Jewels, Bonds and the Body: Material Culture in Shakespeare and Austen

  • Barbara M. Benedict


Objects litter the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen: glittering clothes in The Tempest; Lydia Bennet’s dismantled hat in Pride and Prejudice—to name just a few. Many of these are items worn on the body, such as jewels, and this physical proximity lends such objects a problematic intimacy. Jewels are generally gifts, symbols of love, but also a means of exchange. However, their meanings became more ambiguous and fraught during the Renaissance and the Regency, when Shakespeare and Austen were writing, because these periods are characterized by growing trade, wealth and opulence in England.

The present chapter examines the role of jewels in their works. It suggests that Shakespeare and Austen, and by extension the historical cultures of their times, were struggling to understand the relationship of material culture to moral significance. While Shakespeare’s objects reflect the shifting relationships and meanings of a time when feudal gift giving and contractual relations were blending into commercial trade, Austen’s objects inhabit a world in which sentimental and nostalgic values were battling entrenched and mercenary commodification. Nonetheless, both authors use jewels to explore the conflicts between identity and relationship as material and moral, performative and static, physical and spiritual, public and private.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara M. Benedict
    • 1
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeHartfordUSA

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