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Indography pp 183-195 | Cite as

“Enter Orlando with a Scarf Before His Face”

Indians, Moors, and the Properties of Racial Transformation in Robert Greene’s The Historie of Orlando Furioso
  • Gavin Hollis
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Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)

Abstract

Unsurprisingly for a play that condenses the 42 Cantos of Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516/1532) into less than fifteen hundred lines, Robert Greene’s The Historie of Orlando Furioso, One of the Twelve Peers of France (c. 1591) deviates extensively from its source.2 Like the poem, the play depicts the attempts of its eponymous hero to woo the fair Angelica and the madness that engulfs him when his love is thwarted. Yet many of Orlando Furioso’s cast of heroes and heroines are dropped from The Historie, and those that remain are altered, so that, for example, Angelica is not a cunning Cathayan but rather the prized virginal daughter of Marsilius, here emperor of Africa rather than king of Spain; Rodamant is king of Cuba, Mandricard king of Mexico, Brandimart “king of the Isles.” The plot differs substantially: the battle between Christian Europe and pagan Africa and Spain is largely excised; instead, the catalyst for conflict is the love-contest for the hand of Angelica, fought between Orlando and sundry royals. In the play, Sacripant (here chief antagonist) drives Orlando to madness, convincing him by hanging romantic roundelays about the wood that Angelica and Medor are having an affair (in Ariosto the relationship between Angelica and Medoro is real). In the closing scenes, Orlando, restored to full mental health by the sorceress Melissa, disguises himself and defeats first Sacripant and then his fellow Peers in a tournament, before revealing his identity, marrying Angelica, and becoming heir to the African throne (in Ariosto, he is saved thanks to Astolfo’s lunar mission to recover his wits, and, once cured, desires Angelica no more).

Keywords

Indian Shape Comparative Literature Study Virginal Daughter Closing Scene Romance Hero 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed., ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Jean Howard, Katherine Maus, and Walter Cohen (New York: WW Norton, 2008), 5.2.17–18. All references to Shakespeare’s works are taken from this edition.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Here Ariosto’s poem is referred to as Orlando Furioso, while Greene’s play is The Historie of Orlando Furioso. The first reference to The Historie of Orlando Furioso, in Henslowe’s diary, dates a performance of the play February 22, 1592, although it does not mark the play as new. There are two quartos (1594 and 1599) extant, plus the manuscript “part” of Orlando owned by Edward Alleyn, his first interpreter. The play has garnered critical attention because of its textual history, but is otherwise largely ignored: a recent collection of essays devoted to Robert Greene lists only two essays in its bibliography on The Historie, both of which are really essays about the play’s influence on Shakespeare. See Kirk Melnikoff and Edward Gieskes, eds., Writing Robert Greene: Essays on England’s First Notorious Professional Writer (Basingstoke: Ashgate, 2008), 219.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Charles Lemmi, “The Sources of Greene’s Orlando Furioso,” Modern Language Notes 31, no. 7 (1916): 440–441,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. and Morris Robert Morrison, “Greene’s use of Ariosto in Orlando Furioso,” Modern Language Notes 49, no. 7 (1934): 449–451. Both Lemmi and Morrison show that the plot of The Historie of Orlando Furioso closely resembles the Ginevra-Ariodonte story of Canto V.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    Eric Lott coined the term “racial cross-dressing” in relation to blackface performance in the United States. See Eric Lott, “White Like Me: Racial Cross-Dressing and the Construction of American Whiteness,” in Cultures of United States Imperialism, ed. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 474–495.Google Scholar
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    Robin McNulty, ed., Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, translated into English Heroical verse by Sir John Harington, 1591 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972). All references are to this edition.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, ed. Lanfranco Caretti (Torino: Einaudi Tascabili, 1991). All references are to this edition.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Miranda Johnson-Haddad, “Englishing Ariosto: Orlando Furioso at the Court of Elizabeth I,” Comparative Literature Studies 31, no. 4 (1994): 323–350, especially 331.Google Scholar
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    Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Robert Hornback, “The Folly of Racism: Enslaving Blackface and the ‘Natural’ Fool Tradition,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 20 (2007): 46–84, 47;Google Scholar
  11. see also Michael D. Bristol, “Race and the Comedy of Abjection,” Big-Time Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1996), 140–161. Ariosto’s Orlando could be said at one point to conform to Hornback’s formulation, when he covers himself in mud and resembles inhabitants of the Nile delta and the Garamanths of southern Libya: “Se fosse nato all’aprica Siene, / O dove Ammone il Garamante cole, / O presso ai monti, onde il gran Nilo spiccia, / Non dovrebbe la carne aver più arsiccia” (XXIX, 59). [should this quotation be italicized?]Google Scholar
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    On the Indian and the wild man, see Alden T. Vaughan, “Early English Paradigms for New World Natives,” in Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 34–54.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006);Google Scholar
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  15. Jean E. Feerick, Strangers in Blood: Relocating Race in the Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010).Google Scholar
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    Walter Raleigh, “The Last Fight of the Revenge,” in The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation, vol. 7, by Richard Hakluyt (Edinburgh: E & G Goldsmid, 1888), 93–105, especially 104.Google Scholar
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    Henslowe’s Diary, 2nd edition, ed. R.A. Foakes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 317–318.Google Scholar
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    Eldred Jones, Othello’s Countrymen: the African in English Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 121–122. Andrea Stevens finds “no evidence for the use of blackface paint as a disguise device” earlier than 1621. See Stevens, “Mastering Masques of Blackness: Jonson’s Masque of Blackness, The Windsor text of The Gypsies Metamorphosed, and Brome’s The English Moor,” English Literary Renaissance 39, no. 2 (2009): 396–426, 402.Google Scholar
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    Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, rev. ed., trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    Ian Smith, “White Skin, Black Masks: Racial Cross-Dressing on the Early Modern Stage,” Renaissance Drama 32 (2003): 33–67, 41–42.Google Scholar

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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Gavin Hollis

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