Ben Jonson



 

I. Biography

1. The first literary writers to published his collection of works: against the literary norm.

2. A tough and turbulent early years: joining a war, imprisoned for murder, converting to Catholicism (though returning to the Church of England later)
3. Establishing himself in the court and the theatre: composing masques and popular plays (comedy of humors: Every Man in His Humor)
4. Embroidered in the “War of Theatres”.

5. A capacity for friendship: the so-called “sons of Ben,” inaugurating the “country-house poem” genre.
6. Inaugurating the small genre of “country-house poem”: To Penhurst.

7. Adherence to classical models and values: moderation, civility, graciousness.

II. Literary Style:

1. In comedy: the detached, satiric perspective of an outsider.

2. In poems: looking back to the classical precedents, praising moderation and civility.

3. In plays: seethed with an almost uncontrollable imaginative energy and lust for abundance.

III. Masque:

1. A courtly form of praise, entertainment, and political idealization, symbolization the perfection of the Stuart court.
2. Usually performed only once on the Twelfth Night, ended with a feast and all-night dancing—a very chaotic night, and highly expensive in preparation.
3. A Multi-media event: dancing as its essence, combined with song, speech, ornamented costumes and masks.
4. Villains played by professional actors while dancers were members of the court.

IV. Discussion of Volpone:

1. A city comedy: a dark satire on human greed, reflecting the rise of a money economy.

2. Abundant animal imagery: characters’ “animal” names under the disguise of a foreign language.
3. Drawing heavily on classical precedents: less original than hilarious.

4. Hilarious repartees and misunderstandings.

5. Fooling with oneself out of greed.

6. Mosca as the key figure.

7. The futility and fatuity of justice system.

8. A universe almost reversed in moral values.

Plot Summary of Volpone

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