Sunday, February 14, 2016

Shakespeare and Islam

This piece by Matthew Dimmock on OUPblog raises the interesting issue of how elements from contemporary Islamic cultures may have influenced Shakespeare. While the article makes for interesting reading, it becomes clear that, in spite of the author's claims, any Islamic elements play at best a minimal role in Shakeseare's work. Most of the examples are incidental, and some like the mention of luxury fabrics, is a clear stretch. The one big exception, of course, is Othello, wherte the central character has a strong connection with the world of Islam, and is explicitly identified as "the Moor". However, even here, it is hard to say that the "Moorishness" of Othello is used in any deep way beyond serving the function of "otherizing" him to increase the complexity of his tragedy. The writers of overt "Turk Plays" were much more invested in themes and attitudes from the world of Islam.

As Prof. Dimmock points out, Shakespeare was writing in a time when Europeans were exploring the world and supercharging the process of cultural interaction. Given that environment, it is somewhat surprising how little he connected with foreign themes in his plays. His gaze was fixed firmly on European and English history. Even Othello was the Moor of Venice, not Cairo and Kairouan, though, of course, Shakespeare's characters are human beyond time and place.

No comments:

Post a Comment