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  • Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700
  • D. K. Smith
Barbara Sebek and Stephen S. Deng , eds. Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700. Early Modern Cultural Studies, 1500-1700. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. vii + 288 pp. index. illus. $84.95. ISBN: 978-0-230-60473-5.

In the century and a half after 1550, England experienced a variety of economic and cultural changes in the wake of its expanding international trade. This period saw developments as diverse as joint stock companies, advanced map-making techniques, and the creation of maritime insurance to protect investors. But, as this volume makes clear, the changes in the period were more broadly cultural than technological. Building on recent work exploring the place of England within developing systems of global exchange, Global Traffic illuminates the myriad ways that trade became increasingly central not just to the economy but to the changing self-imagination of the English nation. In its varied explorations of travel, exploration, emergent nationalism, imperialism, and incipient colonialism in the early modern period, this collection clarifies the epistemological and discursive shifts through which the abstract world of trade became increasingly central to the wider English culture. In the first section on the new epistemologies of trade, Daniel Vitkus sets the scene by exploring how the overseas maritime trade, underwritten by investors in London, spread over the globe, and how this new global role of the English nation was reimagined on the London stage. With the foundation of the Levant Company, and later the East India Company, England began to play an active and central role in world trade, which prompted an increasing engagement with issues of globalism and trade in the drama of Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare. Ian MacInnes then builds on this discussion with an intriguing analysis of The Merchant of Venice within the context of the developing insurance industry and changing conceptions of the nature of risk in the late sixteenth century. David J. Morrow moves the focus more explicitly to the domestic sphere with a look at Baptist Goodall's poem, The Tryall of Trauell (1630) and an examination of the way England's merchants sought to position themselves, not simply in opposition to foreign others, but in opposition to domestic Englishmen in both higher and lower classes who might compete for the [End Page 1393] economic benefits of foreign trade. Bradley D. Ryner broadens this exploration of anxiety by considering the efforts of early modern mercantile treatises to impose a sense of systematic order on the global commercial world. In his analysis of Shakespeare's Cymbeline, Ryner finds the impossibility of ever achieving the desired sense of overarching clarity, revealing instead the underlying difficulty of establishing and projecting certainties of valuation on a shifting and uncertain world. Then Lea Knudsen Allen examines another aspect of the globalization of trade when she considers how The Jew of Malta and Volpone helped mobilize a "discourse of value" that both configured the Mediterranean as a source of exotic capital and helped reimagine London as a metropolitan city tied to the larger world.

The second section, on the effects of trade at home, begins with an essay by Ann Christensen examining a verse play written in 1632 by an author recently returned from the Indies. She finds two competing storylines: one providing a thorough mercantilist defense against charges of profiteering, and another competing subplot that follows the ordeals of a wife, left alone by her seafaring husband and striving to earn her living and preserve her virtue. Other, broader effects of trade on the domestic sphere are examined in essays by Amy L. Tigner and Kristen G. Brookes. Tigner examines the way the exotic and abstract nature of the distant globe is rendered immediate and domestic in the trade in exotic flowers, and yet, simultaneously, this floral trade became linked with other, less admirable institutions, such as the slave trade. And in "Inhaling the Alien: Race and Tobacco in Early Modern England," Brookes follows this double-edged response to foreign imports by exploring the way antitobacconists of the period worried that...


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pp. 1393-1394
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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