English Language and Literature ETDs

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Jonson always has a central—and single—argument or truth: namely, men do not live by reason; on the contrary, they only pretend to reason, thus causing the world of folly or evil. Nor was this concept peculiar to Jonson. The presence of it in Discoveries is enough to mark it as established in critical tradition. Furthar, Jonson’s view of the nature of man is traceable from the classical concept of “right reason” to the Renaissance view of man as a being endowed with a divine reason which is continually at variance with his “will” to err. Almost any general book no what the Renaissance thought concerning the nature of man gives evidence that it was so widely accepted as to be a commonplace. Indeed, we can detect in Jonson’s attitude echoes of that special Renaissance view of man held by Christian Neo-Stoics, of whom Justus Lipsius is perhaps the handiest example. This study, therefore, attempts to elucidate Jonson’s central argument or truth and to show that it is not only consistently held but that it is in the main stream of humanism and is a recognizable view of the world because it interprets and creates images according to what Jonson, like many of his thoughtful contemporaries, believed to be the real nature of man and the real nature of a world in which man behaved according to the dictates of folly instead of the dictates of reason. Most critics of Jonson view his dramatic characters as grotesque or monstrous. This study attacks the common critical opinion and attempts to show that the characters of Jonson’s plays, although exaggerated, remain recognizable persons, not so different from men of the actual world as the critics would have us believe. Like the figures in Hogarth’s “Gin Lane,” or in Daumier’s “Third Class Railway Carriage, “ or in Ensor’s “The Intrigue,” Jonson’s figures are shown in a perspective which satirizes a whole age and its follies and evils. Moreover, as this study maintains, Jonson’s picture of the world of men is consistent throughout his works, in criticism and poems as well as is drama. In Chapter One I shall show that it is necessary to see Jonson’s world as a picture of the actual world as seen through the “perspective glass” of Johnson’s mind in order to explore the theme which I see as the argument of all his works. In Chapter Two and Three, I shall examine Sejanus and Volpone to show how Jonson presents his truth or central argument. I shall correlate the argument of the plays with Jonson’s statements in Discoveries, in the Prologues to the plays, and in his poems.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Edith Buchanan

Second Committee Member

Franklin Miller Dickey

Third Committee Member

Katherine Gauss Simons



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