The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson

The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson

The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson

The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson

Excerpt

Prefaces at best warn; at worst, justify. This one does both. In it I should like to make clear, first, what I conceive to be the province of studies of imagery, and, second, what I have tried to do in this study of Jonson's imagery.

If a dramatist is any good, he is usually taken over by readers, who waft him away to that impossible country, dramatic literature, and there study his plays as though they were literary works. Breathing that rarefied air, they transform dialogue meant to be spoken into sentences written to be read. The play is likely to become a novel or a narrative poem or a case study rather than to remain what it was originally meant to be -- a series of speeches for actors to deliver in order to produce an aesthetic experience in anyone who listens. Now, of course, standards used in literary analysis can be applied to plays -- indeed, and this is part of the point I am going to make, must be applied to plays because plays use words just as fundamentally as poems or novels do. But these standards must be applied in a way that never once forgets that the play is a play, that the characters are primarily dramatic devices, and that the words require non-literary interpreters that no literary form requires. In other words, as Susanne Langer put it, drama is 'poetry', but not literature. It is poetry because it creates its imaginative experience partly, and in some cases primarily, by means of words: a good dramatist like Shakespeare or Shaw may talk his play alive without setting or costumes or lighting -- just several good actors. But it is not 'literature', not even when it is printed in magnificent folios, because it was not originally put down on paper in order to be read and because, properly speaking, it never can be simply read.

Still, though drama is not literary, it is verbal. All drama . . .

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