Article Title

Thomas, Lord Cromwell Recontextualized: An Economic Fable in Response to The Merchant of Venice


Igor Djordjevic


This essay takes a company- and repertory-based approach to interrogate the place of Thomas, Lord Cromwell (1599, pr. 1602) in the history play genre, and recontextualizes it in a conversation among plays and playwrights writing for the duopoly at the time of its first performance. After considering ways in which it resembles and interacts with Thomas Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday performed by the Admiral’s Men in the same year, the discussion explores how it engages more directly with the works of Shakespeare, a fellow dramatist composing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men of whose repertory this play was a part. The dominant storylines in Cromwell by “W.S.” are shaped by the same economic and legal factors which contextualize Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (shortage of coin, the credit-economy, interest-free bonds, reckonings and debt-forgiveness, state-intervention), evidencing an economic debate among playwrights from the same company. This essay argues that Cromwell responds to Shakespeare’s play in the form of a fable that sharpens the image of an economic world defined by hazard; it imagines commerce, trade, and investment as gentlemen’s games where bankruptcy is unfair and undeserved, and ultimately redeemed by massive bailouts. “Alien” interventions into the gentlemen venturers’ game, attempts to foreclose on their debts, become actions that endanger the circle of class kinship, prompting state intervention.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.