The Arab/Turkish/Islamic influence in Shakespeare
In the book ‘What Islam did for us’ Tim Wallace Murphy states, (P.215) “European culture owes an immense and immeasurable debt to the world of Islam.” Elsewhere he states, (ibid) “We in the West owe a debt to the Muslim world that can never be repaid.”
What is this debt? What is it exactly that the West owes to Muslim world? The author does not elaborate and I feel that it was necessary for him to do so because we cannot fully appreciate what he means until we find out what he knows. Another historical account is the threat of Queen Victoria to abdicate if more was not done to assist the Ottomans. These jewels of the past need to be unearthed and placed for people to see that Islam effected the course of more things than the media and others give us credit for. This is an attempt to look at the Islamic and Arab influences in the works of the great playwright William Shakespeare. He must have lived in a time when Islamic culture had permeated the western world. Yet this is not documented anywhere nor is it spoken about. One of the best commentaries of any time are the works of literacy and looking into them can help us understand something that we have all lost in the great wastelands of time.
We do believe that there was a conscience effort in the 18 and 19 centuries to remove anything that related to Islam from the modern western world and this was done by forwarding works that had Islamic influences but were not sourced. So the stories that they took were hidden away and their own works replaced them. This is not only about literature this is about other aspects such as science, philosophy and much more.
For example in the Shakespeare play Macbeth the following appears: Lady Macbeth, “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." (Act five scene one) This extraordinary piece of information must have meant something to the people who say the play; as his plays were aimed at the average person. So perfumes from Arabia must have reached a level of fame that others would know instantly what he meant without him explaining it. There are no footnotes or other explanatory notes to explain this but someone in our time would have difficulty understanding it. Macbeth was said to be written between 1603-07 and if history books are to be believed then there was very little contact between Britain and the Islamic World but this small quote proves that all wrong. There must have been some contact or at least some trade that have a reached a notoriety that average people knew about. It could possibly compared to Curry in our time an item that is from the East but has arrived at a level of notoriety that the average man would know what you meant when you said, “Let’s go for a curry.” So the area of research in terms of literature would be something that would be worth pursing by examining any available texts of that time.
Merchant of Venice
The Prince of Morocco has a speaking part, albeit small, but it’s there. This shows us again that the culture of Venice must had Muslims trading there which is also significant. In act 2 scene one ‘a tawny moor’ all in white speaks. This is an accurate depiction of Muslim dress as it is part of Islamic tradition to wear white as it was recommended by the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) himself.
He says, “Mislike me not for my complexion,” the commentary referring to the dark colour of the Moor. Moors are generally depicted as black men who marauded their way into parts of Europe. Though he could have been Berber or Arab. Strangely the text states that his attire was all white and in a BCC adaptation he wore black!
He also comments on his bravery fighting for Sultan Solyman, who can be without doubt, a reference to Suleman the magnificent; he being one of the greatest of the Ottoman Sultans. It is also interesting that Suleman died in 1566 and this story was written between 1596-8; more than thirty years after his death. So if this prince had fought for the Sultan then he would have been very old at least in his sixties. As the Sultan died at the age of 71. He also speaks about fighting the Persians which is also interesting because the Ottomans fought against the Shia Safavid Empire, many times. So Shakespeare was aware of this as must, at least some, of his audience. The Sultan also employed a naval army in the Mediterranean region.
King Henry the Sixth Part one
At the end of scene two
“Was Mahomet inspired with a dove?”
According to the Arden Shakespeare series on this work edited by Edward Burns p. 140 It refers to the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon, “Sceptical Elizabethan accounts of his powers, following a medieval tradition, allege that he attracted a dove to appear to speak to him by lodging corn in his ear.”
“This be Damascus, be thou cursed Cain, To slay thy brother Abel, if thou wilt.”
Damascus being the place where Cain killed his brother Abel Genesis 4.8.
King Richard the Third
“What, think you we are Turks or infidels?”
After Richard ordered the execution of another person. A response due to misrespresenting of the Ottoman empire.
Has a character called Aaron but this more likely to be a follower of the Jewish tradition and the play is set in Rome and not in the authors time.
The Comedy of Errors
Act four Scene 1
“That’s cover’d o’er with Turkish tapestry.”
A possible reference to a tapestry made by the Ottomans and this indicates to a luxury item of cloth.
Act 2 Scene 1
“Richard, that robb’d the lion of his heart and fought the holy wars in Palestine.”
The Taming of the Shrew
Act 2 Scene 1
“Fine linen, Turkey cushions bost with pearl.”
This is proof of trade between England and the Ottoman Empire.
King Richard the Second
Act 4 Scene 1
“Streaming the ensign of the Christian cross; against black pagans, Turks and Saracens.”
More Crusader vigour as well as racism.
King Henry the fourth Part one
Act 1 Scene 2
“What say’st thou to a hare, or the melancholy of a Moor-ditch?”
A ditch that used to surround the city of London.
King Henry the Fourth Part two
Act 2 Scene 3
“And every word a lie, duer paid to the hearer than the Turk’s Tribute.”
Act 5 scene 3
“This is the English, not the Turkish court.”
King Henry the Fifth
Act 1 scene 2
“Like the Turkish mute, shall have a tongueless mouth.”
A reference to the play Bajazet which is about the Ottoman Sultan Bayezud I 1360-1403.
Act 5 scene 2
“Compound a boy, half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard?”
The ottoman conquest of Constantinople modern day Istanbul still ringing in their ears.
Act 3 Scene 2
“If the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me.”
He is described as a moor most likely he was a Muslim yet he fights against the Ottomans in Cyprus which even now remains disputed somewhat.
Act 1 Scene 3
“The Ottomites reverend and gracious.”
“Valiant Othello we must straight employ you against the general enemy Ottoman.”
“These moors are unchangeable in their wills.”
Proof that the Muslims did not break their treaties.
“Drop tears as fast as the Arabian Trees; their medicinable gum.”
Maybe gum tree or even Miswak tree?
Antony and Cleopatra
Act 3 scene 2
“O Anthony! O thou Arabian bird.”
Act 4 scene 2
“I would my son were in Arabia, and thy tribe before him.”
King Henry the eighth
Act 1 scene 1
“They made Britain India.”
In reference to their new trade route that by passed the Ottomans.
The phoenix and the turtle
“Let the bird of loudest lay; on the sole Arabian tree; herald sad and trumpet be; to whose sound chaste wings obey.”
And on that final note I bid you good morrow and good night!
The Merchant of Venice
The Prince of morocco
“All that glitters is not gold.”