‘Go your ways for an Apostata’: the converting Courtesan

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van Honthorst, Smiling Girl, a Courtesan, Holding an Obscene Image, 1625

I’m really delighted to have been given the chance to contribute to the Dutch Courtesan project, an all-singing, all-dancing (and all-acting) web resource that has accompanied and informed a brilliant recent production of the play here at the University of York.

My interest in the play was piqued by one peculiar phrase, in which the title character declares: ‘Mine body must turn Turk for twopence’. Intrigued by this glimpse of an Islamic conversion, I began to explore the connections between religion and inconstancy that underpin this difficult, but intensely rewarding, drama. To find out more about my conclusions, read my article on the Dutch Courtesan project website.

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‘This chocolatical confection…’

A world of chocolate: Sophie's map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these 'new world' products transformed the habits of old Europe.

A world of chocolate: Sophie’s map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these ‘new world’ products transformed the habits of old Europe.

What better way to mark the first of our public lecture series, ‘Cultural Encounters: Travel, Religion, and Identity in the Early Modern World’, than with a chocolate map of the world, prepared for us by Sophie Jewett of the wonderful York Cocoa House? We’re hugely grateful to Sophie not only for her chocolate cartography, but for serving up delicious drinks made in accordance with two early modern recipes — one for hot chocolate, dating from 1644, and one, from 1710, for a pretty potent chocolate wine.

But why chocolate (as though that’s ever a real question…)? Continue reading

Early modern word of the day: ‘collop’

NB: An occasional (not daily!) feature…

In Philip Massinger’s The Renegado, or The Gentleman of Venice, a play first performed in 1624 and published in 1630, Gazet, a bumbling and clownish servant, resists conversion to Islam, exclaiming:

                                      No, so I should lose

A collop of that part my Doll enjoined me

To bring home as she left it: ‘tis her venture,

Nor dare I barter that commodity

Without her special warrant. (1.38-42)

What Gazet is worried about is circumcision. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that a collop is an egg fried on bacon, which — though Doll might well enjoy it — doesn’t seem quite right here. The term gradually shifted to mean any slice of meat (though presumably Gazet is keen not to experience the popular dish of ‘minced collops’). Continue reading

The dangers of coffee, early modern style…

Sign commemorating London's first coffee house

In 1652, London’s first coffee house opened its doors. Historians have celebrated the vibrant coffee-house culture of the early modern period, and have argued that coffee houses offered a venue which made possible new kinds of political debate and participation in a developing public sphere. A slightly different companion story is, however, suggested in the nickname the first coffee house quickly gained amongst the local community: the Turk’s Head. Continue reading