Term of Award

Winter 2004

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Department

Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Julia B. Griffin

Committee Member 1

Caren J. Town

Committee Member 2

Candy B. K. Schille

Abstract

Ben Jonson's comedies seem to present an almost entirely negative view of women; the plays are full of misogynistic language and their portrayal of women looks bleak. The good women in his comedies, such as Celia in Volpone or Dame Pliant in The Alchemist, are passive, weak characters who subject themselves to the rule of men, while the opinionated, strong women are either objects for ridicule like the Collegiates in Epicoene or are destined for death like Agrippina in Sejanus. While characters such as these raise questions concerning Jonson's attitude towards women there is still little research or criticism available concerning Jonson's views on women and his portrayal ofwomen in his comedies. By delving into Jonson's portrayal of women as grotesque, his apparent attacks on the character and nature of women, and his portrayal of women as masculine in his urban comedies1 Epicoene; or The Silent Woman (1609), Everyman in his Humour (1601), Volpone; or The Fox (1605), The Alchemist (1610), and his city tragedy Sejanus (1603), I propose to explore the ways in which readers may argue Jonson is indeed a misogynist; I will also analyze the economic and social impact of these misogynistic passages to demonstrate Jonson's purpose behind them. Jonson's purpose, I shall argue, is not to malign women with his comedy; rather he comments on the general morality of society. Jonson demonstrates, through his portrayal of his characters, the artificiality and consumerism apparent in London society. Hence, Jonson is not promoting the hatred of women; rather he is making a social commentary on his perception of a degenerating London. Furthermore, I propose that Jonson cannot so easily be labeled a misogynist because, through his depiction of the Fools in his plays and through his negative representation of his amoral witty male heroes, Jonson criticizes men and women alike.

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