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Political Allegory in Late Elizabethan and Early Jacobean "Turk" Plays: Lust's Dominion and The Türke Claire Jowitt Recent work on representations of Turks in early modern literature . and culture has shown the often complex and contradictory ways in which the English understood Muslim peoples at this time.1 As Nabil Matar observes,"Muslims were seen to be different and strange, infidels and'barbarians' admirable or fearsome,buttheydid not constitute colonial targets."2 In fact, it is precisely because Muslims possessed an empire that rivaled, indeed superseded that ofEngland in this period tiiat "Britons began to demonize, polarize, and alterize them."3 As a result, though English travelers in Islamic countries—for example, Thomas Saunders inhis account ofatrip to"Barbarie" in 1583, Richard Hasleton's narrative often yeares travailes in many forraine countries" which was published in 1595, and the more famous early-seventeenth-century accounts of encounters with Muslims by George Sandys and William Litiigow—might describe with some admiration and envy die imperial achievement ofthe Ottoman Empire, by contrast early modern drama, pageants, and masques tended to emphasize negative characteristics.4 "Turks"were tyrannical and cruel,"Moors"were lascivious andviolent.5 As a result critics have read literary representations ofMuslims as playing an important role in the shaping of an anti-Muslim national consciousness . The presentessay,however, suggests thatthis dominantview ofearly modern Turk plays only provides us witii a partial understanding ofthe significance ofthese cultural documents. Lust'sDominion and John Mason's The Turfaarebothplays thatportrayIslamic men in negative ways, and clearly they should be seen as contributing to contemporary popular fears and anxieties about Muslims. However, to read these 411 412ComparativeDrama plays merely as expressions ofanti-Muslim sentiment is to neglect central aspects of their significance since the plays' Islamic villains and the activities in Christian courts that prove to be corrupt also must refer to domestic English political issues. In what follows, the two closely related early modern English "Turk" plays, Lust's Dominion and The Turfa, are read against the context ofthe politics ofthe culture within which they were produced. Similar to other dramatic subgenres of the period—Roman plays, historyplays, travel drama, to namejust three—which have increasingly been recognized as possessingallegorical dimensions,"Turk"plays should also be seen as offering comments on sensitive topical issues.6 For instance , Ben Jonson's Sejanus His Fall (1603), which concentrates on the relationship between the EmperorTiberius and his evil minion,has been read as an equivocal allegory about James Stuart and his favorites.7Yet, because it was conceived and partly written while Elizabeth was on the throne, Jonson's play has also been seen as a comment on her tarnished reputation at the end ofher reign and especially as a late meditation on the Essex crisis.8While for my purposes here the intricacies ofJonson's allegoryare not relevant, its ambivalentpolitical direction is useful since it is in a sense matched by tiiat of the plays discussed in tiiis article. In other words, in Lust's Dominion and The Turfa we have two versions— one written in Elizabeth's reign, one in James's—of a very similar story about an evil Mohammedan's interactions with a Christian court. In what follows, the ways this allied story is able to encode shifting political allegorieswillbe seentobe central.Just as Sejanus canbe read as allegorically directed at different targets, these plays should also be understood to present political and sexual ambition as covert meditations on English domestic concerns. It is nowwell attested tiiat Christopher Marlowewas not responsible for Lust's Dominion; or, The Lascivious Queen, though the play is attributed to him on the title page ofthe 1657 edition.9 Radier, the playtext is tiiought to have involved collaboration by John Marston (who was paid for a play or part of a play called The Spanish Moor's Tragedy by Philip Henslowe in the autumn of 1599 for the Fortune or Rose) and Thomas Dekker,William Haughton, and John Daywho revised and renamed it in 1600.10 The Admiral's Men probablyperformed the play in die 1599/1600 ClaireJowitt413 season, tiiough J. L. Simmons has suggested tiiat the Moorish villain Eleazar's lines in act 5 referto the newGlobe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 411-443
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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