Merchants, Moneylenders and a Mad Man: Shakespeare and Cervantes Survey the Moral Landscape in a Global Culture of Commodities

By Thomas Sorger.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Globalization! Conflict with the Islamic world! The period, of course, is the 1570’s and the conflict is the war between the Catholic Holy League and the Ottoman Empire. In the Battle of Lepanto, Miguel de Cervantes was one of 30 thousand Catholic soldiers wounded or killed, while inflicting a similar number of casualties upon the Muslims. Twenty-five years earlier, Henry VIII had lifted the age-old Catholic ban on usury, opening the door for the private investment in overseas trade, which would allow London to overtake Venice as the world’s commercial capital. While historians recorded the outward clash of civilizations, Shakespeare and Cervantes explored the internal societal contradictions created by the influx of foreign capital: the values of Belmont versus the values of the Rialto in the Merchant of Venice (the only play Shakespeare named after an occupation) and Spain’s futile attempt to create a closed society with a uniform set of beliefs while attempting to compete in a global economic free-for-all. Their deep insight into the moral implications of capitalism continues to resonate today.

Keywords: Globalization, Catholic Church, Capitalism, Usury, Commodification, Shylock, Don Quixote, Merchant of Venice, Social Justice

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp.93-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 780.291KB).

Dr. Thomas Sorger

Professor, College of Arts & Sciences, Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA

While trained in the sciences, I have lectured on and written about several interdisciplinary themes, in particular how fundamental ideas of physics (time, space, change) are addressed in class works of western literature. One of my essays, “The Metaphysics of King Lear”, was published in 2009.


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