Going Commercial: Agency in 17th Century Drama
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This dissertation’s aim is to reveal how essential economic mechanics were to playwrights when it came to depicting agency. Rising commercialization in the seventeenth century prompted playwrights to appropriate market behaviors in London as a new discourse for agency. Commerce serves as a metaphor for every part of daily life, and a new kind of “commercial” agency evolves that predicates autonomy upon the exchange networks in which a person participates. Initially, this new agency appears as a variation on the trickster. By the end of the century, playwrights have created a new model for autonomy and a new kind of hero to employ it: the entrepreneur. My chapters chart the defining points in the development of commercial agency, each with a representative text or texts. In chapter II, I analyze how the Jacobean gallant, a variation on the trickster, sells himself as a desirable commodity to gain wealth and influence, the conditions he needs to liberate himself and control his own destiny (Eastward Ho). Chapter III examines characterizations of businesswomen in seventeenth century drama, one of the primary shifts in tone that accompanied the development of commercial agency as playwrights became more skilled in its portrayal (Antony and Cleopatra). Frequently regarded as prostitutes in Elizabethan plays, entrepreneurial women are often seen in later periods as dramatic, even tragic, heroes. When the stage closed during the years of 1642-1659, the print market was playwrights’ main source of income, and it was soon adapted to promote drama and ensure its future production. Chapter IV suggests that the success of William Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes was due to how its preface implicated customers of the print edition in its stage production. Chapter V marks the emergence of the entrepreneurial rake as a romantic and comic hero. The chapter argues that the egalitarian haggling that ends The Man of Mode and The Rover, which is conspicuously absent from The Country Wife, is presented as the ideal basis for any loving, successful, and profitable marriage.