Hating Empire Properly: The Two Indies and the Limits of Enlightenment Anticolonialism

Hating Empire Properly: The Two Indies and the Limits of Enlightenment Anticolonialism

Hating Empire Properly: The Two Indies and the Limits of Enlightenment Anticolonialism

Hating Empire Properly: The Two Indies and the Limits of Enlightenment Anticolonialism

Excerpt

Falstaff: O! she did so course o’er my exteriors with such a greedy
intention, that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a
burning-glass. Here’s another letter to her: she bears the purse too; she
is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty. I will be ‘cheator to them
both, and they shall be exchequers to me: they shall be my East and West
Indies, and I will trade to them both. Go bear thou this letter to Mistress
Page; and thou this to Mistress Ford. We will thrive, lads, we will thrive.

      —SHAKESPEARE, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, ACT I, SCENE 3

Little could be further from the rage of an angry French philosophe or the moral gravitas of a British parliamentarian with a view to the judgment of history than the comic narcissism of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. In his efforts to woo two mistresses at once—a cheater to them both—he loses both. And yet, unlike Falstaff, many European countries did indeed trade at once, and very effectively, with two Indies, east and west. The early modern imagination of these regions would develop in color and specificity a great deal before the figures discussed in this book wrote their treatises regarding possible avenues for trade and their considerations regarding the transformation of Europe and the Indies which might result from such traffic. As here in Falstaff’s remark, the reader will find that in the late eighteenth century there continued to be a sexual component to the many schemes proposed for settlement and colonization. (The two valences are brought together in Shakespeare’s pun, with “cheator” carrying both the sense of an escheator or exchequer as well as, more obviously, sexual infidelity.) At times these writings conformed to the now familiar figuration of the land to be possessed as female and the explorers male. Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, however, had already spoken to each other and could conspire together to mock and defeat the intentions of their portly seductor. Our analogy, therefore, perhaps ends there. Falstaff may have failed, but in his exclamation “We will thrive, lads, we will thrive,” he was not so far off the mark. Just as he duplicated a love letter for his two would-be mistresses, several European monarchs gave exclusive charters to trading companies in America, Africa, and . . .

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