William Percy's Mahomet and His Heaven (1601) is extraordinary. Not only is it the only early modern play purportedly based upon the Qur'an, but it is also the first to place the Prophet Muhammad on the stage. While there existed a remarkable range of texts concerning Islamic characters and themes in Renaissance England, from chronicles and pamphlets to popular drama, the publication of this edition of Mahomet and His Heaven represents a major step forward in the study of Islam on the early modern stage. Roughly contemporary with Shakespeare's Othello, William Percy makes the remarkable and potentially highly provocative gesture of locating the Prophet as its central character, presiding over an apocalyptic drought to chastise the sins of mankind. The play takes place in around the mosques of 'Medina' and the action mirrors early Christian 'translations' of the Qur'an, the Islamic holy text that was rarely available in England at the time. Furthermore, the play provides a fascinating insight into the way that Islamic characters were portrayed on the early modern stage, containing as it does remarkably detailed stage directions, stipulating for example that the Prophet wears 'all greene and greene his Turban' and that his Angels are 'rainbow powdered'. Such details offer an entirely new perspective upon this aspect of early modern stagecraft. Matthew Dimmock presents here the play in its entirety, with a critical introduction which introduces some of its key themes, and places it in a textual and social context. A section of detailed explanatory scholarly notes follow the play, containing a full translation of the short Latin sections and references to the many political and literary parallels. This book should be required reading for historians, literary scholars and students dealing with notions of race, religion, magic, astrology and stagecraft in early modern England.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction: Play and playwright; The Qu'ran, the Bible and religious polemic; Portraying 'Mahomet'; Alchemy and the occult; Unravelling the playscript: I. Textual history; II. Sources and performance; 'Strange and wayward'? A note on this edition. Mahomet and His Heaven; Textual variants; Explanatory notes to the play; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.
Dr Matthew Dimmock is Lecturer in English at the University of Sussex. His previous publications include New Turkes: Dramatizing Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2005) and Cultural Encounters Between East and West, 1453-1699 (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2005), co-edited with Matthew Birchwood. He is currently working on a book-length study of the Prophet Muhammad in Christian thought and iconography.
'Matthew Dimmock's stated aim is to recover Mahomet and His Heaven "for any consideration of early English mythologies of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad". It is a task he performs admirably - his edition contributes to an important and growing field of scholarship. But theatre history, too, has seen significant development, and the play has much to offer on this front. Perhaps especially because it is unlikely to see production, scholarly attention to this text's exceptional focus on performance remains a necessary task.' Times Literary Supplement ’Dimmock's editorial skills are admirable. His introduction places the work in proper, historical, cultural and theological context. ... All things considered, the play is of paramount importance for any consideration of representations of Islam in the Renaissance, especially for those who want to look at the complexities of presenting Islam as a faith on the English stage.’ Modern Language Review ’Matthew Dimmock’s new edition of William Percy’s play Mahomet and His Heaven (1601) represents a crucial step in the rehabilitation of a significant seventeenth-century author. ... Dimmock duly makes use of Clayton Joseph Burns’s unpublished work on this very play. His new study is, nevertheless, the first scholarly edition of any of Percy’s works to appear in print. Reading both the play itself and the rich and stimulating scholarly apparatus supplied by the editor”including an introduction and explanatory notes spanning about sixty pages each”one can only wonder that the process has taken so long.’ Huntington Library Quarterly ’As with his influential study New Turkes, Dimmock’s critical and historical acumen make this valuable and timely book essential reading for students and scholars interested in understanding early modern imaginings of Islam.’ Sixteenth Century Journal