“The Present Terror of the World”: The Ottoman Empire in the English Imaginary

Ambereen Dadabhoy

[print edition page number: 141]
To claim that the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, changed the world, is far from hyperbole. Those attacks and the United States’ swift military response on what it deemed its “War on Terror,” inaugurated a new era in US militarism, nationalism, and patriotism, while simultaneously recuperating and refashioning centuries old tropes of cultural and religious conflict between Islam and Christianity. Five days after the attacks, during a presidential address to the country, George W. Bush, announced “We’re a nation that can’t be cowed by evil-doers [ … ] This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.”[1] Bush’s construction of the terrorists as “evil-doers,” evacuated the possible political underpinnings of their violence, and his equation of his war with medieval European incursions into the near east, the crusades, successfully yoked religion to politics.[2] Religious difference and its attendant form of cultural and racial othering became a vital tenet of the logics animating this conflict. Moreover, Bush’s words point to the protean and temporally dislocated quality of the ensuing war: “evil-doers” and terrorists being sufficiently severed from specific and particular nation-states necessitated an elastic policy toward warfare. Nonetheless, even as War on Terror logics — the needs of the security state over and above the constitutional protections of the citizenry and international human rights [142] mandates — seemed to supersede geography; this war could be fought in any location, wherever a threat to US national security presented itself. It was, at the same time, confined to geographies with Muslim majority populations; first Afghanistan, then Iraq, and, in the hands of future presidents, the theater of war moved expansively across the “Islamic worlds” of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Thus, very easily facilitating the slippage from War on Terror to War on Islam.

In this essay, I would like to turn back the clock by several centuries and deliberate on the possible premodern sources of the kind of conflict Bush’s rhetoric and the War on Terror activates, that between Christendom and Dar al-Islam, the world of Islam, to excavate the links between the United States’ ongoing War on Terror (over twenty years at the time of this writing) and the “Terrour,” that the Ottoman Empire elicited in its European neighbors. Specifically, I examine Richard Knolles monumental compendium, The Generall Historie of the Turkes, from the first beginning of that nation to the rising of the Othoman Familie: with all the notable expeditions of the Christian Princes against them. Together with THE LIVES AND CONquests of the Othoman Kings and Emperours Faithfullie collected out of the best Histories, both auncient and moderne, and digested into one continual Historie until this present year 1603, which announces in its title, not only the ongoing and seemingly endless nature of Ottoman aggression, but also frames the imperial ambitions of the Ottomans in Europe as a religious conflict. Knolles’s text is important to investigate because of the allusions and references that intimate it as a source text for William Shakespeare’s Othello (1603).[3] The Generall Historie’s catalogue of Ottoman sultans, the social and cultural composition of the empire, and its conquests in Europe and Asia offered fertile historical context for Shakespeare’s appropriation of Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi into his own play about imperial conflict, exogamous marriage, and early [143] modern racism. Knolles’s ambivalent framing of the Ottoman Empire evidences Shakespeare’s own approach to identity and subjectivity within the schema of imperial domination and his construction of “the Turk” as an Other menacing the culture and society of the (Christian) eastern Mediterranean. Fully cognizant of the problem of correlating the two different historical and imperial conflicts, I propose in this study to show how European incursions into and aggressions with Muslim geographies and regimes have maintained strategic discursive similarities, which facilitate European and US community and nation-building efforts and support for increased militarism. Knolles’s Generall Historie, then, discloses the alignment between discourses of religion, culture, and race as they cohere around the figure of “the Turk,” and offers an ambivalent space through which to interrogate the religio-racial logics of our own War on Terror.

Modern and Premodern Terror

At this juncture, a reader of this collection might wonder how and why the War on Terror speaks to teaching race in the early modern period. The scholarly turn toward the Near East, particularly the Ottoman Empire in the 1990s and beyond, has opened up new avenues for interpreting early modern identity in the Mediterranean, particularly identity that is racially Othered as non-white and non-European.[4] These studies have focused on [144] the imprecision of racial markers and the fluidity that attends to early modern English and European taxonomies of human difference. While I agree with some of these scholars that imprecision, fluidity, and even incoherence mark the writing of race — of whiteness and non-whiteness — by European writers, travelers, and playwrights, I also claim that focusing on cultural and religious difference can work to deracinate racially Otherized bodies in the period and to defuse the material, affective, and symbolic power that race mobilizes and exerts. What I hope to offer here, then, is a way for teachers and students to investigate the intersection of race and religion, to see how certain identities get racialized, to understand how racialization is a process of making Others who can then be controlled and oppressed either ideologically or materially.

The majority of our students now have no living memory of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and perhaps the early years of the War on Terror, such as the invasion of Iraq.[5] What prior knowledge can we then assume they bring to our class discussions when we ask them to think about how these early modern conflicts are connected to our contemporary ones? A possible answer, after almost two decades of this war, relies on the cultural and religious stereotypes about Islam and Muslims that are popular in our society: that Muslims are terrorists; that Muslim women are oppressed; that Islam is religion of violence; that Muslims hate “the West”; that Muslims should not be trusted. As a Muslim woman, these stereotypes are not easy for me to rehearse here, and they are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg when we think of the damaging construction of Islam and Muslim identity in the West in the wake of the War on Terror; however, they are important to catalogue, even in brief because they give us an opportunity to understand the intellectual and emotional limits of our students’ comprehension of and orientation toward the topic. The political stakes of an approach that tackles religious alterity as it operates [145] in the Renaissance and early modern periods are fraught and can elicit as much discomfort as conversations about racial difference. Indeed, what I am trying to suggest is that these are imbricated categories and to facilitate a discussion on one will be to do so on the other. Preparing ourselves for what our students do and do not know about identity is vital to creating a classroom environment that will be attentive to our students’ needs; our pedagogical goals regarding the elastic, fluid, and somatically located construction of race in the period; and to combatting the repetition of damaging stereotypes in our discussions.

My own experience teaching race and religion in early modern English drama suggests that our students need us to offer nuance to the polemical ways in which racial and religious differences have been mobilized in the period and in the historical record to suggest a bifurcated geopolitical early modern period, where there was either the West and the rest, or the realm of Christendom and worlds of Islam.[6] To rely on such tidy and false constructions of the early modern period, particularly the early modern Mediterranean, would allow a neat mapping of our War on Terror onto that period because the United States and its western allies have reproduced such stark binaries in their justifications for this conflict.[7] The relatively uncomplicated and unnuanced presentation of the War on Terror in our public discourse suggests the kind of nationalistic ideological point of view that may inhere in our students. When we teach texts like William Shakespeare’s Othello that seem to conjure the fault lines of the War on Terror in different geographic and temporal registers we encounter a very contemporary cultural dilemma. How do we frame and contour their [146] experience of a play that traffics in political, imperial, and military aims that mimic our own? Writing about teaching Othello on September 12, 2001, Michael Galchinsky chronicles the play’s relevance to that moment:

Here was this early modern play set in Venice, the “world trade center” of its time, a place where all sorts of people from all sorts of cultures come to exchange goods, money, even husbands and wives. Here was Venice under attack by the Turks, the Christian West under attack by the Islamic East. Here was a War set in Cyprus, at the precise geographic midpoint between Venice and Constantinople, between West and East. True, we saw that the war is quickly decided before it has even begun — God resolves it in favor of the West by sending a providential storm to rout the Turks. But we also saw that although God seems to cast his vote for Venice, the end of the war does not signal the end of the East/West conflict in the play. Rather the conflict is internalized as a domestic dispute within Venice itself.[8]

Galchinsky rehearses familiar scripts, deploying the play’s binary oppositions to offer an historical lexicon for the national trauma. The conclusions he draws from the plot about divine favor auger the crusade rhetoric marshaled by Bush, activating the notion of a religious mandate underpinning imperial, political conflicts. As Galchinsky’s students moved through the play, however, they observed both Iago’s manipulation which fostered the racism and Othering that the text engages in, as well as the historical continuities about “the dehumanizing effects of class hatred and xenophobia; the suspicion of immigrants heightened by war; the difficulty of finding language that can bridge differing ideologies in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious world.”[9] Such continuities were necessary in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and remain strategically pragmatic [147] as pedagogical aids to foster empathy and promote the relevance of the Shakespearean text. However, even as we demonstrate the sedimented historical trajectory of the conflicts animating Shakespeare’s play, we run the risk of reifying the differences and conflicts between these cultures. We evacuate historical, cultural, and local particularity and assign meaning to a teleological vision of history and an overarching narrative of “the clash of civilizations.”[10]
As pedagogical practice, then, it seems incumbent that we deliberately adopt a critical and ambivalent approach toward such seemingly conciliatory hermeneutics.

Richard Knolles’s The Generall Historie of the Turkes . . . digested into one continual Historie until this present year 1603, I propose, offers a corrective that exposes both the particular and transcendent qualities of the conflicts motivating much of Othello and our own War on Terror. A cursory study of the Generall Historie discloses Knolles’s ideological investments in representing the Ottoman Empire as a dangerous and threatening enemy. Knolles dedicates his text to King James I of England not only because James is his monarch, but also because of James’s antagonistic position toward the Ottoman Empire which manifested in his poem, Lepanto (1591), celebrating the Holy League’s defeat of Ottoman naval forces at that eastern Mediterranean location.[11] Knolles’s “induction unto the Christian reader,” further establishes the global threat of the Ottoman Empire, which “is from a small beginning become the greatest terror of the world, and holding in subjection many great and mightie kingdoms in Asia, Europe, and Affricke, is grown to that height of pride, as that it threateneth destruction unto the rest of the kingdoms of the earth; [148] laboring with nothing more than the weight of itself.”[12] Knolles catalogues the prodigious grasp of the Ottoman Empire,

In greatnesse whereof is swallowed up both the name and Empire of the Sarasins [Saracens], the glorious Empire of the Greeks, the renowned kingdoms of Macedonia, Pelepneses, Epirus, Bulgaria, Servia, Bosna, Armenia, Cyprus, Syria, Aegypt, Judea, Tunes, Argiers, Media, Mesopotamia [Iraq], with a great part of Hungarie, as also of the Persian kingdome [Iran], and all those churches, places so much spoken of in holy scripture (the Romanes only excepted;) and in briefe, so much of Christendome as farre exceedeth that which is thereof at this day left.[13]

In his prefatory pages, Knolles frames the greatness and glory of the Ottoman Empire in terms of its successful conquests throughout much of the Mediterranean world, both classical and contemporary. Knolles claims an exception for the Roman Empire which ironically highlights the Ottoman Empire’s capacity to fully rival and be successor to that great, classical Eurasian empire. These initial remarks expose anxiety about and fear of cultural and political domination. While James’s Lepanto rehearsed a pan-European victory over Ottoman forces, Knolles’s text, an assemblage of European material into English, conveys the continued real, material danger posed by the Ottoman Empire. Hence, hundreds of pages later we read a passage that echoes the one above, an act of repetition that affirms power of the Ottoman Empire and the anxiety it generates in those who would stand against it:

It now so proudly trimupheth, as if it should never have end: at the beautie whereof the world woondereth, and the power thereof quaketh: within the greatness whereof are contained no small portions of Asia, Europe, and Africke, but even the most famous and fruitfull kingdoms thereof: no part of the world left untouched [149] but America only; not more fortunate with her rich mines, than in that she is so farre from so great and dangerous an enemy.[14]

Returning, again and again, to what he sees as Ottoman global imperial domination, Knolles registers both fear and admiration. In pointing out the vast swathes of land and people under Ottoman power, he displays his own “imperial envy”[15] and desire, for the fledgling empire of the English can in way compare to the size and glory of the Ottoman.

Knolles’s taxonomy of the Ottoman Empire and its greatness nonetheless operates through the polarities of fear, which I have charted above, and desire, to which I now turn. Even as he recounts the global scale of the Ottoman threat, he seems compelled to identify the causes, beyond militarism, that forge Ottoman superiority. That such moments follow swiftly on the heels of his descriptions of Ottoman imperial expansion signal the connection Knolles conceives between the political and military cohesion of the empire. Indeed, immediately after his initial tally of Ottoman territorial control Knolles shifts to “the causes of the Turks greatness,” in and of themselves “not depending on the improvident carelessness, weaknesse, discord, or imperfections of others.” This qualification is telling: it admits to the inherent of power, control, and superiority of the Ottomans. Chief among the reasons Knolles grants is

a rare unitie and agreement amonst them, as well in the manner of their religion (if it be so called) as in matters concerning their state (especially in all their enterprises to be taken in hand for the augmenting of their Empire) as that thereof they call themselves Islami, that is to say, men of one mind, or at peace among themselves; so as it is not to be marveled, if thereby they grow strong themselves, and dreadful to others: joyne unto this their courage, conceived by the wonderfull successe of their perpetuall [150] fortune, their notable vigilancie in taking advantage of every occasion for the enlarging of their Monarchie, their frugalitie and temperateness in their diet and other manner of living, their straight observing of their ancient militarie discipline, their cheerefull and almost incredible obedience unto their princes and Sultans; such, as in that point no nation in the world was to be worthily compared unto them: all great causes why their empire hath so mightily increased and so long continued.[16]

Ottoman unity in multiple arenas, military discipline, religious cohesion, and political harmony is everything that Europe and England are not at the beginning of the seventeenth century. From Knolles’s vantage point as an Englishman, in a nation troubled by political and religious discord, not to mention a military in disarray and colonial enterprises on the brink of failure, Ottoman power and the Ottoman body politic appear remarkably sound and enviable. Rather than an excoriating portrayal of dangerous menace, Knolles’s text betrays a desire for the social, cultural, and imperial stability found within the vast borders of the Ottoman Empire. Such stability is further emphasized at the end of every chapter in the Generall Historie, where Knolles offers a timeline juxtaposing the reign of the Ottoman sultan who is the subject of the chapter with his European counterparts. Hence, the end of his disquisition on Sultan Süleyman, Knolles lists a chronology of European rulers who were his contemporaries: [152]


Figure 1
Figure 1. Richard Knolles, Generall Historie (London, 1603). European rulers during the reign of Sultan Süleyman.
Emperors of Germany Charles V 1519. 39
Ferdinand 1558. 7
Maximillian II 1565. 12
Of England Henry VIII 1509. 38
Edward VI 1546. 6
Mary 1553. 6
Elizabeth 1558. 45
Of France Francis I 1514. 32
Henry II 1547. 12
Francis II 1559. 1
Charles IX 1560. 14
Of Scotland James V 1514. 29
Mary, Scots 1543. 20
Bishops of Rome Leo X 1513. 8
Hadrian VI 1522. 1
Clement VII 1523. 10
Paulus III 1534. 15
Julius III 1550. 5
Marcellus II 1555. 22 days
Paulus IV 1555. 4
Pius IV 1560. 5
Pius V 1566. 6

Table 1. Transcription of Knolles, p. 825.


What such an accounting discloses is the stability and strength of the Ottoman Empire. Süleyman’s long reign, from 1520–1566 survived a succession [153] of European rulers, signaling once more the imperial superiority of the Ottoman Empire. Even as the ideological scaffolding of the Generall Historie posits a binary opposition between the realm of Christendom and the dominions of the Ottoman Empire, such moments of desire, admiration, and envy breakdown the tidy divisions Knolles seeks to concretize. Furthermore, as a text engaged with its own particular War on Terror, conceived of in terms of imperial expansion and cultural annihilation, the Generall Historie displays an ambivalence that seems to prohibit its recruitment into the kinds of logics that govern our own War on Terror. In other words, the tropes of cultural assimilation and destruction motivating the Generall Historie’s antagonistic orientation toward the Ottoman Empire, may strike us a deeply familiar and suggest a linear historical trajectory that yokes the Ottoman Empire to “radical Islamic fundamentalism,” or jihadism; however, the text’s own polysemy, its desire and admiration for unity, stability, and strength embodied in not only the figure of the sultan but also in its aggressive and successful militarism indicate important points of difference. While I did not advance the notion that Knolles’s Generall Historie is a pro-Ottoman text, I do hope to complicate neat readings that allow the past to be instrumentalized in order to present the worlds of Islam as monolithic and unchanging.

Like contemporary discourses on the War on Terror, the Generall Historie engages in acts of racializing that depend on the barbarism of “the Turk.” These moments seem to racialize via the process of estrangement, to make radically foreign in order to imbue a form of racial difference that is otherwise invisible.[17] In the Ottoman context, race becomes less about somatic difference than about ethnicity, culture, and religion. By no means should the elasticity of racial discourses signal that somatic, bodily, and/or epidermalized ideas about race were not in the process of being developed in the period. Rather, this elasticity points to the contingency and availability of race as a discourse to create Others, develop social and cultural hierarchies, and demarcate the boundaries of inclusion within the [154] body of the emerging European nation states. The racializing on display in Knolles’s depiction of the terror of “the Turk” manifests in cultural practices that locate this subjectivity beyond the bounds of European civilization.

One Ottoman practice that routinely comes under scrutiny in European writing about the empire and is also mobilized by Knolles is that of fratricide, which was the normal mode of Ottoman succession. As Knolles presents it, this battle royale among the sons of the sultan to win the imperial seat emblematizes the cruelty of “the Turk,” highlighting the inhumanity of that identity:

As for the kind of law of nature, what can be thereunto more contrarie, than for the father most unnaturally to embrue his hands in the bloud of his owne children? And the brother to become the bloudie executioner of his owne bretheren? A common matter among the Othoman Emperours. All which most execrable and inhumane murthers they coeur with the pretended safetie of their state, as thereby freed from feare of all aspiring competitors (the greatest torment of the mighttie) and by the preservation of the inegritie of their Empire, which they thereby keepe whole and entire unto themselves, and so deliver it as it were by hand from one to another, in no part dismembered or impaired.

The Ottomans did practice fratricide among the possible heirs of the reigning sultan because they did not adhere to the precepts of primogeniture as was common in European monarchies. The royal Ottoman princes, the shehzades, were usually appointed governorships upon their majority, to learn how to become political and military leaders. Upon the demise of the sultan, each shehzade would return from his province to claim the throne, often by gaining approval of the jannisary corps and always by murdering any rival.[18] Knolles takes special care here to emphasize the brutality by focusing on the bloody tyranny of this practice: what is particularly [155] inhumane is that brother or father should shed the blood of one with whom he shares blood. As the text presents it: fratricide is an utter violation of nature and its command. Thus, the Ottoman imperial dynasty is outside the bounds of nature and natural law, rendered radically Other by their adherence to such lethal customs.

These moments encode the logics of Othering mobilized by Knolles to create radical difference between European norms, mores, and values, and those of the Ottomans. Indeed, Shakespeare deploys a similar strategy at the end of Henry IV, Part 2, when the newly crowned Hal, now Henry V [1413–1422], imperiously declares: “Brothers, you mix your sadness with some fear. / This is the English, not the Turkish court; / Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, / But Harry Harry.”[19] In signaling the benevolence of his rule, Henry V draws a comparison between the English and the Ottoman court, assuring his brothers of their safety. Nonetheless, in making the comparison, he also signals similitude, claiming that just as the Ottoman throne has successfully passed from father to son for centuries, so, too, have the English achieved dynastic stability. Henry’s juxtaposition evokes the Ottomans as imperial models.[20] Shakespeare’s ambivalence here mimics Knolles’s own orientation toward the Ottoman Empire, for at the close of his lengthy chapter on Sultan Süleyman, Knolles offers a brief description of the sultan that appears ideologically neutral: “he was of stature tall, of feature slender, long necked, his color pale and wan, his nose long and hooked, of nature ambitious and bountiful, more faithful of his word and promise than were most part the Mahometan kings his progenitors; wanting nothing worthy of so great an Empire, but that wherein all happiness is contained, faith in Christ Jesus.”[21] His final words about Sultan Süleyman, the Magnificent as he was called in [156] Europe, exhibit the ambivalence characteristic of this text. His language catalogues the sultan’s physical appearance in terms absent of markers of somatic, racial Othering and highlight the nobility of his character. He is admirable in all ways except for one: his religious difference. That religion, then, becomes the vehicle for locating difference. If the Generall Historie cannot counter the greatness of the Ottoman Empire, then its rhetorical strategy and ideological investment is in posing this Other, foreign, and alien empire as a terror incompatible with the values and culture of England and Europe, which seem to rest here on religion, on Islam.

Othello’s War on Terror

As I conclude my exploration of the affinities, alignments, and ambivalences in the mobilization of War on Terror discourse in our contemporary moment and the early modern period, I would like to return to Shakespeare’s Othello because the play seems to endorse the ideological projects and investments of both historical moments. On its surface, the play reiterates the binary oppositions that attend to the logics of the War on Terror writ large and that serve as the moral and political high ground from which Europe, Christendom, and/or the United States can launch its offensive or defensive attack on the foreign, encroaching Other. Indeed, the first act of the play with its fierce debate as to that target of Ottoman imperial aggression, whether they sail for Rhodes or Cyprus establishes the Ottoman threat as possible cultural annihilation.[22] Moreover, Othello’s “theft” of Desdemona, as her father represents their elopement, is positioned as an extension of “the Turks’” potential siege of Cyprus, linking race to religion and both discourses to the Ottomans in order to establish their alterity.[23] This unnuanced and flat approach facilitates the “clash of civilizations” reading which transforms the Ottomans [157] into outsiders and invaders rather than the dominant imperial power in the eastern Mediterranean. Simply exploring the play through its binaries also lends credence to the notion that that there were unified entities called Christendom and the Islamic world, historical fictions that elide the deep internecine schisms and wars that characterize the early modern formations of both religions. Indeed, this Christian unity rings particularly hollow in the English context, which is emerging from its own religious and political conflict. Finally, the polarities Shakespeare develops further disguise the cultural and political intimacies between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, this alliance so objectionable in European eyes, that Venice was called “the Turk’s courtesan.”[24] To be sure, Shakespeare’s play neglects these distinctions in the only scene that ostensibly takes up the matter of the Ottoman threat.[25]

I close with Othello, then, because it demonstrates its own particular brand of War on Terror logics. The play offers one of the few moments in an early modern English / Shakespeare classroom — or in a course tracing the historical development of race from the premodern — where the past and the present neatly align in their political and cultural investments. It remains worth considering how performances of Othello that locate the play in the present day — knowingly or unknowingly — reiterate War on Terror logics in production.[26] When the senators deliberate on the target of “Turkish,” military aggression, to what extent might Venice’s own militarism, as exhibited through costuming and props, the fundamentals of staging, conjure the contemporary War on Terror, yoking the early modern to the modern? The play mobilizes and facilitates these problematic [158] continuities, making it incumbent on teachers, then, to augment the play with the historical context that illuminates the complexities and contingencies underpinning the seemingly straightforward political and imperial conflict animating the play’s early scenes. Using Knolles’s Generall Historie in our classroom as a parallel text offers a possible antidote, forcing us to interrogate our own reconstructions of the past to suit our present.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the interpretive or analytical benefits of thinking through the ideas that animate our current War on Terror in an early modern context?
  2. How does reading historical texts alongside imaginative ones produce knowledge about the ideas that created the forms of power and domination upon with the construction of racial, cultural, and religious differences rely?
  3. How do totalizing terms like Christendom and Islamic World contribute to the ways that the premodern past is constructed along racial and religious lines that are always in conflict? Are there other ways beyond these binaries of looking at moments of encounter in the early modern past?

Suggestions for Further Reading

Andrea, Bernadette Diane. Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Awan, Imran, and Islam Issa. “‘Certainly the Muslim is the very devil incarnation’: Islamophobia and The Merchant of Venice.” The Muslim World 108, n.3 (2018): 367–86.

Bayoumi, Moustafa. This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror. New York: New York University Press, 2015.

Brummett, Palmira Johnson. Mapping the Ottomans: Sovereignty, Territory, and Identity in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Butler, Judith. Frames of War When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2009. [159]

Dadabhoy, Ambereen. “Two Faced: The Problem of Othello’s Visage.” Othello: The State of Play (2014): 121–48.

Das, Nandini, et al. “Keywords of Identity, Race, and Human Mobility in Early Modern England.” (2021): 359.

Erickson, Peter, and Maurice Hunt, eds. Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare’s Othello. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2005.

Faroqhi, Suraiya. Approaching Ottoman History: An Introduction to the Sources. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Hall, Kim F. “Beauty and the Beast of Whiteness: Teaching Race and Gender.” Shakespeare Quarterly 47, no.4 (1996): 461–75.

Kumar, Deepa. Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012.

Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2008.

Said, Edward W. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. Rev. ed., 1st Vintage books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

———. Orientalism. 25th anniversary edition. With a new preface by the author. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Schülting Sabine, et al. Early Modern Encounters with the Islamic East: Performing Cultures. Farnham: Ashgate Pub, 2012.

  1. “Remarks by the President upon Arrival,” on September 16, 2001. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010916-2.html.
  2. I do not mean to suggest that the European crusades were not performing this very same ideological feat, only that as that conflict is conjured in the popular Euro-American imaginary, the political aims of the Frankish kingdoms, to maintain outposts in that region for political power, seem to have been lost.
  3. Ambereen Dadabhoy, “The Moor of America: Approaching the Crisis of Race and Religion in the Renaissance and the Twenty-First Century.” Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2014. 123–40; and Virginia Mason Vaughan, Vaughan, “Supersubtle Venetians: Richard Knolles and the Geopolitics of Shakespeare’s Othello.” Visions of Venice in Shakespeare 1 (2011): 19.
  4. See, for example the work of Daniel Vitkus, “Turning Turk in Othello: The Conversion and Damnation of the Moor.” Shakespeare Quarterly 48.2 (1997): 145–76; Emily C. Bartels, “Making More of the Moor: Aaron, Othello, and Renaissance Refashionings of Race.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41.4 (1990): 433–54; Michael Niell, “ ‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors’: Othello and Early Modern Constructions of Human Difference.” Shakespeare Quarterly 49.4 (1998): 361–74; Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama. Manchester University Press, 1989; Jonathan Burton, Traffic and Turning: Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624. University of Delaware Press, 2005; Matar, Nabil. Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery. Columbia University Press, 2000; Barbour, Richmond. Before Orientalism: London’s Theatre of the East, 1576-1626. Vol. 45. Cambridge University Press, 2003; MacLean, Gerald. Looking East: English Writing and the Ottoman Empire before 1800. Springer, 2007; and Andrea, Bernadette. Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  5. I recognize that here I am speaking of a so-called traditional-aged student group between 18–22. Such age groupings might not obtain for many instructors at institutions with more age diversity in their student populations.
  6. I teach at Harvey Mudd College, a small Liberal Arts college, which focuses on STEM education. My students are non-majors and I often teach generalist courses. For further examples of my teaching on race please see: Ambereen Dadabhoy “Skin in the Game: Teachin Race in Early Modern Literature” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching. Vol 27.2, 2020; Ambereen Dadabhoy “The unbearable whiteness of being (in) Shakespeare.” postmedieval 11.2 (2020): 228–35.
  7. I use “our” here to indicate my own global and political positioning as someone who resides in the United States and is a citizen of this country. While I am vehemently opposed to the war, there are many ways in which I am coerced politically into supporting it.
  8. Michael Galchinsky. “On Poetry and Terror: Shakespeare on September 12.” South Atlantic Review 66.4 (2001): 141–44, at 142. Galchinsky is a professor of literature and human rights at Georgia State University.
  9. Galchinsky, 144.
  10. Huntington, Samuel P. “The clash of civilizations?” Culture and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2000. 99-118.
  11. James’ tribute to the Holy League’s victory over the Ottoman Empire was memorialized in His Majesties Lepanto or Heroicall Song, London: 1603. While the poem was published the same year as Knolles, Generall Historie, it was written while he was king of Scotland (1567–1625); Richard Knolles, The Generall Historie of the Turkes, London: 1603.
  12. Knolles, “To the Reader,” no pagination.
  13. Knolles, “To the Reader,” no pagination.
  14. For ease of reading, I’ve changed all of u/v and i/j to their modern spellings. Knolles, 132.
  15. MacLean, Gerald. Looking East: English Writing and the Ottoman Empire before 1800. Springer, 2007. (iv).
  16. Knolles, “To the Reader,” no pagination.
  17. Previously, I have claimed that early modern English drama often featured Muslims as Moors because that offered a clear way to racialize Islam and locate it in visible difference. See Dadabhoy, “Two Faced,” 126–27.
  18. Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. Hachette UK, 2007, 196.
  19. William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part Two. Ed. René Weis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 (5.2.46–49).
  20. Shakespeare might be signaling the reign of Murad III [1575–1595], who was sultan during the reign of Elizabeth I; however, its just as likely that “Amurath,” is being used as a generic name for an Ottoman sultan, especially since Murat III was succeeded by Mehmet III [1595–1603]. Barbour, 23; and Robinson, Benedict S. “Harry and Amurath.” Shakespeare Quarterly 60.4 (2009): 399–424.
  21. Knolles, 824.
  22. At the time of the play’s composition, both Rhodes (1522) and Cyprus (1573) had been incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.
  23. See for example, Brabantio’s lines, “So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile” in response to the Duke advising him that Desdemona’s illicit marriage to Othello is not that bad. William Shakespeare. Ed. Kim F. Hall Othello. New York: Bedford St. Martin, 2007 (1.3.213).
  24. Lucette Valensi. The Birth of the Despot: Venice and the Sublime Porte. Cornell University Press, 1993, 20.
  25. William Shakespeare. Othello, edited by Michael Neill. New York: Oxford World Classics, 2006 (1.3).
  26. I would argue that all contemporary productions of Othello access the visual semiotics of the War on Terror. See for example Iqbal Khan’s Othello for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2015, where the scenes of torture that precede the so-called temptation scene of 3.3 harness the brutality of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques deployed by the CIA on terrorist detainees in Guantanomo, forms of torture that included water boarding.


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