Encountering the Infidels: Restoration Images of the Moors

Karim Bejjit, University Hassan II, Casablanca


[…] those who acknowledge Humanity in all its habits, may in perusing the remarks made upon these Barbarians, meet with something that may civilise the Title, and induce them to think, that what is commonly call’d Barbarous, is but a different mode of civility.

Lancelot Addison, West Barbary or a Short Narrative of the Revolutions of the Kingdoms of Fez and Morocco (Oxford: The Theatre, 1671), pp. 7-8.


I- From Dramatic to Colonial Space

The powerful presence of the figure of the Moor in English drama, particularly during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, still remains a fascinating subject for academic inquiry. The remarkable studies of Eldred Jones, G. K. Hunter, Anthony Barthelemy, Elliot H. Tokson, and recently, Bridgett Orr have offered us rich and engaging accounts of the process of ‘aestheticization’ of the Moor in English dramatic texts as on the stage. (1) There is much instructive detail in these accounts as to the complex infiltration into the London society of strange tales about foreign subjects. The transformation of this acquired knowledge of Otherness into dramatic texts, and subsequently into a well-defined repertory of literary characters and themes suggests a beginning moment in the conception and construction of the Moor as an exterior subject inhabiting an amorphous, imaginary space of subalterneity. (2)

Nevertheless, much of this revived academic interest in the figure of the Moor has, not incidentally, been generated by the sheer force of renewability in the Elizabethan drama, as by its infallible ability to ever create new appeals and inspire new critical interpretations. While these proliferating exegeses of the ethical and poetical status of the Moor in the English Renaissance, and to a lesser extent Restoration drama, have sought to historicise the infatuation of English playwrights with exotic landscapes, tales, personas, and costumes, it is largely the artistic configurations of the Moor that continue to retain our critical interests today. Not surprisingly, Othello’s appeal (or lack of it) to the modern reader emanates less from the particularity of his ethnic background than from the poetic delineation by which he has come to be appreciated as a universal literary character. (3) The same could be said about a whole range of similar, though less memorable, Black characters during the early seventeenth century.

My point is that the fissures that existed between the dramatic and the historically informed representations of the Moor in the Elizabethan and post Elizabethan contexts explain why such a figure should re-emerge in a series of plays as a personification of ugliness, brutality, sensuality, jealousy, treachery and evil. The prevalence of the dramatic mode, moreover, helped to obscure a spectrum of other images of the Moor given shape in less celebrated forms of writing such as letters, narratives, pamphlets and diaries; a part of which saw its way to print as early as Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations (1598-1600).

During the Restoration period, following a long absence of the Moor from the English stage, popular notions about the Moors were more directly influenced by the numerous and regular reports published at home about the condition of the British garrison in Tangier and its encounters with the belligerent natives. The paradox that emerges, then, is that as official and public awareness of the Moors takes on a worldly and more concretised aspect than hitherto entertained, the dramatic treatment of the Moor in such renowned plays as Elkanah Settle’s The Empress of Morocco (1673) and Aphra Behn’s Abdelazer, or the Moor's Revenge (1677) continued to be largely dominated by the very themes and structures that characterised English Renaissance plays. (4)

No less intriguing is the coercive tendency one comes across in a number of historical accounts of the late Victorian and Edwardian epochs to reduce such a complex familiarity with the natives, attained during the Tangier episode (1661-1684), into a set of fixed and complacent statements of English superiority, at least in military terms. Despite the existence of an extensively heterogeneous body of writing closely affiliated with the British colonial presence in the city, such a scholarship simply failed to rise above the rhetoric of imperial power. Even though the natives are no more held as agents of the devil, or as black, monstrous and perfidious domestic subjects, they are projected as a barbarous and hostile body of warriors desirous, but hopelessly incapable of overcoming the supremacy of the British garrison. Indeed the historical accounts of Walter F. Lord, Enid Routh, John Davis, Julian S. Corbett, and W. B. T. Abbey partake of a tendency, somewhat more pronounced in Routh’s and Lord’s studies, to define the whole colonial venture in terms of the pastoral and the nostalgic. (5) Lord, for instance, assesses the evacuation of Tangier in 1684 as a grave political mistake imputed to "a lack of experience" among the Tangier commissioners

in dealing with barbarians; they had not the knowledge born of two hundred years of Imperial work. We know now that it is impossible for Englishmen to settle peaceably in a country of barbarous or semi-barbarous people. Our desire for peace they impute simply to timidity; and until they have been well beaten, not only can we have no dealings with them, but every load of food and forage has to be fought for. (6)

Whatever the scruples one may have about this type of rhetoric, it nevertheless rests on a solidly reified knowledge of the Other accumulated through long decades of close and violent contact. This is a later development. Meanwhile, during Charles II’s reign and even after, writing about the Moors was anything but scarce. In contemporary pamphlets, diaries, journals, histories, official correspondence, logbooks, travel accounts, poems and drawings, the Moor featured so powerfully and so variably as to challenge the essentialising discourses of dramatists and historians alike.

What, I believe, is a central issue in all of these multiple texts which appeared during the Restoration, beyond their historicity and rhetorical value, is a discourse of Otherness that lies concealed and sometimes plainly visible in a fragmentary form. What discourse, as a methodological procedure, allows here is an examination of the complex processes by which the Moor came to be constructed in a range of Restoration narratives--an examination broad enough to encompass the whole gamut of diverse texts, and yet focused enough to penetrate into the textual fabric of individual narratives. In the end, what matters is not simply the specific postures which the Moor, as an individual or a collective body, assumes in the text. Nor does it serve much interest to place undue sentimental emphasis on the rhetoric of negation and exclusion with which many a Restoration text abounded. More significantly, the real issue at stake is identifying the entire system of conception and interpretation of the Moors; a system that just as it reveals the limits of sympathy for other subjectivities, it also, unwittingly, betrays the circumscribed edge of the cosmographic knowledge of Restoration writers. For the interplay between an increasingly enlightened knowledge of foreign nations and races and the overcoming of racial bigotry was a powerful motif in Restoration narratives on the Moors.

This essay departs from this critical position to argue that, owing partly to the establishment of a British colonial community in Tangier, the system of perceiving and representing the Moors, so long confined to a hermetic world, witnessed a radical shift. One can trace the symptoms of this rupture in a large body of surviving texts ranging from official dispatches to intimate diaries and journals. Even in the dramatic texts which modelled their structures on Elizabethan plays and treated settings supposedly of Moroccan origin, one can observe a nuanced tendency to mitigate the sense of diabolic and wicked disposition which distinguished the Moors of Peele, Shakespeare and Dekker. (7)

Another source of the reification of the conceptions held about the Moors lies in the gradual awareness, throughout the seventeenth century, of the existence of other alien cultures and ethnicities in the wider world beyond the Mediterranean divide, apparently no less steeped in ‘barbarity’ and more removed from ‘civilisation’ than the Moors. These rediscovered geographies of Otherness compelled new classificatory terms of racial identity to meet the array of emerging subjectivities. It is mainly this continuous, widening exposure to new, unexplored landscapes that helped broaden and question the existing information about the natives of Morocco. Already in a number of Restoration pamphlets as well as in the contemporary accounts of Sir Hugh Cholmley and Lancelot Addison one is faced with a recurrent declaration that nothing in the scant historiography of the region suggested, with any authority, what to expect in the territories stretching beyond the walls of colonial Tangier. A thick veil of mystery, it seems, had enveloped the place and its inhabitants. By 1680, even the most apologetic of pamphleteers saw in this inability of the British to gain passage into the impregnable country of the natives a clear sign of weakness:

But it is our unhappiness, that we know not what is done amongst the Moors; we live in Tangier within the Walls and Lines, and unless we send a Flag of Truce for some pitiful business, we scarce see the face of a Moor in a years time, but at a distance, unless some of them come to bring Provisions to us. But we have never sent any to understand their Country, to search into their strength and dependencies, to examine their Interest, their inclinations, and those other things which we might improve to the advantage of Tangier. (8)

Such a recognition of the urgent need for reliable knowledge of the natives of Morocco can further be observed in the continuous assertions of truthfulness and objectivity with which the reader is assailed in a number of contemporary publications on Tangier. Adjectives such as ‘exact’, ‘true’, ‘faithful’ or phrases like ‘published by authority’ and ‘written by eyewitnesses’ which confront us in the title pages suggest a certain obsession with exactitude and conformity to the physical world in question. In his editorial preface to An Account of South Barbary (1713), Simon Ockley, Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University, found little merit in such narratives which surrendered their solemn pursuits of unvarnished truth to a vain inclination for rhetorical effects. "[A] great many Authors", he noted, "have stretched too far, even to the Prejudice of Truth, purely out of an Affection of Elegancy." (9) Such a sustained advocacy of the credible over the aesthetic and the fanciful in the case of Restoration narratives of Morocco, however, must not be understood in such egalitarian terms as having spawned a wholly ‘uninterested’, or even well-informed discourse. The displacement of the Elizabethan model of the Moor for an earthly, and recognisably human one, remained within the confines of an antagonistic, exclusionist tradition as my illustrations below reveal.

Now if this reification of the imaginative notions about the Moor, which involved adjusting an amalgam of incongruous racial sentiments, had prescribed a new mode of articulating difference, it also led to the problematizing of that long-cherished and secure relation of power vis-à-vis the Moor. It is my concern in this essay to identify the ramifications of this close contact with the natives in the writings of the period. My argument is that colonial encounters between the natives and the British colonisers were defined by a recurrent pattern of mutual negation exemplified by the impenetrability and closure of their respective geographical spaces. Despite the alternating relations from a condition of war to peace, from the exchange of fire to the dispatching of letters, presents and ambassadors, and from courteous speeches to abusive descriptions, the governing mode of representation remained deeply impressed by a feeling of distrust and anxiety consolidated by a broader vision of the Moor as the realm of the infidel.


II- Colonialism and the discourse of Resistance

In a letter addressed to the Committee for the Affairs of Tangier in January 1681, Colonel Edward Sackville, then commander of the British troops in the city, wrote:

I know not wheather it has beene the Intereste or error, or both, in my Predecessours, who have charm’d the Ministers at home into soe lowe an opinion of theise people, that wee make no acc[oun]t of them. But my Lords I thinke I may modestly say I have practis’d them both in warr and peace, since I have had the honor to command in chiefe, more then any who have gonn before mee – and I must ingeniussly averr, that I thinke this beliefe hath been of great prejudice to his Mats. service. To speak of them as Enimies, I never saw men bolder in the field when they finde it reasonable to fight, nor more prudent to avoid it, when it was wisdom to decline it; nor is there I believe in ye whole race of mankind a more vigilent, hardy, patient and laborious people, all qualities necessary to a soldier – inasmuch as had they the discipline of Europe, there would not be a more formidable Enimy in the world. In their treatys they discourse and debate matters calmly and judiciously, and therefore I see not where the reason of this contempt of them lyes… (italics added). (10)

Testimonies such as this claim attention not only because they make rather unusual assertions, but also because their assertions often involve a critical evaluation of dominant patterns of knowledge. Certainly, Sackville’s plea for a circumspect, critical assessment of the information conveyed then in official correspondence falls in line with the growing, if still marginal, appeals against bias scattered in contemporary writings. What makes his words compelling, however, is the remark that such a tendency to underestimate the power of the natives had detrimental effects on the British colonial interests in Tangier. The disparity between the militant natives as experienced in the battlefield and corresponding images of them in print, such as in official dispatches, seemed too gross and too dangerous to conceal. Nor was the colonial order of the city gratifying either. The natives had made their presence brutally felt, even against the censoring machinery of imperial rhetoric. The series of Restoration pamphlets on Tangier which survive today offer a powerful example of the mobilized force of language marshalled then to suppress and erode the insurgence of the Moor and maintain his encapsulation in fixed, straitjacketed formulas of inferiority. Yet, even these strategies of textual domestication reached a point of crisis as the natives’ assaults began to seriously threaten the very prospects of the British colonial project. Much of the fervour which animates Sackville’s letter is inscribed in this sensitive historical conjuncture.

In March 1680, following the siege and subsequent capture by the natives of the two principal outer forts which protected Tangier, the British garrison had to agree to a four-month truce. But further fierce fighting still lay ahead. The precarious condition of the colonial community in Tangier had worsened since the internal conflicts and wars which long ravaged Morocco gave way to a new, strong dynasty to gain power. Despite the lapse of two decades on the establishment of the garrison, none of the prospects envisioned by Charles II and his commissioners seemed to materialise. The garrison did not succeed in either expanding into the Moroccan hinterland, nor indeed in completing the construction of the mole, the ambitious project which it was hoped would transform Tangier into a busy trading outpost. A number of Royal Proclamations, legal decrees and regulations had, meanwhile, been issued to organise the colonial status of the city, and ensure the autonomy of its administrative structures. Yet, the dependence on the mother country in war ammunition, recruits and food supplies remained as heavy and costly as ever. Now, upon the arrival of much awaited military reinforcements, the garrison launched several retaliatory attacks against the besiegers, the last and the most decisive of which took place on 27 October causing heavy losses on both sides. Sackville, who was newly arrived in the city, became the commander in chief who led the garrison through the battle and later to the conclusion of a six month truce. (11)

What impact this deteriorating situation had on England varied from regret to profound indignation. In circumstances of mounting hostilities over religious and political principles, and ongoing incriminations of Catholic figures for subversion in the aftermath of the notorious Popish plot, the performance of the Tangier's garrison simply failed to incite any official support among the Commons. The King’s attachment to the city had been from the beginning a romantic one since Tangier devolved to him by virtue of his marriage to the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. In November 1680, determined to save Tangier from a sudden collapse into Moroccan hands, Charles II invited Parliament to consider the critical condition of the city, desiring in the meantime their advice and support for maintaining its garrison. (12) The expected reply, when it came, was far from satisfactory. The apprehensions of the Commons still under the spell of a Popish conspiracy left little to hope for. Their concluding statement in the message presented to the King stipulated that "whilst we shall give a supply to Tangier, we may be assured we do not Augment the strength of our Popish Adversaries, nor encrease our Dangers". (13) Since Tangier’s garrison included a considerable number of recruited Catholic soldiers from Ireland, and since religious freedom was allowed in the colony, Tangier was considered more and more a haven for Popish traitors, not worth defending or provisioning unless the city was "effectually secured from the imminent and apparent Dangers arising from [their] power". (14)

It is ironic that the feelings of intolerance and distrust long projected on the Moor should now be supplemented by an anxiety inscribed in religious terms and authored by a docile community of British subjects. Rather than consolidating and disseminating metropolitan authority in the wild, uncharted territory of the natives, the colonial settlement in Tangier was disintegrating into tension and internal conflict. To the extent of disrupting the discursive line between a domestic Other registered in doctrinal difference, and an alien Other removed to the limits of humanity and invested with a rich vocabulary of ‘barbarism’, the colonial experience was shaping a new and, in some measure too, traumatic awareness of the indestructibility of the Moor.

One of the remarkable effects of the enduring confrontation with the natives was the deliverance into the public realm in the metropolis of a solid image of the Moor as a militant subject. There is an overwhelmingly profuse detail of military actuality that saturated Restoration pamphlets and letters on Tangier such as Sackville’s. Even when a terminology of vilification is used, as it commonly was, the Moor is still part of the military spectacle. Against a cluster of images of vigilant Moors digging ditches, erecting fences, building trenches, besieging a fort, mining a wall or firing a cannon stands a more impressive display of postures of defeat and submission to which the natives are reduced. From losing colours to fleeing the battleground altogether in disorder, the Moor is over and over reinstated in the scene of fighting to perform one or the other vital role.

In more literary texts of the period, notably the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, the Moors are again evoked as a body of intransigent warriors perched on the hills of the city ready to trap the unwary. Recalling the sudden death of Lord Tiveot, the second governor of Tangier in an ambush laid by the natives, Pepys wrote in his entry of 4 June 1664:

He [Tiveot] had sent several spyes; but all brought word that the way was clear, and so might be for anybody’s discovery of an enemy before you are upon them. There they were all snapped, he and all his officers, and about 200 men as they say--… (15)

In a similar way, Evelyn in 1680 was anxious about "the losses we had lately suffer’d from the Moores", (16) which necessitated the appointment of his friend, the Earl of Ossory as governor of Tangier. Ossory received his nomination with much resentment, considering the enormous risk he was to run for his reputation in relation to failure. The inadequacy of the military force raised to serve under his command made it seem in Evelyn’s words "not onely an hazardous Adventure, but, in most mens opinions Impossible." (17) Ossory, whom Evelyn laments in such lofty words, did not live long enough to assume his role—a task delegated later on to Sackville.

The persistence of a militarily-centred discourse of the Moor throughout the Restoration finds one of its evident explanations in the scarcity of any encounter with the natives beyond the boundaries of the battlefield. Although the occasional, well-respected moments of peace signed between the warring parties allowed an outlet for this constant condition of belligerency, no substantial cultural influence had infiltrated to or from the walls of Tangier. No social interaction existed between the garrison and the natives, despite their shared geographical space. Nor was there even any organised trade to substitute the exchange for gunfire. As a means of defence, walls were built and repaired to resist the shots of cannon and deny any penetration of the natives into Tangier. They maintained the civil and military institutions established in the colony and strengthened relations among the British community residing in the city. Yet, walls also had an immediate effect on the psychology of the colonists as they imposed spatial constraints on their movements and reduced their social activities. To the reader of John Luke’s, or Hugh Cholmley’s journals, the sense of enclosure and monotony evoked by the existence of walls is apparent. (18) The range of activities open to the colonists in Tangier was depressingly limited and became even more so during the stormy winters when the sea traffic was reduced to its minimum.

The wall, therefore, becomes not only a statement of exclusion but also a sign of isolation and self-confinement. Unlike the complex cultural influence exerted by British subjects in such distant areas as Bombay, acquired simultaneously with Tangier, or any of the colonised islands in the West Indies, no residual effects of British presence in Tangier have survived. No linguistic or religious minorities, as often is the case, have emerged in the aftermath of British evacuation of the city. Even signs of English architecture were obliterated during the evacuation process. (19)

Now if walls constituted a concrete, inescapable reality that coloured all aspects of social life within the colony, they had, on the other hand, initiated a discursively geographic demarcation between the wild and the homely. Writing about the natives during the occupation of the city was to varying degrees a monological activity, affected by the remoteness of human contact. From the heights of a safe tower, the imperial gaze of the writer became deceptively majestic and all-encompassing. The Moor, lying flat concealed behind the bushes, appeared to typify the inferior, debased and treacherous villain. In the distance, his physical features and indeed his very sense of individuality became lost in the hostile expanse of the landscape.

When a close description of the Moor was offered, it was yet one of a violent, hostile warrior. The following passage shows Ghailan, who throughout the 1660s engaged the garrison in bitter and disastrous encounters, marching at the head of his army:

Their hoarse Drums serve to deafen the Ears, and confound the Senses to any other Clamour, with some Brass Dishes, and wind Instruments, to noise the Varnes, carried by Fellows on horse-back, a little before every Company; whose Horses are very swift, it being a shame there to lose a Drum. His Weapon is Bow and Arrow, an Iron Pole, a Shrene, a Petronel, a Harque-buz, Scemiter; all over armed like a Porcupine. (20)

Amid this vociferous procession in which Ghailan looms large with a whole arsenal at his disposition to use against the British soldiers, the Moor is objectified as a power to contend with, even if eventually defeated and forced to give up fighting. Almost the same inscription recurs in a rare painting of Ghailan (below), reproduced in at least two anonymous pamphlets dating back to 1664, showing a man of large stature mounted on horseback with an evident sense of ease and self-composure. The tight grip with which he controls the horse’s gallop, and the various arms he carries around him, reveal a fierce, dignified fighter. In the background, the walled and dissident city of Fés, rendered so small by his dominating presence, appears vulnerable to his authority.

Anonymous, Abdallah Ghailan alias Guyland or Gayland (1664)

Another intimate portrait of the Moor is suggested in a painting of Ambassador Mohamed Ben Haddu produced during his visit to England in 1682. Ben Haddu, who was empowered to negotiate for a treaty of peace with the English authorities, is shown to possess a demeanour of a princely knight. Among his numerous activities in London was his frequent appearance in Hyde Park on a richly saddled horse, so vividly captured in the painting. The scene shown in the painting catches him making an admirable display of his military prowess ahead of other fellow horsemen barely visible in the distance. Neither the lance he carries in his right hand, nor the dagger half-concealed beneath his arm is meant to be merely decorative. They rather confirm an image of their utility to, and complementarity with the Moor’s temperament. (21) Such a profile of a skilful warrior parading before a metropolitan audience must have excited considerable curiosity. Evelyn, who by virtue of his professional association with the Royal Society was a frequent visitor to the public meetings of the Ambassador, gives the following description of Ben Haddu:

[He] went often to Hide-Park on horse back, where he and his retinue shewed their extraordinary activity in Horsemanship, and the flinging & Catching their launces at full speede; They rid very short, & could stand up right in full speede, managing their speares with incredible agility. (22)

These gestures of bravery rendered in sympathetic words summon, by now, a notion of the Moor as an energetically violent figure. While Ben Haddu’s six-month stay in England did much to attenuate this inveterate inclination to distrust the natives’ profession for peace, the Moor’s image had already been anchored in a familiar scene of cataclysmic violence. It is little wonder that even in the elaborate accounts of Addison and Cholmley which sought to portray the natives’ domestic lives and internal political affairs, there is a reiterated emphasis on the rebellious nature of the Moor enhanced, as it were by religious zeal. Narratives of Moors breaking their oaths and allegiances, poisoning their rulers, joining the ranks of fanatic brotherhoods and zaouias, and raiding the territories of neighbouring tribes added another significant layer to the intolerance and enmity of the British community in Tangier. What did not occur to Addison, Cholmley or the numerous scribes of empire who wrote on the affairs of the city is that these very scenes of political instability and civil wars were fundamentally not much different from those taking place at home, nor were the efforts deployed to regain lost territory an ignoble undertaking.


III- Strategies of Alterity: Enemies! Infidels!

So far my concern has been to identify the lineaments of an increasingly reified discourse of the Moor during the Restoration period. I have argued that geographical proximity and military confrontation with the natives supplemented the domestic, if repellent images of the Moor recurrent in dramatic productions since Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar (1588). Although the Moor constructed in dramatic discourse revels in plots of treachery and revenge, commands armies and conquers territories, he is ultimately a docile figure operating within an imaginary space of Otherness. There is an ephemeral sense of menace that arises from his physical hideousness and moral baseness, suspended at any rate by each fall of the curtains. The Moors portrayed in Restoration narratives are not objects of merriment, nor are they endowed with a poetic voice to unmask their evil intentions and betray their weaknesses. They are far too obscure and unsettling to minimise into a poetic formula. Yet what unifies their presence in discourse is a military quality so ubiquitous that it had tinged their identities with a sense of perpetual and incomprehensible threat. Unlike the stage Moors, a great deal of their exteriority does not emanate from a repulsive face or a devilish mind. In fact, there is a fairly discriminate sensitivity to the question of skin colour in Restoration writings about the Moors as to mock dramatic racial conceptions. Even the passionate rhetoric of pamphlets shows an evolved system of ‘Othering’ grounded, as I noted above, in a dense, mundane colonial actuality. In this last section I want to consider specific instances of this Othering process of the Moor.

One of the immediate consequences of the growth of, what in the body of this essay I have called, cosmographic knowledge, was the reconfiguration of the elastic term ‘Moor’ across a variety of overlapping matrices. By the end of the seventeenth century, as large stretches of terra incognita began to gradually shrink into familiar colonial spaces, the Moors too grew more visible and admissible in England if only as militant, hostile subjects. While their military skill and constant presence outside the walls of Tangier forced a sudden recognition of their threat, these very factors prevented any substantial contact beyond the confrontation lines. The surviving records of this period are overwhelmed with minute details of military encounters, names and ranks of soldiers, statistics of losses suffered, and dates of battles fought. What is perhaps less obvious is that the deployment of strategies of alterity in Restoration narratives should in turn be governed by a military discourse. By strategies of alterity, I refer to a set of formulated tendencies to shape and consolidate the polarities of Self and Other. In practice, this means the construction of the Other as militarily incapable of subverting the colonial status quo, or even vying with what Sackville called ‘the discipline of Europe’. Whatever their military ambitions, the Moors according to one pamphleteer,

fight in disorder, without Ranks or Files, the Horse by themselves, and the Foot by themselves […] They fight in the same manner as the Roman Authors have represented the Ancient Mauri; neither are they better skill'd in martialling an Army, or fighting. Let any man that knows the Art of War compare them with us, and judge whether we may not be able to encounter them. If they have had successes against us, it is through our weakness and unpreparedness. (Italics added) (23)

The dividing line here between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is primarily one of military skill and discipline. In another narrative, victory over the natives is not attributed to mere superiority in military skill. There is a far more important ethical dimension to the victory:

Though much is due to the Conduct and Bravery of Colonel Sackville, Vice-Admiral Herbert, and all the Officers, as well as to the undaunted Courage of the Soldiers […] yet must wholly be ascribed to the Divine Assistance and Protection, without which it would have been impossible for such a handful of men to have performed what they did. (24)

In order that the image of spectacular triumph celebrated here acquires a moral value, it must be explained as an act of divine intervention. Not only are the British soldiers victorious, they have also the blessing of God to back them up. Their enemies accordingly are the defeated infidels deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. Secured in the religious sentiment of rightfulness, the victory over the Moors is accepted as a further confirmation of the fall of the natives from divine favour.

The interplay of religious and military elements is a powerful motif in the construction of the Moors as exterior, irreconcilable Others. Although more often seen through the prisms of a military discourse as enemies to be fought or hostile neighbours to guard against, the Moors’ religious identity emerged throughout as a sign of irremediable difference. Ironically, from the perspective of the natives, the religious faith of the coloniser was also a profound cause of intolerance. As one pamphleteer put it, the natives were at heart "inveterate Enemies and Haters of all Christians, especially the Tangerines". (25) While suspension of military confrontation created, on occasions, temporary friendships and sympathies between leading members of the warring parties, it was only through religious conversion, particularly to the natives’ faith that virtually ended the condition of exteriority. The numerous cases of British subjects who embraced Islam and ‘turned Moors’ as the phrase went, attaining respectable positions in the natives’ army illustrate the importance of religion in shaping the boundaries of Otherness.

Nothing is more expressive of this mutual negation of the Other in religious terms than the writings of Lancelot Addison (father of the essayist Joseph Addison) who served in Tangier as chaplain. In his account, West Barbary (1671), he devotes several chapters to the religious institutions and practices of the Moors. (26) Reading his account one is momentarily relieved from the tedious details of military actuality. Deep in the vast land of the Moors still enclosed upon itself, he argues, there exists a whole system of harmonious life unaffected by the wars waged against the Christians. A system that triumphs over censoring formulas of barbarity so commonly and thoughtlessly imposed on the Moor. Yet even the resourcefulness of Addison unrivalled by any of his contemporaries, and the liberal claims of the legitimacy of cultural difference with which he opens his book fail to redeem the Moor from the abysmal condition of infidelity. What defines the interest of Addison’s account is less the descriptions of vistas of native life than the formulation of abstract rules which govern the Moors’ civil and spiritual lives. The rites of marriage, prayer and fasting together with the procedures of justice and taxation derive their essence from the religious teachings of what Addison identifies as an impostor who forbade his followers the use of utensils (p.122), and the printing of books (p.225). What Addison introduces is an image of the natives as blind followers of a false faith—a theme he expatiates upon in his treatise, The First State of Mahumedism (1687). (27) Infidels, unaware of the lost path of Truth, they are to be pitied, rather than hated, attacked and destroyed.

In subsequent decades, following the evacuation of Tangier, the Evangelical overtones of Addison’s vision were to be displaced by a demonizing rhetoric of the Moor nurtured, as in the case of Thomas Phelps, by personal experience of captivity in Mèknes. Raiding the vessels of indefensible merchants, enslaving their crews, and forcing them to a miserable life of bondage and toil are recurrent images that will fix the Moor over and over as a monstrous, inhuman Other.



1. See Eldred Jones, Othello's Countrymen: The African in English Renaissance Drama (London: Oxford UP, 1965); G. K. Hunter, "Othello and Colour Prejudice" in Interpretations of Shakespeare, ed. Kenneth Muir (New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1985); Anthony Gerard Barthelemy, Black Face Maligned Race: The Representation of Blackness in English Drama from Shakespeare to Southerne (Baton Rouge : Louisiana State UP, 1987) ; Elliot H. Tokson, The Popular Image of the Black Man in English Drama 1550-1688 (Boston: G K Hall, 1982); Bridgett Orr, Empire on the English Stage 1660-1714 (Cambridge: CUP, 2001). 

2. This essay derives its theoretical position and vocabulary from the work of Edward Said. The concept of discourse which Said explores in Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993) is particularly useful to understand the mutations and continuities in the tradition of British representation of the Moor. I am also indebted to the many theoretical and analytical studies belonging to the area of what is known as colonial discourse. The work of Subaltern Group, the analytical strategies of Peter Hulme (whose phrase, ‘colonial encounter’ I use here), Mary Louise Pratt, David Spurr and others have also been of use.

3. In his seminal essay , "Othello and Colour Prejudice" G. K. Hunter observes that the attitude towards black skin among Elizabethans differs from our present day attitudes in that it was unquestionably held as a marker of inferiority.

4. There is no attempt to investigate the construction of the Moor in Restoration drama. Though occasional reference is made to the plays of Aphra Behn and Elkanah Settle, focus is rather limited to such obscure prose narratives which directly relate to the British colonial experience in Tangier.

5. See Enid M. G. Routh, Tangier: England's Lost Outpost 1661-1684 (London: John Murray, 1912); Lieut-Colonel John Davis, The History of the Second Queen's Royal Regiment Now the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, vol. I (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1887); W. B. T Abbey, Tangier Under British Rule 1661-1684 (Channel Islands: J. T. Bigwood, 1940); Julian S. Corbett, England in the Mediterranean: A Study of the Rise and Influence of British Power within the Straits 1603-1713, vols. I-II (London: Longmans, Green, 1917); and Walter Frewen Lord, The Lost Possessions of England: Essays in Imperial History (London: Richard Bentley, 1896).

6. F. Lord, The Lost Possessions, 61.

7. During the occupation of Tangier, this long-standing tradition of constructing the Moor as a black figure saw a significant rupture through Settle’s The Empress of Morocco (1673) and The Heir of Morocco (1682). Both plays engaged with Moroccan settings and involved Moroccan characters in their intellectual and moral diversity. The absence of good-natured white Christians in the plays seemed to disown the very moral vision of traditional plays and dismantle the strong association so long established between whiteness and goodness. As Anthony Barthelemy puts it, "in Settle’s Morocco plays there are virtuous and evil Moors, forthright and duplicitous Moors. Settle’s plays present the range of humans we generally expect to find in drama." Black Face Maligned Race, 198.

8. Anonymous, The Present Interest of Tangier (London, 1680) 4.

9. Simon Ockley, An Account of South-West Barbary Containing What is Remarkable in the Territories of the King of Fez and Morocco (London: J. Bowyer, 1713) xiv.

10. Quoted in P. G. Rogers, A History of Anglo-Moroccan Relations to 1900 (London: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 197?), 54.

11. Details of this and earlier military clashes are described at length, though with a marked tendency to exaggerate the performance of the garrison, in the historical expertise of Enid Routh and John Davis.

12. See the King’s message to the House of Commons reprinted by Lieut. Colonel John Davies in his The History of the Second Queen’s Regiment, vol. I (London: Richards Bentley & Son, 1887) 319.

13. See "The Humble Address of the Commons in Parliament assembled, presented to his Majesty, Monday, 29th day of November, 1680" in John Davis, 322.

14. "The Humble Address of the Commons", 320.

15. Samuel Pepys ,The Shorter Pepys, ed. R. Latham (London: Penguin Books, 1993) 390-91.

16. John Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E. S. de Beer (London : Oxford UP, 1959) 686.

17. John Evelyn, 687.

18. See Sir Hugh Cholmley, An Account of Tangier with some Account of Himself and his Journey through France and Spain to that Place, where he was engaged in building the Mole in Time of King Charles the Second; and a Journal of the Work carrying on( London, 1787); and John Luke, Tangier at High Tide: The Journal of John Luke 1670-1673 eds. Helen A Kaufman, and P. Kaufman (Geneve: Librairie E. Droz, 1958).

19. W. B. T. Abbey’s Tangier under British Colonial Rule 1661-1684 contains several sections in which the author seeks to locate the sites of the old buildings and forts of the British city of Tangier on a modern map, see pages 60-106.

20. Anonymous, A Description of Tangier (London: Samuel Speed, 1664) 19.

21. Ben Haddu’s embassy to England is the object of an informative article by Abdelhadi Tazi, published in Academia 2 (Février 1985) : 55-80. The article also contains a reproduction of the ambassador’s painting.

22. John Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E. S. de Beer (London : Oxford UP, 1959) 718-19.

23. Anonymous, The Present Interest of Tangier, (n. p. , 1680. ) 3.

24. Anonymous, A Particular Narrative of a Great Engagement between the Garrison of Tangier and the Moors (London: Thomas Newcombe, 1680) 6.

25. G. P. The Present State of Tangier in a Letter to His Grace, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. London: Henry Herringman, 1680.

26. Lancelot Addison, West Barbary or a Short Narrative of the Revolutions of the Kingdoms of Fez and Morocco (Oxford: The Theatre, 1671).

27. Lancelot Addison, The First State of Mahumedism, the Author of the Turkish Religion (London: The Green Dragon, 1687).

28. Thomas Phelps, A True Account of Thomas Phelps at Machaness in Barbary. (London, 1685).