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Speculative Enterprise

Public Theaters and Financial Markets in London, 1688–1763
Mattie Burkert

BUY Cloth · 296 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813945958 · $95.00 · May 2021
BUY Ebook · 296 pp. · ISBN 9780813945972 · $29.50 · May 2021
BUY Paper · 296 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813945965 · $39.50 · May 2021

In the wake of the 1688 revolution, England’s transition to financial capitalism accelerated dramatically. Londoners witnessed the rise of credit-based currencies, securities markets, speculative bubbles, insurance schemes, and lotteries. Many understood these phenomena in terms shaped by their experience with another risky venture at the heart of London life: the public theater. Speculative Enterprise traces the links these observers drew between the operations of Drury Lane and Exchange Alley, including their hypercommercialism, dependence on collective opinion, and accessibility to people of different classes and genders.

Mattie Burkert identifies a discursive "theater-finance nexus" at work in plays by Colley Cibber, Richard Steele, and Susanna Centlivre as well as in the vibrant eighteenth-century media landscape. As Burkert demonstrates, the stock market and the entertainment industry were recognized as deeply interconnected institutions that, when considered together, illuminated the nature of the public more broadly and gave rise to new modes of publicity and resistance. In telling this story, Speculative Enterprise combines methods from literary studies, theater and performance history, media theory, and work on print and material culture to provide a fresh understanding of the centrality of theater to public life in eighteenth-century London.


Burkert demonstrates a new way of understanding the relationship between the theater and the financialization of the early modern economic system, revealing the construction of a new kind of what we might call ‘publicness’—a way of conceptualizing both the theatergoing public and the broader mass of population that this public represented.

John O’Brien, University of Virginia, author of Literature Incorporated: The Cultural Unconscious of the Business Corporation, 1650–1850

This lucid, compelling, and highly original study has the rare quality of making novel insights feel familiar. A major contribution to eighteenth-century studies, theater history, and economic history

Emily Hodgson Anderson, University of Southern California · Shakespeare and the Legacy of Loss

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