Friday, March 23, 2007

Mercy, How Prescient of Percy

Here's a brief description of a play never performed:-

Percy’s work is unusual in claiming contact with the Koran and unique in its sustained dramatic depiction of the Prophet. Given the current interest in Early Modern depictions of the East, this publication will undoubtedly open new avenues of inquiry. In part, that inquiry will focus simply on the nature of anti-Islamic propaganda. Mahomet and His Heaven begins with the Prophet’s judgement on a sinful Arabia, a place he wishes to punish through a divine drought. Angels and spirits are sent to investigate, but at the end of the play they bring only corruption to Muhammad’s already dubious heavenly rule. In Act Five the Queen of the Desert, the object of the play’s numerous sexual quests, has the Prophet himself in her thrall. In common with many of his contemporaries, Percy associates the East with luxury and sexual licence; by manipulating elements in the Islamic tradition, he eventually takes those ideas to caricature the Muslim heaven itself.

The picture, however, is not quite so simple. Percy’s play is also a tragicomedy, with Muhammad as a kind of Prospero conducting symbolic masques, blessing marriages, and turning away from vengeance at the last. The vision of union at the close of Act Five brings the reconciliation of Shia and Sunni factions – a recovery from schism for which Percy, as member of a famous Catholic family, must have hoped in the Christian West. Some of the fascination of Mahomet and His Heaven lies in these interlocking religious conflicts: Christian against Muslim and Catholic against Protestant. Muhammad, dispensing judgement and forgiveness, is an object of satire for his presumption, but he is also a kind of proxy for the unifying power of Christ. That doubleness is also there in the depiction of Arabia: at one point a corrupt “Dervish” is transformed into a Christian “Fryar” simply through an authorial slip of the pen. Dimmock’s edition is good at identifying such points of contact. In a world where theatrical reference to religion was strictly controlled, the allusive safety of Islam was no doubt part of its appeal.

And when was this written?

The answer, here, is - 1601!

It's called "MAHOMET AND HIS HEAVEN" by William Percy.

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