chapter  13
16 Pages

Corporate Life in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday


In recent years, scholarship on the political imagination of early modern drama has found inspiration in a variety of old traditions and new archives: in the rich mixture of classicism, legal thought, and theological debate that characterized Renaissance discussions of sovereignty and the polity; in the poor laws promulgated by Parliament and in the mercantilist policies of an expansionist Crown; in local disputes over office-holding and town governance; and in the regional and national patronage networks that gave structure to an emerging Tudor “State.”1 The essay that follows draws together several of these concerns by reintroducing an institution that was fundamental to much of the period’s economic, theological, and political life: the institution of the corporation. Looking more closely at the history of the corporation helps us understand how changes in the organization of labor and capital put pressure on traditional forms of political association, at several scales, and it reminds us how indistinct “economic,” “moral,” and “political” questions could be for early modern people. Furthermore, corporations implied representational problems that were fundamental to the nature of theater, and this was not lost on playwrights, whose play companies were themselves awkwardly positioned within a predominantly corporate urban landscape. Finally, attending to the strange representational “life” of the corporation sheds valuable light on a larger theoretical problem shared by many of the essays in this volume: the problem of how collective associations of all kinds are formed through the circulation of affect among persons, bodies, objects, and ideas. These collective formations are both real and fictional at the same time. They are real because they are fictional, a paradox that is fundamental to the very definition of both “theatricality” and “politics” in the early modern period (as today) and that the institution of the corporation can help us understand more clearly.2