Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Conversion in The Travels of the Three English Brothers

Response 1: Primary
            In The Travels of the Three English Brothers we once again see the issue of conversion. Even though each of the three brothers has an encounter that centers on conversion, each encounter focuses on a different aspect of conversion. For Sir Anthony, who is characterized (both in the play, and more so in the source material) as a bit of a trouble-maker and dissident, he uses the language of conversion in his rhetoric. His use of the language is not taken seriously as he is portrayed as not taking much seriously, including religion. However, both Robert and Thomas use conversion as a way to classify their encounters with foreigners. Robert successful converts, or makes inroads to converting, Persians while Thomas in his encounter with the Great Turk shows the strength of character of Englishmen in refusing to convert, no matter the consequences.
            When Sir Anthony first makes his case to Sophy, with Halibeck complaining, Anthony states “Enough to make a pagan, if a man/Of understanding soul turn Christian” (75). Later he makes his argument to Sophy saying “That you by embassy make league with/Christendom” (76). In both cases, he uses the rhetoric of conversion, but his actions do not follow through on this, of the three brothers he alone makes no moves of conversion. He goes to Russia, but is unsuccessful in his own diplomatic mission, let alone a religious one after being accused by Halibeck of being a “fugitive,/A Christian spy, a pirate and a thief” (85) and imprisoned. Sir Anthony is later betrayed by Zariph and arrested for not paying his debt. While Anthony paints and unflattering characterization of Zariph as Jew, there is no language of conversion in their exchange. Anthony’s purpose in the play seems to foil the character of Halibeck, and negatively characterize those who oppose him (i.e factions within Persia that are against an English alliance). Given the negative portrayal of Anthony in the source materials, it is not surprising that Anthony would be relegated to a lesser character in the play rather than show these negative traits on stage.
            With Robert, the idea of conversion and identity is conflated. Robert’s identity as an Englishman is in doubt once he joins the Persians in battle which speaks of the possibility of taint. He turns from the “Christian clemency” (96) that he proudly boasted of, to acting just as barbaric as the Persians do. He is willing to toss his ideals aside from just the brief contact of the battle. His English and Christian identity has been altered. We see this when Robert goes to decapitate a Turk after the battle but realizes that it is a Christian in “Turk’s habit” (97).
            Christian: Stay, I am not as I seem.
            Robert: Thou seems’t a Turk.
            Christian: Yet am a Christian.
Robert is not only willing to sink to the level of behavior of the Persians, but requires written proof (Thomas Sherley’s note written/tattooed on the Christian’s arm) of the Christian’s identity, not taking his word for it. Eventually, Robert’s salvation comes in the form of love, but in contrast to other works we’ve read, his love does not convert him, but rather allows him to regain his own English/Christian identity.
            Yet Robert is able to reclaim his English/Christian identity through proselytizing at the end of the play. He has the power to demand of Sophy that not only will his child be baptized Christian, but that Robert can construct a church so Christian visitors can practice their faith, and a Christian school so Christian children can “know no other education,/Manners, language nor religion/Than what by Christians is delivered them” (131). While Robert only states that he is providing a safe space for Christians in Persia, it is hard not to read this as the beginnings of conversions in Persia, or at least the desire for conversions.
When Sir Thomas mentions conversion, it is as a way to prove himself to the Great Turk. Thomas conflates courage (as in the courage to resist) with the idea of (forced) conversion. Thomas states “here’s an undaunted heart/That never yields by Turkish tyranny” (124). The Great Turk replies:
We stand amazed at thy constancy.
Yet answer us: wilt thou forsake thy faith,
Become as we are, and to Mahomet
Out holy prophet, and his Alcoran
Give thy devotion? ---and by our kings we swear
We will accept thee in the place of kings (124).
Thomas refuses the Great Turk’s offer, stating that he will never convert, and would rather be tortured and die. Thomas is saved from this fate, not due to his faith but from the actions of Robert, who as we’ve seen holds the most power out of the three brothers, presumably because he is associated with the Persians.
            In The Travels of the Three English Brothers the language of conversion is used by all three brothers for three separate purposes. Anthony uses the language of conversion in his rhetoric but fails to accomplish anything. Thomas’ use results in characterizing him as an Englishman whose character cannot be tarnished. Robert is the only one of the brothers who successfully uses the language of conversion. Robert, allied with Persia in the character of Sophy, succeeds, perhaps because the argument of the time wanted Persia to succeed. Robert certainly succeeds because he aligns himself with the power in the play. Robert also succeeds because he lays the groundwork for future conversions of the Persians.

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