Recommend to your Librarian

Performing Economic Thought

English Drama and Mercantile Writing 1600-1642

Bradley Ryner

Hardback (Order Now – Reprinting)
eBook (PDF) i

Provides an original account of the relationship between economic thought and early modern drama

Performing Economic Thought examines representations of economic exchange in English plays and mercantile treatises written between the chartering of the English East India Company in 1600 and the closing of the public playhouses at the outset of the English Civil War in 1642. These were crucial decades during which economic thinkers re-examined how they conceptualised and depicted commerce as a system.

Show more


Introduction: Performing Economic Thought
Chapter 1. Tables and Metaphors: Mountfort’s The Launching of the Mary
Chapter 2. Overflowing Props: Massinger’s The Emperor of the East
Chapter 3. Characterising Economics: Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling
Chapter 4. The Panoramic Stage: Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Cymbeline
Chapter 5. Stage-Managing Interpretation: Jonson’s The Staple of News
Chapter 6. Generic Self-Reflexivity: Brome’s A Jovial Crew
Chapter 7. The Performativity of Economic Models: Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, Part II and Massinger’s The Picture.

About the Author

Bradley D. Ryner is an Assistant Professor of English at Arizona State University. His work has appeared in English Studies, Early Modern Literary Studies, and in various edited collections.


"Performing Economic Thought is an innovative investigation of theatrical technique and mercantilist discourse. Ryner provides lucid readings of dense economic treatises and cogent explications of demanding theoretical material. His objective of historicize the division between fact and fiction that has bought a privileged place for economics is important and ambitious."

- Amanda Bailey, Shakespeare Quarterly 66.3 (2015)

"I wish there were more books like Bradley D. Ryner’s Performing Economic Thought... Ryner provides... a serious account of what literature and especially drama can do in the wider world of ideas. [...] This is the kind of book that speculatively inclined economists should (and could) read, and that every early modernist scholar of literature will want to sample."

- Roland Greene, SEL 55.2 (2015)

"Ryner has staked out his own turf in this excellent book: he treats seriously economic thought in Renaissance drama, and illuminates the formal qualities of plays that display that thought. In the end, he is successful in his project to compare the efficacy of mercantilists’ economic models and playwrights’ plays: while both attempt to link individual actions to their systemic effects, plays’ more comprehensive, mediated and consciously constructed models successfully ‘teach’ audiences how to see complex socio-economic patterns and their consequences."

- Jill P. Ingram , Review of English Studies 66 (2015)

"Ryner ventures into well-travelled waters in Performing Economic Thought but happily he produces substantial returns on investment. Rather than approach the early modern ‘business’ of theatre in the manner of William Ingram and Melissa Aaron, or as a naturalizing representation of nascent capitalism à la Jean-Christophe Agnew or Richard Halpern, Ryner compares drama and mercantile writing between 1600 and 1642 as forms of knowledge. The result is compelling, well-documented, and lucidly written... Performing Economic Thought... demonstrates that the early modern stage could produce new knowledge about economic discourse, especially that economic writing is itself performative."

- Aaron Kitch, Renaissance Studies 29.3 (2015)

Innovative and ambitious, Ryner’s book demonstrates how early modern theatre staged economic thought. He brings economic and theatrical modes brilliantly into play with one another, and illuminates the relationships among cultural discourses, literary form, and the theatrical dimensions of the plays. This is an exciting book indeed.

- Evelyn Tribble, University of Otago

Ryner’s brilliant book shows how the early modern playhouse was a laboratory in which emerging global systems were conceptualised, dissected, tested and reassembled. Ryner invites us to re-read canonical and non-canonical drama, from Shakespeare and Jonson to Massinger and Mountfort, as intimately engaged in thought experiments that ground what we now call the economic in the resources of theatrical representation itself.

- Jonathan Gil Harris, The George Washington University

Also in this series