TEN things you might like to know:
- When was the play first performed?
- Where was the play first performed?
First at Oxford, later at the Blackfriars Playhouse in London.
- Who wrote it?
A poet, essayist, and playwright, Ben Jonson (1573-1637) was perhaps the most famous writer of his day. Famous equally for his genius and his self-regard (he was the first writer to publish his plays as “Works”), Jonson was revered enough to be the center of the “Tribe of Ben,” perhaps the earliest English literary club.
- How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Like Shakespeare, Jonson was a master of verse and of prose, and, like Shakespeare, he wanted his art to mirror life. There the similarities end.
- How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Jonson’s work is the diametric opposite of Shakespeare’s. His characters have the carefully drawn sharp outlines of dynamic cartoons rather than the organic ambiguity of Shakespeare’s characters. His plots cohere by virtue of a central location to which people are drawn by their foibles, not, as in Shakespeare, because of relationships. He frequently criticized Shakespeare’s disdain for verisimilitude and classical correctness.
- What do scholars think about this play?
Scholars universally admire the play for its intricate construction and its remarkable characters. Coleridge praised the plot as one of three greatest ever written (the other two are Sophocles’ Oedipus and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones).
- Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
No controversy, but Andrew Gurr thinks that Lovewit, who owns the house, stands for Shakespeare and that the play is about Shakespeare’s company finally taking back the Blackfriars Playhouse from the boy’s company who had been there since 1610. I think it is the one play in the period in which the setting never changes – the stage always stands for the same space.
- What characters should I especially look for?
They are all one-person shows, but Sir Epicure Mammon’s glorification of the pleasures of the body is unforgettable.
- What scene should I especially look for?
Again, every scene is a gem, but my vote would go to the scene with the “Queen of Fairy.”
- What is the language like?
The play is a banquet of language, from alchemical flim-flammery to Bible thumping.
by Ralph Alan Cohen, ASC Director of Mission