest in their oriental plays.
The problem of succession and hereditary inheritance of the Turkish crown provides the framework for several plays on Turkey written by Kyd, Greville and Goffe. Baiazet, Selim and Soleman were the three monarchs who received the attention of the English writers with some regularity, both in Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, respectively. The reason for this particular focus was that they were known for their incredible victories that had enlarged the Turkish Empire. At the same time, their reigns were chaotic because of the strength of their elite band of Bassas and Janizeries. Unlike traditional European monarchies that did not keep standing armies, the power of the Ottomans resided to a great extent in the good will of these soldiers and servants of the Sultan.
The succession was, in the same way, reliant on the ability of the various Ottoman claimants to win the loyalty of these important sections of their society. In this way, the Ottoman monarchy was subject to election as well as succession, a method that had aspects of early modern republican ideals. Indeed, the lack of a feudal hierarchy enabled anyone capable of posing a challenge to make a bid for power in the Ottoman household. This helped the dynasty to retain its vitality for a long time. Sandys, in his famous travel account, confirmed this fact when he discussed the survival of the Turkish Empire. In his view, the reprehensible lack of hierarchy was one of the causes of Ottoman continuity. This egalitarian approach posed a threat to all known political ideologies in Europe:
But the barbarous policie whereby this tyrannie is sustayned, doth differ from all other: guided by the heads, and strengthned by the hands of his slaves, who thinke it is as great an honour to be so, as they doe with us that serve in the Courts of Princes: the Naturall (to be so called a reproach) being rarely employed in command of service: amongst whom there is no Nobilitie of bloud, no knowne parentage, kindred, nor hereditary possessions, but as it were of the Sultans creation, depending upon him onely for their sustenance and preferments.
Thus, any prince could fight for the throne depending on his worth and popularity. His followers could also achieve important positions regardless of their origins. Indeed, most of the Ottoman soldiery and bureaucracy were selected from nations of Eastern Europe and Asia, which had been assimilated in the Empire. Knolles refers to this absence of hierarchy in the 'Janizars', a troop of loyal soldiers taken from the nations annexed to the Ottoman Empire, who often achieved positions of eminence:
so that in the processe of time they be grown to that greatness as that they are oftentimes right dreadfull vnto the great Turke himselfe: after whose death, they haue sometimes preferred to the empire such of the emperours sonnes as they best liked, without respect of prerogatiue of age, contrarie to the will of the great Sultan himselfe...
'loue of rule, and kingly soueraigntie'
An anonymous Elizabethan play on The Tragical Reign of Selimus (1594), performed by the Queen's Men, reflects on this aspect of the Ottoman Empire. There is a suggestion of the ruthless effort necessary to retain power in pursuing 'The monster-garden paths, that lead to crownes'. For the dramatist, the Turkish Empire was particularly amoral and irreligious as the succession was not automatically assured. The play debates the means necessary to maintain 'The Turkish Crowne of Pearle and Ophir gold'. This issue is integral to the portrayal of Selimus (1512-1520), who is elected by the 'stubborne Janizaries' and 'the Bassaes stout petitions', against the claims of his older brothers, Corcut and Acomat. Their embattled sire, Baiazet, has no choice but to accede to the will of his subjects. It seems that the idea of ruling the nation by the will of the populace was a threat to traditional English notions of succession, as history was to prove in the ensuing years of the Puritan revolution.
This Selimus, who appears before the English audience, is a revolutionary character willing to reject all ties of family to wrest the crown from his brothers. Regardless of the repetitive reference to 'The perfect picture of right tyrannie', he serves to remind the audience of the way in which power is consolidated in the Ottoman Empire. He is remorseless in achieving the goal of greater glory for his dynasty, even if it means allegedly killing all his brothers:
So Selimus hath prou'd a Cocatrice,
And cleane consumed all the familie [...]
And now those Soldanes of the Orient,
Aegipt and Persia, Selimus will quell,
Or he himselfe will sincke to lowest hell.
Contrary to the traditional image of the Turkish Sultans, the dramatist reinvents Selimus in the image of a Machiavellian statesman whose pronouncements are anachronistic and anomolous in an Ottoman Prince of the sixteenth century: "For th'onely things that wrought our Empirie/ Were open wrongs, and hidden trecherie". Devoid of religious scruples, the protagonist's amoral ideas set him apart from the rest of the royals and "their foolish ceremonies".
There is an indication that the playwright was aware of the traditional religious ideology of the royal Porte in Constantinople, as symbolized by the helpless and weak Emperor Baiazet and his loyal Mustapha. These men consider Selim to be a 'scourge', for the house of Ottomans. Indeed, Selimus is cast in the mould of an early modern politician, while his conquests and imperialist ambitions represent the triumph of opportunism and expediency over a divine Providence. His subversion of any form of moral sanctions in his pursuit of power, is emblematic of the secular Renaissance man who believes that 'religion of itself a bable,/ Was onely found to make vs peaceable'. He rises above all ethical imperatives in order to affirm the rationalist basis of imperial expansion, which only needs to be vindicated by its success. He believes that 'Parricides, when death hath giuen them rest. Shall have as good a part as the rest'. His purpose is to attain the 'Crown' by any means possible which include 'slaughter' or 'treason':
Selimus. And thinke that then thy Empire is most sure,
When men for feare thy tyrannie endure.
Thinke that to thee there is no vvorse reproach,
Then filiall dutie in so high a place,
Thou oughtst to set barrels of blood abroach,
And seeke with swoord whole kingdomes to displace.
Despite the cold and calculating image of Selimus, the Elizabethan play has some depth and sympathy in the discussion of the Ottoman dynasty under Emperor Baiazet, invoking the audience's pity for the good, albeit ineffectual king. The trials and tribulations of kingship, when sundry revolts threaten the position of the Emperor, indicate the decline of the Empire in the absence of a strong unifying force at the head of government. The question of republican sentiments and monarchical prerogatives are raised in the play when the choice of the public rejects the King's selection of his heir.
This early portrait of Baiazet in Selimus shows him to be subject to the will of his people, as he keeps the crown for the sake of his Empire's integrity rather than for any personal gain: "Yet for I see it is my subjects will,/ Once more will Baiazet be Emperour". The continuation of Baiazet's reign is highlighted in the context of Ottoman imperial policy of succession and election. The conflict between imperial systems based on inherited privileges and primogeniture as opposed to the idea of individual worth and integrity in public office becomes the focus of the play. This is suggested by the emphasis the Turkish nobility place on their 'country's good', when choosing their allegiances in Selimus.
On the subject of Baiazet and Selimus, there is another early seventeenth century play, entitled The Raging Turk (1618), which shows sustained interest in Turks during the Jacobean era in England. It is attributed to Thomas Goffe who also wrote the companion play, The Courageous Turk, when he was at Oxford. The former play is based on "The modell of a dolefull historie", of Baiazet II (1481-1512). The "madness and anger" of the Emperor and his sons' struggle for the throne, ending in the surviving Prince Selimus' victory over others. The emphasis of this play's plot is on a different aspect of Selimus' history. Goffe's work focuses on the martial quality of the Ottoman dynasty in which every member of the family is equally militant. It draws the attention of the audiences to the innate ferocity needed by the contenders to the throne to demonstrate their ability to build empires. Baiazet is willing to murder anyone who does not join his military expeditions as indicated by his macabre humour:
Baia ... Bassaes prepare for warre,
And since your graue discourse argues a will,
To stay at home, you shall; weele lay you vp,
Where no loud echoing drumbs shall breake your sleepe,
Even in the bowels of your mother earth.
The play dwells on the inherent weaknesses in a system where the succession is precarious and dependent on the ability of the heirs to survive internecine feuds and court intrigues.
Baia. ...Oh what a streame of blood
Hath purg'd me of my black suspition,
Two sonnes, one valiant Captaine hence are wrought.
Goffe's work relies on the information available on the Ottomans by the first decade of the seventeenth century. It creates a vision of the Turkish state that is absolutist, under the control of the Sultan, but paradoxically beset by uncertainty owing to a leadership that is in a constant state of flux depending on the military might and popularity of the incumbent. Knolles' account provided the bare outline for this play that was embellished by the dramatist with an extraordinary amount of bloodshed. According to Knolles, Baiazet was able to restore peace in his empire by an expeditious removal of all those involved in the mischief regardless of their relationship to him:
... he vnder colour of preferment sent away those authors of sedition into diuers parts of his empire, appointing vnto them (as vnto souldiors and men of good desert) certain lands[...] But as soone as they were departed, he by secret letters commanded the gouernours and magistrates of those places [...] suddenly to apprehend them, and as traitors to put them to death.
In the play, some of the complexity of this political strategy is communicated by the roles played by the truiumvirate of Bassaes: Isaack, Mesithes and Mustapha. They represent a system in which meritocracy rather than heredity determines power. Since the desire for the throne requires the ruthless elimination of all rivals, dynastic ambition is the ruling passion. According to a Bassa, this single minded pursuit of Empire can alone guarantee success:
Isaack. An Empire be our hopes; that to obtaine
Wee'le watch, plot, fight, sweat, and be colde againe.
However, the dramatist reduced the tactical aspect of the numerous murders to dwell vicariously on the presumed madness of the King. The play amalgamated scattered episodes of incredible brutalities from various Ottoman reigns as narrated by Knolles. Consequently, Goffe's work was criticized for marking "the lowest level which literature in this genre ever reached". Rice feels that the play shows an extraordinary range, variety, and violence of action that suggests a dramatic imagination inflamed almost to the point of insanity. Yet, it seems to this author that what is important in this narrative of countless murders, poisonings and suicides, is that it drives home the message that bloodshed is legitimized when it culminates, rather arbitrarily, in the emergence of the best candidate for the crown. 'Solyman' was historically one of the most glorious of Turkish Sultans whose reign marked the zenith of the Ottoman Empire.
He is the righteous Prince who rediscovers the mission of his Ottoman predecessors in his resolution to push forward the boundaries of the Empire:
Solyman. Our Empire hath beene rackt enough with treasons,
And black seditions, as if no Christians
Were left to conquer, wee yeeld our Turkish blades
Against our selues, imbowelling the State
With bloudy discord, by our strength we fall
A scorne to Christians, with our hands we shed
That bloud which might have conquered Christendome.
Nevertheless, the deplorable recurrence of killings and executions in the Ottoman household are shown to evoke a world in which blood letting is perceived as a positive means of ensuring the well being of an Empire:
Solyman. All this, and more than this I'le do, when peace
Hath glutted our new greedy appetites,
When it hath fill'd the veines of the Empire full
With vigour, then lest too much blood should cause
Armies of vices, not of men to kill vs,
And strength breed weaknesse in our too great Empire,
Then, then, and onely then we shall thinke goode,
With warre to let the body politick blood.
Goffe's work exploited the general taste of the Jacobean public for murder and mayhem on stage, but there is also a strong endorsement of the martial approach to Empire building, best exemplified by the Ottomans, which seeks to overcome any Christian qualms. While the methods adopted by the Turks in the play are obviously violent, their victories defy moralistic condemnation. In view of the Elizabethan and Jacobean governments' method of responding to any threats to the crown, the Turks do not do anything that could have surprised the audience of these plays, used to the public brutalities of the Tudor regimes in the past. The Ottoman hierarchy is depicted as exercising its right to maintain power at all cost.
While scenes of savagery in the East were perpetuated through these plays, the emphasis was on the polemical study of traditional state power versus radical strategies of governance. An attempt was made to rationalize the extraordinary successes of the Eastern emperors despite their perceived role as infidel oppressors of Christendom. However, dramatists were careful to show a disregard of established religious institutions among the contending factions in the Ottoman Empire which were deliberately portrayed as being devoid of the spiritual constraints of the traditional European monarchies. Thus, instead of a satan or an anti-Christ, the Turk was depicted as a secular prince in the early modern context, although this approach contradicted the historical image of the Turk as the champion of Islam.
In this way, the English dramatists used their own portrayals of Turkish characters to rationalize the phenomenal victories of the Ottomans. Thus, the playwrights in England could attribute Ottoman victories to the ethics and scruples that constrained the Europeans. It was argued that the absolute authority and ruthlessness of the Turkish Sultan allowed him to vanquish his enemies and establish complete control over the defeated nations as well as any rivals. Despotism and cruelty became integral, indeed necessary, to this demonized picture of oriental invincibility. If for no other reason, the relentless rise to glory of the Turks required some explanation for the fascinated English public whose attention had recently been turned towards the remarkable Princes, Bassas and Soldans of the East. Their presumed antics provided the audience with vicarious pleasure without upsetting their sense of complacent superiority.
The Tragedie of Soleman and Perseda (1589-92)
In this dramatic revision of the history of Rhodes, the theme of fratricide is again the focus of the playwright. Sultan Soleman is reinvented in the role of a lover instead of a legendary conqueror and ruler, known in history for his justice. The play is based upon apocryphal material that had developed in Europe regarding the defence of Rhodes. The historiography associated with the Knights Hospitallers tended to eulogize them for defending the last outpost of Christian civilization against the supposed barbarians from the East. For example, a fictional version of the correspondence between the Turkish Sultan Mahomet II and the Rhodians was in circulation in London by 1607. It was an English translation of a sixteenth century pamphlet, commonly thought to have introduced the Turkish Sultan to the Pope and other European leaders. In this propagandist material, the Turk accepts the courage of the Rhodians who are bound to lose, if only because of their lack of material means to defend their island:
If you Rhodians had but as much might as will, and as much strength as valour, I should thinke you were not to be conquered by any whatsoeuer: but seeing the necessaries and nerues of warre be men, horse, munition, money and victuals, you right rather to haue regard to your owne estate, then vnaduisedly to prouoke vs to come in battell against you.
It was against this background of popular opinion about the Rhodians that Kyd fabricated the romance between Soleman and a Rhodian damsel, Perseda. The play imparts a strange perspective to the historical siege of Rhodes. The motif of love and sacrifice mitigates the crimes of the Turks as the Sultan's invasion is shown in a romantic light. The theme of the occupying ruler's violence against the victimized females is treated compassionately. His desperate acts are viewed in the context of a hopeless and forbidden passion, reminiscent of tales of chivalry.
This is the first attempt by a dramatist to humanize the Ottomans by lending them motives with which the European audience could empathize. The Sultan is seen to repent his acts of violence. After killing one of his brothers who had been guilty of murdering another, the Sultan movingly cries: "If justice forst me on, curst be that justice/ That makes the brother Butcher of his brother". Although Kyd's protagonist is not different from the traditional portrayals of bloodthirsty Sultans, Soleman's actions do indicate good intentions, if not deeds. Erastus, the Rhodian exile, is given sanctuary in the Sultan's realm to prove that there is justice in the Eastern empire:
.....though you Christians
Account our Turkish race barbarous,
Yet haue we eares to heare a just complaint
And justice to defend the innocent,
And pitie to such as are in pouertie,
And liberall hands to such as merit bountie.
Indeed, as if to reinforce his impartiality, the Sultan makes Erastus the governor of Rhodes after it has been conquered by the Turks. However, these praiseworthy sentiments are short lived as the Sultan falls in love with the knight's mistress, Perseda. To win her, Soleman contrives to have Erastus murdered, and to have the killers punished to maintain the facade of justice. This is obviously a reiteration of the theme of Turkish caprice and treachery since the Sultan had earlier promised security and peace for the Rhodian pair. Apparently the commitment to honour his word does not prevent the Sultan from being captivated by the Rhodian's beloved Perseda. The subsequent Turkish attack on the the island of Rhodes gives occasion to the valiant resistance of the Rhodians, led by the surviving Perseda. She is also killed by the Sultan under the misapprehension that she is one of the Knights defending the island. However, she does not die until she has poisoned the Sultan by her final kiss.
Clearly, in this fictional plot, history is rewritten by Kyd to celebrate the brave, albeit unsuccessful, stand of the Rhodians. The play transmutes the Turkish invasion of Rhodes into a sublime struggle of the weak and helpless against the feared enemy: "The great Turque, whose seat is Constantinople, hath beleagred Rhodes, whose chieftaine is a woman". In this way, the military victory of the Turks is subsumed into a romance of the Knight errant and his beloved who represents the island in a golden age. The death of this ideal couple symbolizes the passing of an era of Christian civilization in the Mediterranean. The plot focuses nostalgically on a mythologized chivalric past, representing the aesthetic values of Europe, with its tragedy of the star crossed Rhodian lovers. As far as the Turks are concerned, the moral is that the Sultan's immense potential for 'crowne and Emperie' was lost when he succumbed to his ungovernable 'priuate fond affections'.
This affecting tale did not have the remotest resemblance to historical facts as the Sultan lived for a long time after the victory at Rhodes to enhance his Empire and lay the foundations of Turkish law and administration. Kyd's play indulges in Elizabethan bathos and indicates a rather indifferent attempt at projecting the Turks in a more humane light.
Like Kyd's work, Fulke Greville's Mustapha (1608) also narrates some scandalous episodes falsely ascribed to Soleman's reign. The alleged murder of his son and heir, Mustapha, provides the basic plot. Soleman is depicted in his later years after he had married his beloved captive, Roxalana, or 'Rossa' as she is named in the play. Soleman had taken this deliberate step to free 'Rossa' and legitimize their union, according to Islamic law. This unprecedented act had earned him both praise and censure from historians. According to Folieta of Geneua, in The Mahumetane or Turkish History (1600), Soleman's marriage to a freed bondwoman had been the result of realization on his part that "it was not lawful to keep a free woman", in his harem. According to John Freely, the love of the 'Sultan Suleiman' for his wife 'Roxalana' was well known even in its day and celebrated in a love letter, historians attribute to the Sultan. It expressed his devotion to his wife in the following words:
My very own Queen, my everything,
My beloved, my bright moon;
My intimate companion, my one and all
Sovereign of all beauties, my sultan.
However, despite the sincerity of Soleman's love, those European historians who were hostile to the Ottoman dynasty disregarded his sense of justice and adherence to the letter of the Muslim Law. The propaganda against the Sultan instead condemned him for emancipating 'Rossa', ascribing this honourable act merely to the inordinate power she exercised over him. It was this misogynistic tradition of viewing 'Rossa' as an evil influence over the Sultan that had led to the creation of the European tale of Mustapha's murder. According to this scandalous version of the Soleman saga, Rossa's own children stood to gain from the removal of Soleman's son from another wife and thus, the events were manipulated to kill Mustapha.
Within this fictional framework, Greville's play is based on a sequence of speeches delivered by various princes, priests and royal women who sermonize, rather tediously, on the themes of love, injustice and tyranny in the Ottoman Empire. The stories of internal family feuds and the role of 'Rossa' in determining the heir to the Ottoman throne, are of an apocryphal nature. However, the play is significant as it concentrates on the activites of the Porte and, ostensibly, describes intrigues in the Ottoman polity. It indicates the conjunction of interest in East-West politics and government. The cultural implications of the play lend it some value although it fails as a drama. Nevertheless, Greville's views about the Ottomans are of significance as he was an eminent English thinker and statesmen of his age.
The Second Chorus of Muslim priests, refers to the similarity in the ambitions of the Turkish and European royalty, with the difference that the Turks have more power and opportunity to realize their dreams: "And where we are, there Christians faine would be,/ If lacke of Power were not their modestie' (167-168). One reason for this is the lack of any hierarchy or traditional constraints: 'Of bondage we leaue our Succession free;/ Office, and Action, are our libertie".
However, Greville reveals that this freedom from the laws of primogeniture and feudal hereditary privileges, acts as a double edged sword which can be turned against the state and its security. Rossa's conflict with Mustapha, and the dramatic projection of the Sultan's fear of rivals from within his own family, is meant to depict the circumstances which give rise to arbitrary rule rather than justice. The abuse of power is exacerbated by a system in which the "Law is Martiall, suddaine, and seuere" , according to the priests. This is demonstrated when both Soleman and Rossa kill their own children due to their suspicion and rage, arising from their precarious hold on power.
In the Fourth Chorus of converts to 'Mahometisme', reasons for the downfall of the Empire are briefly elucidated: "When Crownes, Church, Souldiers, or the Lawes, doe ouermuch dissent/ That frame, wherein they liu'd, as fatally, dissolued". Thus, Greville imposes his conservative view of power and authority on the action. He condemns the dynamic innovations of the Ottoman state with respect to the opportunities it offered to anyone regardless of pedigree and familial antecedents.
It was not the Islamic traditions of the Ottomans which interested Greville but their role as secular Princes without the prerogatives of ancient nobility or the fealty of hereditary aristocracy. The speeches attributed to the Ottomans echo Machiavellian opportunism and disregard of any religious considerations that is considered to be in marked contrast to their counterpart European protagonists. Yet again, like the dramatists discussed above, Greville deliberately portrays a complete lack of ethics in the actions of these royal figures, which suggests the fundamental cause of their success in the dramatist's view. Dispassionate ruthlessness enables them to defeat their enemies and bring them under their yoke. If for no other reason, the invincible quality of their progress invites the attention of playwrights and spectators.
This message is endorsed in Goffe's The Courageous Turke (1618). Humanity and the tender emotions are sacrificed at the highest level in the cause of conquest and the perpetuation of the martial code. This dramatic theme, frequently associated with the English representation of Ottomans, is clearly discernible in the play which conflates the histories of two famous Ottoman Emperors: Murat I and Mehmet II.
The plot develops when the demands of war and honour force the Sultan to behead his beloved mistress, Eumorphe, a captive Greek woman. The death and destruction, which would have been shocking if perpetrated by a Christian hero appear inevitable in an Eastern potentate. Perhaps for the first time in early modern drama, the quest for mastery over subject races is made to appear laudatory and commendable in the Turk. His lineage is traced to the classical heroes of Trojan ancestry, also called Teucri, rather than the 'barbarous' Scythians.
Thus, there is an attempt by Goffe to dramatically adapt the tradition of some historians who assimilated the presumed Trojan origin of the Turks with that of the British. The playwright's aim was presumably to create the illusion of a common destiny shared by Turks and the British in the context of imperial greatness. In this author's view Goffe indicates in the play that he was sympathetic to the anti-Greek polemicists who tried to portray the Turkish conquest of Constantinople as the revenge of the Trojans against the corrupt Greeks.
As the masque within the play illustrates, Amurath is urged to abandon his love for the Greek by invoking the spirit of Alexander, the 'brave Macedon'. He is inspired by the example of Alexander's renunciation of physical temptations: "Know sir our eyes shall have that abstinence/ That will not looke on them, on boyes, or women". Amurath's tutor Schahin, disguised as the ghost of the Emperor's father, Orchanes, reminds the Sultan of the martial tradition which the Turks have followed since they began their conquests: "I was the first of all Turkish Kings/ That Europe knew, and the fond Christians plague".
Amurath embodies the Turkish Sultan in the various stages of his progress as a lover, conqueror, father and leader of the Empire of the East. The play is unique in the sense that it emphasizes the warrior traditions of the Turks to the extent that there is a complete absence of any condemnation for the death of the female protagonist. The murder is symbolic of the conquest of the Byzantine Empire and its complicity in its own defeat. In the play, the state of the Greek nation is symbolized by Eumorphe. She is resigned "to play,/ A Captive creature, and a Queene to day". Thus, the Eastern Empire of the Greeks is represented by the enslaved woman whose murder is justified as she suffers from a moral decline when she complies with Amurath's desires. She is sacrificed to promote the principle of war and Empire, even though it is the Turks who are depicted as emerging victorious, in the pursuit of Empire.
In a departure from the traditional, the stereotypes of East and West, Goffe has subverted the expectations of the English audience by placing the Turkish Sultan in the role of the classical hero. It is for this reason that Amurath's speeches suggest his grandeur and dominance while the vanquished Greeks and Eastern European contenders respond with their own powerless and desperate speeches. The contrast between the style of Amurath and his opponents is obvious when we compare his utterances with those of his enemies:
Amurath ... Starres I could reach you with my lofty hand,
Tis well enough, enough, (great Amurath)
For now I sit in Orchanes great throne,
And sacrifice due rites to Mahomet
Yet why enough? Ile on and dung the Earth,
With Christians rotted trunckes, that from that soyle,
May spring more Cadmean Monsters to orecome them.
Captaines, what Countries next shal we make flow,
With Channels of their bloud?
The resolution and determination is in direct contrast to the defeatism of the Christian camps of 'Servia' and Bulgaria. The expression of the spiritual aspirations of one defender, Cobelitz, represents an otherworldly approach. However laudable his sentiments may be, he is unconvincing due to the manner of his speech, which suffers from narrative disjunction and episodic digresssions. As a consequence, a feeble language of resistance emerges from the speeches of Cobelitz, when they are juxtaposed against those of Amurath. Nevertheless, the Christian's futile struggle against the unjust conqueror is some source of inspiration for the victims of the occupation.
The Christian soldier contemplates his nation's destruction with bitterness. Inspite of his faith and crusading zeal, he wonders at the causes of 'Seruia's' failure in this world. He arrives at the conclusion that it is the base secular power of the Turk that enables him to triumph, inspite of his seeming defiance of the moral order.
Canst thou which canst sustain the ponderous world,
And keepst in true poize, securely sleepe,
Letting a Tyrant (which with a Philip, thus;
Thou mightest sinke to Earth) to baffle thee?
A warrier in thy Fields, I long have beene
To see if in thy sacred Providence,
Thou meanest to arme me with thy thunder-bolt,
Yet, Yet, it strikes not now, he Gyant wise,
He dares thee again; pardon our earnest zeal
What ere's decreed for man by thy behest,
He must performe: and in obedience rest.
There is a clear distinction between worldly success and spiritual superiority in this distracted reverie. Furthermore, the implied criticism of the European contenders and their culpability is reinforced by the moral degradation and treachery in the ranks of the Christian soldiers. They are shown fighting over their victuals, pay and 'Truls' , and are only recalled to a sense of their divine mission by Cobelitz who appears to be the only true Knight: "O what an army 'tis to have a cause/ Holy and just; there, there's our strength indeed". He assumes the role of a Christian martyr when he contemplates the murder of Amurath, even if it is ostensibly a suicidal attempt:
Turke, ile oppose thee still! Heaven has decreed
That this weake hand, shall make that tyrant bleed
A man religious, firme, and strongly good
Cannot oth' suddaine be, nor understood.
The assassination succeeds but fails to bring about any change in the moral order as the Turk is replaced by his son, Baiazet. In 1610, Sandys also alluded to the assassination when he referred to the Ottoman custom according to which whenever a stranger approached the Sultan, the man was led between two guards. According to Sandys, this precaution had become a part of the Ottoman protocol since "the first Amurath was slaine by the Servian Cobelitz, a common Souldier,who in the overthrow of Cossova, rising from among the dead bodies, and reeling with his wounds, made towards the Sultan, then taking a view of the slaine, as if hee had something to say; by whom admitted to speech, hee forthwith stabd him with a Dagger, hid under his Cassocke for that purpose". Nevertheless, in the play, Amurath's successor, Baiazet heralds the continuity of the Ottoman reign with all its ruthlessness. The other royal prince, Jacup, is slain to prevent any dissension in the Turkish followers.
To all intents and puposes the 'Servian' Christian resistance does not triumph in the play as the forces of Ottoman imperialism accomplish their own survival and expansion.
The moral ambiguity of the play is evident when we realize that it could also be interpreted in the context of Jacobean politics. Seen in this light, Goffe's work is an exhortation to James I to transform his pacifism into a vibrant participation in European affairs by adopting Turkish strategies of war and domination. As a man infatuated, Amurath is a reminder to the Jacobean audience of the corrupting influence of lust and intemperance in the royal family. James' immoderate affection for his favourites, such as Buckingham and the pro-Spanish faction at court, is reprimanded through the salutary advice of Amurath's minister. The English king is invited to learn from the example of the Turk who took his counsellor's advice and killed the woman with whom he had become infatuated and consequently neglected his empire.
As the play indicates, the man who ultimately wins is the one who "conquers first himself". Sensual distractions are rejected in favour of the greater glory of the nation. In another sense, Eumorphe, the Greek, also represents the subversive influence of alien ideology that can corrupt the Turks. There is, possibly, an allusion to the fears of the Anglican heirarchy about James' dalliance with the religion of Spain. Moreover, at the time, the English public feared the idea of a Spanish match for James' son, Charles I. The unpopularity of England's peace with Spain and the proposed marriage alliance contributed to a discontent similar to the opening scenes of the play where Amurath is confronted by the hostility of the Ottoman courtiers. His infatuation with the Greek is shown to have made him indolent in war.
Similarly, the perceived inactivity of the Jacobean government was also denounced by the militant Protestant faction. This section of society wished for England's imminent intervention in Europe on behalf of James' son-in- law in the Palatinate crisis of 1618. The prevailing political conditions of Europe had parallels with the mutiny of Amurath's son-in-law, Aladin. Despite the breach of family trust, Aladin gains Amurath's pardon. Indeed, the Turk rewards his son-in-law by appointing him head of the Turkish "wing in Servia ,/in our immediate warres".
It is likely that the dramatist intended to encourage James to take his son-in-law's cause as his own in Europe, by following the model of Amurath. Indeed, the theme of rightful Princes as opposed to tyrants was very close to the heart of James' deliberations on kingship and the plays formed a discourse which debated the issues with an impunity not possible in the context of Christian monarchs.
For all practical purposes the Eastern monarch remains triumphant, personifying a new kind of anti-hero who breaks with familial bonds to assert the masculine principle, that is inextricably associated with misanthropic and misogynist tendencies. Curiously, the alien figures of the Turks represent the earliest modern protagonists whose individualism leads to the defence and consolidation of their empires. Sexual imagery describes the conquered lands as they willingly accept the invasion of these warrior figures. The Eastern lands are metaphorically depicted as the subjugated women who are helpless against rape, as seen in the plays discussed above. It appears to the author that an element of sadomasochism is integral to the relationship between the victors and the vanquished depicted in these plays.
In fact, the defeated share the guilt for the devastation of their lands. The victims of these conquerors submit to the destruction and exploitation, impelled by hidden passions beyond rational explanation. The lands of the exotic East become paradigms for the imperial desires of the victors, some of whom are proxy figures for western ambitions. The characters in the plays about the contemporary East, enact these patterns of behaviour almost without exception, presumably satisfying the expectations of the public and their taste in entertainment.
It became customary for English dramatists in this early modern period to create personas of Eastern men who transcend their obscure origins to become sovereigns of regions which epitomized wealth and grandeur. It is reasonable to assume that the dramatists were inspired to create these figures by reading many historical accounts of Eastern conquerors whose lives were presented as object lessons in the acquisition and maintenance of power. The general and most commonly asserted idea about Eastern rulers was that they did not need to rely upon traditions of primogeniture and hierarchy. They depended upon their individual courage and success in forging empires, to justify their authority. Scholarly treatises of their empires disclosed absolutist states with a paradoxical uncertainty in leadership. At any rate, they revealed governments in a constant state of flux as far as the succession was concerned. This enabled dramatists to project glamourized figures, who rose to prominence in the East.
The playwrights affirmed the protagonists' ruthless appetite for empires and vindicated their use of violent means for change. Englishmen of the age could identify with these enterprising personalities on stage despite the alien plots and scenes. The worldly constraints of degree and social status were absent in this dramatic vision of an oriental world where men were free of all inhibiting codes of conduct.
Scenes of bloodshed, committed by these alien personages would not have posed as a deterrent in attracting the Elizabethan and Jacobean public that was accustomed to brutal demonstrations of official authority in their own society. In any case, feelings of revulsion aroused by acts of fratricide and patricide lost some of their impact in the context of an Eastern world where Christian scruples were irrelevant. The temporal power of Eastern tyrants could even be cited to justify the adoption of their methods in England.
As English understanding of Eastern governments increased with improved modes of travel and better opportunities for observing foreign customs, the playwrights translated this growing awareness into their characters. The roles of the oriental monarchs and tyrants contributed to the knowledge of different concepts of politics and commerce. They offered viable options for the emerging English society that was no longer restricted by European models of power. While the action and characterization in these plays were still pejorative in their portrayal of Eastern characters, they did reveal a desire on the part of the dramatists and audience to benefit from the experiences of the demonstrably victorious Eastern rulers. Their lives presented a mirror to reflect both the internal and external preoccupations of the English nation.
1. W. Bang (ed.), The First Part of the Tragical Reign of Selimus, sometime Emperour of the Turkes, and grandfather to him that now raigneth. Wherin is showne how hee most unnaturally raised warres against his own father Baiazet, and preuailing therein, in the end caused him to be poysoned: Also with the murthering of his two brethren, Corcut, and Acomat. As it was playd by the queenes Maiesties Players, (London: Thomas Creed, 1594). The Malone Society Reprints 1908 (London: Charles Whittingham and Chiswick Press, 1909). All further references to the play text are from this reprint.
2. Kenneth Parker (ed.), Early Modern Tales of Orient: A Critical Anthology (London: Routledge, 1999), 9.
3. See Nabil Matar, Islam in Britain 1558-1685 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 184.
4. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1993), xxiv-xxv.
5. Simon Trussler, The Faber Pocket Guide to Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (London: Faber and Faber Inc., 2006), 10-12.
6. Asli Cirakman, From the Terror of the World to the Sick Man of Europe: European Images of the Ottoman Empire and Society from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2002), 88.
7. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, translated into English by Luigi Ricci, The World Classics, 43 vols (London: Grant Richards, 1903), XLIII, 15.
8. A.D.Wraight and Virginia F.Stern, In Search of Christopher Marlowe: A Pictorial Biography, 2nd ed. (Chichester: Adam Hart, 1965, 1993), 55. Wraight mentions the availability of Machiavelli's work at Cambridge where its likely that dramatists like Marlowe had access to the library.
9. See Michael Hattaway, "Drama and Society" in A.R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway (eds.), English Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 93-130 (p.106).
10. See James I., Basilicon Doron (Menston,Yorkshire: The Scolar Press Limited, 1969), 28, where James describes the difference between usurping tyrants and lawful kings.
11. Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Postuhumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes, 20 vols (Glasgow; James MacLehose and Sons, 1905), VIII, 304-320.
12. Ibid, 121.
13. Ibid, 123.
14. Richard Knolles, The Generall Historie of the Turkes (London: A. Islip, 1603), STC 15051, 191.
15. W. Bang (ed.), The Tragic Reign of Selimus, Sc. i.196.
16. Ibid, Sc. xxx.2521.
17. Ibid, Sc.ii, 254.
18. Ibid, Sc.xv. 1407-8.
19. Ibid, Sc.v.616-619.
20. Ibid, Sc.ii, 284.
21. Ibid, Sc.xxxi. 2543-44, 1548-2550.
22. Ibid, Sc. xvii, 1739-40.
23. Ibid, Sc.ii.268.
24. Ibid, Sc.iii.478.
25. Ibid, Sc.ii. 338-339.
26. Ibid, Sc.ii. 359-360.
27. Ibid, Sc.ii, 236-241.
28. Ibid, Sc.x. 1066-1067.
29. Ibid, Sc.x, 945-947.
30. Peter Davidson (ed.), The Raging Turke, or, Baiazet The Second. A Tragedie written by Thomas Goffe (1631), The Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Printed by Vivian Ridler at the University Press, 1968 ). All further references to the play are from this text.
31. Ibid, I,ii, 170.
32. Ibid, III.ii.1356-1360.
33. Ibid, III.ii.1423-125.
34. Richard Knolles, 444-45.
35. Thomas Goffe, III.iii.1625-1626.
36. Warner Grenelle Rice, Turk, Moor and Persian in English Literature from 1550-1660, with particular Reference to Drama (unpublished doctoral thesis, Harvard University, 1926), 349.
37. Goffe, V, x, 3566-3572.
38. Ibid, V, x, 3643-3649.
39. Hermannus Vasletabus (ed.), Muhammad II, Sultan of the Turks: The Turkes Secretorie, conteining his sundrie letters to diuers emperours. Translated out of Latine copie (London: 1607), STC 17996, 23.
a. John J. Murray (ed.), The Tragedye of Solyman and Perseda (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991), I. V. 110-111; Stephen Orgel (ed.), The Renaissance Imagination (New York: Garland Series, 1982).
40. Ibid, III.i. 58-63.
41. Ibid, V.ii.124-25.
42. Ibid, V.iii. 75-76.
43. Ibid, IV.i.143-144.
a. The Mahumetane or Turkish Historie, translated by Ralph Carr ( London: Thomas Este, 1600), STC 17997, 117.
44. John Freely, Inside the Seraglio: Private Lives of the Sultans in Istanbul (London: Penguin Books, 1999), 55.
45. Geoffrey Bullough (ed.), Mvstapha in Poems and Drama of Fulke Greville 2 vols (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1939), 167-68. All further references to the play are from this text.
46. Ibid, 126-27.
47. Ibid, 135.
48. Ibid, 104-05.
49. For the Greek legends of Mehmet's entry into Constantinople, see Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Cambridge: University Press, 1965).
50. Dorothy M. Vaughan, Europe and the Turk: A Pattern of Alliances 1350-1700 (Liverpool: University Press, 1954), 66.
51. Robert Schwoebel, The Shadow of the Crescent: The Renaissance Image of the Turks, 1453-1517 (Nieuwkoop: B.De Graaf, 1967), 148-149. See also Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor: The Life and Legend of Constantine Palaiologos, Last Emperor of the Romans (Cambridge: University Press, 1992).
52. Susan Gushee O'Malley (ed.), A Critical Old-Spelling Edition of Thomas Goffe's The Courageous Turk (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1979), I.v.66. All further references to the play are from this edition.
53. Ibid, I.v.42-43.
54. Ibid, II.iv.23-24.
a. See the description of the fall of Constantinople by Nicholas Nicholay, The Nauigations, Peregrinations and Voyages Made into Turkie, tr. by T.Washington (London: Thomas Dawson, 1585), STC 18574, 48-49.
55. Susan Gushee, A Critical Old-Spelling, II.ii.16-17.
56. Ibid, III.ii.26-34.
57. Ibid, III.i.15-25.
58. Ibid, III.iii 51-55.
59. Ibid, III.iv.43-44.
60. Susan Gushee, III.i.33-36.
61. See Sandys in Purchas his Pilgrimes, 1905, VIII, 160.
62. Susan, A Critical Old-Spelling, II.v.84-85.
63. See A.J. Hoenselaars, Images of Englishmen and Foreigners in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (London: Associated University Press, 1992), 145.
64. Anthony Parr (ed.), Three Renaissance Travel Plays, The Revels Plays Companion Library (Manchester: University Press, 1995), 10.
65. Susan, A Critical Old-Spelling, V.i. 135.
66. Ibid, V.i.36-37.
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|Publication:||Pakistan Journal of European Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 30, 2011|
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