Risky Business: The Discourse of Credit and Early Modern Female Playwrights Before Defoe
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This dissertation shows that early modern female playwrights were shaped by and helped to shape commercial literary marketplaces that were increasingly affected by the rise of credit, shifting exchange values, and unstable notions of trust, interest, and economic motivation. By looking at how their plays appropriated and responded to financial language present in popular forms of publications such as pamphlets, ballads, and accounting guidebooks, we find that female playwrights understood the discourse of credit in ways that were particularly important for female readers and theatergoers and employed it in their writing for the stage. My study illustrates how their plays represent credit as always inherently tied to the potential risk involved in the “business” of being a woman on the marriage market, a mother with a fortune to pass on, or a widow with a business to maintain. In this project, I analyze the city comedies of Aphra Behn, the pseudonymous Ariadne, Mary Pix, and Susanna Centlivre and conclude that their works constitute a narrative bridge between the financial discourse that appears before them in conduct books and advice manuals of the Restoration and after them in the eighteenth-century novel. Making these women and their London comedies a focal point, we can see how they employed the period’s financial discourse to highlight the problems associated with broken promises, counterfeit wills, and the supposed power of contract. My research demonstrates how these playwrights and their works play a critical role in accounting for the trajectory of financial discourse in eighteenth-century culture and literature prior to the “birth” of the English novel. “Risky Business” moves beyond a discussion of female investors or money in literature and, instead, offers a more nuanced understanding of the ways women writers were impacted by the rise of paper credit outside of and prior to fiction. The research presented in this project offers a new account of the way early modern female readers, writers, and theatergoers, were influenced by an increasingly complex financial discourse, a more detailed understanding of the relationship between economic and literary history, and a new way of conceptualizing the commercial female playwright.
Beggs, Courtney Beth (2010). Risky Business: The Discourse of Credit and Early Modern Female Playwrights Before Defoe. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from