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Performing Economic ThoughtEnglish Drama and Mercantile Writing 1600-1642$
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Bradley Ryner

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780748684656

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748684656.001.0001

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The Panoramic Stage

The Panoramic Stage

William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Cymbeline

Chapter:
(p.106) Chapter 4 The Panoramic Stage
Source:
Performing Economic Thought
Author(s):

Bradley D. Ryner

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9780748684656.003.0004

This chapter examines how plays and treatises reflected on their construction of vantage points from which an economic system is visible. Mercantile writers described their treatises as ‘maps’ and claimed to give readers a totalising view of commercial activity. They contrasted ‘maps’ to ‘utopias’, fictional representations that only simulated this vantage point. Distinct from maps or utopias, Renaissance plays could foreground the problem of abstraction by simulating a synchronic view necessarily undercut by the diachronic experience of live theatre. The chapter culminates in an examination of two Shakespeare plays that present what at first appears to be a panoptic view of exchange before reinforcing the impossibility of such a view. The panoptic view of the casket test in The Merchant of Venice allows audiences to predict which casket holds Portia's picture, but the fantasy nature of this vantage point is underscored by the obscurity of the offstage mercantile transactions. Cymbeline suggests that a panoramic vantage point would be necessary to track and predict changes of value undergone by its principal characters, but reinforces the impossibility of achieving such a view by insisting on the limited perspective of characters and audience members alike.

Keywords:   abstraction, Cymbeline, diachronic, maps, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare, synchronic, utopias

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