Machiavellian Merchants: Italians, Jews, and Turks

  • Daniel Vitkus
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


As we have seen in chapter 5, the temptation of religious conversion and the idea of “turning” is not only a matter of religious identification. “Turning Turk” was associated with a more general sense of cultural transformation that the English were undergoing, beginning in the late sixteenth century I am referring here to the early modern usage of the phrase, but also to my own argument, based on a cultural analysis of economic and textual evidence, that the English were anxiously “turning” into a more open commercial society, and that in theatrical representations they could observe and reflect upon their new status as merchant adventurers competing for profit. Very often, it was the Mediterranean that functioned as the imaginary site where these changes in identity were acted out in a play of fear and desire. Plays set in the Mediterranean represented and responded to the very real cross-cultural encounters that English subjects experienced in places like Algiers, Aleppo, and Constantinople. But it was not only the Ottoman or Levantine parts of the Mediterranean that English culture identified as the source of this converting power—there were other places and other peoples who were seen as corrupters of English purity, morality, and masculinity. Two non-Muslim groups, in particular, were seen as threats because of their perceived moral and religious difference—Roman Catholics (especially Italians and Spaniards—or the Italianate Spaniards present in places like the kingdom of Naples or Malta) and Jews.1


Foreign Trade Jewish Community Luxury Good English Subject Primitive Accumulation 
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© Daniel Vitkus 2003

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  • Daniel Vitkus

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