Early Modern Exchanges


Debt and doorways in Renaissance comedy

01 November 2017, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

The Moneychanger and His Wife by Quentin Matsys.

Cultural and material histories now enjoy much greater explanatory currency, as far as English drama goes, than older formalistic studies of source, influence and genre.

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Early Modern Exchanges


Institute of Advanced Studies
Gower Street
United Kingdom

Linking ‘debt’ and ‘doorways’, this paper will argue for a formalistic element in Renaissance comedy’s preoccupation with plots of debt, a link between the conjectural uncertainty of the time of owing, and the imaginative power of off-stage space, the space hidden behind the door. English drama, far from rejecting neoclassicism, the paper argues, embraces the imaginative power of conjectured, off-stage scenes, purging these of their libidinal and prodigal associations. The paper looks at debt and doorways in Plautus, Ariosto and Shakespeare.  


Prof. Lorna Hutson is a Merton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford. She works on the literature of the early modern period because she wants to understand more about the relationship between that period’s literary achievements and its ‘early modernity’. Her first book was on relations between economics, festivity and rhetorical copiousness in the prose of Thomas Nashe (Thomas Nashe in Context, 1989). Her work in forensic rhetoric has led to a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s innovations with offstage space and time in Circumstantial Shakespeare (2015). At the moment, she is working on a Leverhulme-funded project, Shakespeare’s Scotland, which involves thinking about Anglo-Scots literary, legal and historical imagining of the two realms throughout the sixteenth century.