“Volponse” Production History & Trivia

• The play premiered with the King’s Men at the Globe Theatre in 1606. Jonson had almost certainly used long-time collaborators John Lowin and Alexander Cooke, but who played what roles is unknown. A plague outbreak limited its production the next year to Oxford and Cambridge, audiences that would appreciate his just-added Pythagoras satire. The play certainly remained in the King’s Men repertory throughout the period. After the Restoration, Jonson found himself in favor with Charles’ court, which helped the play garner more performances (by one account, fifty before 1770). As with many other Jacobean plays, it had fallen from favor before the end of the century. Even in the early eighteenth century, critics had complained about the improbability of the fifth act, which was frequently likened to farce, and to Jonson’s highly Latinate language. By the end of that century, these objections had come to seem insurmountable to producers, and the play survived only in reading. – Edited from Wikipedia

• Works by Ben Jonson: The Alchemist, Cynthia’s Revels, Every Man in His Humour, Every Man out of His Humour, Poetaster, Volpone, Sejanus, Catiline, Bartholomew Fair, The Devil is an Ass, Staple of News, Eastward Ho!, Epicoene

• A whale was actually reported in the River Thames in early 1606. Based on the play’s mention of the whale, scholars have placed the first performance of Volpone between March 9 – 25 of 1606. This accounts for both Sir Politick’s seven-week trip to Venice and the prologue’s description of the play being written in five weeks.

•  A PBS article notes that Jonson’s writing was championed by none other than Shakespeare. Their relationship was somewhat thorny: Jonson thought Shakespeare pandered to the lowest common denominator. When Jonson “embraced” Boys’ Companies, the feud grew so heated that the two “came to blows.” They continued sniping at each other in their plays. There was a “War of the Theatres,” with opposing writers attacking their counterparts and actors across town. The article “Jonson and Shakespeare at Chess” argues that the war led to an alleged satirizing of Jonson in Troilus and Cressida. There is an unauthenticated and dubious painting of the two, celebrating the event wherein Shakespeare is literally and figuratively check-mating a surprised Jonson. However, modern scholars have questioned whether the “war” was really just a publicity stunt and are unanimous that Shakespeare played no role in it.

•  Volpone’s parasite, Mosca, bears little resemblance to predecessors. Mosca more closely resembles the English parasites than ‘those miserable, fawning, half-starved creatures [that] haunt the plays of Plautus and Terence.” The English tradition gave the parasite more cunning and wit. – Lucius Hudson Holt, “Notes on Ben Jonson’s Volpone

•  The play is not confined merely to follies, as were the earlier comedies, but includes crimes, so that, as Coleridge remarks, “there is no goodness of heart in any of the prominent characters.” Nevertheless, the production of Volpone restored Jonson’s popularity, which had been temporarily dimmed by the poor reception accorded Sejanus. The latter play had taught him the necessity of a closely knit plot and the value of Roman history as a source. Legacy-hunting, so frequent in Roman literature, had impressed him as fertile soil for imposture and fraud, and for the materials of the play he drew suggestions from numerous classical sources, among which may be mentioned Lucian’s dialogues, Horace’s satires, and Libanius. Professor J. D. Rea in his edition of the play has stressed Jonson’s debt to Erasmus’ Praise of Folly. The scene of the action is quite appropriately laid in Italy, to the Elizabethan mind the land of villainy, and only in the sub-plot (which, although it affords some effective comic episodes, does not advance the action) does Jonson introduce a bit of his own England in the persons of Sir Politic and his lady. –theatrehistory.com

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 4:03 am  Leave a Comment  

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