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“Signing in the Seraglio”: Global Disability in European Spatial Representations of the Ottoman Court

October 24, 2016 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Monday Seminar:

Elizabeth Bearden

English, UW-Madison

Resident Fellow (2016-2017)


Drawn from the fourth chapter of her current book project, Monstrous Kinds: Body, Space, and Narrative in Renaissance Representations of Disability, this talk analyzes European representations of the dwarfs, mutes, and eunuchs who served the Ottoman sultans. Accounts of these boon companions emphasize their relative privilege and mobility within and without the sequestered space of the seraglio. Their increased mobility, facility in communication through sign language, and overall access to Ottoman space contribute to imperial envy in Europeans’ accounts, limited as they were for being told by outsiders. The talk draws on a variety of travel texts, including works by Osier Busbecq (d. 1592), Otaviano Bon (1552–1623), and Paul Rycaut (1629–1700). The transnational presence of people with physical impairments, illustrated by the Ottoman court, reinforces European understandings of the alternative capacities that sensory impairment generates. Ultimately, people with physical impairments do not simply serve as marvels, but rather demand reassessments of European verbal and visual representational strategies and definitions of abnormality.


Professor Elizabeth B. Bearden is a scholar and teacher of early modern literature with training in Comparative Literature, Classics, the History of Rhetoric, Visual Culture Studies, and Disability Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from NYU in 2006 and her A. B. in Comparative Literature at Princeton in 1998. She is an Associate Professor in the English department at UW-Madison. Her first monograph, The Emblematics of the Self: Ekphrasis and Identity in Renaissance Imitations of Greek Romance, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2012 and has been positively reviewed in leading journals. She has published articles in PMLA, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, Ancient Narrative Supplementum, and Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies. Additionally, she directed a Digital Humanities project on Philip Sidney’s funeral, which appeared in a Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition in Washington, DC.


October 24, 2016
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States