The Succession Crisis and Elkanah Settle's the Conquest of China by the Tartars
01 Jul 2004-The Eighteenth Century (Texas Tech University Press)-Vol. 45, Iss: 2, pp 131
TL;DR: The authors argue that the popularity of Settle's early tragedies was partly the result of the way in which they offered imaginary solutions to the impending succession crisis, and they argue that The Conquest of China plays a key role in understanding how Restoration drama was an important location for representation and negotiation of local political issues in the period.
Abstract: Elkanah Settle is perhaps best known as a blatant political opportunist who shifted his allegiance from Whig to Tory during the Exclusion Crisis. After the 1682 fall of Shaftesbury, Settle's sudden disavowal of his Whig propaganda, which included pamphlets denouncing James II's succession and a virulent anti-Catholic tragedy, The Female Prelate (1680), was viewed with suspicion even by the Tories. Settle's notoriety subsequently has led critics-until very recently-to focus on his polemical works during the Exclusion crisis and to overlook the political implications of his heroic tragedies of the early- to mid1670s, including Cambyses, King of Persia (1671), The Empress of Morocco (1673), and The Conquest of China by the Tartars (1675). John Dryden's famous and scathing critique of The Empress of Morocco as a "Rhapsody of Nonsense"1 appeared to cement Settle's reputation for gratuitous stage violence, bombastic heroic speeches, and lurid stage spectacle that had no literary merit. During this time, however, Settle enjoyed greater favor at court and success in the theater than Dryden. In 1717, John Dennis recalled that from about 1671 to 1676, Settle "was then a formidable Rival to Mr. DRYDEN," noting that in both London and at the University of Cambridge, "the Younger Fry, inclin'd to ELKANAH."2 I argue that the popularity of Settle's early tragedies was partly the result of the way in which they offered imaginary solutions to the impending succession crisis. In particular, Settle's dramatization of the downfall of the Ming dynasty and the establishment of the Qing in The Conquest of China offered his audiences reassurances about the stability of the Restoration settlement.Recent criticism about Settle's heroic tragedies has focused on his more popular The Empress of Morocco, although The Conquest of China has received some critical attention-most notably from Derek Hughes and Bridget Orr.31 maintain that The Conquest of China plays a key role in understanding how Restoration drama "was an important location for the representation and negotiation of local political issues in the period."4 In part, The Conquest of China reveals how Western perceptions of Eastern empires were a crucial influence on English political and economic ideology. Orr points out that concerning questions of empire, "dramatists incorporated and presented a great deal of what was becoming received wisdom about Asian, African, and American societies."5 The histories of far-flung and exotic empires of Morocco, Persia, and China offered Settle ideal political settings in which to subsume anxieties over succession issues within fantasies of political stability. These histories were able to function as such, in part, because of underlying assumptions on the part of many Europeans about how empires such as China represented universal truths about religious and sociopolitical origins. Settle's insistence that The Conquest of China had "History and Truth for her Excuse" underscores the way in which he believed that his sources contained certain accepted "Truths" about the political lessons that he wished to present in the play.6 Settle's source for the play was the Jesuit Martinus Martini's scholarly and widely-read history of the 1644 overthrow of the Ming dynasty by the Qing, De Bella Tartarico Historia (London, 1654), which became the "most authoritative and best-known description of the Manchu conquest."7 As we shall see, Martini's history was a perfect ideological vehicle through which Settle could adapt the overthrow of the Ming regime to the conventions of Restoration tragedy.The notion that absolutist policies and foreign encroachment were a threat to English traditions, as Steven Pincus points out, was closely linked to popery, raising fears that James IFs occupation of the throne would usher in a Catholic regime whereby Parliamentary and religious freedoms would be revoked.8 At the same time, removing James from the order of succession was fraught with unsettling ideological and political implications about the stability of the Restoration settlement. …
Abstract: V olumes of literary criticism attest to the intimate relationship between politics and drama in Restoration England. Yet historians have paid little attention to either the Restoration theater or the scholarship devoted to it. I argue here that the Restoration stage merits serious attention as a site of public politics. Critics have long been aware that many Restoration plays were political interventions, but they understandably remain more interested in the role of politics in drama than in the role of drama in politics. These interventions need to be studied with precise attention to their contexts and mechanics if drama is to become an integral part of political history. In particular, the playhouse ought to be considered a crucial venue for the emergence of an increasingly permanent political public sphere in the wake of the English Revolution.
TL;DR: In the early 18th century, China served two crucial and imaginary roles for British readers: it offered the fantasy of both an insatiable market for British exports and an inexhaustible storehouse of luxury goods (from tea to textiles) that could be paid for by exports rather than silver bullion as mentioned in this paper.
Abstract: China played a crucial role in the transformation of English ideas of civilization, enlightenment, and aesthetics during the 18th century Well into the century, China served two crucial and imaginary roles for British readers: it offered the fantasy of both an insatiable market for British exports and an inexhaustible storehouse of luxury goods (from tea to textiles) that could be paid for by exports rather than silver bullion Such idealizations of China, however, began to corrode over the course of the 18th century as porcelain, silk, tea, and other commodities became markers of a culturally feminized chinoiserie for novelists like Daniel Defoe As tastes changed and chinoiserie began to fall out of favor, it still continued to mark changing aesthetic attitudes and changing perceptions of social, gender, and national identity By the late 18th century, British accounts of the Canton trade became important sites for debating cultural difference and philosophical enlightenment for theorists from Adam Smith to Karl Marx
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