Indography pp 169-181 | Cite as

From Lunacy to Faith

Orlando’s Own Private India in Robert Greene’s Orlando Furioso
  • James W. Stone
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


In Robert Greene’s Orlando Furioso (1591), India takes the place of the moon (the Latin lunacy of the Italian furioso) in Ariosto’s original epic poem (1516–1532), which served as the playwright’s source. Orlando, the furious/mad hero, is exiled to India in his mind, as it were, rather than having his wits banished to the moon, the fate of Ariosto’s hero. For Greene the geographically vague “Indian clime” (996) is the locus of the foreign and of what is termed “base” (1246, 1384).1 In Indian garments, Orlando is disguised from others and from his better self. His return to reason and to unvexed love for Angelica occurs at the end of the drama when he is able to cast off his Indian clothes, just after the scapegoat culture has been securely transferred from India to the Saracen world of Sacripant, the villain whose feigning and fraudulent artifices caused Orlando to assume a series of lunatic personae in the first place. In killing Sacripant, Orlando finds the perfect Other for his madness, embracing the target of long standing for his Christian culture. Orlando’s journey involves a passage to India, and an allegorical and physical passage from there back to faith and to Charlemagne’s court, epitomized in both amorous and religious terms in the figure of Angelica.


Indian Geography Indian Clime Greek Mythology Indian Shape Religious Term 
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  1. 4.
    For Greene’s Sacripant as a precedent for Shakespeare’s Iago and for the echoing of Orlando by Othello, see Jason Lawrence, “‘The Story is Extant, and Writ in Very Choice Italian’: Shakespeare’s Dramatizations of Cinthio,” in Shakespeare, Italy, and Intertextuality, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 91–105.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See Charles W. Crupi, Robert Greene (Boston: Twayne, 1986), 110.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Michael Neill, “‘Mulattoes,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors’: Othello and Early Modern Constructions of Human Difference,” Shakespeare Quarterly 49, no. 4 (1998): 361–374, 364. Like the term “Moor,” “Indian” too has extremely broad application, to peoples stretching from North America to Africa to the Indian subcontinent and beyond to the East Indies. (I have come to appreciate the latter associations since moving to Singapore.) Gavin Hollis’s essay in this volume, “Orlando’s ‘Indian shape,’” suggests the possibilities of many allusions to the Spanish New World and American Indians in Greene’s play, a range of geographical reference that I am not qualified to pursue. Hollis believes that the entire play is set in Africa, which in early modern Britain could be taken to stretch much farther east than it does today. For example, the eastern border of Marsilius’s territory is identified as “Tanais,” which was located at the embouchure of the River Don in Russia.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 13.
    René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977).Google Scholar

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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • James W. Stone

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