Racial discourse: Blackamoors,
Othello and Elizabeth I
Philippo Pigafetta (1597)
George Abbot (1599)
Leo Africanus (1526)
Presence of emissaries
from Barbary (1596)
Elizabeth I (1596,
CDA (van Dijk, 1995)
• Context (participants,
time, place, topics)
• Text - forms of control:
• a) semantic structure
of the discourse;
• b) surface structures;
• c) local semantic
Shakespeare (c 1602)
CDA (van Dijk, 1995)
Stereotypes about blackness
• Depravity and lust:
– “The people are blacke and goe naked, saiuing that they wear short coates of Seales skinne,
and a peace of the same skinne about their members, they are all of stature, flat nose, swift
in running, they will pick and steale, although you looke on them”, from A True and Large
Discourse of the Voyage of the Whole Fleet of Ships, 1603).
– “It is the manner among them, for euvery man to haue many wiues:and the fellowship of
their wiues, that other use in secret: they use in open sighte”, and “every man taketh as
many wiues as hee listeth, and so they multiply infinitely.” (The Fardle of Facions Conteining
the Ancient Maners, Customes and Lawes of the Peoples Enhabiting the two Partes of the
Earth Called Affike and Asie).
• Canibalism, bestiality, brutishness:
– “For thier enemies whom they take in the warres, they eate, and also their slaues, if they
can haue good market for them, they sell: or,if they cannot, then they deliuer them to the
butchers to be cut in peeces,and so sold to be rosted or boyled” (Pigafetta, 1597).
Discourse in official letters
• CDA: A type of analytical study about a discourse that
assesses, primarily, the way in which the abuse of social
power, dominance and inequality are practiced, reproduced
and, occasionally, combated by written and oral texts in social
and political contexts (van Dijk, 1999, p. 23).
• Ideology: basic systems of socially shared beliefs that are
associated with the characteristic properties of a group, such
as their identity, their position in society, their interests and
aims, their relations to other groups, their reproduction, and
their natural environment, and which are transmitted through
oral or written discourse in a persuasive way (van Dijk, 1995).
Local semantic structures
Representations about others
-level of specificity
-degree of completeness
Control of rhetorical forms
• Social and political context:
Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604);
Defeat of the Invincible Armada (1588);
Pirates attacks : slaves- prisoners of war by British pirates: Francis Drake; Earl of Essex,
Negotiations between England & Morocco: East Levant Company or Turkey Company
1581) & Barbary Company or Morocco Company (1585).
Establishment of the Anglo-Moroccan alliance: invasion of Spanish colonies in the
invasion of the old Al Ándalus
First Letter: Queen Elizabeth to the Lord Mayor et al., 11 July 1596,in Acts of the Privy Council
of England, n.s., 26 (1596-97), ed. John Roche Dasent (London: Mackie, 1902), 16-7.
• Her Majestie understanding that there are of late divers blackmoores
brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are allready here
to manie…Her Majesty's pleasure therefore ys that those kinde of people
should be sent forth of the lande, and for that purpose there ys direction
given to this bearer Edwarde Banes to take of those blackmoores that in
this last voyage under Sir Thomas Baskervile were brought into this realme
the nomber of tenn, to be transported by him out of the realme. Wherein
wee require you to be aydinge and assysting unto him as he shall have
occacion, therof not to faile (Queen Elizabeth to the Lord Mayor et al.
1596-7 pp. 16-7).
Second letter: Queen Elizabeth to the Lord Mayor et al., 18 July 1596,in Acts of the Privy Council
of England, n.s., 26 (1596-97), ed. John Roche Dasent (London: Mackie, 1902), 20-1.
Whereas Casper van Senden, a merchant of Lubeck, did by his labor and
travell procure 89 of her Majesty’s subjectes that were detayned prisoners in
Spaine and Portugall to be released, and brought them hither into this realme
at his owne cost and charges, for the which his expences and declaration of
his honest minde towardes those prisoners he only desireth to have lycense to
take up so much blackamoores here in this realme and to transport them into
Spaine and Portugall. Her Majesty in regard of the charitable affection the
suppliant hathe shewed, being a stranger, to worke the delivery of our
contrymen that were there in great misery and thraldom and to bring them
home to their native contry, and that the same could not be don without great
expence, and also considering the reasonablenes of his requestes to transport
so many blackamoores from hence, doth thincke yt a very good exchange and
that those kinde of people may be well spared in this realme, being so
populous and numbers of hable persons the subjectes of the land and
Christian people that perishe for want of service, wherby through their labor
they might be mayntained. They are therfore in their Lordships’ name
required to aide and assist him to take up suche blackamores as he shall finde
within this realme with the consent of their masters, who we doubt not,
considering her Majesty’s good pleasure to have those kind of people sent out
of the lande and the good deserving of the stranger towardes her Majesty’s
subjectes, and that they shall doe charitably and like Christians rather to be
served by their owne contrymen then with those kinde of people, will yielde
those in their possession to him.
Third letter: Tudor Royal Proclamations, vol.3, pp.221-2 (c January 1601).
http:wwwnationalarchives.gov.uk Black Presence
After our hearty commendations; whereas the Queen’s Majesty, tendering
the good and welfare of her own natural subjects greatly distressed in
these hard times of dearth, is highly discontented to understand the great
numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which (as she is informed) are crept
into this realm since the troubles between Her Highness and the King of
Spain, who are fostered and relieved here to the great annoyance of her
own liege people that want the relief which those people consume; as also
for that the most of them are infidels, having no understanding of Christ
or his Gospel, hath given especial commandment that the said kind of
people should be with all speed avoided and discharged out of this Her
Majesty’s dominions. And to that end and purpose hath appointed Caspar
van Zenden, merchant of Lübeck for their speedy transportation, a man
that hath very well deserved of this realm in respect that by his own labor
and charge he hath relieved and brought from Spain divers of our English
nation who otherwise would have perished there. This shall therefore be
to will and require you and every of you to aid and assist the said Caspar
van Zenden or his assigns to take up such Negars and Blackamoors to be
transported as aforesaid, as he shall find within the realm of England. And
if there shall be any person or persons which are possessed of any such
Blackamoors that refuse to deliver them in sort as aforesaid, then we
require you to call them before you and to advise and persuade them by
all good means to satisfy Her Majesty’s pleasure therein, which if they
shall eftsoons willfully and obstinately refuse, we pray you then to certify
their names unto us, to the end Her Majesty may take such further course
therein as it shall seem best in her princely wisdom.
Ways to control texts (official letters)
• 1) Semantic structures: semantic coherence between the
propositions that conform each text, expressed between structures of
cause relations: economic and religious.
• 2) Local semantic level:
– repetition of central idea: others = different class & financial threat:
“…in these hard times of dearth” (3rd letter); (…“who are fostered and
relieved here to the great annoyance of her own liege people that want
the relief which those people consume”) (3rd letter), (…“manie in want of
service.”) (2nd letter)
- use of threatening structure: future subjunctive:
“And if there shall be any person or persons which are possessed of any
such Blackamoors that refuse to deliver them in sort as aforesaid, then we
require you to call them before you and to advise and persuade them by all
good means to satisfy Her Majesty’s pleasure therein, which if they shall
eftsoons willfully and obstinately refuse, we pray you then to certify their
names unto us, to the end Her Majesty may take such further course
therein as it shall seem best in her princely wisdom .”(3rd letter)
- moves: (+ ) ‘us’ vs. (-) ‘them’, ‘the others’ :
“the most of them are infidels, having no understanding of Christ or his
Gospel,” (3rd letter), while the British are “Christians”, “charitable” and
“faithful to the gospel.”
- Contrast / opposition: external groups: “they” & internal
groups: “us” lexical-grammatical opposition: “those kind of
people” / “our countrymen.”(2nd letter).
- Choice of words: use of demonstrative pronouns : “those kinde of
people”, “such people”, “they”.
- Level of specificity and degree of completeness: “hard times of
dearth.” (3rd letter)
(van Dijk, 1999)
-Pragmatically: official decree,
-Content local semantic
-Stylistically & rhetorically:
choice of genre
• C.D.A. ways of control
Negative stereotypes Elizabethan period:
• Yago about Otelo: “an old black ram”, “a barbary horse”, “a beast”,
“the devil” (I, i, 85-86-88) who has stolen Desdemona.
• Rodrigo about the moor: “…an extravagant and wheeling stranger”
(133), “a lascivious Moor” (123) with “thick-lips”.
• Brabantio, towards their elopment: “A maiden never bold, /Of spirit so
still and quiet…in spite of nature, /Of years, of country, credit,
everything, / To fall in love with what she feared to look on!” (I, ii, p.
• Use of strategies of manipulation and persuasion:
- Othello: “Haply for I am black/ And have not those soft parts
of conversation/ That chamberers have …/ She’s gone. I am
abused…” (III, iii, 261).
• -Iago: “…Not to affect many proposed matches/Of her own clime,
complexion, and degree/Whereto we see in all things nature tends-/ Foh!
One may smell in such a will most rank,/ Foul disproportions, thoughts
unnatural…”(III, iii, 231-35).
• - Othello: “I think my wife be honest, and think she is not, / I think that
thou art just, and think thou art not”. (III, iii, 385-86)
• Inversion of underlying stereotypical structure of
difference & opposition WE - THEY:
Iago: - “She did deceive her father, marrying you; /and when she seemed
to shake and fear your looks, / she loved them most” (III, iii, 206-8).
“I would not have your free and noble nature,
Out of self-bounty be abused. I know our country disposition well:
In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands/ their best conscience
It is not to leave’t undone, but kept unknown” (III, iii, 201-4).
• Objective: to show different ways in which
power, persuasion and manipulation were
exerted in England in the XVIth C. to create
and transmit the most convenient stereotypes
for the speaker.