By Chloe Houston
Studies in Travel Writing, Vol.13:2 (2009)
Abstract: Bringing together a range of little-considered materials, this article assesses the portrayal of Persia in seventeenth-century travel literature and drama. In particular it argues that such texts use their awareness of Islamic sectarian division to portray Persia as a good potential trading partner in preference to the Ottoman Empire. A close reading of John Day, William Rowley and George Wilkins’ The Travailes of the Three English Brothers (1607) demonstrates how the play develops a fantasy model of how relations between Persia and England might function. The potential unity between England and Persia, imagined in terms of both religion and trade, demonstrates how Persia figured as a model ‘other England’ in early modern literature.
Introduction: The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw a rise in European travel to Persia, and consequently in writings about such travel. Many of these emanated from the group surrounding the brothers Anthony and Robert Sherley, who first travelled to the East in 1598 and whose experiences in Persia were documented in a range of texts published in the early seventeenth century. The Sherley’s journey to Persia was begun from Italy; originally bound for Ferrara in the service of the Earl of Essex, they eventually arrived in Persia via Venice in December 1598, with the aim of promoting English interests there and assessing the potential for trade. It is uncertain whether the Persian expedition was undertaken with or without Essex’s knowledge or approval neither brother went back to England before the earl’s death in 1601.