Article Title

“To kindle an industrious desire”: The Poetry of Work in Lord Mayors’ Shows


Kara Northway


As Early Modern London’s population rose, livery companies reacted by trying to motivate their workers to produce more output for the expanding market. Instead of allowing laborers to earn higher wages than set maximums, the companies believed that the best way to increase production was to force workers to work harder. Using New Economic Criticism and New Historical Formalism, I argue that the form and content of Lord Mayors’ Shows speeches, sponsored by the liveries, shaped attitudes toward work and advertised the rewards of serious industry. Workers’ motivations in the speeches varied according to the economic group in the company hierarchy addressed: consumers, elite traders, the Lord Mayor, journeymen, and apprentices. The first half of the paper charts the progression of the speeches’ poetic form through analysis of archival evidence from contemporary spectators and the companies’ financial records. Pageant speeches eventually adopt rhyme, in contrast to the theaters’ use of blank verse, because literary theorists claimed that it required more labor of the poet. The second half of the paper examines the idea of labor in the content of the speeches. Examples from pageants written by Thomas Nelson, Anthony Munday, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, and John Taylor illustrate that representations of motives to work in the speeches changed over time from a notion of labor as cyclical and repetitive to a notion of labor as a process with a particular end: social mobility.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.