Global Economics and the Early Modern English Stage
"Tragicomic Redemptions is a book driven by bold arguments that are stated confidently and lucidly throughout, a book whose considerable theoretical sophistication complements its more traditional historical and literary concerns."—Scott Cutler Shershow, University of California, Davis
"With a firm grounding in economic history, Valerie Forman traces a fascinating connection between evolving views about international trade, the religious discourse of Christian redemption . . . and the evolution of the period's most popular dramatic genre: tragicomedy."—Parergon
"Valerie Forman's study of global economics and the early modern stage proves a richly complex undertaking as she meshes economic practice, Christian narratives of loss and redemption, and tragicomedy. Taking early modern economic studies as a starting point, Forman demonstrates how the critical shortage of coin in the early part of the seventeenth century created immediate loss which would be redeemed when ships returned to port and profit was realized through resale of acquired goods. Forman links this narrative to the fall of human kind, which through Christ's intervention is redeemed."—Sixteenth Century Journal
In the early modern period, England radically expanded its participation in an economy that itself was becoming increasingly global. Yet less than twenty years after the highly profitable English East India Company made its first voyage, England was suffering from an economic depression, blamed largely on the shortage of coin necessary to exploit those very same profitable routes. How could there be profit in the face of so much loss, and loss in the face of so much profit?
In Tragicomic Redemptions, Valerie Forman contends that three seemingly unrelated domains—the development of new economic theories and practices, especially those related to global trade; the discourses of Christian redemption; and the rise of tragicomedy as the stage's most popular genre—were together crucial to the formulation of a new and paradoxical way of thinking about loss and profit in relationship to one another.
Forman reads plays—including Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Pericles, and The Winter's Tale, Fletcher's The Island Princess, Massinger's The Renegado, and Webster's The Devil's Law-Case—alongside a range of historical materials that provide a fuller picture of England's participation in a global economy: the writings of the country's earliest economic theorists, narrative accounts of merchants and captives in the Spice Islands and the Ottoman Empire, and documents that detail the development of the English East India Company, the Levant Company, and even the very idea of the joint-stock company. Unique in its dual focus on literary form and economic practices, Tragicomic Redemptions both shows how concepts fundamental to capitalism's existence, such as "free trade," and "investment," develop within a global context and reveals the exceptional place of dramatic form as a participant in the newly emerging, public discourse of economic theory.
Valerie Forman is Associate Professor of English at the University of Colorado, Boulder.