(1) But the sequence of Morocco's ill-fated courtship can also lead us into significant vistas of the cultural world which created this complex play, one such vista comprising the intense diplomatic, commercial, and cultural interactions of the time, interactions that were taking their shape from the traffic between the court of the Moroccan sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and that of Queen Elizabeth of England.
One should also keep in mind in this connection that at the time of her death Queen Elizabeth, for the sake of assuring a political partner with whom to wage war against their mutual counterpart Philip II, had conducted a correspondence with Morocco's king, Ahmad al-Mansur, over a period of some twenty-five years (1578-1603), an exchange in which she continually praised "la buena amistad y confederacion que ay entre nuestras coronas." (4) Indeed, the queen's last missive to him emphasized this close epistolary relationship as she signed herself "Vuestra hermana y pariente segun ley de corona y ceptro." (5)
Leicester saw in the Barbary Company a vehicle for selling strategic goods, munitions, iron, lead, tin, timber, and oars for the professional army and navy of Ahmad al-Mansur. The monopoly of the Barbary Company came to an end in 1597 when the trade reverted to its former freedom, giving way to uncontrollable deregulation, damaging rivalry, and fraudulent practices; its demise caused heavy losses among the English merchants.
(24) Jacob Rute, like his father Jacob (I), had made his way up to the highest echelons of the Saadian government, rendering indispensable services to Ahmad al-Mansur as interpreter, intelligencer, and minister of foreign affairs.
The dire spectacle of Christians killing each other under the very eyes of the Jews in the mellah of Marrakesh caught the Muslim ruler Ahmad al-Mansur completely unaware.
(32) Yet despite their enormous revenues and the heavy taxes levied on their subjects, Ahmad al-Mansur and his two brothers before him kept increasing the terms of the sugar leases because they were lavishly spending money on building up the most advanced professional army among the Mediterranean countries.
It set the stage for the spectacular arrival of the North African ambassador and his retinue, who were empowered by Ahmad al-Mansur to negotiate an alliance of amity.
(50) Though of noble origin, he has no chance of concluding a cross-cultural alliance with a Christian lady, just as the real-life Moroccan ambassadors, in the end, stood no chance of persuading Queen Elizabeth to sign a League of Amity with Ahmad al-Mansur. At the last moment the queen shrank from signing a treaty that would have obliged her to provide the logistics, the manpower, and the material to modernize the Moroccan navy.
Thus, Ahmad al-Mansur and his brother Abd al-Malik had adopted some western habits.
What for him is a symbol of miscegenetic generation is for Portia a symbol of pollution; what for him is the only possible choice in the context of his cultural background and his country, which venerated Ahmad al-Mansur as the Golden Ruler, the "adh-Dhahabi," turns out to be the wrong choice in a prenuptial test devised by Portia's Christian father.
Thus, instead of explaining to his readers the fateful law of succession, which led to the downfall of the Saadian dynasty and to the civil wars between Ahmad al-Mansur's sons, Wilkins dished up the platitude that Ahmad al-Mansur had "more Wiues then any of his fore-fathers: his Concubins were fairer and more in number." (62) He then launched into a seemingly intimate account of the female members of the royal family, unfolding the hot news that "Of all the Wiues and Concubins that this Emperor had, three onely, (aboue the rest) had a soueraignty ouer his amorous affections." The favorite wife was Lalla Aisha, "Lilia Isa," as Wilkins calls her, the mother of the first-born son Mulay Zaydan.
Ahmad al-Mansur was a man of learning and taste with interests ranging from grammar, poetry, theology, and jurisprudence to architecture, astronomy, astrology, military science, and mathematics.