Journal article

The Rich Merchant Man, or, What the Punishment of Greed Sounded Like in Early Modern English Ballads

Una McIlvenna

Huntington Library Quarterly: studies in English and American history and literature | University of Pennsylvania Press | Published : 2016


This essay explores how the ballad melody of the “Rich Merchant Man” was fundamentally linked to a drive to educate the serving classes and apprentices of seventeenth-century England in the expectations for the ever-growing merchant class that they hoped to join. They were taught to be charitable and to shun greed primarily through negative exemplars, who were punished in these ballads. The essay offers a case study of the multimedia methods by which the moral lessons of frugality and even charity—so seemingly out of character for a merchant class that defined itself by the accumulation of wealth—could be inculcated in the youth it was attempting to train.