Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Economic Nationalism in Haughton's Englishmen for My Money and Shakespeare's the Merchant of Venice

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Economic Nationalism in Haughton's Englishmen for My Money and Shakespeare's the Merchant of Venice

Article excerpt

Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance vol. 13 (28), 2016; DOI: 10.1515/mstap-2016-0005

Abstract: Close to the time of Elizabeths expulsion of the Hanseatic merchants and the closing of the Steelyard (der Stahlhof) in the years1597-98, two London plays engaged extensively with the business of trade, the merchant class, foreign merchants, and moneylending: early modern Englands first city comedy, William Haughtons Englishmen for My Money, or A Woman Will Have Her Will (1598); and Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice (registered 22 July 1598). Whereas Haughtons play uses foreignness, embodied in a foreign merchant, three half-English daughters, and three foreign suitors, as a means of promoting national consciousness and pride, Shakespeare indirectly uses the foreign not to unify but to reveal the divisions within Englands own economic values and culture.

Keywords: economic, nationalism, Shakespeare,William Haughton, Steelyard, Queen Elizabeth, The Merchant of Venice, Englishmen for My Money, satisfaction, contentment, usury, interest.

In the last years of her reign Queen Elizabeth took actions to protect the interests of English merchants, and in particular the Company of Merchant Adventurers. These actions both responded to and in turn released a wave of economic nationalism. The English companys immediate rival was the Hanseatic League, the northern counterpart of Venices commercial empire (Greenfeld 60). A powerful association of Baltic and Germanic towns, the League had enjoyed special trading privileges in England since 1474. On Elizabeths accession, London financier Thomas Gresham advised the new Queen that Marys policy of

University of Rochester.

1 This essay is an expanded version of a paper written for Katharine Goodlands seminar

Shakespeare, National Origins, and Originality, held at the International Shakespeare Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon, 4-8 August 2014. All citations from William Haughtons Englishmen for My Money refer to Lloyd Edward Kermodes Three Renaissance Usury Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009). All citations from The Merchant of Venice refer to M. M. Mahoods updated edition in the New Cambridge Shakespeare Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Jonathan Baldo

Economic Nationalism in Haughtons Englishmen for My Money and Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice1


Jonathan Baldo

favoring the Hanse merchants at the expense of Englands own hath been the chiefest point of undoing of this your realm, and the merchants of the same (Williams 5:1021), and warned her not to repeat her sisters mistakes, advice that Elizabeth heeded in earnest somewhat late in her reign. Beginning in 1576, the Hanse merchants were no longer allowed to trade in Blackwell Hall, a cloth mart and headquarters of the Merchant Adventurers. In 1597, owing to continuous pressure from London merchants, Elizabeth acted to protect Englands profitable cloth export trade by finally expelling Hanseatic merchants from England. In January of the following year, in which The Merchant of Venice (1597-8) and the eras first city comedy, William Haughtons Englishmen for My Money (1598), were being performed in London, she closed down the citys Steelyard (der Stahlhof), the principal trading post of the Hanseatic merchants in England. Although these foreign merchants had already lost their old trading privileges, the closing of the Steelyard had symbolic value, underscoring the relation of Englands merchant class to its growing sense of national identity.

In the remainder of this essay, I will explore the very different responses of Haughtons and Shakespeares plays to the 1590s climate of economic nationalism and xenophobia: Haughton choosing to domesticate the foreign, whereas Shakespeare estranges the domestic. The Merchant of Venice, I will contend, is one of Shakespeares plays that actively demystify the very idea of nationhood for which they were later made to play the role of ensign. …

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