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The Other Other : Realigning the Paradigm of Race in Early Modern England

  • Author(s): Chapman, Matthieu Aaron
  • et al.
Abstract

While notions of both race and otherness in Early Modern England have received intense scrutiny, the existing scholarship dealing with conceptions and performances of race in the period assume a white/non-white binary that positions all non-English peoples, including Moors, Muslims, Native Americans, Jews, Africans, and sometimes even other Europeans such as the Spanish and Irish, equally as the "other." While I am not disputing the otherness of peoples such as Moors, Muslims, etc., I am arguing that not all otherness is created equal; while some peoples' otherness exists at the level of identity and can be defined through their relationality to the English as defined through a network of religious, political, and national differences, the otherness of the Black African functions at a level of abstraction that establishes them as the inhuman abject that allows all other notions of otherness to function. I am arguing for the existence of Black Africans as the other "other" that exists as the negation of the English and the Moor, Christian and Muslim alike, and that the English's first encounter with the Black African body in 1501 became the catalyst that shifted discourse away from notions of a collective identity and allowed for meditations on the individual self. I position drama and performance, as a primary form of mass cultural communication during the Early Modern period when literacy was uncommon among the lower classes and printing was time consuming and expensive, as the locus where the confusion over the occupant of the abject position was worked out. Using dramatic texts such as Othello, Titus Andronicus, and numerous other Early Modern English plays both popular and lesser known, as well as the performance of these plays as the medium of analysis, the dissertation shifts the binary away from the currently accepted standard of white/non- white that defines "otherness" in the period and examines race in Early Modern England from the prospective of a non -black/black antagonism that incorporates most forms of humans defined as "others" by differing constituent elements of identity into a civil society whose subjectivity is defined by the abject Black

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