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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
Re: Caesar's Will
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0811  Tuesday, 8 September 1998.

[1]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Sep 1998 10:11:26 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

[2]     From:   Hugh Grady <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Sep 1998 11:04:36 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

[3]     From:   Lois D. Potter <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Sep 1998 11:37:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

[4]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Sep 1998 10:16:54 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

[5]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Sep 1998 13:17:38 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

[6]     From:   Stanley Wells <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Sep 1998 12:26:57 +0000
        Subj:   Money


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Sep 1998 10:11:26 -0400
Subject: 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

>A friend of mine told me that the only reasonable way to compare
>currencies throughout the centuries was the price of eggs: so far, an
>egg seems to be and to have been  worth  what it is.
>
>How many eggs are there in one Dramcha? How many in a Talent? And where
>can we find a list of egg  prices throughout the last two or three
>millenia?

Of course, you're right; there usually isn't consistent information
about prices.  If I had to pick an item to measure currency by, it would
probably be the loaf of bread (and I know I'm not alone in this).
There's usually some information about bread left by almost every
literate society. The problem is that bread (or grain) prices are often
artificially regulated to avoid famine and riots.

Another way to measure currency is by its worth in precious
metals-silver or gold.  I think you'll find that a talent is worth a
specified weight in silver.  The problem is that bullion prices, too,
fluctuate and therefore sometimes diverge from circulating currency, not
to mention the difference in gold and silver prices (bimetalism).

So is currency worth its politically fixed price?--or its value in other
currencies?--or its worth in metals? --or what it will buy?  Seems to me
that this is not only relevant to us as cultural historians, but also
what is happening in Russia right now.

Melissa D.  Aaron
University of Michigan

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hugh Grady <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Sep 1998 11:04:36 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

Re: the value of the talent.

From my days editing criticism on 'Timon of Athens' for the Gale Press
'Shakespearean Criticism,' I recall two informative article on the value
of the talent (and Shakespeare's possibly changing views of the same):
Terence Spencer, 'Shakespeare Learns the Value of Money: The Dramatist
at Work on TA." Shakespeare Survey 6 (1953; and a rebuttal, Lewis
Walker, "Money in TA," Philological Quarterly 57, 2 (Spring 1978):
269-71.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lois D. Potter <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Sep 1998 11:37:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

The most useful book for anyone puzzling over talents, drachmas, etc.,
is Sandra K. Fischer's _Econolingua: a Glossary of Coins and Economic
Language in Renaissance Drama_ (Newark, DE: U of Delaware Press; London
and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985).  Besides providing a
glossary that explains not only the most obvious financial terms but
also words with financial double meanings, it reprints documents giving
hard evidence about the value of money in the period.

Unfortunately, this admirable reference book is out of print, another
casualty of the small-print-run policy of so many academic publishers. I
strongly recommend that everyone write to the AUP: if enough people try
to order copies, maybe they'll put it back into print.  The US address
is 440 Forsgate Drive, Cranbury, NJ 08512; in London, 16 Barter St.,
London WC1A 2AH.

Lois Potter
University of Delaware

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Sep 1998 10:16:54 -0700
Subject: 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

> Page 977: ... bicaufe Caefar had by will bequeathed vnto the people of
> ROME, three fcore and fifteene filuer Drachmas to be giuen to euery man
> ...
>
> Intriguingly, Shakespeare figured his math here correctly. Which
> somewhat puts the lie to those who think his "three and thirty" simply a
> misread of "three and twenty" and its marginal gloss "Caesar slaine and
> had 23 wounds upon him" (794).

> Steve

> > In his will, Julius Caesar left "every several man, seventy-five
> > drachmas."  Does anybody on the list know how much that is, a day's
> > labor, a week's?

Shakespeare's sources are themselves a never-ending source of
questions.  Since he seemed to be privy to so many things that one would
think beyond his reach, he may have also been privy to a work by the
renowned Cambridge Greek scholar, Principle Secretary under Edward VI,
and Ambassador to France, Sir Thomas Smith, who wrote, in 1562, an
in-depth treatise on the wages paid to a Roman foot-soldier. Smith was
steeped in ancient history, and the topic of coinage was of utmost
importance to him in his role as advisor to the Crown. Several
manuscript versions have survived in collections, but it was not
published until recently.

Post me privately if interested in how Shakespeare might have known of
this manuscript.

Stephanie Hughes

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Sep 1998 13:17:38 -0700
Subject: 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0805  Re: Caesar's Will

On the subject of currency conversions, you may be interested to know
that the definitive study seems to have been undertaken by Phelps Brown
and Hopkins, and published in Economica, volume 23, 1955.  A very useful
chart is reproduced in C. S. L. Davies, "Peace, Print and
Protestantism," which is also where I got the citation.

This work was based on purchasing power parity (PPP), in which the cost
of a supposedly balanced basket of consumer goods is compared between
countries or over a period of time, and sometimes plotted against
average income to determine the changing purchasing power of a London
artisan from 1265 to 1954, to use the example above, in which the great
depression appears as a significant but brief dip, and the 1590s as a
deep trench.

A somewhat more tongue-in-cheek effort in this direction is provided by
The Economist Newspaper's "Big Mac Index," measuring the relative
purchasing power of world currencies against something really
standard-i.e., a hamburger by a multinational fast-food chain.  There's
a link to this index from The Economist's home page
(www.economist.com).  Oh, and by the way, it consistently shows the
Canadian dollar undervalued.  Better start ordering stuff from Poor
Yorick's!

Cheers,
Sean

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stanley Wells <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Sep 1998 12:26:57 +0000
Subject:        Money

There's a useful little book called 'Econolingua: A Glossary of Coins
and Economic Language in Renaissance Drama' by Sandra K. Fisher (Newark,
N. J., 1985). And the French Shakespeare Society published a volume of
conference papers- some in English -  on 'Shakespeare et l'Argent'
(paris, 1993.)

Stanley Wells
 

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