chapter  6
29 Pages

Exotic others

Racial mappings on the castrate body
ByKatherine Crawford

By the mid-seventeenth century, the opera stage was one of the primary sites where castrates were not only imaginatively, but actually located. However complicated the conversation, much of the discussion about castrates focused on the social vocabularies defined by law, medicine, and religion. Western encounters with castrates in the Muslim world — the Ottoman Empire primarily, but Persia and the Mughal Empire as well not only instantiated the negative perception of castrates, but also provided justification of western castration practices. Unsurprisingly, the western images are inaccurate in a variety of ways, but perhaps most significantly for the authors's purposes: only black castrates served inside the harem and they were not at the bottom of the harem hierarchy, as western artists presumed and insisted. The second spatial division was about access to the third courtyard or "imperial harem," which was restricted to the sultan, black castrates, and the pages of the palace chosen for purpose of serving in the innermost sanctum.