‘Proper’ Men and ‘Tricksy’ Spirits: The Eunuch in Disguise in Twelfth Night and The Tempest

  • Brinda CharryEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


European travelers writing about eunuch slaves in the Ottoman world were impressed by their elevated social status. English playwrights however tend to represent eunuchs as comic, disturbing, or both. The representation of Viola-Cesario in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night recalls a eunuch, but the play effectively erases her eunuch status to normalize the work as romantic comedy. Reading Ariel in The Tempest as eunuch allows one to acknowledge the intersection of violence and servitude, but by conferring the status of ‘spirit’ on Ariel, his enslavement and powerlessness are rewritten to romantic effect. The discourse of the grotesque and the deformed is shifted instead onto Caliban.

Works Cited

  1. Albanese, Denise. 1996. New Science, New World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Ayalon, David. 1999. Eunuchs, Caliphs and Sultans—A Study in Power Relationships. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bate, Jonathan. 1993. Shakespeare and Ovid. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  4. Biddulph, William. 1609. The Voyages of Certain Englishmen into Africa, Asia, Troy, Bythinia, Thracis and the Black Sea. London.Google Scholar
  5. Blount, Henry. 1650. A Voyage into the Levant. London.Google Scholar
  6. Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. 1977. Caliban, Ariel, and Unprospero in the Conflict of Creolization: A Study of the Slave Revolt in Jamaica in 1831–32. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 292: 45–69 Google Scholar
  7. Bulwer, John. 1653. Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d: or, the Artificiall Changling. London.Google Scholar
  8. Burnett, Mark Thornton. 1997. Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burton, Jonathan. 2005. Traffic and Turning: Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.Google Scholar
  10. Callaghan, Dympna. 2000. Shakespeare Without Women. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Chakravarty, Urvashi. 2016. More Than Kin, Less Than Kind: Similitude, Strangeness, and Early Modern Homonationalisms. Shakespeare Quarterly 67 (1): 14–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clarence-Smith, W.G. 1996. Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Dolan, Frances E. 1994. Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550–1700. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Drescher, Seymour, and Stanley Engerman (eds.). 1998. A Historical Guide to World Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Dymkowski, Christine. 2000. Introduction. In The Tempest. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Evett, David. 2005. Discourses of Service in Shakespeare’s England. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frankle, Robert J. 1975. Some Aspects of Renaissance Slavery. Explorations in Renaissance Culture 2: 55–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fuchs, Barbara. 1997. Contextualizing The Tempest. Shakespeare Quarterly 48 (1): 45–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hakluyt, Richard. 1589. The Second Volume of the Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation. London.Google Scholar
  20. Hakluyt, Richard. 1600. The Third and Last Volume of the Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation. London.Google Scholar
  21. Hess, Andrew C. 2000. The Mediterranean and Shakespeare’s Geopolitical Imagination. In ‘The Tempest’ and Its Travels, ed. Peter Hulme, William Sherman, and Robin Kirkpatrick. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kussmaul, Anne. 1981. Servants in Husbandry in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mannoni, Octave. 1956. Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. New York: Frederick A. Praeger.Google Scholar
  24. Marmon, Shaun. 1995. Eunuchs and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Mason, John. 1610. The Turke, A Worthie Tragedy. London.Google Scholar
  26. Menon, Madhavi. 2011. Introduction: Queer Shakes. In Shakesqueer, ed. Madhavi Menon. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nussbaum, Felicity. 2007. Slavery, Blackness and Islam: The Arabian Nights in the Eighteenth Century. In Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays Marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807, ed. Brycchan Carey and Peter Kitson. Cambridge: Brewer.Google Scholar
  28. Orgel, Stephen. 1978. Introduction. In The Tempest. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Osborn, Francis. 1656. Political Reflections on the Government of the Turks. London.Google Scholar
  30. Paré, Ambrose. 1649. Of Monsters and Prodigies. In The Workes of that Famous Chirurgion Ambrose Parey, trans. Thomas Johnson. The Internet Archive. Accessed 1 December 2016.
  31. Patterson, Orlando. 1982. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Pierce, Leslie. 1993. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Purchas, Samuel. 1905. Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes, vol. VI. Glasgow: John Maclehose and Sons.Google Scholar
  34. Relihan, Constance. 1997. Erasing the East from Twelfth Night. In Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance, ed. Joyce Green MacDonald. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Reynolds, Brian, and Ayanna Thomson. 2003. Inspriteful Ariels: Transversal Tempests. In Performing Transversally: Reimagining Shakespeare and the Critical Future, ed. Brian Reynolds. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rodó, José Enrique. 1922. Ariel, trans. F.J. Stimpson. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Internet Archive. Accessed 20 November 2016.
  37. Rubright, Marjorie. 2014. Doppelganger Dilemmas: Anglo-Dutch Relations in Early Modern Literature and Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  38. Sedgwick, Eve. 1993. Tendencies. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shakespeare, William. 2011. The Arden Shakespeare: Complete Works, ed. Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson, and David Scott Kastan. London and New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  40. Starkey, David. 1977. Representation Through Intimacy: A Study of the Symbolism of Monarchy and Court Office in Early-Modern England. In Symbols and Sentiments, ed. Ioan M. Lewis. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  41. Sundelson, David. 1980. “So Rare a Wonder’d Father”: Prospero’s Tempest. In Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Coppelia Kahn. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Toledano, Ehud. 1998. Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  43. Warner, Marina. 2000. “The Foul Witch” and Her “Freckled Whelp”: Circean Mutations in The Tempest. In The Tempest and Its Travels, ed. Peter Hulme and William Sherman. Philadelphia: Philadelphia University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Withers, Robert. 1650. A Description of the Grand Signior’s Seraglio or Turkish Emperours Court. London.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Keene State CollegeKeeneUSA

Personalised recommendations