The England of Elizabeth was a time of great cultural development as England sought to find its national identity in a radically changing world. In a time known for explorations, expanded trade, and brilliant literature, at the margins of society lived those who were left out of England’s prosperous white Protestant identity. This symposium will illuminate some of these groups and their complex, often misunderstood, role in shaping Elizabethan society.
Queen Elizabeth and Mulay Ahmad al-Mansur
Nabil Matar, Florida Institute of Technology (now at University of Minnesota)
Even many Elizabethan scholars would be surprised to learn how much England depended on Morocco for logistical support in its conflict with Spain. This lecture examines the diplomatic and personal relations between the English and Moroccan rulers from 1578 to their deaths in 1603. Arabic sources from Morocco-court memoirs from Marrakech as well as royal letters-present Queen Elizabeth and Elizabethan culture in a new light.
Imagining Jews in Elizabethan England
James Shapiro, Columbia University
There weren’t many Jews in early modern England, but it was nonetheless a society surprisingly preoccupied with Jewish questions: Were Jews nationally or racially different? Did Jews stink? Did those who converted lose all trace of their Jewishness? Was it true that Jews habitually took the knife to Christians, circumcising and murdering their victims? The Elizabethan obsession with Jewishness casts light on some of the darker cultural anxieties circulating in post-Reformation England.
Brothers and Mothers: The Irish as England’s Most Intimate and Threatening Others
Clare Carroll, Queens College, City University of New York
In the reign of Elizabeth, the English strove to thoroughly colonize Ireland, which they had originally invaded in the twelfth century. Adventurers, politicos, and poets wrote tracts on how to colonize Ireland, which became the blueprint for the colonization of other territories around the globe. The Irish of all classes and ethnic backgrounds were compared to American Indians, Africans, and infidels, and represented as wild barbarians in the popular stage and press. This lecture will tell the story of how these powerful stereotypes and political conflicts were represented in Elizabethan print, painting, poetry, and drama.
Africans in Early Modern England
Margo Hendricks, University of California, Santa Cruz, now emerita
This lecture examines representations of African-descended peoples in Early Modern England. Visual evidence suggests that long before England gained a foothold in the Atlantic slave trade, Black people played an important symbolic role in elite culture. Their depiction in a wide range of visual artifacts suggests they were frequently used to enhance the seeming rarity and exoticism of luxury good as well as to indicate the value of whiteness.
Uncovering the Elizabethan Underworld: The Unlikely Case of Nicholas Jennings alias Blunt
Lee Beier, Illinois State University, now emeritus
In 1567 the London authorities arrested and punished one Nicholas Jennings alias Blunt for using elaborate disguises in which he presented himself as an epileptic in order to collect handouts from the public. His story was graphically and amusingly chronicled in an influential pamphlet which represented Jennings’ deceit as the norm among street-people of the time. But was Jennings really typical of the Elizabeth underclass? Does this story perhaps tell us more about contemporary representations of the able-bodied unemployed than about the realities of their lives?
Women On and Off the Margins: Witches, Vagrants, and Poor Women in Early Modern England
Sara Heller Mendelson, McMaster University
In early modern England, ordinary women were marginalized by the ruling male elite because of the double handicap of class and gender. Yet Queen Elizabeth often expressed her identification with the female poor, remarking, “I thank God I am indeed embued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place of Christendom.” By exploring the lives of poor and outcast women, we can illuminate some of the most significant concerns of Elizabethan society.
Chair: Carole Levin, University of Nebraska
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