Tamerlanes and Tamer-Chams: Exploring the Early Modern Turk Play

Event Date: 
11 Jun 2017

A new collaborative project between the Universities of Sussex and Kent, and Shakespeare’s Globe, will be launched with two play readings in June 2017: Philip Massinger's The Renegado (1624) and Thomas Kyd's Soliman and Perseda (1592).
The ‘Turk play’ was one of the first crazes in London’s purpose-built playhouses, a dramatic phenomenon focused on Islam and Muslims (especially the Ottoman Empire). Its popularity was sustained for an extraordinary length of time – nearly a century, from Elizabethan to Restoration England – and theatrical companies and their dramatists vigorously competed to ‘out-Turk’ each other. But they were not always appreciated: Ben Jonson and others lamented the ‘Tamerlanes and Tamer-chams of the late Age, which had nothing in them but the scenicall strutting, and furious vociferation, to warrant them to the ignorant gapers’ (Jonson 1641, 100).
Despite Jonson’s vilification, and the now routine use of the term, the ‘Turk play’ remains undefined. The purpose of this innovative project will be to examine these plays in terms of a range of issues – their coherence as a genre; their impact, genesis and evolution; their connection with continental models; and their afterlife, particularly in terms of deepening a history of Islam in Britain.
The project will begin with a staged reading of Philip Massinger’s extraordinary play of passion, disguise, captivity and conversion, The Renegado (1626). It will take place on Sunday 11 June (4pm), at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts at Sussex, part of the Globe’s Read Not Dead Massinger season. The reading will be accompanied by an introductory lecture and preceded by a workshop. Tickets (costing £5) and further information can be found at:
The second reading, of Soliman and Perseda (1592), presumed to be by Thomas Kyd, will take place at the start of the Medieval & Early Modern Studies Festival at the University of Kent on Thursday 15 June at 4pm. This remarkable play explores Mediterranean crossings and conflicts, and features two spectacular Ottoman attacks on the island of Rhodes. It too will be preceded by a lecture and accompanied by a workshop. It is free and open to all.