The Work of Writing: Contextual Economies from Petrarch to Shakespeare

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Part two of our interview with William J. Kennedy, author of Petrarchism at Work: Contextual Economies in the Age of Shakespeare. Read part one here.

Sage House: When you first talked to us about the economic perspective of your book, you mentioned your children, who are young adults making their way in the world, as an inspiration. Can you talk more about that?

William Kennedy: Going back to my adult offspring, our son was trying to mount a career as a musician [in the late 2000s]. Concurrently, our daughter had finished her law degree and was working in the not-for-profit sector [when the Great Recession of 2008–2009 hit]. It was an education for both of them to try to get themselves on their feet. So the experience of our adult children, and certainly the wider experience of economic crisis, got me thinking about these economic questions.


Just wage and inequality, distributive justice, commutative justice: these are all key tenets of moral philosophy in the late middle ages and early modern period.


SH: So you kind of experienced the recession most vividly through your children’s hardship, and these issues came to the fore of your mind at that time. Was this book inspired directly by that?

WK: That’s why I’m calling it a contextual economy. Medieval economics is not systematic economics as we know it now. It’s really a branch of moral philosophy. Continue reading “The Work of Writing: Contextual Economies from Petrarch to Shakespeare”

The Work of Writing: Contextual Economies from Petrarch to Shakespeare

Petrarchism at Work: A Two-part Interview with William J. Kennedy

WJK3-final.pngWilliam J. Kennedy is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. His most recent book, Petrarchism at Work: Contextual Economies in the Age of Shakespeare, is newly published by Cornell University Press. In part one of the interview, we discuss the role of revision in the work of Petrarch and Ronsard and its contrality to Kennedy’s study of “contextual economies.”

80140100363330LSage House: You argue that print technology was a game-changing innovation in the European Renaissance. If print was the disruptive technology of the time, how did poets such as Shakespeare and Ronsard deploy it to disrupt the system?

William Kennedy: People didn’t know what to do with print—the emerging technology of the time—just as I don’t know what to do with Twitter! It wasn’t at all intuitive for a sixteenth-century poet to want to get his poems into print. Poetry was regarded as live entertainment; poets would read their work aloud, sometimes people would copy it down, and sometimes poets would distribute their manuscripts to others to copy and pass on, but without any thought of print publication. Print as a technology was seen as having technical usages in disseminating information. Early printed books tended to favor self-help topics: “how-to” agricultural handbooks, merchant handbooks. Continue reading “Petrarchism at Work: A Two-part Interview with William J. Kennedy”

Petrarchism at Work: A Two-part Interview with William J. Kennedy