Early Modern English Drama and the Islamic World. 'Now will I be a Turke': Performing Ottoman Identity in Thomas Goffe's The Courageous Turk

Joel Elliot Slotkin, Linda McJannet (contributing editor)

Abstract


Although it is frequently regarded as a bombastic dramatization of standard anti-Ottoman propaganda, Thomas Goffe's The Courageous Turk actually deploys stereotypes of the Turkish other to raise fundamental questions about the relationships between passion and restraint and between Turkish and English identities. The play suggests that the savage violence of the stereotypical stage Turk is due less to volatile passions and more to the strictures of Turkish law and the imperative to emulate the idealized Turkish national type. Despite its relative lack of psychological depth, the play offers a message that is arguably less racist than Shakespeare's Othello, where a Christian Moor who is fully acculturated to Western society nonetheless proves unable to restrain his natural passions. In contrast, Goffe shows the importance of socially constructed racial identities in determining behaviour and maintaining the imperial polity. Because its characters use Western ideologies such as Stoicism and Petrarchanism to justify atrocious 'Turkish' behavior, the play also suggests unsettling parallels between English and Turkish subjects. By blurring the distinction between the English self and the Ottoman other, The Courageous Turk may suggest the arbitrariness and constructed nature of England's own emerging sense of national identity, as well as the potentially monstrous consequences of enforcing conformity to that identity.


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