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Islamic Conversion and Christian Resistance on the Early Modern Stage

Jane Hwang Degenhardt

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This book explores the theme of Christian conversion to Islam in 12 early-modern English plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Massinger and others. In these works, conversion from Christianity to Islam is represented as both erotic and tragic: as a sexual seduction and a fate worse than death.

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About the Author

Jane Hwang Degenhardt is Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the co-editor (with Elizabeth Williamson) of Religion and Drama in Early Modern England.


Degenhardt anatomizes English anxieties and defenses with consummate skill…Her analysis of the ‘‘imaginative process whereby religious identities became fused with national, embodied, and proto-racial categories’’ is brilliant.

- Richmond Barbour, Renaissance Quarterly

Incisively arguing that conversion to Islam brought to a crisis English ambivalence about the Protestant emphasis on disembodiment and immateriality in religious life, this book brilliantly explores how "turning Turk" was simultaneously understood in religious, sexual and proto-racial terms in the early modern period. Elegantly written and vividly illustrated, Degenhardt’ s book links early modern and medieval conversion narratives with canonical and less canonical plays to provide a strikingly original account of why Islamic conversion was so important to early modern thought and why the stage was such a rich site for its exploration.

- Jean E. Howard, George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University

This is a strong, exciting, and original book. Degenhardt draws deeply on contemporary sermons, ecclesiastical debates, news pamphlets, and travel literature alongside a wide range of plays in order to give a complex and lively picture of the cultures of controversy in Renaissance England.

- Julia Reinhard Lupton, Professor of English, The University of California, Irvine

Degenhardt’s book provides a richly evocative and nuanced way of looking at emergent racial categories, apostasy, and the human body…It brilliantly achieves its primary objective of establishing the continued influence of Catholicism in post-Reformation staging of an embodied Christian response to Islam. The impressive list of plays examined and carefully articulated arguments make it a remarkable piece of scholarship, yet it also manages to remain accessible to a general audience interested in learning more about Anglo-Islamic relations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

- Amrita Sen, Shakespeare Quarterly

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