The General History of the Turks

Shakespeare’s Library –  Religion

#12 Richard Knolles, The General History of the Turks (1621)

The first English history of the Ottoman empire was compiled by Richard Knolles and published in 1603; subsequent reprints appeared, like this 1621 edition that was revised and expanded after Knolles had died. The Turks had long been perceived as a religious and military threat, but interest in the Ottoman state intensified due to an increase in economic and diplomatic relations. The portrait of the Turks provided by Knolles is simultaneously disparaging and admiring: the Turks were feared because of their religion (Islam) yet admired for their strength and military prowess. The General History provides a crucial cultural context for Shakespeare’s Othello. The portrait on display here is of Selimus the Second, who captured the Mediterranean island of Cyprus from Venice in 1570, an event recalled by Shakespeare’s play, which largely takes place on the island.

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