- Shakespeare in the Marketplace of Words by Jonathan P. Lamb
The marketplace is familiar to Shakespeare studies. It shapes Shakespeare's plots and characters, and its language enlivens his poetry and prose. Jonathan P. Lamb's Shakespeare in the Marketplace of Words takes a different approach by envisioning a verbal market where language forms acquire value through exchange and use: "Shakespeare interacts with other writers, texts, and trends in the verbal marketplace, and he does so in the very assembly of his plays and poems. His use of extant language and forms arises from and constitutes his interactions with his world" (12). Lamb considers five plays—Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Hamlet, and Troilus and Cressida—written between 1595 and 1600–1602, a time during which Shakespeare attribution began adding "value" (marketability) to his printed texts. For each play Lamb selects a distinctive formal feature, locates its currency in contemporary printed texts, and examines Shakespeare's use of the form to establish the play's value.
Lamb begins with Richard II, which, he says, is "responding to and, indeed, altering the value of the 'self' on the verbal market" (37). In the 1590s, Senecan drama and neo-Stoic writing used the verbal form "my selfe" as a "way of talking [End Page 191] with and about the self" (43). Lamb discovers this by searching a wide spectrum of digital texts available through Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP)—his approach throughout the book. The form "my self" reveals "a reflexive sense of self formed in language" (45), which shows both "quiet indifference to tyranny, oppression, injustice, and death" and "violent opposition to them" (46). In Richard II, "speaking 'my self' amounts to a capacity for self-reference that Richard achieves only in the act of self-deposition" (46). Relating Richard's use of "my self" to the Senecan-Stoic binary enables a reading of the deposition and prison scenes that reframes the play's political implications. At the play's end, Richard at his most Stoic "drinks death like water" (59) and at his most Senecan lashes out at Exton, a voice of resistance against Henry's tyranny. This increases the play's value, as its playbooks' popularity and its likely performance before the Essex Rising attest.
Lamb's approach works well for Richard II because the self-reflexive pronoun's use is identifiable. For more complex forms, finding a circular market can feel forced. Chapter 3 on The Merchant of Venice considers differing types of hypothetical "if" statements. While one kind of hypothesis can be tested to produce knowledge, thus reflecting experiential science ("hypothetico-deductivism," ), the other merely collects information (Baconian inductivism). Portia is the scientist, and Belmont and Venice are her laboratories. "If" is the lexical currency whereby Shakespeare interacts "with the scientific world exploding around him in the verbal marketplace"—although Lamb's case for 1590s London as a hotbed for new science is perplexing (79). The play adds value to "if" through a "drama of knowledge" in which Portia clearly triumphs (100). This places Shakespeare in "a large-scale cultural shift in the state of knowledge" where he "anticipates the main conflict in scientific inquiry for the next two hundred years (100).
As You Like It (chapter 4) enacts the rhetorical device copia (abundance) through its interchange of prose and verse. Copia appeared in the 1599 Bishops' Ban, which in its "response to a single mode of publication (print) shows with surprising efficiency the variegated formal conditions of writing and reading in 1599" (109). Lamb links the Bishops' Ban with copia to argue that, rather than being metatheatrical, As You Like It is about print; Rosalind exercises authority in "the marketplace of words." Shakespeare acquires multiple literary forms in the marketplace and returns them as himself in print (never mind that the play was not printed in Shakespeare's lifetime). To make his case, Lamb imagines a hypothetical playbook that "would have materialized the play's formal copiousness in a...