The sixteenth century witnessed the clash of two rival superpowers: the Christian empire of Spain and the Islamic kingdom of the Ottoman Turks. Islam was a terrifying alien force to sixteenth century Christians: the united front of the Turks posed a serious threat to the radically divided Europeans. When in 1570 the Turks attacked Christian Cyprus, the West received a shock as powerful as 9/11.
Europe was paranoid about the danger of Christians converting to Islam. The phrase “to turn Turk” entered the language, fuelled by tales of captured English privateers who were forced to convert on pain on death. Even more frightening were the stories of those who actively chose to convert to Islam, rejecting the values of the west. These “renegades”, as they were called, became a popular dramatic type: a whole genre of plays appeared, exploring or exploiting the popular fear of the Turks.
We present readings of four of these plays, shocking for their violent racism and hysterical conjecture about the Islamic religion. They provide a fascinating insight into the panic that gripped early modern England – and which has many parallels with the situation today.Produced by blue hug theatre company in association with Arcola Theatre
Solyman and Perseda by Thomas Kyd
Saturday May 19th, 4pm
Attributed to Thomas Kyd, author of The Spanish Tragedy, this play tells the story of Solyman, a Turkish Sultan who falls in love with Perseda, a Christian girl who has been captured in a Turkish invasion of Rhodes. Solyman discovers that the love of his life is betrothed to his best friend; he gives them his blessing but rapidly regrets his decision, with catastrophic results.
The Turk by John Mason
Saturday June 2nd, 4pm
Borgias, governor of Florence, plots to murder his wife, marry his niece and seize control of the whole of Italy, aided by a Turkish invasion. He misguidedly puts all his trust in his Turkish accomplice Mulleases, who is always one step ahead. A darkly comic and bloodthirsty tale.
The Renegado by Philip Massinger
Saturday June 16th, 4pm
Philip Massinger, the author of The Revenger’s Tragedy, based this play on a novel by Cervantes. The Renegado interweaves the stories of Antonio, who rejects Christianity and becomes a pirate; and Vitelli, imprisoned for falling in love with a Muslim Turkish princess, who is forced to chose between religion and freedom.
A Christian Turned Turk by Robert Daborne
Saturday June 30th, 4pm
This swashbuckling play, based on real-life characters, explores the highly sensitive issue of conversion. Set in Tunis, then part of the Ottoman Empire, it tells the story of a pirate whose love for a Muslim girl causes him to convert to Islam – and ultimately brings him to a sticky end.