Comicall Satyre and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

Comicall Satyre and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

Comicall Satyre and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

Comicall Satyre and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

Excerpt

The main purpose of this volume is to throw new light upon Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. It seeks to establish a definite relationship between that puzzling drama and the plays of the period that were called "comicall satyres." Ben Jonson invented this term and applied it to three of his works: Every Man Out of His Humor (1599), Cynthias Revels (1600-1602), and Poetaster (1601). However, I have felt justified in treating, as though they had borne that label, at least two of Marston works: Jack Drum's Entertainment (1600) and What You Will (1601).

The thesis of this book is that these five plays constituted an attempt to prolong an artificially arrested development in the field of English letters of the late sixteenth century. Numerous prose and poetic satires were ordered destroyed, by an edict of the bishops issued on June 1, 1599, and further publication of such works forbidden. Jonson and Marston immediately sought to write plays that would serve as effective substitutes for these banished satires. In Every Man Out of His Humor Jonson first revealed systematic principles of construction designed to convert comedy into a vehicle for the spirit and the form of the proscribed literature. In his next two plays he modified and developed his dramatic devices in an effort to improve the theatrical qualities of the new sort of play. Marston attempted, in his first satiric comedies, to apply the same principles in his own way. And Shakespeare in Troilus and Cressida made his one thorough experiment with the type.

Modern critics are prone to use the word "satire" to designate any work of literature which harbors a considerable spirit of derision. They so describe incidental ridicule of folly or censure of wickedness, no less than works entirely devoted to planned and sustained mockery and castigation. That is, they seldom restrict the term to the traditional literary forms in which the impulse to ridicule has become incarnate. On the other hand, when literary historians use the word in their analyses and descriptions of this small group of plays, they tend to restrict its meaning to personal lampoon. Much confusion in literary criticism has resulted in using the term, sometimes too loosely and sometimes too narrowly.

In this work satire always refers to a well-defined literary form.

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