Many critics of Ben Jonson's ''Volpone'' have argued that it is not a true comedy but rather a mix of tragedy, comedy, and satire. Many have also claimed that it follows the traditional beast-fable that can be found in the tales of Aesop. Although Volpone takes on some characteristics of tragedy, it seems to follow closer to the conventions of comedy. But it is not the traditional form of comedy. It is a play that takes on the form of a comical satire as well as a morality play. It also adapts the features of a fable in that it strives to teach a moral. Yet this play, even though it adopts these traditions, puts a different twist on what people would expect from a comedy or morality play. Jonson presents his audience with an unconventional way of approaching the subjects he is satirizing by creating a new form of comedy that embodies aspects of all three genres.
Since we are considering Volpone to be a comedy, What type of comedy is it? Rather than the city comedies that were popular at the time I believe this play to be more like a satirical comedy. Why a satire? Because he is criticizing his age and social atmosphere. He also has as a main influence of his play the satiric works of Juvenal. Like Juvenal, Jonson is satirizing the whole of his country. Whether it is the corruption of the court that we find in Voltore or the immorality of the legacy hunters Jonson is satirizing the importance of money during his time.
But there is a striking difference between Volpone and the traditional idea of comical satire.
The contrast between Volpone and the comical satire is immediately apparent. Gone are the static spokesman, the conveniently formulated ideal, and the easy dispensation of comic justice from a lofty vantagepoin...
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...te of others. It is this combination of the moral and satirical that makes this play so unique for its time. The use of the fable lets the reader treat the subject of moral action in a detached way while the comical action entertains the audience. In Volpone Jonson was successful in combining three genres in order to create a new form of comedy.
Barish, Jonas A. Ben Jonson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall Inc.:Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963.
Baum, Helena Watts. The Satiric and Didactic in Ben Jonson’s Comedies. The University of North Carolina Press, 1947.
Dessen, Alan C. Jonson’s Moral Comedy. Northwestern University. Press, 1971.
Watson, Robert N. Ben Jonson’s Parodic Strategy: Literary Imperialism in the Comedies. Harvard University Press, 1987.
White, T.H. The Bestiary: A Book of Beasts. G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York. 1960.
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