English Literature: 1590-1798

Download 101.89 Kb.
View original pdf
Size101.89 Kb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7
Volpone epathsala

UGC MHRD ePGPathshala
Subject: English

Principal Investigator Prof. Tutun Mukherjee, University of Hyderabad
Paper 02: English Literature 1590 – 1798
Paper Coordinator Dr. Anna Kurian, University of Hyderabad
Module No 09: Ben Jonson Volpone
Content writer Dr. Saradindu Bhattacharya; Central University of

Content Reviewer Prof. Pramod K. Nayar;University of Hyderabad
Language Editor Dr. Anna Kurian, University of Hyderabad

Section 1: Introduction
This module examines the work of Ben Jonson, one of the most prominent playwrights of the Jacobean period, second only to Shakespeare in popularity and repute. The module offers a detailed analysis of his play Volpone as a case study of the kind of drama Jonson was best known for, the comedy of humours. The first section offers a biographical and historical background to the work of Jonson, tracing his evolution as a writer who appealed to both the masses and the classes. The second section offers a detailed summary and a structural analysis of the plot of
Volpone. The third section outlines the major characteristics and purpose of the comedy of humours and examines characterization in Volpone in the light of these dramatic features. The fourth section examines the major themes in the play, namely, avarice, appearances, deception and knowledge. The fifth section studies aspects of social commentary in Volpone. The sixth and final section offers a survey of the critical reception of Jonson’s work. Benjamin Jonson was born on June 11, 1572 into a minister’s family. His father died shortly before his birth and he was raised by his mother and stepfather, who was a bricklayer. Jonson attended St. Martin’s parish school and Westminster school, where he received the tutelage of the classical historian and scholar William Camden. After leaving school in 1589, Jonson worked briefly as his stepfather’s apprentice and then joined the English armed forces in Flanders. Upon returning to London, Jonson started working as a professional actor and playwright for Philip Henslowe’s theatre company. Little is known about these early years of his career, except that he played apart in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and wrote a few tragedies of his own. Jonson also had a penchant forgetting into trouble he was imprisoned in
1597 on charges of sedition for coauthoring (with Thomas Nashe) the satirical play The Isle of
Dogs and the following year he was tried for the murder of a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer in a duel. Jonson narrowly escaped the death penalty by pleading benefit of clergy. He was, however, branded a felon and sent to prison, where he converted to Roman Catholicism. He would reconvert to the Anglican Church in 1610. Jonson tasted literary success in 1598 with the production of his play Every Man in His Humour at the Globe by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The play was based on the classical model of comedy, with character types like a passionate lover, a rigid father and a clever servant. It brought into vogue the comedy of humours – based on the theory of distinct personality types dependant on the predominance of various body fluids
– and turned Jonson into an overnight celebrity. The following year, Jonson tried to followup the

3 success of this play with the rather pedantic and voluminousEvery Man Out of His Humourbut it failed to attract the audience to the playhouses. He continued writing plays like Cynthia’s Revels
(1600) and The Poetaster (1601), in which his contempt for human folly as well as his desire for order and decorum were evident. These plays also satirized Jonson’s contemporaries, John
Marston and Thomas Dekker, and set off what is popularly known as the War of the Theatres. With the accession of King James Ito the throne of England in 1603, Jonson’s fortunes turned as he found favour with the royal audience as a successful writer of courtly masques, a form of spectacular dramatic performance involving elaborate sets, costumes, music and songs. Some of the most successful masques he wrote during this period were The Satyr (1603) and The
Masque of Blackness (1605). Jonson also continued writing plays for the public stage, including some of his most famous plays like Volpone, or The Fox (1606), Epicoene: or, The Silent
Woman(1609), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614). In these plays, Jonson presented a satirical picture of human nature in the context of the rise of the mercantile class in Jacobean England. He was granted an annual pension by the royal court in 1616 and is therefore considered to be the first Poet Laureate of England. He also brought out a folio edition of his collected works in the same year, which reflects his own sense of his stature as an author of substantial talent and repute. He was also awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by Oxford University in 1619. Jonson’s career went downhill in the s as the plays he wrote in this decade were comparatively less successful than his previous work. His public repute, however, withstood commercial failures like The Staple of News (1625), The New Inn (1629) and A Tale of
a Tub (1633); in fact, a group of young poets, which included Sir John Suckling, Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew and Richard Lovelace, were greatly influenced by Jonson’s style of writing and called themselves sons or tribe of Ben. Though Jonson was known primarily as a playwright, he also wrote epigrams, occasional poems and essays through his career. He is especially well known for his tribute to Shakespeare, whom he considered to be a less skilled artist than himself. Jonson died in 1637 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Download 101.89 Kb.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2022
send message

    Main page