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Jonson and the Psychology of Public Theater

Jonson and the Psychology of Public Theater: To Coin the Spirit, Spend the Soul

JOHN GORDON SWEENEY
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvxcq
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  • Book Info
    Jonson and the Psychology of Public Theater
    Book Description:

    This book is a study of Ben Jonson's relationship with his audience in the public theater, as the relationship changed in the course of his career from the comical satires to Bartholomew Fair

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5713-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION. The Self-Seeking Spectator
    (pp. 3-16)

    If the London grocer’s attempt to buy his son Ralph a play calledThe Knight of the Burning Pestleis an extreme example of upstart egocentricity, it is also the sign of a remarkable relationship between stage and gallery in the public playhouses of Jacobean England. In 1607 the Theater was gone, but the Globe, heir to its timbers, had marked the thirtieth anniversary of the playhouse in England, and just as the stage was experiencing its adult strength inVolpone,King Lear,Macbeth, andAntony and Cleopatra, so, obviously, were its audiences. For years Ben Jonson had been snarling...

  5. ONE The Comical Satires
    (pp. 17-46)

    Ben Jonson took considerable care to makeEvery Man Out of His Humor,Cynthia’s Revels, andPoetasterlook like a trilogy on dramatic satire. The 1616 Folio presents these three plays as “comical satyres,” and for all the satire in the rest of Jonson’s drama, no other play bears on its title page a reference to the genre. Moreover, the plays are enclosed as a group by two formidable statements about Jonsonian satire, the induction toEvery Man Out, which establishes the grounds of his commitment to the genre, andPoetaster’s Apologetical Dialogue, which cuts short that commitment as Jonson...

  6. TWO Sejanus: The People’s Beastly Rage
    (pp. 47-69)

    Perhaps the most troubling of Jonson’s plays isSejanus. It is generally felt to be powerful and intriguing, but there is very little agreement about why it is powerful or, finally, what it means. Readers have found this play to be far clearer in terms of its author’s presumed intentions than in terms of their own actual experience. Jonas Barish, for instance, offers this comment at the end of his introduction to the Yale edition of the play:

    Sejanus faces, as tragedy must, the worst potentialities of human nature, and by realizing them dramatically, acts to inhibit their further actualization...

  7. THREE Volpone: “Fooles, They Are the Onely Nation Worth Mens Envy, or Admiration.”
    (pp. 70-104)

    David McPherson’s essay, “Rough Beast Into Tame Fox: The Adaptations ofVolpone,” makes an important point about the history of Jonson’s play in the hands of adapters: “There is a common element in the various adaptations down through the years: the main effect has always been the transformation of an extremely unconventional comedy into a more conventional one.” He goes on to quote William Butler Yeats on Celia and Bonario, a comment worth repeating here: “They looked so pathetic, they were not even lovers.”¹ As Mc-Pherson shows, the adapters ofVolpone, beyond their eiforts to rid the play of shocking...

  8. FOUR Epicene: “I’le Doe Good To No Man Against His Will.”
    (pp. 105-124)

    In certain ways,Epiceneseems out of step on the path from the comical satires toBartholomew Fair. It comes betweenVolponeandThe Alchemist, plays whose comic worlds stand outside the law, setting theatrical genius against morality and social order.Epicene’s is no outlaw world, however, and the conflict between social values and private urges, the conflict that threatens Volpone’s chamber and Subtle’s laboratory, remains in this play a bit of scenery in the background.Epicenetricks its spectators by revealing its heroine as a boy, but this stroke is lighthearted and mechanical, sleight of hand compared to the...

  9. FIVE The Alchemist: “Yet I Put My Selfe on You”
    (pp. 125-156)

    When Lovewit has finished justifying himself to the theater audience at the conclusion ofThe Alchemist, he instructs Face, “Speake for thy selfe, knave,” and Face responds with what serves as the epilogue to the play:

    So I will, sir. Gentlemen,

    My part a little fell in this last Scene

    Yet ’twas decorum. And though I am cleane

    Got off, from Subtle, Surly, Mammon, Dol,

    Hot Ananias, Dapper, Drugger, all

    With whom I traded; yet I put my selfe

    On you, that are my countrey: and this pelfe,

    Which I have got, if you doe quit me, rests

    To feast...

  10. SIX Bartholomew Fair: Jonson’s Masque for the Multitude
    (pp. 157-189)

    Adam Overdo’s offer to have everyone home to supper at the conclusion ofBartholomew Fairmarks a point of rest in Jonson’s struggle to establish satisfactory relations with his playhouse audience. Moreover, the fact that this offer represents for Jonson a rare gesture of accommodation, coupled with the fact thatBartholomew Fairis the last of his great plays, suggests that he rested after some significant accomplishment. What Jonson had accomplished was a play that brought him as close as he ever came to freedom from his anxieties about the nature of commercial theater.VolponeandThe Alchemistsuggest to...

  11. SEVEN Beyond Bartholomew Fair
    (pp. 190-206)

    In the fourteen years betweenPoetasterandBartholomew Fair, Ben Jonson gradually surrendered his work to his playhouse audience. The idea that he could be satisfied to “prove the pleasure but of one,/So he judicious be” was unworkable for both financial and artistic reasons, so Jonson turned his energy to proving the pleasure of all, judicious or not. It was a struggle. Certainly the sense of confrontation between stage and gallery was intense in the early years of the seventeenth century, but Jonson magnified it, identified the threats to his theater, and attempted to fashion his work to deal with...

  12. CONCLUSION. The Theater of Self-Interest
    (pp. 207-228)

    The idea that meaning, like value, is something negotiated between the parties of the stage and gallery lies at the heart of Jonson’s sense of theater, though this point is easily obscured if we accept uncritically his portrait of himself as a poet. He presents himself as a playwright whose work has clear personal meaning for its audiences, if only they have the good sense to pay attention. In the prologues and inductions to his plays, he is unabashedly moralistic, preaching the power of his work to reform its spectators, and by and large we have taken him at his...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 229-240)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 241-243)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-244)