Ben Jonson and the English Renaissance Analytical Essay by Shaad

Ben Jonson and the English Renaissance
An outline of the distinguishing characteristics of the English Renaissance and how they are exemplified in the works of Ben Jonson.
# 128777 | 1,412 words | 6 sources | MLA | 2009 | BD
Published by on Aug 08, 2010 in History (British) , Literature (English)

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This paper examines the English Renaissance in terms of the reassessment of the classical heritage. It argues that the defining quality of the English Renaissance is in applying a critical approach to ancient learning as opposed to the fawning attitude of the Italians. Contained within this critical approach is a balancing of the old and the new, so that the new exemplars such as Petrarch, Dante, Aristo and Tasso are sometimes mentioned in the same breath as with the ancients. The paper illustrates this phenomenon through the works of the premier classicist of his age, Ben Jonson. Among these works "Volpone" is singled out for particular consideration. Special emphasis is laid on the characters Sir Politic and Lady Would with regard to how they portray typical attitudes of the English Renaissance.

From the Paper:

"The play is essentially a farce, with an abundance of incidence, and with a plethora of unsavoury characters, practicing their wiles on each other and ending up in convoluted situations. There is an explicit and straightforward moral message in the end, because Volpone and all those who covet his wealth end up caught and punished by law. However, there are more subtle readings possible, which concern the conflict between the classical order and the emerging ethos of the times. The setting in Venice is the first significant detail. The city was viewed as the epicentre of the renaissance, and therefore a perfect backdrop in which to present the new fashions. A large number of the Elizabethan and Jacobean plays are set in the prosperous and mercantile cities of Italy, and with the same object of alluding to the emerging trends at home. Jonson is more ambitious, however, and therefore introduces the travelling nobles Sir Politic and Lady Would-be, who exemplify all the abuses of classicism that Jonson would highlight. "

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Brooks, Peter. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
  • Hadfield, Andrew. The English Renaissance, 1500-1620. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.
  • Harp, Richard and Stanley Stewart. The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Jonson, Ben. Volpone, Or The Fox: Volpone, Or the Fox; Epicene, Or the Silent Woman; the Alchemist; Bartholemew Fair. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998
  • Jonson, Ben and William Gifford. The Works of Ben Jonson with Notes, Critical and Explanatory and a Biographical Memoir Part Three. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

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