(K. Brent Tomer),
1616 deserves attention as the year in which William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died—it also saw the first sustained and documented contact between the Islamic world and Britain. The life of Britain’s most celebrated writer coincided with significant diplomatic relations between Protestant England and Muslim dynasties in Morocco, the Ottomans and the Safavids of Iran. As trade routes opened up and Queen Elizabeth I courted new alliances, dramatic ideas about Muslims seeped into society. Britons were fascinated and alarmed simultaneously; between 1576 and 1603 more than 60 plays featuring Muslims in the guise of Turks, Moors or Persians featured on London’s stages.
Across his canon, Shakespeare offers a multifaceted view of Islam. His knowledge of the intricacies of the religion itself is sparse—he makes only one explicit reference to the Prophet Muhammad, in “Henry VI”—yet this is hardly surprising, given that the first English translation of the Koran emerged in 1649. Shakespeare appropriates Islam for Protestant causes, aligning the false prophecy of Muhammad with the inspired Joan of Arc;
Was Mahomet…Continue reading