Boys Remade: Sexing Blackness in the Early Modern Mediterranean and English Imagination

NOV 20, 2020 | 4:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


November 20, 2020: 4:00 PM




In this talk Abdulhamit Arvas, University of Pennsylvania, will trace the image of the eunuch that emerged as a popular theatrical figure on the early modern English stage. I will revisit representations of eunuchs within the historical Ottoman context wherein Black boys were enslaved usually at the ages of seven and nine in the Sub-Sahara, and made eunuchs to serve the Empire. Now as eunuchs in prominent positions, these Black slaves were often attacked by Ottoman elites who deployed a new anti-Black racial as well as gendered language in depicting the growing African population in the imperial capital. English travelers to the Ottoman Empire described these figures in similar terms inflicted by Mediterranean discourses and practices. Hence, when they appeared on English stage, eunuchs often conveyed gendered, racial, and corporeal otherness often in association with Turks, Islam, and Blackness. Reading English representations within the Ottoman context, in which black and white bodies started to be strictly separated in the late sixteenth century, highlights the cross-cultural influences in producing racial imageries in the global Renaissance
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