Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Rome. Ancient capital of Roman civilization. Jonson uses a well-known plot to overthrow a government as a means of demonstrating the danger that individual ambition poses to a stable civilization. Here, the city of Rome is more than merely a geographical locale for the play’s action. It symbolizes all values that are good, holy, and ordained by the gods. What Catiline’s evil machinations threaten is not simply the transfer of power within a city. Rather, the fall of Rome would mean the end of a civilization created on principles of law and reason, in which citizens are treated with dignity and governed through the collective consent of the majority, expressed through elected representatives. To emphasize the importance of the city, Jonson frequently has characters refer to Rome as “Mother,” noting how, symbolically, the city has nurtured its citizens; consequently, Catiline’s plot is tantamount to rape. Such vivid imagery helps personify the city and engage playgoers and readers emotionally in the elected leaders’ struggle with the conspirators.

Catiline Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Barton, Anne. Ben Jonson, Dramatist. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. In a manner similar to T. S. Eliot but more extended in scope, Barton examines the play in terms of its relationship to Jonsonian comedy, especially in its use of the characters’ names to define and describe their nature and roles.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ben Jonson. Edgemont, Pa.: Chelsea House, 1987. Contains several perceptive essays on various aspects of Catiline.

De Luna, Barbara. Jonson’s Romish Plot: A Study of “Catiline” and Its Historical Context. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1967. Argues that the play was a retelling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. De Luna’s most controversial conjecture is that Jonson himself may have been implicated in, or at least have had prior knowledge of, the plot.

Eliot, T. S. “Ben Jonson.” In Selected Essays. Winchester, Mass.: Faber & Faber, 1932. First published in 1919, this essay asserts that Catiline failed primarily because Jonson could not place his theme, characters, and subject in the proper vehicle. T. S. Eliot sees some parts of the play as similar to satiric comedy.

Miles, Rosalind. Ben Jonson: His Craft and Art. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1990. A general study of Jonson’s artistry. Includes an examination of Catiline.