Contexts

Historical Contexts: Lucre, Trade, and the Economy

Courtesan, Merchant, Zany: Italian Knockoffs in The Three Ladies of London

Pamela Allen Brown

Abstract: Wilson's Three Ladies of London offered its first audiences entertaining stereotypes of 'naturally' vicious southerners who corrupt the vulnerable English with lechery, greed, papistry, and love of foreign luxuries. The only word-mangling clown in the play is the Italian merchant Mercadorus, whose total sexual abasement to Lady Lucre renders him absurd and effeminized. His double-dealings with the Jewish moneylender Gerontus have drawn a great deal of critical attention, but this essay will examine the Italian sex comedy that Wilson uses to leaven his far more solemn-minded plot. Wilson deploys a typical commedia dell'arte character system. In some arte plots a Venetian courtesan toys with, tricks, and often robs the lovesick merchant Pantalone, whose low Venetian dialect render his attempts at love-talk and eloquence laughable. Mercadorus's vows to 'Madonna' Lucre bear a distinct echo of Pantalone's romantic and linguistic excesses, a sample of which reached print in the comic letters of the clown-author Andrew Calmo.

Citation: Brown, Pamela Allen, ‘Courtesan, Merchant, Zany: Italian Knockoffs in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/PamelaBrown.htm.

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Baubles for Bell-Metal: English Anxieties about Trade and Traffic in The Three Ladies of London

Fatima Farida Ebrahim

Abstract: The contrast between Turkey and London, the two geographic locations of the play, and its relevance to the historical moment demonstrates how the English flounder in the new trade system, while the Turks flourish. Through several key themes – hospitality, immigrants and foreign merchants, moneylending, and justice – Wilson contrasts Turkey and London so that Turkey appears in a more positive, favourable light wheras London is faltering, unstable, and morally and economically weak. Considering that Wilson wrote the play just after the Turkey Company was established, when Queen Elizabeth I and Sultan Murad III agreed upon formal trading 'capitulations' in 1580, I argue that Three Ladies responds to these mercantile shifts by demonstrating an English anxiety and struggle in establishing itself within this new global partnership. My reading of the play shifts the focus to the English inability to manage the incoming foreign merchants and alien immigrants in this new economic system, especially as compared to the thriving Ottoman Empire.

Citation: Ebrahim, Fatima Farida, ‘Baubles for Bell-Metal: English Anxieties about Trade and Traffic in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/FatimaEbrahim.htm.

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‘Consider the lamentable cry of the poor’: Foreign Parasites, English Usurers, and Economic Crisis in The Three Ladies of London

Daniel Vitkus

Abstract: The paper will show how The Three Ladies of London builds on the traditional moral drama of medieval and Tudor England, with its religious condemnation of covetousness and other vices, by invoking a new kind of moral panic inspired by the emergence and expansion in London of financial activity that undertook speculation in foreign trade and benefitted a new class of parasitical financial ‘dealers’ at home. The paper’s analysis of the play will refer to the late Tudor socio-economic crisis, and to the alarm caused by the decline of traditional forms of charity and patron-client relations that were being replaced by a new capitalist trade network reaching from London to Venice and on to Constantinople. The paper will show how the connection between domestic and foreign economies was imagined, and what these representations of a new dependence on invasive and parasitic foreigners had to do with the realities of class tension, poverty, and usurious lending in London itself.

Citation: Vitkus, Daniel, ‘“Consider the lamentable cry of the poor”: Foreign Parasite, English Usurers, and Economic Crisis in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DanielVitkus.htm.

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Wilson, Tarlton, and the Scourge of Simony in Elizabethan Drama

Paul Whitfield White

Abstract: I argue 1) that Wilson’s London plays, like The Return from Parnassus, Part 2, focuses on simony as a problem of lay rather than ecclesiastical patronage of church benefices; 2) that the significant parallels between Three Ladies and the court jest ‘How a parsonage fell into Tarlton’s hands’ suggests that Queen Elizabeth is implicated in simoniacal abuses, that Tarlton himself performed the role of Simplicity in Three Ladies, and the lead role in another Queen’s Men play on 'Don John’s Cellar' satirizing simony; 3) that the satire in these entertainments represents the universal outcry in Elizabethan England against governing-class lay patrons who buy and sell multiple clerical livings, nominate extremist or unqualified candidates, or siphon off tithes for personal profit; 4) that this financial racket, parallel in the sacred sphere to usury in the secular world, is illustrated via the court ‘gallant’ Simony (‘dainty diamond knaue’) who, in Three Ladies, takes a financial cut from the corrupt Peter Pleaseman’s benefice but denies one to Sincerity, the godly minister.

Citation: White, Paul Whitfield, ‘Wilson, Tarlton, and the Scourge of Simony in Elizabethan Drama’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/PaulWhite.htm.

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