The Intertextualities of Ben Jonson's 'Volpone'

James Tulip


The relation of Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson is surely one of the great subjects of English literary and cultural history. To have in the space of some twenty-five to thirty years such a concentration of genius is remarkable. The shift from the earlier medieval and Morality stages in later Elizabethan times is so striking as to be seen by many to deny any real continuity. The break at the other end after 1620 is equally remarkable. There was clearly a sustained high point of English cultural history from 1585 to 1620 which the medium of the theatre captured, preeminently in Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson. In Marlowe we find innovation, in Shakespeare consolidation and in Jonson deconstruction. It is as if an organic and imaginative wholeness is working itself through these three powerful and distinctive talents. How to name this wholeness is the ultimate aim of a study of this kind. Here it is sufficient to set up approaches to this question largely through the retrospective view which Jonson's Volpone, coming late in the period of highest creativity, offers.

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