Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Every Man in His Humour

Ugh. Do I like Jonson, or do I not like him? I'm just not sure! It's so hard to tell. I find him REALLY interesting, that's certain.

This play is often considered Ben Jonson's genre-defining moment. He writes a play about the humours and then everyone writes them. The introduction points out, though, that Jonson was not the first to write a play like this, that Jonson is not even that into the idea of the humours, and that, furthermore, this is not strictly a humours play, since only one character really embodies their humour.

Kitely, apparently, is the only character who is so totally defined by his personality; he is the "jealous husband". But we have other characters in this play who are defined by their theatrical type. The suspicious father (Knowell), the errant son (Edward), the wily servant (the awesomely named Brainworm), the braggart soldier (Bobadill), and the ignorant gull (Stephen). This comedy is very Plautine in nature, coming directly from Greek New Comedy through Roman. And the plot is lovely and tangled and everyone ends up going to to dinner after the marriage of Edward to Bridget, except for Matthew and Bobadill who are symbolically banished as the symbols of war and lovesick melancholy.

I think the correspondences critics have drawn between this play and the Henry IV plays are very interesting. Knowell becomes Henry IV, worried over his wayward son who eventually does him proud. Bobadill is a loud, bragging Falstaff, purely comic in nature, whose "banishment" we do not feel bad, but laugh, about.

Stephen is also funny, the country cousin who doesn't get that everyone, even the servant, is making fun of him. He is proud of his leg, like Andrew Aguecheek, and Brainworm says, "You have an excellent good leg, Master Stephen, but I cannot stay, to praise it longer now, and I am very sorry for't." Stephen fancies himself a poet but puts nonsensical references in his poems to "make up the meter"; he is also proud of his tendency towards melancholy.

A couple notes:

There is an interesting FBAFB correspondence in a reference to "Roger Bacon" and the Brazen Head just a page later.

Matthew, the bad poet, is reading a play (within this play) called "Go by, Hieronymo."

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