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Title:Cracked commodities, cursed gifts: Transacting women and conceptualizing exchange in early modern England
Author(s):Sebek, Barbara Ann
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Neely, Carol T.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Women's Studies
Economics, Theory
Literature, English
Abstract:This study explores the role of exchange in creating, solidifying, or de-stabilizing the bonds and hierarchies structuring social and power relations in early modern England. The symbolic economies of gift and commodity--in social practice and as constructed in treatises and the theater--provided the early modern English with forms for mediating social, sexual, and commercial relations during a period of radical change: the rise of commodity exchange and the move toward capitalism. Given these shifting social and economic modes of organization, gift-giving practices became a highly charged arena of cultural work, and the distinction between gifts and commodities became an important ideological question. In responding to this question, Renaissance drama reveals how contemporary constructions of marriage and female sexuality both participate in and confound the effort to keep gift and commodity exchange distinct. The drama demonstrates the important cultural role of women in generating and absorbing ideological tensions over shifting relations of exchange, as marriage conflicts with other exchange-generated social bonds.
Chapter two offers a reading of the visions of exchange-generated social and commercial relations presented in Golding's translation of Seneca's De Beneficiis, Wilson's A Discourse upon Usury and Roberts's The Merchant's Mappe of Commerce. The chapter examines the ideological work that these texts perform as they respond to the period's shifting understandings of social and commercial relations and its changing notions of how value is constituted. Chapter three studies plays that figure women as objects of exchange only to unsettle this positioning: Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Chapter four studies Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well, plays that present women as active transactors, desiring subjects, and liberal givers. These plays explore both the anxiety generated by women who act as such as well as the class antagonisms and shifts that they help reconcile or express. The fifth chapter turns to plays that try to manage the threats that commerce with cultural others is perceived to entail. Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I and II present this project as contingent on the abilities of actively transacting heroines. The plays displace the anxieties these heroines create by scapegoating cultural 'others' in the context of international commodity exchange.
Issue Date:1994
Rights Information:Copyright 1994 Sebek, Brabara Ann
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9512542
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9512542

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