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Chapter 4 considers the intersection of appetite and desire in plays such as Middleton’s The Bloody Banquet and Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair. It argues that the elision of these two drives lends a gustatory logic to the theatre’s depiction of excessive desire. The chapter explores the extent to which this serves to associate desire with the excessive appetites unleashed by material excess and tyranny. But it also emphasises the vulnerability which the culinary logic instils in representations of desire, emphasising the period’s profound ambiguity regarding who, precisely, is being consumed in the context of a sexual relationship. Finally, the chapter emphasises the extent to which the imagery of appetite foregrounds the potentially debilitating consequences of sexual desire, at a time in which humoral theory asserted a model of the body as porous, and potentially vulnerable.
Hunger and appetite permeate Renaissance theatre, with servants, soldiers, courtiers and misers all defined with striking regularity through their relation to food. Demonstrating the profound ongoing relevance of Marxist literary theory, Hunger, Appetite and the Politics of the Renaissance Stage highlights the decisive role of these drives in the complex politics of early modern drama. Plenty and excess were thematically inseparable from scarcity and want for contemporary audiences, such that hunger and appetite together acquired a unique significance as both subject and medium of political debate. Focusing critical attention on the relationship between cultural texts and the material base of society, Matthew Williamson reveals the close connections between how these drives were represented and the underlying socioeconomic changes of the period. At the same time, he shows how hunger and appetite provided the theatres with a means of conceptualising these changes and interrogating the forces that motivated them.
Responding to issues raised by other essays in the collection, the Afterword considers Jonson’s place on the contemporary global stage and imagines him working in the world of social media. Speculating about how he might have conducted himself on Facebook and Twitter, Sanders suggests that Jonson the self-publicist would have seized on these modes of modern celebrity with creative relish. The Afterword goes on to consider Jonson in the modern theatre and questions of canon. Finally, it addresses some of the challenges and opportunities for Jonson's future afterlives.
In the ‘two bucket’ version of literary history whatever praise lightens Shakespeare’s load must fill Jonson’s with invective. This history is abetted by anecdotal accounts that bring the writers together in ‘wit contests’, which ransom Shakespeare’s reputation at the expense of Jonson. The prevailing morphology of the Jonson anecdote is that he often ends up as the butt of the joke. Such stories seem to respond to his attempts to manage his own legacy, especially his effrontery in supervising his own ‘works’ in 1616. This essay studies the tradition of Jonsonian anecdotes – including three previously unknown eighteenth-century examples – all of which show Jonson trying and failing to play executor to his own literary legacy. Tellingly, these rebuttals to Jonson often address him in his own terms, specifically poetic ones. For be it epigram, epitaph, or epilogue, these anecdotes offer light verse rejoinders to Jonson’s attempts to have the last word. Attention to Jonson’s reputation in his own time and in the century following his death complicates and enriches a narrative about the dilation of that reputation across the centuries, presenting him as not just the foil to Shakespeare but the casualty of his efforts to author his own legacy.
Jonson was a key figure in rebuilding the repertoire of the revived playhouses of Restoration London, but as a model he was inhibiting as well as enabling. This essay first explores the circumstances in which his plays were revived and updated (exclusively by the King’s Company, who had their monopoly on Jonson’s plays confirmed in 1669). It goes on to look at the purposes to which the rival Duke’s Company put Jonson’s public image, as they sought to produce a Jonsonian comic output of their own. Both Thomas Shadwell and Edward Howard crafted works that drew on the plots and characters of Jonson’s comedies, particularly Epicene, concentrating the erotic themes suggested by the originals. The essay addresses Jonson’s predominance in the 1670–1 theatrical season, a crucial point at which aspects of his dramatic afterlife coalesced and the direction of comedy into the next decade was being formulated, and focuses on two Duke’s Company comedies: Shadwell’s The Humorists and Howard’s The Six Days Adventure; or, The New Utopia. It argues that these playwrights’ direct, practical efforts to enhance Jonson’s reputation (whilst strengthening their own) saw an awkward updating of humours comedy with moralistic depictions of erotic and homoerotic appetites.
Jonson, as critics have long emphasised, frequently expressed disdain for popular taste and popular audiences. Yet he also chose to make a spectacle of himself before large crowds, most notably on his 1618 walk to Edinburgh. This essay explores Jonson’s conscious management of his reputation, even in its apparently negative aspects, during this unusual journey and through various publications from the Epigrams to the prologues, epilogues, inductions, choruses, and commentaries of the plays. Drawing on the conceptual framework of celebrity theory, it challenges traditional considerations of and assumptions about Jonson’s unpopularity. The essay argues that his displays of irascibility should be taken not at face value but as a conscious strategy through which he curated his image. Pursuing fame, but aware of the peril of being famous for the wrong reasons, Jonson creates the idea of the bad reader or spectator in order to manage his celebrity and forestall becoming a mere public commodity. His seeming hostility towards his audiences was not a self-cancelling rejection of them but, paradoxically, a way of managing and extending his celebrity.
This essay examines how in editions, on the stage, and in biographies, Jonson was revised and reinterpreted for the eighteenth century, generally as a foil to Shakespeare. The first illustrated Jonson was published in 1716, with the plays for the most part represented as if on a modern stage, though few had been performed since the early seventeenth century. Portraits of Jonson too went through much revision, even at one point substituting a slim, youthful, lively poet for the heavyset middle-aged scholar of the previous century. Critical treatments of the playwright were ambivalent, even maintaining that the role he conceived for himself, and that best expressed his character, was that of Morose in Epicene. David Garrick made the roles of Kitely in Every Man in His Humour and Drugger in The Alchemist particularly his own, with the latter even spawning a series of tobacconist sequels. But these productions rebalanced the plays around star performances and increased their sensationalism and emotional temperature. In print, portraits, and performance Jonson was not afforded the same care and respect that were lavished on Shakespeare and was increasingly overshadowed by him.
Jonson’s folio collection, The Works of Benjamin Jonson (1616), represented an ambitious and ground-breaking attempt to preserve his plays, poems, and other writings for future generations to appreciate. Many copies of this monumental publication have indeed survived, some with extensive annotations, giving us a unique insight into Jonson’s early reception and early modern reading practices more broadly. Drawing on the remarkable collection of copies at the Huntington Library, this essay explores in detail a number that were extensively annotated in the 17th century. The investigation highlights how Jonson’s early readers ranged from university students to classical scholars to literary enthusiasts. It examines how these different kinds of engagement with Jonson’s Works relate both to his conceptions of the reader and to the attempts of his early admirers to shape his posthumous reputation. It shows how quickly and widely Jonson’s collection was recognised as a significant literary publication, and how unpredictable and diverse were the ways in which it would be read.
In ‘Inviting a Friend to Supper’ Jonson celebrates an Horatian ideal of modest conviviality with intimates. The ironies of that poem, which hint at excesses waiting to erupt, point to another way in which he could be seen – as a man given to bodily excess and driven by his appetites. The anecdote of Jonson drawn drunk through Paris on a cart by his young tutee, Wat Raleigh, helped construct that image, along with the many references to his love of wine and to his physically imposing body. This essay explores the ways in which Jonson’s London plays – especially Epicene, Bartholomew Fair, and The Alchemist – contributed to his popular image as a recorder of and participant in the sensory excesses possible in the urban context where he spent much of his life. Jonson was acutely attuned to the sensory environment of London: to the sounds, sights, smells, and touches that invited its residents to indulge their senses even while threatening to shatter their self-control and social identities. This essay demonstrates the role of the urban plays in the construction of a Jonson whose contemporary image was in part defined by his corporeality and immersion in the life of the senses.
Following Stefan Zweig’s influential adaptation of Volpone in 1926, the twentieth century saw a slew of adaptations of Jonson’s great comedy. This essay focuses on three less familiar adaptations of Volpone, which follow Zweig’s particularly twentieth-century interest in the intersection of financial scams and power. First, Lionel Bart’s musical Wally Pone, King of Soho (1958), staged at London’s Unity Theatre and set in 1950s Soho. Second, the 1962 musical Foxy, which saw a Broadway run. This version eschews direct contemporaneity, instead relocating Jonson’s narrative to a remote area in the Yukon experiencing an economic bubble at the height of the 1896 Gold Rush. Third, Larry Gelbart’s Sly Fox, a farcical comedy first staged in 1976 at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York. This adaptation also stages the invalid trick among gold prospectors, this time in nineteenth-century San Francisco. Each of these versions involves a complex repurposing of the play, to make it speak to the experience of completely different audiences. The adjustments made in these three adaptations reveal considerable transformations in value and ideology, particularly around matters of social class and sexuality. Together they demonstrate Jonson’s robust and still powerful critique of a sexually rapacious and, above all, money-driven society.
Of all the many disparaging comments aimed at Jonson over the years, the accusation that he, or his work, is ‘pedantic’, is one of the most common. With reference to Montaigne, early modern debates about Latinate language, and the appearance of Jonson’s plays and poetry in the 1616 Works, this essay attempts to reframe the idea of pedantry to illuminate the broader meanings of the term as it is applied to Jonson. What is that concept doing in critical discourse? How does it position scholars, readers, and teachers in social space? As it pursues these ideas, the essay links some of the evidence of Jonson’s putative pedantry to wider aesthetic and thematic patterns in his 1616 folio. It argues that elements of the Works that get called ‘pedantic’ often reach out in complex ways to an audience that was only just beginning to understand itself as such. Along the way, it pays close attention to the logic of insult, to the place of complex and incomprehensible language in the plays, and to the effects of Jonson’s favourite technique for playful, and sometimes angry audience creation: division and classification.
This essay explores the particular forms that Jonsonian politics took across the period from the 1790s to the 1830s through two detailed case studies. The first explores the uses of Jonson made by the radical lecturer and political reformer, John Thelwall, from 1794–6. Thelwall offers a reading of a public Jonson whose presence in the lecture room and in political pamphlets is vitally connected with the discourses of political possibility made available by and in this post-Revolutionary moment in English history. The second case study explores contrastingly private uses of Jonson made by Charles Lamb, a writer who for a long time was sweetened by his posthumous reception into a far less political, engaged and awkward writer than he should now seem. Lamb’s annotated copy of the Jonson third folio is for the first time available to study after its purchase by Princeton University Library. The essay suggests that these annotations have their origin in the moment of mid-1790s protest to which Thelwall’s Jonson had belonged, and in which Lamb, too, played a part. Over the course of his many returns to reading Jonson, Lamb inscribes a Romantic politics in Jonson’s margins, a politics that today may have renewed relevance.
This essay asks what traces Jonson has left in culture outside the academy during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It explores material from films, music, advertising, cartoons and fantasy literature to investigate how far he still has name recognition in the general cultural consciousness, and what ideas or associations cluster around him. In modern times, Jonson continues to be remembered as the foil to Shakespeare, and is most typically invoked in relation to bodily consumption and good-fellowship. However, unlike Marlowe, Milton, or even Donne, whose names do have resonance in relation to (respectively) queer identity, republicanism, and sexuality, Jonson’s ‘myth’ does not seem today to have equivalent presence or collective recognition. The essay asks why this should be and what it tells us about his legacy and our selective perception of the early modern past.
This chapter explores the ways in which the practice of cookery and the act of eating were understood as analogous to the making and experiencing of literature in early modern writing – a set of similarities that was both exciting and disquieting. It begins with the word “conceit,” which could refer either to a wittily rhetorical piece of language or to something dainty and edible. This leads to a discussion of the ways in which eating causes distinctions between people and practices both to be made and to break down in this period (especially in the work of Shakespeare and Jonson). It ends with a discussion of the place of food in the writings of Margaret Cavendish – who distinguishes her own labours from the typical culinary work of women even as she sees Nature as a productive cook – and John Milton, who places a striking emphasis on prelapsarian eating as common to human and angel, while recognizing food as the most devilish of temptations.
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