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  • Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England
  • Harry Keyishian
Edward Gieskes . Representing the Professions: Administration, Law, and Theater in Early Modern England. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2006. 366 pp. index. bibl. $60. ISBN: 0-87413-929-5.

When John Falstaff justifies the morality of purse-taking as a proper exercise of his "vocation," he is invoking the ethical autonomy of his field of activity. When Thomas Dekker's Simon Eyre boasts of having a "princely mind," he is asserting the elevated social status his "profession" of shoemaker grants him. Edward Gieskes's book investigates the development of such independent professional "fields" in early modern England. Of course, neither purse-taking nor shoemaking is among them, notwithstanding Falstaff and Eyre. Rather, Gieskes considers administration, law, theater, and playwriting professions in which a "concern [for] the effects and uses of writing" (250) is paramount.

In an early chapter, Gieskes considers the general development of a professional field (singular) in early modern English society — that is, of a set of social [End Page 1301] groups that offer society important services, possess esoteric knowledge, and have gained the right to train and discipline their membership with independent authority to enforce appropriate ethics. In this, professions are analogous to guilds, but with higher social status and greater autonomy from external hierarchies. Professions are, Gieskes writes, "occupations that have fought to be recognized as professions" (67). Part of the novelty of his study is to locate the advent of professions earlier than the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution.

Gieskes invokes the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu in his analysis, especially the French sociologist's concept of the "field" (a social arena that represents "an ecology of social practice" where resources are struggled for) and of "habitus" ("a system of acquired dispositions," a set of "habits of body and mind" that supply "the organizing principles of action" in individuals). Vital to Gieskes's thesis is Bourdieu's analysis of social capital as a force disruptive of traditional hierarchies.

The complexities of centralized government produced a need for trained bureaucrats, a cadre of able and educated men who foreshadowed the modern professional civil service. Because talent, not birth, was requisite, and a willingness to learn was the key to gaining status within a profession, a group of new men arose — the Cecils, the Bacons, and the Burghleys are the names best known to posterity — who were to become increasingly important to the functioning of the state, despite the resentment of the Essexes and their aristocratic kind. The most successful of the new men ended up in the Privy Council. Gieskes adroitly cites the career of Shakespeare's Bastard Faulconbridge as refracting the career of a court bureaucrat — in the Bastard's case, by renouncing the claim to royalty he might have had as Richard the Lionheart's illegitimate son.

By contrast to the nascent profession of administration in early modern England, the law was a burgeoning field, moving rapidly from its regional roots to center in London. New branches of law developed, and a variety of courts. In the drama of the period — Gieskes cites plays by Middleton, Jonson, Massinger, and the anonymous SS — law and lawyers consistently appear as threats to the stability of the social order and as enemies of justice. This is odd, says Gieskes, since in fact law had become a bulwark of social stability in this period. Gieskes does not provide much empirical data in support of this, but observes that legal texts of the day grew increasingly learned, detailed, and sophisticated. Negative attitudes toward lawyers he ascribes to their autonomy: "they represented a social group whose power depended solely on themselves" (160).

Gieskes helpfully identifies the theatrical field as one "in which playwrights work as part of broad group of theatrical professionals" (168), including tailors, painters, musicians, property men, and singing masters. He points out that writers like Thomas Dekker often functioned also as producers, working with contractors to coordinate civic pageants. Evidence for these developments Gieskes locates in historical records, and in such plays as Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Robert Greene's James IV, and Francis Beaumont's Knight of the...


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Archived 2009
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