- New Turkes: Dramatizing Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England
Matthew Dimmock's informative first book, New Turkes, joins a chorus of recent studies that focus on Anglo-Islamic cultural relations and early modern representations of Islam. There has been a widespread acknowledgement that England's connection to the Islamic world was already a matter of profound cultural significance, even as early as the sixteenth century, and that this aspect of England's cultural history has been neglected. As England began its long drive for imperial power, the material and ideological conditions of the time demanded an outward-looking engagement with a world system that linked England to the Mediterranean, the New World, and parts beyond. In the period chronicled by Dimmock, international engagements were demanded by both the post-Reformation religious struggle and the economic imperatives of an emergent, globalizing capitalism.
The introduction to New Turkes includes a useful synopsis of existing scholarship on the early modern Ottomans and on Anglo-Ottoman relations. The [End Page 251] book's first chapter, "The 'Turke' and 'Turkishness' in England, 1529-1571," provides a helpful chronological account of various English writings that deal with the Ottoman Turks and their religion. Here Dimmock shows how the Ottoman threat strongly affected English culture, using a series of texts printed in sixteenth-century England, some written by English authors, and some translated from Continental sources. This chapter provides a glimpse into the combative inter-textuality that characterized religious polemic produced by Simon Fish, Thomas More, William Tyndale, John Rastell, and others, writers who all accused their opponents of "Turkish" deviance from the true faith.
New Turkes includes readings of various English texts, including plays, within the shifting arena of geopolitics and religious controversy, from the early years of the Reformation through the Marian era to the late sixteenth century, when hostility between England and Spain grew to armed conflict. Dimmock concludes his study with the arrival of James I on the English throne. The author carefully integrates his readings of the drama with his discussion of international alliances and military actions involving England, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the Low Countries, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Russia, Morocco and the Barbary States, the Ottoman Empire, and Safavid Persia. The wide geographic sweep of Dimmock's study is one of the things that makes his approach so fresh and compelling, as it draws upon a sense of cultural history that rightly sees English culture as part of a global matrix, and not as an insular or cohesive "nation."
In chapter 2, Dimmock historicizes Robert Wilson's Three Ladies of London (1581) and Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (ca. 1586), placing them in the context of England's move toward closer ties with the Turks. Chapter 3 focuses on George Peele's The Battle of Alcazar (1588-89), and chapter 4 deals with parts 1 and 2 of Marlowe's Tamburlaine. Dimmock emphasizes the identification of Tamburlaine with the Persians, and he argues that "by focusing upon the Persian and demonizing the Ottoman, Marlowe crucially inverts the prevailing tenets of late Elizabethan policy" (141).
Dimmock's fifth chapter, "Dramatizing the Ottomans in the 1590s," is perhaps the strongest section of the book. Dimmock argues that it was during this time, when the notion of Turkishness came under renewed cultural pressure, that "the figure of the "Great Turke . . . became essentially a stock character on the stage" (169). The chapter explores the import of this figure in four plays composed in the years immediately after the Spanish Armada: two by Robert Greene, Selimus and Alphonsus of Arragon, the anonymous and fragmentary text John of Bordeaux, and Thomas Kyd's Soliman and Perseda.
Dimmock's study follows a connecting thread of anti-Turkish demonization through the texts, and he concludes that the textual record from the reign of Henry VIII to the end of the century "reveal[s] how profoundly ingrained the central tenets of a dominant idea of...