“Tramplers of Time”: Alchemists, Goldsmiths, and Sodomites



With the possible exception of Milton, no figure of the English Renaissance was as personally and professionally interested in usury as Thomas Middleton. Many early modern dramatists deal with the ideological and psychological effects of finance, but Middleton places the rise of the money power at the very center of his concerns. In his plays money, and especially the autonomous animation that money acquires in usury, becomes, and is shown to be, the determining element behind action and character. This is what made his work relevant and appealing to his contemporaries, who were much exercised by the novel force of finance, and perhaps it is also what obscured his importance over the last two centuries, when that force successfully concealed its extent and nature from the popular consciousness. The literary criticism of that period relegated Middleton to a subsidiary status, and critics seem largely to have missed the significance of his financial themes. Yet those themes surely explain why the postmodern era is starting to appreciate the depth of Middleton’s insights. The postmodern condition involves a new recognition of money’s vital role in the shaping of society and the formation of subjectivity, and Middleton was one of the first observers to record these processes in realistic detail.1


Early Modern Period Paper Money Late Sixteenth Century Popular Consciousness Play Money 
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© David Hawkes 2010

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