59 Pages

Explanatory Notes to the Play

A Tragæcomædye

‘If a painter chose to join a human head to the neck of a horse, and to spread feathers of many a hue over limbs picked up now here now there, so that what at the top is a lovely woman ends below in a black and ugly fish, could you, my friends, if favoured with a private view, refrain from laughing? Believe me, dear Pisos, quite like such pictures would be a book …’ Horace, De Arte Poetica trans. H. R. Fairclough [Loeb Classical Library] (London: Harvard University Library, 1926) p. 451. This passage is quoted by Peter of Cluny in his twelfth century Summa Totius Haeresis Saracenorum in order to demonstrate his sense of the monstrosity of Islam; a monstrosity that is the result of its apparently synthetic nature, mixing elements of Christian and Jewish theology to justify and incorporate Muhammad’s personal predilections (for more on this text see John Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002) pp. 155–65). The ‘book’ with which this dedication finishes thus becomes the ‘Alcaron’ that appears so frequently in this play and on which it puports to be based. Some earlier texts went considerably further to justify this ‘synthetic’ critique of Islam. In the anonymous tract, Here after followeth a lytell treatyse agaynst Mahumet and his cursed secte … (London, 1530?) it is erroneously argued that Muhammad’s parents, ‘had a sonne whome they called Mahumet/whiche by interpretacyon is to say confusion and that might co[n]uenyently be appropryed to hym: for he by the cursed lawe that he afterwarde fayned/brought hym self and all his folowers to eternall confusion’ (sig. A. 5v). The use of this passage from Horace as a dedication is simultaneously a justification – both of the existence of this play, which is not as rigidly oppositional as Cluny’s text (and hence potentially dangerous), and of its content as a legitimate and informed response to Islam, directly related to the acknowledged authority of Cluny’s text. This whole passage is not reproduced in the Summa Totius Haeresis Saracenorum, which focuses solely upon the monstrous image of the opening lines. While it is possible that he consulted the original text, Percy is likely to have encountered Cluny’s text in the abridged version that accompanies Theodore Bibliander’s sixteenth century Latin translation of the Qu’rān, the Machvmetis Sarracenorvm Principis Vita Ac Doctrina Omnis, Quæ & Ismahelitarum, & Alcoranvm dicitur… (Basle, 1543). This text contains a series of historical and polemic additions – most notably a prefatory essay by Martin Luther – but otherwise reproduces closely the 1143 translation of Robert of Ketton, sponsored by Peter of Cluny (also known as ‘the Venerable’) as the centrepiece to what is known as the Cluniac Corpus. In this edition, Cluny’s reference from Horace reads, 183‘Et sic undiþ mostruosus, ut ille ait, humano capiti ceruicem equinam & plumas auium copulat’ (p. 5). See also note to ‘Alcaron’ in ‘Properties’ l. 21 below.