by Jocelyn Prince, Artistic Associate and Darren Johnston, Artistic Assistant
Thursday, March 3rd was a great night for students of history at The Public Theater! Michael Sexton, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Society, moderated the Public LAB Speaker Series panel, "Money in Shakespeare's Time, Money in Shakespeare's Work," a fascinating dialogue on the role of money, credit, and finance in both Shakespeare's plays and in daily life during the English Renaissance. The post-show discussion featured scholars Dr. James Shapiro, Professor of Engligh and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and Dr. Craig Muldrew, faculty member in the Department of History at Cambridge University. Dr. Muldrew, the world's leading expert on English Renaissance economics, graciously traveled here to NYC from across the pond!
According to Dr. Muldrew, author of The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England, the economy of Shakespeare’s 16th century England was one in which inflation, human population, and the demand for food were all rising. A popular consumerism developed, alongside increased manufacturing, in which townspeople grew richer while farmers grew poorer. The cultural notion of credit, a system based on social trust and personal worth, emerged. This led to what Muldrew describes as “the economy of obligation” in the early modern English economy. Muldrew noted that Shakespeare’s TIMON OF ATHENS captures this period of economic transition.
Dr. Shapiro explained that TIMON OF ATHENS can also be viewed as a backlash to the largess of King James VI. While Queen Elizabeth had been a vision of frugality, King James VI was something of a spendthrift. He threw huge Christmas celebrations, and used money as a tool to keep certain subjects in his kingdom close to him. Dr. Shapiro also observed that it would have been a radical moment for audiences in Shakespeare’s time to see the pot of gold that Timon uncovers in the second act of the play. In this new economy of credit, most of the theatergoers would have possessed very few coins or actual gold.
Near the end of the panel, one audience member asked why we don’t see more productions of TIMON OF ATHENS today. Indeed, our production of TIMON is the first time the play has been produced in NYC in 17 years! Dr. Shapiro speculated that producing this particular Shakespeare play is not necessarily a winning commercial proposition—there are no female roles, it’s not really a “date-play,” and the play has some challenging dramaturgical problems. All the panelists agreed, however, that there is great humanity displayed in the play.
The Speaker Series for URGE FOR GOING kicks off on in two weeks with a post-show panel discussion on Tuesday, April 5th co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch called “Palestinian Refugees in the Shifting Landscape of the Middle East.” Kate Seelye, Vice President of the Middle East Institute, will join us from Washington DC to moderate a talk with Richard Cook, Acting Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. Before or after URGE FOR GOING, you should also check out Third-Half Passport Collection, an art installation by Zeina Barakeh in our Anspacher galleries, that consists of passports belonging to three generations of Palestinians. For more information about these events, the show and artists, click here.
In this photo: (from left to right) Dr. James Shapiro, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Michael Sexton, Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Society, and Dr. Craig Muldrew, faculty member in the Department of History at Cambridge University