Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe

Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe

Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe

Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe

Synopsis

"Oriental barbarians, black magicians, homosexuals, African queens and kings, Machiavellian Christians, Turks, and Jews - for an English audience of the sixteenth century, these are marginal, unorthodox, and strange figures. They are also the central figures in the plays of Christopher Marlowe. In Spectacles of Strangeness, Emily C. Bartels focuses on Marlowe's preoccupation with "strangers" and "strange" lands, and his use - and subversion - of Elizabethan stereotypes. Setting Marlovian drama in the context of England's nascent imperialism, Bartels probes the significance of the alien as a vital presence on the Renaissance stage and within Renaissance society. Bartels further examines the reasons that Marlowe (himself a marginalized figure as playwright, and reputedly a homosexual, spy, and atheist) turned again and again to the subject. Bartels argues that what makes Marlowe's dramas so remarkable, important, and subversive is that he evokes these cultural stereotypes only to undermine them: to expose the circumscription of difference as a political strategy, designed to advance the self, state, and status quo over and against some "other." By interrogating Marlowe's works and their relation to England's imperialism, the author helps to explain why the "alien" was such a prominent figure in the Renaissance's theatrical and extra-theatrical discourses and how imperialism influenced the development of the early modern theater and the early modern state. Drawing on new historicist methodologies and recent assessments of colonialist discourse, Spectacles of Strangeness is a stimulating study of one of the most important figures in Renaissance literature and drama." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The key question underlying this book is why Christopher Marlowe, the sixteenth century's most important playwright after Shakespeare, chose to bring "the alien" to center stage in each of his plays. What made him turn and return exclusively to such subjects, filling the stage with Oriental barbarians, black magicians, homosexuals, African queens and kings, Machiavellian Christians, Turks, and Jews at a time when he was not only making a name and a living for himself, but also helping transform the theater into one of the most popular and powerful arenas for social and political comment and dissent?

The question, though investigated here in terms of Marlowe, turns us to the larger issue of why the alien was such a vital and appealing subject on the Renaissance stage and within Renaissance society more generally. What made figures like Dionysius and Cambyses the choice exemplars of outrageous tyrants in moral plays such as Richard Edward Damon and Pythias or Thomas Preston Cambyses, King of Persia? Why did dramatists such as Shakespeare, who for the most part rejected the stock types inherited from earlier drama in favor of more complex characters, continue to create stereotypical figures such as Aaron, the diabolical Moor? And why were "other," non-European, worlds like Persia, Egypt, Africa, and the East so often the settings on the stage, at least until Ben Jonson gave the urban home front particular prominence there? Why was the market in stock types and foreign affairs so strong?

The answer, no doubt, depends upon a wide range of factors, extending from theatrical to ideological concerns, from the specific circumstances and predilections peculiar to the era to more universal determinants such as the seemingly timeless fascination with the strange. Yet the prevalence of "others" on the stage at this particular historical moment points to, and points us to, a crucial development in the history of the early modern state -- the prominent emergence of imperialist ideologies and propaganda. It was not until the mid-seventeenth century and Cromwell that England began to garner its forces and press concertedly toward empire. Because there was no Elizabethan Empire -- because the troops were underfunded . . .

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