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Affective Economies. Languages of Emotion in Shakespeare

This project analyses the influences of economic paradigms on the representation of the passions in early modern English drama. It mainly focuses on the concept of "esteem" and its ethical, economic and emotive implications.

Project No. G 201

Kathrin Bethke

In a both epistemological and metaphorological perspective this project analyses the influence of economic paradigms and debates on the representation and conceptualization of the passions in early 17th Century English Drama. Its particular focus is on the plays of William Shakespeare, but contemporaries such as John Webster and George Chapman are considered too. In their work the both ethical and economic concept of "value" becomes an important regulating principle in social and intersubjective communication. Distinct emotions, such as pride, envy and admiration, are represented as instances of evaluation that implicate and reveal bothmoral and monetary value systems. But above all the project concentrates on the concept of "esteem", which undergoes a semantic shift during the 17th century: According to René Descartes' "Des passions de l’âme" an act of estimation does not only imply a moral judgment or an economic calculation but also an intuitive evaluation of a person or a commodity that resembles the appraisal-process of current cognitive psychology. The integration of "estime" into a prominent passion catalogue implies the psychological phantasm that value - and valuelessness - are no longer subject to reasoning and calculation, but can also somehow be "felt".

This dissertation project attempts to reconstruct the epistemological constellation that generated the phantasm of "esteem" as "value feeling". It thereby tries to re-evaluate a so far underestimated aspect of early modern literary psychology that up until today informs and influences our conceptualizations of affective phenomena.


Literary studies


Prof. Dr. Winfried Menninghaus

Prof. Dr. Andrew James Johnston