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
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


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).


Indian Shape Comparative Literature Study Virginal Daughter Closing Scene Romance Hero 
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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Gavin Hollis

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