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Panel 5.
Shakespearean Economics: Gold and Words in Early Modern Texts

This panel intends to examine the various ways in which a corpus of Shakespearean texts contributed to the dialectical work, the mutual influence, of economics and literature in the early modern period. The so-called ‘new economy,’ i.e., nascent capitalism, involved an epistemological change that became textually apparent in a diversity of ways. Firstly, it became a literary topos, either overtly -such as in the cases of usury in Merchant or gift-giving in Timon, or in a more indirect way, the economy of desire and profit in Venus & Adonis or the Sonnets. But this incipient form of market economics also introduced a radical change in the way the world, was perceived -a new epistemology- that exerted pressure on the totality of individual and collective experience and extended into issues such as the economics of revenge and justice ‘revenge’. Hence the systematic use of monetary terms, and allusions to gold both as a symbol and a material reality, in texts of very different kinds.

In this context, we will pay special attention to the multiple dimensions of Gold, an iconic metal with a transcendental symbolic meaning that goes beyond its strictly market significance (important as this is) and infuses the texts with an evident concern with the nature of signification and semiosis. For this purpose, and besides a corpus of Shakespearean texts, seminal economic treatises from this period will be considered (works by Thomas Smith, Thomas Lodge or Gerard de Malynes), as they fostered the development of nascent capitalism in England. Also, passing references will be made to contemporary authors who were already showing some concern with both Gold and this still primitive economic-financial discourse. Ultimately, this panel aims to show how Shakespearean texts contribute to the invention of the pre-modern experience of the economic. This, we will try to show, was achieved through the use of a whole new vocabulary that allows early moderns to think economics in all its disturbing complexity (inflation, debasement, justice) and its most fundamental contradictions (worth vs value, intrinsic vs face value).