'Every Thing is Sold': The Degrading Intrusiveness of Commerce, with particular reference to Shelley’s Queen Mab, Canto V.
Alan M Weinberg.
Whilst originating many centuries ago, assuredly in a very primitive form, commercial enterprise has, it would seem, gradually seeped into the very fabric of everyday life, such that it is now a moot point whether any human activity, no matter how elevated, is free of some material advantage or benefit, and therefore genuinely disinterested.
It is that sense of the growing intrusiveness of commerce – of what he considered to be ‘venal interchange’ - that the poet Shelley, as early as 1810-1 (when he was but 18 years old) seems to lament in Canto V of Queen Mab, registering prophetically what might be considered the central dilemma of our time: the commodification of life itself (hence ‘Every thing is sold’). Shelley brings to consciousness the now all too familiar idea that the planet is one big market place (global village), where everything we do has a price, and (more sadly) is valued according to the price (and not its intrinsic worth, if indeed, such there be).
While it may be hopelessly fastidious to resist every influence of commerce where it is life-sustaining – in, for example, the acquisition of basic commodities - it would seem that once commerce invades the natural world, the home and privacy, it has already undermined human relations and the possibility of personal agency, having therefore increasingly the capacity to degrade the ‘sacred’, non-mechanistic areas of life, which, one would like to believe, have no price, and are simply not marketable.
Alan M Weinberg (South Africa)
Lecturer in English
Department of English
University of South Africa
Prof Alan Weinberg is a lecturer in the Dept of English, University of South Africa. He has specialized in Romantic literature and especially in the field of Shelley studies. Religious and political concerns are fundamental to his interest in Shelley. His publications include Shelley’s Italian Experience (Macmillan, 1991) and Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts vol. XXII (ed. 2 vols) (Garland Press 1996). He is presently editing and contributing to a collection of essays entitled The Unfamiliar Shelley..He is married to Prof. Grazia Sumeli-Weinberg and has two children, Marc and Darius,
Person as Subject
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)