Special Issue "Pirates in English Literature"

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 October 2019

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Claire Jowitt

University of East Anglia, School of Literature, Drama, and Creative Writing, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, Norfolk, NR4 7TJ
Website | E-Mail
Interests: early modern travel writing; maritime history; how people move between cultures and ideas across time; Renaissance drama about cultural encounter, and the intersections between discourses of gender, race, colonial and/or imperial identities, and power in literature and culture
Guest Editor
Prof. Manushag N. Powell

Purdue University, Department of English, Heavilon Hall, 500 Oval Dr., West Lafayette, IN, 47907, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: long eighteenth century literature and culture; periodical writing; gender and authorship; genre studies; literature of piracy; maritime history; travel writing; popular stage traditions

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Literature about pirates remains one of the most enduringly popular topics for adults and children alike. In recent years, key works in pirate studies have discussed piracy and pirates as cultural intermediaries, as actors in both the formation and destruction of national and imperial identities, and as transnational and transoceanic mediators of global geo-political forces. Pirate literature is an equally diverse and energetic genre, producing notable novels, poetry, and drama, as well as other, hybrid, and experimental literary forms. Pirate literature is both multicultural and multilingual, and has been a focus of human creativity across time.

This Special Issue on Pirates in English Literature seeks to explore and interrogate similarities and differences in how pirates and piracy are represented across historical periods. ‘English’ literature is interpreted capaciously, to include works of translation and works that engage issues of cultural and linguistic transmission. Comparative treatments of piracy and pirates are welcome, and essays discussing non-traditional literary forms are encouraged, including travel writing and the literature of exploration and trade.

The editors encourage the submission of papers on all aspects of piracy in English print and manuscript cultures, including: pirates and voyages of discovery; pirates and imperialism/colonialism and/or the transatlantic and barbary slave trades; pirates as heroes; pirates as villains; pirate trials; pirate balladry; pirates and gender/sexuality; pirates and children’s literature; pirates and the Bildungsroman; pirates and the pantomime; piracy as metaphor; pirates in fact and pirates in fiction. Approaches that are interdisciplinary or emphasize the boundary-shifting and transnational qualities of piracy are especially welcome.

Abstracts of 250 words to be submitted by 1 March 2019

Final submissions to be received by 1 October 2019

Prof. Claire Jowitt
Prof. Manushag N. Powell
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humanities is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

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  • Pirates
  • Caribbean
  • Barbary
  • Privateers
  • Sea Dogs
  • Treasure
  • Buccaneers
  • Corsairs

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Peace with Pirates: Maghrebi Warfare and Diplomacy in English Periodical News, 1622-1714

Abstract: The history of Maghrebi piracy and the cultural impact it had on British society is one highly limited by indirect sources, cultural, political, and religious biases, and the distorting influence of Orientalist and colonial historiography. Historians have drawn on a wide range of popular media and government-held archival material, each with its own limitations, but one important corpus has been neglected. Drawn from up-to-date and trusted sources and distributed to vast audiences of a wide range of social groups, periodical news publications provide a vast and fruitful body of sources for evaluating popular and elite English viewpoints on Maghrebi piracy. This paper draws upon a corpus of over 3,000 news items comprising some 320,000 words relating to the Maghreb and its people drawn from Stuart and Republican English news publications, with a view towards examining the discourse and reality around Maghrebi piracy in seventeenth-century England. To what extent did naval warfare dominate coverage of the Maghreb, over other social, political and military events? Why was the word ‘pirate’ used so infrequently to describe Maghrebi ships? Was Maghrebi piracy chaotic and unfettered, or did treaties and consular presence lead to stable trade relations? Was the Maghrebi economy fundamentally built on naval predation, or was real benefit available from peaceful engagement with the Maghrebi states? By examining these and other questions from English news coverage, this paper will provide new insight into how Britons thought of “Barbary”, and the extent to which it corresponded to reality.

Title: Henry Avery: The Atlantic World Pirate and the Construction of Civil Society

Abstract: Henry Avery is one of the most written about Atlantic World pirates of the early eighteenth century, and there is much in his story that lends itself to philosophical consideration of the fundamentals of civil organization. Historians have cited the example of Avery to support the idea that pirates of the Caribbean and beyond were rebels who, injured or oppressed through unjust social systems, turned to a life of crime and used their outlaw status as an opportunity to build pirate republics grounded in principles of equity and brotherhood. The notion that exploited people might turn to crime and then construct rogue societies on more equitable terms is an enticing one, and in the case of Avery, has at least some historical evidence to support it. In this presentation, however, I want to consider how multiple tales written about Avery challenge or complicate the idea of the pirate as a social and civil progressive. It was often not the pirate’s differences but his parallels to corrupt figures in mainstream society that continually fascinated writers of the period and fueled the multiple retellings of Avery’s exploits. Writers were drawn to articulating the parallels, complicities, and ties between merchant and plunderer, thief and thief-catcher, or rogue pirate captain and head of state. By emphasizing the connections between pirate life and mainstream society, these writers explore human tendencies toward self-interest and corruption that seems inevitably to accompany social power, however newly formed or ostensibly principled.

Title: “But you have heard of me”: Yarn-spinning and Pirates in Literature and Film, 1800-now

Abstract: In his 1936 essay “The Storyteller”, Walter Benjamin pinpoints the seaman as the ultimate raconteur. Stories by and about seafarers have always enjoyed widespread popularity. Storytelling on board ships, also called yarn-spinning, unites, educates and excites the audience, and is particularly important for the sense of shipboard community, creating a shared experience unheard of in any land-based activity. When translated to fiction, yarn-spinning invites questions of authorship, experience and authority within the stories that feature it. The notion of seafarers as tellers of important stories has been reinforced by recent critical work by Marcus Rediker, Hester Blum and Margaret Cohen. Arguing that yarns created a global seafaring community, these studies present the yarn-spinning labourer as morally superior because of their outsider’s perspective. Stories about pirates, however, remain curiously out of view in these studies of yarn-spinning. This absence is surprising, because pirates and the pirate life seem to be rich sources of vibrant and exciting stories. While they perhaps do not shine by their moral superiority, pirates have been depicted as complex figures in fiction that demand investigation. This article aims to investigate how the yarn-spinning trope is used in pirate fiction. It establishes a solid foundation for the sea yarn used in nineteenth-century popular maritime fiction. It then investigates the particular challenge of depicting pirates as main characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, and the way in which yarn-spinning speaks to questions of identity, reputation and experience.

Title: Ghostly Pirates in English Literature 1579 to 1909

Abstract: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), the first film in Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, a 2018 report of an Irish woman who married the ghost of a Haitian pirate and a vast array of Halloween merchandise are just three different ways in which contemporary American-Anglo popular culture enjoys fashioning sea rovers as revenants. In spite of the figure’s pervasive presence in a variety of twenty-first century media, the specific topic of ghost pirates has eluded scholarly study. Markedly, even a 2017 special issue of Gothic Studies that aims to scrutinize sea literature and the nautical gothic avoids mention of undead maritime outlaws. As its title suggests, my proposed essay for the collection of articles on ‘Pirates in English Literature’ considers Thomas Churchyard’s poem ‘A Pirate’s Tragedy’ (1579) and William Hope Hodgson’s novel The Ghost Pirates (1909) as important texts which exemplify how ‘pirate literature’ is ‘a focus of human creativity across time’. In so doing, I suggest that Churchyard’s Elizabethan verse, though contingent on its period of production, anticipates the Edwardian prose in striking comparative ways. Via close textual analyses that situates ‘A Pirate’s Tragedy’ and The Ghost Pirates within both religious and secular sources, I ultimately argue that Churchyard’s and Hodgson’s respective works form a hybrid genre aligned with avowedly English yet anxious Protestant identities.

Title: Pirates and Publicity: The Making and Unmaking of Pirates in Popular Print

Abstract: This paper draws together the role of print in redeeming the image of the South Sea Buccaneers as scientific explorers, and the publicity campaign which led to the execution of Capt. Thomas Green of the Worcester on charges of piracy in 1705. Beginning with the ethnographies of Basil Ringrose and Bartholomew Sharpe, which detailed their campaigns across the Isthmus of Panama and the Pacific in the 1680s, this paper describes the literary process by which the buccaneers became rehabilitated as credible public witnesses. The sincerity of this rehabilitation is called into question, however, by the unsuccessful citation of the legality of the buccaneers’ actions upon the Isthmus within the justifications for the subsequent colonisation of the Isthmus by the Company of Scotland during the ‘Darien Scheme’ (1698-1701).  In the backdrop of the Scheme’s collapse, the argument will turn to the seizing of the English ship Worcester, following the detaining of a Company of Scotland ship by the East India Company, and the printed campaign which led to the execution of Thomas Green for piracy. The legitimacy of the trial’s outcome was furiously debated in print, culminating in William Forbes’s acerbic poem A Pill for Pork-Eaters, or, A Scots Lancet for an English Swelling (1705), which justified the inviolable right of the Scottish admiralty to its verdict regardless of any potentially exculpatory evidence. This paper will argue that the determination of what constituted a pirate and piracy in print and in law was often subject to contemporary publicity and populist causes.

Title” “Vive le gues”? Sea Beggars and Views of Piracy in English and Dutch Writing

Abstract: At a time when the practice of privateering started to flourish in Europe the factor as to what defined a hero, or a pirate relied more and more on someone’s perspective. Francis Drake, for example, was a hero to the English but a pirate to the Spanish. For the Sea Beggars, such definitions are less clear cut. As the conflict with Spain intensified and started to escalate, Dutch nobility took to the water. Not only did they attack Spanish ships with enough success to stop Spanish resources from coming to the Low Countries via sea, they further took to conquering Dutch cities, thus liberating but also plundering their own people. Building on Martine de Bruin’s work on anti-Sea Beggars songs, the article studies a range of materials to challenge romantised views of the Sea Beggars activities as purely freedom fighters, while also problematizing the definitions of piracy, and the often-used Protestant versus Catholic narrative, this paper explores contemporary perspectives on this group. As the Sea Beggars operated in the North Sea and initially had their bases in English harbours, a comparative study between English and Dutch material is helpful to gain comprehensive insights into the perception of the Sea Beggars. To achieve that the article will study a range of different writings, for example A tongue-combat by Henry Hexham, The image of bothe churches by Matthew Pattenson and the exchange between George Hakewill and Benjamin Carier, and the anonymous Duivelsliedeken (Devil’s song), Afbeeldinge ende beschryvinghe van alle de veldslagen (Illustration and description of all the battles) by Willem Baudartius, and Spaanschen Brabander (Spanish inhabitant of Brabant) by G.A. Bredero.

Title: Sovereignty, race, and the imagined Indian Ocean of a General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724)

Abstract: This paper begins with a reading of recent historiographies of Indian Ocean predation (Subramanian 2018; Campbell 2014; Prange 2011; Risso 2001). On the one hand, this work dismisses ‘the pirate’ as a racist term of imperial art, long deployed to demean established state actors, and de-legitimate emerging coastal sovereignties. On the other hand, a cross-cultural identification of ‘the pirate’ energizes and focuses thisrevisionist historiography. I am curious about the unresolved tension between repudiating (in juridical terms) and privileging (in cultural terms) ‘the pirate’, and so in the question of why we can’t—even if we want to eschew it—seem to do without this category. I open up this question by turning to fiction, and most fully to A General History. This compendium—this template of a Eurocentric ‘world literature’ of pirate stories—tells us that territories are the formations of violent white men. But it also narrates ‘the pirate’ as definitively unwound by the relativist ethics and expectations of fictive Indian Ocean coastal and island worlds. The staging of the Indian Ocean in A General History might highlight the broader abstraction of this region to debates about governance and legitimacy in the Anglophone imagination. At the same time, the book enlivens sovereignty as a complex and ambivalent geopolitical question, and so tells us about why it is difficult to quite let go of ‘the pirate’ as a category, even in the most attentive historiographies of the Indian Ocean.

Title: Visually Coding the Elizabethan Pirate: Thomas Cavendish on Stage and in Portraiture

Abstract: The portrait of John Hawkins, Francis Drake, and Thomas Cavendish by Daniel Mytens (date unknown) may not strike the modern eye as being obviously related to piracy, but it depicts arguably the three greatest pirates whose plunder of the New World received the backing of Elizabeth I of England. Lacking the classic iconography associated with the Golden Age of piracy, contemporary representations of Elizabethan pirates seem to fade from view. This essay will examine the symbolism of the different types of costume adopted for Elizabethan pirates in portraiture and on stage, with a particular focus on Cavendish, who is the subject of several artistic images (the Mytens portrait, a plate in Theodor de Bry’s Americae, and more) and whose character is associated with two examples of what Maria Hayward has called “rich apparel” in the inventory of costume items kept by Edward Alleyn for the Admiral’s Men. I argue that Cavendish became routinely associated with extravagance and the squandering of the riches gained in his first successful expedition to the New World (1586 to 1588). Within two years, he embarked on a second, ultimately fatal expedition, which Laurie Johnson and David McInnis have argued became the subject of the lost play, The New World’s Tragedy. The symbolic displays of wealth in Cavendish’s costumes can also be linked to a fatal flaw, making his demise ultimately suited to dramatic tragedy, but also point us towards some of the visual codes used at the time to signify the rewards of privateering and piracy under the reign of Elizabeth.

Title: From Scotland to California: the American Appropriation of Stevenson's Pirates

Abstract: Pirate literature is rife with cross influences, repetitions, and retellings. How have authorial intent, illustration, and cinema converged to shape our conceptions of the British pirate? Our essay answers
this question by tracing the teleology of the pirate from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and The Master of Ballantrae through the illustrative treatment of pirates from George Roux, William Hole, Walter Paget, Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth’s 1911 illustrations, to mid-twentiethcentury American cinema. Critics have been quick to recognize the significance of Wyeth’s interpretations to subsequent cinematic interpretation, focusing on a 1920 film version that was indeed aesthetically influenced by Wyeth’s illustrations. However, of more significance are two versions in particular: the first “talkie” version of 1934 and Disney’s first full-color feature length live-action film of 1950. Both these films owe great aesthetic debts to Wyeth, whose imagery is influenced by Pyle, a contemporary artist-writer greatly admired by Stevenson. Through Pyle and Wyeth, the pirate took on a distinctively American aesthetic: rugged, working class, physically imposing. The evolution from text to film is part of a larger research project in which we’re asking whether we can trace Stevenson’s own hands over such aesthetics, or whether they were in fact
hijacked by illustration and re-invented by film. In short, can we detect authorial intent in cinematic

Title: Slippery Pirates: Generic Conventions and Discursive Instability in John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s Early Stuart Pirate Plays

Abstract: The term ‘pirate’ marks a slippery category in early modern England: as a legal denomination, it describes the feats of armed robbery at sea for which pirates were prosecuted in the legal arena; as “an expression of extreme otherness or social rebellion” (Ellinghausen 2018, 82), it could also be put to productive use in popular drama. More often than not a phase in a seaman’s life rather than a stable self-identification, piracy is one of several identities available on the early modern sea. Like their real-life models, literary pirates are contradictory creations – they shed their pirate identity as quickly as they have adopted it, are used for veiled socio-political commentary, or trimmed to size in order to fit generic constraints. The slipperiness of the pirate has made him (and, sometimes, her), an attractive figure for early modern playwrights, even if the seaborne criminal frequently merely operates from “the sidelines of literary texts” (Jowitt 2007, 2). In this article, I will argue that John Fletcher and Philip Massinger appropriate the instant recognisability and the discursive instability of piratical individuals for their pirate plays. Rather than looking at the ideological and political implications of piracy (which have been covered in depth in recent research), then, I will analyse the pirate figures in Fletcher and Massinger’s The Double Marriage (1621) and The Sea Voyage (1622) as well as in Massinger’s The Renegado (1623-24) and The Unnatural Combat (1624-25) as literary creations. Alternating between the heroic and the villainous, their pirates are convenient plot devices that are attuned to the evolving generic conventions of the early Stuart stage.

Works Cited:
Ellinghausen, Laurie (2018). Pirates, Traitors, and Apostates: Renegade Identities in Early Modern English Writing. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Jowitt, Claire (2007). “Introduction: Pirates? The Politics of Plunder, 1550-1650.” Pirates? The Politics of Plunder, 1550-1650. Ed. Claire Jowitt. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 3–19.


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