This project brings together the histories of subjectivity, early modern drama and economics. Moving across the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, I chart a significant shift in subjectivity and social relations that connects the individual, art, and the market. Recent criticism focusing on economics emphasizes the materiality of the stage. Whereas the mind is often secondary to the material in such critiques, the development of the mind occurs alongside the development of the body. In fact, early modern poets get to the mind through the body, and get to the body of the viewer or reader through the mind. The fact that audience members see bodies acting out other bodies and persons on stage furthers the distinction between bodies and selves. At the time, the very idea of the self or even the soul as separate from the body was troubling. On the stage, then, and in early modern play texts, I argue the expanding early modern subject is made visible as a body in flux.
I begin my first chapter with the early modern theatre before the advent of the commercial market. I study plays performed within schools and the inns of court – Gammer Gurton's Needle (1562-3), Gorboduc (1562), and Roister Doister (1562) which are highly invested in “old profit,” or profit in the sense of education. Nevertheless, the bawdy bodily pleasure involved as a means of diversion in these texts highlights the division between classes, genders, and even social concepts like love and marriage.
In my second chapter, I argue the commercial theater proffers a space and play of "new profit" that, while still grounded in instruction, is ambiguous in its increase of pleasure and subsequent criticism of itself and its audience. I argue that in Shakespeare's plays we can read through material objects and their constructed emotional power to arrive at the individual and the staging of the self as disavowal and discourse. Conceptually, I map my own discourse through Shakespeare's plays The Merchant of Venice (1596-7), As You Like It (1598-1600), and Twelfth Night, or What You Will (1600) by first situating their physical settings and the recent critical reception. I then explore: the commodification of characters and cultural concepts through coins; shapeshifting, as represented with the purse; the recurrent imagery of circumcision and the cutting away of men.
On the other hand, in my third chapter, on Jonson’s Volpone (1606), Epicene (1609), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614), instability creates room for pain, penetration, movement and liberation. The emerging discourse is the moving body, a body that changes from one thing to another, in the name of profit and pleasure. For Jonson, the space of drama is the social and interactive experience of the stage, and the private, imaginary space of the play text. Time is a concept Jonson wields as an exchange; in return for admission, Jonson asks not only that his audience stay and enjoy his work, but also that they re-experience the play above and beyond its “two short hours.” The plays and the people playing on stage, as well as the audience on occasion, are thus commodified. Moreover, Jonson crafts subjects in the experience of the stage, even as he critiques them. The animosity and excoriation we feel in Jonson's plays stems from Jonson's ambivalence around the "new profit.” All of Jonson’s work, particularly through the emerging discourse, demonstrates a newfound reliance upon individuals as self-governing subjects seeking financial gain. Jonson’s use of meta-narration reflects his own art, subjectivity, and the market as the struggle that persists to this day.
Parliament closed the theater in 1642, but the reopening of the commercial theater and the return of the monarchy after the civil war, brought about important changes. At the end of the early modern poetic market – from William Davenant’s The Man’s the Master: A Comedy (1669) to Margaret Cavendish’s closet drama The Convent of Pleasure (1668) and Milton’s closet drama Samson Agonistes (1671) – the problem of the body becomes a subjective and internalized process of self discovery. Re-imagined off-stage and through the process of reading, early modern subjects envision bodies in action. Restoration theater, with its privileging of class in the audience, coupled with the emphasis upon new profit and pleasure on stage, attempts to fix the body as demonstrative of class and worth, even as the new drama relies entirely upon adaptation of foreign work and translation of earlier English plays. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)