Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Paul Werstine


This thesis investigates the impact of economic philosophy and history on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English drama. It focuses primarily on the ways in which emergent mercantilist theories, new labour models, and changing class structures informed literary production. The significant influence exerted on the English public by financial developments during the early modern period suggests that economic concerns were of preeminent relevance to public discourse. As a result, playwrights cognizant of these worries produced plays that incorporated the distinctive language and character of economic thought and engaged their audiences through tableaus representative of select aspects of London’s financial landscape. In my first chapter, I use historical studies of Jacobean England’s engagement with slavery to read Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a political debate over the delineations among slaves, servants, and subjects within English institutions of servitude. Chapter Two examines Walter Mountfort’s The Launching of the Mary as a piece of early modern economic propaganda, with particular emphasis on its confluence of economic dialogue and the use of the female body as political imagery. Chapter Three is a rereading of Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI; I argue that the play, which has chiefly been read as a dramatization of political history, is also an allegorical and moralized narrative of England’s transition from feudalism to mercantilism. Chapter Four addresses the personifications of greed in the medieval morality plays Everyman and The Castle of Perseverance and in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, with specific attention paid to the models of ideological morality and institutional discipline promoted by these displays. The considerable perspectives offered by economic criticism produce meaningful engagements with these plays and their literary, historical, and philosophical frameworks.