Money : God and King; economic aspects of Restoration comedy

Bentley, Thomas Roy (1971) Money : God and King; economic aspects of Restoration comedy. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The new comedies produced on the London public stage between 1660 and 1700 depict a society in which money is the measure of all values, in which money is the catalytic force in all actions, in which money is both god and king. They articulate the conflicts created by the intrusion of capitalistic attitudes and beliefs into a traditional hierarchical society. An economic "system", especially a system in embryonic form, is not easily attacked, even if its existence is recognized, but the prospering merchant, a manifestation of that system, is easily identified. He provides a palpable and convenient target for any attack on economic processes or changing social structure. He, with money, can purchase those things, land, prestige, a noble bride, or power, which belong by natural right to the gentleman. He is an eminently suitable quarry because of his religious and political associations: his kind beheaded a king and dispossessed the nobility. Thus, economic grievances have religious, political and social concomitants which are reflected in the comedies. -- The comedies apparently attempt to convey the belief that in this society the gentleman is the only honest man, cynically resigned to but not involved in the universal money-mongering. What they do convey, however, is that the gentleman too is strongly motivated by money. Unable to earn money, rejecting both business and the professions, the gentleman can depend only on inherited wealth or marriage to a fortune. The comedies present the facts, but they present them in such a way that the gentleman's quest for money appears more honourable than that of the merchant. The gentleman's viewpoint predominates because of the financial condition of most of the playwrights and because of the constraints under which they wrote. Ironically, while the gentleman condemns business, he reveals his own attitude to human relations and society by depending almost wholly, in his use of language in the comedies, on the imagery of commerce. And so, from the comedies emerges the picture of a society in which the procedures of the market-place are used in assessing all human relations and all actions, of a society in which the standard question is "For what is worth in any things/ But so much money as 'twill bring".

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7088
Item ID: 7088
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 407-427.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1971
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: England
Library of Congress Subject Heading: English drama (Comedy)--History and criticism; English drama (Comedy)--1660-1700--History and criticism

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