AuthorWermers, James E.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe goal of this dissertation is to explore the construction of the Catholic, the Moor, and the Jew in Shakespeare's early plays as instances of queering—as stagings of religious others as sexually deviant and a threat to normative, English, Protestant reproduction. As numerous critics have remarked, the alien is a conspicuous figure in Elizabethan drama. A number of explanations for this have been offered, the vast majority of which have sought to tie this phenomenon to emerging categories of race and empire (see, for example, Emily Bartels' work on the "alien" in Elizabethan drama, and the work done by both Kim F. Hall and Virginia Mason Vaughan on the role blackness plays on the early modern stage). I want to explore the religious dimension of otherness. In Protestant religious discourse, the error of other religions was characterized as a perversion of desire that had serious implications for physical and ideological reproduction. As Francis Dolan has noted, Catholics were seen as embracing a disordered vision of sexuality in which women are dominant. This fear of political and social inversion is typically associated with the "whore of Babylon" in late 16th and early 17th century rhetoric. As Nabil Matar observes, the Moor was seen to be lascivious, embracing a polymorphous, perverse desire that pollutes culture through sodomy while at the same time threatening miscegenation. Finally, as James Shapiro has noted, the Jew was seen as desiring money above all in a way that entailed a kind of "monstrous" and asexual reproduction through usury. In sum, the discourses of religious otherness were principally concerned with sexual deviance as a threat to reproduction. Shakespeare's construction of characters like Joan La Pucelle, Aaron the Moor, and Shylock is rooted in this protestant understanding of religious otherness as queer. That understanding was increasingly important in a late Elizabethan England that was, as Daniel Swift suggests, rooted in protestant ideology and simultaneously worried about the stability of that identity, given an aging monarch and growing military threats from Catholic and Islamic nations. Our understanding of Shakespeare's religious figures is enhanced by taking into account the queer character of their religious otherness at a time of acute reproductive anxiety.
Degree ProgramGraduate College