ABSTRACT

Fired by an ever-growing stockpile of texts and contexts, the cauldron of Renaissance studies has in recent years positively bubbled over with cultural material-with objects, things, and household stuff. While often critiquing the positivism through which such properties have been appropriated as cultural trophies then and since, materialist accounts of early modern culture seem increasingly, irresistibly drawn by the lure of the object. A series of critics have detailed some of the material conditions through which the habits and desires of Tudor and Stuart England were impressed and expressed. The Renaissance wunderkammer, the metaphysical prayer closet, Bankside theaters, pedagogical manuals, and aristocratic bedrooms: These are just a few of the locations that have contributed to our understanding of a profoundly material fascination in the "rehearsal of cultures," to adapt Steven Mullaney's influential phrase.1 At the same time, the shelves of Renaissance literature

have become crowded with colorful objects formerly consigned to the dustbins of inquiry, or held in the footnotes of insignificance. Rich with the stuff of London's shops and streets, trafficked by a comical cast of citizens, plays such as The Alchemist-to take my central example in this essay — seem themselves wonder cabinets of a sort, treasuries to be sifted, identified, and encoded through a variety of critical spectacles.