Date of Award

6-2001

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. C. J. Gianakaris

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephanie Gauper

Third Advisor

Dr. D. Terry Williams

Abstract

Ben Jonson, Renaissance poet and playwright, has been the subject of renewed evaluation in recent scholarship, particularly new historicism and cultural materialism. The consensus among some current scholars is that Jonson overtly practices and advocates misogyny in his dramas. Such theorists suggest that Jonson both embodies and promulgates the antiwoman rhetoric of his time, basing their position on contemporary cultural material, religious tracts, and the writings of King James I. However, the external evidence cited by late twentieth-century writers as to the nature of women's position in seventeenth-century England is contradictory and speculative. A more productive method of determining misogyny in Jonson's dramaturgy is to look into the plays themselves.

The approach taken in this dissertation is to focus on the question of misogyny, not from a position outside the text, but from a standpoint within the various dramatic worlds of Jonson's plays through three periods of his writing. Every Man in his Humour (1598), Volpone (1609), Epicoene (1609), and The Alchemist (1610) represent the early period. Bartholomew Fair (1614) and The Devil is an Ass (1616) reflect the middle period, and The Staple of News (1625) , The New Inn (1629) , and The Magnetic Lady (1632) represent the final period of Jonson's dramtic works. More specifically, the strategy is to focus on Jonson's satiric comedies through three periods of his writing in order to evaluate his attitude toward women, thereby to develop a hierarchy of wit among his female characters.

Jonson, I find rejects the romance genre so capably practiced by his contemporary Shakespeare, preferring that drama reflect real life. In satire, Jonson discovers the perfect vehicle to practice Horace's dictum that poetry should instruct and delight; for, by definition, satire ridicules human folly for the purpose of correction. Since folly is the characteristic Jonson censures, then wit, in contrast, becomes the admired trait. "Wit," in the context of this discussion, is defined as an innate astuteness or ability to think on one's feet. The conclusions reached include (1) that Jonson creates proactive female characters in every phase of his dramatic work and (2) that women, at every level of astuteness, serve to highlight a male who is even more foolish. Jonson's net catches ineptitude in males and females alike.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access