Othello Turns Turk
The tragedy of Othello is a drama of conversion, in particular a conversion to certain forms of faithlessness deeply feared by Shakespeare’s audience. The collective anxiety about religious conversion felt in post-Reformation England focused primarily on Roman Catholic enemies who threatened to convert Protestant England by the sword, but the English also had reason to feel trepidation about the imperial power of the Ottoman Turks, who were conquering and colonizing Christian territories in Europe and the Mediterranean. English Protestant texts, both popular and learned, conflated the political/external and the demonic/internal enemies, associating both the pope and the Ottoman sultan with Satan or the Antichrist. According to Protestant ideology, the Devil, the pope, and the Turk all desired to “convert” good Protestant souls to a state of damnation, and their desire to do so was frequently figured as a sexual/sensual temptation of virtue, accompanied by a wrathful passion for power. As Virginia Mason Vaughan (1994) has shown in her historicist study of Othello, Shakespeare’s Mediterranean tragedy, set at the margins of Christendom, but at the center of global civilization, “exploits…perceptions of a global struggle between the forces of good and evil, a seeming binary opposition that in reality is complex and multifaceted” (27).1
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Christian Theology Early Modern Period English Fascination Black Skin Color
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