Piers Plowman and Piers Pickpurse: Early modern drama and the poverty-property debate
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"Piers Plowman and Piers Pickpurse: Early Modern Drama and the Poverty-Property Debate" interrogates how the transition from feudal to capitalist conceptions of property was represented on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. In agrarian England, this transitional landscape was most clearly embodied in the struggle over the enclosure of communal land. Focusing on the tension between the tenant or vagrant, who resisted such privatization, and the property owner, who valorized such a move, I argue that fractured social relations were most clearly articulated in comic drama between 1590 and 1610. Accordingly, my project draws attention to the theater's presentation of a wide range of comic characters, which include: peasant-clowns in The Life and Death of Jack Straw and Shakespeare's 2 Henry VI , landlords and vagrants in The Merry Wives of Windsor , and capitalist merchants in Thomas Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One . The verbal dexterity of these stage-clowns, I suggest, enabled them to protest against social and economic inequality. By juxtaposing dramatic texts with a variety of extra-dramatic materials---commonwealth writing, chronicle history, and rogue pamphlets---my dissertation shows how late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century comedy resisted a purely market-based understanding of agrarian life.