On Satire: Ben Jonson’s ‘Volpone’

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow

What did English satirists do after the archbishop of Canterbury banned the printing of satires in June 1599? They turned to the stage. Within months of the crackdown, the same satirical tricks Elizabethans had read in verse could be enjoyed in theatres. At the heart of the scene was Ben Jonson, who for many centuries has maintained a reputation as the refined, classical alternative to Shakespeare, with his diligent observance of the rules extracted from Roman comedy. In this episode, Colin and Clare argue that this reputation is almost entirely false, that Jonson was as embroiled in the volatile and unruly energies of late Elizabethan London as any other dramatist, and nowhere is this more on display than in his finest play, Volpone.

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