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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: November 2020

3 - The Theater of Imperial Sovereignty


Chapter Three argues that the Mughal emissary I’tesamuddin adopts contradictory personas in London parks, theaters, and ballrooms. His Persian travelogue, Shigarf-nāma i Wilāyat [The Wonder-book of the Province/England], narrates his 1767–1769 diplomatic mission to deliver Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II’s letter requesting military assistance from King George III, circumventing the Company’s authority. Because this mission failed after Robert Clive withheld the letter, the Mirza instead writes about London’s theatrical and touristic attractions, including Shakespeare’s King Lear, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and a pantomime farce. Enthralled by these shows, he morphs into a black-masked Harlequin in sexual pursuit of white fairy-like Englishwomen – the repertoire by which he judges off-stage Britons as deluded by worldly gain, figured as a Protestant work ethic that values efficient labor and capital accumulation. By the end of his narrative, his identity shifts from an admirer of an Islamized Anglican state to an ascetic Muslim who prefers elite Mughal society and its veiled light brown women.

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