English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama
In English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama, Mary Floyd-Wilson outlines what we might call ‘scientific’ conceptions of racial and ethnic differences in sixteenth and seventeenth-century English writing. Drawing on classical and contemporary medical texts, histories, and cosmographies, Floyd-Wilson demonstrates that Renaissance understandings of racial and ethnic identities contradicted many modern stereotypes concerning difference. Southerners, Africans, in particular, were identified as dispassionate, cool-tempered, and wise, whereas the more northern English were understood to be unruly, impressionable, and slow-witted. Concerned with the unflattering and constraining implications of this classically-derived knowledge, English writers labored to reinvent ethnology to their own advantage - a labor that paved the way for the invention of more familiar racial ideas. Floyd-Wilson highlights these English revisionary efforts in her surprising and transformational readings of the period’s drama, including Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness, and Shakespeare’s Othello and Cymbeline.
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