The other great Elizabethan dramatists were famous for tragedy, and it was only Ben Jonson who wrote comedies that have lasted. When I say lasted, I should note that very little of the work of these dramatists, except for Shakespeare, is now performed to any appreciable extent: Marlowe on occasion, perhaps one or other of Webster’s great plays, and one or two of Jonson’s.
This is understandable, but I would argue that there is at least one play of Jonson’s that is well worth both seeing and reading. This is Volpone, with its fantastic beginning, which sets the tone for a more thorough exploration of greed than in any other literary work; and also of deceit in the pursuit of greed –
Good morning to the day; and next, my gold:
Open the shrine, that I may see my Saint.
[MOSCA WITHDRAWS THE CURTAIN, AND DISCOVERS PILES OF GOLD,
PLATE, JEWELS, ETC.]
Hail the world’s soul, and mine! more glad than is
The teeming earth to see the long’d-for sun
Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram,
Am I, to view thy splendour darkening his;
That lying here, amongst my other hoards,
Shew’st like a flame by night; or like the day
Struck out of chaos, when all darkness fled
Unto the centre. O thou son of Sol,
But brighter than thy father, let me kiss,
With adoration, thee, and every relick
Of sacred treasure, in this blessed room.
Well did wise poets, by thy glorious name,
Title that age which they would have the best;
Thou being the best of things: and far transcending
All style of joy, in children, parents, friends,
Or any other waking dream on earth: Continue reading