Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Willing to Pay Their Maidenheads": Charting Trade and Identity in Thomas Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie, Part 2

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Willing to Pay Their Maidenheads": Charting Trade and Identity in Thomas Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie, Part 2

Article excerpt

CRITICS of Thomas Heywood's second part of If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie (c. 1605) have long acknowledged the play's interest in prais- ing certain aspects of England's increased trade and mercantilism. Most recently, David Hawkes wrote that the play legitimizes merchants by insisting on a strict connection between signs and referents; in this play's case, the connection between money and its value. Hawkes argues that Heywood's play promulgates the "idea that signs are naturally and inherently connected with their referents" and that this idea "is compatible with aristocratic notions of birth and breeding" but not quite so in "a money-based market economy."1 Hawkes's argument that the play thus emphasizes how Gresham and merchants like him will not make use of any "ethically dubious" modes of representation detached from reality echoes the large amount of critical work about Heywood's play in particular and nascent capitalism in general that examines the ways in which early modern writers created and described the new statuses and practices arising from certain modes of commerce.

For the second If You Know Not Me, the shift in focus from Elizabeth as Protestant savior in the first play to Sir Thomas Gresham as an economic one in the second reflects a growing interest in representing merchants as legitimate figures of social and political power over and above any aristocrat. In the later play, the protagonist obtains fame and political connections not by virtue of noble birth, but by participating in and facilitating the growing prosperity of the city. Jean Howard describes London at this time as a "place where both status and gender relations were constantly being renegotiated."2 Howard argues that these strategies reflect a new method for establishing prestige. She explains that

[r]ank remained crucial to male identity, but in the urban context it was challenged by a new emphasis on what I call performative masculinity, that is, the ability to master codes of fashionability and to comport oneself with distinction in the city's emerging arenas for mannerly display.3

This mastering of new codes to affirm certain ranks is also noted by H. R. French in "The Search for the 'Middle Sort of People' in England, 1600- 1800," where the "value" of this search for a middle sort is located "in illustrating the possibility of contingent and multiple social self-definitions according to context-of the presence of co-existing, competing descriptions of the same hierarchy."4 The arguments of Hawkes, Howard, and French help to underscore the idea that early modern texts concerned with trade and merchants would not depict a linear shift from one mode of identity to another, but rather show the continued importance of defining rank visually through appropriations of familiar discourses to create new forms of identity for those involved in trade. In Hawkes's and my own argument, Heywood's characters deploy rhetoric, both visual and verbal, that refers back to an aristocratic ideology of power: specifically in this article, the reliance on the symbolic import of chaste wives and the actual real estate inheritance and more intangible sense of family lineage and legacy of nobility that these women physically represent. Heywood's play, however, creates a new kind of "family" of city merchants where the successful businessman-in this case Thomas Gresham-is imagined as the benevolent father whose "property" includes not just his material wealth but figurative ownership of the London in which he conducts his prosperous trade.

This new status is further facilitated by a reconsideration of the trope of the chaste wife, and the aristocratic discourse that often assigned these noble- women the task of embodying their husbands' integrity. Marie H. Loughlin remarks on the importance assigned to the "exclusivity of a woman's body for the use of her family and husband; namely, the preservation of the husband's as well as the father's untainted name, certainty concerning the legitimacy of the former's heirs, and consequently the continued integrity of his patrimony. …

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