LONDON - Shakespeare: staging the world, a major exhibition at the British Museum provides a new and unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city four hundred years ago, interpreted through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.
Britain’s most famous playwright, described by his friend Ben Johnson as “not for an age but for all time,” was fascinated by the Muslim world.
He may have recalled the visit of Abd Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, the Moroccan Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I, who was sent by Muley Hamet King of Morocco to negotiate a global alliance with Elizabeth 1 against Spain.
He arrived in London in 1600 at the head of a delegation which was a source of fascination and fear.
El-Ouahed and his men were in the city for six months and would certainly have been known to Shakespeare. Othello, the soldier and ‘noble moor’ was probably based on El-Ouahed, whose striking portrait is featured in the exhibition.
A tourist album of Istanbul from 1618 belonging to the English merchant Peter Mundy is also on display along with a ceramic jug imported from Ottoman Turkey illustrating London’s increasing global influence.
The jug could have been made by Paul Baning one of the four London merchants who handled most of the imports from the Levant in 1589.
Videos of readings from famous excerpts from Shakespeare’s play can be heard throughout the exhibition. From the Merchant of Venice there is Shylock’s famous speech: Hath not a Jew eyes:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
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