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Prodigality, Avarice and Anger

Passions and Emotions at the Heart of the Encounter between Aristocratic Economy and Market Economy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 July 2018

Laurence Fontaine
Affiliation:
CMH-CNRS-ENS-EHESS, Paris [laurence.fontaine@ehess.fr]
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Abstract

In a status society, such as early modern Europe, the development of the market economy threatened social hierarchies. At a time when religion was the source of power, priests and warriors strove to protect themselves from what was a foreseeable attack going to the very root of their domination, which was jeopardized by the potentialities of the capitalist economy. They therefore developed religious, legal and moral tools to counter capital accumulation and interest-bearing loans in order to break the motor of capitalism. Avarice, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and usury, which was punished by excommunication, were the moral weapons used to exclude those from the community who hoarded money or who charged, however little, interest on loans. But whereas greed, the disease of market exchange, was considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins, prodigality, which lies at the heart of aristocratic exchange, was considered one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues. Contemporary theatre, with its misers and spendthrifts, is a perfect place to hear echoes of the struggles between the antagonistic values in society, and to follow the way in which individuals reacted to the conflicts that these struggles provoked.

The essay is based on literary works reflecting behaviors that could also be echoed in judicial archives and in texts from writers of the time. It analyses plays from Shakespeare (Timon of Athens, The Merchant of Venice), Ben Jonson (Volpone) and Molière (The Miser).

Résumé

Dans une société à statut comme l’était l’Europe préindustrielle, le développement du marché menaçait les hiérarchies sociales. Alors que la religion était la source du pouvoir, prêtres et guerriers ont cherché à se protéger des attaques prévisibles contre les fondements de leur société menacés par les potentialités de l’économie capitaliste. Ils ont alors développé des instruments religieux, légaux et moraux pour contrer l’accumulation du capital et le prêt à intérêt dans le but de briser le moteur du capitalisme. L’avarice, l’un des sept péchés capitaux et l’usure, qui était punie d’excommunication, furent les armes morales destinées à exclure de la communauté ceux qui thésaurisaient ou qui demandaient un intérêt, si petit soit-il, sur les prêts. Mais alors que l’avarice, la maladie de l’échange marchand, était l’un des sept péchés capitaux, la prodigalité, qui était au cœur de l’échange aristocratique, était l’une des sept vertus.

Le théâtre, avec ses avares et ses prodigues, est un lieu parfait pour entendre les échos de la lutte entre ces valeurs antagonistes de la société et pour suivre comment les individus réagissaient aux conflits provoqués par ces luttes. L’article est fondé sur des œuvres littéraires qui décrivent des conduites que l’on retrouve dans les archives judiciaires et dans d’autres textes de l’époque. Il analyse des pièces de théâtre de Shakespeare (Timon d’Athènes, Le Marchand de Venise), Ben Jonson (Volpone) et Molière (L’Avare).

Zusammenfassung

Im vorindustriellen Europa stellte die Marktentwicklung eine Bedrohung für die sozialen Hierarchien der Standesgesellschaft dar. Über die Machtquelle Religion verteidigten Priester und Krieger ihre Vormachtstellung, die von der kapitalistischen Wirtschaft angegriffen wurde. Sie schufen religiöse, rechtliche und moralische Instrumente, um Kapitalanhäufung und Wucher zu kontern, mit dem Ziel, den Motor des Kapitalismus zu zerstören. Der Geiz, eine der sieben Kapitalsünden, sowie der Wucher, auf den Exkommunizierung stand, wurden zu moralischen Waffen, die jene aus der Gemeinschaft ausschlossen, die Geld anhäuften oder Zinsen erhoben, seien sie noch so gering. Während der Geiz, die Geisel des Handels, zu den sieben Hauptsünden zählte, stellte die Verschwendungssucht, Kernstück des aristokratischen Handels, eine der sieben Tugenden dar.

Mit seinen Geizhälsen und Verschwendern bildet das Theater einen idealen Ort, um mehr über die Kämpfe zwischen diesen antagonistischen Gesellschaftswerten zu erfahren und um zu verfolgen, wie einzelne Personen auf die durch diese Kämpfe hervorgerufenen Konflikte reagierten. Dieser Beitrag stützt sich auf literarische Werke, die dank juristischer Archive und anderer zeitgenössischer Texte die Verhaltensweisen beschreiben. Hier besonders Theaterstücke von Shakespeare (“Timon aus Athen”, “Der Händler von Venedig”), Bon Johnson (“Volpone”) und Molière (“Der Geizige”).

Type
On the Historical Sociology of Morality
Copyright
Copyright © A.E.S. 2018 

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