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  • Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England
  • Zachary Lesser (bio)
Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England. By Edward Gieskes . Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006. Pp. 366. $60.00 cloth.

Representing the Professions uses the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu—his concepts of fields (relatively autonomous structures of production and consumption that themselves structure their participants) and habitus (dispositions of actors in a field, structured by their different positions in it)—in order to study the emergence of the professions in early modern England. In the period, Edward Gieskes argues, professions began to develop into "autonomous fields with their own internal structuring principles and legitimacy independent of divine or temporal authority—hence their disruptive effects on traditional order" (24). He focuses on four professions (governmental administration, law, theatrical crafts, and playwriting) and their internal struggles for "the right to impose the legitimate definition of the field," "to claim and maintain jurisdictions," "to constitute the proper function and training of a practitioner," and "to establish the place of professions in early modern culture" (67). At the same time, Gieskes wants to outline "the ecology of the professions," the "interlocking system" (51) that catalyzes the rise of the professional field as a whole. [End Page 122]

Following an opening chapter on the concept of "profession" in the period, Gieskes turns to drama. Chapter 2 contrasts the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John, in which the Bastard represents a traditional model of essentialist identity, with Shakespeare's King John, where the character represents a more modern subject who self-consciously chooses a career in administration, resembling the Elizabethan new men who rose to high office on talent, not birth. But Shakespeare's Bastard also "espouses (if somewhat cynically) the values of a warrior nobility" and rejects modern Machiavellianism (109); Janus-faced, he is "position[ed] . . . at the cusp of a transition from a late feudal to an early modern social order" (109). What seems missing here is a full sense of the field in Bourdieu's understanding of the term, with its constant struggle to define the terms of hierarchy. Gieskes instead presents the history of administration as "the rise of the secular bureaucracy" (111) in a transition from feudal to modern, which homogenizes synchronic conflict in favor of diachronic transformation, smoothing over precisely the conflicts that Bourdieu tells us are always present, not merely in moments of apparent transition from one supposed epoch to another.

In chapter 3, Gieskes notes that the "legal profession was . . . defined by a series of oppositions" between barristers and attorneys, Londoners and provincials (136). But because he does not clarify the conflicting habitus that these oppositions created or the strategies (what Bourdieu calls "position-takings"1 ) that resulted from them, these oppositions add little to the analysis of antilawyer discourse in the drama, which becomes instead a more familiar kind of new historicist study of anxiety and representation. While the legal profession was not particularly unscrupulous, "[t]he difference between what the plays represent and what seems to have been the case demonstrates an increasing level of anxiety over threats to hierarchy" (141) posed by the growing autonomy of "a social group whose power depended solely on themselves" (160). This is an interesting argument, but it does not really depend on Bourdieu's framework, since it does not reveal the "internal struggles for status" in the legal field or the interlocking influence, "the ecology of the professions," of law and playwriting (58).

The final two chapters work better. Chapter 4 compellingly demonstrates the professionalization of theatrical crafts through a detailed archival study of the Revels Office and the Lord Mayor's Shows, revealing a movement toward outsourcing production to professional craftsmen. Gieskes's argument that "professional dramatic writing owes as much to a body of stage techniques and design principles that derive from a usually underconsidered group of theatrical craftsmen as it does to a 'literary' tradition" (165) may be somewhat unexceptionable, but he deepens it by showing how Robert Greene's James IV and Francis Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle present opposed dramaturgical styles that depend on the varying stagecraft they employ. In Knight...


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