Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Every Man Out of His Humour (1599)

Traditionally, I would read a book or a play before commenting on it. These days I am pressed for time and instead believe it would be more efficient to offer an opinion and provide historical background, and then take my time with the manuscript.

Currently I am reading four books at once. I look forward to finishing any one of them.

Every Man Out of His Humour is a comedy by Ben Jonson which was first performed in 1599. There has been speculation throughout the subsequent years as to whether or not this work (which is not to be confused with Jonson's 1598 hit comedy Every Man In His Humour) includes elements composed specifically to mock Williams Shakespeare's latest work, As You Like It -- also first performed in 1599 -- or whether Shakespeare was mocking Ben Jonson when he wrote As You Like It -- actually, possibly first performed in 1600.

It is at times like this we really wish Shakespeare had kept better records.

In Every Man Out of His Humour, Jonson features an introductory character who pedantically sets out the rules for all comedy. The play then goes about strictly following this set of rules, finally issuing his own critique of the play; By God, 'tis good, and if you like't, you may.

Shakespeare then writes one of his most-beloved and oft-performed romantic comedies, its title ripped straight from this challenge. Reminds me of when John Lennon ridiculed Paul McCartney for only writing silly love songs, and then McCartney wrote a number-one single called Silly Love Songs.

In fact, the character of Jacques from AYLI may have been a caricature of Jonson. He speaks mostly to himself, and no one really cares about his philosophy, if they are even listening to it. While Jacques' rumination on the seven ages of man is unarguably a legendary piece of work, no one around him has anything to say about it.

For his EMO Jonson created a vainglorious social-climber named Sogliardo who, like Shakespeare, spent time, cash and special favor to gain for himself and his family a coat-of-arms. While Shakespeare's read Not Without Right, Sogliardo's reads Not Without Mustard.

The difference is, I needed to explain that joke to you while the melancholy Jacques is one of the most beloved figures in "the canon". EMO was a popular failure, a fact German poet and translator Ludwig Tieck speculated, "greatly irritated its author."

Happy birthday, William Shakespeare. You win again.

As You Like It (A New Variorum Edition, 1890)
As You Like It: A Guide to the Play by Stephen Lynch
As You Like It (Arden Edition)

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