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  • Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700
  • Linda Woodbridge (bio)
Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700. Edited by Barbara Sebek and Stephen Deng. Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Illus. Pp. xvi + 288. $90.00 cloth.

The essays in this solid, accessible collection offer much information and insight into "the role of commodities in social processes" (4) in the globalizing England of Shakespeare's day. Daniel Vitkus examines theater as part of a global commercial system, noting that "the earliest joint-stock companies in England were the London theater companies" (20). He discusses dramatizations of England's global role, especially its relations with the Ottoman Empire, in plays such as The Battle of Alcazar, Captain Thomas Stukeley, The Fair Maid of the West, Travels of the Three English Brothers, and A Christian Turned Turk.

Ian MacInnes views The Merchant of Venice through a lens of "rapidly changing attitudes toward financial risk" (40), citing the spread of insurance, the formation of the court of assurances, the infancy of mathematical probability, and the loosening of traditional ideas of Providence. He says good things about the exploitation of inside information. Elizabethan merchants in Shakespeare's audience, he observes, "would hardly recognize themselves in Antonio, who rejects credit, apparently is the sole owner of all his ships and cargo, and never seems to dream of insuring anything" (47).

David J. Morrow studies Baptist Goodall's 80-page poem "The Tryall of Trauell" [End Page 604] and its defense of monopolistic overseas trading practices, noting that Goodall represents the overseas merchant's "perpetual, self-denying, and laborious movement across space" as "a version of the ongoing, daily struggle in the life of a Calvinist" (63). Comparing mercantile writings and Cymbeline, Bradley D. Ryner negotiates between Joyce Appleby's influential description of the market as alien and incomprehensible and Ceri Sullivan's recent view of the market as a set of personal relationships between merchants. Ryner argues for both: "The conceptual challenge faced by members of seventeenth-century English society was to understand and represent a set of economic relationships that was simultaneously personal and alien, individual and systemic, material and abstract" (80).

Lea Knudsen Allen argues that to emphasize "dramatists' obsession with xenophobia or disease," as Jonathan Gil Harris has done, "is to ignore how the theaters stage foreignness as the very source of an object's value" (96). "Foreign things that cross national boundaries," Allen maintains, "become markers of the city's own capital" (97). However, her claim that objects accumulated greater value as they passed through many hands and exotic locales is thinly documented—Allen generalizes too broadly on the basis of one passage in Volpone. (She also attributes Thorstein Veblen's term "conspicuous consumption" to F. J. Fisher.)

Ann Christensen explores The Launching of the Mary, whose two plot strands contradict each other, one propagandizing for the East India Company, the other dramatizing the plight of East India Company wives, constrained to make do on low company wages. The play simultaneously "documents the hardships endured by the wife at home" and "attempts to exonerate the company of those hardships" (132).

A series of strong essays examine the impact of imported commodities. Amy L. Tigner studies the introduction of New World plants into English gardens and the impact of these "trophies of empire" (154) on the English imagination. Writings on horticultural imports muffled the slave labor that went into cultivating and procuring these exotic specimens, as writers promoted an "English Edenic fantasy" (148). Tigner writes interestingly of medicinal uses of imports: "It was thought that drugs derived from new world plants would cure new world diseases (syphilis, for example) and that other drugs (such as tobacco) would remedy diseases (such as cancer, ironically) that had existed for centuries without a cure" (148). Kristen G. Brookes documents fears that "tobacco might transform Englishmen into Africans by altering not the surface of the body, but instead its very core" (157). Focusing on "tobacco's associations with darkness and surprisingly—given its New World origins—with the African," she teases out the...


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