The Oriental Other: Soliman the Magnificent in Kyd's Soliman and Perseda

By Al-Olaqi, Fahd Mohammed Taleb | Trames, March 2013 | Go to article overview

The Oriental Other: Soliman the Magnificent in Kyd's Soliman and Perseda


Al-Olaqi, Fahd Mohammed Taleb, Trames


1. Introduction

The essay tries to show that Soliman the Magnificent in Kyd's Soliman and Perseda is a dramatic representation of the Oriental Other. The idea that the 'other' is noteworthy first and foremost as a threat to cherished values and interests, was firmly established in relations between European and Ottoman cultures. Prior to the Ottoman expansion in the Renaissance age, Elizabethan dramatists lacked elaborate notions of an Oriental Other, and indeed took little interest in their Ottoman neighbours. Where initial Elizabethan ideas about the Ottomans were shaped by insecurity in the face of a theological and political challenge, early European ideas about Ottoman neighbours developed within a context of political dynamism and cultural self-confidence. Soliman and Perseda represents the Elizabethan response to Soliman and Turkey as stereotyped by anti-Oriental prejudices. Said remarks that "Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between 'the Orient' and (most of the time) 'the Occident'" (Said 2003:2).

The Elizabethan library contains many sourcebooks for authors about Turkey: Danad's da Lezz's Historie Turchesca (1513), The Policy of the Turkish Empire (1597), Peter Aston's A Short Treatise upon the Turks Chronicles (1564), and Hugh Gough's The Offspring of the House of Ottomans (1553). In the Renaissance cultural artefacts, Sultans are depicted deep in dalliance with European ladies and are praised for their magnanimity (Chew 1965:483). In The Tragedy of Soliman and Perseda (1588), Thomas Kyd has stereotyped Soliman with an ungrounded love story in history. The historical image of Soliman's devotion to Hurrem (i.e. known in Europe as Rossa, Rosselana, or Roxolana), his beloved wife and mother of his sons has no reference in Kyd's Soliman and Perseda. Roxolana is considered to be of Russian descendant. From her status in the Ottoman court, her character as a royal concubine took a rather curious turn in English literature.

Turkey is a geo-cultural interface between the Orient and the Occident, thus a strategic locus in the world map. Europe views Turkey as a country which has steadfastly preserved its Oriental-Islamic cultural heritage. The Turks are a tribal nation and their original land is in the desert of Turkestan in Central Asia. In the Middle Ages, they emigrated, settled in Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt, and embraced Islam. Among the Turkish tribes, the most active and war-like was the one led by Othman or Osman I (1258-1326). The Turks who followed him were called Ottomans. Osman I and his supporters occupied central Asia in 1300, and he assumed the title of Amir. Sultan Mohammed II's (1451-1481) capture of Constantinople in 1453 made Westerners acutely conscious of the Ottoman threat, a threat Europe had previously only vaguely considered. The literary response to this new threat, especially by humanists, was slanted against the Turks. This followed a tradition stemming from Europe's first encounters with Islam in the seventh century when Islam was portrayed as a religion founded on bellicosity and barbarity, a perception that continued into the Middle Ages (Bisaha 2004:15).

2. Elizabethan Soliman the Magnificent

The impact of Sultan I (or Suleyman) on the Western imagination is comparable only to that of Saladin. In his famous Generall Historie of the Turks (1603), the venerated English historian Richard Knolles describes him as "the magnificent emperor of the East" as well as a "law maker". Soliman I succeeded his father Selim I in 1520. His reign represents the most glorious period in the history of Ottoman Empire. The Elizabethan audience was keen on the affair of the Turkish Other. Soliman was civilized enough to attract Englishmen. He was a rationalized character within the Oriental tradition, customs, and religion.

Elizabethan playwrights incorporated such Turkish figures in their works as the Turkish sultans--Bajazeth I (1389-1403), Soliman I (1520-1566), Selim II (1566-1574), Amurath III (1574-1595), and Turkish Muhammad II (1451-1481). …

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