29 Apr 2016 - 30 Apr 2016 All day Graham Storey Room, Trinity Hall



This two-day colloquium explored ideas of change and exchange – and their implicit interrelation – across various early modern domains engaged with ways of knowing. It  put pressure on the wider notion of ‘economy’ itself and how it inflects our knowledge, management and articulations of the world. Using literary interventions and imaginative representations as a point of entry, these ‘exchanges’ probed the dialogue between the period’s economic thinking and practices on the one hand, and the calculus of emotional and imaginative lives on the other. Day 1 concentrated on economies of transformation across theology, law, literature and the aesthetics of representation; Day 2 focussed mainly on the cross-overs between the technologies of change in the market-place, and transactions in the sphere of cultural production.

This event is part of the research project, Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern England: the Place of Literature, a five-year ERC-funded project based at the Faculty of English and CRASSH, University of Cambridge.

The conference programme booklet is available here 


Subha Mukherji, Rachel E. Holmes, Elizabeth L. Swann, Tim Stuart-Buttle, Rebecca Tomlin



ERC Logo and EU Flag


This project, KNOWING, has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-2007-2013). Grant agreement No. 617849.

For further information please contact crossroads@crassh.cam.ac.uk, but be aware that this project has closed and emails are not monitored frequently – we apologise for any delay in replying to you. 


Day 1 Friday 29 April

Registration and coffee


Welcome address

Subha Mukherji (on behalf of Crossroads of Knowledge)


Panel 1 

1. Paul Yachnin (McGill) Converting Conversion in Shakespeare: Theatre, Religion and the Transformation of Knowledge

2. Subha Mukherji (Cambridge)  ‘Those are pearls’: Transformation, translation and exchange

Chair: Rowan Williams 


Torrance Kirby (McGill): Mirifica Commutatio: Calvin on the Sacrament as “Wondrous Exchange” in the Economy of Salvation

Chair: Tim Stuart-Buttle




Panel 2

1. Ceri Sullivan (Cardiff): The Economic Aspects to Private Prayer

2. Regina Schwartz (Northwestern): The Economics of Contract and Love: The Merchant of Venice

Chair: Jason Scott-Warren 


Coffee break


Panel 3

1. Richard Sherwin (New York Law School): The Visual Economy of Post-Secular Jurisprudence

2. Valerie Hayaert (Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice, Paris): Emblems of Justice

Chair: Rachel E. Holmes


Free time


Drinks reception (Chetwode Room, Trinity Hall)


Dinner (Leslie Stephen Room, Trinity Hall)

Day 2 Saturday 30 April

Panel 1

1. Ben Schmidt (Washington): Alchemy at Meissen, or How China became china (and Europe Transmuted the World)

2. Vera Keller (Oregon): Mountebanks and the Marketplace between Projection and Empiricism

Chair: Elizabeth L. Swann 


Panel 2

1. Stephen Deng (Michigan State): “We plough the deep, and reap what others sow”: Waller’s Panegyrick and the Empire of Trade

2). Craig Muldrew (Cambridge): The dissemination of Happiness and Interest as moral concepts in England after 1688: the role of sermons

Chair: Rebecca Tomlin 




Panel 3

1. Adam Zucker (Massachusetts Amherst): Vexed and Insatiable: Emotional Histories in Early Modern Drama’s Marketplaces

2. Amanda Bailey (Maryland): Weak Sovereignty and Sympathetic Economies

Chair: John Kerrigan 


Panel 4

1. Koji Yamamoto (Tokyo): Political Economy and the Character of the ‘Projector’ in Ben Jonson's London

2. Aaron Kitch (Bowdoin): Fleshy Words, Protean Images:  Idolatrous Attraction in Two Gentlemen of Verona

Chair: Craig Muldrew


Laurence Fontaine (EHESS, Paris): Passions as Weapons in the Hands of the Aristocratic Political Economy against the Market Economy          

Chair: Subha Mukherji


Wine and cheese to be circulated


Roundtable Discussion

Respondent and Chair: Theodore Leinwand (Maryland)


Converting Conversion in Shakespeare: Theatre, Religion and the Transformation of Knowledge – Paul Yachnin (McGill)

In this paper, I propose that Shakespeare repurposed religious conversion in his drama from the early Taming of the Shrew to his last single-authored play, The Tempest. His critical focus on conversion was an outcome of the conversional movements in Spain and Portugal in the wake of the Reconquista, in the European conquest of the Americas, and in the spread of the Reformation across Europe and England. In each case, conversion was both central and also highly problematic since the authorities could never be sure if the conversions forced on their subjects had stuck. Shakespeare’s project of converting conversion did not empty conversion of its religious thinking or feeling but rather reframed religion in other registers. Think about how Katherine’s forced conversion in Taming of the Shrew from headstrong woman to (apparently) obedient wife resituates the coercive and the consensual dimensions of conversion as well as conversion’s personal and political force in both the patriarchal household and the idealized space of companionate marriage. The repurposing of conversion in Shakespeare’s drama is of a piece with how early moderns in wide range of intellectual and artistic forms resituated religious thinking and feeling, with an especial focus on conversion, and thereby transformed their knowledge of the world, other people, and themselves.

‘Those are pearls’: Transformation, translation and exchange – Subha Mukherji (Cambridge) 

This paper probes literary deployments of metamorphosis, with reference mainly to Shakespeare and Jonson, to explore an economy of incommensurability at its heart, which maps on to a poetic of surplus. It shows how the theatre minds this gap, and finds in it a dwelling rather than an exile, due to its own ontological instabilities. Elision of asymmetry in an aesthetic that conflates change and exchange is counterpointed against this alternative use of transformation which embraces and negotiates disproportion: both its perversities and its productive potential. In the process, a distinct expressive mode is forged, and affinities are opened up between theatrical faith, sacramental semiotics and pecuniary ideas of change and exchange.

Mirifica Commutatio: Calvin on the Sacrament as “Wondrous Exchange” in the Economy of Salvation – Torrance Kirby (McGill) 

According to Calvin, “Pious souls can derive great confidence and delight from this sacrament (i.e. of the Eucharist), as being a testimony that they form one body with Christ, so that everything which is his they may call their own. Hence it follows, that we can confidently assure ourselves, that eternal life, of which he himself is the heir, is ours, and that the kingdom of heaven, into which he has entered, can no more be taken from us than from him; on the other hand, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange (mirifica commutatio) made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.” (Calvin, Inst. IV.17.2) Martin Luther refers to a passage in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”- as “the great exchange” or “the happy exchange” (See Luther, De libertate christiana, 1520, c. 12. WA 7:25). The aim of this paper is to explore the Reformation anthropology underpinning John Calvin’s treatment of the “mirifica commutatio” in the context of the sacramental discussion in his Institutio (1559).

The Economic Aspects to Private Prayer – Ceri Sullivan (Cardiff)

The Crossroads of Knowledge project asks, among other things, how literary modes inflected thinking in economics and theology. The most widely practised form of creative writing in the early modern period was prayer. Prayer affected the economy by developing skills in conscious application (not so much an industrious revolution, pace Weber, as an attentive revolution). It paid particular attention to the emotional empathy to be encouraged by merchants and creditors. It was also affected, in its turn, by economic thinking. Weber's classic formulation puts the faithful as already in debt to God, repaying him by profiting from the time he has given, as good stewards of his gifts. Yet advice on prayer of the time turns not to credit (since prayers are paid up front), but to the supplier’s (God’s) willingness and ability to meet an order (and how to respond when he does not do so). Prayers are talked of as fair payment for services rendered, where it is inappropriate to use cash. Shakespeare was the principal dramatist to ask how literature, economics, and theology developed together in prayer. This paper will outline the economic elements in contemporary advice about creating a prayer, and exemplify these in some of Shakespeare's history plays.

The Economics of Contract and Love: The Merchant of Venice – Regina Schwartz (Northwestern)

Shakespeare was remarkably attuned to the troubles that plague contractual thinking. In The Merchant of Venice, promises are made contractually, vengeance is sought contractually, social healing is instigated contractually, and in all cases, the solutions offered by those contracts fall far short of the aspirations of justice. The play explores the presumption that contracts are entered into freely (there is no real autonomy under regimes of oppression) and the assumption that they encode fairness as mutual benefit. Above all, the trust that must attend promises is completely absent, and the law is exposed as powerless to enforce such trust. The reduction of human relations to an economic calculus is part of the force of Shakespeare’s critique. What would love add to that standard of human value? What does love look like when reduced to economic exchange? Or is giving without measure and without expectation of return a wholly different value?

The Visual Economy of Post-Secular Jurisprudence – Richard Sherwin (New York Law School)

What authorizes law’s images in an economy of non-instrumental exchange? Who is master of the image in the visiocracy we call home? Reflecting on oikonomia – the way we manage the world (or worlds) in which we live – invites us to consider anew the different moral values and aesthetic registers through which law takes shape for us. In late modernity, as transcendental references have continued to weaken, the pre- and early modern visual economy of living symbols seems to have entered a prolonged state of collapse. This has pushed the semiotics of legal positivism to the limits of its legitimating power, and perhaps beyond. Today, a post-secular jurisprudence searches modernity’s origin for the ghost that continues to haunt the Hobbesian machinery of law. Out of what visual economy could that phantasmal legitimating presence arise? One possible response leads us to the contemporary significance of sovereignty. What form has it assumed since the King’s two bodies devolved into the popular body politic? This paper argues that our perennial commitment to justice as the unrepresentable basis for law’s legitimacy grows out of a common exchange with an interior libidinal source. From early modern legal emblems to paintings, films, and video images on screens large and small traces remain of a living visual economy of law.

Emblems of Justice – Valerie Hayaert (Research associate at IHEJ (Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice) Paris)

This paper aims to discuss the early modern rather diverse concepts and representations of Justice and their relations to practices and processes of trial and punishment. Art works, paintings, sculptures, broadsheet prints, drawings and artifacts played an active role in people's experience and practice of right and wrong. Portrayals of Lady Justitia, exemplae virtutis and myths rendered the abstract notions of 'law' and 'justice' concrete and tangible. City authorities had the greatest painters of their time make prestigious and ambitious justice scenes to decorate town halls, where justice was administered. Diverse examples driven from Antiquity, the Bible or History were there to stimulate judges and aldermen to be fair in the performance of their legal responsabilities. Many early modern emblems of justice express a fundamental connection between law and geometry: they invent iconic form to reflect on ideas about equivalence. Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics (V, iii, 12) had already offered geometric proportionality as an appropriate model for distributive justice: this form of justice is meant to apportion goods according to the respective merits of the receivers. Distributive justice is thus the identification of rewards with merit, by geometric proportions imagined as a series of ratios. Distributive justice was meant to set up proportional relations between unequals. According to Aristotle, the determination of distributive justice requires the establishment of a 'geometrical' rather than 'arithmetical' equivalence, in which greater service receives proportionally greater reward.

Alchemy at Meissen, or How China Became china (and Europe transmuted the World)  – Ben Schmidt (Washington)

In January 1708, Europe triumphantly discovered China/china. That is, nearly half a millennium after the departure of the Polo brothers for the East and the ensuing, energetic, enterprising pursuit by Europeans of China, an alchemist sequestered in a dungeon in Dresden managed to produce hard-paste porcelain, thus solving the ancient arcanum of Asian ceramics. This discovery marked a critical change in material arts and the production of china, of course; yet it also sparked a fundamental shift in Europe's conception of China – and, ultimately, of global exchange. This talk looks at the alchemical moment of Meissen (as the new porcelain would be called) in the context of evolving European conceptions of its place in the world. It draws connections between material arts and geography, and it argues that an essential shift in global imagination took place in sync with the technological innovations, material mediations, and decorative strategies developed in Meissen. It narrates, in short, an alchemical drama that changed the world.

Mountebanks and the Marketplace between Projection and Empiricism – Vera Keller (Oregon)

The market in today’s abstracted sense did not exist in early modernity. There was no abstract arena where the laws of supply and demand operated and could be studied, forecast or manipulated. Travelers delighted in describing actual marketplaces, however, in seemingly realistic detail, especially those spaces, like the Piazza San Marco, the Pont Neuf, or the Frankfurt Fair, celebrated for the antics of mountebanks, charlatans, and travelling performers. Literary, visual, and musical descriptions of itinerant peddlers increased even as cities attempted to limit their activities. These descriptions, already often imagined and politicized, informed the metaphorical marketplaces of political satire. Popularized by Traiano Boccalini’s Advertisements of Parnassus (partially translated by John Florio), literary marketplaces abounded with charlatans of the state selling unguents and instruments for observing, manipulating, and transmuting the body politic. As the rise of shops enclosed and stratified actual places of exchange, the development of the literary marketplace offered a space for the abstract market to emerge as an object of criticism.

“We plough the deep, and reap what others sow”: Waller’s Panegyrick and the Empire of Trade – Stephen Deng (Michigan State)

Critics have noted the prominence of imperialist rhetoric in Edmund Waller’s “Panegyric to My Lord Protector” (1655) as a vision of territorial expansion within a discourse of Augustan stability and prosperity. Although some scholars have also explored commercial implications in the poem, there has thus far been no extensive analysis of the relation between its commercial and political contexts. In this paper, I examine the poem in relation to the group Robert Brenner calls the “new merchants” in order to consider transformations in thought about England’s potential role within global commerce, a form of “colonial mercantilism” that contributed to the reshaping of earlier mercantilist discourse. While early seventeenth century mercantilism focused primarily on the interests of trade within Europe and among well-established global entrepôts such as in the Levant and India, interests requiring more diplomacy than force, the new merchants, many of whom were involved in colonial projects in the Americas, promoted more prominent use of the nation’s military for the pursuit of economic opportunities. Although the influence of the new merchants would quickly fade with the fall of the Commonwealth, and Cromwell’s attempt to realize this vision would end with the failure of his “Western design,” Waller’s poem, I argue, represents a new vision of British imperialism, of Britannia ruling the waves, which would help transform conceptions of England’s role within global commerce.

The dissemination of Happiness and Interest as moral concepts in England after 1688: the role of sermons – Craig Muldrew (Cambridge)

Happiness as a mental sensation which could be created through the pleasurable consumption of things like coffee tea and sugar, or the wearing of colorful fabrics was a new idea which emerged in the late seventeenth century.  It drew on a  genealogy of writing from the late sixteenth century on passions and the nature of the mind.  This literature had its origins as proposed means to deal with the religious and social conflict of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  But, the stress on happiness was a later  reaction to the strict legal absolutism of Thomas Hobbes covenant of self-preservation to prevent the war of all against all caused by selfish passions.  This line of thinking drew on Greek discussions of virtue and the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia, through which personal happiness, and later also interest, came to be justified in terms of Christian theology and preaching as a moral good.  This also represented a new emphasis from the heavily legalistic and reputational stress of the more influential text of Cicero’s On Duties in the sixteenth century.  The  key influence in this change was the preaching of the so called Cambridge Platonists who wrote about self-love and happiness as something ‘written within on the Fleshy Tables of our hearts,’ and as proper spiritual goals in reaction to the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination.  Their ideas were very influential on the so called Latitudinarian thinkers of the Restoration, including such influential figures as John Tillotson and Edward Stillingfleet.  As a result the new sense of happiness was disseminated through sermons, and in this way personal happiness supplanted eschatological anxiety about election.  Worries about over-spending and or selfish indulgence were replaced by system of mutual happiness brought about through acts of benevolence and socialized consumption.  Now material goods, interest bearing capital, and savings could all be interpreted as being beneficial to the self’s happiness, rather than as dangerous temptations towards luxuriousness and covetousness, as long as an individual continued to treat others with benevolence.

Vexed and Insatiable: Emotional Histories in Early Modern Drama’s Marketplaces  – Adam Zucker (Massachusetts Amhurst)

Over the past few years, a growing number of scholars have written on the emotional or affective resonance of early modern drama and literature more generally, arguing that the depiction, evocation, and transmission of feeling (broadly defined) are central features of theatrical text, performance, and reception in the period (see, for example, Allison Hobgood, Benedict Robinson, and recent or forthcoming collections edited by Pollard and Craik, Bailey and DiGangi, and Arab, Dowd, and Zucker). Taking this premise as a launching point, my paper will look at the depiction of unruly emotional responses to economic practice in plays by Massinger (The Renegado), Jonson (Volpone and The Alchemist) and Rowley (A New Wonder: A Woman Never Vext) in order to consider questions that, I think, economic historians and scholars of dramatic literature might do well discuss together: Can (or should) drama’s interest in exaggerated emotions shed light on the social logic of economic development? Can (or should) the early modern theater’s status as a commercial endeavor help us identify economic forces in affective development? As I explore these questions, I will read drama through the intertwined processes of local and global commerce in which the early modern English theater and its audiences were enmeshed.

Weak Sovereignty and Sympathetic Economies – Amanda Bailey (Maryland)

In The Power at the End of the Economy, Brain Massumi observes there is “a rabbit hole . . . at heart of the market” and “affect is its name” (1). For Massumi, the free-market ideology of neoliberalism is distinguished by the economization of all aspects of life and amplification of “affective commotion” (2). Much of this emotional reactivity is associated with the unpredictable ebbs and flows of disparate and random world events, which in this late stage of capitalism feel contiguous. In a network society in which remoteness registers as proximity, self-interest and rational calculation become at once intensely personal and a collective concern. The notion that ‘the world is flat’ encourages identification with far-flung, abstract market processes through a series of correspondences that transcend time, space, and categories of belonging. This talk historicizes the neoliberal market by showing that the legacy of enfolded personal and corporate investments grows out of an early modern English culture of credit in which the sovereign power of the individual was – contrary to standard historical narratives – not constituted but rather beside the point. Insofar as the credit economy was responsive to situational sensitivities, multiple forms of relations, and seemingly unrelated contingences, it could be characterized as a sympathetic system. Sympathy, as described by those early modern natural philosophers seeking to explain phenomenon such as magnetism and contagion, was a potent force that established correspondences between disparate entities across time and space. When sympathy serves as the primary analytic, we become aware of how early modern cultures of credit introduced a new epistemology of causation. The economic analogue of Einstein’s “spooky” action at a distance, for instance, whereby micro-arrangements resonate on macro-levels, provides insight into the ways certain economic formations laid the ground for the empathic and the unintentional political subject. The touchstone of my discussion will be William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments since both texts link the logic of credit to sympathetic action and modes of personal and political sovereignty that may presage civil compassion or civic crisis.

Political Economy and the Character of the “Projector” in Ben Jonson's London – Koji Yamamoto (Tokyo)

This paper revisits the rise of the character of the 'projector' in the context of Londoners' engagements with law, reformation, and drama. Under Elizabeth I, England's imperial ambitions grew faster than Parliament's willingness to provide money to fulfill them. Improving the royal revenue thus became an urgent task; numerous petitions and proposals emerged to abate Royal spending, increase existing levies, impose new ones, revive dormant penalties, or substitute import (and thereby prevent bullion from leaving England) by encouraging domestic industries. While these schemes were promoted, and some implemented, under the banner of advancing 'commonweal', serious problems ensued by the end of the Elizabethan reign. Royal prerogative and the language of public service lent legitimacy to monopolies and rather oppressive kinds of economic regulation. Soap-boilers were taxed for boiling soaps, innkeepers for opening their doors. Defaulters were punished by fines, confiscation and even imprisonment – all, purportedly, for the sake of the 'commonwealth'. How did early modern contemporaries engage with this problem without being able to draw on idioms of economics and political sciences such as rent-seeking? I suggest that Ben Jonson and other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers played an important role by pursuing literary interventions on this problem. As these writers found that only inadequate 'reformation' could be achieved through proclamations, statutes and legal judgements, so they complemented these institutional redress by theatre plays, character writings and entertaining court masques, all intent upon 'reforming' the nation without blaming particular individuals. Therein emerged the powerful character of the projector – the first English vernacular representation of the would-be entrepreneur promising – or pretending – to solve society's problems through economic channels. This paper draws on the plays of Heywood, Jonson, Massinger and other literary outputs such as Hall’s character writings, and trace the emergence of the character of the projector in England. It will reveal how what began as entertaining lessons on courtly vices came to fuel mockery of courtiers, lent itself to sectarian polemics, and by the end of the 1630s, sanctioned public hostility towards 'evil councillors' around Charles I.

Fleshy Words, Protean Images: Idolatrous Attraction in Two Gentlemen of Verona – Aaron Kitch (Bowdoin)

The specter of idolatry in Elizabethan England was not restricted to abstract theological debates, but also deeply embedded in everyday life, from the ruins of monasteries and the defacing of Marian shrines to the exhortations of Elizabethan homilies. Anxiety about the objectification and deification of non-divine matter also connected religious and economic writing in the period. David Hawkes, for example, explores the links between idolatry and commodity fetishism in a range of early modern texts. Like Will Fisher, he also situates sodomy as a form of idolatry, with special attention to Shakespeare’s sonnets; where sodomy renders procreative sexuality sterile, idolatry seeks to make inanimate objects alive and fertile. Yet the understudied language of idolatry in Shakespeare’s early comedy of Two Gentlemen of Verona raises somewhat different questions. My essay argues that the play associates the search for a proper object of erotic attraction with idolatry, invoking Ovidian myths of transformation together with early modern mercantile debates in order to explore the relation between speech, writing, and watching as vehicles of sexual desire. Beginning with the homosocial desire between Valentine and Proteus in the opening scene, Two Gentlemen associates idolatrous desire with various language games. It is precisely Valentine’s impending absence—his invisible influence—that invokes an anxiety of materialization, first in the proposed “noteworthy object” (1.1.13) that will substitute for Proteus on Valentine’s erotic pilgrimage and then in the holy beads/book as the object that Proteus will use in prayer in the event that Valentine encounters danger. The anticipated attraction of Valentine for the unknown “object” of his affection (ultimately Sylvia) demands that language achieve extraordinary affective power, reflecting Shakespeare’s larger and potentially idolatrous desire to make his theater a form of linguistic spectacle.

Passions as Weapons in the Hands of the Aristocratic Political Economy against the Market Economy – Laurence Fontaine (EHESS, Paris)

In a status society as early modern Europe was one, the development of the market threatened social hierarchies. At a time when religion was the source of power, priests and warriors strove to protect themselves from the foreseeable attack at the very root of their domination, put in jeopardy by the potentialities of the capitalist economy. They therefore developed religious, legal and moral tools to counter capital accumulation and interest-bearing loans in order to break the motor of capitalism. Avarice, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and usury, which was punished by excommunication, were the moral weapons used to exclude those from the community who hoarded money or who charged, however little, interest on loans. But whereas greed, the disease of market exchange, was considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins, prodigality, which lies at the heart of aristocratic exchange, was considered one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues. Theatre, with its misers and spendthrifts, is a perfect place to hear echoes of the struggles between the antagonistic values in society, and to follow how individuals react to the conflicts that these struggles provoke. The communication will study them through the analysis of plays from Shakespeare (Timon of Athens, The Merchant of Venice), Ben Jonson (Volpone) and Moliere (The Miser).

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