Kin with Kin and Kind with Kind Confound: Pity, Justice, and Family Killing in Early Modern Dramas Depicting Islam
Skura, Meredith A.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the early modern representation of the Ottoman sultan as merciless murderer of his own family in dramas depicting Islam that are also revenge tragedies or history plays set in empires. This representation arose in part from historical events: the civil wars that erupted periodically from the reign of Sultan Murad I (1362-1389) to that of Sultan Mehmed III (1595-1603) in which the sultan killed family members who were rivals to the throne. Drawing on these events, theological and historical texts by John Foxe, Samuel Purchas, and Richard Knolles offered a distorted image of the Ottoman sultan as devoid of pity for anyone, but most importantly family, an image which seeped into early modern drama. Early modern English playwrights repeatedly staged scenes in the dramas that depict Islam in which one member of a family implores another for pity and to remain alive. However, family killing became diffuse and was not the sole province of the Ottoman sultan or other Muslim character: the Spanish, Romans, and the Scythians also kill their kin. Additionally, they kill members of their own religious, ethnic, and national groups as family killing expands to encompass a more general self destruction, self sacrifice, and self consumption. The presence of the Muslim character, Turk or Moor, serves to underscore the political and religious significance of other characters' family killing. Part of the interest of English playwrights in the Ottoman history of family killing is that England had suffered its own share of family killing or the specter of it during the Wars of the Roses, the Babington Plot against Queen Elizabeth's life, and the martyrdom of many English during the Protestant Reformation. Through an analysis of such plays as Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy , William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus , and Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine I and II , among others, I argue that English playwrights represented family killing to contend with England's past of civil war, its Protestant Reformation present, and its political future. The dramas that depict Islam portray rulers who elevate empire building above kinship bonds and who feel no pity for those in their own kinship, national, or religious groups. The plays illustrate that the emotion, pity, leads a ruler to the just action of extending mercy and that the converse, lack of pity, leads a kingdom or empire to injustice and destruction. The plays ultimately declare empire building unjust because it is pitiless, creating an argument against empire for English audiences.
Philosophy; Religion; Theology; Communication and the arts; Social sciences; More... Language; Literature; Linguistics; Drama; Islam; Early modern English drama; Pity; Compassion; Emotions; Justice; Thomas Kyd; William Shakespeare; Christopher Marlowe; Family killing; Islamic studies; British and Irish literature; Theater History Less...