Travels through "Islam" in early modern English studies.
Before Orientalism: London's Theatre of the East, 1576-1626. By Richmond Barbour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xii + 238
The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720. By Gerald M. MacLean. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. xxi + 276
The three books under review epitomize the current groundswell of literary historical studies focusing on England and Islam from the late sixteenth through the early eighteenth century. (Though not often qualified, the descriptor "Islam" in English studies connotes religiously, politically, economically, and culturally to varying degrees.) At the beginning of this era, England launched official trade and diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire and the North African regencies associated with the Ottomans. Though less official, relations with the Safavid Empire in Persia were also broached. In all cases, England was a supplicant to Islamic polities whose economic, military, and political power exceeded its own. By the end of this era, England began to project its nascent imperial ambitions, particularly in early forays to Mughal India. Nevertheless, England cannot be considered a global imperial power during this period, when its ambassadors were alternately dismissed and mocked at the courts of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals.
The critical history of this encounter from within English literary (and subsequently cultural) studies begins with Samuel Chew's inaugural survey, The Crescent and the Rose: Islam and England during the Renaissance (1937), which constitutes the "first wave" in this field. Nabil Matar's oeuvre, beginning in the 1980s, launched the "second wave." Matar's sustained, and virtually solitary, attention to the literary historical study of Anglo-Ottoman relations during these decades culminated in his paired monographs, Islam in Britain, 1558-1685 (1998) and Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (1999). This culminating moment shifted the field from Chew's accumulative methodology to a cultural studies paradigm that positioned the early modern English as vacillating between "centripetal" and "centrifugal" in their imaginary and material relations with Islamdom. More recently, Matar has turned towards early modern Arabic representations of Western Europe and the Americas rather than remaining bound by eurocentric views, starting with In the Lands of the Christians: Arabic Travel Writing in the Seventeenth Century (2003). In addition, Daniel Goffman, whose disciplinary locus is Ottoman rather than English studies, has extended his focus on the multicultural milieu of Smyrna (Izmir) into important monographs on Britons in the Ottoman Empire, 1642-1660 (1998) and The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (2002). Goffman's ongoing scholarship also draws on Ottoman and other autochthonous sources to establish a new direction in comparative studies of Islam and Western Europe during the early modern period. Hence, the three works under review must be situated within the field of English rather than comparative studies; as such, these works continue the important task of analyzing English attitudes towards its "Others," which in the case of the premier Islamic empires during the early modern period must be seen as ascendant vis-a-vis the English rather than subaltern.
Daniel Vitkus is a significant figure for the current attention to early modern England's interactions with Islamdom due to his assiduous work as an editor of primary sources, including Three Turk Plays from Early Modern England (2000) and Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England (2001). His recent monograph, Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570-1630, draws on this archival base and the several articles he has published on English drama and travel writing in relation to orientalist themes. While his monograph is primarily focused on "Mediterranean plays" in the London public theater during the age of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare (37), it frames these more properly literary analyses with two introductory chapters detailing the study's theoretical and historical claims. Chapter 1, "Before Empire: England, Alterity, and the Mediterranean Context," critiques the retrojection of Edward Said's version of Orientalism (1978) into the early modern period. Rather than presuming an opposition between a dominating western self and a subordinated "Oriental" other, Vitkus proposes a postmodern version of alterity based on a dispersed, fragmented, labile subject that supercedes the fixed, autonomous, and arguably imperialist Cartesian self. More broadly, this critique encompasses postcolonial and new historicist tendencies towards teleological, if ostensibly counterhegemonic, models of empire. As Vitkus reiterates, while the Elizabethans and Jacobeans elaborated an "imperial rhetoric" in emulation of the established empires of the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans (4), England could not claim colonial success even in Ireland and Virginia. This teleological fallacy, he concludes, arises from the methodological confusion of "the discursive with the material" (6). Rather, the English during this era expressed a combination of admiration and fear of established empires, especially the Ottomans. Said and his followers thus overlook the historical specificity of the Ottoman imperialist reach into Eastern and Western Europe until the end of the seventeenth century.
Nevertheless, England, though its pretensions to empire did not match the reality of its "third-rank" status (3), did seek its share in the burgeoning mercantile economy of the Mediterranean, which was roughly divided between Spanish and Ottoman control. Trade, often indistinguishable from piracy, drew English men (and some women) to this multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic milieu in increasing numbers. Concomitantly, this spur to cosmopolitan mercantilism provoked accelerating anxieties about domestic identity formation. It is the English, Vitkus remarks, who embody the erstwhile postcolonial notion of "mimic-men" in the early modern Mediterranean (9). Hence, a salient role of the public theater was to stage these anxieties over contradictory identities, ranging from exclusionary ethnocentrism to potential alliances with "Orientals" including Scythians, Turks, Moors, and Jews. To this end, Vitkus articulates a methodology that examines contact with and representations of various Mediterranean cultures as conjoined. The chapter "The English and the Early Modern Mediterranean: Theater, Commerce, and Identity" stresses the region's centrality as the font of Christianity, the locus of classical humanism, and the wellspring of early modern mercantilism. That the early modern Mediterranean was dominated by Muslim powers meant the English had to confront not only their marginality to this "center of the world," but their inferiority to a competing lineage deriving from the region's religious, cultural, and economic heritages. Presaging the focus on largely canonical (and all male-authored) drama characterizing the balance of the study, the conclusion of this chapter offers a literary analysis of the gendered dynamic of exchange in Shakespeare's Pericles. Nonetheless, this transitional explication signals an unintentional "discordant note" by replicating the lapse Vitkus locates in Shakespeare's play: even as female characters (scripted and masqueraded by men) are analyzed as potentially resistant objects of exchange, they ultimately remain bound by patriarchal terms (42). As we shall see, this lacuna characterizes all three works under review.
Chapter 3, "Marlowe's Mahomet: Islam, Turks, and Religious Controversy in Tamburlaine, Parts I and II," divides its argument about this overdetermined play (to treat the two parts as one narrative) into four sections. First, Vitkus follows the new historicist reading of Marlowe's Tamburlaine as subverting religious providentialism overall, though it does so by displacing this radical critique onto the complexly layered Islamicate geography of the play. Tracing the Muslim-Protestant analogy which had become commonplace in the immediate decades following the Reformation, Vitkus further confirms the argument that the play simultaneously endorses and undermines Protestant claims to logocentrism and iconoclasm. The infamous "Koran burning" scene thus leads, not to the assurance of Christian hegemony, but to the undermining of all religions of the book. Moreover, the historical Tamerlane's conquest of the Ottoman sultan in 1402 functions to assuage English fears of the advancing Ottoman Empire during the 1500s even as it underlines the resiliency of the Ottomans, who quickly recovered from the Mongol scourge of the early fifteenth century. In sum, Marlowe's play becomes "a mirror ... in which the English saw a distorted, fantasmic version of themselves--a spectacle that was both admirable and frightening" (65). Ultimately, in Vitkus's view, it presages the mercantile expansionism of the English into the Mediterranean, with Tamburlaine as scripted and played by English men becoming the prototype for "primitive accumulation" in a Marxian sense.
The fourth chapter, "Othello Turks Turk," contrasts the relentless drive for accumulation enacted by Marlowe's Tamburlaine and by English merchants to the Mediterranean with the shifting fortunes that coalesce in the final act of this "drama of conversion" (75). Conversion in the play, as in early modern England more generally, primarily involves faithlessness in a political and religious sense, encompassing Catholic and Ottoman designs on Protestant lands. The trope of turning, moreover, becomes lodged in patriarchal projections of sexual infidelity onto the feminine. In Othello, of course, this sexual turning becomes entwined with emerging permutations of early modern English racialization. Detailing the era's imperialist discourses, which cast Europeans as "both colonizers and colonized" (78), Vitkus persuasively links conversion with perversion on all these levels. His pairing of The Tragedy of Othello with the well-known history of Amurath (Mehmet II, 1444-46, 1451-81) and Irene, the beloved Greek concubine the sultan purportedly sacrificed to prove his mastery over his passion, convincingly establishes Othello's internalization, not only of the negative connotations associated with blackness in early modern English culture (though current scholarship alerts us to contemporaneous positive connotations of blackness), but more so to the ongoing debate over the degree to which Othello has "turned Turk." By the play's catastrophe, Vitkus shows, Othello is damned by all the shades of conversion current in early modern England.
Chapter 5, "Scenes of Conversion: Piracy, Apostasy, and the Sultan's Seraglio," extends this overdetermined sense of conversion into a series of plays--Thomas Kyd's The Tragedye of Soliman and Perseda (1592), Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I and II (1602, 1630), Robert Daborne's A Christian Turned Turk (1612), and Philip Massinger's The Renegado (1624)--which Vitkus concludes form "a coherent subgenre" neglected by scholars of English Renaissance drama (161). The chapter addresses the etiology of conversion from Christianity (particularly the Protestant English variety) to Islam by adducing the narrative of the ostensibly converted Muslim, Leo Africanus, along with several captivity narratives by English men who assert their apparent resistance to conversion while enslaved in Muslim lands. Vitkus seconds Matar's proposition that early modern English men abroad converted to Islam due to the "allure" of a more powerful empire whose avenues to economic advancement were far more open than those of their class-ossified homeland. However, he adds that the Ottoman realms, which institutionalized religious tolerance far in advance of early modern Christian norms, offered a respite from the intense psychological and political pressures of England's several conversions from Catholicism to Protestantism during the sixteenth century and between competing forms of Protestant sects in the seventeenth century.
The emphasis in Vitkus's analysis is on Christian males' anxieties over circumcision, which was taken to be a sine qua non of conversion to Islam for adult males in the early modern period. Circumcision in this case collapsed into fears of castration as represented by the stock character of the English eunuch. In an apparent contradiction, the potential of Islam to attract English Protestants was met with a body of propaganda depicting such conversions as synonymous with sexual dissolution as epitomized by western masculinist fantasies of the sultan in his seraglio. Western male converts are analogously depicted as being attracted to the possibility of polygamy, divorce, and concubinage under Islamic law. Yet, the specificity of Christian women's conversions to Islam in the period, which occurred in North African and Eurasian regions of the Ottoman Empire, is not sufficiently addressed, either in the literature Vitkus surveys or the historical context he constructs. We have documented instances of such women becoming wives and mothers of sultans, which means they attained powerful and lucrative positions in the Islamicate political institutions of the era. Moreover, subsequent English women writing about female conversion to Islam, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, do not adduce stained honor as a motivating factor. Vitkus is not to be faulted for the limitations of his sources; however, to address issues of gendered conversion with any validity we must begin to expand our methods beyond positivist textual and contextual analysis.
The final chapter, "Machiavellian Merchants: Italians, Jews, and Turks," turns to the mode of conversion characterizing commodified transactions, which were registered with anxious attention by the English during the early modern period. The Mediterranean presented a particularly ambivalent staging ground for the enactment of the desires and anxieties implicit in cross-cultural trade. In particular, the English imposition of these anxieties onto Jewish characters in Marlowe's Jew of Malta (1590), Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (1596) and Daborne's A Christian Turned Turk (1612) underscores the qualifier that alterity need not culminate in tolerance or inclusion. Indeed, this chapter belies the optimism of Vitkus's claim in the introductory chapter: "[t]he ethnocentric certainties of the Elect Nation collapse under the pressure of these plays that both demonize and eroticize the ambivalent, hybrid heroes that cross the stage" (24). Nonetheless, his carefully documented study of the shifting subject positions available via the multicultural Mediterranean of the early modern period lays the groundwork for grappling with this possibility in our own era.
Richmond Barbour's Before Orientalism: London's Theatre of the East, 1576-1626, with its focus on the Mughal Empire in South Asia, productively complements the Mediterranean coordinates of Vitkus's study. This focus, Barbour emphasizes in his preface ("The Cultural Logistics of England's Eastern Initiative") and first chapter ("The Glorious Empire of the Turks, the Present Terrour of the World"), redresses the lopsided attention to English discourses of empire in the Americas by resituating the English as subaltern to the established empires of the early modern period, several of the most salient of which were Islamic. Barbour approaches his topic from complementary vantage points: first, the staging of "the East" in English public theater, court masques, and mayoral pageants; and, second, the theatrics of early English touring and ambassadorial display in the empire of the Mughals. Throughout, Sir Thomas Roe, England's first "official" ambassador to the Mughal court during the early seventeenth century, becomes the touchstone for the incommensurability of English imperialist rhetoric vis-a-vis the established empires of Islamdom. Moreover, his role as ambassador reinforces the theatricality of state the English court cultivated at home and abroad. Such theatricality, however, left Roe open to the laughter of the more highly developed Mughal court, where he was received as yet another uncouth English imposter.
Barbour joins the recent chorus of critics who challenge the binarism and anachronism of Said's Orientalism, particularly in its applications to the premodern period. Along with Vitkus, he emphasizes the distinction between "early modern Europe's strategic and economic relations with" and "its domestic constructions of" the East, which for Barbour's purposes extends from the Ottomans to the Mughals (5). While Barbour acknowledges the limits of his study, which does not engage sources in the languages of the empires he considers, he presents a viable and valuable project comparing English-language representations of the East with select translations of Mughal documents. He defines this project as a "cultural logistics" (7), or a dialectical analysis of the discursive and material conditions that shaped early modern English forays into the empires of the East. Such a dialectic, Barbour proposes, yielded a mode of "proto-orientalism" involving invectives against Islam (and particularly against the Ottomans) that compensated for English inferiority rather than manifested a dominating imperialist drive.
Tracing the connections between the Levant Company (operative in the Ottoman Empire) and the East India Company, Barbour proposes that an analysis of the English encounter with the Mughals must proceed through The Generall Historie of the Turkes by Richard Knolles (1603). This influential tome, which was frequently republished throughout the seventeenth century, epitomizes the proto-orientalism of the era by alternately alarming and reassuring its audience, beginning with King James, regarding the affiliations of the English with the Turks. While the Ottomans are seen as de facto heirs of the Roman Empire, they also signal from an English perspective the "effeminacy" associated with imperial degeneracy (24). The English, therefore, may learn from the Ottomans' strengths and benefit from their predicted downfall. Such neat binaries, as Barbour concludes, nevertheless collapse as "[t]he patterns of barbarity that Knolles finds normative among Turks" become "more disturbing because they hit close to home," as in the fratricidal parallels with the Tudor succession (23). Knolles's Historie, which Barbour reads through theatrical analogues, thus resists the closure of a fifth act; in fact, it continues to expand with each edition to suggest the English in the seventeenth century cannot contain the Ottomans materially or discursively.
The remaining two chapters in the first part of this study--"Exotic Persuasions in the Playhouse" and "Imperial Poetics in Royal and Civic Spectacle"--range from canonical stage plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare to a wider variety of performances in Stuart England, including royal processions, courts masques, and mayoral pageants. Barbour's focus on London theatricals thus covers a broad spectrum of cultural productions to counter the elisions resulting from an exclusive focus on the public theater. Moreover, he presents the space of the stage as crucial for early modern England's cultural mimesis: one aimed particularly at "Asiatic themes and trappings" (37). A fascinating conjunction supports this hypothesis: in 1599, the company which would feature Shakespeare's great plays named its reconstructed theater "The Globe," a name it shared with "the first English vessel to ply the Bay of Bengal" in 1611 (40). London's theatrical spaces thereby showcased the wares of the early English merchants in the East, even as they purveyed, in Barbour's view, an emergent orientalist discourse. Barbour is careful to reiterate that this empire was not yet manifested, particularly in the eastern context; more significantly, he stresses, "[w]hile fostering imperial fantasies, London's stage plays also critiqued and mocked such fantasies" (41). Hence, the stage also becomes a site of anti-imperialist discourses, albeit in a xenophobic register.
Marlowe's Tamburlaine functions primarily as a proto-imperialist, proto-orientalist text in this context, with little of the subversive complications Vitkus examines. More conventionally, Barbour isolates "humanist aspiration and the politics of spectacle" (50), drawing an analogy with Queen Elizabeth I's domestic politics. Hence, Marlowe's play ultimately presents a narcissistic parody, in that the "Other" it reflects is none other than the self. This reiteration of the self-same nevertheless bears little resemblance to the radical alterity Vitkus locates in Tamburlaine. Barbour's reading of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra likewise defines the play's "indeterminacy" in terms of emergent orientalism (57). While this play's projection of eastern effeminacy seeks to inflame English desires for empire, the reality of ventures to the East involved "malnutrition, disease, shipwreck, capture by--or as--pirates, enslavement, violence at the hands of jealous Europeans, and the pervasive likelihood of being outsmarted by people who had practiced upon one another for centuries" (67). Proto-orientalism thus articulates the conflicted desires of the English for empire as compensation for their actual marginality on the global stage.
The chapter on "[c]ivic, courtly, and professional shows" expands this thesis into theatrical spaces that intersected with the public theater through a shared stock of entrepreneurial playwrights and commodified stage properties (69). These theatricals similarly marshal verisimilitude to stage the desire for British imperialism in contradistinction to the realities of Ottoman ascendancy. Such conclusions might seem foregone; however, Barbour provides an "Interlude: Imaging Home and Travel" to complicate the basic thesis that orientalist discourses did not match actual manifestations of empire in early modern England. This "Interlude" productively foregrounds the concomitant discourse about the dangers of travel, with specific reference to the uncertain identity formation of early modern English men. This ambivalence leads to volumes of vicarious travel writing, foremost amongst which are Richard Hakluyt's and Samuel Purchas's influential compendiums. Indeed, as we return to Sir Thomas Roe, we learn that he carried Purchas his Pilgrimage (1613) with him on his inaugural voyage to the Mughal court, from whence he presented his own letters as vehicles for armchair travelers. Yet, as Barbour points out, "it is one thing to recommend a colonialist mentality, another thing to colonize" (110). Barbour's case study of Roe's mission to the Mughals thereby challenges the London theatricals that promoted discursive orientalism despite the reality of England's global marginality.
In the penultimate chapter, "Thomas Coryate and the Invention of Tourism," Barbour traces the career of "the first Englishman to reach India with no commitment to trade" (115). This is not to say, however, that Coryat disdained commodification. Rather, his relentless self-promotion through travel and writing rendered the travel writer himself a new cross-cultural commodity. Coryat's journey as a professional travel writer first took him through continental Europe, and subsequently through Asia as far as the Mughal court. Indeed, his path crosses Roe's--much to the latter's consternation, since Coryat managed to precede the "official" ambassador. Redacted in Purchas his Pilgrimes, Coryat's journal of his eastern travels thus becomes uneasily integrated into an emerging, if still imaginary, discourse of English imperialism. Barbour cites frequent instances in Coryat's writings that could be seen as proto-orientalist, though he continues to qualify his model as distinct from the full-fledged orientalism described by Said. Vitkus's previously cited concern with teleological interpretations of (proto)orientalism nevertheless apply to this reading of Coryat's, as well as Roe's, career.
"Sir Thomas Roe and the Embassy to India, 1615-1619" concludes this study by explicating "England's first attempt to assert its dignity as a country of consequence in India" (146). While Barbour contests subsequent readings of the "rise of the British Raj" back into Roe's haphazard embassy, he frequently locates potentially orientalist and imperialist discourses in the ambassador's writings. Competing with previous faux ambassadors, Roe's initial struggle is to establish his legitimacy as a counter to the dismissal of his country and king. This exigency required him to deploy strategic, and often theatric, interventions. Yet, as Barbour emphasizes, Roe's strategies did not include learning any of the languages of the region (unlike the lower-class English men who trumped him as "ambassadors" in the Mughal court). Moreover, Roe's efforts to represent his sovereign to the Mughals resulted in the incorporation of King James in a decidedly marginal position in the iconography of this eastern empire (as in Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Sheikh to Kings, ca. 1615-18). Echoing Knolles's compensatory means to contain fears of Islamic ascendancy, Roe similarly casts the Mughal emperor as "effeminate" even as he acknowledges his uncontested strength in the region (179). Without detailed attention to this uncertain mission, however, subsequent readers have followed Purchas in reading Roe as an imperialist emissary for the English.
Barbour unravels this tendentious anachronism in his afterword, which turns to Roe's final posting in Istanbul. As the ironies of the early modern English discourse of empire deepen, Roe's final writings reveal a retrospective privileging of the Mughal court over the current frustrations he experiences as a subaltern in the Ottoman court. Yet, even this triangulation becomes liable to orientalist appropriation whereby the Ottomans and the Mughals are demoted in subsequent anglocentric discourses. Again, it is the task of the contemporary critic to unravel these ironies in order to contest the inevitability of orientalism then and now.
Gerald M. MacLean's The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720 takes an intriguingly different tack to the same line of inquiry covered by Vitkus and Barbour. To start, MacLean's study is structured not around stage plays, but around the travels of four early modern English men. MacLean precedes these narrative case studies with a prologue, argument, and preface to establish the historical, methodological, and personal stakes of his task. The prologue transcribes an Ottoman document --referenced in Orhan Pamuk's novel, My Name is Red (1998)--highlighting the variable fortunes of the English in the Ottoman Empire from the Elizabethan era (1558-1603) into the later seventeenth century. In sum, the queen regnant Elizabeth I's oft-cited gift of an organ to Sultan Murad III (1574-95)--due to English bungling, it did not arrive until the reign of the apparently appreciative Mehmed III (1595-1603)--was obliterated by the pious Ahmed I (1603-17). Within three generations of Ottoman rule, therefore, the English moved from potential allies to irremediable infidels. A corresponding shift occurred in the English court, where the strategic rapprochement of Elizabeth was replaced by the thorough anti-Islamism of her successor, James I (1603-25). MacLean's argument seeks to understand "the global formations of Englishness itself" within this variable context (xiii). The subjects of his study--Thomas Dallam, William Biddulph, Henry Blount, and the anonymous T. S.--range in class background, occupation, level of education, motivation for travel, and openness to other cultures. All share a common starting point in England, to which they all return. Furthermore, all are confined to the masculinist perspective, though MacLean attempts to account for the paucity of attention to women's travels by regretting the absence of their written documents (xviii). The tendency to rely on positivist methodologies, which limits acceptable sources to written documents (generally by men), thus narrows the scope of MacLean's study.
With his more personal preface, MacLean establishes the link between the subject of his study--early modern English men traveling through the Ottoman Empire--and his own subject position. MacLean's linkage of his travels to Turkey over the past quarter century with his increasing interest in the early modern travels of English men to the Ottoman Empire, where his traveling and scholarship eventually become mutually reinforcing, derives from the postcolonial imperative to situate our production of knowledge within global circuits past and present. Yet, the pitfalls of this preliminary gesture are several. Though limited by the confines of a preface, MacLean might have expanded upon the current neoimperialist characteristics of global travel (as he does in Materialist Feminisms , which he coauthored with Donna Landry). Without this thorough theorizing, inevitable anachronisms intrude, though infrequently, in this study. To cite a generalized instance, photos featuring MacLean in the regions to which the early modern subjects of his study traveled tend to efface the historicity of space, thereby leading to suggestions of orientalist stasis. While MacLean may not intend such conclusions, the tendency of western audiences to adduce their travels as tourists, exchange students, or other sojourners as evidence of their grasp of "Islam" is too commonplace in academic conferences and classrooms to go unremarked in a study that seeks to historicize such encounters. MacLean does offer a means for obviating these conflations by citing Ottoman sources to complement the early modern English archive, which he has expanded by recovering hitherto unpublished manuscript materials. MacLean thus admirably fulfills his stated goal of crafting a study for specialists and general readers by blending precise scholarly documentation with an engaging narrative style.
MacLean initiates his itinerary through early modern English travel narratives with the man responsible for the Elizabethan organ gifted to one sultan and destroyed by another, Thomas Dallam (travels 1599-1600). This section sets the pattern MacLean will follow in the balance of his study: we learn about Dallam's background, the details of his journey, and the significance of the narrative he produced. Dallam's Diary (1893) presents particular problems for literary historical analysis, as it was not published until the nineteenth century. Questions of audience and influence thus become salient. MacLean's attention to "narrative technique" further allows him to limn a crucial political struggle between the lowly organ-maker, who is nevertheless privileged by the Ottoman sultan with an audience, and the class-conscious English ambassador, Henry Lello (10). MacLean underscores the unconventional position of Dallam as a travel writer, since the organ-maker did not have investments in either the mercantile or diplomatic agendas motivating most English recorders of the Ottomans during this era. Hence, reading Dallam's narrative through the tools of literary and rhetorical analysis reveals otherwise inaccessible political struggles. Moreover, framing this narrative with the history of England's initial encounters with the Ottomans highlights Dallam's relative openness to the possibility of conversion, which implies a refigured English identity, even as he insists on returning to the company of Christians despite the sultan's bribes and the English ambassador's potential betrayals. Dallam's narrative, MacLean aptly concludes, inscribes "English subjectivity in the making" as it moves between the straits of England and the vast Ottoman Empire (45).
The subsequent narrative presents a diametrical approach to cross-cultural encounters via the obdurately bigoted clergyman, William Biddulph (travels 1600-12). Biddulph's itinerary coincided with Dallam's, though Biddulph's station as a Protestant chaplain in Aleppo required him to remain in Ottoman regions for over a decade. MacLean's combined rhetorical and historical approach enables him to situate Biddulph's narrative, ostensibly published anonymously, as part of a complicated power struggle amongst the English played out across continents. Importantly, while Biddulph did not leave his visible imprimatur on his narrative, the narrow circuit of the Levant Company and the English court meant that everyone who needed to know understood Biddulph had authored his Travels (1609). Though "the first English chaplain to publish an account of life in the Ottoman Empire" (51), these travels embed scathing political critiques of the current ambassador, Sir Thomas Glover, via salacious rumors about the ambassador's first marriage. Hence, one may argue that anonymity protected Biddulph, a clergyman, from the charges of mendacity commonly laid against travel writers. However, withholding his name from publication simultaneously enabled him to maneuver as a political muckraker. Biddulph's narrative contains additional interest for his insistence that women in England should be governed by the patriarchal strictures he locates in Ottoman regions: clearly, his anti-Islamic rhetoric does not preclude favoring what he misconstrues as Islamic personal law. MacLean's reading of Biddulph's Travels as narrative, and not simply as an historical document, ultimately reveals that Biddulph, like so many patriarchal religious bigots, was dissimulating his more egregious breaches of the rigid moral code he imposed by casting stones at other English men and women abroad.
MacLean's next traveler is the urbane Sir Henry Blount, who voyaged to the Ottoman Empire from 1634-36. MacLean glosses Blount's personal motto, Radicem Pete (Seek the Root), as evidence of this English gentleman's propensity for "radical thinking" (117). Similarly, his contemporaries adduced Blount's abstention from alcohol after his journey--he became known as "the famous Travellor & water-drinker" (118)--as evidence of his willingness to counter English customs conflicting with his larger worldview. Blount's account of his travels, A Voyage into the Levant, went through seven reprints between 1636 and 1671. In contrast to Dallam and Biddulph, then, Blount's views influenced all levels of English society, from the royal household in which he was tutor, to the popular readership who kept up the demand for his book. Blount, a social scientist avant la lettre, uses his knowledge of the Ottoman Empire to counter traditional anti-Islamic views. He therefore constitutes a cultural relativist from the period immediately preceding British global imperialism. Nonetheless, as MacLean argues, Blount's praise for the Ottomans evinces an "imperial envy" that casts the Ottoman Empire as a model for emulation even as the English sought to become competitors on the global scale (126). MacLean stresses Blount's self-identification as a "passenger" to suggest such voyaging involved a dissimulation akin to spying (128). This "special performative mode"--which Richard Burton later raised to an incorrigible art during his 1853 "pilgrimage" to Mecca--further points to the protoimperialist aspect of Blount's praise of the Ottomans (129). MacLean's analysis leads to the conclusion, which complicates Said's model, that the absence of orientalism in Blount's narrative actually rendered it more usable for subsequent English imperialist efforts. His return to England as a drinker of water and coffee, rather than traditional English spirits, accordingly marks the beginning of a cultural appropriation of Islamicate customs (most particularly, the coffee house) that characterized the beginnings of English imperialist efforts in the Ottoman regions from the mid-seventeenth century onwards (England's first colony in the region being Tangier, acquired as part of the crown's marriage negotiations in 1662).
MacLean's final traveler, "T. S.," unlike the strategically anonymous Biddulph, "remains entirely obscure" (179). According to his published Adventures (1670), in England T. S. was a marginalized "younger son" (188); in Algeria, under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, he was a slave for years. His itinerary thus ends with his return to England in 1670 and the immediate publication of this narrative, which MacLean reads as an enigmatic blend of fact and fiction. Such pastiche was possible by the end of the seventeenth century due to the critical mass of writing by English men who had traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire. T.S.'s Adventures also exploited the Restoration interest in picaresque narratives, exemplified by the early novels of Aphra Behn and Daniel Defoe. This history, in other words, must be read as a story. Though the narrative is motivated by Christian providentialism, it cannot be equated with traditional anti-Islamic polemics such as Biddulph's: according to this view, T. S.'s position as "an important agent of Ottoman imperialism" becomes a felix culpa that returns to Protestant England the details of managing an empire (183). Impelled to leave England due to its rigid hierarchies, including primogeniture, he becomes "the fully imperializing traveller" (190). Moreover, whereas former captivity narratives featured English eunuchs paying the price of their manhood to achieve upward mobility in the Ottoman regencies, T. S. appears as a hypermasculine "stallion" gaining entrance into otherwise prohibited women's quarters (197). Having acculturated to the North African regency he served, including learning the necessary languages, he returns to England as a "native" informant (he identifies as an Ottoman against the Algerian rebels) to bolster England's designs on the Ottoman Mediterranean. Once again, it bears repeating that this imperialist stance remained largely imaginary in the late seventeenth century. Nevertheless, as MacLean suggests, narratives such as T. S.'s presage the subsequent mode of imperialism in the region exemplified by the infamous T. E. Lawrence (also known as "Lawrence of Arabia").
MacLean concludes his study with a brief epilogue that recasts the question, "What About the Women, Then?" He proposes, because women did not leave the documentary records men did, they represent an absent presence in studies of early modern England's relations with Islamdom. My contention is such assumptions, which are rife in current criticism, accede to necessarily partial positivist modes of interpretation. They do not read for gaps, contradictions, and traces of women's agency in the available narratives, inscriptions, inventories, and other written records. Neither do they pursue methods advanced in other fields--such as anthropology, history, and semiotics--for uncovering women's agency beyond the written record. Hence, while MacLean is to be commended for broaching the issue of women's cultural agency, his gesture is prone to collapsing into an inoculating critique. Furthermore, the ambassadors' wives he adduces--Lady Anne Glover (residence in Istanbul, 1606-68), Lady Wych (1628-39), and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1716-18)--remain within narratives of the haram and hamam that have been part of the patriarchal repertoire since English men began reporting on the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. Cultural translation rather than "disrobing"--where clothing represents only one layer of signification--might be a better place to conclude this study. After all, Montagu spends equal space in her letters uncovering the intricacies of Turkish poetry. The thematics of translation, rather than of gendered fetishes, might also be applied to the agency of the English women who preceded Montagu in the Ottoman Empire. MacLean's approach to English men's travel writing nevertheless presents hitherto unexamined materials and innovative methodologies that should inform future literary and historical work on English women and men in the Ottoman Empire.
In summary, Vitkus's focus on the "multi-cultural Mediterranean," Barbour's emphasis on "proto-orientalist" discourses, and MacLean's interest in English men's travel narratives usefully nuance the most recent wave of attention to Islam in Britain and Britons in the Ottoman Empire. Their shared critique of anachronistic applications of Said's Orientalism, their breadth of primary sources, and their commitment to archival recovery render these three works an indispensable contribution to the ongoing study of early modern England's engagement with the Islamic world. The limits of these works include a continuing focus on canonical drama in the first two instances, a tendency to hypostatize "Islam" in early modern English studies, and a lack of attention to women's agency in charting this encounter. Future directions, as previously suggested, include genuinely comparative analyses examining writings from the archives of the Ottoman, Mughal, and other Islamic empires and by Muslims who traveled to the emerging empires of the West. It seems premature, however, to redirect our focus away from England's engagement with Islam in a religious sense, Islamicate cultures, and Islamdom as a political entity under the pressure of territorial claims from traditional area studies. Much work remains to be done on Islam in Britain and Britons in the Ottoman and other Islamic empires of the era, with archives in English and other Western European languages still untapped. Moreover, as the forthcoming monograph by Linda McJannet argues, translated histories by early modern Muslim scholars underlie such foundational texts as Knolles's The Generall Historie of the Turkes (1603). Hence, the language divide becomes much more complicated when cultural diffusion from the early modern era onwards is assessed. Finally, methodologies beyond the positivist must be pursued to recover those voices less amenable to archival preservation, most notably women's voices (as in the recent special issue of The Muslim World on "Muslim and Non-Muslim Women in the Empires of Islam, 1453-1798"). The three works under review, epitomizing the second wave of attention to early modern England and Islam in all its complexity, productively point towards these developments.
University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
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|Title Annotation:||Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570-1630; Before Orientalism: London's Theatre of the East, 1576-1626; The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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