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1 - La Tempête de Shakespeare : ses implications et ses mises en scène / Shakespeare's The Tempest: its implications and productions

Anglo-Ottoman Anxieties in the Tempest: from Displacement to Exclusion

Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill
p. 43-51

Abstract

Bien que la dernière pièce de Shakespeare, La Tempête, ne fasse pas d'allusion directe aux Ottomans, sa lecture coloniale, certainement justifiable, n'exclut nullement d’autres interprétations. La connaissance shakespearienne de plusieurs modes de représentation de l’Empire ottoman nous permet-elle d'interpréter La Tempête comme une métaphore de l’association anglo-ottomane avec les angoisses qu'elle suscite sur un fond national et international mouvementé ? Une île de la Méditerranée en guise de décor sert à éclairer de façon convaincante chaque référence du dramaturge aux Ottomans selon le choix qu’il fait de leur délocalisation (Angleterre - Italie; Ottomans - Alger) ou de leur exclusion totale (Sycorax, Claribel, Caliban, Ariel) de l’horizon culturel anglais au début de l'ère jacobéenne.

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  • 1 For a more detailed insight into British interactions with the Ottoman Empire and Arabic cultures s (...)

1Early modern debates represent some awareness, common in most European courts, that by 1600 the Anglo-Ottoman relationship was at its peak, abundantly reflected in English dramatic and non-dramatic texts of that period. However, both this association and the complicated way in which it was manifested in English culture, was soon to come to an end with English mercantile interests beginning to shift further east altogether with the imminent succession in 1603 of a king whose policies were far more internationalist in scope.1

2Against a shifting international background of contradictory political and ideological machinations where the English in particular were at once involved with and opposed to renewed Ottoman campaigns in Eastern Europe, the diversity embodied in these texts offers a significant portrait of a militant and polarized culture in which the Ottoman, the 'Turke,' had become a multiple medium through which a variety of cultural anxieties and beliefs could be addressed.

  • 2 Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine, Parts I and II in Doctor Faustus and Other Plays: Tamburlaine, Pa (...)

Now shalt thou feel the force of Turkish arms
Which lately made all Europe quake for fear. (III. iii,135) 2

  • 3 Thomas Nelson The Blessed State of England: Declaring the sundry dangers which by Gods assistance, (...)

3Although Christopher Marlowe’s observation in Tamburlaine (1587-88) held true for most of the sixteenth century, the burgeoning alliance between England and the Ottoman Empire is perhaps most conspicuous in Thomas Nelson’s The Blessed State of England3 (1591): the resources of the Ottoman Empire seemed limitless, its army was the largest in Europe, its navy ruled the eastern Mediterranean and its determination to sweep aside any opposition in the name of Islam was daunting.

  • 4 See for example George Peele The Battle of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of P (...)

4New pressures at home and abroad disrupted old stereotypes and forged new models to make sense of Islam and Muslim people. England’s precarious position on the European political stage, its split and insecure religious identity, its relatively late entry into global commerce were particularly important factors in producing elastic ideologies of religious and cultural differences. Drawing upon a tradition of work in which the Ottomans and Islam were already contested figures, the writers had either to explore4 or to ignore the direct implications of the relationship.

5In comparison with The Merchant of Venice and Othello, Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, has no direct allusions to the Ottomans on the whole. However, for a dramatist, traditionally cautious of such material, Shakespeare was not only familiar with multiple modes of Ottoman representation but also willing to use them in ways that reflected the changing politics of the new century. It is the argument of our paper that though traditionally interpreted as a metaphor of colonization, either of the New World or of Ireland, The Tempest’s pervasive setting on an island in the Mediterranean serves to illuminate how each English reference to the Ottomans depends upon Shakespeare’s choice of displacement. Italy and its Navy had played an important role during the Turkish siege of Constantinople and the Italian states were the first to come into contact with Ottoman merchants. The fact that Prospero is Italian thus has no opposition to English or England since both Italy and England had equal political and military powers and colonial aspirations. The Ottoman Empire is reduced to Algiers, whose name was indifferently used for the city and the State itself, synonymous with Muslim piracy and enslavement to the Turks, causing fear and loathing in Europe. However, when the optics of displacement does not convince, the provocative or dissenting voices of the submissive Claribel, gender-ambiguous Ariel, weak Caliban and predatory Sycorax are silenced and consequently totally excluded from the larger plot of The Tempest.

  • 5 Bernadette Andrea, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, Cambridge: CUP, 2009.
  • 6 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Oxford: Oxford’s World Classics, 2008.

6This involves the assignment of unique priority to certain useful, even fictional, characteristics of Ottoman/Muslim figures and the concurrent dismissal of any qualities. Yet even within a single play the apparent 'meaning' of an Ottoman figure may shift or be displaced as circumstances offer. In doing this, Shakespeare continues the Elizabethan tradition where the Ottoman man or woman is often a sort of palimpsest of identities made manifest in the context of other informing elements. The Tempest collates the notions of English masculinity, Islam and women into the indigenous femininity within the colonial situation traced in the story from a male perspective uniquely. The tragedy is situated in a male realm with Prospero’s patriarchal history imposed since mothers are literally absent on the narrative horizon. Moreover, instead of treating separately the gender and religious differences in the face of Islamic threat,5 Shakespeare chooses to bring all the anxieties together against a common enemy to Christian men and women: the feminized Ottoman Empire in the image of 'the foul witch Sycorax' (I, ii, 257).6

  • 7 Mehmet II, bynamed Mehmet Fatih or Mehmet the Conqueror (1432-1481) was Ottoman sultan and a great (...)
  • 8 Tamburlaine’s thundering words suggest the intensity of his anger as he pledges to chastise the pir (...)

7Sycorax, who was the first to arrive on the island, personifies Mehmet the Conqueror7 or, at least, represents the early Ottoman Empire. Her powers were so immense that, according to Prospero, she was banished "for mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible/to enter human hearing, from Argier" (I, ii, 400). The term 'Argier' or 'Algiers,' a Western province of the Ottoman Empire, had become synonymous with a piratical state living off its raids against Christian shipping. Popular literature during the period witnessed numerous accounts by European captives in 'Barbary,' perpetuating furthermore the myth of the cruel pirates of Algiers, Tunis or Tripoli thus reinforcing a longstanding hatred of Muslims.8

  • 9 Dympna Callaghan, Shakespeare Without Women, London: Routledge, 2000.

8Sycorax is the incarnation of Ottoman cruelty otherwise described only with a neutral adjective accompanied by a derogatory noun that it follows: she, as we are told, is "a blue-eyed hag" (I, ii, 269). This curious combination, compressing physical characteristics and her old age ("hag"), is the most concrete description of Sycorax in the play. She is the personification of negative space, an absence and a silence but however a menace. In the history of Stuart colonialism indigenous women like Sycorax were perceived in terms of monstrous and emasculating femininity.9 Her body, deformed, decrepit, or monstrously pregnant, remains invisible, alluded to but never directly represented: "The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy/Was grown into a hoop" (I, ii, 257–8). Deprived of any self-representation, deleted from the island’s landscape, she has also been displaced beyond the horizons of visual representation.

9Another displacement of the Ottoman Empire is recognizable in the secondary subplot of The Tempest where Claribel, daughter of Alonso, the king of Naples, is married off to the king of Tunis, a part of the ancient Carthaginian Empire and a subject of the Ottomans since 1534. Though the Tunisian king holds Claribel captive, living "ten leagues beyond man’s life" (II, i, 36), she is named as the first in the line of Alonso’s succession while the unnamed king of Tunis is not even mentioned in the discussion. In consequence, what would normally be a sign of European weakness is displaced by the feminine trope challenging the Ottoman masculinity.

10The Mediterranean island itself, location of Sycorax’s banishment somewhere between Tunis and Naples, is part of a group of islands perpetually fought over by the Ottomans and various European powers. The setting of the play, linked to Carthage and "widow Dido" (II, i, 70), implies that Shakespeare had a fairly accurate picture of the geography and the history of the region and interpreted classical models of Antiquity for his audience.

  • 10 R. Young understands colonial desire as "a covert but insistent obsession with transgressive, inter (...)

11Of course, Sycorax is a threat to Prospero in that she is at the origin of Caliban’s claim to sovereignty over the island. Yet Prospero’s astonishing affinity with Sycorax as a fellow-sorcerer bears all the characteristics of what Robert Young has called "colonial desire,"10 linked to Prospero’s story about Sycorax arriving pregnant on an uninhabited isle. The growing English colonial desire for the Ottoman power could be interpreted therefore as Prospero’s desire for the unrepresented Sycorax. Moreover his strained paternalism in relation to Caliban makes Shakespeare’s plot deliberately vague and thus inclusive of the sexual and seigniorial relationships on the island. In the final scenes of the tragedy, when Caliban’s plot against Prospero with the complicity of Stephano and Trinculo, representing the lower orders of Europe, is exposed, Prospero appeals:

These three have robb’d me; and this demi-devil—
For he’s a bastard one—had plotted with them
To take my life. Two of these fellows you
Must know and own; this thing of darkness I
Acknowledge mine. (V, i, 271–6)

12The master—servant relationship in the colonial situation which has persisted some twelve years suggests, by exclusion, that Caliban is a deposed misshapen bastard of a potential Anglo-Ottoman union. Social and racial segregation apart, Caliban enjoys domestic proximity with Prospero and Miranda more like a foster child than a hostage which is suggestive of cultural and political possibilities. Prospero’s strategy towards "this thing of darkness," taught the language of the masters, struggles between the obsession with racial purity and the acceptance of the culture of hybridity which was noticeable in the time of burgeoning military association between Elizabethan England and the Ottomans.

13That Prospero, a European, wrests control of the island from the Ottoman figures is no accident, and the political allegory is clear. He is the ascendant European power, specifically England, emerging from the Middle Ages to challenge the once all-powerful Ottoman Empire. He personifies the most moral character in the play; he shows strong bonds of brotherhood, giving his brother "the manage of [his] state," (I, ii, 84). However, after "neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated to closeness, and the bettering of [his] mind" (I, ii, 106) he was betrayed and forced to flee with his daughter. Though Shakespeare deliberately made his characters Italians as opposed to Frenchmen or Spaniards, his Prospero, through his interactions with Caliban, is shown to be more English in character than Italian. Likewise, from a political perspective, The Tempest can be also read as the attempt to draw the Italians into the English sphere of influence: they, like the English, as they were important trading and naval powers, had long been embroiled in unstable relations with the Ottoman Empire.

  • 11 The name "Ariel" can be found in the Bible, where it means "Lion of the Lord." The "-el" at the end (...)

14Through the lens of English-Ottoman relations, the gender-ambiguous Ariel, like Dido of Carthage mentioned before, represents one of the many European nationalities conquered by the Ottoman Empire as it swept through Europe as far as Vienna. Altogether with the biblical allusions in his name,11 he is not a rude barbarian and has cultural characteristics of Classical Greece as well as of the Byzantine Empire. The parallel with its fall in 1453 which shocked the Christian world, paired with the subjugation of Greece, is evident and England, then, through Prospero and Italian merchant states, is portrayed in an even more favorable light, rescuing the poor, conquered, oppressed people from the Ottoman yoke.

  • 12 Meredith Ann Skura, "Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in 'The Tempest'", Shake (...)
  • 13 Selim I (1470—1520), Ottoman sultan who extended the empire to Syria and Egypt and raised the Ottom (...)
  • 14 Suleiman or Süleyman I, bynamed Suleiman the Magnificent or the Lawgiver (1494–1566), sultan of the (...)

15If Ariel with his educated, cultivated manner reflects the fallen Byzantium at the foot of Sycorax’s Ottoman might, the feeble Caliban, her son, embodies many of the traits the late Ottoman Empire became known for. Like its steady expansion, Caliban always hungers for power, and his attempted rape of Miranda can be seen as another colonial desire transformed into 'territorial lust.'12 As the Ottomans successfully administered their vast territories during a certain time, so Caliban reigned on the island for an indefinite period. Similarly, just as the Ottoman Empire depended heavily on the bureaucratic and military institutions, established by Selim I13 and Suleiman the Magnificent,14 Caliban can be observed relying on his mother’s unfathomable power to keep Ariel in check. Since he is incapable of making spells work by himself, he can no more subjugate Ariel once unleashed. Likewise, the Ottoman Empire from its zenith at the turn of the sixteenth century gradually became bloated, ripped apart due to nationalist forces in Europe, Africa and Asia to finally mutate into the "sick man of Europe" two centuries after The Tempest was first performed.

16Prospero’s acquisition of the island makes more sense in this context. The Ottomans are made to seem weak and effeminate and their European counterparts, embodied in the figure of Prospero, are all the more dominating and impressive. The island was controlled by a powerful sorceress for a generation, but Prospero is able to sweep her rule aside almost immediately. In allowing Prospero to so quickly dispose of, and eventually enslave, the Ottoman Sycorax and Caliban, Shakespeare supports the British colonial desire of expansion and proves that he, like many other authors, both reproduced and shaped various political discourses of the period.

Conclusion

17Despite the lack of contemporary testimony, the obvious reason for our feeling that the play is rife with Ottoman references lies in the literal resemblance between its plot and certain events and attitudes in English political history. From Henry VIII’s break with Rome until the start of the Jacobean era, England had had a strained relationship with a fragile yet symbolically still powerful Ottoman Empire.

18If the early modern perceptions of the Ottomans could come to mingle stereotypes and demonization with attempts to understand and interpret the Ottoman Other against the Self, the beginning of the seventeenth century marks the shift from displacement to exclusion of the eastern rivals by a dominating discourse of English moral superiority, encouraged by a nexus of economic, political and cultural forces.

19The Tempest can therefore be read as an appeal to European powers, specifically to the emergent Great Britain, to take advantage of the waning Ottoman power. The Ottomans are demonized and portrayed as weak and effeminate; though they managed to conquer the Roman Empire, that era has long passed. Where Caliban embodies the Ottoman Empire in decay, Prospero epitomizes England that has just overcome the great hardships of the religious split and of the assaults of the Spanish Armada to emerge more powerful than ever. By chance England was guaranteed its naval supremacy among European nations and Prospero acquires great magical faculties eventually returning to his throne in a more secure position than he had been in when he was overthrown.

20We will never "know" why Shakespeare gave a local habitation to this final version of his exile story incorporating aspects of a particular imperialist discourse. The answer probably lies not only in that discourse but also in him and in what was on his mind. The "colonial desire" in his play is linked not only to Shakespeare's indirect participation in an ideology of political exploitation but also to his presumed resemblance to Prospero at the end of the play: past his zenith, on the way to retirement but still aspiring to universal recognition with the last play that may have been intended to become a culmination of his art and a reflexion on the shifting power politics at the time.

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Bibliography

Andrea, Bernadette, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, Cambridge: CUP, 2009.

Callaghan, Dympna, Shakespeare Without Women, London: Routledge, 2000.

MacLean, Gerald and Nabil Matar, Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713, Oxford: OUP, 2010.

Marlowe, Christopher, Tamburlaine, Parts I and II in Doctor Faustus and Other Plays: Tamburlaine, Parts I and II; Doctor Faustus, A- and B-Texts; The Jew of Malta; Edward II, Oxford: Oxford’s World Classics, 2008.

Matar, Nabil, Islam in Britain, 1558-1685, Cambridge: CUP, 1998.

-----, Turks, Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

-----, Britain and Barbary, 1589-1689, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Nelson, Thomas, The Blessed State of England: Declaring the sundry dangers which by Gods assistance, the Queenes most excellent Maiestie hath escaped in the whole course of her life…together with the rare titles of commendation which the great emperor of the Turkes hath lately sent in letters to her highnesse…, London: F.W. Wright, 1591.

Peele, George, The Battle of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugall and Abdelmelec king of Marocco. With the death of Capitaine Stukeley. As it was sundrie times plaid by the Lord high Admirall his seruants, London: Edward Allde, 1594.

Shakespeare, William, The Tempest, Oxford: Oxford’s World Classics, 2008.

Skura, Meredith Ann, "Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in 'The Tempest'", Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 40, n0 1 (Spring 1989), 42-69.

Wilson, Robert, A right excellent and famous Comoedy called the Three Ladies of London. Wherein is notablie declared and set forth, how by the meanes of Lucar, Loue and Conscience is so corrupted, that the one is married to Dissimulation, the other fraught with all abomination…as it hath been publiquely played, London: John S. Farmer, 1584 (Tudor Facsimile Texts, 1911).

Young, Robert, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race, London: Routledge, 1995.

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Notes

1 For a more detailed insight into British interactions with the Ottoman Empire and Arabic cultures see the works by Nabil Matar et Gerald MacLean cited in our bibliography.

2 Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine, Parts I and II in Doctor Faustus and Other Plays: Tamburlaine, Parts I and II; Doctor Faustus, A- and B-Texts; The Jew of Malta; Edward II, Oxford: Oxford’s World Classics, 2008.

3 Thomas Nelson The Blessed State of England: Declaring the sundry dangers which by Gods assistance, the Queenes most excellent Maiestie hath escaped in the whole course of her life…together with the rare titles of commendation which the great emperor of the Turkes hath lately sent in letters to her highnesse…, London: F.W. Wright,1591.

4 See for example George Peele The Battle of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugall and Abdelmelec king of Marocco. With the death of Capitaine Stukeley. As it was sundrie times plaid by the Lord high Admirall his seruants. London: Edward Allde, 1594; Robert Wilson, A right excellent and famous Comoedy called the Three Ladies of London. Wherein is notablie declared and set forth, how by the meanes of Lucar, Loue and Conscience is so corrupted, that the one is married to Dissimulation, the other fraught with all abomination…as it hath been publiquely played, London: John S. Farmer, 1584 (Tudor Facsimile Texts, 1911).

5 Bernadette Andrea, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, Cambridge: CUP, 2009.

6 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Oxford: Oxford’s World Classics, 2008.

7 Mehmet II, bynamed Mehmet Fatih or Mehmet the Conqueror (1432-1481) was Ottoman sultan and a great military figure who captured Constantinople and conquered the territories in Anatolia and the Balkans to become the heartland of the Ottoman Empire for the next four centuries.

8 Tamburlaine’s thundering words suggest the intensity of his anger as he pledges to chastise the pirates, expressing a view widely echoed in Elizabethan England:These are the cruel pirates of Argier/That damned train, the scum of Africa/Inhabited with straggling runagates/That make quick havoc of the Christian blood.” (I, iii, 55-58).

9 Dympna Callaghan, Shakespeare Without Women, London: Routledge, 2000.

10 R. Young understands colonial desire as "a covert but insistent obsession with transgressive, inter-racial sex, hybridity, and miscegenation" in Robert Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995), xii.

11 The name "Ariel" can be found in the Bible, where it means "Lion of the Lord." The "-el" at the end of his name is also the Hebrew translation for "God." Though Ariel does not act in a particularly religious manner, the allusion cannot be ignored since he embodies the European nations which found themselves under Ottoman suzerainty, conquered by a non-Christian, non-European power with whom they had little in common.

12 Meredith Ann Skura, "Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in 'The Tempest'", Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Spring 1989), 42-69, 44.

13 Selim I (1470—1520), Ottoman sultan who extended the empire to Syria and Egypt and raised the Ottomans to leadership of the Muslim world.

14 Suleiman or Süleyman I, bynamed Suleiman the Magnificent or the Lawgiver (1494–1566), sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 who undertook bold military campaigns but also oversaw the development of the most characteristic achievements of Ottoman civilization in the fields of law, literature, art and architecture.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill, « Anglo-Ottoman Anxieties in the Tempest: from Displacement to Exclusion », Caliban, 52 | 2014, 43-51.

Electronic reference

Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill, « Anglo-Ottoman Anxieties in the Tempest: from Displacement to Exclusion », Caliban [Online], 52 | 2014, Online since 22 April 2015, connection on 22 February 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/553 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.553

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About the author

Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill

Meliksah University, Kayseri, Turkey, CAS.

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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