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Follies and Crimes

  • Nicholas Grene

Abstract

Jonson gives us what is the entirely orthodox neo-classical theory deriving from Aristotle when he tells us in the Prologue to Every Man in his Humour that it is the function of comedy ‘to sport with human follies not with crimes’. It is a definition which still influences the general idea of comedy, which, most people would feel, should be limited in the seriousness of its concerns, unless it is self-consciously ‘black comedy’. What then ofjonson’s own play Volpone: fraud, perjury, prostitution, conspiracy to murder, attempted rape — are these merely follies? Volpone has made many of Jonson’s critics uneasy and uncertain of its classification. E. B. Partridge’s comments are representative:

Comic masks are not entirely appropriate for a play which creates such a profound sense of evil that the tone seems closer to tragedy than comedy … Is it satire, burlesque, farce, comedy of humour, melodrama? … all of these critical terms have some validity, but none is wholly justifiable.1

Keywords

Comic Contract Happy Ending Sweet Nature Human Folly English Audience 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Ferdinand Brunetière, Les Epoques du Théâtre Français (1636–1850) (Paris 1901 – 5e édit.), p. 147.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    H. Levin ‘Jonson’s Metempsychosis’, Philological Quarterly 22 (1943), 231 – 9.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Jonas A. Barish, ‘The Double Plot in Volpone’, Modern Philology 51 (1953), 83 – 92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 7.
    See Alvin Kernan (ed.) Volpone (New Haven and London 1962), p. 214.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Richard Perkinson ‘Volpone and the reputation of Venetian justice’, Modern Language Review 35 (1940), 11 –18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 9.
    Ian Donaldson ‘Volpone: Quick and Dead’, Essays in Criticism 21 (1971), 121 – 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 10.
    John Creaser makes much of this point in his article ‘Volpone’s Mortification’ Essays in Criticism 25 (1975), 329–56, and there is further discussion of this article in ‘The Critical Forum’, Essays in Criticism 26 (1976), 274–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 12.
    Emanuel S. Chill, ‘Tartuffe, Religion, and Courtly Culture’, French Historical Studies 3 (1963), 176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 13.
    Jacques Schérer, Structures de Tartuffe (Paris 1966), p. 186.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    John Cairncross, New Light on Molière (Geneva and Paris 1956) and also Molière Bourgeois et Libertin.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Georges Pholien, ‘Une défense de Tartuffe’, Marche Romane 17 (1967), 183.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Lionel Gossman, ‘Molière and Tartuffe: Law and Order in the Seventeenth Century’, French Review 43 (1970), 910.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    Raymond Picard, ‘ Tartuffe “Production impie”?’ in Mélanges d’histoire littéraire offerts à Raymond Lebèque (Paris 1969), pp. 227–39.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nicholas Grene 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Grene

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