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Louise Owen

Money’s futurity

What role does contemporary theatre play in shaping cultural understandings of money as a trans-historical given? This paper seeks to respond to this question through an analysis of two contemporary productions of Shakespearean dramas that each grapple with money in different ways – The Merchant of Venice (Almeida 2014) and Timon of Athens (National Theatre 2012). In terms of the working group theme, the discussion departs from the point that futurity and performativity are intrinsic to the functioning of money. In The Nature of Money (2004), Geoffrey Ingham argues that “[r]egardless of any form it might take, money is essentially a provisional ‘promise’ to pay, whose ‘moneyness’, as an ‘institutional fact’, is assigned by a description conferred by an abstract money of account”. [1] In this respect, as Michal Kobialka proposes, following Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s argument concerning exchange, “abstraction is produced by the fundamental operation of capitalist society”. [2] Kobialka makes this claim as part of a wider discussion of the uses of representation in normalising capitalist culture in the eighteenth century, in which the historically contingent phenomena of trade, debt and credit come to be rearticulated pragmatically and endowed with the status of “pure or universal concepts or equivalences”. [3] In terms of this paper’s own case studies, I ask how the settings chosen for these productions – the one, late twentieth century Las Vegas, and the other, London struck by the financial crisis – serve to universalise the nature and social function of money. And on this basis, I consider how the productions’ representational choices construct social life and identity.

[1] Geoffrey Ingham, The Nature of Money (Cambridge: Polity Press 2004), p. 12.
[2] Michal Kobialka, ‘Representational Practices and Real Abstractions’, in Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations, eds. Lara D. Nielsen and Patricia Ybarra (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2012), pp. 161-175 (p. 166).
[3] Michal Kobialka, p. 164.

Louise Owen works as a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research examines contemporary theatre and performance in terms of economic change and modes of governance. Her writing has been published in various edited collections and in the journals Performance Research, frakcija, Contemporary Theatre Review, and TDR. She co-convenes the London Theatre Seminar and is co-director of the Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre.