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Intercultural ‘Traffique’ in Fulke Greville's Mustapha

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Abstract

Recent research in the field of early modern representations of the Islamic world has shown that the conceptions of Self and Other in the early modern period were more ambiguous and fluid than in later Orientalist discourse. This article seeks to place Fulke Greville's tragedy Mustapha (published in 1609 and in 1633 in different versions) in the context of critical discussions about English representations of Muslims and the Islamic world during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and shows that it contributes to the great variety of portrayals of Muslims in early modern English drama. Jonathan Burton has commented on the tragedy's expression of religious and political tolerance and has explained it mainly as an ‘accident of the story’ (Burton, Traffic and Turning 193). This article probes into this ‘accident of the story’ and explores the source material, which was available to Greville. It demonstrates that Greville's nuanced portrayal of Muslims is the outcome of his creative appropriation of his sources and of contemporary representations of Muslims and the Ottoman Empire, especially of its practices of power. In the following, Mustapha is not discussed primarily with regard to its representation of morally depraved or admirable Muslims because these categories over-simplify the varied portrayal of Muslims in early modern English drama in general. Instead, this article shows that the significance of Greville's appropriation of his source material for the tragedy as a whole lies in his discussion of the political and philosophical implications of an event in Ottoman history. The following analysis seeks to demonstrate that this discussion resists aesthetic as well as political closure.

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