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Culture in 17th Century Theatre

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Arthur Love

on 18 December 2014

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Transcript of Culture in 17th Century Theatre

Othello on Canvas
Has intense facial features with a scowl on his face

His hands look menacing

Dead Desdemona take is a greater focal point that Othello even through she is in the background

Background resembles a sultan's harem

Great detail was put into the creation of Othello's elaborate dress
Persian Letters
Featured two Iranian noblemen who were traveling throughout Europe
Encountered this new European world that had a better political structure than their old Eastern world
This juxtaposition of two different worlds in Montesquieu's book revealed on a deeper level how Turkish people were naturally savages because of the political structure that they were subjected to in their homeland

Sultan Solyman
"“[Solyman] had reigned for several years. But being corrupted by the Artifices of Roxolana and the imperious Designs of Rustan, his grand Vizir, he began to bathe his hands in blood.”"

"“The terror and threats of Solyman intimidated his [Mustapha’s] troops to such a degree that they forsook their false general… where the general by torture was forced to confess their whereabouts.”"

“A poor Christian slave hearing the proclaimation to the troops found means to let the Rhodians know of Solyman’s assault the next day."

"In his march, he ordered his troops to commit all sorts of outrages destroying all of the country with fire and sword even beyond Vienna and as far as Lintz.”

Troops would rob and plunder
Troops attacked with loud shouting
repetition of the word "repulsive"
Killed son Mutapha
Trone dans le salon du calife
"Laura" In Costume
Turban head dress; detail on jewels
John Gay: Playwright
The turquerie movement in the 17th and 18th centuries captures a time where European people developed an interest in the great unknown of Eastern world. Emergent themes can be developed through visual arts that surfaced at this time that concern the perceptions of the East.
Turquerie and Visual Arts: 17th and 18th Century
What is Theatre?
"The theatre has the potential to combine all the arts... It brings together the arts of
stage scenery
, the design of
sets, costume and props
, the music of
song and instrumental pit
, the
... and the fantasy world portrayed beyond the proscenium arch." (MacKenzie pp. 176-177)
The Ottoman empire was founded in 1299 in Western Anatolia. From this point on, the Ottoman Empire surged through the Mediterranean and conquered lands to add to their growing empire. By 1443, they conquered Constantinnople thus ending the eastern empire of Byzantium. It was only until 1571 in the battle of Lepanto where Spanish powers under the control of Phillip II defeated the Ottoman Empire and successfully checked their gains that ensured before that. This defeat impacted the morale of Europeans who felt like sitting ducks in the wake of the growing Ottoman empire. After the battle of Lepanto, there were more failed Ottoman sieges in the Mediterranean and sultans moved away from expansionism and more towards diplomacy. However, despite this attempt at forging positive relationships with Western Europeans, Europeans developed unfavorable impression of the Turks. By the turn of the century Europeans increased their travel into the geographical area known as the Levant in order for colonialization endeavors. It was at this point where Europeans saw, first hand, the exoticism that composed the East. It was at this point where the turquerie movement became prevalent. Turquerie made exoticism more permissible among the structured society of Western Europe which provided a feeling of liberation for those who indulged in its ideals. It was also at this point where Europeans developed the ideology of “theirs and ours” (Said 60). Europeans developed the philosophy of orientalism to develop a sense of superiority over these people. Orientalists often saw Easter cultures as exotic, backwards, uncivilized and at times dangerous.
Plaese take note that there is a juxtaposition between certain parts of the track. The clash with the music is supposed to signify the clash between western European society as well as that of the East.

Othello, A Transformation
Theme 1 Conclusion:
Theme 2 Conclusion:
Turban is an immediate focal point of his dress
The background is simplistic; different from the elaborate backgrounds that nobels used to describe their hobbies and personalities
Low neck line
Turquerie: A Legacy
Vibrant blue velvet fabric
Intricate detail to show embroidery
The Turkish people were also seen as a majestic other in European society. Western Europeans in the 17th century believed that people from the Ottoman empire genuinely had powers which made them ostracized at this time but this idea began to be embraced at the turn of the century (Singleton). There are various works that emerged in the 18th century that provide evidence of this. This evidence can also suggest that there may have been a shift in perspective the Ottoman Empire of the east between the 17th and 18th centuries.
John Gay is to as the leader of the Turquerie movement in theatre. He was best known for his play, The Beggar’s Opera. I chose to include John Gay’s portrait on printing press in this presentation as a testament as to how writers and composers of the 18th century tended to embody the life and ideals of turquerie to a greater extent than those of the 17th century. As you can see in the portrait, Gay is wearing a turban and a robe that he chose to be featured in in portrait. He looks comfortable in the painting as well. His facial expression does not seem regal, stoic or forced compared to other portraits. The background of the portrait is also not elaborate like many other traditional portraits of the time. Instead of having a setting cluttered with novelties that provided hints to viewers about the nature of the painted individual, Gay’s portrait is blank and black transcending this clutter. There is a gradient shift in the black background as it reaches Gay’s head. The background becomes lighter to where it is white at the outline of his head. Gay is suggesting in this portrait that by living the lifestyle outline by the turquerie movement, he is in some way getting closer to God.
Pierre-Adrien Pâris was a theatre owner who created this brilliant watercolor which was to serve as a blueprint for the throne for King Louis XIV in the theatre. Pâris indicates the Turkish character of this ancient canopied throne form through a sense of elaborate draping and various oriental elements. The entire structure is clothed in a rich, bright red muslin fabric, meant to imitate the embroidered textiles for which Turkey was so well known. The imagery of the draping recalls the form of a Turkish military tent, since the two long censors flanking the throne appear similar to poles holding up a tent. There are also spears behind these, which suggest Arabian military power. Pâris drapes the caliph’s throne in a bright green tasseled cotton with gold garlands and a pillow at the feet, suggesting the plush divans and “ottomans” of oriental interiors. Finally, what appear to be two incense burners flank the throne, a suggestion of the sensuous aromas of the Near East. (Osborne 4-6) The fact that even the king immersed himself in the magical culture of Turquerie and the idea of power that came along with it further proves that these ideals were valid among the population.

The aforementioned Othello and Desdemona piece (Theme 1 Conclusion) featured a murderous Othello who had a sneaky and dangerous appearance. Another Othello painting opposes this idea that Othello is a savage who was all to blame for Desdemona’s “intentional” murder. The painting Othello and Desdemona in Venice, painted in 1756 by Theodore Chasseriau presents Othello and Desdemona sitting together and holding hands as they look into each other’s eyes. Chasseriau pays more attention to the love that Othello and Desdemona shared throughout the play as opposed to the one moment of violence that Othello experienced in the end. There is also an air of mysticism in the hazy background that is behind Othello and Desdemona, which relates to the idea that Turkish people were this magical other. There seems to be this cloudiness that embraces the two in this painting—a shroud of mystery. Desdemona also is portrayed differently in this painting than in the first. Instead of wearing the white elaborate nightgown, she is wearing a pastel yellow Turkish garb. Having Desdemona, a character who represents Venice and Western Europe, dressed in this outfit hints at the desire to be immersed in this culture. The easiest way to embody a culture is by wearing its clothing. There seems to be a heavenly light that is illuminating the Othello’s left hand that is holding Desdemona’s right hand This imagery does not only emphasize the connection between Othello and Desdemona as a mystical force but it also develops a possible statement about the heavenly power that comes with European and Turkish powers coming together. The presence of a pillow, of the chair and of Othello's orange robe that stands out amongst anything else in the paitning can hint at this growing relationship due to the exchange of commodities.

The final portrait is of a character simply named “Laura” that was painted in 1777 by Jean-Etienne Liotard . In this portrait, Laura is dressed in an elaborate Turkish inspired costume. The robe and dress that she is wearing is made out of velvet. The dress is a vibrant blue and the robe is a rich forest green. These elaborate colors go against the general themes of society where women had to wear modest colors to assert their modesty. Laura has on a turban that is bedazzled and embroidered. Liotard put a lot of detail into the embroidery of Laura’s robe and dress. Such intricate detail possibly alludes to the distinct richness of the outfit itself and the mysticism that comes with it. The neckline on Laura’s dress is considerably low where we can see cleavage. This symbolizes the freedom of comfort that comes with the Turkish sense of style and the factor of seduction that came with this new freedom. This idea connects back to the lack of modesty that came with these outfits. Laura is in a position where her fist sits on her waist. This body gesture again alludes to the freedom and the sense of power that she is drawing from these articles of clothing. Envisioning how characters looked in Euro-Turkish theatre is a great way of understanding how the public viewed Turkish theatre. Playwrights wanted the perceptions that they created on stage to align with the public sentiment of viewers so, elements of theatre, most notably in this situation, costume, had to be accurate not about what Turks actually wore but about the preconceived image that people already had about Turkish culture. It is clear that Europeans were interested in the mysticism from Turkish culture that was derived from their clothing.

One perspective that Europeans took on of the Ottoman Turks were that they were blood thirsty savages. A number of primary sources can illuminate to what extent they were seen as ostracized as warmongers. Just as the Athenian tragedy of The Persians in the early years of Grecian theatre, many productions about Ottomans at this time used historical war such as the Siege of Vienna for elements such as a basis for setting, anecdotes and background for plot. A review about Sultan Solyman and an orchestra piece referred to as Turcaria fall under this category. The History of the Life and Death of Sultan Solyman was a performance at the Globe Theatre in 1638. A review written by a T. Cooper came out for this play 2 months later in 1639. This review described the play in great detail. He described Sultan Solyman as a corrupt, power hungry ruler who went to war with European nations for absolutely no other reason but to gain more land and to exploit these allegedly innocent European people to gain more land. As per the review, in one of the Sultan’s sieges, he has his troops plunder and set fire to the town, while they are shouting like savages. He also allows his troops to rape the women of conquered territories. There was one point where his son Mustapha went against him and assembled an army to stop the sultan and he kills him. The play definitely portrays Solyman as someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. While the synopsis of the play implicated Sultan Solyman, there was a great level of bias within the review as the writer offered his own commentary about the Sultan. Direct excerpts from this review reveal not only how this theater production portrayed Solyman but also how the author agreed with this outlook. One of the most notable quotes in the review was on the first page of the review: “[Solyman] had reigned for several years. But being corrupted by the Artifices of Roxolana and the imperious Designs of Rustan, his grand Vizir, he began to bathe his hands in blood.” (Cooper) The imagery of the sultan bathing his hands in the blood of other people distinctly shows that he benefitted from the death of others and it made him thrive. The review also had mention of a Christian prisoner who tipped off Solyman’s troops to Grecian powers and essentially prevented more bloodshed in Rhodes. This Christian prisoner offers a great level of contrast to the Sultan and his troops and is even seen as a hero in the review. He was painted as a person of virtue in the review as opposed to the Sultan who was repetitiously referred to as repulsive.
Commonly, European renditions of music in the era of Turquerie did not move to imitate Eastern music but rather they would use eastern instruments and other rhythmic conventions. “Turkish music was often represented through rapid shifts between major and minor, rapidly descending minor scales and repeatedly reiterated patterns both rhythmic and melodic sounds” (Meyer) this chaotic mesh of faster tempo sounds evoked a sense of anarchy to listeners as opposed to the calm and slow-building music of the time. Turcaria, a piece written by Johann Joseph Fux in 1701, is an example of this. There appears to be a battle between European and Turkish influence in this piece. The European influence is characterized by the loud and regal sounding parts of the song while Turkish influence is described by the lower and faster sounds that are defeated by the louder sounds. It was even reported that in Turcaria, the Turkish sounds had a hissing component to them that was intended to hypnotize listeners. The juxtaposition of sounds in this piece tells a story of the Siege of Vienna, as the piece was influenced by this historical event. The loud sounds are supposed to remind you of the valiant Austrian soldiers who battled the snake-like and dangerous Ottoman troops to protect their land.
Othello was a piece play written by Shakespeare that was drafted towards the end of the 16 century. Othello is a play about a Moorish knight that kills his lover Desdemona because his jealous friend, Iago, tricks him into doing so. Although Othello falls out of the spectrum of the time period being studied, however, there are further renditions of Othello in paintings that reveal perspectives about the Turkish character. A painting by Alexandre Marie- Colin in 1719 entitled Othello and Desdemona reveals how Othello was perceived at this time after the fact of the play. The painting is a portrayal of Desdemona’s death scene where Othello is painted as a villain after he strangles her. Othello is dressed up in traditional Ottoman garb which is odd as the identity of Othello is a mystery. Othello is at times portrayed as an African and at times an Ottoman but here he is not only panted as a Turk but also in painstakingly detailed garb. By doing this, Marie-Colin is not simply connecting Othello’s character to this disastrous deed but also Turkish people in general. Detail is also put into Othello’s face. His eyebrows are very thick and dark and his skin is a tan color again connecting him to a Turkish individual. Othello’s body gestures in the painting look menacing. He looks as if he is sneaking away from Desdemona’s body with a scowl on his face as if he is getting away with murder. The fact that his hands are up reminds viewers that he is a murder: it was his hands that killed Desdemona. It looks as if Othello is about to strangle someone else. Desdemona is the other focal point of the painting. She stands out from the background of the sultry harem as she is in off white, a symbol of purity among the intense red curtains a symbol of lust and blood.
There were other writings that connected this idea of savagery to the eastern Ottoman Empire. Montesquieu’s work of “The Persian Letters” concentrated on the strangeness of Persian customs through the characterization of two characters: Usbek and Rica, who are Iranian noblemen. He juxtaposes these customs to the civilized nature of western European society. The Persian Latters were a critique of European, especially French, political ideas of authority and governmental practice through his depiction of political and personal despotism and its accompanying eroticism and unbridled passions. his texts became the basis of other texts which carried within them and gave increased power to such notions of Oriental despotism and sensuality. The Persian Letters became codified into a discourse of Orientalism in the 18th century. Through this novel, "the Orient became an integral part of European material civilization and culture". Montesquieu juxtaposes structure European society to the despotic powers of Persia. Woven in and around letters about French manners and morals, is the narrative of Usbek's who finally rebels against the authority of the guardian eunuchs and die rather than resubmit to their despotic rule. (Tavener)

The History of the life and death of Sultan Solyman was an English play that was performed in 1638. The following quotes come from a review of the play written in 1639 written by T. Cooper.
Who, what, where, when...
Who, what, where, when...
William Shakespeare drafted Othello in 1603, around the closing of the 16th century. The following painting by Alexander Marie-Colin, a French artist, is a landscape depiction of Desdemona's death scene painted in 1719.
Who, what, where, when...

Persian Letters
is a novel written by Baron de Montesquieu, a french philosopher, in 1721.
Who, what, where, when...
Johann Joseph Fux, an Austrian composer, wrote the piece Turcaria in 1701. A link to the song on youtube.com is below.
Who, what, where, when...
The following is a portrait of John Gay, the father of Orientalism in theatre in England. John Gay was best known for his play The Beggar's Opera. This portrait of him was produces c. 1730 using printing press technology.
Red muslin drapery
Plush pillow for the feet
Green cotton fabric with gold tassles
Who, what, where, when...
The following is a blueprint of the throne of the French monarch Louis XIV created by Pierre-Adrien Paris using ink and water color on a paper canvas. This Orientalist-inspired throne for the Paris' theater was created in 1783.
Who, what, where, when...
The following is an oil on canvas portrait of a character named Laura who performs in the French theatre. This painting was created by Jean-Etienne Liotard in 1777.
Haziness surrounds Othello and Desdemona-- can relate to mysticism
Othello is placed in a vibrant orange-- suggests that he is of a high enough class to afford colored clothing. Draws attention to Turkish clothing as a commodity.
Turkish commodities
Othello and Desdemona hold hands. This is the al point of the painting and a light from above is illuminating it.
Desdemona's outfit fits more into turquerie costume
Who, what, where when...
The following painting,
Othello and Desdemona in Venice
. was created by French painter Theodore Chasseriau in 1756. It presents Othello in a different light than in the first portrait in Theme 1. Suggesting a transformation about the perception of Othello from since it was written in 1603.
There are four pillars to visual arts defined above. The primary sources in this presentation will be identified under one of these 4 categories through color coding.
Western Europeans saw Turks as blood thirsty savages and were portrayed as so in visual arts.
Evidence of visual arts reveals that at the turn of the 18th century, perspectives of Turkish people shifted among Western Europeans. Now, Turks assumed the role of a magical group of mysterious others that people wanted to explore.
Theatre has a long and interesting history that leads up to the 17th century. It all began in Greece, Athenian tragedy is the longest surviving piece of theatre known today. Grecian theatre developed the idea of a proscenium theatre. A majority of Grecian theatre was developed through The Persians a mythological Greek tragedy that included Xerxes I along with familiar Greek gods and goddesses. It has been argued that The Persians was not only a forecast of events leading up to the Persian War but one of the first manifestations of turquerie in theatre.
The Roman Empire brought theatre to Western Europe. Theatre expanded and became an art form in the early Roman Empire. The genre of drama was developed.
In medieval Europe, theatre was based heavily on religious events symbolic objects and actions – vestments, altars, censers, and pantomime performed by priests – recalled the events which Christian ritual celebrates. (Singleton) At this point, productions were only open to nobles of the higher classes, however, at the turn of the century, productions began to be more accessible to the commoners as theatre troupes traveled to act within in cities. Plays were translated into vernacular and theatre became more of an economic and political center.
The 17th century, where we lay our scene is referred to as the Golden Age of Theatre.

In this presentation, we covered two emergent perspectives among the European population of the Ottoman Empire. There was a gradual shift from Western Europeans seeing Turks as savages to seeing them as a mystical and exotic other with which they wanted to align with. The 18th century closes off with the advent of Arabian Nights in literature and visual arts (Al-Olaqi). Arabian Nights is an English translation written in 1709 of the tales from One Thousand and One Nights, an anthology of ancient Arabic tales from 300 years earlier. The discovery of these tales opened doors for European theater as many of these tales were recreated throughout the 19th century. The 19th and 20th centuries are characterized as the Golden age of the Turquerie movement. Even today, we commonly see exoticism and beauty in the Eastern cultures of what was known as the Ottoman Empire, similar to the second theme that we explored in this presentation.
Secondary Sources:

Al-Olaqi, Fahd Mohammed Taleb Saeed. The Influence of the Arabian Nights onEnglish Literature: A Selective Study. European Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 31. No. 3 (2012)

MacKenzie, John M. 1995. Orientalism: history, theory, and the arts. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Meyer, Eve. 1974. Turquerie and Eighteenth-Century Music. Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4 (1974), pp. 474-488

Osborne, Ruth. The Performance of Turquerie: Fnatasy and Spectacle in the Theatre of Pierre- Adrien Paris. Charlotte Vignon. (2011)

Singleton, Brian. 2005. Before Orientalism London’s Theater of the East, 1576-1626. Theatre
Research International, Volume 30, No. 2 (Jul 2005), pp. 192-193.

Said, E. , Taverner, J. "Orientalism" and "The Persian Letters": How Europe Speaks to Itself through its Vision of the Other"

Primary Sources:

The History of the life and death of Sultan Solyman the Magnificent, Emperor of the Turks and of his son Mustapha: inscrib'd to the spectators of Mustapha, a tragedy acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane : with a geographical description of the Emperor Solyman's armies in Hungary, Germany, and several other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa (1793)

Engraved print of John Gay, London, England, about 1730

"Othello and Desdemona in Venice," oil on canvas by Théodore Chassériau (c. 1719–56)

"Othello and Desdemona" by Alexandre-Marie Colin, 1729

Trône dans le salon du calife, premier décor de l’acte II du Dormeur éveillé, 1783

Portrait of Laura in Costume, Watercolor by Jean-Etienne Liotard 1777

The Persian Letters by Montesquieu c. 1710

Turcaria by Johann Joseph Fux c. 1680
Scheherazade and Shahryār by Ferdinand Keller, 1880
Princess Dunyazade. by John Frederick (c. 1800)
Arabic manuscript of The Thousand and One Nights dating back to the 1300s
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