Fabricated Muslim identity, female agency, and cultural complicity: the Christian imperial project of Emaré

Amy Burge, Lydia Kertz

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Abstract

Extant in only one mid-fifteenth-century manuscript, the Middle English romance Emaré has nevertheless captivated modern scholars and readers. The majority of studies have focused on the text’s material culture, centred on the description of a luxurious cloth that takes up 10% of the poem. A recent global turn in medieval studies has consistently highlighted the role of medieval Europe in defining and supporting imperial projects, simultaneously challenging the Eurocentrism of medieval studies and the supposed neutrality of medieval European culture. This article brings Emaré into conversation with material culture and postcolonial critique to investigate the imperial politics of the text. Using assemblage theory, developed by Deleuze and Guattari, we argue that the cloth can be read as an assemblage, made up of components that can be understood individually and as part of a whole. The cloth as assemblage emphasises the connections between the Muslim woman who made the cloth and Emaré herself, imbricating Emaré into the cloth-assemblage. Yet, Emaré’s persistent separateness serves as a reminder of Emaré’s simultaneous position in yet another assemblage - that of Christian Empire. Emaré’s actions resignify the cloth and uphold the patrilineal project of empire. Ultimately, by reading the cloth as assemblage in Emaré, the complicity of white Christian women in support of Christian imperial power is made overt.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-69
Number of pages32
JournalMedieval Feminist Forum
Volume56
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2020

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