How is the play Volpone a reaction to anti-theatrical discourse?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is important to realise that at the time of Jonson's writing this play, there was a rise in anti-theatrical prejudice thanks to Puritanism and civic authorities. This is something that Jonson himself had some sympathy for, though for different reasons, as he felt that a dramatist is only presented in print, rather than in the way that some acting troops were very free with the texts they performed, and did not feel any loyalty towards the original playwright. Some performances of plays therefore abused the text and introduced mockery and debasement into the original work. Jonson was one of the first playwrights to have his name printed in large letters over both the performed and published versions of his work, and it was clear that although he had some sympathy with anti-theatrical concerns, he sought not to abolish theatre but to reinvigorate and transform it through a reformation of dramatic poetry. This can be easily seen in the opening scene of the play where Volpone wakes up and utters his own "aubade" or greeting to the dawn, but in his case, choosing to use it to greet his wealth:

Hail to the world's soul, and mine. More glad than is

The teeming earth to see the longed-for sun

Peep through the horns of the celestial ram,

Am I, to view they splendour, darkening his:

That lying here, amongst my other hoards,

Show'st like a flame by night; or like the day

Struck out of chaos, when all darkness fled

Unto the center. Oh, thou son of Sol

(But brighter than thy father) let me kiss,

With adoration, thee, and every relic

Of sacred treasure in this blessed room.

The way in which he greets his treasure by using religious terms such as "sacred" and "blessed" coneveys the blasphemous regard he has for wealth, and his worship of it, whilst his hyperbolic comparison of his gold to the sun and the way he claims that his gold is the brighter indicates the level of his avarice, as well as his intense energy. This opening speech is meant to indicate Volpone's intense worship of gold and how it is his soul, but at the same time, it marks out Jonson as a dramatic poet of some skill, and it is clear that the verse in this play is a work of art in its own right rather than just a bawdy work meant for a few cheap productions before it was consigned to the garbage of fate. This work is therefore anti-theatrical in the way that Jonson created a play that was a work of art in its own right, without having to be performed, in addition to the focus he placed on creating dramatic poetry. 

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