From the Knight’s Tale to The Two Noble Kinsmen: Rethinking race, class and whiteness in romance

Abstract

Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale replicates crusade romance’s construction of white skin as a marker of class and racial identity. Ypolita and Emelye are similar to the fair Saracen princesses of crusade romances; these racialized enemies are converted into wives who can reproduce a race of white aristocrats. Drawing from its Chaucerian source, Shakespeare and Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen uses the integration of the Amazon into Athens to suggest that white skin is proof of not-yet-realized racial sameness. At the same time, the play tests the limits of white skin as a marker of racial sameness and class affiliation. Although the play upholds the connection romances produce between race and class, it undermines the power of white skin to create this connection. The Two Noble Kinsmen instead uses images of Africanness to link race and class, suggesting that Africanness is better able than white skin to mark racial and class identity.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    All citations of Fletcher and Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsmen are from the 1997 Porter edition, cited parenthetically by act, scene and line numbers.

  2. 2.

    All citations of Chaucer’s poetry are from the Benson et al. edition ([1987] 2008), cited by line numbers.

  3. 3.

    Most printed versions of the ballad spell Aloe with an ‘e.’ I will preserve this spelling when referring to printed versions of the ballad. When referring to Shakespeare and Fletcher’s version, I follow its authors in spelling Alow with a ‘w.’

References

  1. Akbari, S.C. 2000. From Due East to True North: Orientalism and Orientation. In The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. J.J. Cohen, 19–34. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Akbari, S.C. 2009. Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100–1450. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Britton, D. 2011. Islam, Race, and Political Legitimacy in Ralegh’s The Life and Death of Mahomet. In Early Modern England and Islamic Worlds, eds. B. Andrea and L. McJannet, 43–64. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bruster, D. 2000. Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Burton, J. 2005. Traffic and Turning: Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Chaucer, G. [1987] 2008. The Canterbury Tales. In The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn., ed. L.D. Benson et al., 3–328. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cohen, J.J. 2001. On Saracen Enjoyment: Some Fantasies of Race in Late Medieval France and England. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31 (1): 113–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Cohen, J.J. 2013. Race. In A Handbook of Middle English Studies, ed. M. Turner, 108–122. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  9. de Weever, J. 1998. Sheba’s Daughters: Whitening and Demonizing the Saracen Woman in Medieval French Epic. New York: Garland.

    Google Scholar 

  10. duBois, P. 1991. Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-history of the Great Chain of Being. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Fletcher, J. and W. Shakespeare . 1997. The Two Noble Kinsmen, ed. L. Porter. Walton-on Thames, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons (for The Arden Shakespeare).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Floyd-Wilson, M. 2006. English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Forrest, J. 1999. The History of Morris Dancing, 1458–1750. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Freeman, P. 1999. Images of the Medieval Peasant. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hatton, T.J. 1968. Chaucer’s Crusading Knight, a Slanted Ideal. Chaucer Review 3: 77–87.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Heng, G. 2003. Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Iyengar, S. 2007. The Moorish Dance in The Two Noble Kinsmen. Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews 20: 85–107.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Jameson, F. 1981. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Jankowski, T.A. 2000. Pure Resistance: Queer Virginity in Early Modern English Drama. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Jones, T. 1980. Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary. London: Methuen.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Keen, M. 1983. Chaucer’s Knight, the English Aristocracy and the Crusades. In English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages, eds. V.J. Scattergood and J.W. Sherborne, 45–61. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Lewis, C.M. 2008. History, Mission, and Crusade in the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer Review 42 (4): 353–382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Loomba, A. 2002a. Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Loomba, A. 2002b. ‘Break Her Will, and Bruise no Bone Sir’: Colonial and Sexual Mastery in Fletcher’s The Island Princess. Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 2 (1): 68–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Loomba, A. and J. Burton . 2007. Introduction. In Race in the Early Modern Period: A Documentary Companion, eds. A. Loomba and J. Burton, 1–36. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Matar, N. 2005. Britain and Barbary, 1589–1689. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Neely, C.T. 1991. ‘Documents in Madness’: Reading Madness and Gender in Shakespeare’s Tragedies and Early Modern Culture. Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (3): 315–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Pilling, J. 1984. The Wild Morisco or the Historical Morris. English Dance and Song 46: 26–29.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Shakespeare, W. 1979. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. H. Brooks. London: Methuen and Co. (for The Arden Shakespeare).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Shakespeare, W. 1994. Antony and Cleopatra, ed. M. Neill. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Shakespeare, W. 1997. Othello, ed. E.A.J. Honigmann. Walton-on-Thames, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons (for The Arden Shakespeare).

    Google Scholar 

  32. Schwarz, K. 2000. Tough Love: Amazon Encounters in the English Renaissance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Spiller, E. 2011. Reading and the History of Race in the Renaissance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Traub, V. 2002. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Vitkus, D. 2003. Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570–1630. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Warren, N.B. 2006. ‘Olde Stories’ and Amazons: The Legend of Good Women, the ‘Knight’s Tale,’ and Fourteenth-Century Political Culture. In The Legend of Good Women: Contexts and Reception, ed. C.P. Collette, 83–104. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Britton, D. From the Knight’s Tale to The Two Noble Kinsmen: Rethinking race, class and whiteness in romance. Postmedieval 6, 64–78 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/pmed.2015.3

Download citation