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Welcome to Episode 193 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that goes behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare by interviewing the experts who know him best. 

When London established a new mayor every October, there was a pageant put on to celebrate the appointment and introduce the new mayor to the city known as the Lord Mayor’s Show. This event was an extravagant affair, featuring a huge parade that followed an established route through the city. In one of the earliest accounts we have of the Lord Mayor’s Show, from 1585, records indicate that part of the parade that year was a pageant known as the King Of Moor’s pageant. This pageant is described by our guest this week, Maria Shmygol, as a Moor pageant that was performed by an actor in blackface, and other such pageant devices and dark-skinned personages (variously described as ‘Moors’ and ‘black Indians’). Maria writes that this pageant and this presentation of black moors would come again in close to 10 other mayoral inaugurations across the early to mid 17th century, including 3 within Shakespeare’s lifetime. 

Maria Shmygol joins us today to explain the King of Moors pageant, including what we know about the actors, blackface makeup, and whether there was a distinction culturally between African, Indian, and Arabic, or if “moor” was a more general term. Since the images of the King of Moor’s pageant also includes drawings of a giant leopard, Maria will share with us the purpose and place of that specific animal in the pageant as well.

Join the conversation below.

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Maria Shmygol is an editor on the Oxford University Press Complete Works of John Marston edition. She will soon begin a research fellowship at the National University of Ireland, Galway, with a project on non-European geographies and early modern drama. She is a project member and regular blog contributor at ‘Medieval and Early Modern Orients’, which is an international research network that examines early English interactions with the Safavid, Mughal, and Ottoman Empires.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Maria Shmygol about :

  • Was it standard for the Lord Mayor’s Show to feature celebrations of other countries in the pageant?
  • What part of the world is Shakespeare referring to when he uses the term “moor”? Traditionally, we assume Othello is African because he is described as black skinned, but could moor also be talking about Spain, Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire? Is it possible Othello is actually Turkish or Spanish?  
  • Maria writes that the King of Moors was something like a sketch to use modern theater language, in that this presentation followed a certain pattern and included certain elements that were repeatable in several Lord Mayor’s Shows. Maria calls attention to one presentation of the King of Moors that happened in 1616 which a contemporary account describes as “Then commeth the King of Moores, gallantly mounted on a golden Leopard, he hurling gold and siluer euery way about him.” Maria, why was the King of Moors depicted as riding a golden leopard? Was the leopard specifically associated with Moors?

… and more!

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Colored plate by Henry Shaw, 1844: A depiction of Chrysanaleia, the golden fishing
  • The fishmongers’ pageant, on Lord Mayors Day, 1616: represented in twelve plates by Henry Shaw, showcasing Chrysanaleia.
  • A contemporary depiction of Castilian ambassadors trying to convince Moorish Almohad king Abu Hafs Umar al-Murtada to join their alliance.
  • 13th Century Depiction of Moors in Iberia
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Books & Resources Maria Shmygol Recommends

Maria Shmygol regularly contributes to Medieval and Early Modern Orients 

Public performances of blackness: The ‘King of Moors’ pageant in the 1616 Lord Mayor’s Show, Folger Shakespeare Library

TIDE Keywords : https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/50188

Anthony G. Barthelemy, Black Face, Maligned Race: The Representation of Blacks in English Drama from Shakespeare to Southerne (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987)

Tracey Hill, Pageantry and Power: A Cultural History of the Early Modern Lord Mayor’s Show 1585–1639 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)

Ayanna Thompson, Blackface (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

Amrita Sen and J. Caitlin Finlayson, eds., Civic Performance, Pageantry, and Entertainments in Early Modern London(2020).

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