- Celebration, Entertainment, and Theatre in the Ottoman World ed. by Suraiya Faroqhi and Arzu Ozturkmen
The disicipline of Ottoman studies frightens away theatre historians like a scarecrow: most seem to avoid the topic, perhaps because they want to avoid falling into the trap of orientalism. Meanwhile, those who do attempt to approach Ottoman performativity tend to do so solely from a Western social and political ideology. Over the course of its six-hundred-year history, Ottoman society developed a variety of customs, traditions, and ceremonies owing to the incorporation of myriad regions, ethnicities, and religions. Naturally, the formulas of theatre historiography generated by scholars to analyze Western performativity are partially inoperable when they are practiced on a realm like the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman impact on Western art, social life, and innovations, however, is impossible to sidestep or ignore. Arzu Ozturkmen touches on this issue in her introduction to Celebration, Entertainment, and Theatre in the Ottoman World by noting that “some works have approached historical events with an eye on dramatic structures. But the analysis of the political, social and cultural history of the Ottoman world has not yet benefitted much from the paradigm change known as the performative turn” (4). This suggests that an examination of Ottoman courtly attitudes “as performance” instead of “is performance,” following Richard Schechner’s schema, is necessary. In this regard, Suraiya Faroqhi and Arzu Ozturkmen provide in their well-structured collection a wide-open gate and a research guide especially for theatre scholars to enter the Ottomans’ sophisticated and multifaceted world.
Including Faraqhi and Ozturkmen’s individual introductions, the book contains twenty-four essays by twenty-four Ottoman studies researchers, organized into three main parts: Celebration and Entertainment, Ottoman Theatre and Theatricality, and European Encounters. The first part examines Ottoman festivals, birthday and circumcision celebrations, and fetes starting in the sixteenth century and progressing through the late Ottoman reign. In chapter 1, for instance, “Evaluating Three Imperial Festivals: 1524, 1530 and 1539,” Zeynep Yelce interrogates the grand vizier Ibrahim Pasha’s wedding celebration and the circumcision ceremonies for Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s two sons. In order to focus on the “formation and demonstration of power” (71), Yelce examines the participants’ roles in these celebration rituals and the political messages inherent to their nature. Her essay gives the reader an opportunity to glimpse the motives, symbols, conventions, and arrangements of these three Ottoman [End Page 354] ceremonies in order to discuss the performative messages conveyed in the social and political contexts of each.
Efdal Sevincli’s “Festivals and Their Documentation” also investigates ceremonies in the Ottoman court. Sevincli, however, focuses on the multilayered documentation of pictorial festival books called “surnames.” While his research focuses specifically on the surnames of Abdi and Etienne Robolly, which cover wedding and circumcision festivals in 1675, and an anonymous surname from the National Library of Vienna, which depicts events in 1724, he also considers the conflicting statements of historians studying this era. Although he remarks that these festivals served as “cathartic” events, Sevincli doesn’t investigate this aspect thoroughly, so his approach to the term remains obscure. Despite this, a reader may grasp the festivity styles of the Ottoman elite from Sevincli’s essay and also become acquainted with the antique form of documentation art, the surname, from illustrated examples.
While Yelce and Sevincli examine the most visible and documented side of Ottoman festivals and ceremonies, Suraiya Faroqhi’s “When the Sultan Planned a Great Feast, Was Everyone in a Festive Mood?” tries to draw readers’ attention to the underdocumented side of these events: the financial aspects, the role of women, the role of servants, and non-Muslim spectators. She does this by relying on drawings of the ceremonies plus foreign authors’ transcriptions. The data, however, remain too limited to understand these background characters thoroughly. Faroqhi’s essay seems a short version of a larger study, and although she mentions women and servants, for instance, her discussion of them is fleeting. Nevertheless, the essay still provides an important...