Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Island Princess and the Conflation of Fortune and Conversion

Response 3: Primary
One paragraph summary of issue
            From the opening of The Island Princess, conversion is referred to by Pedro, “But where no faith is, there’s no trust” (I:I, 28), thus revealing the standard conversion-marriage pairing that we see so often in early modern drama. As with other plays we’ve read, love and conversion are conflated, although in The Island Princess, there’s the underlying implication that both must be forced. At first, the audience is led to believe that the romantic pairing will be between Rui Dias, the Portugese (Catholic) Christian and the pagan princess, Quisara. However, once Rui Dias proves himself to be a man that values counsel over his own heart and takes his time making a decision, Quisara deserts him, and her apparent love for him, for Armusia. Armusia proves himself a better man and Christian by rescuing the King, Quisara’s brother to prove his worth, but more importantly for the issue of conversion, by being willing to suffer torture and death for his faith. One of the unique things about conversion in The Island Princess is the conflation of Fortune/Fame with conversion. Quisara is viewed as a prize for the suitors/princes to win, and as Sousa states, “Fortune looks fair on those make haste to win her” (I:iii, 241). The conflation of wealth, or material possessions with conversion is an odd one, but in support of the globalization lens through which we’ve viewed our texts.
Detailed analysis
The language used to describe both is that of possession, most often with a variation of the phrase “Take her” (I:I, 78), although there is some push back from other characters, “For ‘tis not a compelled or forced affection” (I:I, 81). The Governor tries to convince Armusia that they way to acquire Quisara’s love is by forcing her, to rape her (1:iii, 187-191).
Quisara calls into question the idea that any man can “examine” (I:ii, 6) her or by extension her beliefs. The choice of examination is a strange one, as for me it called to mind the Inquisition examining heresy. Quisara standing up for herself against the princes, and setting the circumstances of her own marriage can be seen as a counter of patriarchal authority and to the idea that she is a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder. Quisara’s quest for the suitors of setting her brother free is one that requires courage and strength, not wealth. Rui Dias proves he doesn’t possess these qualities, and therefore is unfit for her. On the other hand, the Governor frames his discussion about Quisara with the King in Act II through fortune and Fame. “Couldst not though wish her/A bastard or a whore- Fame might proclaim her,/Black, ugly Fame-“ (II:I, 68-70). The Governor identifies Quisara as both a prize, associated with Fame, but also the negative aspects of Fame.
The idea of conversion, or religion as a form of deceit is seen in the Governor’s disguise as a native holy man. While in disguise, the Governor warns the King to beware of the “Portugals” (IV:i, 33), representing the dangers of conversion in this case from Protestant to Catholic, not Christian to pagan. Later, the Governor warns Quisara that the reason the Portugese are a threat is because of the “mighty hand they bear upon our government” (IV:ii, 161). The idea that religion could contaminate politics and culture is the real fear here. It is of note that these conversations take place in Act IV, because while the groundwork for conversion as a theme in the play has been laid since the beginning of Act I it is not until Act IV when it becomes the center of the play’s action. It is at the end of Act IV that Quisara tells Armusia that a condition of their love/marriage is that he must convert to her (pagan) faith. Armusia vehemently refuses. When Quisara makes these demands of her,  she becomes just another object to him, which he must somehow possess, but under his conditions: “Yet I must have ye-/Have ye of my faith too” (Act IV: v, 102-103). It is only once Armusia is to be tortured and killed that Quisara relents, seemingly accepting her place as object and replies “Your faith and your religion must be like ye” (V:ii, 117) and “I do embrace your faith, sir, and your fortune” (V:ii, 121). Here, fortune is not capitalized, implying that it refers to Armusia’s fate of torture and death as a Christian who has offended the King, but to an audience, given the multiple references throughout the play, it would be understood both ways. The lesson seems to be that it is only after Quisara accepts her place, as an object and subordinate to Armusia, that she can have the love she wants.
From subtle conversion references in Act I-III, to the focus on the conflation of romance and conversion in Act IV, Act V suddenly has a plethora of conversions. Pinheiro speaks to Panura about converting her (V:iv, 14), the Governor’s impersonation of a native holy man, which can be read as a false conversion, is revealed (V:v, 53), and the King implies he is ready to convert; “Take her, friend-/You have half persuaded me to be a Christian-“ (V:v, 67-68). I think it’s important that the last reference to conversion in the play stresses the taking of property-conversion connection. This signals to me the relationship between conversion and material things/wealth. In the play, Fortune favors the bold- Armusia in rescuing the King and earning Quisara’s love through his strength of character. If we substitute conversion in this formula, Armusia is rewarded in the same way- he tempts the King to conversion and gets Quisara to convert. The play seems to state that Fortune and conversion are the same, that the same actions that earn Fortune will earn converts. In this way, Armusia is presented as model for the perfect venturer/merchant and Christian. It also seems to argue that the way to earn converts is to create an in through mercantilism, which is in keeping with the globalization lens through which we’ve viewed the class, and is an interesting commentary on the early modern period c. 1619-1621.

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