This essay deals with the image that England had of Cathay and its inhabitants throughout Elizabeth I’s reign. Encouraged by the travel reports of sailors, missionaries and merchants, late 16th-century English explorers were eager to find the northern route towards the Far East and, above all, to Cathay. As a far-away country, Cathay was considered a mysterious land whose inhabitants were said to be very refined and cultivated. Prejudice characterized, however, the European image of Cathayans, who, despite their refined culture and intellect, were said to be heathens and barbarians. The European prejudice deeply conditioned the image of Cathay and of Cathayans in England where opposing features were attributed to them. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, the adjective ‘Cataian’ takes on a series of possible meanings, ranging from the member of the Cathay Company to ‘rogue’ and ‘villain’. The negative interpretation of the word comes probably from the explanation that George Steevens gave of the word in his edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor, published in 1805, where he said that the word was used to mean ‘a sharper’ and hinted at the ‘dexterous thieving’ of those people. The question of whether the Cathayans were really rogues or not is a difficult one. As Y.Z. Chang explains, in Shakespeare’s time Cathay and China were two different geographical and social realities - what was true for China might not have been so for Cathay as well. The news that Cathay and China were the same country reached England only in the 17th century, when England was already going through a new page of her history.
|Translated title of the contribution||[Autom. eng. transl.] Shakespeare, the Elizbettians and the Cathay|
|Number of pages||19|
|Publication status||Published - 2021|
- Elisabetta I e il Catai
- Elizabeth I and Cathay
- Resoconti di viaggio sul Catai
- Shakespeare and 'Cataian'
- Shakespeare e 'Cataian'
- Travel reports on Cathay