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The Open Worlde: The Exotic in Shakespeare

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 29798

'The Open Worlde': The Exotic in Shakespeare

John Gillies, La Trobe University

The Cytes frame new walles them selves to   keepe, The open worlde lettes nought rest where it laye. (Medea, 2nd Chorus, The Tenne Tragedies of Seneca                    Translated into English, London, 1581)

Having suggested the need for a poetics of Renaissance geography, and having … outlined one direction along which such a poetics might proceed, I now propose to return to the question with which we began: how to define Shakespeare's idea of the 'exotic'? An obvious procedure is simply to catalogue and analyse whatever seems to correspond to the Elizabethan usage. Thus, the exotic in Shakespeare would include all phenomena—persons, imagery, settings, objects, props, costumes, speaking-registers—suggesting the 'barbarous', 'outlandish' or 'strange'. In practice, such a discussion would inevitably focus on Shakespeare's ethnic others: figures in whom (as I have suggested in the introductory discussion of Othello) the exotic is personified, both directly (through make-up, costume, props, voca-register) and indirectly (in imagery suggestive of the 'outlandish' and 'strange'). Focusing on such figures should not be reductive because (again as we have partly seen in Shakespeare's Elizabeth than tendency to telescope different exotic types) there is a compelling sense in which 'exoticism' in general controls 'ethnicity' in particular. Thus, the etymology of Othello's name suggests the 'Ottomans' rather than the moors. Thus, too, Shylock is at one point compared to 'stubborn Turks and Tartars never trained / To offices of tender courtesy' (4.1.31-2). And Cleopatrc—who in Plutarch is represented as ethnically Greek—is represented with the 'tawny front' of a moor consistent with Egypt's proximity to Libya, and consistent perhaps also with her sultry temperament.

Ultimately, however, Shakespeare's idea of the exotic amounts to more than the sum of exotic phenomena or exotic characters in the plays; it is an action rather than a phenomenon, a kind of relation rather than a kind of character. Like the 'barbarians' of Athenian tragedy, Shakespeare's exotics are innately transgressive. And, like the sexually intrusive moors of the Elizabethan stage, their transgressiveness is less a matter of individual immorality than of dramatic structure. Regardless of how they may differ in character, Shakespeare's exotics all resemble Ovid's Tereus in a tendency to 'confuse all natural relations'. This is because they are never isonomic. Exclusion, liminality, and a fatal attraction towards some version of the excluding Aristotelian 'commonwealth', is their essence. This is true even of Cleopatra and Caliban, the only Shakespearean exotics who are located in 'native' settings, beyond the geographic pale of a generic 'commonwealth'. Each seeks to prey sexually upon a 'European', with potentially disastrous consequences, whether to Rome or to Prospero's 'brave new world'. Shakespeare's other 'strangers' are potentially even more threatening for being geographically displaced. Not only do they seek some form of pollutive 'incorporation' with a host-city, but their very existence in the city (on any terms) is dangerous. Shakespeare's cities have nowhere to 'put' their aliens, no institution capable of containing or articulating their liminality. Far from suggesting an embryonic cosmopolitanism, however, the lack of such an institution (effectively a ghetto-mechanism of the Renaissance Venetian type) means that Shakespeare's aliens are perpetually dangerous and in danger. The city's toleration of the alien is less a sign of nascent broadmindedness than of a shameful compromise of political integrity; a compromise which must be expiated by the end of the play. Thus all Shakespeare's aliens end by losing their tenuous place within the commonwealth. Death, slavery, conversion, confiscation or some equivalent annulment of difference is their generic fate. Only one intermarriage remains intact: that between Jessica and Lorenzo in The...

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Merchant of Venice.1 But this, while notionally acceptable within the contexts of conversion and confiscation, remains hubristic, divisive, morally ambiguous and decidedly ill-omened.

When the transgressiveness of the exotic is seen in the light of an action rather than as a character-attribute, its wider social dimension emerges. For exotics to pose a danger to the commonwealth, they must first be tolerated. This itself is transgressive. In the context of Shakespeare's commonwealths, toleration appears less a proto-democratic virtue than a weak-minded inability to draw the line, to exclude or place or contain. Interestingly, the OED identifies two Elizabethan senses of the word 'toleration'. It seems to have suggested either 'the action of allowing; permission granted by authority, licence' (1517-18), or 'the action or practice of … allowing what is not actually approved' (1582). The second of these two meanings is the more suggestive of Shakespeare's commonwealths. In these cities, 'toleration' (in deed rather than in word) is precisely a tolerance of the ambiguous or liminal. It may be expressed as an occasional error of policy or diplomacy. Thus, in Titus Andronicus, the new emperor adopts a family of barbarians, whose proper place is that of 'base bondmen to the yoke of Rome' (4.1.108). And, in Othello, the defence of Venice is entrusted to a moor whose name punningly invokes that of Venice's arch-enemies:

Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you Against the general enemy Ottoman                                              (1.3.48-9)

'Toleration' may also express itself in a deeper institutional malaise. In The Merchant of Venice. Antonio sees his plight as due in part to a shameful failure to distinguish between the judicial privileges of Venetian and 'stranger', Christian and 'Infidel':

The Duke cannot deny the course of law, For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of the state, Since that the trade and profit of the city Consisteth of all nations.                                         (3.3.26-31)

Even though Portia eventually discovers a provision 'in the laws of Venice' (4.1.345) that protects the citizen from the utmost malice of the 'stranger', the dominant impression is of an impotent duke and a fatal flaw in 'the justice of the state'. The generic link between this type of toleration and that in Othello is suggested by an echo of the expression 'the justice of the state' in the later play (1.1.141). Again this occurs in the context of a 'mangled matter' (1.3.172) between a citizen and an alien, and again it leads to a trial scene presided over by a compromised duke. 'Toleration', then, may take a number of forms: the compromise of a city's judicial institutions, the 'dotage' of a particular ruler, or a military/political compromise. Whatever form it takes, it opens the door to the more intimate 'confusion' of miscegenation. The other presents a danger only when the gate of the city is left ajar.

It is for this reason that, in addition to exploring the exotic both as phenomenon and action, I shall also discuss it in relation to the voyager. Like the rulers by whose 'dotage' the exotic enters the city, Shakespeare's voyagers are dangerous representatives of the commonwealth. Unlike the ruler, who characteristically controls the centre, the voyager controls the boundaries. It is the voyager's function to manage the exotic: which may mean either bringing it safely within the pale or excluding it entirely. In practice, again as I have suggested earlier, Shakespeare's voyagers tend to form deeply compromising relationships with the exotic, to the point where the two types sometimes merge in the same character. This, I want to suggest, is partly due to the way in which Shakespeare's voyagers tend to combine Renaissance heroism with classical hubris. Explorers like Columbus, Shakespeare's voyagers are also like Lucan's Caesar or Seneca's Tiphys: boundary-violators by whose means the outside chaotically intrudes. If the voyager approaches the exotic via a paradoxical liminality, the exotic approaches the voyager via another kind of paradox. From the very first, Shakespeare's interest in exotic characters far outweighs their notional ideological justification. Shakespeare either goes out of his way to include exotics in plots which don't strictly require them, or he elaborates exotic roles well beyond what they are in the sources. The roles of 'Aaron the moor' and Othello are elaborated far beyond those of their nameless moorish prototypes in, respectively, the prose History of Titus Andronicus and Cinthio's Heccatomithi2 Nor is there much precedent for the roles of Shylock and Morocco in the sources of The Merchant of Venice3 The intensity of Shakespeare's interest in the exotic, however, emerges less in the numbers of exotics he invents or in the size of their parts, than in their ability to monopolise attention. Characteristically, the exotic character courts our sympathy even as the voyager forfeits it. The separate ambiguity of each figure, then, leads to a blurring of the lines between them.…

In what follows, I intend to test these interlinked theses on the constitution of the exotic, by examining all five plays in turn. In the case of the two classical plays (Titus Andronicus and Antony and Cleopatra), I intend to focus on the complementary aim of illuminating the ancient roots of Shakespeare's idea of the exotic. In the case of the two 'Venetian' plays (The Merchant of Venice and Othello) and the one 'island' play (The Tempest), the focus will be more on how the ancient construction reacts to Renaissance pressures.


If it is true that Shakespeare's 'plots, themes, and scenes are almost exclusively European', then it is odd that the idea of the exotic should emerge as early as his first tragedy. The exotic presence in Titus Andronicus is systemic rather than casual. Behind it, I will suggest, lies the ancient tragic drama of the 'barbarian'. Not only are Shakespeare's barbarians constructed along ancient lines, but the action of the play articulates the ancient tragic myth of barbarian intrusion in which an exemplary city is entered, polluted and violated at the level of an exemplary family. Shakespeare is not, however, content merely to imitate. He improvises on his ancient models, departing only so far as to disturb them with the hint of a more ambivalent idea of the exotic.

The clearest gauge of Shakespeare's debt to the ancient mythos of barbarism is his imitation of the Tereus legend. Far from concealing his debt to Ovid's grisly tale, Shakespeare advertises it right where it would most be noticed: at the rape of Lavinia and the cannibal banquet. Thus, when Lavinia enters with 'her hands cut off and her tongue cut out, and ravished' (2.4), we hear how:

Fair Philomel, why she but lost her tongue A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met, And he hath cut those pretty fingers off That could have better sewed than Philomel.                                       (2.4.38-43)

Every allusion to Ovid becomes a competition. It is not enough for Lavinia to lose her tongue, but also her hands. Deprived of Philomel's remedy of weaving her fate in tapestry, Lavinia opens a copy of the Metamorphoses with her stumps (or mouth), earmarking 'the tragic tale of Philomel' (4.1.47) in her own blood. Nor is Ovid forgotten at the moment of revenge. As good as his boast ('worse than Philomel you used my daughter, / And worse than Progne will I be revenged', 5.2.193-4), Titus serves up two sons to Progne's one. But the important debt to Ovid has little to do with grand-guignole and name-dropping. Shakespeare meticulously preserves and intensifies the deep structural logic which makes the Tereus myth so compelling an instance of the ancient narrative of barbaric intrusion.

As we have already seen, Ovid's narrative unfolds in three basic movements: the anomalous or contradictory incorporation of the barbarian, the 'confusion of all natural relations', and the death of the family. In the first movement, the barbarian is accepted into the Athenian royal family as a direct result of a military-political contradiction (Athens relies on barbarians to repel a barbarian attack). In the second movement, the family is annulled by the crime of incestuous rape. In the third movement, the family literally devours itself as the Athenian mother brutally murders her son and tricks her husband into eating him. Particularly in view of his complete departure from Ovid's setting and personnel, Shakespeare's preservation of the deep structural logic of Ovid's narrative is remarkable.

Ovid's first movement is recapitulated in the first act of Titus Andronicus, wherein we see a family of barbarians incorporated into Rome as a direct result of contradiction or anomaly. Interestingly, Shakespeare multiplies Ovid's single contradiction by four. To begin with, Rome's relationship with the barbarians is uncompromised and uncompromising: the Goths enter the city in the course of a triumph, the ritual purpose of which is to assert the state's power over its others. Almost immediately, however, the clear superiority of Roman over barbarian is compromised.

By sacrificing a son over the protests of his mother, Titus shows a gross disregard of 'natural' piety, that explicitly recalls one of the most infamous 'barbarisms' of ancient tragic legend: the murder of Hecuba's infant son by the 'Thracian tyrant' (1.1.138), Polymestor.4 So polluted, Titus commits several more impieties. He chooses the vicious Saturnine over the virtuous Bassianus as emperor of Rome. He promiscuously insists on Saturaine's right to marry Lavinia, when he has already betrothed her to Bassianus. And he kills his own son, Mutius, when attempting to reclaim Lavinia for Saturnine. The common denominator of all four acts is a 'confusion of natural relations', at the levels of family and state. Accordingly, Titus's killing of Mutius is accompanied by the exit of Saturnine and the barbarians, and their almost immediate re-entry 'aloft' from which position Saturnine declares his contempt for the Andronici and his intention to wed the queen of the Goths. The inversion of hierarchy is expressed as a vertical movement of barbarians from a position of inferiority in the triumph to a superior position 'aloft' (1.1.294ff.). By compounding the element of contradiction and stressing its linkage with the theme of barbarous infiltration, Shakespeare emphasises deep structures in Ovid's tale which are easily overlooked in a casual reading. As an 'imitation' of Ovid, then, Titus Andronicus is somewhat paradoxical. Shakespeare actually uses his radical departures from Ovid's setting and personnel to achieve a more archetypal (possibly Sophoclean) statement of the Tereus legend than is found in Ovid.

Shakespeare's second act corresponds to the second movement of the Tereus legend. Here, however, the 'imitation' of Ovidian themes is deeper and more powerfully inventive. The rape and mutilation of Lavinia, of course, begs comparison with the rape and mutilation of Philomel, but the deeper interest lies in what Shakespeare does with the Ovidian theme of 'confusion'. At least three layers of symbolic meaning are added. In the first place, Shakespeare invests the rape and mutilation with a directly political symbolism which is only implicit in Ovid.5 The name 'Lavinia' deliberately recalls the Italian princess in the Aeneid, who, by marrying Aeneas, becomes the mother of the Roman people. The spectacle of a raped and dismembered Lavinia, then, deliberately inverts the symbolism of the founding marriage in Virgil. In place of Virgil's foundation myth, we are presented with a 'con-founding' myth: an emblem of the pollution and dismemberment of the Roman body-politic. Significantly, the last words that Lavinia utters are: 'Confusion fall' (2.3.184).

The second layer of meaning with which Shakespeare invests his rape comes from the symbolism of the forest setting. Physically, the forest amounts to a property tree beside an open trap, which (fringed by property nettles) represents a 'pit'.6 Symbolically, it is rather more complex. Echoes of at least three classical forests are present. In the first place, Shakespeare echoes the silvis vetustis ('ancient wood') of Ovid's Thrace. Thus Titus imagines Lavinia being raped 'as Philomela was … in the ruthless, vast, and gloomy woods' (4.1.52-3), and by extension imagines Rome as 'a wilderness of tigers' (3.1.53).7 To the Ovidian suggestions of his forest, Shakespeare adds echoes of Virgil and Seneca. At the beginning of the rape scene, Tamora's amorous inclinations, her hunting dress, and her very words remind the audience of the lyrical hunting scene which is the prelude to the love-making of Dido Shortly and Aeneas their 'counsel-keeping cave'(2.3.24).8 Shortly after, when confronted by Lavinia and Bassianus, Tamora sees the forest as a very different kind of place:

A barren detested vale you see it is; The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean, Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe. Here never shines the sun, here nothing breeds Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven, And when they showed me this abhorrèd pit They told me here at dead time of the night A thousand fiends, a thousand hissing snakes, Ten thousand swelling toads, as many urchins Would make such fearful and confused cries As any mortal body hearing it Should straight fall mad or else die suddenly.                                       (2.3.93-104)

The locus classicus here is the haunted grove from Seneca's Thyestes:9

Down in a hollow, is an ancient grove, The sanctuary of the royal house. Here grow no trees of pleasant aspect, none That any pruner's knife has cultivated …

Sometimes the grove is filled with sounds of   barking … Sometimes gigantic phantoms haunt the palace. Daylight brings no relief from these alarms; The grove's own darkness is the dark of night, And even at high noon the ghostly powers Retain their sway.                            (lines 650-3, 678-82)

All three classical forests are related, but Shakespeare appears to have been drawn to the Virgilian and Senecan forests for their quality of primal depth. Ovid's 'ancient wood' has a hint of this in the 'low hut' which serves as Philomel's prison. In Virgil's forest, the suggestion is stronger in the image of the cave within the 'primal earth'. In Seneca's malign grove, the sense of depth is greater still. The 'hollow' (regio secessu) is a door through which the underworld pollutes the daylight. What Shakespeare seems to be drawn to, then, is the sense of the forest enfolding a womb-like 'heart of darkness'.

Shakespeare creates his own 'heart of darkness' with a startlingly original use of the stage 'pit'. This becomes the focus of dramatic attention from the moment that Lavinia begs to be thrown 'into some loathsome pit' (2.3.176), rather than be raped by Chiron and Demetrius. Our attention is momentarily distracted from the pit as Lavinia is dragged off, but it is immediately refocused as the body of Bassianus is thrown in. Hereafter, the pit is remorselessly anthropomorphised. When Aaron enters with Titus's sons, he too describes the pit as 'loathsome' (line 193). When the first son (Martius) falls in, the second (Quintus) describes it almost as a kind of womb:

… What subtle hole is this, Whose mouth is covered with rude-growing  briers Upon whose leaves are drops of new-shed blood As fresh as morning dew distilled on flowers? A very fatal place it seems to me.                                    (2.3.198-202)

Subsequent references are more explicit. To Martius, it is 'this unhallowed and bloodstainèd hole' (line 210), and to Quintus it is 'the swallowing womb / Of this deep pit, poor Bassianus' grave' (lines 239-40). But the womb is also a gut, with 'ragged entrails' (line 230), and a mouth 'detested, dark' and 'blood-drinking' (line 224), a 'fell devouring receptacle, / As hateful as Cocytus' misty mouth' (lines 235-6). What, then, are we to make of it? More than just a landscape, the pit is an inverted gynaecological emblem. It is an unnatural womb which 'swallows' rather than gives birth.10

The 'swallowing womb' is an audacious blend of tradition and improvisation. To some extent it recalls traditional medieval and Renaissance depictions of womb-enchantment, such as the familiar Renaissance epic scenario in which a knight is lulled asleep by an enchantress in a womb-like 'bower of bliss'. There is no enchantress here, but there is a clear association between the pit, and images of lust and sleep. The pit is where Aaron claims to have 'espied the panther fast asleep' (line 194). Failing to comprehend that the panther (like Aaron himself) is a symbol of lust, Quintus complains, 'My sight is very dull, whate'er it bodes' (line 195). Similarly overcome, Martius proposes to 'leave our sport to sleep awhile' (line 197). The sequence in which both brothers fall into the pit will seem absurd unless played hypnotically and understood in the context of the web of associations between wombs, darkness, lust, sleep and holes. If Spenser is one context of such symbolism, then the tale of Dido and Aeneas is another. Virgil's 'council keeping cave' was commonly allegorised as a womb, and the love-making itself as a figure of adultery.11 Shakespeare himself thinks along these lines in King Lear. Thus Gloucester's blindness is related to his fondness for adultery and the cavernous womb which produced Edmund: 'The dark and vicious place where he thee got / Cost him his eyes' (5.3.164-5). And for Lear, the womb is not only a cavern, but an infernal pit, a place where—as in Seneca's malign grove—the underworld irrupts into the daylight:

But to the girdle do the gods inherit; Beneath is all the fiends'. There's hell, there's   darkness, There's the sulphury pit.                                               (20.121-3)

It is not, of course, Shakespeare's intention to suggest that the Andronici are adulterous because they fall blindly into the pit. The symbolism is far more flexible than the allegorical tradition from which it remotely derives. The 'pit' sequence creates its own context in the simultaneous off-stage rape of Lavinia and her immediate entry as a spectacle of 'ravishment'. As in a diptych, the audience is forced to juxtapose and relate. They are expected to recognise that the monstrous activity of the 'swallowing womb' is the symbolic counterpart of the rape of Lavinia. As Lavinia's archetypically Roman womb is polluted and forever disabled as a source of true Roman issue, the 'loathsome' womb/pit devours Rome's remaining sons while spreading a miasma of adulterous contagion. To summarise: the second layer of meaning which Shakespeare adds to the Ovidian theme of 'confusion' transforms Ovid's generically 'wild' landscape into a 'heart of darkness' which is at once a kind of landscape and a kind of body. More precisely, it is an antitype of the state conceived in Aristotelian terms as a 'natural' body.

The hint of adultery makes sense in terms of the third layer of meaning which Shakespeare adds to Ovid's idea of 'confusion'. The rape scene actually begins with the love-making of Tamora and Aaron. Evoking, as she does, the 'conflict such as was supposed / The wand'ring prince and Dido once enjoyed' (2.3.21-2), Tamora courts a Virgilian comparison with Lavinia. In the Aeneid, Dido is opposed to Lavinia at the levels of family and empire. She represents adulterous love as opposed to married love, and Africa as opposed to Italy/Europe. For all his sympathy with Dido, Virgil is careful to portray her dalliance with Aeneas as adulterous and as a potential miscegenation (thus Venus wonders 'whether Jupiter … approves the blending of peoples', si Iuppiter … miscerive probet populos).12 Had the union of Dido and Aeneas been consummated summated, Lavinia could never have been the genetrix of the Roman empire. But it is just this possibility that Shakespeare wants to suggest by the union of Tamora and Aaron. The adulterous miscegenation of Roman empress and African 'confounds' the empire no less than the rape and dismemberment of Lavinia.

It is of particular interest for our exploration of the exotic, that Shakespeare should make such a major issue of miscegenation. In Ovid, the theme of miscegenation is secondary to mat of incest. Miscegenation is wrong because it facilitates the greater and more immediate 'confusion of all natural relations': incestuous rape. In Shakespeare, however, miscegenation takes the place of incest as the structural expression of 'confusion' within the body-politic. There are, indeed, two 'confounding' miscegenations here rather than one. In the first, Tamora marries the Roman emperor, thus becoming of one flesh with the Roman body-politic: 'I am incorporate in Rome' (1.1.459). In the second, Tamora and Aaron infect the body-politic with the taint of a 'black-amoor child' (4.2.51 ff). While this figure develops, as we shall see, in a quite unclassical direction, it is deeply rooted in the classical symbolism of defilement that we have been examining. The 'blackamoor child' might be thought of as representing the defiled womb in its fertile aspect, as distinct from the 'ravished' Lavinia who represents the defiled womb in its infertile aspect. The womb in question is not just Tamora's but, by virtue of her 'incorporate' bond with the emperor, Rome's also. Thus is the child described as 'stately Rome's disgrace'.

In Shakespeare, then, the theme of 'confusion' is not only much more elaborately stated than in Ovid, but it takes on a quite different character owing to the substitution of miscegenation for incest. The emphasis on miscegenation creates an entirely un-Ovidian plot-line (based on Aaron, his child and Lucius) which requires an un-Ovidian conclusion in addition to the patently Ovidian conclusion (based on Titus, Lavinia and Tamora) of the cannibal banquet. It is, I want to suggest, in this second and unclassical conclusion that Titus Andronicus not only parts company with the Tereus myth but also (to a degree) with the classical drama of the barbarian. But before enquiring into the new direction in which this takes the play, we may ask how Shakespeare handles his Ovidian conclusion. In Ovid, the cannibal banquet is precisely calculated to counterpoint the 'confusion' wrought by incestuous rape. As one Elizabethan editor of the Metamorphoses put it, Procne 'strikes at her husband … through her owne bowells'.13 By murdering her own child and feeding him to her husband, Procne revenges herself in a peculiarly incestuous way: the mother becomes the means by which the family swallows itself, or more precisely completes the process of self-annihilation which the crime of incest had set in train. From a structural point of view, what is important about this revenge is less its savagery than its capacity to devastate the incestuous husband with a homology of his own crime. This is just what Procne achieves. If incest is viewed in René Girard's terms, as a slaying of 'distinctions' within the family, then the cannibal banquet may be viewed in the same light, as 'the violent abolition of all family differences'.14 Such indeed seems the thrust of Procne's reply to Tereus's request to have Itys join him at the table: 'You have, within, him whom you want'. Given, then, so intimate a relationship between the cannibal banquet and the crime of incest in the Tereus myth, it is hardly surprising that Titus's revenge (for all its competitive excess) lacks the precision of Procne's. Titus is able to make Tamora devour her own children, but he can't, like Procne, revenge himself 'through his owne bowells'. It is the incestuousness of the rape that justifies Procne's revenge, and the intimacy of the kinship bond which makes it so terrible. While therefore Shakespeare assiduously imitates Ovid's conclusion, he fails to do so with the penetrating intelligence which marks his imitation of the first two movements of Ovid's tale. For all its excessiveness, there is a perfunctory and random quality about Titus's revenge. The murder of Lavinia may be intended to match Procne's murder of Itys but it has no logical connection with the cannibal banquet itself.

Interestingly, the intelligence which we might have expected from Shakespeare's imitation of Ovid's conclusion, is found instead in the alternative conclusion centred on Aaron, the 'blackamoor child' and Lucius. Aaron's child, as I have suggested, begins his stage existence as a living sign of the pollution of the Roman body-politic. So, at least, the Roman characters insist. 'Here is the babe', cries the nurse with a theatrical flourish, 'a joyless, dismal, black, and sorrowful issue … as loathsome as a toad … stately Rome's disgrace' (4.2.66-7, 60). 'Behold the child', cries Marcus (as if an anti-nativity play), 'the issue of an irreligious moor' (5.3.118, 120), and embodiment of the 'dire events' of which its parent has been the 'breeder' (5.3.177). Ominously, Lucius describes the child to Aaron as 'this growing image of thy fiendlike face' (5.1.45). Apart from Aaron, then, everyone refers to the child as a kind of theatrical equivalent of the imagery of blood-defilement in The Rape of Lucrece. The context of this imagery is Lucrece's agonised debate on the question of whether the victim of rape incurs a form of adultery-pollution. In a classic illustration of Mary Douglas's distinction between pollution rules and moral rules, Lucrece decides that she is indeed polluted regardless of her moral innocence.15 Her own blood makes the point emblematically:

… bubbling from her breast, it doth divide In two slow rivers … Some of her blood still pure and red remain'd, And some look'd black, and that false Tarquin  stain'd.                                  (lines 1736-7, 1742-3)

Just as Lucrece's body is 'adulterated' by rape, so is the Roman body-politic adulterated by the 'blackamoor child'. It is for this reason that Aaron's baby is publicly held up for comparison with Lucius, Titus's last remaining son, who represents himself as the unadulterated issue of Rome, 'That have preserved her welfare in my blood' (5.3.109).

Given the starkness of this juxtaposition between the pure and the adulterate Roman issue, it is surprising that Aaron's baby is not made to share the fate of his polluting parents or his barbarian half-brothers who are served up to their mother in the cannibal banquet. Death is the generic fate of the hybrid or the monstrous in classical tragedy for the reason that such drama vehiculates a particularly intense form of pollution-awareness characteristic of a classical 'shame culture', as distinct from the moral awareness characteristic of a Christian 'guilt culture'. In Seneca's Hippolytus (a source of several details in Titus Andronicus), therefore, the innocent mixed-race hero is torn apart by a beast from the sea which recapitulates the monstrous form of the minotaur: 'the crossed offspring' of Pasiphaé's bestial amours.16 In Oedipus, the hero is doomed to suffer for the 'crime' of incest regardless of having been completely ignorant of Jocasta's identity. And in classical versions of the Lucretia legend, the innocent heroine expunges the taint of rape-pollution only at the cost of her own death.17

Why, then, given the force of the classical theme of womb-pollution in Titus Andronicus, is the mixed-race baby spared? The easy answer is that Shakespeare manipulates the audience into a sentimental view of the child. We are at least as likely to identify with the father's humorously indulgent response to his son, as with the outrage of the humourless Romans. We are also more inclined to sympathise with the father's courageous, and finally self-sacrificing defence of his child, than with the homicidal self-righteousness of those who seek to destroy it. But more than audience-manipulation is involved here. The child actually becomes a force for redemption. The first to be affected is Aaron himself who discovers a capacity for parenthood that should surprise us as much as it does Tamora's sons. As the most demonic of all the barbarians, Aaron should be incapable of any such 'natural' feelings. However, his protection of his child 'maugre all the world' (4.2.109) not only compares favourably with Tamora's command to 'christen it with thy dagger's point' (4.2.70), but also with Titus's treatment of his own children, two of whom he murders. In redeeming his own father, moreover, the child also exercises a redemptive power over Lucius. Already blooded by his enthusiastic participation in the sacrifice of Tamora's child, Alarbus ('Alarbus' limbs are lopped / And entrails feed the sacrificing fire', 1.1.143-4), Lucius's first thought upon being confronted with the two moors is to hang the child in the sight of its father. Aaron's feat in extracting a promise of clemency for his child thus spares Lucius from incurring the very blood-debt in which the tragedy had originated. This, in turn, creates the conditions for a redemptive ending instead of a Senecan or Ovidian holocaust. By promising to see Aaron's child 'nourished' (5.1.60), Lucius converts a typically tragic economy of 'violent reciprocity' into a typically comic order in which 'reciprocity' works for the good of the 'commonwealth'.18 Violence, of course, remains. Aaron is executed by being set 'breast-deep in earth' (5.3.178) and famished. But this is a discriminating and cleansing violence, clearly recapitulating the emblematic spectacle in which Rome's true issue are 'swallowed' by the earth. Compared with the lawless and 'confounding' revenge of the cannibal banquet, then, Aaron's death has the 'founding' character of law. The difference between revenge and justice is signalled by a subtle shift in Lucius's symbolic role. Though he enters Rome at the head of a foreign army, like Coriolanus, he succeeds to power as an Aeneas. Instead, therefore, of re-enacting the sad history of an impious and potentially 'confounding' invader, he re-enacts the foundation of Rome by the pious Aeneas.19 Curiously, it is the existence of the black baby which allows Lucius to assume the latter role, because—as living proof of adultery and miscegenation—the child allows the Romans to recognise Tamora as a promiscuous barbarian rather than as Rome 'incorporate'. The sheer visibility of the child's pollutiveness makes possible a redrawing of the confused boundaries between Roman and barbarian, pure and impure. The boundaries are not, however, the same as the old boundaries. 'Rome' now seems to include an army of mysteriously reclaimed Goths who anticipate the ancient Britons of Cymbeline.

It is clear that the generous inclusiveness of this ending directly contradicts the ancient narrative of barbarous intrusion which Shakespeare is at such pains to reconstruct. But where does the contradiction come from? It is tempting to suppose that a more 'enlightened' or 'cosmopolitan' view of the exotic is struggling to find expression, but the contradiction can in fact be traced to an alternative ancient view of the barbarian. To the extent that the ancients thought of barbarians as 'primitive', they also credited them with primitivistic virtues: physical hardihood, courage, and an uncorrupted taste for the simple life.20 This tradition certainly contributes towards Shakespeare's revaluation of Aaron and the Goths. Thus Aaron plans to raise his child like a primitive Goth rather than like a Roman:

I'll make you feed on berries and on roots, And fat on curds and whey, and suck the goat, And cabin in a cave, and bring you up To be a warrior and command a camp.                                  (4.2.176-9)

Aaron's heroic defence of his child, and his indifference to suffering, would also seem to be in line with the tradition.21 But if the context of the contradiction is ancient, what is its logic here? Why would Shakespeare want to offer this radically alternative view of the barbarian? Whatever his sources, his motives cannot have been ancient. Here it is worth pointing out that Goth and moor are not included to the same degree at the end of the play. Assimilated into the new order which they have helped bring about, the Goths seem less like barbarians than honorary Romans, cousins perhaps of the primitive but proto-Christian 'Britons' of Cymbeline22 The place of the moor, on the other hand, is deeply paradoxical. Aaron dies a barbarian: excluded in the physical sense, abominated by the Romans, yet recognisably 'human' to the audience. The 'blackamoor child' is included to the extent that Lucius promises to see it 'nourished', but excluded in the sense that his position within the new order is left unclear.

To conclude: the paradox of the moor in Titus Andronicus is a measure both of Shakespeare's indebtedness to the classical idea of the barbarian, and of his invention of a more problematic tropics of barbarism. Aaron begins by representing all the viciousness and pollutiveness of the classical barbarian writ large (he is precisely 'a craftier Tereus'). Yet the very excess of his outrageousness—his begetting of a 'blackamoor child' upon the Roman empress—leads to a rebirth of just those familial and civic bonds which he has so spectacularly violated. Humanly appealing yet inevitably 'confusing', all Shakespearean moors inherit Aaron's paradox.


Creative worlds removed from the primal drama of barbarism in Titus Andronicus, Antony and Cleopatra nevertheless represents the exotic as insidiously threatening. Exoticism is hardly the reigning theme in the later play, but it remains an important dimension in the complex polarity defined by Rome and Egypt. The exotic of the later play differs again in its mythic or narrative character. Instead of invading or intruding on a geographical and moral centre, the exotic is now encountered in the course of an outward or literally 'exorbitant' adventure beyond the geographical and moral confines of the Roman world. 'Exorbitance', as we have seen, is a type of geographical and moral adventurism associated with ancient ideas of conquest and navigation, and with the ancient figure of the 'voyager' as I have defined him. Here I want to suggest that Shakespeare's Antony is such a figure. Yet how might the voyager myth have found its way into Shakespeare's play? The question arises because (as we shall see) the myth does not figure significantly in Shakespeare's main source: Plutarch's Life of Antonias. It has not, I think, been sufficiently recognised how much Shakespeare's Antony owes to the non-Plutarchan legend of Antonius, nor how closely this legend approximates that of the ancient voyager.

Master of an insidiously 'Asiatic' rhetorical style, admirer of Alexander, proponent of a subversively 'cosmopolitan' model of empire as against the hallowed Romanocentric model, spurner of his Roman wife and Roman mores, lover of a foreign queen, and finally leader of invading hordes from the East—the 'historical' Antonius is a case-study in 'exorbitance'; the classic example of a conqueror who 'went too far'. If the tendentious moralism of Antonius's legend reflects the influence of Augustan propaganda, its basic features were of his own making.23 Antonius had consciously sought to fashion his career on 'exorbitant' role models such as Alexander.24 Thus, seeing his eastern empire as a recapitulation of Alexander's, Antonius invaded Parthia in an arbortive attempt to assimilate the Macedonian's former territory. Of greater political consequence, Antonius championed a 'cosmopolitan' or 'ecumenical' philosophy of empire in which the Roman Empire was conceived in Alexandrian terms as a brotherhood of nations instead of in Aristotelian terms as a ring of vassal nations dominated by a single city-state.25 Antonius had also sought to represent his miscegenation with Cleopatra in Alexandrian terms. Not only was Cleopatra herself a descendant of Alexander, but Alexander was supposed to have authorised mixed-race marriages by his own union with the Persian princess, Roxana. Antonius drew attention to the parallels both by nominating his mixed-race children as Alexander's successors and investing them in the garb of the various eastern nations they were to rule.26 Yet Alexander was not Antonius's only 'exorbitant' inspiration. Insofar as he wished to be seen as a champion of the East over the West, Antonius played the part of the eastern god, Dionysus. Insofar as he was notoriously promiscuous where Alexander was not, Antonius claimed to be following in the steps of Hercules. In a subversive twist to the Hercules myth, Antonius pointed to the hero's habit of propagating descendants outside the bounds of family and nation.27 Thus, where a Roman might have understood Hercules as a figure of restraint (in keeping with the legendary motto of the Pillars of Hercules: Non Plus Ultra), Antonius was able to represent him as a pattern of heroic promiscuity.

All these potentially 'exorbitant' elements were, then, already available to the Augustan counter-legend of Antonius which (aside from Plutarch's Life of Antonius) formed the basis of Antonius's myth in the Renaissance.28 In the most illustrious of these Augustan counter-myths, Virgil's Aeneid, the idea of Antonius is constantly present as a negative measure of Virgil's hero. Unlike the impious Antonius, therefore, the 'pious' Aeneas preserves his family and household gods in the direst of circumstances. Unlike the promiscuous Antonius, Aeneas heeds the ad-vice of the gods and forsakes the embraces of an African queen. Unlike the 'cosmopolitan' Antonius, Aeneas single-mindedly focuses his energies on founding a dynasty which, it is prophetically revealed to him, will one day produce the Julian rulers of a new Trojan empire. In the prophetically inspired decorations on the shield of Aeneas, Antonius is depicted as a degenerate Alexander: 'Here Antonius with barbaric might and varied arms, victor from the nations of the dawn and from the ruddy sea, brings with him Egypt and the strength of the East and utmost Bactra; and there follows him (O shame!) his Egyptian wife'.29 The idea that Antonius's defeat represented the triumph of Rome over eastern barbarism (Aurorae populis) rather than a purely Roman affair, is fully in keeping with the tenor of Augustan propaganda.30 The same idea is found in Horace who expresses outrage that 'a Roman consul … has turned his back on the ways of his City to wallow in Pharaonic luxury … enslaved himself to a woman, and humiliated himself to the point of obeying her eunuchs'.31 Not surprisingly, the Augustan legend of Antonius also served as a foil for Augustus's own legend. Augustus made a point of invoking Apollo against Dionysus, and of privileging Roman mores over foreign.32 He also established the Augustan idea of the empire as a completed 'natural' artefact in place of the Alexandrian idea of an empire constantly expanding.33

In terms, then, both of his Augustan counter-legend and of his own political myth, Antonius should have seemed 'exorbitant' to any educated Renaissance poet, including Shakespeare. Here, however, we encounter a paradox. Plutarch's Life of Antonius, by far the dominant classical influence on Shakespeare's play, propagates an essentially different legend. The Antonius legends I have been describing have an archetypal, even cartoon-like, quality befitting their immediate public and political contexts. As a biographer, however, Plutarch was less interested in such material than in material of a more personal, intimate and 'documentary' nature. The result is that Plutarch's narrative is too rich, too complex and too 'real' to fit the simple lines of the Augustan counter-legend (even though most of the Augustan elements are preserved). Plutarch, of course, disapproves of Antonius, but in a moral rather than a political and ideological sense. Two factors help explain the change of emphasis. In the first place, Plutarch was writing roughly a hundred years after Antonius's death, when the immediate need for political myth-making had passed. In the second place, Plutarch was himself Greek and an enthusiastic proponent of the 'cosmopolitan' view of empire attributed to Alexander and championed by Antonius.34 In Plutarch, therefore, we get little sense of the archetypally Roman drama of 'exorbitance' in which the renegade commander 'goes native', joins forces with the 'exotic' queen, and leads the eastern hordes against the mother-city.35 Nor is Cleopatra primarily the 'exotic' queen in Plutarch. While strongly disapproving of her, Plutarch does so on moral rather than racial grounds. Thus Cleopatra is ethnically Greek in Plutarch rather than the dangerously exotic 'Egyptian wife' (Aegypta coniunx) as in Virgil. Antonius's affair with Cleopatra is an adultery rather than a miscegenation. In conclusion, we can say that while the outline of the Augustan legend of Antonius is visible in Plutarch, it is obscured by other political interests and another narrative tendency.

Plutarch's importance to Shakespeare should sharpen rather than diminish our appreciation of how Shakespeare systematically returns to the mythic, pre-Plutarchan themes of 'exorbitance' and 'exoticism' in Antony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare transforms these themes in several ways.

'Exorbitance' permeates Antony and Cleopatra in the form of 'the world theme'. Such imagery bears a family resemblance to a type of image which Shakespeare elsewhere uses in relation to Julius Caesar: in Cymbeline, where Caesar's ambition is imagined as having 'swelled so much that it did almost stretch / The sides o' th' world' (3.1.49-50), and in Julius Caesar, where Caesar is explicitly imagined as a Colossus:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and we petty men Walk under his huge legs, and peep about To find ourselves dishonourable graves.                                    (1.2.136-9)

The reappearance of this type of image—most obviously in Cleopatra's vision of Antony as a Colossus 'whose legs bestrid the ocean', whose 'rear'd arm crested the world'—is interesting for several reasons. In the first place, it suggests that Shakespeare envisaged Antony partly through the patently 'exorbitant' legend of Julius Caesar, whom Plutarch describes in The Life of Antonius as driven by 'an insatiable desire to reign, with a senseless covetousness to be the best man in the world'.36 More interesting still, however, is that Shakespeare actually seems to prefer Antony to Caesar as the 'exorbitant' type par excellence. Shakespeare's Caesar is not the superman of Plutarch or Lucan. Cassius's ironic image of him as a 'Colossus' merely underlines the difference. Unlike Marlowe, Shakespeare never seems to have been inspired by the obvious exemplars of empire and overreaching ambition.

This brings us to the second level of 'exorbitance' in Antony and Cleopatra. Antony's brand of exorbitance is erotic or existential rather than imperialistic. If 'exorbitance' is a quasi-divine dissatisfaction with the limitedness of one's world, then Antony is 'exorbitant' in love. The first words of the play inform us how 'this dotage of our General's / O'erflows the measure' (1.1.1-2). Philo is amazed that Antony should turn his eyes 'upon a tawny front' (1.1.6); suggesting perhaps the proverbial madness of the lover who, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, 'Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt' (5.1.11). Antony, of course, makes a point of refusing to set a 'bourn' or limit on love unless in some 'new heaven, new earth'. And characteristic of the voyager, his new world necessarily requires the dissolution of the world he once possessed:

Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch Of the ranged empire fall. Here is my space. Kingdoms are clay. Our dungy earth alike Feeds beast as man. The nobleness of life Is to do thus.                                       (1.1.35-9)

Plutarch's account of the 'order … called amimetobion' by which Antonius and Cleopatra live—'(as much to say, "no life comparable and matchable with it") … exceeding all measure and reason'—is here translated into geographic terms.37 Thus Plutarch's 'measure' becomes 'the wide arch of the rang'd empire', or again the Tiber into which Rome is envisaged as 'melting'. Throughout, Shakespeare shows a grasp of the Roman idea of rivers as defining geographic termini. Hence, Antony—with the exorbitant man's con-tempt for fines and mores alike—translates the Tiber from a symbol of definition into one of dissolution. He surrenders himself to Cleopatra on the Cydnus (the terminus of Asia), and takes the grotesque Nile as his measure.

If rivers represent one metaphoric site of Antony's 'exorbitance', the sea represents another. The sea is Antony's symbolic element. Thus 'his delights' are 'dolphin-like', showing 'his back above / The element they lived in' (5.2.88-9). But if the sea is a liberating and festive element (Pompey's feast is held afloat), it is also fatal. Thus Antony twice makes war by sea with disastrous consequences. An interesting polarity exists between sea and land, as between an element of instability and 'exorbitance', and one of solidity and limits. Antony's first decision to make war by sea is opposed by a soldier who reminds him that 'we / Have used to conquer standing on the earth' (3.7.64-5), and swears 'by Hercules' (line 67) to reinforce the point. Shortly after the defeat of Actium, Shakespeare inserts an emblematic scene in which soldiers keeping watch hear solemn music 'i' th' air' and 'under the earth', and interpret it as a sign that 'the god Hercules, whom Antony loved / Now leaves him' (4.3.13-14). The scene is loosely based on Plutarch's account of how Bacchus deserted Antonius in the form of 'a marvellous sweet harmony of sundry sorts of instruments … with the cry of a multitude of people, as they had been dancing and had sung as they use in Bacchus' feasts' (p. 275). Shakespeare seems to have substituted Hercules for Bacchus partly in order to confirm the sea/land polarity.

As the soldiers hear solemn music beneath the stage, they stand in its four corners in order to suggest the four-cornered earth.38 Ironically, Antony wins his next battle, which is on land, but loses the last confrontation by trusting again to water: 'Their preparation is today by sea; / We please them not by land' (4.11.1-2). Throughout, the sea represents more or less what the ocean represents in Seneca's Suasoriae: it is chimeric, formless, endless, uncertain, phantasmal. Accordingly, perhaps, the image of the sea in Antony and Cleopatra is linked to other types of water imagery which more directly suggest evanescence and illusion. Such is Caesar's image of the 'vagabond flag upon the stream' which 'Goes to, and back, lackeying the varying tide, / To rot itself with motion' (1.4.45-7). Such again is Antony's final vision of existential despair, when reviewing his life as a cloud-like succession of phantasmal shapes, ultimately 'indistinct / As water is in water' (4.15.10-11). While such sentiments are foreign to Plutarch's Antonius, they are in keeping with the mythology of voyaging. In Seneca's Suasoriae, Alexander is warned that he will be swept into nonentity at the boundaries of creation.

The idea of Antony as a voyager is further underlined by another departure from Plutarch. Rather than conceiving Antony's career as a kind of rake's progress—a graded escalation of excesses—Shakespeare represents Antony as abandoning himself all at once to Cleopatra. Before meeting Cleopatra, Antony is assumed to have been a pattern of Romanitas. Philo's opening remarks convey shock at the suddenness and completeness of Antony's collapse into 'dotage'. The contrast is more forcefully stated by Caesar:

    … Antony, Leave thy lascivious wassails. When thou once Was beaten from Modena, where thou slew'st Hirtius and Pansa, consuls, at thy heel Did famine follow, whom thou fought'st   against— Though daintily brought up—with patience more Than savages could suffer. Thou didst drink The stale of horses, and the gilded puddle Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then   did deign The roughest berry on the rudest hedge. Yea, like the stag, when snow the pasture sheets, The barks of trees thou browsed. On the Alps It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh, Which some did die to look on.                                       (1.4.55-67)

Virtually all the details of this passage originate in Plutarch—except for the point. For Plutarch, Antonius's capacity to survive on the Alps illustrates his native strength of body and mind. In Shakespeare, however, Antony's endurance becomes proof of an almost Stoic virtue. The new point is signalled by a slight change of detail. In Plutarch, Antonius eats 'the barks of trees and such beasts as never man tasted of their flesh before' (p. 192). In Shakespeare, Antony eats 'The barks of trees' and 'strange flesh, / Which some did die to look on'. The alteration, I suggest, is prompted less by a taste for hyperbole than by a desire to imagine the earlier Antony as a kind of Cato. Shakespeare may actually be thinking of Lucan's lurid account of Cato's journey through the desert of the Syrtes, in which the hero's self-sufficient virtue insulates him from exotic perils which some indeed 'die to look on'. But if the touch of hyperbole425 suggests Lucan, the passage as a whole suggests any number of literary journeys in which Stoic virtue is measured against exotic perils (Horace's Integer Vitae is a case in point). Before meeting Cleopatra, then, Antony is a pattern of Stoic 'patience' (precisely a patience 'more / Than savages could suffer').39 After meeting Cleopatra his ability to endure fatally 'strange flesh' becomes an active lusting after 'much more monstrous matter of feast' (2.2.189).

Cleopatra's exoticism is the counterpart of Antony's exorbitance. Shakespeare not only exoticises Cleopatra—actually representing her as 'tawny' and 'a right gipsy' (4.13.28) rather than Greek—but systematically augments the portrait that he found in Plutarch with at least two varieties of ancient exoticism: the Roman discourse of the 'Orient' and the Herodotean discourse of Egypt.

The 'orientalism' of Cleopatra's court—with its luxury, decadence, splendour, sensuality, appetite, effeminacy and eunuchs—seems a systematic inversion of the legendary Roman values of temperance, manliness, courage and pietas. In one sense the opposition seems ironic. It is only from the vantage point of Egypt that Rome actually seems 'Roman'. In another sense, the opposition is apocalyptic. Antony's Egypt-inspired vision of Rome 'melting' into the Tiber rivals Juvenal's mock-apocalyptic vision of the Tiber being swamped by the alien waters of 'Syrian Orantes' with 'its language and its morals … its national tambourines'.40 At the simplest level, Egypt attacks Antony through his senses: particularly in a blended imagery of feeding and sex ('he will to his Egyptian dish again', 2.6.126). At another level, Antony's judgement is bewitched by the 'enchanting queen' (1.2.123) who is 'cunning past man's thought' (line 138). Nowhere is the idea of the oriental enchantress stronger than in Enobarbus's description of the meeting of Antony and Cleopatra on the Cydnus. Once again, virtually everything in this speech is Plutarchan—except the point. In North's translation, all is fuss and detail:

Therefore when she was sent unto by divers letters … she made so light of it that she mocked Antonius so much that she disdained to set forward otherwise but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, howboys, citherns, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of herself: she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddess Venus commonly drawn in picture. (p. 201)

In Shakespeare's version of the scene (2.2.197-212)—too well known to need quoting—much the same parade of detail has the force of vision. The differences are extraordinarily subtle. Vocalisation is an important factor, as is the fact that Enobarbus exchanges his customarily sceptical and prosaic register for a register of lyricism and wonder, virtually as he speaks. It is the quality of the wonder here that is important, however. Just as Rome is never more 'Roman' than when viewed from Egypt, so Cleopatra is never more 'exotic' than when viewed from Rome. Enobarbus has suddenly become a classical Mandeville, filled with the wonder of the Orient, fettered (no less than his stage audience) by the strong enchantment that he describes. At its most powerful, the exotic beggars description. Thus, where Plutarch is content with the figure of analogy ('she was … apparelled and attired like the goddess Venus commonly drawn in picture'), Shakespeare prefers the figure of incomparability: 'For her own person, / It beggared all description … O 'er-picturing that Venus where we see / The fancy outwork Nature' (lines 204-6, my italics). The deeper lesson of this 'enchantment' is that the exotic is less a fact than a trick of perspective. There can only be an Orient if there is an Occident.

For all Cleopatra's orientalism, however, there is a sense in which she is irreducibly 'Egyptian'. The Herodotean character of Shakespeare's Egypt has never (so far as I am aware) been recognised. To understand it, we must first consider how Egypt is constructed in Herodotus. The Egyptian logos in Book Two of the Histories is narratively and conceptually prior to all other Herodotean ethnographies, such as the Scythian logos which immediately follows. It is not merely a particular ethnography, therefore, but the first ethnography: a blueprint of the entire tradition of ancient ethnography (and of much in the Renaissance). Herodotus is first struck by the 'marvels' of Egypt: 'But concerning Egypt I will now speak at length, because nowhere are there so many marvelous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be found so many works of unspeakable greatness. Therefore I shall say the more concerning Egypt' (2.35).41 The 'marvels' actually justify the ethnographic project in the first place. The combination of 'marvels' and geographic extremity (Herodotus takes Egypt to be the most southerly of lands) institutes the first axiom of ancient ethnography: that 'the fairest blessings (thoma) have been granted to the most distant nations' (3.106). The combination of 'marvels' and geographic extremity is in turn recapitulated at a human level: 'As the Egyptians have a climate peculiar to themselves, and their river is different in its nature from all other rivers, so have they made all their customs and laws of a kind contrary for the most part to those of all other men' (2.35). To Herodotus, the Nile was 'different' in several senses. Its source was unknown, it spawned monsters, its size was out of keeping with the arid regions through which it flowed, and it brought fertility only when in flood. The inhabitants of this Nile-defined country are just as different. They reverse sexual hierarchy ('women buy and sell, the men abide at home … women make their water standing, men sitting', 2.35), and the proper relationship between inside and outside ('they relieve nature indoors, and eat out of doors in the street … they knead dough with their feet and gather mud with their hands', 2.35). The antipodean geography is recapitulated in a carnivalesque society.

In Shakespeare, too, the character of Egypt and the Egyptians is epitomised by the Nile. The feast on Pompey's barge begins with a geography lesson on the flooding of the Nile:

   … The higher Nilus swells, The more it promises; as it ebbs, the seedsman Upon the slime and ooze scatters his grain, And shortly comes to harvest.                                     (2.7.20-24)

But it is not long before the lesson takes a carnivalesque turn. Lepidus interrupts with a drunken question: 'You've strange serpents there?' (line 24); and a drunken observation: 'Your serpent of Egypt is bred now out of your mud / by the operation of your sun; so is your crocodile' (lines 26-7). As in Herodotus, Egypt means the Nile and its natural wonders. As in Herodotus, too, monstrosity in the natural sphere goes with carnival in the human sphere. It is, therefore, no accident that the most sustained display of Egyptian ethnography in the play should be found in the play's most carnivalesque scene. Egypt, the Nile, and carnival all burgeon in the atmosphere of intoxication. The drunker he gets, the deeper Lepidus penetrates into some Egypt of the mind ('these quicksands, Lepidus, / Keep off them, for you sink', lines 58-9) like some mockery Cato being swallowed by an imaginary Syrtes.

At their most interesting, Shakespeare's echoes of the Herodotean discourse of the Nile are not just festive but oneiric, mysterious, even absurd. When Lepidus asks 'What manner o' thing is your crocodile?' (line 40), Antony answers:

It is shap'd, sir, like itself, and it is as broad as it hath breadth. It is just so high as it is, and moves with it own organs. It lives by that which nourisheth it, and the elements once out of it, it transmigrates.                                       (2.7.41-4)

The joke works on two levels. In the first place, Antony is spoofing what Hartog has described as the Herodotean rhetoric of comparison and analogy, the generic ethnographic strategy by which the different is translated into the code of the same.42 The technique is strikingly evident in Herodotus's description of the hippopotamus ('they are four-footed, with cloven hoofs like oxen; their noses are blunt; they are maned like horses, with tusks showing, and have a horse's tail and a horse's neigh; their bigness is that of the biggest oxen', 2.71) and again in his description of the crocodile:

I will now show what kind of creature is the crocodile … It has four feet, and lives both on land and in the water … its eggs are not much bigger than goose eggs, and the young crocodile is of a bigness answering thereto … It has eyes like pigs' eyes, and great teeth and tusks answering to the bigness of its body. (2.68)

At its simplest, Antony's joke works by setting up just this sort of comparison and then withholding it. But the joke also has a philosophical edge. By withholding analogy, Antony is denying the possibility of 'translation', linguistic appropriation, even knowledge itself. He is insisting that the different is essentially untranslatable into the Roman code and hence unknowable. One appropriates the exotic only by moving outside of one's code. Nor can the exotic ever be displaced or decoded without ceasing to be truly exotic. The deeper point of the joke may pass unnoticed until we realise that the crocodile is Cleopatra's heraldic beast:

He's speaking now, Or murmuring, 'Where's my serpent of old   Nile?'— For so he calls me. Now I feed myself With most delicious poison. Think on me, That am with Phoebus' amorous pinches black, And wrinkled deep in time.                                          (1.5.24-9)

Not unlike Antony's crocodile, Cleopatra is here unsearchable in her difference. She is ancient, black, sun-burned, reptilian, intoxicated with her own poison: a Herodotean blend of the monstrous and the marvellous that resists language and category. The image is deliberately inconstruable in visual terms, thus actualising the paradoxicalness which Enobarbus spells out in more conventionally rhetorical terms in his more conventional vignettes of Cleopatra:

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety: other women cloy The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry Where most she satisfies. For vilest things Become themselves in her, that the holy priests Bless her when she is riggish.                                        (2.2.241-6)

The untranslatable mystery—the autonomy—of Cleopatra's difference is what is at issue in the last act of the play. Shakespeare's interpretation of Cleopatra's suicide differs markedly from Plutarch's. In Plutarch, Cleopatra kills herself out of a sense of despair and bereavement. In Shakespeare, however, Cleopatra commits suicide essentially to escape appearing in Caesar's triumph.43 Ritual 'translation', as distinct from a simple desire to avoid disgrace, is what is at issue here. Both Cleopatra and Caesar show a general grasp of the politics of ceremony: Caesar when complaining of Octavia's unceremonious return to Rome (3.6.42-55), and Cleopatra when imagining herself burlesqued in the Roman streets. Both also show a precise grasp of the politics of the triumph. Cleopatra understands it as a ritual means of translating the exotic into so many 'scutcheons and … signs of conquest' (5.2.131). Caesar understands it as a theatre of abjection and self-glorification. In a revealing slip, Proculeius explains to Cleopatra how her suicide would rob Caesar of the chance to 'let the world see / His nobleness well acted' (5.2.43-4). What he wants Cleopatra to hear is that Caesar would like the opportunity to seem generous and magnanimous. But what Cleopatra actually does hear ('he words me, girls, he words me' 5.2.187) is the thought behind the words: 'her life in Rome / Would be eternal in our triumph' (5.1.65-6). Cleopatra's suicide, then, robs Caesar of his 'eternal' triumph. But there is more to it than this. By ritualising her death, Cleopatra counters one form of theatre with another, and preserves her mystery from translation.


Patterns of 'intrusion' and 'exorbitance' blend disconcertingly in Shakespeare's 'Venetian' plays. To the degree that these plays are about exotics who seek to 'incorporate' themselves with a neo-imperial (if republican) city which persists in regarding them as alien, they may be said to recapitulate the 'intrusive' pattern of Titus Andronicus.44 To the degree, however, that Shakespeare's Venice is somehow complicit with the 'exotic', the 'Venetian' plays may be said to anticipate the 'exorbitant' pattern of Antony and Cleopatra. The connections are not direct. Titus Andronicus is not a source for either 'Venetian' play, nor they for Antony and Cleopatra. How, then, do we explain the presence of the 'Roman' themes of 'intrusion' and 'exorbitance' in the 'Venetian' plays? Part of the answer can be found in the Elizabethan idea of Venice.

To the Elizabethans, Venice was a glorious—yet unsettling—contradiction. The idea originates as a celebratory topos in Venetian authors such as Gasparo Contarini who (in the Elizabethan translation of his Commonwealth and Government of Venice) describes the city as a coincidentia oppositorum: 'so unspeakeablie strange' as to make 'the straungest impossibilities not seeme altogether incredible'.45 Thus, Venice is a 'Citie', but 'seated in the middle of the sea' (A3). 'Founded upon quagmires', it yet has 'pallaces … reaching up to the clouds' (A3). Governed by 'unweaponed men in gownes', it yet controls an empire (A3). Lacking defensive walls, it has remained 'like a pure and untouched virgine, free from the taste or violence of any forraine enforcement' (A3). For Contarini, Venice excites contradictions in order to reconcile them. For his Elizabethan readers, however, Venice's contradictions were more than simply rhetorical. In particular, they seem to have been exercised by a contradiction unremarked by Contarini: between the idea of Venice as the constitutional heir of the ancient city-state ('Athens, Lacedaemon and Rome') (p. 6), and the idea of Venice as an open or cosmopolitan city whose citizens mingled promiscuously with the peoples of the world. Thus Lewkenor's translation of Contarini is prefaced by a sonnet of Edmund Spenser castigating Venice as the 'third Babel' (after Rome and 'The antique Babel, the empire of the East'). The allusion is to the legend of Babel in Genesis 11.1-11, and in particular to the ideas of confusion and dispersal therein exemplified: 'Therefore was the name of it called Babel: because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth' (Genesis 11.9).46 Interestingly, Spenser may well have derived this highly unflattering analogy from Contarini himself, who praises the city as 'a common and general market of the whole world', and enthusiastically describes 'the wonderful concourse of strange and forraine people, yea of the farthest and the remotest nations' (p. 1). Both writers want to suggest the cosmopolitanism of the city, but a value-free term for the fact does not yet exist.47 Venice might have recalled Babel in yet another respect. The much remarked splendour of its buildings ('pallaces … reaching up to the clouds') should have called to mind the Babelesque presumption of building a tower 'whose top may reach unto heaven' (Genesis 11.4). The ambiguity of the Elizabethan response to Venice is nicely caught in Thomas Coryat's description of St Mark's Square:

Truely such is the stupendious (to use a strange Epitheton for so strange and rare a place as this) glory of it, that at my first entrance thereof it did even amaze or rather ravish my senses. For here is the greatest magnificence of architecture to be seene, that any place under the sunne doth yeelde. Here you may both see all manner of fashions of attire, and heare all the languages of Christendome, besides those that are spoken by the barbarous Ethnickes; the frequencie of people being so great … that (as an elegant writer saith of it) a man may very properly calle it rather Orbis then Urbis forum, that is, a market place of the world, not of the citie.48

For all the obviousness of his debt to Venetian celebratory topoi, Coryat's admiration is uneasy. The Elizabethan tourist is 'ravished' by a Babelesque tumult of impressions: 'magnificence of architecture', 'frequencie of people' and confusion of tongues. What is here a hint of unease—perhaps of disorientation—becomes stronger in Coryat's account of visiting the Jewish ghetto (where an intemperate theological dispute with a Rabbi almost starts a riot) and the synagogue, where the Law of Moses is recited: 'not by a sober, distinct, and orderly reading, but by an exceeding loud yaling, undecent roaring, and as it were a beastly bellowing of it forth. And that after so confused and hudling manner that I thinke the hearers can very hardly understand' (p. 231). The 'ethnicke' theme is addressed again in Coryat's description of a curious frieze on the wall of the doge's palace, depicting four barbarous Albanian brothers (Turks), 'and each couple consulting privately together by themselves' (p. 188).49 These, having arrived at Venice in 'a ship laden with great store of riches' (p. 188), conspire against and kill each other in order to monopolise the treasure: 'Whereupon the Signiory of Venice seised upon all their goods as their owne, which was the first treasure that ever Venice possessed, and the first occasion of inriching the estate' (p. 190). Coming shortly after the slightly hysterical account of the teeming activity in St Mark's Square, this verbal still-life bespeaks a need to affirm ultimate control over the exotics and barbarians upon whose wealth Venice relies. Perhaps like an earlier generation of Venetians for whom this origin-myth had been invented, Coryat wants to be assured that Venice is not a Babel; that the city (urb) will govern the world (orb) rather than being dissolved in it, that Venice will be able to profit from 'barbarous ethnickes' without compromising its integrity as a civilised and Christian state.

At once an empire and an outpost, Shakespeare's Venice has just this doubleness. It is thus that the themes of 'exorbitance' and 'intrusion' enter the Venetian plays. The antithesis between these Shakespearean themes corresponds closely to the contradiction within the Elizabethan idea of Venice. Self-consciously imperial and a 'market place of the world', Shakespeare's Venice invites barbarous intrusion through the sheer 'exorbitance' of its maritime trading empire.

In The Merchant of Venice, the contradiction is expressed in the opposition between Antonio and Shylock. Rather in the spirit of Spenser and Coryat, Shakespeare rejects Contarini's magical reconciliation for an implacable antagonism which can only be settled by the elimination of one of the contending parties. Antonio represents Venice in its ancient or 'Augustan' aspect: that of the Aristotelian city-state which—regardless of its imperial extent—remains a community bounded by the interlocking circles of kin, 'commonwealth', religion and 'kind'. Shylock embodies Venice in its 'cosmopolitan' or Babelesque aspect. His very existence in the city—on what are effectively his own commercial and legal terms ('the commodity that strangers have / With us in Venice', 3.3.27-8)—represents (to Antonio at least) a fatal compromise of 'the justice of the state'.

Shakespeare seems at pains to represent Antonio as an embodiment of the Venetian civic ideal. More than a mere merchant, he is a 'royal merchant' (4.1.28), a kind of merchant-prince whose trading empire embraces the whole of the Renaissance maritime world. Power and magnificence, however, are but the façade to an ethical integrity corresponding to that which Contarmi finds in the Venetian citizen; a virtue which (he insists) protects the city better than city walls. Hence, perhaps, is Antonio described as 'one in whom / The ancient Roman honour more ap-pears / Than any that draws breath in Italy' (3.2.292-4). And so is he imagined as an ancient Stoic for whom (as for Cicero's Scipio) the world is 'a stage' (1.1.78) for the tragi-comedy of human existence.

Antonio's Romanitas has two active forms of civic expression. In the first place, Antonio regards wealth as a means towards living virtuously, rather than an end in itself. Thus, he refuses to 'lend nor borrow / Upon advantage' (1.3.68-9), is conspicuously generous, and redeems 'worthy' debtors from the clutches of usury. In this respect he may be said to exemplify the free-handed, public-spirited, Ciceronian view of riches formulated in Bacon's Of Riches; or the generosity of Cato who converted an estate 'all into ready money, which he kept by him for any of his friends that should happen to want, to whom he would lend it without interest'.50 Again he may exemplify the idealised merchant of certain Renaissance Venetian writers, who ' … was required to be entirely disinterested, bound to his work not by a desire for profit but for the "convenience and advantage" of others, and … not permitted to speculate … nor … make an illicit profit by asking more than a "just price'".51 If Antonio's idea of riches is Ciceronian, it is also Aristotelian in the sense of distinguishing firmly between 'natural' and 'unnatural' means of acquisition, or oikonomia and chremastike (by which term Aristotle meant not just usury, but also trade itself when pursued solely for individual profit, or for ends unrelated to the good of the community).52 By the same token, Antonio's idea of wealth is Christian. Hence is he like the merchant of Matthew's parable who, seeing a pearl of great price, goes and sells all he has in order to buy it (thereby, in the terms of the parable, 'redeeming' spiritual value in exchange for material possessions). Whatever the allusive context, Antonio's brand of merchandising is an instrument of the wider good, serving the needs of 'friendship' and 'kindness'. Exchange, in his hands, approximates the economy of the 'gift' as described by Marcel Mauss.53 It is 'a total social fact', an 'event which has a significance that is at once social and religious, magic and economic, utilitarian and sentimental, jural and moral'.54 Above all, it stands in a reciprocal (redemptive) relation to the 'commonwealth', from the perspective of which it appears as a form of 'housekeeping', or (to use Aristotle's approving term) oikonomia.

The second 'active' expression of Antonio's civic virtue is closely related to the first. Antonio's detestation of usury expresses itself in an active persecution of Shylock. It is important to realise that more than mere race-hatred is involved here. Antonio's exclusion of Shylock, both as usurer and as Jew, is as much a 'total social fact' as his own idea of riches. It is strongly implied that unless Shylock is excluded from the circle of reciprocal and 'kindly' exchange that comprises Antonio's idealistic conception of the 'commonwealth', then the 'commonwealth' must lose all meaning as a 'natural' political entity, and degenerate into a kind of Babel. Antonio's position on usury and Jews is supported by the symbolism of the 'bond of flesh'. This benighted contract is both a parody and a negation of the reciprocal bondedness presupposed by the ideal Venetian body-politic. It is a parody to the extent that it echoes the 'flesh and blood' symbolism of other forms of kinship bonding in the play: bonds between parents and children, and bonds between husbands and wives. It is a negation to the extent that Venetian law (in the person of the impotent Duke) is shown as allowing the most barbaric of all forms of human 'incorporation' (that of cannibalism) over the civilised ideal notionally represented by the 'commonwealth' itself. The idea that extending 'commodity' to 'strangers' must somehow lead to the abomination of the bond of flesh, involves a revealing conflation. The use by Antonio and Shylock of terms such as 'commodity', 'charter' and 'your city's freedom', suggests the contemporary practice by which foreign nationals were granted limited trading privileges within the emporia of Europe (privileges such as the English themselves enjoyed in Antwerp under a deed with the suggestive name of 'The Intercourse').55 The bond of flesh story has quite a different context in traditional folklore, and ultimately in an ancient Roman law on debt, which (according to the first-century legal historian, Aulus Gellius) stipulated that debtors were to be 'confined for sixty days', during which time they were to be produced before the Praetor on 'three successive market-days', and, 'on the third day … capitally condemned or sent across the Tiber to be sold abroad'.56 The lawmakers, moreover:

made this capital punishment horrible by a show of cruelty and fearful by unusual terrors … For if there were several, to whom the debtor had been adjudged, the laws allowed them to cut the man … in pieces, if they wished, and share his body. And indeed I will quote the very words of the law, less haply you should think that I shrink from their odium: ' … Let them cut him up; if they have cut more or less, let them not be held accountable'. (p. 425)

The conflation of this barbaric and quasi-legendary statute on debt with a sophisticated contemporary device for facilitating foreign trade, powerfully suggests the Aristotelian bias of Shakespeare's own conception of the Renaissance trading city. That bias is underlined in the deeper symbolism of the two legal caveats by which Portia denies Shylock's claim on Antonio. The first caveat ('Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more / But a just pound of flesh', 4.1.322-3) symbolically denies the quasisacramental character of the flesh-bond as a rite of 'incorporation' or kinship. Without blood, Shylock's pound of flesh cannot partake of the symbolism of the 'blood-covenant', which, according to W. R. Smith, is a sacramental assertion of kinship for the reason that 'there can be no kinship Nor can except it operate by blood except and no and bond57 by kinship'. operates as 'flesh imagery blood' elsewhere in the play, within a symbolic lexicon of kinship and marital incorporation.58 The second of Portia's caveats is also powerfully Aristotelian:

It is enacted in the laws of Venice, If it be proved against an alien That by direct or indirect attempts He seek the life of any citizen, The party 'gainst which he doth contrive Shall seize one half his goods; the other half Comes to the privy coffer of the state, And the offender's life lies in the mercy Of the Duke only, 'gainst all other voice.                                            (4.1.345-53)

The effect of this is to assert the absolute distinction between 'alien' and 'citizen' which is blurred by the practice of granting 'commodity' to 'strangers'. Interestingly, the caveat reproduces the logic of the ancient Roman law on debt which is the source of Shylock's bond. Instead, however, of the debtor suffering death, dismemberment or 'alienation' (literally through being sold 'beyond the Tiber'), it is here the creditor (an intruding 'alien') who suffers a version of 'dismemberment' or death. Shylock's ducats—as intrinsic to his 'flesh and blood' as his daughter is—are here parcelled out to Antonio and the Venetian state. The way in which Portia belatedly redeems Venice from the apparently fatal contradiction between its Aristotelian and Babelesque tendencies can be seen to correspond to the subtextual juxtaposition in Coryat between the wholesale 'intercourse' of Christians and 'barbarous ethnickes' in St Mark's Square, and the uncompromising distinction between barbarians and Venetians implied in the frieze of the Albanian brothers on the walls of the doge's palace. Both Shakespeare and Coryat entertain the spectre of a promiscuously 'open' city, only to exorcise it by appealing to archaic mythologies of civic origin.

Where Shakespeare systematically represents Antonio as the ideal Venetian, he is no less systematic in representing Shylock as other. More than just a 'Jew', Shylock is a 'stranger', an 'alien' and an 'infidel'. His Jewish otherness has the pandemic quality that we have already noticed in Othello. In this connection, it is interesting to notice Shylock's mischievous facility with 'voices': his tendency to make debating points by slipping into registers which, while not quite his own, might easily be:

What should I say to you? Should I not say, 'Hath a dog money? Is it possible A cur can lend three thousand ducats?' Or Shall I bend low, and in a bondman's key, With bated breath and whisp'ring humbleness, Say this: 'Fair sir, you spat on me on   Wednesday last; You spurned me such a day; another time You called me dog; and for these courtesies I'll lend you thus much moneys'?                                     (1.3.119-27)

In the trial scene, this tactic is not merely embarrassing but downright subversive:

You have among you many a purchased slave Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules, You use in abject and in slavish parts Because you bought them. Shall I say to you, 'Let them be free, marry them to your heirs. Why sweat they under burdens? Let their beds Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates Be seasoned with such viands.' You will answer, 'The slaves are ours.' So do I answer you.                                                     (4.1.89-96)

Shylock's facility with 'voices' allows him to conjure up an entire under-class of 'slaves', 'bondmen' and metics who—in 'Roman' plays such as Julius Caesar and Coriolanus—are characteristically represented in the form of a hydra-headed rabble, the ultimate symbol of political 'confusion'. In this connection, it is also worth pointing out how often Shylock talks at cross-purposes to his Venetian interlocutors, and how uncouth he sounds to the Venetian ear. Thus Bassanio is outraged to hear that the sentence, 'Antonio is a good man', means only that Antonio 'is sufficient' (1.3.12, 17). And thus Solanio regales Salerio by rehearsing the 'passion so confused, / So strange, outrageous, and so variable / As the dog Jew did utter in the streets' (2.8.12-14).

Shylock's usury coincides with his barbarism. The bond of flesh inverts both the transcendental moral of Matthew's parable, and the 'natural' or 'kindly' function of riches advocated by Cicero and Aristotle. Shylock's claim that his bond is 'dearly bought' (4.1.99) inverts Portia's protestation to Bassanio ('Since you are dear bought, I will love you dear', 3.2.311) and—behind that—Elizabethan 'transcendentalisations' of the marriage bond (such as in the homily on adultery), themselves founded on the redemptive idiom of Matthew, and Paul's echo of it in the Epistle to the Corinthians.59 In Aristotle's terms, the usurer shares the 'unnaturalness' of the barbarian. Just as the barbarian is excluded from the 'natural' body of the Polis and of the family, so is the usurer excluded from the 'economy' of the city—that oikonomia (literally 'household management') by which the city is imagined as replicating the structure of household and family on a larger scale.

In all these senses, the confrontation between Antonio and Shylock amounts to a struggle over the political and economic heart of Venice. Thus the forum of Antonio's many assaults on Shylock is always the market-place—'Even there where merchants most do congregate' (1.3.47), Shakespeare's version of Coryat's urbis forum—where Venice is both most and least itself. Like Christ chasing the money-changers from the temple or Cato denying Roman citizenship to 'strangers', Antonio seeks to recover the sacred core of the city from the twin abominations of 'interest' and intrusion.60 Significantly, there is no suggestion of Shylock's person or activities being contained in the ways that they must have been in Venice or any of the major emporia of Europe. Shylock does not, for example, live in a ghetto; nor is there any suggestion of his 'commodity' being strictly controlled—of his actually being required to practise usury and usury alone. The absence of either form of containing boundary (geographic or commercial) has the effect of making Shylock seem much more liminal, and thus more dangerous, transgressive and polluting, than he might otherwise have seemed. Again—as with the telescoping of the idea of 'commodity' into the archaic legend of the 'pound of flesh'—what is suggested here is less Shakespeare's ignorance of the existence of the Venetian ghetto or of the true nature of foreign trading privileges, than a need to totalise Shylock's otherness. What is also suggested is a specifically Elizabethan perspective on these comparatively enlightened continental civic institutions. While the English enjoyed certain trading rights within the city of Antwerp (under the terms of 'The Intercourse'), they refused to grant similar trading rights to foreign merchants in London. Technically, foreign merchants were simply forbidden to conduct business, in the way that Englishmen themselves were forbidden to charge 'interest' beyond a nominal rate of some 8-10 per cent. London was to be protected from the Babel-like 'openness' of Venice and Antwerp. Hence there were no ghettos and no 'commodity' with 'strangers' as such. At fairs, however, all such Aristotelian restraints on 'strangers', their 'commodity' and 'interest' were abandoned. Babel was given free rein. The difference between the English mechanism for granting 'commodity' to 'strangers' (the fair) and the Venetian mechanism (the ghetto) may account for the unsettling degree of liberty enjoyed by Shylock in Shakespeare's Venice.61 With the equivocal xenophobia of the Elizabe-than Londoner, Shakespeare imagines Venice as a glorified fair in which—apart from Antonio's high-minded harassment—the 'stranger' conducts business as he pleases ('for were he out of Venice I can make what merchandise I will', 3.1.118-19).

To see The Merchant of Venice in these terms is to see it as an attempt to recuperate the Elizabethan idea of Venice from its chief contradiction. The emphatic repudiation of the bond of flesh (a perverted rite of incorporation) and the conversion of Shylock (in the legal sense of 'converting … to one's own use', as well as in the religious sense) signify the victory of Venice in its Aristotelian aspect over Venice in its Babelesque aspect. This, however, is to overlook Shakespeare's energetic subversion of his own ideological agenda. The entire stage history of The Merchant of Venice testifies to its ambiguity. As early as 1598, the play is described as 'a book of the Merchant of Venice, or otherwise called the Jew of Venice' .62 Shy-lock not only upstages Antonio but blurs issues and distinctions to such a degree that Portia's questions: 'Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?' (4.1.171)—remarkable questions indeed, considering Shylock's 'Jewish gaberdine'—mock their apparent innocence. Shylock's notional 'unkindness' (in both senses of that punning word) is, for example, seriously complicated by Shakespeare's decision to represent him as a householder, a family man and a man of impressive (if idiosyncratic) piety. Much is said by Jessica and Gobbo of Shylock's unkindness as a father and as a master, but 'kindness' in both capacities emerges in small but telling details. Thus, in the midst of what seems a stock-comic lament for the loss of his ducats and his daughter, Shylock surprises us by the dignity of his outrage at Jessica's exchange ('for a monkey') of the betrothal ring that he 'had … of Leah when … a bachelor' (3.1.111-13). In a play where rings function as master symbols of human bonding, the implication is clear. There is also a compelling suggestion of Shylock having compassion for the wretched Gobbo. Shylock refers to Gobbo as 'that fool of Hagar's offspring' (2.5.43), meaning Ishmael (the mixed-race son of Abraham who was banished in favour of his pure-blooded brother, Isaac) yet he also allows that 'the patch is kind enough' (45). The very idea of an Ishmael being 'kind enough' for the 'tribe'-conscious Shylock, says much for his deeper humanity. The significance of Shylock's being shown in the contexts of family and household is heightened by the fact that both these dimensions are missing in the portrait of Antonio. In the sources, the Antonio character has a clear kinship relationship to the Bassanio character. In Shakespeare, however, Antonio is effectively a 'friend' rather than a kinsman, in which capacity he actually poses a danger to kinship in the form of the fundamental 'bond' between Bassanio and Portia. From Portia's perspective, indeed, 'the merchant' and 'the Jew' do have something in common. In their different ways each poses a threat to her marriage with Bassanio and thus to the 'commonwealth' which it redeems and renews—hence, perhaps, the point of her questions: 'Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?'

The blurring of the lines between Antonio and Shylock is related to Portia's emphatic usurpation of Antonio's role as defender of the 'commonwealth'. Romanitas, and all that it signifies here, is betokened by the very name of 'Portia', the first mention of whom is accompanied by a reference to 'Cato's daughter' (1.1.166). Portia not only usurps Antonio's role as defender of the 'commonwealth' but exposes the hollowness of his pretensions to disinterested giving. Antonio's loan may seem disinterested in the mercantile context of Shylock's usury, but not in the domestic context of Portia's donation of herself and her property to Bassanio:

Myself and what is mine to you and yours Is now converted. But now I was the lord Of this fair mansion, master of my servants, Queen o'er myself; and even now, but now, This house, these servants, and this same myself Are yours, my lord's. I give them with this ring.                                            (3.2.166-71)

The splendid clarity of this formal 'donation' contrasts with the ambiguity of the moment in which Antonio agrees to finance Bassanio's voyage to Belmont:

Thou know'st that all my fortunes are at sea, Neither have I money nor commodity To raise a present sum. Therefore go forth— Try what my credit can in Venice do.                                    (1.1.177-80)

What sounds like a qualified refusal turns into an agreement—with unwonted complications. The ambiguity deepens when we learn that Antonio is first prepared to borrow at interest and then to offer a pound of his own flesh as security. The obscurity of his motives in accepting so ominous a condition is suggestively illuminated by the symmetry of the exchange as a whole. As the apparent generosity of Antonio's loan to Bassanio is echoed by the apparent 'kindness' of Shylock's interest-free loan to Antonio, so too the real claim by Shylock on Antonio implies a correspondingly real (if undeclared) claim by Antonio on Bassanio. Where the ostensible purpose of the loan is to liberate Bassanio from 'the great debts … in money and in love' (1.1.128-31) which he owes Antonio, its effect is to bind him further to Antonio 'in love' if not exactly 'in money'. Thus Bassanio must continue to 'owe the most' (line 131) to Antonio in spite of being 'dearly bought' by Portia.

Compared with Portia's donation to Bassanio, Antonio's loan seems anything but disinterested, appearing to owe more to 'the protean character of trade' than to the strict economy of the 'gift' in Mauss's sense. According to Jean-Christophe Agnew, gift-exchange has the effect of clarifying 'the grounds and bounds of all exchange', whereas in money-exchange, such 'grounds and bounds' ('the boundaries of self and social grouping') are obscured. This is precisely the difference between Portia's donation and Antonio's loan. The former is a gift in the sense of clarifying identity and confirming mutuality. The latter is a form of trade in the sense of obscuring identity and confusing alliances ('the grounds and bounds of … ex-change'). The gap between the two forms of alliance and exchange is unbridgeable, as may be seen in Bassanio's equivocal attempts to mediate between them. Bassanio begins by representing his voyage to Portia as a kind of trading venture, a way of repaying the debt 'in money and in love' which he owes Antonio. Accordingly, he imagines Belmont as 'Colchis' strand' (1.1.171), himself as Jason, and Portia as a kind of female El Dorado ('her sunny locks/ Hang on her temples like a golden fleece', 1.1.169). In the course of the casket ordeal, however, he abandons the mercantile perspective, recognising 'those crispèd, snaky, golden locks' as 'the dowry of a second head, / The skull that bred them in the sepulchre' (3.2.92, 95-6), and valuing his bond with Portia as a sacrament rather than as a commodity. After the trial, however, Bassanio yields to Antonio's advice to give his betrothal ring to the 'doctor' in exchange for favours granted. The marriage bond has again become commodified and relativised ('Let his deservings, and my love withal, / Be valued 'gainst your wife's commandëment', 4.1.447-8). While it is true, then, that Antonio uses his money for 'kindly' ends, it is also true that he uses it to commodity, dislocate and corrupt them.

On closer inspection, indeed, Antonio's Venice begins to look more and more like Shylock's. The polemical opposition between Christian oikonomia and Jewish chremastike is undercut by the fact that all the Venetian characters have recourse to a common commercial vocabulary. Ideo-logically 'loaded' and yet equivocal terms such as 'commodity', 'use', 'merchandise' and 'thrift' are used in relation to Christian and Jew alike, with the effect of further blurring the lines between them. Superficially, such terms are consistent with 'pure' as distinct from 'tainted' forms of commercial activity. In practice, however, it is rarely possible to be sure which form of activity is being referred to. Thus Antonio's use of 'commodity' ('neither have I money nor commodity / To raise a present sum') probably has the innocent meaning of 'goods'. But how can we be sure that it doesn't involve the more sinister forms of 'commodity' enjoyed by 'strangers' in Venice? Jean-Christophe Agnew remarks that, 'for the late-sixteenth-century reader, the word "commodity" still signified, above all, a profit or advantage' (p. 78). This is surely because the term was actively equivocal rather than merely ambiguous; as, for example, when used as code for a covert form of interest in which part of a loan would consist of worthless commodities, the notional money-value of which (effectively the interest) would be restored in cash on settlement of the loan. How can we be sure, then, that Antonio's use of the word 'commodity' is entirely untainted by the usage of 'young Master Rash' in Measure for Measure, who is jailed 'for a commodity of brown paper and old ginger … of which he made five marks ready money' (4.3.4-7)?63 The terms 'use' (shorthand for 'usury') and 'merchandise' are also employed to equivocal effect. Though the main thrust of The Merchant of Venice is to portray these practices as sharply antithetical (in line with mainstream contemporary opinion), there are hints of a deeper alliance.64 Thus we find Shylock speaking of making 'what merchandise I will', and Antonio of holding Shylock's fortune 'in use' (4.1.380). 'Thrift' (or 'thrive') is also used equivocally. According to the OED, the noun was capable of comprehending anything from 'prosperity, success, good luck' (1679), to 'Savings, earnings, gains, profit', to 'frugality … parsimony, niggardliness' (1553). Shakespeare ap-pears to use it in either of two ways depending on the speaker. Thus, in Bassanio's mouth ('I have a mind presages me such thrift / That I should questionless be fortunate', 1.2.175-6), the word appears to have the sense of 'good luck'. In Shylock's mouth ('This was a way to thrive … And thrift is blessing if men steal it not', 1.3.88-9), the word appears to have the sense of 'profit' (the context being a polemical justification of 'interest'). But is it this simple? 'Profit' is hardly irrelevant to Bassanio ('In Belmont is a lady richly left, / And she is fair', 1.1.161-2). Moreover, there is perhaps more than a hint of irony in that both usages of 'thrift' occur in the context of 'fleece' myths—the Jason myth and the Old Testament story of Laban's sheep—each of which signifies a legendary origin of 'profit' and 'advantage'. The latent homology between these two 'fleece' myths threatens to deconstruct the whole idea of Venice as a Christian Polis. The Jason myth is exemplary not just for Bassanio but for Graziano and Lorenzo (who also 'venture' for women and wealth). Antonio, too, is a Jason, his argosies laden with the 'fleece' of eastern 'spices' and Mexican gold.

The near-subversion of the laboriously constructed antitheses of The Merchant of Venice bespeaks a nagging suspicion that the contradictions which were supposed to be reconciled in the Renaissance idea of Venice (where 'the straungest impossibilities' were not 'altogether incredible') were indeed irreconcilable. The market-place of the world does not, apparently, fit into the ideological clothing of the Aristotelian Polis. The strict 'natural' pro-portions of the Aristotelian civic ideal are distorted by the 'unnatural' (ethnic and economic) openness of the Renaissance maritime city. At this level, The Merchant of Venice is not really about Venice as such. Venice is merely a stage-set for a cluster of more abstract, more universal and more culturally endemic contradictions. The contradictions of Shakespeare's Venice, for example, were potentially those of other Renaissance maritime capitals—such as Antwerp and London—which, in order to become world emporia, were obliged to open themselves dangerously to the world.65 Again, the equivocal opposition of merchant and usurer reflects not so much Venice in particular as a fundamental contradiction in the Renaissance idea of economic exchange: between a contemporary version of Aristotle's oikonomia (eloquently set forth in Bacon's Of Riches) and a nascent capitalism which (like Bacon's Of Usury) haltingly acknowledged the fundamental importance of 'interest' to trade.

A third cultural contradiction reflected in the play relates to the Renaissance mythology of voyaging. This, as we have seen, ostentatiously departed from the ancient idea of voyaging by glorifying the voyager as a discoverer (Columbus, Drake) instead of abominating him as a transgressor (Jason, Tiphys). Yet, to the extent that voyaging was linked to trade, it was implicitly linked to the problematic ideological status of trade and to the subversive 'openness' of the maritime trading city. 'Implicitly' but hardly, it seems, explicitly or officially. The sheer power of the Renaissance myth of the voyager (and the prospect of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice) appears to have ensured the triumph of faith over doubt. This is exactly what makes the 'unofficial' and ambiguous celebration of voyaging in The Merchant of Venice so intriguing. The merchant adventurers of Shakespeare's Venice are at once triumphant and problematic. Shakespeare clearly has reservations about Antonio and the young Venetian 'Jasons' but is unable to express them fully. It is almost as if a Renaissance performance of the Jason myth is being haunted by the ghosts of the classical past (Seneca in particular)—as if by a repressed unconscious.

Repression and displacement certainly mark Shakespeare's handling of the Jason myth in The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio's initial identification with Jason and his vision of Portia as a female embodiment of the 'golden fleece' (1.1.170) suggests that she is to be identified with Medea. The suggestion is abandoned, of course, along with the 'golden mind' (2.7.20) that brought Bassanio to Belmont ('Colchis' strand', 1.1.171) in the first place. The Jason-function survives, however, in Graziano (the most crassly materialistic of the 'Christian husbands') as well as in Lorenzo (the most troubled). Thus, at Bassanio's moment of triumph in Belmont, Graziano boasts: 'We are the Jasons; we have won the fleece' (3.2.239). Lorenzo's identification with Jason is less explicit, but more profound and haunting. Intriguingly, the intimation of Medea which is repressed in the case of Portia, returns in the figure of Jessica. Unlike Portia, Jessica combines wealth and femaleness with the essential Medean attribute of otherness. Like Medea assisting Jason to the 'golden fleece', Jessica assists Lorenzo to her father's 'gold and jewels' (2.4.31). Like the chorus in both classical tragedies of Medea (and to some extent like Jason himself), Lorenzo betrays deep unease at the thought of marrying a 'stranger'. For all its material success, the marriage seems ominous. In profaning her father's betrothal ring, Jessica shows a barbarous disregard for marriage itself, and increasingly betrays an obscure sense of disillusion which culminates in the curious exchange of allusions to tragic love stories (including that of Medea) at the opening of the fifth act. Meanwhile, Gobbo (supposedly Jessica's friend) continually harps on the impropriety of miscegenation, and the damage which Lorenzo thereby does to 'the commonwealth' (3.5.32). While ostensibly, then, the function of the Medea myth here is to celebrate the merchant-adventuring ethic of Shakespeare's Venetians, its deeper purpose is to intimate anxieties which are all too clear in ancient versions of the myth: anxieties about trade, intermixture and miscegenation. Such intimations are at once a means of expression and yet of repression. Medean anxieties are expressed but displaced and unagonised. They are denied narrative and dramatic focus.

Yet Shakespeare is sufficiently aware of the unconscious—the disregarded ancient dimension—of the Jason myth to be haunted by it. In this, as in other aspects, the play intrigues us by actually producing the content which it represses. This contrasts with the bland revisionism of 'official' Renaissance performances of the Jason myth in the civic pageantry of London and Antwerp. In London, 'Jason and his Golden Fleece, a favourite everywhere, naturally becomes a particular emblem of the Drapers' (effectively a guild which served as a front for the Merchant Adventurers).66 In the Drapers' pageants, the golden fleece appears to have been little more than a logo for the themes of money and trade. In Antwerp, the myth is used with similar unconcern in celebrations sponsored by the mint. The most famous of these will serve to illustrate what I mean by the 'official' or public construction of the myth. In 1635, Rubens designed a pageant arch on commission from the mint for the entry of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp. The Pageant of the Mint consisted of a mountain, 'intended as a half-naturalistic, half-emblematic image of the proverbial Mount Potosì, richest and most famous of the Spanish silver mines in the New World'.67 Upon this were various South American images culled from illustrations in Theodore de Bry's America: a chinchilla, Indian miners and parrots. The parrots, however, were perched on a most un-American tree, 'that legendary dragon-guarded oak, native to the kingdom of Colchis, from which the hero Jason snatched the Golden Fleece with the aid of Medea's enchantments' (196). At the summit of the mount and to one side of the tree, stood Jason reaching for the fleece which hung from the branches. To the other side stood a female 'personification of Felicitas, or Prospera Navigatio ', evidently a very different consort from Medea:

Like flying Fortune, Lady Felicity raises her cloak into a billowing sail, and she carries a model of a Spanish merchant carrack, for without her help in securing its ships a safe and happy passage, the priceless treasure of the Golden Fleece would never bring its benefits home. For the Golden Fleece is the golden Indian wealth that has been won for Spain. It had been a commonplace among humanist writers of the sixteenth century to liken the venturesome conquistadores, on the trail of Spanish gold, to the intrepid band of ancient Argonauts. Compared to Jason, those heroes Cortés and Pizarro can even be seen to advantage … they have brought to Spain not one, but an annually repeated Golden Fleece of treasure. (196)

It is as if Seneca's Medea had never existed. Jason is simply uprooted from the Euripidean and Senecan narrative of geographic and marital transgression and replanted into a brand new narrative in which voyaging is nothing but happy and prosperous. Where the unofficial Shakespearean revision of the myth represses the Medeafunction by displacing it from Portia to Jessica, this 'official' revision represses simply by editing Medea (and all the bad karma she represents) entirely out of the story. Without Medea, there can be no marital transgression. And without that, voyaging itself is untransgressive. Prospera Navigatio is the kind of girl one might introduce to one's parents. Not unlike Venice in the legend of the Albanian brothers, Antwerp collectively attempts to erase any anxiety attaching to its status as a maritime city, one that has perhaps been over-beholden to 'strangers' for the golden fleece of its prosperity. Shakespeare indulges the Venetian wish-dream of the golden fleece only to disturb it with intimations of the ancient nightmare.


The disturbing porosity of Antonio's Venice is also felt in Othello, revealingly in the first act, where Shakespeare is entirely unbeholden to the Italian novella which provided him with the narrative structure of the remaining acts. There is nothing in Cintino corresponding to the elopement of Othello and Desdemona; to Brabanzio's complaint; to the 'trial' before the Duke and the 'signiors' of Venice; to the essentially comic structure; nor to Shakespeare's 'high romantic' tone. Where, then, does the inspi-ration come from? Why does the first act have the structure that it does? Leslie Fiedler reads it suggestively as a topsy-turvy continuation of The Merchant of Venice in which Portia elopes with Morocco, the thwarted fathers of Portia and Jessica merge into Brabanzio, and Graziano matures into Iago.68 I want to argue that the later 'Venetian' play recapitulates the earlier because it also recapitulates the ur-narrative of 'intrusion' and 'exorbitance'.

It is instructive to read the first act of Othello in the light of the Tereus myth. In both narratives, a 'barbarian' marries into a ruling family as a direct result of becoming militarily indispensable to the state. There are two main differences. First, Othello is actually a Venetian general and not (like Tereus) the leader of a barbarian horde who happen to be allies. Second, Othello takes the girl against her father's wishes instead of accepting the girl at her father's hands. Neither difference obscures the deeper similarity. In the first place, while Othello's rank within the city may differentiate him from Tereus, he is essentially like Tereus in defending the city from invading barbarians ('the general enemy Ottoman') with whom he is symbolically allied. Here it is worth recalling the hints that Othello's rank might owe as much to contingency as to virtue. Had the Turkish threat not been so pressing and had 'Marcus Luccicos' not been mysteriously absent, Othello might never have been chosen as commander in chief.69 In the second place, while Brabanzio's opposition is indeed a complicating factor, it is clearly suggested that the Duke (like Pandion) actively complies with a forbidden marriage out of an overriding sense of obligation to (and reliance on) the barbarous defender; thereby confirming the predictions of Iago ('the state … Cannot with safety cast him, for … Another of his fathom they have none / To lead their business', 1.1.149-55) and Othello ('My services which I have done the signory / Shall out-tongue his complaints', 1.2.18-19). The equivocation of the ducal ruling and the shiftiness of this particular duke have yet to be fully appreciated. The very setting of the 'trial scene' (in the context of an emergency war-council) powerfully suggests that 'the justice of the state' might be subordinated to military necessity. That suggestion is fully borne out in the extraordinary behaviour of the Duke, whose first reaction is to allow Brabanzio to act as judge and jury in his own complaint:

Whoe'er he be that in this foul proceeding Hath thus beguiled your daughter of herself And you of her, the bloody book of law You shall yourself read in the bitter letter After your own sense, yea, though our proper   son Stood in your action.                                          (1.3.65-70)

How different is his reaction when the identity of the accused is revealed. Fulsome support turns to frosty reservation. Brabanzio is denied the luxury of reading 'the bloody book of law' in his 'own sense', charged with making wild accusations and required to furnish 'more overt test'. The Duke's next somersault is in relation to the 'overt test'. While both parties agree to accept Desdemona's testimony as the deciding factor, the Duke effectively decides the case before she enters in the strikingly implausible (and legally irrelevant) remark: 'I think this tale would win my daughter, too' (1.3.170). However 'liberal' this may sound to the modern ear, the suggestion is clearly that the case has been rigged in Othello's favour. The issue of allowing miscegenation at such a high political level—'if such actions may have passage free, / Bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be' (1.2.99-100)—is simply ignored. The dubious credibility of the Duke in Othello matches the impotence of the Duke in The Merchant of Venice. In each play 'the justice of the state' (in this very phrase) is compromised by the city's reliance on the alien. Both dukes are effectively obliged to countenance especially intimate forms of alien intrusion or incorporation (mariages d'état), for having al-ready allowed versions of accommodation (mariages de convenance).

It is hardly necessary to suppose that either The Merchant of Venice or the Tereus myth is a 'source' of Othello, merely that all three articulate the essential dialectic of 'intrusion' and 'exorbitance'. Another (perhaps more plausible) context for the pattern is provided by Contarmi. Othello might just as easily be read as deconstructing Contarini's claim that Venice was able miraculously to combine geographical openness (as the unwalled market-place of the world) with political chastity (as 'a pure and untouched virgine, free from the taste or violence of any forraine enforcement'). Shakespeare explodes the symbolic economy of Contarini's political metaphor by viv-idly suggesting the nested vulnerability of the geographical, political, domestic and bodily spheres. The moor's political and military penetration of the city is thus recapitulated at the level of Brabanzio's house, and thence at the level of Desdemona's body.

There are also hints of a yet more intimate, oneiric, penetration. Brabanzio invites Othello into his house in order to indulge a taste for the exotic and the 'extravagant'. He and his daughter court their own seduction through an 'errant' and voyeuristic wish-dreaming, a desire for the exotic as an embodiment of the repressed contents of mental domains (terrae incognitae) which they have previously refrained from 'discovering'. Thus Brabanzio actually dreams a version of his daughter's seduction ('This accident is not unlike my dream', 1.1.144) where the less suggestible Iago does not ('If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me', 1.1.6).70 And thus Desdemona—she who was 'never bold, / Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion / Blushed at herself (1.3.194-6)—is ravished by the dynamic spaciousness of Othello's 'traveller's history' (1.3.138), and by the imagery of monstrous orality which—'with a greedy ear' (148)—she devours up. This might not be 'enchantment' in the literal sense, but it certainly is in a literary sense. Desdemona's and Brabanzio's taste for exotic narrative approximates what Hay den White has described as the construction of America as a fetishised object in sixteenth-century voyage accounts. According to White, the early European fascination with the Amerindian is inseparable from the fact that the standard description contained 'no less than five references to violations of taboos regarded as inviolable by Europeans of that age: nakedness, community of property, lawlessness, sexual promiscuity, and cannibalism'.71 The 'fetishization' of such beings would thus suggest 'a projection of repressed desires onto the lives of the natives (as the references to the health and longevity of the natives suggest), but if it is such, it is a desire tainted by horror and viewed with disgust' (pp. 186, 187).72 As Karen Newman suggests, Othello seems to excite a similar frisson of desire, horror and disgust in Desdemona.73 But the mysterious root of the attraction is repressed and rationalised as a conventionally austere regard for virtue: 'I saw Othello's visage in his mind' (1.3.253). In Brabanzio, the dialectic of desire and disgust evolves in a different direction. Desire is converted into disgust, much as (according to White) the fetishised image of the Amerindian was doomed 'to fall apart into contending ideals in the years to follow: Wild Man and Noble Savage, respectively' (p. 187). The vehemence of Brabanzio's abhorrence for 'the sooty bosom / Of such a thing' (1.2.71-2) provokes the speculation that his original idea of Othello was that of the Noble Savage. Ironically, Othello also comes to regard himself with disgust rather than idealism. Hence Desdemona is condemned for no more and no less than the audacity of having desired him. The virginal image of Desdemona is exploded by another image of Desdemona as 'that cunning whore of Venice / That married with Othello' (4.2.93-4). The description is self-confirming. Desdemona is a whore because she married Othello. In much this way, Contarni's idealised image of Venice was self-subverting. The image of the 'pure and untouched virgine' was haunted by its opposite, the image of Venice as the whore of Babylon, the universal courtesan whose legs were perpetually open.74


To the extent of actually being set in 'a wonderland of discovery and romance, where monsters dwelt and miracles were common', The Tempest creates a more conventionally geographic impression of 'the exotic' than any of the foregoing plays. However, since the setting of The Tempest is—like its characters, plot and themes—notoriously elusive, the task of defining 'the exotic' in this play is less than straightforward. For all this, Prospero's island seems the obvious place to start.

Rather as in the 'Bermuda Pamphlets', the story of the island is set within a voyage narrative: framed by an initial moment of shipwreck and a final moment of deliverance. The importance Shakespeare attaches to this framing device—and to the idea of voyaging which it mediates—is suggested by the unique construction of the opening scene. The shipwreck is at once plausibly 'real' and an emblem of the contingency, boundedness and fragility of human order.75 The writing, moreover, conveys dramatic immediacy and nautical understanding at levels unprecedented in Shakespeare, and—one suspects—in voyage literature too (the various accounts of the storm in the Bermuda pamphlets are woodenly rhetorical by comparison).76 Both as immediate fact and as governing idea, voyaging establishes a commanding perspective on the island. Soon after the opening scene, we hear that the wrecked 'ship' represents the last of three ill-starred voy-ages to the island: each occasioned by varieties of hubris through which first Sycorax, then Prospero and now Alonso, are cast out from the world of men. The exorbitance of these and other castaways is mirrored in the 'terminal' geography of the island. A desert 'where man doth not inhabit', the island befits those ''mongst men … most unfit to live' (3.3.57-8). Storm-infested (like 'the still-vexed Bermudas' 1.2.230), the island mirrors the disordered passions of the castaways in its own weather. To have ventured so far is not merely to have spanned a gulf of sea, distance and time, but in some way to have over-stepped the limits of the properly human. The traditional debate about the island's exact geographic whereabouts is beside the point. Like More's 'Utopia'—or Meta Incognita ('Unknown bound', Martin Frobisher's name for Greenland)—the island is a seamless compound of geography and poetry. It is a Renaissance version of what Seneca the Elder called 'the bounds of things, the remotest shores of the world' (rerum metas extremaque litora mundi).

In the second scene, Prospero rehearses what a Renaissance geographer might have recognised as the island's 'natural and moral history'.77 This unfolds in three poetic geographic 'moments' corresponding respectively to the 'voyages' of Sycorax, Prospero and Alonso; each moment (effectively, a generation) having its own identity and tropology. The original moment of the island's 'natural and moral history' is a species of dispersal myth, governed by the trope of 'confusion'. The second moment is a species of 'plantation' myth, governed by the trope of separation. The third is a species of 'renewal' or 'regeneration' myth, governed by the figure of discordia concors (and the emotion of 'wonder'). While I use the word 'myth' loosely to describe the narrative character of all three moments, each does in fact have a subtly distinct discursive character. The original moment (performed as a ritualised narrative of remote or first things) has a properly 'mythological' character. The 'colonial' moment has a more 'historical' (or dialogical or 'controversialised') character. The moment of 'renewal' has a prophetic or visionary character.

The ritual or mythic character of Sycorax's story emerges in the manner of its telling. The narrative is rehearsed by Prospero to Ariel in an urgent, quasi-liturgical monologue. Responses are invited, but as in a liturgy, their purpose seems only to confirm. No room is allowed for disagreement or even minor variations in detail. There is also a suggestion of ritual repetition. Prospero assures Ariel that he 'must / Once in a month recount what thou hast been, / Which thou forget'st' (1.2.263-65). Like origin myths generally, the purpose of this monthly performance is to create identity and confirm subjection. In what we might think of as a performance-within-a-performance (The Reign of Sycorax, perhaps), the island is remembered as entering narrative or 'history', and thereby becoming a geo-graphical entity: a land (geos) capable of description (graphos). What it 'becomes' is a new version of Scythia, the eternal eschatia. The name 'Sycorax' is glossed by Stephen Orgel as 'an epithet for Medea, the Scythian raven', largely on the basis of the roots Sy ('Scythia') and korax ('raven').78Corax, however, resonates with Scythia in a more direct way. In John Speed's 1626 map of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains are labelled 'Ye Montarne Corax'.79 Not only are these at the Colchian end of the Black Sea, but they are inscribed within the Medea myth by George Sandys in his edition of the Metamorphoses, when he explains the golden fleece as a poeticism for gold originating from mines in the Caucasus.80

Sycorax does not so much find 'a howling wilderness', as make one (literally). Thus she imprisons Ariel ('a spirit too delicate / To act her earthy and abhorred commands') within 'a cloven pine', where Ariel's groans 'Did make wolves howl' (1.2.274-5, 279, 290). The very existence of Ariel (a combination of 'airy' spirit and genius loci) on the island suggests an inherent capacity for nurture. While Ariel could hardly be said to possess a moral nature, he/ she is clearly associated with a motif of 'temperance', which figures the island as 'temperate' in both a climatic sense and a moral sense.81 In the first instance (as I have argued elsewhere), this motif derives from a topos of Virginian propaganda.82 Ultimately, however, the motif of 'temperance' derives from the ancient moral-geographic discourse of temperies which explained the moral qualities of particular races by reference to the temperateness of their native climates.83 The suggestion of the motif of 'temperance' in The Tempest is that, for all its remoteness and apparent inhospitability, the island is potentially 'temperate' and 'fruitful'. Under Sycorax, however, such potential (meliora natura) is stifled and perverted or 'confused'. Thus Sycorax tries to force an 'airy' spirit to perform 'earthy' commands. Thus, too, she adopts a New World The name 'devil' as a (another kind ofgenius loci) god.84 'Setebos' is more random than echo the voyage narratives. By worshipping the god which Antonio Pigafetta describes as being worshipped by the Patagonian Indians of the storm-beaten wilderness of Tierra del Fuego, Sycorax is identified with the most remote, God-forsaken and degenerate of sixteenth-century Amerindian types.85 The 'infamous promiscuity' of such worship is recapitulated at a sexual level. If Prospero is to be believed, Sycorax has had intercourse with 'the devil himself, resulting in Caliban, 'the son that she did litter here' (1.2.284). The word 'litter' suggests her complete abandonment of the maternal role. Caliban is born and reared 'in the bestial state', without nurture, culture or 'language'. While an entirely original piece of myth-making, The Coming of Sycorax is recognisably a species of dispersal myth. Like Ham, progenitor of the Canaanite, the Negro and other supposedly bestial and slavish races, Sycorax is an outcast from the world of men, a wanderer beyond bounds and an active promoter of the degeneracy of her 'vile race'. Renaissance geographers would have recognised a telling consonance between the ideas of dispersal, isolation, sorcery, matriarchy and degeneration.

While Sycorax reduces nature on the island to the state of wilderness and abomination, Prospero and Miranda attempt to reclaim it (both in the sense of improving it, and in the sense of taking possession of it). The second moment in the island's history is patently colonial: the island is nurtured, worked, territorialised, troped, 'translated', idealised and commodified. All these themes are present in Caliban's memory of his 'first encounter' with Prospero. Caliban's name (an anagram of 'cannibal') and his education permanently implicate him within the full colonial discourse of reclamation, demarcation and territory-formation. Prospero and Miranda are inveterate line-drawers, dichotomising between: good and bad, pure and im-pure, useful and useless, fertile and barren, cultivated and uncultivated, bestial and human, languaged and languageless. Having learned their 'language', Caliban has no choice but to dichotomise too. Even in the act of cursing the time he showed Prospero 'all the qualities o' th' isle', Caliban automatically distinguishes between 'fresh springs' and 'brine-pits', 'barren place and fertile' (1.2.340-41); which is to say between the useful or commodifiable and the useless or uncommodifiable. There is also a distinction here between different types of commodities. 'Brine-pits' might seem useless by comparison with 'fresh springs' but they were mined for salt in the New World and seem privileged by comparison with the unreclaimable nature associated with Sycorax: an 'unwholesome' fenland possessed by the creeping or hybrid abominations of Leviticus ('toads, beetles, bats', 1.2.340). The fact that the first-encounter phase of the colonial experience is bitterly remembered from a post-encounter perspective, discourages any temptation to idealise it. It is significant, too, that there are two narratives to contend with here and not just one. Unlike The Coming of Sycorax, the early relationship of Prospero and Caliban is a matter of dispute. Caliban sees his education as a pretext for dispos-session. Prospero and Miranda regret the over-optimism of their early attempt to educate Caliban, as well as the incaution of lodging him in their 'own cell' (1.2.340). Neither party is entirely right or entirely wrong. Colonialism, it seems, is inherently controversial. But Caliban is right to see his education as a strategy of subjection and a step in the direction of his present 'abjection': his excommunication from the clean, the human and the natural. Like the Hebrews in Canaan, or like Conrad's Kurtz (with his 'society for the suppression of savage customs'), Prospero and Miranda identify the impure (in the form of what Julia Kristeva calls 'the abject' or outcast) as a way of defining the pure. As colonisers, they correspond to what Kristeva calls the 'deject' (one who defines himself by excluding another), a 'deviser of territories, languages, works'.86

The third moment in the 'natural and moral history' of the island is intimated rather than lived. Though renewal is experienced by various characters after the second scene—most notably by Ferdinand, in the fourth-act masque of Ceres—the idea is already present in Ariel's song and Ferdinand's 'wonder'. As in the masque of Ceres, discord becomes concord, opposites are harmonised and bereavement is translated into 'something rich and strange' (1.2.405).

Each of the three moments of the island outlined in the second scene—origin myth, colonial history and prophecy of renewal—recur throughout the play. Echoes of the dispersal/degeneration myth represented by The Reign of Sycorax can be detected in the curious reference to Alonso's daughter, Claribel, and in the apparition of 'several strange shapes' with a banquet. The function of the Claribel 'story' is obscure unless we understand it as a dispersal myth. Alonso has recently sailed from the African city of Tunis, having married his daughter—very much against her own inclination and the advice of his court—to 'an Ethiope'. The combination of geographical and moral 'extravagance' figures him as a voyager in the ancient mould: a confuser of categories like Seneca's Jason, or an impious overreacher like Paterculus's Crassus—recognising 'no limits' (modum) and accepting 'no bounds' (Jerminum). Appropriately, Alonso's exorbitance results in utter 'confusion'. Insofar as both his children are abandoned or castaway (in both a geographical and a moral sense), Alonso also recapitulates the example of Ham. Such contexts may help to explain the severity of Prospero's view of Ferdinand, and the brutality of his corrective regime:

I'll manacle thy neck and feet together. Sea-water shalt thou drink; thy food shall be The fresh-brook mussels, withered roots, and   husks Wherein the acorn cradled.                                    (1.2.465-8)

Though Ferdinand's re-education turns out to be rather more genteel in practice, the harsh primitivism of this symbolic diet identifies him as a version of unreclaimed 'natural' man; hence a symbolic relative of Caliban.87 The connection is underlined by the symbolic identity of their corrective ordeals: Caliban entering 'with a burden of wood' at the opening of Act 2 Scene 2, and Ferdinand entering 'bearing a log' at the opening of the very next scene, Act 3 Scene 1. Both are treated as slaves, the generic occupation of the outcast and naturally degenerate.

The mythology of dispersal and degeneration is echoed again in the masque of 'shapes'. While the stage direction (Enter several spirits, in strange shapes bringing in a table and a banquet, and dance about it with gentle actions of salutations, and inviting the King and his companions to eat, they depart, 3.3.19-20) implies a scene of pure fantasy, it is significant that the shapes should 'depart' rather than vanish, and that the stage audience should take them as real rather than imaginary. Thus Sebastian thinks he sees 'a living drollery' (3.3.21, my italics), and Antonio and Gonzalo believe they have just been presented with living proof of travellers' tales. Realism is again underlined when Prospero—having just complimented Ariel on his performance as the harpy—compliments his 'meaner ministers' for having performed 'their several kinds' with 'good life and observation strange' (3.3.86-7, my italics). If, then, the performance seems real to the stage audience and realistic to the stage-manager, what is it supposed to be imitating? Gonzalo takes the 'shapes' for 'islanders':

For certes these are people of the island, Who though they are of monstrous shape, yet   note Their manners are more gentle-kind than of Our human generation you shall find Many, nay almost any.                                      (3.3.30-34)

Beneath the compliment lurks a commonplace anthropo-logical distinction based on the dispersal theory. The 'islanders' are 'people' but not 'of / Our human generation'; they are 'gentle-kind' but not humankind (hence, 'of monstrous shape'). They are 'people' in the sense of having descended from Adam, but they are not 'of our human generation' in the sense that their cultural and biological evolution has become side-tracked through geographic dispersal and isolation. If the logic seems biblical or Mandevillian ('earthly beings are more discrepant from one another, because they are in a remote place, and for that reason are more diverse'), it is also scientific by the most advanced sixteenth-century criteria. Thus, in a typical rationalisation of dispersal mythology, Francis Bacon explained the cultural backwardness of the Amerindians as a product of the 'oblivion' wrought in that part of the world by vast inundations. All Amerindians would, sup-posed Bacon, be descended from mountain-dwelling peoples, 'the remnants of generation … [who] … were, in such particular deluge, saved'.88 The descendants would be correspondingly degenerate because 'the remnant of people which hap to be reserved are commonly ignorant and mountainous people, that can give no account of the time past, so that the oblivion is all one as if none had been left' (p. 228). In moral-geographic terms, mountains are like islands: both are isolated and correspondingly likely to produce oblivious 'generations' of semi-hommes. This may be why Gonzalo detects 'mountaineers' among his 'islanders':

   When we were boys, Who would believe that there were mountaineers Dewlapped like bulls, whose throats had hanging   at 'em Wallets of flesh? Or that there were such men Whose heads stood in their breasts? Which now   we find Each putter-out of five for one will bring us Good warrant of.                                        (3.3.43-9)

An educated man, Gonzalo sees what Renaissance 'anthropology' would have led him to see on a remote island: a selection from the traditional gallery of monstrous types—'people' who are not just culturally or racially different from 'our human generation', but absolutely different: the products of what Bacon (following Pliny) called a 'pretergeneration', an errant or unnatural birth of a type commonly recorded in popular 'Mirabilaries'.89 The simultaneously 'mythological' and yet 'scientific' character of Gonzalo's construction of the 'islanders' suggests much about Prospero's mythological construction of the island's prehistory. Specifically, it reinforces the point that Prospero's prehistorical myth (The Reign of Sycorax) is indeed a species of dispersal myth, and as such closely related to the speculations of Renaissance anthropologists and geographers concerning 'the natural and moral history' of remote and newly discovered regions of the world. By the same token, it provides us with a 'scientific' con-text for Caliban.

The second moment in the island's 'natural and moral history', that of 'discovery' and colonisation, is re-enacted at greater length. The 'discovery' phase of this moment, represented by the original encounter of Prospero and Caliban, is echoed in the encounter of Caliban with Trinculo and Stephano. Just as before, Caliban falls at the feet of a seemingly god-like European (Stephano) who confers the gift of 'language' upon him—though this time in a bottle of sack. The allusiveness of this discovery-episode makes it more explicitly colonial than the first. Thus, confronted by Caliban's prostrate body, Trinculo is not reminded of Mandevillian monsters so much as of 'a dead Indian' (2.2.33). While Trinculo is at a loss how to identify Caliban—who, like Antony's crocodile, conspicuously frustrates the categorising rhetoric of 'comparison and analogy'—he is full of ideas for making money out of him. Virtually all the jokes of his first speech ('What have we here, a man or a fish?', 2.2.24ff.) are about turning Caliban into a sideshow exhibit. Cashing in on Caliban is also Stephano's first reaction: 'If I can recover him and keep him tame and get to Naples with him, he's a present for any emperor that ever trod on neat's leather' (2.2.68-70). Most other jokes at Caliban's expense also turn on the idea of commodification. In the last of his 'first encounters' with Europeans, Caliban is identified by Antonio as 'a plain fish, and no doubt marketable' (5.1.269). Another phase of the colonial moment is echoed in the progress of Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban. The comic insurrection plot is a replay of Caliban's original insurrection. Just as before, the goals are sovereignty of the island, sexual possession of Miranda and the begetting of a dynasty.

The third moment, that of renewal, is also developed at some length. Though renewal is experienced by most characters—even Caliban in the course of his encounter with Stephano ("Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban / Has a new master—Get a new man!' 2.2.183-4)—it is epitomised by Ferdinand and some members of the courtier group. This is because, in order to be renewed, a character must be capable of recognising past errors and enduring whatever penitential ordeal Prospero thinks fit to impose. For Ferdinand, this means undergoing a ritual of humility and restraining his sexual feelings for Miranda. His reward is the betrothal masque of the fourth act, a prophetic vision of harmony in which spring is reconciled with summer, earth with air, air with water, and temperance ('temperate nymphs', 4.1.132) with sexual appetite ('sunburned sicklemen', 4.1.134).90

The tripartite structure of the 'natural and moral history' of Prospero's island has an obvious resonance with the discourse of the New World in general and that of Virginia in particular. Within a year or so of the play's first performance, a pamphlet entitled The New Life of Virginea was published. In the dedication, the author, Robert Johnson, explains his intention of dividing the story of Virginia into three parts: 'The first is nothing else but a briefe relating of things alreadie done and past: The second, of the present estate of the businesse: And the third doth tend as a premonition to the planters and adventurers for the time to come'.91 Though primarily a short history of the colony's progress up to the time of writing (1612), the first part includes an account of the pre-colonial settlement of the country, which Johnson sees as originating in the dispersal of Babel. The presumption of 'the race and progenie of Noah' in building the infamous tower:

… so highly provoked the Maiestie of God, that… he subverted their devices and proud attempt, infatuating their understanding by confounding their tongues, and leaving each one to his severall waies, to follow the pronesse and follie of his owne heart, so that from this scattering and casting them out like unprofitable seed upon the dust of the earth, did spring up (as weeds in solitarie places) such a barbarous and unfruitfull race of mankinde, that even to this day (as is very probable) many huge and spatious Countries and corners of the world unknowne, doe still swarme and abound with the innumerable languages of this dispersed crue, with their inhumane behaviour and brutish conditions, (pp. B-Bl)

'The sundrie nations of America: which as they consist of infinite confused tongues and people' represent a conspicuous case in point; as does the aboriginal region corresponding to Virginia, where God 'did never vouchsafe the hand of the weeder, to clense and give redresse to so desolate and outgrowne wildernesse of humaine nature' (pp. B1-B2). Having thus accounted for the physical existence and the moral condition of the natives, Johnson procedes to describe the discovery and naming of Virginia and the ultimate goal of the colonial enterprise: 'to replant this unnatural vine to make it fruitfull' (p. B3). The initial attempt at settlement, however, does not effectively alter Virginia's moral status:

the common sort (of colonists) … grew factious and disordered out of measure … in which distemper that envious man stept in, sowing plentifull tares in the hearts of all, which grew to such speedie confusion, that in a few moneths Ambition, sloth and idlenes had devoured the fruits of former labours, planting and sowing were cleane given over … and so that Virgine voyage … which went out smiling on her lovers with pleasant lookes, after her wearie travailes, did thus returne with a rent and disfigured face. (pp. C-Cl).

The early 'plantation' is thus represented as having reverted to the wilderness which it is supposed to be reclaiming. Mutiny is described in the language of the aboriginal dispersal myth. Suggestively, in view of the rebelliousness of the younger male generation (Ferdinand and Caliban) in The Tempest, a clear sense of a generation gap emerges between the mutineers and the colonial government. Thus Johnson blames 'those wicked Impes … or those ungratious sons that dailie vexed their fathers hearts at home, and were therefore thrust upon the voyage', for fomenting rebellion and then returning 'with false reports of their miserable and perilous life in Virginea' (p. C2). The first phase of Johnson's narrative ends with the arrival of Sir Thomas Dale and Sir Thomas Gates at the colony, and with the restoration of order and the establishment of a 'temperance' among the colonists, befitting the 'temperateness' of the climate. As 'their first and chiefest care was shewed in setling Lawes divine and morall', Dale and Gates finally succeed in bringing 'the hand of the weeder' to Virginia (pp. D, B2).

The second part of Johnson's narrative—a brief account of the present state of the colony and the commodities of the country—effectively serves as a prologue to 'the third and last division' of his discourse: that concerning 'The New Life of Virginea' (p. D4). The project of renewal is divided into a three-fold labour: 'upon yourselves, upon your English, and upon the poore Indians' (p. E2). In the spirit (and to some extent in the hierarchising idiom) of Prospero, Johnson insists that government is impossible without austere self-discipline. Thus: 'you shall lay the foundation in your owne steps … When thus your light shall guide their feete, sweete will that harmonie be betweene the head and members of the bodie, then may sleepe the rigour of your lawes' (pp. E2, E3). With self-discipline established, colonial government (the second labour) becomes not only possible but easy. Martial law (Dale's 'Lawes divine and moral') may be dispensed with, and the colonists can be allowed to 'live as free English men, under the government of iust and equall lawes, and not as slaves' (p. E3). The third labour of renewal concerns 'the poore Indians' (p. E4). These 'however they may seeme unto you so intollerable wicked and rooted in mischiefe' are to be considered as 'no worse then the nature of Gentiles' and thus redeemable in principle (p. E4). The strategy which Johnson suggests bears an extraordinary resemblance to Prospero's initial treatment of Caliban:

Take their children and traine them up with gentlenesse, teach them our English tongue, and the principles of religion … make them equal with your English in case of protection wealth and habitation … Insteed of Iron and Steele you must have patience and humanitie to manage their crooked nature to your forme of civilitie: for as our proverbe is, Looke how you winne them, so you must weare them. (p. F)

While not corresponding in all respects, the symbolic structure of The New Life of Virginea has an obvious homology with the discourse of Prospero's island. This in turn would suggest that Shakespeare's play is vitally rather than casually implicated in the discourses of America and the Virginia colony. Though appearing some year or so after the play was written, Johnson's pamphlet is fully representative of the pamphlet literature sponsored by the Virginia Company of London in previous years, notably the 'Bermuda Pamphlets' which are universally accepted as Shakespearean sources. The notion that the Amerindians had evolved from the biblical dispersals is vigorously asserted by William Strachey (author of the most important of the 'Bermuda Pamphlets') on the authority of earlier geographical classics, such as Boemus's Fardle of Façions and Acosta's Natural & Moral History of the Indies (translated in 1604 by Edward Grimstone).92 A pictorial version of the master metaphor of 'planting' adorns the frontis-piece of A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia (London, 1610), where two bearded patriarchs in Johnson's flowing providentialist biblical robes plant saplings on stony ground.93 account of the difficult entirely typical, reflecting the tone of the 'Bermuda Pamphlets' and of earlier material such as an influential group of sermons published by the Virginia Company in 1609.94 Typical, again, of Company policy in these years is Johnson's relatively benign attitude towards the Indians, who are to be tolerated, converted, educated and assimilated rather than conquered and enslaved.

On this point, however, there is a striking difference between the policy of the Virginia Company and the colonial politics of the play. Shakespeare represents the civil-ising task as having comprehensively failed well before the moment of the play. Prospero and Miranda have al-ready given up on Caliban, and—regardless of any doubts as to the justice of their native policy—their denigration of Caliban is generally endorsed in the text as a whole (the 1623 description of Caliban as a 'salvage and deformed slave' strongly suggests that this is how he was played on the Jacobean stage). In a recent review of the debate over the importance of New World and colonial contexts to the play, Meredith Anne Skura uses the discrepancy between the relatively kind view of the Indian in contemporary Virginia Company documents and the harsher view of the native which is often (as here) attributed to Shakespeare, to argue that the relevance of the New World material has been overstated.95 I cannot agree. Instead, it seems to me that the discrepancy makes The Tempest even more intriguing as an early American and colonial document. We need merely to assume that Shakespeare wished to confront or take issue with the contemporary Virginian ideology rather than reflect it. Assuming this to be the case—and the assumption is modest in view of the characteristic freedom with which Shakespeare treats his sources—what are we to make of Shakespeare's position in relation to the other in The Tempesti

In the sense that Shakespeare's construction of Caliban as an 'abject' anticipates the sudden reversal of the Company's Indian policy from 1622 (when a massacre of colonists triggered a systematic denigration, exclusion and finally annihilation of the natives), the harsh anti-primitivism of Shakespeare's view may be judged 'prophetic', or what an earlier generation of critics has thought of as shrewdly 'realistic'. In the sense that his construction of Caliban as naturally inferior and therefore slavish echoes Aristotle's doctrine of natural servitude, Shakespeare's view might seem reactionary by comparison with his own previous dramatisations of otherness—with the single possible exception of Titus Andronicus. The word 'reactionary', of course, is anachronistic in this context. Yet it remains true that (however sympathetic) the 'salvage and deformed' Caliban represents a reversal of what is virtually a career-long tendency in Shakespeare's construction of the other: one in which profound ethnic difference is always offset by a corresponding dignity of character. In Shylock and Othello especially, Shakespeare's ability to see through cultural stereotypes is—like Desdemona's ability to see Othello's visage 'in his mind'—truly radical. In Caliban, however, Shakespeare is actually less willing than his contemporaries were to dispense with the more egregious Amerindian stereotypes. As this cannot have been due to conceptual or imaginative limitations, the explanation can only be political. Shakespeare chose to represent the Amerindian as monstrous and to ignore more favourable character models, such as that promoted by the Virginia Company in which the Indians were likened to the 'gentiles' converted by St Paul.

Is 'reactionary' the right word for the colonial politics of The Tempest? It may help if both Shakespeare and the Virginia Company are seen in a longer perspective. In 1550, some half a century after what has been called the 'first widespread meeting of the races in modern times', the human status of the American Indian was formally debated The principals at the were Spanish Juan imperial Ginés capital of Valladolid.96 The principals were Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who had recently completed a monumental translation of Aristotle's Politics, and Bartolomé de Las Casas, who had re-turned to Spain after spending fifty years as a missionary in the New World.97 Sepúlveda argued that the standard Spanish practice of enslaving Indians was justified by the doctrine of 'natural servitude'. In reply, Las Casas argued that slavery was unjustified because, in his own extensive experience, the Indians were no less human than Europeans. On the surface, the argument appears to be a classic contest between what Bacon called 'the library' (or the accumulated lore of traditional learning) and 'the road' (the experiential and experimental method which he saw exemplified in Columbus).98 In fact, however, it was not so straightforward. Las Casas never disputed the terms of the Aristotelian doctrine, nor its relevance to this most un-Athenian form of slavery. Thus he conceded the fundamental validity of barbarism as a natural and political category, and confined himself to arguing that the Indians were not barbarous in Aristotle's sense because they had a demonstrated capacity for culture, language, reason and piety. Two more features of Las Casas's strategy are of interest. In conceding Aristotle's authority, Las Casas overlooked a glaring logical contradiction. Though stating that 'it is nature's purpose to make the bodies of free men differ from those of slaves, the latter strong enough to be used for necessary tasks, the former erect and useless for that kind of work, but well suited for the life of a citizen of the state' (Politics, 1254b16), Aristotle also admits that the difference is effectively theoretical. Thus, some people 'have the right kind of bodily physique for free men, not the soul', while others 'have the right soul but not the body'. Moreover, 'it is much more difficult to see beauty of soul than it is to see beauty of body' (Politics, 1254b32). The inescapable logic of these admissions is that it is impossible to tell who is naturally fitted for slavery and who for mastery. Failing to attack the doctrine of natural servitude at its core, Las Casas was obliged to represent the Indians as an exception to the rule.99 A second noteworthy aspect of this strategy is that, having conceded Aristotle's authority in respect of the Indians, Las Casas not only recognised the legitimacy of slavery, but vastly increased the likelihood that a more eligibly barbarous race would be found to supply the place of the Indians in the slave economy. The paradoxical result of Las Casas's humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Indian is that the modern 'West Indian' is black.100

The debate at Valladolid is essential to a historical understanding of the 'native question' in both Shakespeare and the Virginia Company. The Indian policy of the Virginia Company was itself an indirect result of Las Casas's agitation. In the early 1540s, Las Casas had exposed the cruelty of Spanish treatment of the Indians in a treatise which was probably intended for official use only. In 1522, following the debate at Valladolid, this was printed as the Brevissima relacion de la destrución de las Indias, and thence disseminated throughout protestant Europe in a variety of translations, including French (1579) and English (1583). In this way, a 'black legend' of Spanish atrocities in the New World spread throughout protestant Europe.101 One outcome was that any prospective colonising effort by a protestant power in the New World was obliged to distinguish its own treatment of the Indians from that of the Spaniards. Thus it was that the English emphasised the peacefulness of their relations with the Indians and the legitimacy of claiming land in exchange for the higher gifts of language, civilisation and religion. The Spanish claims, by contrast, were represented as illegitimate and deriving from conquest alone. A fanciful way of putting it was to portray the English as foster-parents and the Spanish as lustful rapists.102 Under English rule, 'Virginia' would retain her maidenhood intact, until embraced by godly settlers in lawful marriage. For all this, however, an undercurrent of impatience with the Indians can be detected in even the rosiest statements of the Company's evangelising mission. William Crashaw, for example, explains that the English policy is motivated more by generosity than moral duty. Strictly speaking, the English would be justified in simply expelling the Indians as the Hebrews had expelled the Canaanites from the promised land. So persistent was the Canaan theme that the complete reversal of the Indian policy after the massacre of 1622 could be represented as a simple change of emphasis. In his Virginia's Verger of 1623, Samuel Purchas had merely to bring Leviticus from the margins of Virginian discourse to the centre, and press the parallel between Indian and Canaanite:

Temperance and Justice had before kissed each other, and seemed to blesse the cohabitations of English and Indians in Virginia. But when Virginia was violently ravished by her owne ruder Natives, yea her virgin cheekes dyed with the bloud of three Colonies … by so manifold losses adding to the price of Virginias purchase: Temperance could not temper her selfe, yea the stupid Earth seemes distempered with such bloudy potions and cries that she is ready to spue out her Inhabitants.103

The last line of this passage echoes Leviticus 18.25, 'And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land vomiteth out her inhabitants'. The point I want to make is that the Company's debt to Las Casas had always been more apparent than real: owing more to protestant polemic than to the ethical imagination.

This being so, it scarcely makes sense to judge Shakespeare's colonial politics as 'reactionary' by contrast with those of the Virginia Company. It is true that Shakespeare is of Sepúlveda's party in representing Caliban as a 'salvage and deformed slave'. By insisting on deformity, moreover, he actually goes beyond Aristotle in making the difference between the naturally slavish and the naturally masterful appear self-evident. But if this is 'reactionary', it is also interestingly subversive. By implying the impossibility of any type of exchange between Prospero and Caliban, Shakespeare subtly undermines Prospero's title to the island. One reason Caliban so infuriates Prospero is that he is constantly able to expose the embarrassing truth that there is no social basis for their relation-ship; that Prospero's rule has no authority beyond force. Slavery is no relationship at all when the slave refuses to acknowledge the master's authority. Without 'rough magic' and his 'books', Prospero is (as Caliban puts it) 'but a sot as I am' (3.2.94).

Shakespeare's version of the renewal topos reveals a similarly interesting blend of reaction and subversion. In associating renewal primarily with Europeans—particularly Ferdinand and Miranda—Shakespeare effectively distances it from the 'native' theme in a way which (again) anticipates the hardening of English attitudes towards the Indians after the massacre of 1622. In Virginias Verger, Samuel Purchas would envision Virginia as a kind of walled garden from which the Indians—like so many weeds—were to be eradicated. Likewise, there is no place for Caliban in the symbolic vision of the earthly paradise represented in the masque of Ceres (which is perhaps why, when Caliban gatecrashes, the dream of renewal fades along with 'the baseless fabric of this vision', 4.1.151).104 Nor is there a place for Caliban in what is perhaps the most luminous statement of the 'renewal' theme in the play, when Miranda beholds Europeans as if for the first time:

O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in't!                                        (5.1.184-7)

One of several intriguing ironies about this moment is how it echoes the first encounter topos (the wondering encounter of European and the other in the New World) without actually being one (for the reason that the other is absent). Erased from the scene, however, the other remains in spirit or perhaps in voice. In Decades of the Newe Worlde or West India (London, 1555), Peter Martyr relates how a 'reverende owlde governour' of the Indians was so wonderstruck by his encounter with Columbus that he volunteered to accompany him to Europe. His family, however, dissuade him, whereupon: 'not ceasing to woonder, and of heavy countenance bycause he myght not departe, he demaunded oftentymes if that lande were not heaven, which browght foorth suche a kynde of men'.105 The haunting consonance between Miranda's words ('0 brave new world, / That has such people in't') and the old Indian's ('he demaunded oftentymes if that lande were not heaven, which browght foorth suche a kynde of men') underlines the strategic dislocation involved. By giving the other's lines to his European princess, Shakespeare is able to invest them with a sublimity and pathos entirely lacking in some of his own (generally farcical) versions of the first encounter topos; such as when Caliban meets the same group of Europeans a few minutes later: 'O Setebos, these be brave spritis indeed' (5.1.261). But irony is present nonetheless. Quite aside from Prospero's comment ("Tis new to thee', 5.1.187), the very presence of the word 'brave' in the moment of Miranda's wonder implicates it in the earthier ironies of the moment in which the 'brave monster' encounters his 'brave god', Stephano. In detaching the renewal topos from the native theme, then, Shakespeare privileges it, but hardly in the uncritical way of colonial apologists such as Samuel Purchas. In celebrating (to an extent, inventing) its beauty, he also exposes the dreamstructure of the American colonial myth: its origins in the psychology of narcissism and Utopian wish-dreaming.106 It is almost as if Shakespeare catches himself in the act of inventing the American myth in its modern form. On the one hand, Miranda's wonder is both homogenised (purified of its Indian underpinnings) and 'sublimed' into a romantic discovery myth, a Keatsian mantra:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— Silent, upon a peak in Darien.107

On the other hand, the structure of the repression is dis-closed in the latent homology between Miranda (sublime wonder) and Caliban (absurd wonder). Miranda's name, of course, means 'wonder'. But wonder is also Caliban's element: an ignorant savage, he is a congenital wonderer (in Vico's terms, 'the child of ignorance') and a marvellous monster (thoma). Oddly, the difference between the sublime and the absurd is one of emphasis. Miranda and Caliban are brother and sister, children of ignorance.


1 We are not told of the fate of Claribel's marriage to the 'African' king of Tunis in The Tempest, but it seems ominous enough, and neither appears on-stage in any case.

2 Strictly speaking, there is no reason to suppose that an earlier source-document is presupposed by the eighteenth-century chapbook History of Titus Andronicus. See G. K. Hunter, 'Sources and Meanings in Titus Andronicus' in The Mirror up to Shakespeare, J. C. Grey, ed. (Toronto University Press, 1983), pp. 171-88; 'The "Sources" of Titus Andronicus—Once Again', Notes and Queries, 228 (1983), 114-16. My point, however, is unaffected. If the History is entirely discounted, as Hunter argues it should be, then the role of Aaron is not just remade but entirely new, and strikingly gratuitous to the story in the remaining source material.

3 See Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (8 vols., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London; Columbia University Press, New York, 1966), vol. 1, pp. 445-514. In the earliest extant European version of the bond story in the Gesta Romanorum the villain is a merchant, not a Jew (p. 448). The Jewish stereo-type is present in the first English version of the story in the late-thirteenth-century Cursor Mundi, and also in the Renaissance Italian version, Il Pecorone (pp. 448-9). Shylock, however, defies the stereotype in important ways. There is no moor in pre-Shakespearean versions of the caskets story (pp. 457-62).

4 See Titus Andronicus, Eugene M. Waith, ed., The Ox-ford Shakespeare (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1984), p. 90, note 136.

5 Kinship is the explicit context of Ovid's omnia turbasti ('you have confused all natural relations'). Thus, Philomel bewails becoming the mistress of her brother-in-law and the erotic rival of her own sister. Implicitly, however, the expression 'all natural relations' has a political resonance in Aristotle's derivation of the state from the family, and the political bond from the marital bond.

6 The properties are clearly indicated in the dialogue:

… look for thy reward Among the nettles at the elder tree Which overshades the mouth of that same pit … This is the pit, and this the elder tree …

(2.3.271-3, 277)

7 The Ovidian parallel is insisted on in several ways. Tigers are commonly associated with Thrace and Scythia in classical literature. And, both Titus and Aaron describe the forest in Ovidian terms. Titus finds the 'place … where we did hunt' as 'Patterned by that the poet here describes, / By nature made for murders and for rapes' (4.1.54-7). Aaron anticipates him: 'The woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull' (2.1.129); 'And many unfrequented plots there are, / Fitted by kind for rape and villainy' (2.1.116-17).

8 For the original, see Aeneid 4, 129-72 (Virgil, H. Rushton Fairclough, ed., vol. 1, pp. 404-7).

9 The translation is by E. F. Watling in Seneca: Four Tragedies and Octavia, E. F. Watling, ed. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985).

10 See also

11 See, for example, Earl G. Schreiber and Thomas Maresca, eds., Commentary on the First Six Books of Virgil's Aeneid by Bernardus Silvestris (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1979): 'Having buried his father, Aeneas goes hunting. Driven by storms into a cave, he dallies with Dido and there commits adultery … Aeneas is driven to a cave by storms and rain, that is, he is led to impurity of the flesh and of desire by excitement of the flesh and by the abundance of humors coming from a superfluity of food and drink. This impurity of the flesh is called a cave, since it beclouds the clarity of mind and of discretion' (p. 25).

12Aeneid 4, 110-12 (Virgil, H. Rushton Fairclough, ed., vol. 1, pp. 402-3).

13 Sandys, Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished, p. 228.

14 The terminology is René Girard's. See Violence and the Sacred, Patrick Gregory, tr. (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1986), p. 74.

15 See Douglas, Purity and Danger, ch. 8, 'Internal Lines'. Douglas argues that where moral rules characteristically distinguish between the perpetrator of a polluting crime and the victim, pollution rules tend not to. Thus the innocent partner to a marriage will tend to share the pollution of the adulterous party, and the victim of rape will share the pollution of the rapist. The stage cuckold would be a common example of how adultery-pollution can affect the innocent partner, particularly if male. But adultery-pollution can also fall on the virtuous wife in Shakespeare. Thus Adriana in The Comedy of Errors imagines herself catching adultery-pollution like a blood-disease through her 'undividable, incorporate' (2.2.125) bond with an adulterous husband:

I am possessed with an adulterate blot; My blood is mingled with the crime of lust. For if we two be one, and thou play false, I do digest the poison of thy flesh, Being strumpeted with thy contagion.


As in Tamora's 'Rome and I are now incorporate', Shakespeare characteristically uses the word 'incorporate' with a Pauline resonance. If husband and wife 'shall become one flesh', then 'he that is joined to a harlot is one body' (1 Corinthians 6.16).

16 Watling, ed., Seneca: Four Tragedies, p. 126. Not only does the monster recapitulate the minotaur in form, being half bull, but its very apparition is a form of monstrous birth: 'the ocean, big-bellied with a monster', throws the creature on to the shore (p. 139). The connection between the idea of a monstrous (hybrid) birth and the death of Hyppolytus by dismemberment is not random. It re-echoes in Phaedra's anguished cry: 'What creature … Cretan bull / Bellowing in a Daedalian labyrinth, / Horned hybrid—can have torn you in pieces?' (p. 139)

17 See Ian Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1982). Donaldson finds that the heroine's suicide becomes problematic from the time of Augustine (for whom it was vain and impious). Interestingly, Shakespeare— though expressing this critical view (in the person of Junius Brutus)—effectively endorses the ancient pollution view.

18 With a glance in the direction of the principle of social 'reciprocity' in Lévi-Strauss (see note 54, below), Girard coins this term to describe the counter-economy of violence in ancient and traditional societies, also in Greek Tragedy. (See the index entry under 'Reciprocity, violent' in Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p. 330.)

19 The sole difference between the legend of Coriolanus and that of the 'incestuous invader' mentioned earlier (Chapter 1, note 67), is that Coriolanus finally recoils from perpetrating the twin outrages of invading the mother-city and raping the mother. The cost of avoiding the ultimate pollution, however, is his own quasi-sacrificial, quasi-suicidal death.

20 See Lovejoy and Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity, ch. 11, 'The Noble Savage in Antiquity'; also Thomas, Lands and Peoples, chs. 4 and 6.

21 Aaron's indifference to pain and fear is in stark contrast to the craven behaviour of his moorish counterpart in the prose History of Titus Andronicus.

22 For the primitivism of Shakespeare's Goths, see Ronald Broude, 'Roman and Goth in Titus Andronicus', Shakespeare Studies, 6 (1970), 27-34. The same kind of opposition that Broude finds between 'Roman and Goth' can be found between Roman and Briton in Cymbeline.

23 For the impact on Roman opinion of Julius Caesar's flirtation both with Cleopatra and the idea of eastern despotism, and its consequences for the Roman view of Antony, see M. P. Charlesworth, 'The Fear of the Orient in the Roman Empire', The Cambridge Historical Journal, 2, 1 (1926), 9-16, 10-11.

24 Mazzolani, The Idea of the City in Roman Thought, p. 149.

25Ibid., especially ch. 3, 'Cultural Factors and the Ecumenical Idea'.

26 Plutarch (in North's translation) describes the investitures as follows: 'he called the sons he had by her "the Kings of Kings": and gave Alexander for his portion, Armenia, Media, and Parthia (when he had conquered the country); and unto Ptolemy for his portion, Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. And therewithal he brought out Alexander in a long gown after the fashion of the Medes, with a high copped-tank hat on his head … and Ptolemy apparelled in a cloak after the Macedonian manner, with slippers on his feet, and a broad hat with a royal band or diadem … such was the apparel and old attire of the ancient kings and successors of Alexander the Great' (Shakespeare's Plutarch, p. 242).

27 Plutarch offers a précis of Antonius's position: 'Roman nobility was multiplied amongst men by the posterity of kings when they left their seed in divers places; and by this means his ancestor was begotten by Hercules, who had not left the hope and continuance of his line and posterity in the womb of one only woman, fearing Solon's laws or regarding the ordinance of men touching the procreation of children; but that he gave it unto Nature, and established the foundation of many noble races and families in divers places' (Shakespeare's Plutarch, p. 222).

28 For the Renaissance legend of Antonius, see Howard Erskine-Hill, 'Antony and Octavius: The Theme of Temperance in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra", Renaissance and Modern Studies, 14, 1970, 26-47.

29Aeneid 8, 685-8 (Virgil, H. Rushton Fairclough, ed., vol. 2, pp. 106-7).

30 Mazzolani suggests that: 'for Augustus to complete the overthrow of his late rival on the ideological plane, he would have to stress the anti-Hellenic, anti-barbarian character of Actium' (The Idea of the City in Roman Thought, p. 139). Commenting upon the passage from Virgil, C. J. Fordyce (P. Virgili Maronis Aeneidos: Libri VII-VIII, Oxford University Press, 1977) stresses the calculated overstatement of Antony's 'triumphs in the East' (victor ab Aurorae populis): 'Designed to enhance the glory of Octavian, the description which makes Antony into another Alexander, has little or no foundation … he had never been near the shores of the Indian Ocean' (p. 280). Similarly, 'Virgil leaves entirely out of sight the fact that a large part of Antony's strength consisted of legionary troops … that his commanders were Roman, and that he had a large following of Roman senators' (p. 280).

31 Mazzolani, The Idea of the City in Roman Thought, p. 159. Mazzolani points out that such propaganda is also to be found in other major poets of the Augustan settlement, such as Propertius and Ovid.

32Ibid., p. 136.

33Ibid., p. 131.

34 In his On the Fortune of Alexander, Plutarch credits Alexander with 'a clear-cut programme of universal brotherhood' (Mazzolani, The Idea of the City in Roman Thought, p. 82).

35 Unlike Virgil who depicts a conflict between Rome and the East (see note 29, above), Plutarch stresses the cosmopolitan composition of both armies and the international character of the conflict (Shakespeare's Plutarch, p. 250).

36Shakespeare's Plutarch, p. 180.

37Ibid., p. 204.

38 Maurice Charney, Shakespeare's Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1961), p. 81.

39 Lucan portrays Cato as savage-looking: With unkempt beard and hair—which is exactly how Plutarch portrays Antonius after his journey on the Alps: 'since the over-throw he … suffered his beard to grow at length … and the hair of his head also without combing' (Shakespeare's Plutarch, p. 193).

40 Juvenal, Third Satire, lines 62-3, in Sixteen Satires upon the Ancient Harlot, Steven Robinson, ed., tr. (Carcanet New Press, Manchester, 1983), p. 91.

41 A. D. Godley, ed., tr., Herodotus, vol. 1, Books 1 and 2. All further citations of the Egyptian logos from this edition.

42 Hartog, The Mirror of Herodotus, pp. 225-30.

43 This motive is also found in Horace, Odes, 1.37, lines 29-32. Joseph P. Clancy (The Odes and Epodes of Horace, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1960) translates the passage as follows:

so highly she dared, her mind set on death. Not for her the enemy ship, the crownless voyage, her role in the grand parade: she was no weak-kneed woman.

44 In terms of its internal political organisation, Venice was a model of republicanism. In terms of its external reach, however, Venice was a model of empire, aping the Roman imperial style and in turn copied by English colonialists such as William Alexander (An Encouragement to Colonies, London, 1624, The English Experience, no. 63, Da Capo Press, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam and New York, 1968).

45The Commonwealth and Government of Venice. Written by the Cardinali Gasper Contareno, and translated out of Italian into English, by Lewes Lewkenor… Esquire With Sundry Other Collections (London, 1599), The English Experience, no. 101 (Da Capo Press, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam and New York, 1969), pp. A2-A3. Further references are given in the text.

46 According to Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary: 'the name Babel is explained by popular etymology based on a similar Hebrew root balal, as "confusion" or "mixing"'(p. 116).

47 The earliest date for 'cosmopolitan' in the OED is 1844. 'Cosmopolite', however, is dated to 1645. For Renaissance uses of the Babel myth, see Chapter 1, above, section 5, also notes 89 and 90. It follows from the close link between the ideas of 'dispersal', 'diversity' and 'degeneration' that any new 'Babel'—any attempt to concentrate cultural diversity in one place (particularly a city)—would be regarded as an abomination. Several 'Babelesque' ac-counts of St Paul's church market in London are cited by Jean-Christophe Agnew (Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought, 1550-1750, Cam-bridge University Press, 1986, pp. 86-8), including this one by Thomas Dekker: 'What damnable bargaines of vnmercifull Brokery, and of vnmeasurable Vsury are there clapt up? … and such humming (every mans lippes making a noise, yet not a word to be vnderstoode,) I verily beleeve that I am the Tower of Babeli newly to be builded up, but presentile despaire of euer beeing finished because there is such a confusion of languages. Thus am I like a common Mart where all Commodities (both the good and the bad) are to be bought and solde' (The Dead Tearme, 1608).

48 Coryat, Coryats Crudities, pp. 171-3. Further references to Coryat are in the text.

49 Earlier, Coryat speaks of 'Albania' as being 'a city of the greater Armenia', in the context of expounding another Venetian legend associated with another statue of 'a grave old Venetian Gentleman … who was flea'd amongst the Turks' (p. 223). The Albanian brothers are, then, Turks, which is consistent with the fact that they are depicted 'with their fawchions by their sides' (p. 188).

50 Plutarch, Lives, p. 921.

51 Ugo Tucci, 'The Psychology of the Venetian Merchant in the Sixteenth Century', in J. R. Hale, ed., Renaissance Venice (Faber & Faber, London, 1973), p. 347.

52 Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, chs. 8-10.

53 Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Ex-change in Archaic Societies, Ian Cunnison, tr. (Cohen & West, London, 1966), pp. 76-7.

54 Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, p. 52. Lévi-Strauss is heavily reliant on Mauss for the concept of 'reciprocity' within kinship systems.

55 'The Intercourse' is described in G. D. Ramsay, The City of London, p. 22.

56 John C. Rolfe, ed., tr., The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, The Loeb Classical Library (3 vols., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.; Heinemann, London, 1967), vol. 3, 20.1, p. 425.

57 W. R. Smith, Marriage in Early Arabia (Cambridge, 1885), pp. 56-9, as paraphrased by Hartog in The Mirror of Herodotus, pp. 113-14.

58 See, for example, 3.1.32-7.

59 For the homily, see Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory, fourth edition (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1816), p. 102. The reference to 1 Corinthians 6 is given in the margin. The homily's 'For ye are dearly bought: Glorify God in your bodies' directly echoes 1 Corinthians 6.20, 'For ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body'.

60 When asked whether 'the allies of the Romans' might be 'made free citizens of Rome', the youthful Cato 'made no answer, only he looked steadfastly and fiercely on the strangers' (Plutarch: Lives, p. 919).

61 'English law forbade its citizens from becoming private money-changers, just as it required alien merchants to obtain hosts or sponsors for their trade' (Agnew, Worlds Apart, p. 45). Fairs were one way of circumventing such prohibitions: 'the entire "mercantile estate" … ventured to the fair where the usual tolls and prohibitions against foreigners and usury were suspended' (p. 47).

62 Stationer's Register entry, cited in C. L. Barber, 'The Merchants and the Jew of Venice', in John Wilders, ed., Shakespeare: 'The Merchant of Venice': A Casebook (Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1989), p. 177.

63 See the note on this passage in Measure for Measure, J. W. Lever, ed., The Arden Shakespeare (Methuen, London, 1976), p. 111.

64 Bacon summarises contemporary opinion on usury in the opening paragraphs of 'Of Usury' in Francis Bacon: The Essays, John Pitcher, ed. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985), pp. 183-6.

65 That Antwerp saw itself in the imperial tradition of Venice, seems evident from the 'saucy monogram SPQA—Senatus Populusque Antwerpiensis—with its Roman and even Republican overtones', emblazoned on the façade of the classically styled exchange (the 'Bourse') completed in 1546. See Ramsay, The City of London, pp. 14-15. After its recapture by the Spanish in 1585, however, such pretensions must have seemed hubristic, and are likely to have confirmed longstanding English suspicions of Anverian 'openness'.

66 Elizabeth McGrath, 'Rubens's Arch of the Mint', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 37 (1974), 203-4. G. D. Ramsay explains that 'the Merchants Ad-venturers were not themselves a City company but a national trading organization, with a headquarters outside England' (The City of London, p. 41). Paradoxically, there-fore, their immense prestige and 'almost total predominance' found no direct outlet 'in the ancient constitution' of the City which 'rested on the established City companies' (p. 41). However, 'the Merchants Adventurers had … a special connection with the Mercers' Company, which … had become the outstanding livery company of the City' (p. 42).

67 McGrath, 'Rubens's Arch of the Mint', 192. Further references to McGrath's article, which I follow closely, are given in the text.

68 Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare, pp. 139-45ff.

69 See Chapter 1, note 77, above.

70 Leslie Fiedler suggests that in dreaming of miscegenation, Brabanzio is actually dreaming of incest because of his prior wish-dream identification with Othello (The Stranger in Shakespeare, p. 142).

71 Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse, p. 187.

72 In her Icon and Conquest: A Structural Analysis of the Illustrations of de Bry's 'Great Voyages' (Basia Miller Gulati, tr., University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1981), Bernadette Bucher finds a similar duality between attraction and repulsion in de Bry's standard visual depiction of the Amerindian. On the one hand, the normative Indian was 'physically healthy and well proportioned' and 'endowed with eternal youth' (p. 37). On the other hand, 'some types, appearing sporadically, stand apart from these norms. We see giants and dwarfs; headless men; others, wild-looking, disheveled … and above all, a type of woman who appears more frequently as the series advances and whose portrayal runs against the canon of proportions observed in the pictures of the other Indian women. She is afflicted with an uncomely appearance and sagging breasts: sometimes this trait combines with the robust youth of the other women; sometimes, on the contrary, with hideous, emaciated, old women' (p. 38).

73 Karen Newman, '"And wash the Ethiop white": Femininity and the Monstrous in Othello', in Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O'Connor, eds., Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology (Methuen, New York and London, 1987), p. 152.

74 Coryat remarks that Venice accommodated 'at least twenty thousand' prostitutes or 'courtezans', observing that the 'tolleration of such licentious wantons in so glorious, so potent, so renowned a City' should be 'an occasion to draw down upon them Gods curses and vengeance from heaven, and to consume their city with fire and brimstone, as in times past he did Sodome and Gomorrha' (Coryats Crudities, p. 264). According to Coryat, there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between Venetian wives and Venetian courtesans, in as much as 'the chastity of their wives would be the sooner assaulted … were it not for these places of evacuation' (pp. 264-5). A less excusable reason for the presence of so many courtesans is that 'the revenues which they pay unto the Senate for their tolleration, doe maintaine a dozen of their galleys' (p. 265). Venice's popular reputation for venery is remarked in Much Ado About Nothing (1.1.253-4).

75 For some traditional examples of 'the shipwreck' as an emblem of tragic hubris, see Guy de Tervarent, Attributs et Symboles dans l'Art Profane 1450-7600 (Librairie E. Droz, Genève, 1958), especially 'Naufrage', p. 282, and 'Tronc Brisé dont une Branche Reverdit', p. 389. The polemical attitude of the 'Bermuda Pamphlets'—with their shrill celebration of God's mercy in preserving the company of the Sea Venture, which was earlier supposed to have sunk with all hands in a storm off the Bermudas—indicates that the wreck had been represented by the opponents of the Virginia Company as a divine judgement on the hubris of its activities.

76 In addition to its specifically dramatic effects—confused outcries, sounds—and its emblematic point (the argument between Gonzalo and the boatswain), the wreck has a precise technical logic. As the ship is driven towards a lee shore, the sailors strike the topsail and set the foresail in an attempt to increase the ship's stiffness in the water and improve its ability to point into the wind. (See The Tempest, Stephen Orgel, ed., The Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1987, Appendix A.)

77 The phrase would have been familiar from what was perhaps the most famous late-sixteenth-century account of the New World, The Natural and Moral History of the Indies by Joseph de Acosta. It was translated by Edward Grimston in 1604.

78 Orgel, ed., The Tempest, Oxford, pp. 19-20; also p. 115, note to line 258. Orgel notes Kermode's theory that Sycorax 'is strongly influenced by the Circe legend' be-cause of a suggestion in Conti's Mythologiae that Circe 'was born in Colchis, in the district of the Coraxi tribe' (p. 19). But he points out that no mention of the Coraxi is found in Conti.

79 Speed, 'The Description of Europe' in A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World, between pp. 7 and 8. Speed's map provides the missing documentary link between Sycorax and Scythia.

80 Sandys, Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished, p. 253. On the Herodotean assumption that the 'marvelous' (in the sense of the precious or rare) would always be associated with the 'monstrous', Sandys supposes that the mythological monsters which guard the golden fleece must have been real animals such as the 'Alergatoes' which threaten the 'Divers for Pearle in the inland Lakes' of America.

81 For the motif of 'Temperance' in the play, see my 'Shakespeare's Virginian Masque', English Literary History, 1986, 673-707.

82Ibid., 678-82.

83 See Chapter 1, above, section 2 and note 37.

84 Setebos is described as a 'greate deuyll' in Antonio Pigafetta's A Briefe Declaration of the Voyage or Navigation Made Abowte the Worlde, in Edward Arber, ed., The First Three English books on America, [71511J-1555 A.D., p. 252. Caliban's description of Setebos as 'my dam's god' (1.2.376) is fully consistent with Pigafetta's account of Setebos as a devil, in view of Prospero's repeated references to Caliban as a devil.

85 Antonello Gerbi ('The Earliest Accounts on the New World', in Fredi Chiapelli, ed., First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old (2 vols., University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1976, vol. 1, 37-43), points out that Pigafetta's grotesquely primitive portrait of giant-like Patagonians, 'remained a legend for several centuries—a cliché and a stimulus for the inquisitive European mind. No less a philosopher than Vico made the Patacones the prototypes of a barbaric and heroic humanity' (p. 42). Well before Vico, however, the Patagonian is routinely depicted as the most primitive Amerindian type on the early seventeenth-century carte à figures (see Chapter 3, above, notes 68 and 69).

86 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Leon S. Roudiez, tr. (Columbia University Press, New York, 1982), p. 8. The passage is particularly suggestive of Prospero and Caliban: 'The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), sepa-rates (himself), situates (himself) … Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter—since laughing is a way of placing or displacing abjection. Necessarily dichotomous, somewhat Manichaean, he divides, excludes, and without, properly speaking, wishing to know his abjections is not at all unaware of them.'

87 'Husks wherein the acorn cradled' would represent a dystopian version of human diet in the golden age—a diet of acorns.

88 Francis Bacon, 'Of Vicissitude of Things' in Essays, p. 229. Further references to this essay appear in the text.

89 Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, G. W. Kitchin, ed. (Dent, London, 1976), pp. 70-71. The fact that Gonzalo makes detailed reference to two types of Mandevillian monster—bull-headed men and 'such men / Whose heads stood in their breasts'—strongly suggests that each one of the 'shapes' originally represented a specific type of Mandevillian monster. This would exactly account for the wording of Prospero's compliment to his spirit-actors. These 'meaner ministers' perform 'their several kinds' with 'good life'.

90 Gillies, 'Shakespeare's Virginian Masque'.

91 Robert Johnson, The New Life of Virginea (London, 1612), The English Experience, no. 332 (Da Capo Press, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam and New York, 1971), 'The Epistle Dedicatorie'. Further citations from this work are given in the text.

92 Louis B. Wright and Virginia Freund, eds., The Historie of Travell into Virginia Britania (1612) By William Strachey, gent. (Hakluyt Society, London, 1953). See ch. 3, 'De origine, Populi', pp. 53-62, especially pp. 54-5.

93 As the illustration does not appear in modern reprintings of the pamphlet with which I am familiar, it is necessary to consult an original or a microfilm.

94 See Louis B. Wright, Religion and Empire: The Alliance between Piety and Commerce in English Expansion, 1558-1625 (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1943), ch. 4, 'A Western Canaan Reserved for En-gland', pp. 84-114, especially pp. 89-110.

95 Skura, 'Discourse and the Individual'.

96 Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World (Hollis & Carter, London, 1959), p. 10. See also

97 Hanke writes: 'on the eve of the battle with Las Casas, he had just completed d published at Paris in 1548 his Latin translation of Aristotle's Politics, which he considered his principal contribution to knowledge. It was the best translation that had appeared, and was recognized for centuries as an indispensable work' (Aristotle and the American Indians, p. 31).

98 The metaphoric contest between the 'library' and the 'road' is described in Francis Bacon, The New Organon and Related Writings, Fulton H. Anderson, ed. (The Liberal Arts Press, New York, 1960), pp. 78-84. Wayne Franklin (Discoverers, Explorers, Settlers: The Diligent Writers of Early America, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1979) compellingly argues that the title Novum Organum was deliberately intended to recall both Mundus Novus and Novus Orbis Terrarum, and to be 'the scientific equivalent of Columbus's arguments prior to 1492' (p. 8). Bacon fully recognised the importance of the voyager myth to his age and made a concerted effort to transform it into a metaphoric vehicle of the experimental method. The frontispiece to the Instauratio Magna (1620) shows a ship sailing out through the Pillars of Hercules.

99 Hanke rehearses the argument in detail (All Mankind is One, p. 83).

100 The irony is not entirely inadvertent: 'Early in his career Las Casas proposed the introduction of Negro slaves to the islands, in order to spare the Indians the heavy labour which was destroying them … Spaniards never fought … as hard or as consistently against Negro slavery as they did on behalf of the Indians, not even Las Casas. Despite his final rejection of Negro slavery, as late as 1544 he owned several Negro slaves and no document has come to light which reveals any concerted opposition to Negro slavery during the sixteenth century' (Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians, p. 9).

101 On the immediate impact of The Spanish Colonie, see John Parker, Books to Build an Empire: A Bibliographical History of English Overseas Interests to 1620 (N. Israel, Amsterdam, 1965), p. 116. For 'the black legend', see Colin Steele, English Interpreters of the Iberian New World from Purchas to Stevens: A Bibliographical Study. 1603-1726 (The Dolphin Book Co, Oxford, 1975), pp. 133-4.

102 William Crashaw's A Sermon Preached in London Before the Right Honorable the Lord Lawarre, Lord Governour and Captarne Generali of Virginia, and Others of his Maiesties Counsell (London, 1610), otherwise known as A New-Yeere's Gift to Virginea, is actually built on the conceit that the sermon represents a parental 'New Year's Gift' to a foster-daughter. Virginia is also referred to as an 'adopted and legali Daughter' of England in Purchas's 'Virginias Verger: Or a Discourse Shewing the Benefits which may Grow to this Kingdome from American English Plantations, and Specially those of Virginia and Summer Hands' (1625), in Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes: Contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells by Englishmen and others (20 vols., James MacLe-hose and Sons, Glasgow, 1905), vol. 19, p. 239. In his Virginia Reviewed (1638), George Donne cites from the introduction to Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625), in remarking how Virginia's 'virgin-soile … was never yet polluted by any Spaniards lust' (T. H. Breen, 'Notes and Documents: George Donne's "Virginia Reviewed": A 1638 Plan to Reform Colonial Society', William and Mary Quarterly, third series, 30, 3, July 1973, 454). The figurative origin of this protestant colonial topos would appear to have been the myth of Vespucci raping 'America', as in the Frontispicci Explicatio of the 1570 Theatrum.

103 Purchas, Virginias Verger, p. 229. Leviticus is cited in the margins of Johnson's The New Life of Virginea, and Crashaw's A New-Yeere's Gift to Virginea.

104 It is arguable that Caliban is finally 'included' to the extent of his resolving to 'be wise hereafter / And seek for grace' (5.1.294-5). Yet this, like the question of whether or not he is to accompany Prospero back to 'civilisation', is pointedly unresolved.

105 Arber, ed., The First Three English Books on America, p. 78.

106 See Niederland, 'The Naming of America', 459-72; also the discussion of Niederland's ideas in Chapter 3, above. See also

107 John Keats, 'On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer', lines 9-14 in The Poetical Works of John Keats, H. W. Garrod, ed. (Oxford University Press, London, New York and Toronto, 1959), p. 38.

Source: "'The Open Worlde': The Exotic in Shakespeare," in Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 99-155, 214-24.


The Authorship Controversy


The Scandal of Shakespeare's Sonnets