Representations Of Arabs In Shakespearean Plays English Literature Essay

2616 words (10 pages) Essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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The early years of the 1550s witnessed the first sizeable appearance of black people in England; those whom English merchants took captive and brought to England to work as slaves (Barthelemy 1987). John Hawkins was among the earliest English adventurers to bring black people to England and to sell some other black Africans into slavery in the New Found World. In the 1550s, a black man who was brought to England was married to a native white woman. The child that the mixed couple brought to life was described as black as “coal”.

Arabs include Moors and Moroccan as well as the people that originated from the Arabian Gulf, Middle East and North Africa. Others may include other Eastern people such as Turks. The word”moors” is a loose term that is often used in the Medieval and Renaissance England. It referred to the “moor”, “black moor”, “and Negroes”, “Indians”, “Mahometans and Muslims”. These terms are more than not used interchangeably.

It has been seen that these people have played various roles in Shakespearean plays. One example of which is Othello. The main character of the tragedy, Othello, is a racial and cultural outsider in Venice.

This paper examines the links between the Arabs and stereotypes and how well they were represented in the Shakespearean plays. Further, this paper seeks to explain how the Arabs were viewed in these plays; the sorts of stereotypes that were linked to the Arabs; how these stereotypes influenced that plays and its protagonists; and the change representations and evolutions of the Arabs in the play.

Problem Statement and Research Questions

It is evident that the Arabs played a great part in the plays of Shakespeare, especially in the tragedy Othello. These representations have emerged as a major topic in modern and contemporary scholarships. Various studies have representations of Arabs in the English and European literature.

This paper’s main research problem is that, on the representation of Arabs in Shakespeare’s plays, what is the link between the representation and the stereotypes? Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following research questions:

1. How were the Arabs viewed in the plays of Shakespeare?

2. What sorts of stereotypes were linked to the Arabs? These stereotypes were from Shakespeare’s contemporary society and time frame which is 16th and 17th century Britain.

3. How these stereotypes affected the plays and its protagonists?

4. How do the Arab representations changed and evolved in the plays?

Research Objectives

The main objective of this paper is examining the link between the stereotypes and the Arab representation made by Shakespeare in his plays. These stereotypes were from Shakespeare’s contemporary society and time frame which is 16th and 17th century Britain. This aims to examine the effects these representation had on the written plays as well as to study the evolution of these representations.

Scope and Limitation

The scope of the study shall remain in the examination of the linkage between the Arab representation of Shakespeare in his plays and with the stereotypes of his time. It can be said that this shall include interdisciplinary studies of history and literature. However, this paper shall remain a paper for literature. Arab will be the term to be used in this study; however, this may also include other Eastern people such as Turks, as necessary.

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Since the main focus of the study is on Arab representation of Shakespearean classics, the researcher will only be limited to the examination of the same. Therefore, the researcher shall not include other literary works that have the same subject. Finally, the researcher will not be concerned on the analysis and the criticism of the literary pieces that include the representation because of the reasons that were mentioned in the aims of this study.

Review of Related Literature

In the tragedy, Othello, casting the male protagonist as black, Shakespeare activates all the fantasms that have haunted white society about miscegenation to our day: the idea of the black man and the white woman. The double standards of contemporary society, a fortiriori in Shakespeare’s time, do not hold the same anger against relations between a white man and a black woman, where the assumed dominant and submissive gender roles are matched in the racists’ minds with the desired racial roles (Serageldin 1998). Shakespeare draws out a powerful argument for the profound alienation of Othello, who-despite arriving at his position by Venetian merit, which also requires him to deny himself-is still destroyed because of his race and his erstwhile, if not continued, religion.

When it comes to Morocco and the image of Moors, generally speaking, the relationship between Morocco and England was a friendly one. All along, the relations between the two monarchs were of special nature in spite of the fact that violations happened from time to time from both sides. As has been pointed out in the introduction and throughout this thesis, the Anglo-Moroccan alliance was at some point so strong that the two sides fought side by side in the Cadiz expedition to punish the Spanish (the common enemies of the Moors and the English) and planned to restore the contender of the Portuguese to his Royal seat and to challenge the Spanish interests in the Atlantic and the West Indies. Matar describes the relations between England and Morocco in the Elizabethan period as oscillating between cooperation and conflict, trade and piracy. However, it should be noted here that the Moors, historically speaking, were not so much abhorred by Elizabethan Englishmen as many of their European foes; mainly the Spanish and the French. The then anti-foreign sentiment (whether anti- Spanish, French, Dutch or African) was common. The Moors, though different in religion, and in color, were treated by Britons no worse than, may be better than, any other European, Dutch, Flemish, Spanish or French, aliens, pirates, merchants or ambassadors.

Shakespeare is not the only dramatist who utilized foreign and exotic settings in his plays, but Shakespeare’s distinction was that he did well what many others have failed to do. He was able to imagine life from the perspective of these ‘others’ while many of his fellow playwrights could not (Elaskary 2008). Shakespeare was bold enough in introducing a revolution in the representation of the Moor, as he did with the Jew. Shakespeare introduced his audience and readers to different types of Moors and blackmoors. The most famous, rather notorious, among Shakespeare’s Moors (other than Othello) is Aaron in Titus Andronicus while Caliban in The Tempest deservedly takes the status of his deputy. Aaron is among Shakespeare’s articulated villains. He is described as “inhuman dog, unhallowed slave” [Act V, iii, 14] and he commits horrible crimes against other characters in the play. Caliban is a little picaresque dwarfish character.

Shakespeare’s Moors are portrayed in a way that is independent and unique yet not very detached from the time or society in which the plays were written. Othello may have some elements of the stereotypal Moor of his time but he is far more human, influential, and independent. Though the play was acted before King James I and his men, Shakespeare, unlike the majority of his contemporary dramatists, seems not to have been involved in the then fashionable habit of worshipping his King and stigmatizing the “Others” and “foreigners” to amuse the King and his retinue (Elaskary 2008).

When it came to the representation of Moors in Elizabethan drama, it was concluded by Elaskary (2008) that the image of Moors was not static, though stereotypal; it was varied, inconsistent, contradictory and illogical. As the relations between Morocco and England ranged from friendship to enmity so did the image of Moors. When sketching out the plays that were written in the Elizabethan era, the reader may find the raging Turk; the good Turk, the voluptuous, treacherous black Moor, and the noble Moor. The trend at that time, however, was that in general the “others” (be they blacks, Moors, Spaniards, French, or Irish) would be the villains, the plotters, and the killers while the white natives would be the courageous men and defenders of country and Queen. Sins and crimes have been committed by the black and the white peoples since the dawn of history but the key point is, that when the white man commits a crime this does not indicate or involve “an inherent judgment of his race or the nationality to which he belongs” as it does with the black man.

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The representation of Moors in the period under study (as has always been) was always politically motivated. That is why the prudent reader will notice that that Moors with darker skin were more often painted in the darkest colors; merciless conspirators, haters and murderers, than those light or brown skin Moors. Muly Mahamet, Aaron and Caliban may fit in this category. North African Moors, however, fared well on the London stage. Abdelmelec, Muly Hamet and Othello come in this category. If nothing could have washed the black Moors white the friendly ties between Morocco and England positively affected the way Moors from Morocco were represented on the London stage (Elaskary 2008). It turns out that it was the political element rather than the religious, racial or cultural ones that played the leading role when it came to representing the ‘other’ in Elizabethan England. It might not have been safer (or wiser) for Elizabethan dramatists to flatly oppose, challenge, or criticize the political line of the period. Those who did boldly challenge and question the political taboos at that time ended up penniless or in jail. Thus, John Marston (and Robert Greene) was imprisoned and his manuscripts burnt for his anti-James I writings at the turn of the seventeenth century (Farag).

Othello’s tragedy is bared before the audience’s eyes, and continues to challenge the racism and gender double standards that plague society today. It acknowledges the profound human frailties that jealousy can prey upon in all of us, but it also invites us to question the social context that would prevent people to behave in a natural and humane way and invites us to ask why it should be so (Serageldin 1998).

Methodology and Method of Analysis

Data driven research is an easy choice for the researcher. This is a flexible and responsive approach and the researcher will not know where the data can lead into. Although the literature is quite difficult because at the start of the study the researcher will not know which literature will be relevant later. Reading is therefore postponed until the literature’s relevance is judged later on. Consequently, this may affect the structure of the research later on. Secondly, it is not only the interpretation and the understanding that emerge during the research process. The same is also applied in choosing the methodology. The contents of the research and its process both develop during the proceedings of the research.

It has been a debate amongst research students the misalignment between the philosophical pluralism and methodological pluralism. This misalignment can create confusion during the entire research process. When linking the quantitative and qualitative methods of research with the understanding interpretation of philosophy which is positivism and interpretive, the research process often becomes too difficult for many. Along with other constraints, researchers face lack of time, intensity of program, through to willingness in engaging with literature. This confusion drives researchers to remove themselves in the theory and just carry out the research based on their initial goal on what to achieve in it.

This relationship between the methods and philosophy has caused this current research on the investigation of Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III with so much anxiety and thought provoking questions. In this research, quantitative tools are used together with the inductive and deductive approaches.

Easterby-Smith, et al (2002) has highlighted the importance of the relationship between the research philosophy and the research methods. According to them, this relationship allows one in taking a more informed decision regarding the research approach; helps in deciding which method/s are appropriate for the research; lets the researcher think about constraints that may hinder the research.

Checkland and Hollwell (1998) added the component of framework which is epistemology. This consists of assumptions and counted as knowledge. It is expected that researchers shall explain and justify their respective epistemologies, their methodology and methods as well as their conclusions. Evidently, this approach encourages the researchers in being more mindful during the research process.

Qualitative research allows the subjects being studied to give much ‘richer’ answers to questions put to them by the researcher, and may give valuable insights which might have been missed by any other method. Not only does it provide valuable information to certain research questions in its own right but there is a strong case for using it to complement quantitative research methods. Qualitative research has its roots in social science and is more concerned with understanding why people behave as they do: their knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, fears, etc.

Conclusion

In the tragedy, Othello, casting the male protagonist as black, Shakespeare activates all the fantasms that have haunted white society about miscegenation to our day: the idea of the black man and the white woman. The double standards of contemporary society, a fortiriori in Shakespeare’s time, do not hold the same anger against relations between a white man and a black woman, where the assumed dominant and submissive gender roles are matched in the racists’ minds with the desired racial roles. Shakespeare draws out a powerful argument for the profound alienation of Othello, who-despite arriving at his position by Venetian merit, which also requires him to deny himself-is still destroyed because of his race and his erstwhile, if not continued, religion.

The representation of Moors in the period under study (as has always been) was always politically motivated. That is why the prudent reader will notice that that moors with darker skin were more often painted in the darkest colors; merciless conspirators, haters and murderers, than those light or brown skin Moors. It turns out that it was the political element rather than the religious, racial or cultural ones that played the leading role when it came to representing the ‘other’ in Elizabethan England. It might not have been safer (or wiser) for Elizabethan dramatists to flatly oppose, challenge, or criticize the political line of the period. Those who did boldly challenge and question the political taboos at that time ended up penniless or in jail.

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Othello’s tragedy is bared before the audience’s eyes, and continues to challenge the racism and gender double standards that plague society today. It acknowledges the profound human frailties that jealousy can prey upon in all of us, but it also invites us to question the social context that would prevent people to behave in a natural and humane way and invites us to ask why it should be so.

Work Plan and Timetable

Task Description

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Writing of Research Proposal;

Intensive Review of Related Studies

Execution of Research Methodology

Analysis of Data Gathered

Writing the Research Paper

Presentation and Defense of the Research Paper

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