“Strange and Exotic”: Representing the Other in Medieval and Renaissance Performance

  • Kathleen M. Ashley


The discourse of the other has become a recognizable mark of contemporary cultural theory, as C. Clifford Flanigan pointed out over a decade ago: “One of the most important aspects of late twentieth-century social theory and cultural history is the discovery of heterology, or the recognition of different and anti-structural elements in various forms of social and cultural production.”1 Drawing variously on Lacanian theory, Derridean deconstruction, Marxist poststructuralism, and anthropological models, the discourse of the other has been put to widespread use in cultural and postcolonial studies. Recent analyses of medieval and early modern performance, too, are marked by their recognition of otherness in the form of the Jew, the Moor, the “carnivalesque,” and so on. In this essay I will focus on the highly charged scenes of the strange or exotic played in medieval and early modern performance through characters and actions distanced in time and space, teasing out the effects of sensation and spectacle such scenes imply. I want to linger more than is usually permissible on the ways in which these performance moments offered an alternative, pleasurable experience of otherness to their audiences, and thus to explore the formidable powers of surprise and wonder.


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© Claire Sponsler and Xiaomei Chen 2000

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  • Kathleen M. Ashley

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