Marketing luxury at the new exchange: Jonson's "Entertainment at Britain's Burse" and the rhetoric of wonder

Alison Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently rediscovered by James Knowles, "The Entertainment at Britain's Burse" is generally considered to be an anomaly, a text designed both to entertain royalty and to praise trade. The work of Janette Dillon and, more recently, of David Baker, however, has suggested the broader significance of Jonson's text, and has demonstrated its interplay with important and culturally shifting concepts of the period, particularly those connected with consumption, exchange, and foreign trade. Advancing from those readings, this article offers a reassessment of The Entertainment at Britain's Burse, examining it as an integral but problematic part of Robert Cecil's rather defensive marketing of the New Exchange as a refined centre of luxury; highlighting, therefore, the tensions and ambiguities implicit in the text's "praise" of Cecil and his new venture. Significantly, the article argues that, in its loaded use of the language of discovery and wonder, in its representation of the Shop Master as a Cecilian figure, and in its evocation of the satirical perspective of Jonson's city comedies, Jonson's entertainment undermines Cecil's strategic fashioning of the centre as a place where all is given not for money but for love, at the same time as it duly celebrates the occasion of the king's visit to name the newly completed Exchange. Moreover, the article suggests that this multiplying of perspective is achieved via a play on the paradox of luxury as symbolic of both magnificence and vulgarity, and by a complex, simultaneous stimulating and censuring of the spectator's/potential consumer's acquisitive desire for valuable trifles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEarly modern literary studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Robert Cecil


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