Indography pp 209-222 | Cite as

Playing an Indian Queen

Neoplatonism, Ethnography, and The Temple of Love
  • Amrita Sen
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


On Shrove Tuesday 1635, Sir Thomas Roe, former ambassador to the Mogul court, notorious for his immaculate English wardrobe and reluctance to learn native languages, found himself in the company of “strange” Indian ladies at the Banqueting House at Whitehall, of all places.2 Like all other guests, he must have gazed at the elaborate Indian scenery laid out before him with “strange beasts and birds,” a tiger, an elephant, and a unicorn most prominently visible under a Rubens ceiling that celebrated James I’s apotheosis. Not surprisingly, a rather fastidious Roe did not approve of the spectacle and confided to Bishop Hall that “the masque was yesternight performed with much trouble and wearisomeness.”3 The masque in question was William Davenant’s The Temple of Love, and its lead dancer none other than Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. Although Roe diplomatically desisted from explicating in his letter why he found the performance so troublesome, what stands out for our present purposes of Indography is that, on this occasion, Henrietta Maria appeared before a courtly public as Indamora, sovereign of the Hindu kingdom of Narsinga. Her predecessor Anne of Denmark was not the only Stuart queen to present herself before a courtly audience as an exotic subject, a black-faced daughter of Niger in The Masque of Blackness. The stakes of such mediations were high, for as Stephen Orgel observes, masques relied on establishing a co-relation or authenticity that went beyond mere impersonation.4


Seventeenth Century English Court East India Company Invent Nature English Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    William Davenant, The Temple of Love, The Dramatic Works of Sir William Davenant, vol.1, ed. James Maidment and W. H. Logan (Edinburgh: William Patterson, 1872), 289, 296. Hereafter cited in text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richmond Barbour, Before Orientalism: London’s Theatre of the East, 1576–1626 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 146.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sir Thomas Roe, The Embassy, ed. William Foster (Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1967), 510.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Stephen Orgel, Illusion of Power, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 39.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Maddumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 233–247.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Patricia Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 174, and Edward Misselden, Free Trade (London: John Legatt, 1622), 112.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1988), 61; Marjorie Swann, introduction to Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 26,Google Scholar
  8. and Paula Findlen, “Inventing Nature: Commerce, Art, and Science in the Early Modern Cabinet of Curiosities,” in Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science and Art in Early Modern Europe, ed. Pamela H. Smith and Paula Findlen (London and New York: Routledge: 2002), 299.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Axel Stähler, “Between Tiger and Unicorn: The Temple of Love,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Insitutes 61 (1998): 186.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Rebecca Ann Bach, Colonial Transformations: The Cultural Production of the New Atlantic World 1580–1640 (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 6, 33.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Anthony Farrington, Trading Places: the East India Company and Asia 1600–1834 (London: British Library, 2002), 119.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Swann, 23, introduction to Curiosities and Texts, and Imtiaz Habib, “Indians in Shakespeare’s England as ‘the First-Fruits of India’: Colonial Effacement and Postcolonial Reinscription,” Journal of Narrative Theory 36, no. 1 (Winter 2006): 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 24.
    John Michael Archer, Old Worlds: Egypt, Southwest Asia, India, and Russia in Early Modern Writing (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 146.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    As quoted by John J. O’Meara, “Indian Wisdom and Porphyry’s Search for a Universal Way,” in Neoplatonism and Indian thought, ed. R. Baine Harris (Norfolk: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, 1982), 13–14.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    Hindu ideas of reincarnation and Neoplatonic metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls most immediately offer up other paths of “becoming” or transformation. Although they appear similar, each tradition espouses its own, often divergent, eschatology. This essay is more interested in the transformations that Neoplatonism offers within a single lifetime, associating such spiritual transcendence with the material and proto-racial imagery implicit in Davenant’s masque. It is interesting to note that while transmigration is often regarded as most obvious link between Hinduism and Orphic-Pythagorean writings, many others exist. For more on these resonances (and differences) see John Bussanich “The Roots of Platonism and Vedanta: Comments on Thomas McEvilley,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 9, no. 1 (January 2005): 1]–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 29.
    Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey and Anna Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 219–252.Google Scholar
  17. 30.
    Ralph Fitch, “Travels,” in Early Travels in India 1583–1619, ed. William Foster (Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1999), 19.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Voyages Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, vol. V (Glassgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1904), 450.Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    Erica Veevers, Images of Love and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 5.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    Lesel Dawson, “‘New Sects of Love’: Neoplatonism and Constructions of Gender in Davenant’s The Temple of Love and The Platonic Lovers,” Early Modern Literary Studies, 8, no. 1 (May 2002), 7.Google Scholar
  21. 37.
    The term “Neoplatonism” originates in nineteenth century German scholarship. See Paulina Remes, Neoplatonism (Berkeley: Universit y of California Press, 2008), 1–2.Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    Sarah Hutton, “Introduction to the Renaissance and seventeenth century,” in Platonism and English Imaginatio, ed. Anna Baldwin and Sarah Huuton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 72.Google Scholar
  23. 39.
    Bruce P. Lenman, “The East India Company and Trade in Non-Metallic Precious Metals from Roe to Diamond Pitt,” in The Worlds of the East India Company, eds. H. V. Bowen, Margarette Lincoln, and Nigel Rigby (Rochester: D. S. Brewer, 2002), 98–99.Google Scholar
  24. 41.
    For instance, see Dudley Carlton’s now infamous letter to John Chamberlain. Arthur F. Kinney, A Companion to Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 1984), 360.Google Scholar
  25. 42.
    Thomas Palmer, Two Hundred Poosees (London, 1566), in Race in Early Modern England, ed. Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 99.Google Scholar
  26. 43.
    Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 4,Google Scholar
  27. and Jyotsna G. Singh, Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 9.Google Scholar
  28. 44.
    George Best, A True Discourse (London, 1578), in Race in Early Modern England, eds. Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 108.Google Scholar
  29. 45.
    Roy C. Strong, Festival Designs. An Exhibition of Drawings for Scenery and Costumes for the Court Masques of James I and Charles I (n.p: Meriden Gravure, 1967), 626.Google Scholar
  30. 47.
    I borrow the term here from Mary Louise Pratt, but extend the logic of the “contact zone” to European urban centers. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London and New York: Routledge, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amrita Sen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations