Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England

Article excerpt

Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England, by Edward Gieskes. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006, Pp. 365, $60.00 (cloth).

Reviewer: REBECCA LEMON

In Representing the Professions, Edward Gieskes uses the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu to chart the formation of the professions of administration, law, and theater in early modern England. In doing so, he offers an ambitious study, ranging through the drama of Shakespeare, Jonson, Dekker, Beaumont, Massinger, Middleton, and others, in order to demonstrate the parallels between these three professional fields as each moves from the status of trade or guild into a profession. Complementing extant studies on the topic of the professions, including Wilfred Prest's edited collection on The Professions in Early Modern England (1987), Gieskes brings a particular insight to the discussion with his research on the labor of theatrical staging. By connecting the craftspeople and workers of the theater to playwrights, Representing the Professions challenges strictly literary approaches to drama and instead argues convincingly for the interplay of dramatic writing and theatrical practice.

Rather than viewing the professions through the economic frame that he finds typical of Marxian studies on the topic, Gieskes offers a "Bourdieuian literary history." This sociological approach has real advantages: Gieskes ambitiously considers a number of fields implicated in the rise of the professions-literary, historical, economic, legal, theatrical, and political-without privileging any one field. Yet this reliance on Bourdieu also presents difficulties for readers coming to the book with a primary interest in the early modern period: each chapter's extended engagement with Bourdieu comes at the expense of direct, detailed engagement with literary and historical texts. In the chapter on the law, for example, Gieskes offers a rich analysis of the rise of the legal profession, tracking the vast number of handbooks on the law that proliferated in the sixteenth century to support law students in their studies. Yet this discussion begins and ends with Bourdieu' s terminology, locating the payoff of the legal history in the terms "habitus" and "field." In returning consistently to Bourdieu throughout its chapters, the book, as a result, allots proportionately much less space for the analysis of plays. This latter aspect of the book is disappointing given that Gieskes has skillfully assembled a fresh selection of understudied texts, which readers may be eager to see analyzed at greater length.

The book's first case study, on public administrators, traces the new men, such as the Bacons and the Cecils, who made up a professional administrative cadre. This chapter argues, following G. R. Elton, that the Tudor revolution in government affected an administrative shift from a tradition of service based on noble rank to one based in talent. Gieskes' s case for administration as a profession with its own set of talent-based standards is less convincing than subsequent arguments for law and theater, considering that bureaucrats in the Tudor period used their "professional" positions to achieve noble status, demonstrating a persistent concern for rank within the context of state service. Here, soldiers or clergy members might have conformed more convincingly to the book's definition of professionals. The chapter nevertheless offers insightful readings of Shakespeare's King John and the anonymous The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England to help support its argument about the tension between nobility and talent in the period. For example, Gieskes compares the linguistic range of Philip in Troublesome Raigne with the Bastard in Shakespeare in order to juxtapose innate nobility and hard work: while Philip's language-use is remarkably consistent, suggesting his noble birth despite his illegitimate status, Shakespeare's Bastard acquires royal language over the course of the play, suggesting instead his talent. …

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