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offered its inhabitants commercial events during which to indulge their
need for bodily delights and festival exuberance. The fair of St
Bartholmew, held anually in Smithfield on 24 August, served Jonson as
an opportunity to dissect a wide cross-section of Londoners and their
various reasons for spending a day out among the booths, stalls, smells
and noises of the fair. Unusually magnanimous for a Jonsonian city
comedy, the main thrust of the satire is not against fools, madmen,
fortune-hunters, cuckolds or prostitutes, but against hypocrisy and
bigotry. This edition shows that the play can be read as a
comprehensive refutation of puritanism and the London magistracy, both
of whom were attacking the theatre (and the festive culture of which it
was still part) as idolatrous, seditious and disorderly.
This 'excellent comedy of affliction' enjoyed enormous prestige for more than a century after its first performance: for John Dryden it had 'the greatest and most noble construction of any pure unmixed comedy in any language'. Its title signals Jonson's satiric and complex concern with gender: the play asks not only 'what should a man do?', but how should men and women behave, both as fit examples of their sex, and to one another? The characters furnish a cross-section of wrong answers, enabling Jonson to create riotous entertainment out of lack, loss and disharmony, to the point of denying the straightfowardly festive conclusion which audiences at comedies normally expect. Much of the comic vitality arises from a degeneration of language, which Jonson called 'the instrument of society', into empty chatter or furious abuse, and from a plot which is a series of lies and betrayals (the hero lies to everyone and Jonson lies to the audience). The central figure is a man named Morose, who hates noise yet lives in the centre of London, and who, because of his decision to marry a woman he supposes to be silent, exposes himself to a fantastic cacophony of voices, male, female and - epicene.
This student edition contains a lengthy Introduction with background on the author, date and sources, theme, critical interpretation and stage history.
by the Children of the Revels at the Blackfriars playhouse in 1605. The
story is of an allegorical simplicity that lends itself to satire of
civic mores and traditions as well as to parody of the sentimental,
idealising London comedy presented at the amphitheatres in the suburbs:
Goldsmith Touchstone, an upright London citizen, has one modest and one
ambitious daughter, one righteous and one disreputable apprentice;
virtue is rewarded, ruthlessness comes to grief - and receives a
drenching in the muddy Thames. The introduction to this edition
discusses various methods of establishing authorship and highlights the
irony of the collaborators' comic vision of contemporary London life.
The lively introduction focuses on the play as a comedy about swindlers and characters on the margins of society. It highlights Jonson's cratft as a dramatist and his masterful use of language, building into the play all actors and directors need to know about its characters and action. With helpful on-page commentary notes, this student edition also discusses the play in its theatrical and historical context and traces its connections to modern theatre, bringing its farcical comedy vividly to life.
This student edition contains a lengthy Introduction with background on the author, date and sources, critical interpretation and stage history.
Robert N. Watson is Distinguished Professor of English at UCLA. His publications include Critical Essays on Ben Jonson (as editor) and Ben Jonson's Parodic Strategy. He also edited the New Mermaids edition of Every Man in His Humour.