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The Corporate Commonwealth

Pluralism and Political Fictions in England, 1516-1651

The Corporate Commonwealth traces the evolution of corporations during the English Renaissance and explores the many types of corporations that once flourished. Along the way, the book offers important insights into our own definitions of fiction, politics, and value.    

Henry S. Turner uses the resources of economic and political history, literary analysis, and political philosophy to demonstrate how a number of English institutions with corporate associations—including universities, guilds, towns and cities, and religious groups—were gradually narrowed to the commercial, for-profit corporation we know today, and how the joint-stock corporation, in turn, became both a template for the modern state and a political force that the state could no longer contain. Through innovative readings of works by Thomas More, William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes, among others, Turner tracks the corporation from the courts to the stage, from commonwealth to colony, and from the object of utopian fiction to the subject of tragic violence. A provocative look at the corporation’s peculiar character as both an institution and a person, The Corporate Commonwealth uses the past to suggest ways in which today’s corporations might be refashioned into a source of progressive and collective public action.

344 pages | 8 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

History: British and Irish History

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"There is much in this book to ponder and Turner calls our attention to how words and concepts change over time, while also demonstrating how important it is to understand the constituent historical elements contributing to this process. . .Turner has produced a fascinating study, even manifesto, for our times."

The Sixteenth Century Journal

“This is a major book by a major scholar. Turner takes up the corporate concept as an artifact of law, science, and literature and studies its transformations and deep impact in the early modern period with an eye to the continued prevalence of corporate thinking and corporate functions today. Breathtakingly ambitious, The Corporate Commonwealth addresses a huge spectrum of English intellectual history with great learning and insight and reminds us that corporations and corporate-like forms take many shapes. A must-read.”

Julia Reinhard Lupton, author of Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life

The Corporate Commonwealth is an excellent work, one that stands in a present moment that has seen a tremendous increase in the power and scope of corporate forms. Turner devotes extraordinarily careful and nuanced attention to the relationship between individuals and collectivities in the century and a half between More’s Utopia and Hobbes’s Leviathan. This book is truly exhilarating in the way that it makes familiar texts seem fresh and new.”

John O’Brien, author of Literature Incorporated: The Cultural Unconscious of the Business Corporation, 1650–1850

"A magisterial work and significant contribution to what could be described as the New Politicism in Shakespeare studies."

Renaissance Quarterly

Table of Contents

List of Figures

1    Corporation as Common Constitution
    What Is a Corporation?
    Persona Ficta
    Pluralism, Corporations, and the State
    Toward a Compositional Ontology of Corporations

2    The Political Economy of Sir Thomas Smith
    A New Philosophy of Value
    The Society of Commonwealth
    The Law of Commonwealth

3    Richard Hooker’s Corporate Christians
    Discipline as Constitution: Calvin in Geneva
    The Nature of the Ecclesiastical Polity
    The Corporate Personality of the Society Supernatural
    The King’s Two Publics
    From the Laws to Leviathan: Temporalities of the Corporation

4    The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Corporation
    “Fine, Try Out, Alter, Change, Reduce, Turn and Transmute”: Smith’s Society of the New Art
    Planting the Commonwealth: Smith’s Ulster Project
    “To Buy, Sel, Truck, Change and Permute al”: Hakluyt’s Corporate Imaginary
    In a Joint and Corporate Voice
    Translating Value
    Free Liberty, Power, and Authority; or . . .

5    Dekker and Company
    The Companies and Their Art    
    Sharing the Company    
    Dekker’s Corporate Theater: The Shoemaker’s Holiday
    The Character of the Corporate Person

6    Shakespeare’s Thing of Nothing
    Shares, Parts, and Personation: Hamlet
    Incorporate in Rome: Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar
    The Plague of Company in the Body o’th’ Weal: Timon of Athens and Coriolanus

7    Francis Bacon’s Political Ecology
    Collecting the Notion    
    Common Forms: Axioms and Words
    Incorporate Form and Corporate Spirit
    The Politics of Nature    
    The State of Nature: New Atlantis

8    Leviathan, Incorporated
    Persons Natural, Artificial, and Fictional
    Persons Mechanical, Theatrical, and Real

Coda    Universitas, 1216–2016



SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 & Rice University: Elizabeth Dietz Memorial Award

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