BEN JONSON'S
EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR

Monday, December 28, 2015

Lucille Lortel Theatre

121 Christopher Street

 

Directed by Carson Elrod

Featuring Michael Countryman, Diane Davis, Angel Desai, Carson Elrod, Kelly Hutchinson, Korey Jackson, Claire Karpen, Ben Mehl, Craig Pattison, Matthew Saldivar, Jay O. Sanders, Kenneth Tigar, Henry Vick, Roger Yeh, and more

A wacky wedding comedy from the ‘90s? The 1590’s that is...  Jonson’s famous light-hearted romp follows the classic story of an aristocratic man and his blue-collar bride-to-be. The parents are bound to disapprove!

 

Controlled by key organs, the four "humours" were the choleric, the sanguine, the phlegmatic, and the melancholy - and these could combine to create volatile mixtures. Ben Jonson's comedy of temperaments follows Kno'well, who, in an overflow of concern for his son's moral development, sets his servant, Brainworm, to spy on him. Meanwhile, the merchant Kitely suffers an overflow of jealousy, fearing that his wife is cuckolding him with some of the wastrels brought to his home by his brother-in-law, Wellbred. With all these "humours" overflowing, humor is sure to ensue!

 

The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York.

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT

 

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) was the stepson of a bricklayer, his father having died a month before his birth, and he briefly entered this trade after leaving school – something his enemies never permitted him to forget. He soon escaped by joining the wars in the Netherlands where he killed an enemy soldier in single combat and made off with his battlefield trophies. In 1597 he was imprisoned for his part in an outrageous satire, The Isle of Dogs, a “lewd plaie” full of seditious and “slanderous matter” that apparently made fun of the Queen. The next year he killed Gabriel Spenser, a fellow actor, in a duel, for which he was again imprisoned and escaped death only by the legal ploy of benefit of clergy; he forfeited his property and received a brand on his left thumb. None of these events seemed to hamper his theatrical career, as his first play, Every Man in His Humour, was produced the same year. After 1600 Jonson wrote for various companies, including the Children of the Revels at Blackfriars Theater, where he played a central part in the War of the Theaters, a famous theatrical quarrel between Jonson, Marston and Dekker that played out on London’s stages.  After 1605 he became famous at court for his masques (until he quarreled with Inigo Jones, the great designer of these masques.) His major plays all date from the Jacobean period: Volpone, or the Fox (seen at Red Bull in 2012), Epicene, or the Silent Woman, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair.

 

ABOUT THE PLAY

Generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist after Shakespeare, Jonson is known as an acute observer of human foibles and a manipulator of ingenious, complicated plots. Jonson’s plots are in fact merely the point of departure for an extremely elaborate and sophisticated demonstration of pure language in service of his creative purpose: to disenchant (mostly) men from their illusions. While critical opinion often holds that Jonson is a judgmental poet, this is not quite the case -- rather he presents the follies of men and the process by which they are disenchanted and relieved of those follies. His is a Platonic view of the world; nature and the natural functions of the world are right, logical and just; men’s illusions interfere with their perception of the world and cause them to work against the process of nature, to fight and subvert it to such a degree that they can no longer recognize it. Only when men are shorn of their illusions can they see the rightness of the world.

 

In Every Man in His Humour Jonson develops an elaborate theory of humour, comedy, and the function of poetry in society. Jonson draws on the tradition of classical comedy but expands the terms of that tradition; the function of the poet in society is parallel to that of God in the cosmos: creator, legislator, and judge. The play rests on the Renaissance notion of the four humours that make up a balanced person: black bile (melancholic); yellow bile (angry); blood (sanguine, optimistic); phlegm (philosophical, passive.) Understanding that one’s body tends toward one humour is the first step in creating a self image; man works hard to arrange his environment to meet with nothing that will undermine or interfere with that one tendency, even to the extreme of becoming violent in order to preserve his predilection. Jonson’s brilliant use of disguise underscores this physiological concept of character and the transformational heart of acting and theater itself.

 

Every Man in His Humour has a notable stage history. Shakespeare himself played Knowell in the first production in 1598, along with the famous comic actors Will Kemp and Will Slye. In 1751, David Garrick played Kitley in his own production, and in perhaps its most famous revival, Charles Dickens played Bobadill in his own wildly successful production in 1845.

 

Kathleen Dimmick

Bennington College

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