Book Review

Woodbridge, Linda. Money and the Age of Shakespeare: Essays in New Economic Criticism. Palgrave. 2003.

Reviewed by Eric Nebeker | March 21, 2004

Linda Woodbridge begins her introduction to this book by reminding us that there were more than brothels and theaters in the Bankside neighborhood where The Globe stood. There was also John Mellis’s double-entry bookkeeping school. Interest in mathematics and accounting grew substantially in the 1580’s and 90’s and the language of accounting seeps into the literature of the age. Woodbridge uses this information to assert that “money, commerce, and economics make a good deal of difference to English Renaissance literature” (9). The intent of this book is to demonstrate the usefulness of the New Economic Criticism to the early modern period, and this volume is successful in achieving that aim. This volume covers a wide range of topics from commodity fetishism, the gift, charity, and consumerism, among others. The essays are short, which makes this book a good introduction to the kind of work these new economic critics are doing: the investment isn’t overwhelming and so the return for readers is high. For example, David Hawkes’ essay, “Exchange Value and Empiricism in the Poetry of George Herbert,” emphasizes that it is “futile to distinguish between the ‘literal’ and the ‘metaphorical’ registers I which Herbert uses ‘economic’ terms” (79). By refusing to make these distinctions, Hawkes not only links exchange value and empiricism but also links the concepts of commodity fetishism and idolatry. His work is interesting in its own right, but can also potentially provide some useful concepts and ideas for other scholars. And Douglas Bruster, in a metatheoretical piece entitled “On a Certain Tendency in Economic Criticism of Shakespeare,” charts out what he sees as the two paths of economic criticism: “the reckoned” and “the rash” (69). “Reckoned” criticism refers to a positivistic, historic, and rational critical practice whereas the “rash” refers to more theoretical, thematic, and epistemic criticism. Bruster finds the tendency for critics to think in one or the other mode somewhat problematic because it closes off critical possibilities; rather than “calling upon the full resources of this critical ensemble, we usually draw upon it somewhat narrowly, in patterned ways” (69). The book may be a bit heavy on essays about The Merchant of Venice (five of the sixteen essays), but nevertheless for anyone interested in economic criticism or new directions in early modern criticism, this book is well worth the read.

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