Marketing Luxury at the New Exchange: Jonson’s Entertainment at Britain’s Burse and the Rhetoric of Wonder

Alison V. Scott
Macquarie University

Scott, Alison. “Marketing Luxury at the New Exchange: Jonson’s Entertainment at Britain’s Burse and the Rhetoric of Wonder". Early Modern Literary Studies 12.2 (September, 2006) 5.1-19 <URL:>.


  1. In order to mark the occasion of the opening of his New Exchange, an ostensibly classier rival to Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange, in April 1609, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury commissioned Ben Jonson to write an entertainment now known as The Entertainment at Britain’s Burse.[1] That entertainment formed part of a more comprehensive program that sought to legitimize the potentially bourgeois, commercial space of the Burse, presenting it as a refined environment and claiming the goods that it traded were the genuine article, and clearly superior to the counterfeits and “Trash” about town (100-1).[2] That program was problematic. In the first instance, it sought, paradoxically, to dignify commercialism by presenting the New Exchange in terms of luxury, while at the same time, threatening to make luxury commonplace by making exotic goods and curios readily available. Moreover, the public appetite for such luxury, upon which Cecil’s venture was transparently reliant for its economic success, was conceived in highly ambiguous terms within contemporary culture.[3] Indeed, though luxury was a marker of nobility and restraint, luxury consumption was also still understood in Augustinian terms of the temptations of cupiditas, and the surrender of the rational soul to sensual and indulgent pleasures.[4] In delivering an entertainment to celebrate the opening of the New Exchange, then, Jonson confronted certain inherent contradictions in the sign systems of early modern luxury; in so doing he produced a highly ambiguous celebration which illuminates contemporary uncertainties about luxury consumption, and about both the moral and economic risks of the developing trade in luxury goods.[5]

  2. In particular, because playing down the commercial function of the Burse was an important part of Cecil’s marketing strategy for his new venture, Jonson had to negotiate a fundamental paradox of purpose in writing his entertainment. While celebrating the Exchange for making exotic wonders accessible and new luxuries affordable, he also had to present the public marketplace as a place distinct from the base “business” of its rivals, for, unlike those lesser places that gave “for money”, the New Exchange, as a sign positioned over one of the shop doors announced, gave “for love”.[6] I would like to suggest here that Jonson’s entertainment, though “apparently unironic” in its praise of trade, spoke to contemporary moral concerns about an increasing cultural fascination with luxury and luxury consumption.[7] Moreover, in putting a new and fluid space designed to exploit the developing market for such consumption on display, Jonson both enhanced the appeal of the marvellous luxury objects displayed (for the purposes of inducing sales) at the New Exchange, and still derided those who fell to such foolish indulgence. The entertainment thus enacted the theatre of Cecil’s new marketplace and implied the dangers of that protean space, which, after all, housed a seductive spectacle of wonder that might render dazzled onlookers incapable of wisdom, judgement and restraint in their consumption of the luxuries on offer.[8]

  3. The presentation of the New Exchange as an elegant and restrained space, in which a well-heeled clientele could browse exotic and presumably costly treasures, began before Cecil had even commenced building the Burse. In response to opposition from Gresham and his supporters, who feared that the New Exchange would steal business away from the city’s Royal Exchange, Cecil insisted that he was motivated in his venture by humanist and edifying reasons rather than by common commercial considerations.[9] The contradictions of that claim mirror the contradictions implicit in the insistence that objects at the Exchange are given for love rather than for money. The Exchange is thus rhetorically aligned with a humanist connoisseurship that conceived of collecting wonderful and luxury objects in terms of “a series of exchanges among scholars in which objects were freely given as an act of friendship” – that is, for love rather than for money and for the purposes of advancing knowledge rather than producing profit.[10] On the one hand, Jonson’s entertainment supports and enhances that rhetoric, imagining the Exchange as a kind of treasure house of exotic objects that permitted clients to discover new worlds; on the other, the entertainment undermines the rhetoric by implying that the New Exchange served to stimulate vain curiosity and indulgent luxury consumption via a spectacle of goods that obscured distinctions between the authentic (knowledge) and the inauthentic (wonder).[11] Once that duality is accepted, the paradoxes of the entertainment can be understood in terms of a fractured cultural conception of luxury: the entertainment praises the luxury of the New Exchange at the same time as it advances an underlying satire of early modern society’s justifying of frivolous luxury consumption in terms of a humanist program of discovery, learning, and discrimination.[12]

  4. Ostensibly, the entertainment participates in an attempt to distinguish the New Exchange from an urban mercantile culture that, with no concern for nationalist values or British wealth, encouraged the affluent to waste their gold on foreign “trash”.[13] As the Exchange is only tenuously distinct from that culture, however – in the sense that it is presented as offering a better class of experience but to the same end – the entertainment’s satire of the common marketplace is always potentially directed against the very space it celebrates. Moreover, the Exchange, as the entertainment makes clear, uses methods of promoting its goods and persuading customers to spend their money on superfluous objects that cannot be distinguished from the commercial discourses it is defined against. It thus engages with a rhetoric of wonder in order to achieve the necessary (though explicitly denied) financial gain, while still appearing distinct from and superior to its rivals. That rhetoric was effective in early modern England because, as Daston and Park note, “[T]he possession and control of wonders represented … the wealth and power of those who owned them … and their rarity or uniqueness reflected the rarity and uniqueness of their proprietors, conceived in terms of nobility and cultivation” (68). Moreover, talk of rare objects fuelled curiosity about natural and mechanical wonders and about the new world. The entertainment presents the Exchange thus as a new region to be discovered, and as a treasure trove of wonders to be coveted; but it undermines that presentation throughout by persistently highlighting the difficulties of judging that new space and the wonders it contains. The visitors to the New Exchange and the audience of Jonson’s entertainment, thus “seeme to be vppon some lande discouery of a newe region” (12) to which the Key Keeper is to serve as “compasse” (13); yet, neither discoverers nor guide “knowe, where […they] are (10) which must surely make them vulnerable to any dangers that this new space might harbour, as well as making the valuation of its bounty problematic.  The immediate context for the entertainment then is disorientation and uncertainty; Jonson poses significant questions about how its audience and the clientele of the Burse might distinguish seeming from real in a new market of wonder and spectacle.

  5. Alluding to his own impresa of a broken compass, Jonson implies that the Key Keeper for, and the guide to the new space is himself like a broken compass. Having “walkd the rounde” in his “present place” (13-14), the Key Keeper has been unable to complete a circle: in effect, he has failed to entirely comprehend the space in which he now seeks to guide others.[14] The imagery of circularity has long been recognised as important within the Jonson canon, symbolising “a flux or mobility, grotesquely or dazzlingly fluid”. [15] The fact that the Key Keeper fails to compass the space for which he is responsible suggests the dazzling fluidity of the New Exchange itself, which appears under constant threat of transformation as its luxury threatened to transform those who consumed it.[16] Furthermore, the obvious association with the threatening protean space of the early modern theatre would have been heightened for the audience of the entertainment, not merely because they were watching a stage spectacle in the Exchange, but because one of the marketplace’s “shops […had been fitted out] very beautifully” as a stage for the occasion.[17] In fact, most of the Key Keeper’s speech, which serves as an unofficial preface to the entertainment proper – the spectacle of goods – is concerned with complaining of the “quotidian torture” (20-21) he has endured as he has fought to defend Cecil’s vision for the space against the multiple and conflicting readings of an aggressive “multitude” (22), competing to impose particular self-interested meanings and purposes upon the Exchange. “One sorte”, he explains,
    woulde [thus] haue it a publique Banque …Another woulde haue it a lombarde … A thyrd would haue it a store howse for Westminster …A fourth would haue it an Arsenall for decayed Citizens …A fifth would haue it a library …A sixth sorte woulde haue it in studyes, for young return’d trauaylors… A seuenth woulde needes haue it a Tippers office; And many, a fayre front, builte onely to grace the streete, and for noe vse (39-61)
    Like the theatre, the Exchange is understood in various ways as a fluid space, paradoxically engendered and threatened by the luxurious misuse of goods, money, or time.[18] As a bank, then, it would be usurious, as a lombarde it would deal in stolen goods, as a store for Westminster its hoard of perishable goods would be wasted, and as a mere “fayre front” it would be nothing but an emblem of cupiditas, a high-gloss still-life of vanitas.[19] The final suggestion, that it should be “builte onely to grace the streete” (60) is an escalation of the other seven suggested insubstantial uses for the space, and reflects a general concern about the non-fixed and not-yet-understood purpose of the Exchange, which appears to relate to its presentation as a more luxurious and refined centre than its rivals. Those who perceive it in those purely superficial terms, the Key Keeper thus conjectures, are guilty of being unable to “keepe theyr braynes” (62) from imagining it in excessively wasteful ways: in effect, they are guilty of indulgence, and, like the soldiers of Prudentius’ Psychomachia, their understanding is potentially enfeebled and undone by luxury.[20]

  6. The New Exchange stood on a cultural fault-line, between a society that perceived acquisitiveness and luxury in terms of personal vice or sin, and a future age when trade in luxuries would be perceived in terms of public benefit.[21] An expensive and ambitious project in its own right, and one which relied on showing/selling questionably costly and exotic luxury goods, the New Exchange projected a problematic relationship with decadence that led many to conclude that it was nothing but show – a “stately front” (“Pasquil’s Palinodia,” 8) of the kind epitomised by Spenser’s house of pride and suggested by contemporary emblems of vanity.[22] The idea that the Exchange might be nothing but a “fayre front … for noe vse” (60-61), and the fear that its trade was superflous are clearly related and Jonson plays with them purposefully in the entertainment. First, he only defines the space in terms of what it is not, a process which has left even the Key Keeper of the place confused and disorientated. Then, using the figure of the common Shop Boy who reels off a list of goods staccato so that they appear far from wonderful and rare, he implies an opposition between the more noble Burse and other such centres of merchandise selling “trash” (100).[23] This allows him to advance the necessary praise, while still failing to describe, name or substantiate the Exchange or its purpose. When the main figure of the entertainment is introduced, it then becomes clear that the Exchange will be defined here by the goods that it sells, for an understanding of which the audience are obliged to risk trusting in the mountebank Shop Master’s “creditt” (101).[24] Uncertain where exactly they are, and what the space they stand in represents, the audience would surely have registered the difficulty of the position which the entertainment had manoeuvred them into, a position which forces them to confront and resist the workings of their own curiosity.

  7. For example, in amplifying the fantastic appeal of a range of mirrors and glasses in the shop, for example, Jonson increases the wonder of the Exchange, while at the same time heightening the sense that the spectacle of rarities at the Burse might distort the perception and understanding of its spectators. In that unsettling environment, the familiar Shop Boy’s question “What doe you lacke?” (73), morphs into an instruction to the audience to “See what you lack” (85-6) which suggests a potentially worrying shift in the dynamics of supply and demand: rather than the merchant responding to the consumer’s desires, obtaining whatever they might lack, here the consumer is asked to respond to the merchant’s effective dictation of what they should possess. Much like the Still-Life sub-genre of the Vanitas, the entertainment thus seems to direct its “moralizing power” against the futility of current fashions”, using the “perspective of Vanitas” to “comically [… expose] the pretensions that mask the reality of things”.[25] As the Dutch Vanitas’ laid bare “the danger of such newly acquired ‘vices’ as conchology, tulipmania and smoking” (Bergström, 156) the entertainment reflected satirically upon the excesses of contemporary society and the newly developing desire for practically useless luxuries such as “China Cattes,” (81) “Indian Ratts,” (80) and “Beards of all ages” (85). In effect, the entertainment turns the spectacle of the New Exchange into a Vanitas, displaying it as an expression of wealth and power as the Still-Life paintings displayed their worldly objects, but functioning, at the same time, as a like temptation to the sensual pleasures and material luxuries for sale at the New Exchange.[26]

  8. Jonson’s focus on the material goods was a necessary part of praising trade and a compliment to his patron, as a collector of such goods and as the owner of the shopping centre that would sell them. Nevertheless, that focus is clearly layered and ambivalent. While there can be little doubt that an entertainment featuring the kind of goods for which Cecil was known as a collector of was intended to praise its patron, and to entertain the audience with a marvellous spectacle, Jonson also uses the figure of the Shop Master with his inventory of rarities to poke fun at an anonymous multitude who might fall to contemplating “nothing but the little, vile, and sordid things of the world” rather than “the great, noble, and precious” (Discoveries, 1393-94).[27] As the owner of the Exchange, the host of the entertainment’s occasion, and Jonson’s patron, Cecil is inevitably connected with the Shop Master; likewise, his celebrated collections of unusual and costly objects are mirrored, though somewhat diminished, in the Shop Master’s goods for sale. It is clear, then, that the line between praising Cecil as a humanist connoisseur, and mocking him as a purveyor of vain luxuries is a fine one. Indeed, the fact that Cecil had dispatched his aide Thomas Wilson on a shopping trip for suitably impressive objects with which to furnish the china shop of the entertainment – “the place of show” – and, perhaps, as Knowles has suggested even borrowed objects from Walter Cope’s celebrated Wunderkammer to that end, demonstrates the indistinct nature of the boundary between staging the marketplace in the entertainment (where it might be affectionately mocked) and celebrating the actual marketplace of the New Exchange.[28] The significance and impact of that blurring of boundaries is perhaps most apparent at the end of the entertainment when the Shop Master functions as a vehicle for the presentation of Cecil’s very expensive gifts for his royal visitors. Though the cabinet given to the king, the plaque of the annunciation (reputedly worth 4000 crowns) given to the queen, and the horse’s trapping given to Prince Henry were physically bestowed by the Shop Master, they absolutely remained the gifts of Cecil as the account of the Venetian ambassador makes clear.[29] The gifts are clearly self-interested, a reality which aligns Cecil with the Shop Master, who expects a “Returne” (317) on the gifts he bestows on his “customer[s]” and “payemaster[s]” (325-26). Moreover, as the Shop Master’s hyperbolic description of his fantastic goods and his aspirations to great fortune connect him with the trickster figures of Jonsonian comedy, so the entertainment’s outward praise of Cecil also anticipated the satirical impulses of The Alchemist (1610) as Scott McMillan has suggested.[30] Those trickster figures, as Thomas Greene notes, are typically “characters who seek to be metaphysically volatile, who would shift, disguise, transform, and multiply themselves” in contrast to the ideal centred self (325). The Shop Master (and by implication Cecil) is thus aligned with the protean qualities of the Exchange itself, with its luxury market of uncertain meanings and values, and with its fantastic goods – its distorting mirrors, magic porcelain, space-defying cabinets, beards, vizards and chemical plate. Moreover, the Master’s repeated substitution of the language of gift giving with commercial terminology appears to be Jonson’s way of joking with his audience, at the same time as playing on their anxiety about the transparent contradictions of Cecil’s presentation of the Burse as a place where all was given “for love”. 

  9. In its double-edged display of the New Exchange and its luxury, the entertainment mirrors the comedies’ simultaneous fascination and disgust with exotic material goods.[31] But Jonson was not writing for the public stage here, and he was not free to instruct by showing his audience a reflection of themselves as foolish and grotesque consumers; he had to temper that comic mode by also reflecting an image of the audience as restrained consumers distinguished from the multitude in their understanding and response to luxury. Straddling the genres of city comedy and royal entertainment, Jonson’s Entertainment at Britain’s Burse thus enacts the clash of cultures it negotiates; Jonson’s textual “mirror” is purposely refracted, reflecting multiple things at once.[32] As such, it provides the audience with a mirror in which to view its own uncertainties about the “signs” of luxury in the commodified space/space for commodities of the New Exchange. 

  10. The Entertainment at Britain’s Burse is thus clearly more than an anomalous “aristocratic entertainment in praise of trade” (Riggs, 157): it is a generic hybrid manifesting “the dialectical process by which the textual system affects and is affected by other alterations in the social whole” (Howard, 164), in this case, the development of foreign trade and the beginnings of modern consumer culture.[33] It enacts the profusion of the new marketplace by offering its audience multiple mirrors in which to view themselves and a variety of perspectives with which to view the changing world represented by the “place of show” (both theatre and marketplace) in which they stood. In this environment, “seeing” was newly aligned with visual sampling or glancing from one object to another “vpon the full speede of your eye” (it would become browsing or just looking), effectively fragmenting perspective.[34] The profusion of glasses in the china shop, which variously “diminisheth” (187), “augmente[s]” (190), multiplies and “decipher[s]” (206) images, can thus be read as a metaphor for the fragmenting and potentially distorting or deceptive market, in which, as is the case in a theatre, things can amplified, altered, or reduced as desired. Mammon himself, we might remember, co-opts such glasses into his decadent fantasy of wealth and power:
    Then, my glasses
    Cut in more subtle angles, to disperse
    And multiply the figures as I walk
    Naked between my succubae. (2.2.45-8)
    The projected indulgence in illusion speaks, of course, about Mammon’s naïve trust in the false perspectives that Subtle has conjured before his eyes. Mammon’s blind enthusiasm for the anticipated alchemical transformation echoes in the Master’s fantastic claims about the mysteries of his goods. The Master’s descriptions of the Exchange’s rarities aim to market them as infinitely superior to the “Trash” on offer at other houses (100); yet, his comparisons arguably create further anxiety by reiterating a commonplace connection of exotic goods with fraud and deception. If the assembled company considered themselves safe from being seduced or even defrauded at the New Exchange, one imagines that such confidence was nervous; not least because the entertainment enacted the tenuousness of the situation by highlighting how ambiguous the sign systems of the space were, thus suggesting the riskiness of investing in the goods it displayed. Jonson purposefully placed his audience in the position of consumers, but more than that, he forced them to play out the process of speculating in a new marketplace full of marvellous objects, challenging them to determine the real nature of the space they stood in, and determine, therefore, the spectacle’s relation to the truth. The right reading of the Burse’s signs provides an opportunity to demonstrate wisdom, good taste, and refinement, but a distorted reading which trusts in illusions (the equivalent of a bad investment) demonstrates the opposite. The entertainment’s ambiguity thus manifested the riskiness of the marketplace or, as David Baker has argued, rehearsed the “economic anxieties” of a “particularly fraught moment, the launch of a financially risky endeavour” (161). 

  11. General anxieties about financial risks are magnified in the entertainment by the fact that, in this environment of new and “incarnated signs”, “seeing” did not necessarily equate with understanding. Indeed, the entertainment relied in part upon the audience’s inability to fully understand the “newe region” that they were in, for it was that uncertainty which made the spectacle of the China shop entertaining, that sense of not knowing “where you are now” that made manifest the marvellous.[35] Concepts of meraviglia and stupore are thus highly significant in the entertainment, calling “attention to the problem of credibility and at the same time insist[ing] upon the undeniability, the exigency of the experience” (Greenblatt, 20). The goods for sale created a spectacle designed to dazzle “the eyes of the behowlder” (265); the entertainment then featured that spectacle, both alluring and conversely repelling the audience/customers in its display of ambiguous luxury. The implication is that anyone who became stupefied by the spectacle, and who thus fell to admiring the wrong (less desirable, less rare, or less costly) objects would betray an embarrassing similitude with the undiscriminating multitude currently denied admittance to the Burse.[36]

  12. Meraviglia, of course, is a potentially debilitating experience and one that clearly resonated in Jonson’s imagination – it induces the kind of stupore that characterises Volpone’s gaping clients and The Alchemist’s preposterously desirous Mammon. In a state of stupore, the spectator is potentially incapable of right reason and may thus be tricked into believing something fraudulent or false to be genuine and true. The entertainment thus plays with a problem of authenticity that, as Greenblatt has remarked, was never resolved in aesthetic theory of the marvellous (79): the audience are forced to negotiate that problem as they are confronted by a series of marvellous objects described by the Shop Master in excessive terms. The first such marvel he describes is a porcelain dish “right such as the graund Signior eates in”, and he assures his audience “on […his] sincerity” that “you can put noe poyson” in such dishes because they “presently breake or discolour” upon contact with toxin (104-6). The audience cannot actually know whether the dish is merely a device of the entertainment or a genuinely marvellous object capable of detecting poison, and desirable, therefore, for this property: they are left as it were, wondering.[37]  In fact, the Master’s production of wonder is always tinged with doubt: in working up to promising his audience/customers that he is about to come into possession of a glass “from a great master in Catoptrickes” that will permit him to stand on the top of St. Paul’s and “set fire on a shipp 20 leagues at sea”, for example, he finds it necessary to acknowledge their scepticism in order to increase his own credibility (207-10). The story, he confesses, sounds like a “parabolicall fiction”, and the audience might “smyle at this now & thinke it nothing”, but, he insists that the marvels are genuine (211-14). Indeed, he claims that every object in the shop is marvellous in some way; if in being named, it does not announce itself to be so the Shop Master embellishes it to that end. A salt cellar thus becomes a “conceipted saltseller”, the “ingine” of which alters its meaning and its value (125, 129), cabinets are not mere cabinets but such that “you can scarcesely fadome, yet weighe but eighteen ounces” (164-65), and umbrellas are made rare by being made “of the winge of the Indian Butterfly” (167-68). Though the Shop Master’s descriptions are detailed and specific, the obvious overstatement undermines his authority and the members of his audience genuinely “scarse knowe” where they are in this marketplace (24-29) where positions, meanings, and values are alchemically volatile, and can be changed or inflated by the rhetoric of wonder and refracted in the theatre/marketplace.[38]

  13. The attempt to imbue objects with the esoteric is an obvious attempt to raise their perceived commercial value: hence the elephant salt-cellar becomes an emblem of wisdom, the china dog an emblem of friendship.[39] If objects are not furnished with their own allegories, they are often categorised as instruments designed to aid the deciphering of meaning: the triangular glass or prism will instruct in “the true naturall cawse of your Reynebow” (185-86), and a telescope will permit its purchaser to stand in Covent Garden and “decipher at Highgate the subtillest carrackt [letter or emblem]” (206-7). During the course of this extended sales spiel, the contradictory semiotics of the Exchange come into focus. When the Master boasts, “there’s not a triffle in this wholl shoppe that is not mysterious”, he tellingly undermines the claim to arcane meaning with the use of the word “triffle”, and then with the mildly ridiculous insistence that the collection of “vissards and beardes” he purveys are redeemed from commonality and vulgarity by the fact of his knowing who they belonged to and “the time and place of theyre first originall amongst vs” (213-20). Of course, the claims that he then makes for the origins and history of each piece are trifling fictions rather than mysterious truths; the profusion of facial disguises along with the attempt to inflate their value transform “delighted awe” into a parody of blind curiosity. The Master markets his goods as the discriminating and valuable objects that they simply are not and cannot be, a strategy which was presumably designed to produce a jarring effect for an audience being asked to proceed with the notion that this was a place where fantastic luxuries were given for love rather than money. Mirroring the paradoxical claim of Cecil’s sign is the Master’s assertion that his “commodityes shall not beg to be sould” amidst the persuasive description of goods he hopes to sell. The point here is not that they will not be sold, but that they will effectively sell themselves, and that will happen because they will invoke an acquisitive desire and a stupore in the spectator/consumer (182-83) which, he elaborates, will be heightened by the loss of “the Hollanders fleete” at sea from which the assembled company might have hoped to obtain like “subtiltyes” more cheaply (174-75). As in Jonson’s reflection on the sale of his own book, the denial of strategic marketing here is actually the marketing strategy, as it was in the case of Cecil’s denial of the commercial intent of the Exchange.[40] However, where Jonson hoped that his books would recommend themselves passively to interested “understanders”, the implication here is that only “pretenders” would be taken in by the allure of the china goods. Moreover, in parodying the self-interested sales merchant, and in emphasising the protean qualities of the goods for sale and the space in which they were housed, Jonson unpicks the marketing strategies implicit in his own commissioned text. Indeed, when the grandest marvel in the Master’s collection –a singing statue of Apollo – comes unnaturally to life in response to the harmonious influences of the royal family, it is ironically asserted that it is to silence “wonder” and to voice praise in silence that “Doth trueste admiration breed” (304).

  14. If the semiotics of the Burse were layered and contradictory, Jonson’s entertainment thus seems specifically designed to convey those contradictions to the discriminating among his audience: in that “trying faculty” true discrimination can perhaps be found, the understander can locate him or herself in the new region, and wonder can be resisted and stupore avoided or overcome.[41] In the comedies, of course, stupore often leads to financial loss and, while the entertainment cannot and does not play out a scenario of such loss, I think it does imply that an indiscriminating client at the Exchange might part with their money too easily and for luxuries of undetermined value. Jonson chooses thus to conclude the entertainment with a stark reminder that the merchants of the Exchange are there in the hope that the Exchange’s clientele will make them rich – all the more reason to practice caution in trusting the “creditt” of the Shop Master in this environment of wonder and spectacle. The discerning among Jonson’s audience might then be alerted to the problem of judging authenticity when the Shop Master expresses admiration for the renowned traveller John Mandeville who, he claims, both “brought scyence” from abroad and dispensed it in “Hieroglyphicks” (146-49). Clearly the Master either fails to realise that Mandeville’s Travels was a fictional account, or else chooses to exploit the fact that public belief in its truth persisted; either way, if the mysteries of his own merchandise have been “dispensd” (148) by Mandeville, then their meaning and value obviously remains ambivalent.[42] As Benedict has observed, satirical works such as The World of Wonders (1607) adopted curiosity as a method whereby which wise readers could “detect and reject manipulation by such curiosity mongers as religious fanatics and spectacle salesmen”(29) at the same time as they co-opted readers into a world of discovery of the unknown. Jonson’s entertainment adopts aspects of that method, compelling attention by displaying the marvellous but also challenging the audience to practice the kind of curiosity that detects and rejects manipulation. In resisting the lure of the spectacle of avant-garde goods and a “thousand such subtiltyes” (174) and “delicacies” (163), Jonson implies that the audience could exhibit true understanding and distinguish itself from the ignorant multitude that threatened to morph the restrained luxury and humanism of the New Exchange into something more vulgar and commercial (39-61).

  15. Elsewhere, Jonson frequently associated vulgarity with the mechanical production of “Mighty shows” in a “money-get” age (“An Expostulacon wth Inigo Jones,” 39, 52), depicting his rival Inigo Jones as a type of conjurer “Whirling … Whimsies, by a subtlety / Sucked from the veins of shop-philosophy” (73-4). That same combination of materialism, vulgarity, and deceptive show comes together in his representation of the Shop Master, who presents himself as a type of mechanic when he compares himself to Daedalus (279). Interestingly, as Jones apparently misunderstands the real meaning of the masque, the Master reveals a miscomprehension of the myth’s commentary on the attainment of knowledge and the practice of art, which should signal again to the audience the problems of investing in (his reading of) the goods he purveys. Daedalus, as Francis Bacon’s Wisedom of the Ancients elaborates, was “ingenious but execrable”, remembered for murdering his servant, for building, like Cecil, “many goodly structures … for the beautie and magnificence of cities”, but chiefly for his “mischeef” in building the labyrinth to house the minotaur – a work which as Bacon elucidates, serves as “an excellent Allegory, whereby is shadowed the nature of Mechanicall sciences”.[43] The mechanical sciences, with which the Master is conspicuously aligned, as a Daedalus figure, and in his admiration of the “machanicall neatness” of the workmanship of “Chymicall [fake] plate” (266) are understood in terms of the labyrinth’s subtlety and intricacy “which by the eye of iudgement can hardly be guided and discerned”. To be of use rather than harm, they must be consumed cautiously and with clear sight, characteristics that appear precisely the opposite of those manifested and encouraged by the Shop Master:
    Then for Chymicall plate it is not possible to eqvall for, setting the reste, and the gouldsmiths marke aside Ile vphould it better than the autenticall, / Theres the true colour without contradiction The radiant luster that dazleth the eyes of the behowlder, then it exceedes it in lightnes, and a machanicall neatnes of the workemanshipe, but the humblnes of the price disgraseth the valor of the thing. (261-8)
    The assertion that the fake plate is “better than the autenticall” is problematic on numerous levels; the Master’s elucidation of the distinctions between the authentic and the “Chymicall” plate lays bare issues surrounding actual and perceived value which were central to the commercial ambitions of the Exchange. First, the assertion demonstrates confusion between “real” and “authentic” which should have alerted the audience as to the Master’s unreliability as an assessor of goods. Second, it suggests that genuine goods might be superseded by counterfeits on the basis that they are less costly to acquire, an argument which illuminates the paradox of the Exchange which seeks to make luxury goods readily available to a social elite for whom rarity, difficulty of procurement, and cost are markers of an object’s value. Finally, the assertion demonstrates a fascination with commodities that allure and stupefy on the basis of their superficial appearance; this implies that both authentic and counterfeit goods can appear as marvels, suggesting once more the dangers of speculating in the new marketplace, “the place of show”. In addition to those problems, the Master’s sales pitch for the fake plate is deeply problematic. Unlike genuine plate, the Shop Master explains, the chemical plate doesn’t cause its possessor to live “in perpetuall daunger of theeues” (275-76). That is to say, it doesn’t cause the self-consuming care of real wealth, but allows its owner to appear as if he possessed such wealth.[44] This argument is no less “without contradiction” than the chemical plate itself, for it is at once a warning against and an encouragement to concupiscence: the Master is selling fake plate on the basis that it is more desirable as a purchasable commodity, because it is less costly and therefore less desirable to potential thieves. Similarly, he suggests the superficiality of those who deem that its lower price “disgraseth […its] valor” (267-68), while at the same time celebrating the plate’s capacity to bestow a superficial appearance of wealth on its owner. The argument pivots on a problem with the concept of luxury: on the one hand, the chemical plate is to “a pore innkeeper” the equivalent luxury that real plate is to a wealthy landowner; on the other, however, it loses its “valor” – its luxury status – because it is used to serve food to patrons of lowly social status rather than being reserved for display or for the occasional use of distinguished guests. In effect, once transported from the luxurious surrounds of the Burse, in which it promises to dazzle the eyes that behold it, and into the urbane and vulgar environment of the inn, the fake plate “cannot performe what […it] promise[d]” (Wisdome of the Ancients, 95), precisely because it was not authentic in the first place.

  16. A similar problem with authenticity and imitation is encountered in Epicoene where Mistress Otter, the “rich chinawoman” (1.4.25) and purveyor of luxury goods, tries to fashion herself as “the only authentical courtier that is not naturally bred one” (3.2.26-7) – that is, as an artificial but real courtier in every respect the same as the other Collegiates except for having been self-made. As Marjorie Swann has observed, that aspiration is impossible, for the very proto-capitalist consumption that enables Mistress Otter’s self-production also thwarts her attempt to upset class hierarchies: “‘the city’ …becomes an agent which systematically prevents Mistress Otter from disrupting the social order”.[45] The mistress of the china shop cannot artificially “piece” together an authentic courtier, just as the Shop Master cannot convince his audience that the “Chymicall plate” is really “better then the authenticall” (261, 163), because, finally, “the humblnes of the price disgraseth the valor of the thing” (267-68). In each case, proto-capitalism promises the bourgeoisie or labouring classes the opportunity to imitate the aristocracy and its luxury consumption, but that same acquisitive culture, the mode of piecing together an image from fragments -- of seeing what one lacks and then buying it – betrays the imitative, false, and incomplete nature of that venture: what is manufactured and sold remains an incomplete or unviable version of what is “naturally bred” and given. While Stephen Orgel has read the Master’s hyperbole as theatrical “exuberance” and argued that we are only ever rhetorically in the world of Volpone in listening to the sales spiel of the entertainment, it seems to me, then, that the use of such rhetoric in this context is more significant than Orgel’s reading suggests. Though his argument that the proto-capitalist language is not designed to gull the audience per se is obviously correct, it is still the case that the audience could not have been entirely sure about the meaning or value of the goods they were seeing displayed at the Exchange, particularly because the material goods were potentially both objects for sale and props in a stage-show.[46] Jonson evokes the world of his city comedies thus in order to highlight the ease with which the unwise and undiscerning (by implication, the “multitude” from which his patron and audience are ostensibly but tenuously distinguished) might be gulled in this shifting environment of unfamiliar wonders.

  17. The inevitable incompleteness of imitations of authenticity connects with Bacon’s conception of wonder as “broken knowledge” (Advancement of Learning, 1.125) or “contemplation broken off, or losing itself”.[47] In producing his spectacle of wonder, the Shop Master deals in broken or imitative knowledge: in fact, his shop imitates the microcosmic display of knowledge in the Wunderkammers of the time, bringing the experience of discovery and exotica to the less travelled, yet offering a potentially misleading and partial experience of the “new world” in which it was easy for the unknowing/unwary to be defrauded.[48]  As Bacon warns in The Advancement of Learning, wonder is driven by sensuous experience, which, like the new world explorers’ experience of the marvellous, constitutes not merely a “recognition of the unusual” but the experience of “a certain excess, a hyperbolic intensity, a sense of awed delight” in which man risks the loss of reason (Greenblatt, 76).[49] As a container of such wonder, Jonson’s staged shop, functioning as a metonym for the New Exchange as a whole, displayed objects that brought a form of knowledge to the spectators, but did so in a way that highlighted the fragmentary nature of that knowledge and the problems involved in judging its authenticity. As the shops in the New Exchange were very small booth-like spaces, the audience’s experience of looking into the Master’s china shop was probably something akin to peering into a wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosity.[50] Because the Master’s wonders are for sale, however, the shop automatically lacks the integrity that such collections aimed at (the creation of a microcosm of the world’s knowledge) and it becomes a kind of sham wunderkammer, inevitably self-destructive, aiming not at completion and classification but at dismemberment and fragmentation.[51]

  18. While the commodities of the Exchange are thus marketed on the basis of their uniqueness and/or rarity and the difficult nature of their procurement, the point at which they are purchased is the point at which they are in part annulled – in being removed from the context of the humanist cabinet of knowledge – and the point, therefore, at which luxury consumption is revealed as vain, the New Exchange as a potentially empty bubble of vanitas.[52] Like new world discoverers the audience are led to gaze on the commodities of a new region with possessive desire at the same time as they are required to express a certain repulsion for its crudities. The curiosity value of the marvellous and the monstrous are indistinct, which is problematic in itself, but here the tall tales do not belong to a humanist traveller/scholar but to a merchant whose interests are self-confessedly focused on building personal wealth. His forthcoming voyage is thus envisaged in terms of the curious commodities he might return with and with which he will make a financial return on the trip:
    I ame goeing shortlye for Verginnia to discover the Insecta of that countrye, the kind of Flye they haue ther, and so over land for China: to compare him for comoditie, and but see wher paradice stood, and bring of the birdes alive home, perhapes I will call vpon prester Iohn by the waye. if ye will geue me xx for one at my Returne, tis yours ….
    Like the new world discoverers, customers of the Burse will see “only a fragment” which will permit them to imagine “the rest in the act of appropriation” (Greenblatt, 122); on the basis of that fragment, however, they will have to judge the object’s value, and determine what they are prepared to invest in what they see -- they will have to speculate in a marketplace that, as its proximity to the theatre emphasises, is always potentially deceptive.[53] The Virginian fly that the Master desires to discover and bring back home appears to be a reference to Walter Cope’s cabinet of curiosities which included, “Flies which glow at night in Virginia instead of lights”, and as such, must have represented the kind of curio desired by collectors of “strange objects”.[54] Nevertheless, while such curiosities might have impressed a king who had earnestly sought to procure a flying squirrel from Virginia, it is clear that they held no intrinsic value and, once removed from the context of a collection of strange objects, far less aesthetic and social value too.[55] In “The System of Collecting,” Baudrillard argues that an object can have one of two functions – it can be utilised or possessed. Clearly, the Virginian fly falls into the second category so that, according to Baudrillard’s theory at least, “its destiny is to be collected”.[56] As individual objects, therefore, the fly and other such things are relatively meaningless – they only become “incarnated signs” of knowledge and power when they are part of a larger collection such as Cope’s.[57] As commodities for sale, the Master’s objects can only ever be pieces of an impossible whole -- in some cases, they were literally pieces of Cecil’s real “collection” of exotica – and therefore, as signs, their meaning and significance are disconcertingly fluid and, much like the stocks and shares of the capitalist economy, their value must be likewise. The collection of objects in the China Shop was surely alluring because it was a cabinet of curiosities which was essentially open for the public to view, and from which the curiosities could be bought. On the other hand, the fact that everything was for sale, as Cecil’s sign’s insistence on the fiction that they were not paradoxically suggests, means that the collection of objects was potentially vulgar and derivative, offering only piecemeal and insubstantial spectacles of wonder – Bacon’s “broken knowledge” and the “spice of idolatry” as Busy warns in Bartholemew Fair (1.6.49).

  19. Though the Entertainment at Britain’s Burse was indeed the hinge upon which Cecil’s program of legitimation for the Exchange pivoted, it did not really speak in praise of trade, or even in praise of luxury, but rather implied the potential vanity and foolishness of luxury consumption by depicting the Exchange as a protean space of spectacle that might induce the suspension and/or distortion of judgement in consumers. Moreover, it suggested the riskiness of speculating in a marketplace of luxuries that derived value from being as yet unknown and partially incomprehensible, and the riskiness of trusting the word of a Shop Master conspicuously aligned both with the self-interested fraudsters and the decadent and greedy consumers of Jonson’s comedies. The entertainment did indeed rehearse the anxieties of the riskiness of Cecil’s endeavour as Baker has argued, but those anxieties related not simply to the financial risks of its new trade, but also to the risks that such a luxury retail centre posed to the mechanisms of valuation in general, and, even more significantly, to the humanist ideal of pursuing knowledge for the greater good and not for private and/or financial gain. “What petty things they are we wonder at, like children that esteem every trifle” Jonson complained in his Discoveries (1452-53) before concluding that such indiscrimination had become rife since “the multitude,” in all else divided, conspired as one to love money (1464-66). That “multitude” threatens the very meaning of New Exchange in the entertainment, representing that foolish and vulgar fascination with pretty things and trifles; it is from that multitude that Jonson’s more discerning audience are being implicitly invited to distinguish themselves. The irony is, of course, that if they accomplished this, the marvellous luxuries of the New Exchange would lose their capacity to induce wonder, the seller’s prayer would most certainly not be answered, and Cecil’s venture would fail. The entertainment was thus indeed an anomaly, but necessarily so because the sign systems of the Exchange itself were so fundamentally fluid and contradictory: it was a place of show but one which kept “shop within” in an attempt to appear more elegant and refined; it traded luxuries but in so doing reduced their desirability by making them accessible and affordable; and it presented itself as a non-commercial space in order to distinguish itself from commercial competitors.[58] The focus on fluctuating meaning and multiplying perspectives indicates that, like Bartholemew Fair, the entertainment ostensibly accepts the play of the open market. Nevertheless, in highlighting the contradictions of the space, the purpose, and the language of the Exchange, which brought together but could not reconcile the classical ideal of gift exchange with proto-capitalism, and the humanist ideals of liberality and learning with the emerging drive toward the consumption of luxury and curiosity, Jonson played out similar anxieties and tensions to those that feature in his city comedies, while at the same time advancing an idea that underpins his poetry: that a given elite might wisely and transcendentally avoid excess and “envious show” to practice luxury with restraint.[59]


[1] The entertainment was rediscovered by James Knowles among Public Record Office papers in 1997; it is reprinted in Re-Presenting Ben Jonson: Text, History, Performance, ed. Martin Butler (Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999). All references to the entertainment are taken from this text. Stephen Orgel speaks of the two exchanges in distinct terms, the Royal Exchange being a “wholesale trading mart” revolving around “high finance” and the New Exchange being a shopping centre for “a well-heeled public” to browse through and purchase material goods, see his introduction to The Key Keeper: A Masque for the Opening of Britain’s Burse, April 19, 1609, ed. James Knowles (Tunbridge Wells: Foundling Press, 2002), vii. The idea that the New Exchange was a rival to the Royal Exchange is commonly expressed in the period; by 1619, according to the author of “Pasquil’s Palinodia and his Progresse to the Taverne, where after the survey of the Seller you are presented with a pleasant pinte of poeticall sherry” (London, 1619), it was evident that Gresham need “take no-care” of the Royal Exchange’s younger sister whose takings had failed to live up to initial expectations, and, indeed to its own professions of grandness in “the erection of that stately front” (8-9). I am grateful to the anonymous readers of this article whose careful advice helped me to restructure and refocus the essay to better effect.

[2] Regulations for the Burse aimed to restrict stalls to reputable tradesmen, keep noise to a minimum, exclude beggars, ensure the Exchange was kept clean and tidy, and deter crime. See T. N. Brushfield’s appendix to his Britain’s Burse, or The New Exchange (London: Bedford Press, 1903), which details the regulations as listed in State Papers Domestic, James I, 49.5. Algernon Cecil also summarizes the orders in his A Life of Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury (London: John Murray, 1915), 320-21.

[3] Christopher J. Berry’s book The Idea of Luxury: A Conceptual and Historical Investigation (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994) considers luxury and concupiscence to be related concepts in the late sixteenth century (98) and argues that what he calls the “de-moralisation” of luxury doesn’t take place until the latter part of the seventeenth century.

[4] Augustine depicts the opponents of Christianity as living in state of false felicity, believing that it “is a good thing to have imposing houses luxuriously furnished, where lavish banquets can be held, where people can, if they like, spend night and day in debauchery, and eat and drink till they are sick” (1.2.20) and gestures that in worshipping material things, men are prevented from grace (1.2.29), The City of God, ed. David Knowles (Middlesex: Penguin, 1972). Calvin’s Institutes echo a similar warning: “it was well said by Cato: Luxury causes great care, and produces great carelessness as to virtue,” Institutes of Christian Religion, ed. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1979), 3.10.4.

[5] Arjun Appadurai argues that luxury goods functioned socially and rhetorically in early modern society and so were “incarnated signs” with a “special register of consumption”, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 38; my thoughts on luxury here are obviously indebted to his work. David J. Baker notes in reference to Appadurai that, “for Jonson and his contemporaries […luxury goods] registered ‘semiotic virtuosity, that is, the capacity to signal fairly complex messages,’ including the ‘specialized knowledge’ that was a ‘prerequisite’ for their appropriate consumption,’ the fashion sense that their elite consumer could display, and the intricacies of status that could be communicated thereby.” See “‘The Allegory of a China Shop’: Jonson’s Entertainment at Britain’s Burse,” English Literary History 72.1 (2005): 159-80, 159.

[6] Antonio Correr to the Doge and Senate of Venice, 6 May 1609, Calendar of State Papers Venice, Volume Eleven, 1607-1610, ed. H. F. Brown (1904), 269. Janette Dillon observes that the “motto is anomalous and multilayered,” in Theatre, Court and City, 1595-1610: Drama and Social Space in London (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000), 113.

[7] Knowles argues that the entertainment is “apparently unironic” in his preface to the text as reprinted in Re-Presenting Ben Jonson, 115.

As Baker observes, though the clientele of London’s china shops are mocked in Epicene, Knowles argues that the praise of consumer culture in the entertainment is not satirical (160). My own argument compliments Baker’s reading of the entertainment as a celebratory frivolity that nevertheless rehearsed “the economic anxieties of a financially risk endeavor” (161), “a piece of both proto-capitalist fantasy and analysis, one in which imagination and interrogation are at work together” (161-62).  

[8] That process is essentially the process of stupore, a “state resulting from the perception of a thing that exceeded the limits of our senses,” a state often induced by meravaglia which Vincenzo Borghino defines as something which pleases and delights in the extreme, see David Summers, Michelangelo and the Language of Art (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), 173. I am grateful to Professor A. D. Cousins for drawing my attention to Summers’ work.

[9] HMC Salisbury, 20.213, as quoted by J. F. Merrit, “The Cecils and Westminster, 1558-1612: The Development of an Urban Power Base,” in Patronage, Culture, and Power: The Early Cecils, 1558-1612, ed. Pauline Croft (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2002): 231-48, 232.

[10] On the contradiction between humanist collecting and the “idea of a shop filled with curiosities”, see Paula Findlen’s chapter “Inventing Nature: Commerce, Art, and Science in the Early Modern Cabinet of Curiosities,” Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe, ed. Pamela H. Smith & Paula Findlen (New York: Routledge, 2002): 297-323, 299. Anthony Grafton notes that “Connoisseurship became almost as central a skill of the educated young man as Latin eloquence,” in his chapter on “The New Science and the Traditions of Humanism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996): 203-23, 214. 

[11] Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park demonstrate that during the medieval period, wonder was increasingly perceived in terms of disdain and in opposition to knowledge or wisdom. They point specifically to the Quasestiones naturals of Adelard of Bath (fl. 1116-42) and to Roger Bacon’s two expositions of Aristotle’s Metaphysics – both writers associate wonder with ignorance, and Bacon adds to this by connecting wonder with fear. See Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998), 109-112. Aristotle saw wonder as the first step on the path to knowledge (Metaphysics, 1.2.982b-983a), but as T. G. Bishop has argued, the theory leaves open the possibility that “in the very transition from wonder to knowledge … the philosopher might meet with disaster,” Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), 27.  

[12] Bacon’s “Of Masques and Triumphs” gestures toward that process of justification in its recommendation that princes, not ready to give up such “toys”, should at least ensure that they are “graced with elegancy [rather] than daubed with cost,” Francis Bacon: The Major Works, ed. Brian Vickers (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), 416.

[13] On the movement from “contentment with English abundance to foreign superfluity” and thus a dependence on imported luxuries, see Joshua Scodel’s Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2002), 97-8. Scodel notes Drayton’s particular reference to the London merchants “long train’d up in Gayn’s deceitfull schoole” who convince fools to purchase foreign “trash” at great cost, see Poly-Olbion (1612), 16.348-58.

[14] See Conversations, 567-68, references to the Conversations, and to Jonson’s poetry and prose are taken from Ben Jonson, ed. Ian Donaldson (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985). David Riggs explains the significance of the impresa in chapter ten of his biography of Jonson, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989).

[15] Thomas M. Greene, “Ben Jonson and the Centered Self,” SEL 10.2 (1970): 325-48, 326; see also the epilogue to L. A. Beaurline’s Jonson and Elizabethan Comedy: Essays in Dramatic Rhetoric (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1978).

[16] The Roman tradition of representing luxury as a transforming principle filtered into the Christian tradition, which we can see in Prudentius’ Psychomachia where luxury emasculates soldiers to a state of self-forgetting (382) epitomised by their binding of manly hair in “gilded turban[s]” and their donning of “flowing robes of silk” on their “enfeebled frames” (364-65), Prudentius, trans. H. J. Thomson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1949).

[17] Antonio Correr to the Doge and Senate of Venice, 6 May 1609, Calendar of State Papers Venice, Volume Eleven, 1607-1610, ed. H. F. Brown (1904), 269.

[18] On the association of luxury and the theatre, see Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 6.21.1 and Augustine, City of God, 1.31. William Prynne specifically warns in Histro-Mastix (1.6.7) that the “consequent or effect of Stage-playes, is luxury, drunkennesse, and excesse: From whence this Argument may be raysed”, ed. Arthur Freeman (New York: Garland, 1974), 508.  

[19] The “fayre front” of the building appears to have become the subject of jokes about the Exchange’s lack of profitability only a few years later, as Pasquil’s Palinodia suggests. On temporality and vanity in the still-life, see Simon Schama’s “Perishable Commodities: Dutch Still-Life Painting and ‘the empire of things’,” Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. John Brewer and Roy Porter (London: Routledge, 1993): 478-88.

[20] Psychomachia, lines 311-22. See also Spenser’s Faerie Queene 2.12 where Verdant undergoes a near-complete transformation into an irascible beast which is conceived as a misspending of the self in “wastfull luxuree” (80.7). References are to A. C. Hamilton’s edition (Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001), see also my forthcoming article, “Toward a Re-evaluation of the Bower of Bliss: The Taxonomy of Luxury in The Faerie Queene, Book Two,” Explorations in Renaissance Culture (2007).  

[21] Historically, that faultline has been understood to occur a century later with the publication of John Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vice, Public Benefit. This article is part of a larger cultural history of luxury in the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth- centuries that demonstrates that a change in the social, religious, and economic understanding of luxury was already underway at this time. The idea that luxury consumption might be beneficial to the state is advanced, for example, in the tract “Observations touching Trade and Commerce with the Hollandes &c.” (presented to James I in the early seventeenth century and often attributed to Sir Walter Ralegh); it is thus likely that Jonson’s audience would have perceived Cecil’s trade in exotica and the potential for luxury consumption at the Exchange in mixed ways. As Linda Levy Peck observes in her grand historical study of luxury consumption, the emergence of luxury retail shopping begun much earlier in history than has previously been assumed and belongs to the renaissance and not to the eighteenth century. See Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005), especially 45-61.

[22] The house of pride is described as a “goodly building, brauely garnished” (1.4.2) and as a “stately Pallace … whose walls were high, but nothing strong, nor thick” (1.4.4); it is full of “goodly galleries … of faire windowes, and delightful bowres”, and, it is topped with “a Diall” which functions as an emblem of its own temporality (1.4.4). See also Quarles’ Emblemes (1635) 2.6 and Wither’s Collection of Emblems: Ancient and Modern (1585) 2.36.

[23] The Shop Boy’s language makes the goods less wonderful, but in addition, some of the goods he lists, such as the ostrich eggs, were actually already commonplace in early modern collections of curios and relatively widely available to consumers (Daston and Park, 69). Dillon notes that “the Master’s speech undercuts the list-form of the Shop Boy’s harangue, exposing it as vulgar and excessive,” (119) though she does not connect this with the distinction between the goods of the exchange and the trash sold elsewhere.

[24] Commenting on Craig Muldrew’s argument that credit was largely conceived in terms of trust in the seventeenth century, Baker suggests that when exchange partners did not necessarily know that the person with whom they were dealing was credible, the basis of credit was thrown into question (164). See also Muldrew’s The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (New York: St. Martins, 1998), 3.

[25] Ingvar Bergström, Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century, trans. Christina Hedström & Gerald Taylor (London: Faber & Faber, 1956), 156. Bergström relates the moralizing power of the Vanitas to that of the emblem, reproducing several emblems reflecting on the ease with which a fool can be parted from his money by nothing more than novelty and curiosity (155, 157). John Manning, The Emblem (London: Reaktion, 2002, 248).

[26] Bergström notes that the painters of Vanitas paintings were frequently accused of tempting “people to gluttony and an extravagant life” (190).

[27] Cecil was renowned as a collector of china goods, among other luxury objects. Susan Bracken notes that Cecil owned “a large number of objects designated [in inventories] by the term ‘chyna’, the majority at Salisbury House”, “Robert Cecil as Art Collector,” Patronage, Culture and Power: The Early Cecils, 1558-1612 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002): 121-37, 131; and James Knowles notes that that the inventory for Hatfield House in 1612 included 65 porcelain pieces, “Cecil’s Shopping Centre,” Times Literary Supplement 7 February 1997: 14-15, 15. King James had been so desirous of Theobalds that Cecil was obliged to gift it to him. On the allurement of Theobalds and the politics of Cecil’s space see James M. Sutton, Materialising Space at an Early Modern Prodigy House. The Cecils at Theobalds (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

[28] Wilson refers to the china shop as “the place of show” in his letter to Cecil, reprinted from Hatfield MSS 195/100 in Historical Manuscripts Commission, Salisbury, 1609-12 (London, 1970), 21.37.

[29] See Antonio Correr to the Doge and Senate of Venice, 6 May 1609, Calendar of State Papers Venice, Volume Eleven, 1607-1610, ed. H. F. Brown (1904), 269.

[30] “Jonson’s Early Entertainments: New Information from Hatfield House,” Renaissance Drama n.s. 1 (1968): 153-66, 158.

[31] The characterisation of Mammon in The Alchemist obviously exploits the idea that luxury goods are both desirable and ridiculous, but Busy’s “conversion” in Bartholemew Fair, from puritanical preacher (3.2.34-43) against the fair’s vanities (3.2.82) to a “beholder” of their delights (5.5.104) encapsulates the paradox most effectively. References are to The Alchemist and Other Plays, ed. Gordon Campbell (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.

[32] My argument here is influenced by Ian Munro’s reading of the profusion of mirrors in Heywood’s pageant Londons Mirror (1637), which he sees as enacting the “impossibility of capturing the city in one frame,” The Figure of the Crowd in Early Modern London: The City and its Double (London: Palgrave, 2005), 73.

[33] Jean Howard examines “the concept of genre as a way to think about how texts both bear the mark of the larger culture in which they were produced and also participate in broader forms of social struggle and transformation” in “Competing Ideologies of Commerce in Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody, Part II,” The Culture of Capital: Property, Cities, and Knowledge in Early Modern England, ed. Henry S. Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002), esp. 163-65.   

[34] At lines 88-92, the Shop Master encourages the audience to “Examine but some parcel <s> of the particulars, and runne over the rest, vpon the full speede of your eye.”

[35] As Bacon elucidates in The New Organon (Book 1.70), knowledge of signs and an explanation of the causes of things removes the marvel and makes them appear less incredible, essentially purging the idols from the understanding and advancing, therefore, the discovery of truth. Marjorie Swann notes that “in early modern England, wonder was aroused by things so strange that they defied rational understanding” and substantiates her argument with reference to Greenblatt’s observations that the object that arouses wonder “is so new that for a moment at least, it is alone, unsystematized, an utterly detached object of rapt attention” Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1992), 20. Majorie Swann, Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: Univ. Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 25.

[36] Daston and Park note that contemporary catalogues and treatises on cabinets of curiosity, which often included recommendations on how to behave when examining such cabinets, warned potential visitors to be careful not to admire things that weren’t particularly rare because they would make themselves look ridiculous (266).

[37] Greenblatt examines Albertus Magnus’ Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, which speaks of wonder as a state of not yet knowing, impelling the movement of finding out (81). 

[38] Greenblatt reads Columbus’ rhetorical “production of wonder”, as the “evocation of an aesthetic response in the service of a legitimation process” (74); Jonson seems to evoke that response in order to serve Cecil’s legitimising end while at the same time pointing to the problem of authenticity and thus creating anxiety about that process of legitimation.

[39] Barbara M. Benedict argues that curiosity is often satirized as fraudulent and that fraud is “located in the virtuosi’s habit of inventing value …satires suggest that the pursuit of things interferes with the pursuit of knowledge”, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2001), 51-2.

[40] See “To My Bookseller” (Donaldson, 222-23).

[41] As Richard Dutton notes, Jonson perceived that the “profit” of poetry was the promotion of “knowledge”, by which he meant, “not an accumulation of information […but] the faculty of discrimination itself, ‘the trying faculty’ as he calls it in ‘To the Reader in Ordinary’ prefacing Catiline, where it distinguishes men from lesser beings,” Ben Jonson: Authority, Critcism, (London: Macmillan, 1998), 137.

[42] See Knowles, Entertainment at Britain’s Burse, 145, and Baker, 174.

[43] The Wisedome of the Ancients (New York: Da Capo Press, 1968).

[44] The theme of wealth inducing a burdensome fear of loss was commonplace, see for example, Alciato’s emblem on avarice which uses Tantalus to demonstrate that greedy men are unable to enjoy what they have, and the Faerie Queene, 2.7.25 where “self-consuming care” guards Mammon’s treasure.

[45] Marjorie Swann, “Refashioning Society in Ben Jonson’s Epicoene,” 309.

[46] See Orgel’s introduction to The Key Keeper, xii.

[47] Valerius Terminus, Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. Spedding et al. (London: Longman, 1857-1959), 3.218.

[48] See Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park’s comprehensive history of wonder, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750, 1998), 13. William Schupbach outlines contemporary arguments surrounding cabinets of curiosities in “Some Cabinets of Curiosity in European Academic Institutions,” in The Origins of Museums: the Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth and Seventeenth- Century Europe , ed. Oliver Impey and Arthur MacGregor, 177-78. Marjorie Swann observes that “in early modern England, wonder was aroused by things so strange that they defied rational understanding”, Curiosities and Texts, 25.

[49] Spenser’s house of pride is thus amazing and disarming but also inherently fraudulent, appearing to the onlooker who perceives it via the senses as something other than what it truly is, Faerie Queene, 1.4.4-5.  

[50] Such “cabinets” were in fact usually entire rooms given over to the display of marvelous objects. Upon his visit to see the curiosity cabinet of Walter Cope, for instance, Thomas Platter recounted being “led into an apartment, stuffed with queer foreign objects in every corner”, Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, trans. Clare Williams (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), 171.

[51] As Diana Parikian has noted, the wunderkammer was intended to be “a microcosm of the three kingdoms of nature (animal, vegetable, and mineral) and also a summary of human knowledge, a combination of naturalia and artificalia which could be gathered together in one collection of objects to demonstrate how all matter fitted together in the cosmology,” From Wunderkammer to Museum (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1984), 4.

[52] On the association of bubbles with the idea of vanitas see Manning, 144.

[53] As Steven Mullaney has observed, the theatre was also imagined in terms of indulgence or incontinence, particularly because it erased boundaries between reality and play and because it represented a space in which moral and physical decay could thrive, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Michigan: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1988), 49-50.

[54] Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, 172

[55] James expressed the desire for a flying squirrel according to a letter written by the Earl of Southampton to the Earl of Salisbury, see Swann, Curiosities and Texts, 23.

[56] The Cultures of Collecting: From Elvis to Antiques – Why Do We Collect Things?, ed. John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (Melbourne: Melbourne Univ. Press, 1994): 7-24, 8.

[57] Benedict notes that collectors “symbolically possess transcendent knowledge” (17); Paula Findlen suggests that a collection “was one means by which a prince or a merchant might proclaim his ability to command the world” Merchants and Marvels, 300. On the necessary copiousness of collections of curiosities and the early modern drive toward increasingly larger and more spectacular collections, see Daston and Park, 273-6.

[58] Pasquil’s Palinodia speculates that the Exchange was not as successful as expected in part because it its design withdrew shops “out of sight” and kept them within the building (8-9). Linda Levy Peck notes, however, that leases on the upper and interior shops were much higher than those for the lower and exterior shops, indicating that the New Exchange redesigned the retail experience and took the public sphere so that “[S]hopping was at once private and seductive, and public and on display” [51-2].

[59] The familiar example is of course To Penshurst which his fashioned in opposition to the “proud, ambitious heaps” that one might associate with the fair fronted Burse.