The Battle of Alcazar

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The Battle of Alcazar is a play attributed to George Peele, perhaps written no later than late 1591 if the play "Muly Molucco" mentioned in Henslowe's diary is this play (see below), and published anonymously in 1594, that tells the story of the battle of Alcácer Quibir in 1578.

Likely allusions to the Spanish Armada in the play appear to limit its earliest possible date. The primary historical source for the play, John Polemom's The Second Part of the Book of Battles, Fought in Our Age, was published in 1587. The play may also have been an attempt to capitalise on popular interest in the Drake-Norris Expedition, the so-called English Armada, of 1589, in which Peele was interested (see below).

Characters (dramatis personae)[edit]

The Presenter
Moroccans
Abdelmelec – also known as Muly Molocco, rightful King of Morocco
Abdil Rayes – his Queen
Calsepius Bashaw – general of the Turkish troops supporting Abdelmelec
Zareo – a Moor of Argier, follower of Abdelmelec
Celybin – a captain in Abdelmelec's army
Muly Mahamet Seth – brother to Abdelmelec
Rubin Archis – widow of Abdelmelec's brother, Abdelmunen
Rubin's Young Son
Muly Mahamet – the Moor, nephew to Abdelmelec
Calipolis – Muly Mahamet's wife
Muly Mahamet's son
Pisano, Muly Mahamet's Captain
Messenger
A boy serving Muly Mahamet
Attendant
Ambassadors from Muly Mahamet to the King of Portugal

History of the play[edit]

Lord Strange's Men acted a play called Muly Molloco 14 times between 21 February 1592 and 20 January 1593; this is generally thought to be The Battle of Alcazar under an alternative title (no other play about "Muly Molucco" is known from this era, and one of the characters in the play refers to another as "Muly Molucco"). A later revival of the play was staged by the Admiral's Men, either in 1598 or 1600–02. The 1594 quarto was printed by Edward Allde for the bookseller Richard Bankworth.[1] The play was published anonymously, though the attribution to Peele rests on both internal stylistic evidence and an assignment of authorship of a quoted passage in the anthology England's Parnassus (1600).[2]

Analysis[edit]

The Battle of Alcazar is a five-act non-fiction play that tells the story of the battle. Like Shakespeare's Henry V (1599), it is narrated by a Chorus who describes the action in terms far more heroic than it warrants: King Sebastian of Portugal is referred to as "an honourable and courageous prince", but is in fact shown to be foolish in invading Morocco, having been duped by Mulai Mohammed, who is presented as a Machiavellian villain.

The enemy, led by "Muly Mahamet" (Abd al-Malik), are depicted sympathetically. The play's portrayal of the Moroccan leader has been singled out as "the first full dramatic treatment of a black Moor on the English Stage...."[3] (Peele's orientation can be understood as anti-Spanish, and rather pro-Moroccan, within the historical context of contemporary attempts at an Anglo-Moroccan alliance between Elizabeth I of England and the Moroccan Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur.)

The primary protagonist in the play is Thomas Stukeley, presented as a larger-than-life figure driven by ambition: he is given a soliloquy on his desire to be a king which very probably influenced Shakespeare in writing the Duke of Gloucester's similar speech in Henry VI, Part 3. Peele may have chosen to treat Stukeley as he does in an attempt to create a hero compable to Marlowe's Tamburlaine, which was the great theatrical success of the late 1580s. (Peele wrote a poem,"A Farewell to Norris and Drake," in which he links Stukeley and Tamburlaine: "proud tragedians...mighty Tamburlaine,/ King Charlemagne, Tom Stukeley....")

Critics contend that the primary protagonist is determined by the reader's socio-political predilection. Thus, one might argue that Sebastian or Philip are alternative protagonists due to their significant religious and political involvement in the text. However, Abdelmelec (a fair skinned Moor) and his usurping nephew Muly Mahamet (a dark skinned Moor) are regularly recognised as central to the racial discourse that Alcazar is fundamentally concerned with.

Compared to Shakespeare's Othello, a later early modern play, Alcazar does not contain many explicit references to racial difference. This can be seen as a refining of the shades of racial difference in the early modern period. Whereas Muly Mahamet is defined by vague racial stereotypes in keeping with early modern racial ideology, Othello's racial difference is solely defined (radicalised by a treacherous Iago) by the colour of his skin, and many characters in the later play exhibit their own racial stereotypes through their astonishment at Othello's contradicting them.

The "plot"[4] or plan for the Admiral's Men's production still exists, as MS. Add. 10,449, fol. 3, in the collection of the British Museum. Though damaged, the plot reveals most of the cast of the production, which included Edward Alleyn and Samuel Rowley among other members of the company.[5] In comparing the plot to the play, W. W. Greg determined that the plot requires a larger cast than the printed version of the play does; he argued that the printed text was cut down from its original length to accommodate a smaller-scale production.[6] Other scholars agree that the 1594 text was shortened, though the reason for that shortening has been disputed.[7]

Peele was not the only English playwright to dramatise the story of Sebastian. A lost play, Sebastian, King of Portugal, was performed by the Admiral's Men in 1601. Massinger's Believe as You List (1631) was originally about Sebastian; Massinger shifted the play's setting to ancient Greece after the first version was suppressed. In the Restoration era, John Dryden wrote Don Sebastian (1689) on the same subject.

Plot summary[edit]

Abdelmeclec (also known as Muly Molocco) is the rightful King of Morocco. But his nephew Muly Mahamet, the Moor, attempts to steal his throne. The chorus relates, through the use of a dumb show (a silent play or enactment) that Muly Mahamet has murdered Abdelmelec's brother Abdelmunen, as well as his brothers the Two Young Princes. Sebastian, the King of Portugal, promises aid to the Muly Mahamet believing that he is acting honourably. The unseen Amurath, Emperor of the East, sends aid to assist Adbelmelec. Abdelmelec is slain in battle, but his brother Muly Mahamet Seth, decides that in order that their troops do not lose heart in the midst of the battle that his death should be concealed. The plot works, and Abdelmelec's troops are vicotrious. In the Battle that follows, three kings die: Abdelmeclec, Muly Mahamet and the King of Portugal. Abdelmelec's brother, Muly Mahamet Seth is declared King of Morocco after his brother and nephew's death.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The quarto gives the full title of the play as The Battell of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugal, and Abdelmelec king of Marocco.
  2. ^ Chambers, Vol. 3, pp. 459–60.
  3. ^ Logan and Smith, p. 146. See also: Eldred Jones, Othello's Countrymen: The African in English Renaissance Drama, London, Oxford University Press, 1965.
  4. ^ In Elizabethan theatre, the "plot" was a chart that hung backstage in the theatre, to which the actors could refer.
  5. ^ Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 175.
  6. ^ W. W. Greg, Two Elizabethan Stage Abridgements: "The Battle of Alcazar" and "Orlando Furioso," Malone Society, 1922.
  7. ^ Bernard Beckerman, "Theatrical Plots and Elizabethan Stage Practice," in Long and Elton, pp. 109–24.

References[edit]

  • Edelman, Charles, ed. The Stukeley Plays: The Battle of Alcazar by George Peele, The Famous History of the Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley. Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2005.
Critical edition of the play with a modernised text, part of The Revels Plays Companion Library series.
  • Chambers. E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
  • Long, William B., and William R. Elton. Shakespeare and Dramatic Tradition. Newark, DE, University of Delaware Press, 1989.

External links[edit]

  • Previsualization of Charles Edelman's critical edition of the play at google books
  • The Battle of Alcazar in The Works of George Peele: David and Bethsabe. Battle of Alcazar. Device of the pageant borne before Woolstone Dixi. Descensus Astrææ. A farewell to Sir John Norris and Sir Francis Drake, &c., and a Tale of Troy. Polyhymnia. The honour of the Garter. Miscellaneous poems. Peele's Merry conceited jests. Index to the notes, Volume 2 of The Works of George Peele, collected and edited by Alexander Dyce, 2nd edition, W. Pickering, 1829, Harvard University