Nationalism and Poor Law are not usually mentioned in the same breath, and to add Shakespeare and Wordsworth is to invite bafflement. I’d like to begin by suggesting a number of similarities between the ages of Shakespeare and Wordsworth, though their social and political conditions were two hundred years apart, in the 1590s and 1790s. Both poets wrote with unusual empathy about the poor in times when capitalism came into conflict with the traditional Judaeo-Christian view of the poor. Both poets saw the legitimacy of welfare questioned, in opposition to the spirit of Jewish law and Christian love. Both were part of historical debates on state responsibility, Shakespeare at a time when the so-called Old Poor Law evolved and was codified for the first time in secular legislation; Wordsworth, when the Old Poor Law was made obsolete by the Industrial Revolution, ultimately to be replaced by the New Poor Law in 1834.