Falstaff, Ursula, and
The New Inn
he looks like a mid-wife in man's apparel, the … fat fool…
in his over-familiar playing face.
“M”y womb swells. …
—Jonson, “The Poet to the Painter”
Shakespearean romantic comedy and Jonsonian humors comedy are crucially invested in the countervailing principles of mythic and satiric androgyny. Nevertheless, as I indicated in my first chapter, Shakespeare's and Jonson's respective involvements in the staging of transcendent and “freakish” hermaphrodism did not preclude their occasional experimentation with each other's comic methods, including comic androgynous types. A comparative analysis of the evolving Renaissance stage androgyne in each man's work reveals, in fact, a concentrated attention on the other's dramatic achievements. Their mutual fascination was recorded in a staged argument that began in the late 1590s and continued on Jonson's part long after Shakespeare's retirement from the London theater world in 1613 (Jonson was, ironically, a masterful theatrical conversationalist, despite the implicit resistance to dialogue evident in much of his work). The most active and heated moment in the two playwrights' intertheatrical engagement was the particular phase of the 1599–1601 poetomachia, or Theater Wars, during which Jonson and Shakespeare confronted each other through metadramatic plays commenting on the respective merits of mythic comedy and humors satire. As my next chapter will argue, this stage debate necessarily centered—as do the perspectives of myth and satire generally—on the use of the androgyne symbol. However, both before