How the One Percent Came to Rule the World: Shakespeare, Long-Term Historical Narrative, and the Origins of Capitalism
This essay argues that it is time to resurrect the one sweeping historical narrative that connects us to the early modern period in a way that can serve an ethical, political purpose today. Shakespeare wrote when capitalism first emerged, and now we read Shakespeare when capitalism has gone global. For current practice in interpreting and teaching Shakespeare to find correspondence with the contemporary struggle against the 1 percent, we can focus on our linkage to Shakespeare’s time through the continuous history of capitalism’s expansion. The story of how capitalism and its class system began in Shakespeare’s day is part of the much bigger story of which all are a part as citizens of a neoliberal world system. The essay looks briefly at The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest to see how they offer, from our current, postmodern perspective, intimations of the long history leading to our current situation—when more than half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1 percent of the population and only eight multi-billionaires possess the same amount of wealth as the world’s poorest half.