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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Shakespeare Blacks and Jews
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0164  Thursday, 22 January 2004

[1]     From:   Ruth Ross <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 08:20:52 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews

[2]     From:   Ruth Ross <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 08:42:47 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews

[3]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 11:24:34 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ruth Ross <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 08:20:52 -0500
Subject: 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews

I came across an interesting site on the internet entitled Shakespeare
and Race (ed. Catherine M. S. Alexander and Stanley Wells)
http://assets.cambridge.org/0521770467/sample/0521770467WS.pdf  that has
a discussion of Moors/Africans in Elizabethan England. It seems that
there was a Moorish ambassador to Elizabeth's court who was painted in
1600. There was also something called the Barbary Company led by Earls
of Leicester and Warwick, and some merchant adventurers named Tomson who
were in contact with the Barbary Coast from whence Leo Africanus, the
model for Othello, probably hailed. The intro also points out that Iago
is short for Santiago and St.  James was known by Elizabethan audiences
as "St. James the Moor-killer." Anyway, the intro also cites Barbara
Everett's contention that Elizabeth issued a proclamation expelling
"negars and blackamoors" from England (p. 10b). And another site
(http://www.uiowa.edu/~c008g001/handouts/resources/blackamoor.pdf) has
several pictures and a mention of the Moorish ambassador, too.

I can't lay my hands on any other mention of the proclamation expelling
Africans from England or the date, but I'll keep on looking.

Ruth Ross

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ruth Ross <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 08:42:47 -0500
Subject: 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews

Further research turned up the following from a site called "Black
Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain 1500-1850" at
http://www.pro.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/early_times/elizabeth.htm :

"But while Elizabeth may have enjoyed being entertained by Black people,
in the 1590s she tried to expel them from her realm. In 1596 she wrote
to the lord mayors of major cities noting that there were 'of late
divers blackmoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people
there are already here to manie...'. She ordered that 'those kinde of
people should be sente forth of the land'.

Elizabeth made an arrangement for a merchant, Casper van Senden, to
deport Black people from England. In 1596 she licensed him to deport 89
Black people to Spain and Portugal, in exchange for 89 English
prisoners, held in those countries, whom (it is said) he had brought
back to England at his own expense.

No doubt van Senden intended to sell these people. But this was not to
be, because masters of Black workers - who had not been offered
compensation - refused to let them go. In 1601, Elizabeth issued a
further proclamation expressing her 'discontentment by the numbers of
blackamores which are crept into this realm...' and again licensing van
Senden to deport Black people.  It is doubtful whether this second
proclamation was any more successful than the first.

Why this sudden, urgent desire to expel members of England's Black
population? It was more than a commercial transaction pursued by the
queen.  In the 16th century, the ruling classes became increasingly
concerned about poverty and vagrancy, as the feudal system - which, in
theory, had kept everyone in their place - finally broke down. They
feared disorder and social breakdown and, blaming the poor, brought in
poor laws to try to deal with the problem.

In the 1590s the harvests repeatedly failed, bringing hunger, disease
and a rapid increase in poverty and vagrancy. Elizabeth's orders against
Black people were an attempt to blame them for wider social problems.
Her proclamation of 1601 claimed that Black people were 'fostered and
relieved here to the great annoyance of [the queen's] own liege people,
that want the relief, which those people consume'. The proclamation also
stated that 'most of them are infidels, having no understanding of
Christ or his Gospel'.

It may be the case that many (although by no means all) Black people
were Muslims (of North African origin). If so, it seems that the queen
was playing on their difference from Protestant England to assert that
they were not welcome. Whether they were actually more likely to be in
poverty than Whites is much more doubtful. What is clear is that they
were being used as a convenient scapegoat at a time of crisis.

Nor is it probable that Elizabeth's efforts to deport them had much
success.  The historian James Walvin concludes that 'Blacks had become
too securely lodged at various social levels of English society to be
displaced and repatriated.'"

Hope this helps.
Ruth Ross

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 11:24:34 -0800
Subject: 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0146 Shakespeare Blacks and Jews

Don Bloom asks:

"Africans had been expelled from England during Shakespeare's time."
Could I have a little more detail on that?"

In the mid 70's (1570's) Elizabeth had a troupe of black musicians and
dancers in her court. She also had a black maidservant. There is a
portrait, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, portraying this group
performing for the court.

In 1596, Elizabeth ordered all the lord mayors of major cities to deport
the Africans. She noted:

'of late divers blackmoores brought into this realm, of which kind of
people there are already here to manie... those kinde of people should
be sente forth of the land'.

The merchant Casper van Senden was given a contract to remove the
Africans from England. He was initially licensed to remove 89 black
people to Portugal and Spain. They were an exchange for the ransom of 89
English prisoners held in Spain. Interestingly, the 'owners' of the
black workers refused to yield them up.

In 1601, Elizabeth again passed an edict. She expressed her . .

"discontentment by the numbers of blackamores which are crept into this
realm..."

Casper van Senden was again contracted to remove the Africans. He seems
to have had little success.

Why did she want the Africans gone? Oh, how times stay the same! The
Africans were being blamed for the bad harvests of the 1590's. This
'newest group of immigrants' were to blame for the rise in vagrancy,
disease and poverty caused by the failing economy; sound familiar?

The 1601 proclamation claimed:

"fostered and relieved here to the great annoyance of her majesties own
liege people, that want the relief, which those people consume".

And here's the capper:

"most of them are infidels, having no understanding of Christ or his
Gospels".

But Africans had become incorporated into too many wealthy households as
maids and servants, musicians and performers to be let go, and so they
remained.

If you recall, James VI, when king of Scotland, had employed an African
to pull the chariot at the celebration of his eldest son's (Henry) birth
in 1594. James had been 'afeard' at the thought of a lion pulling the
chariot and thus gave birth to the rustic scenario employed by
Shakespeare in Midsummer Night's Dream.

-- Colin Cox Artistic Director Will & Company

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