Every Man in His Humour, Ben Jonson - Essay

Ben Jonson


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Every Man in His Humour Ben Jonson

English playwright, poet, masque writer, and critic.

The following entry presents critisim on Jonson's play Every Man in His Humour. See also Ben Jonson Poetry Criticism and Ben Jonson Literary Criticism.

Every Man in His Humour is one of Jonson's best-known and most influential plays. Initially staged in 1598 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men (which included William Shakespeare in the cast), the play was first printed in 1601. Jonson made significant revisions to the play for publication in his Works (1616). Much of the contemporary critical discussion of the play analyzes the changes made to the 1598 Quarto version, which were incorporated into the 1616 Folio revision. Considered a comedy of intrigue, the play chronicles the efforts of a young, well-born man to wed his true love, despite his well-intentioned father's attempts to prevent the wedding. Every Man in His Humour also popularized the theory of humours and is regarded as a major work of comic realism.

Plot and Major Characters

The central plot of Every Man in His Humour concerns the adventures of a young, upper-class man, Edward Knowell, who visits the city both to visit his friend, Wellbred, and to seek the hand of Bridget, who is from a lower economic and social class. Edward's father regards the match as ill-advised and resolves to follow to the city to prevent the marriage. Realizing that his father is following him and intent on sabotaging his attempts to wed Bridget, Edward solicits the help of his father's clever servant, Brainworm, who assumes several disguises to trick the elder Knowell and foil his pursuit. The characters encounter various eccentrics, such as the braggart soldier Bobadill, the jealous husband Kitely, the country fool Stephen, and the city fool Matthew, all of whom are exemplars for particular personality traits based on the theory of humours. The play closes in the courtroom of the eccentric Justice Clement, where the young couple is wed. Edward's father accepts his son's marriage and the play ends with the classic ritual of the wedding feast.

Major Themes

Every Man in His Humour popularized the “comedy of humours.” Originally a medical term, “humours” were the fluids believed to regulate the body and by extension the human temperament. The theory, which can be traced to ancient times, is that there are four distinct bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. An imbalance of these fluids, or humours, causes a personality disturbance. In Every Man in His Humour Jonson worked these theories into his drama to great effect—the characters in the work show clear evidence of their individual imbalances of humours. Although Jonson was not the first to employ the idea of humours in a drama, his use of the conceit in Every Man in His Humour is considered exemplary, and such characterization continued to be a feature of his work. Commentators contend that key features of the play are derived from classical drama, particularly from Plautus's comedies in form and structure. Like those plays, the plot centers on an unlikely couple overcoming obstacles—particularly familial and social opposition—to marry. In addition, the concept of a pair of stately, elderly people outwitted by a pair of clever young men can be traced back to Plautine comedy, as can the characters of the cunning servant and the braggart soldier. The work is also considered a predecessor of comic realism on the English stage—Jonson's London audiences recognized the play's characters as fellow citizens, even before Jonson's 1616 revision changed the setting from Florence to London.

Critical Reception

Critics assert that Every Man in His Humour was Jonson's first successful play and established his playwriting career. Moreover, the play is considered influential because it laid the groundwork for comic realism on the English stage and popularized the comedy of humours. Most critical analyses of the play focus on the extensive revisions Jonson made to the 1598 Quarto version for publication in his 1616 Folio revision of Every Man in His Humour: commentators note that Jonson changed the setting of the play from Florence to London; characters were given English names; the concept of humours was strengthened; and a notable speech was excised from the end of the play. In addition, in the Folio version of the play Jonson added a prologue that presents the essential dramatic theory for all his comedies. Other commentators have discussed Every Man in His Humour in the context of Jonson's oeuvre and laud his mastery of form, his utilization of classical elements, his vivid and expansive depiction of London life in the 1600s, and his successful blend of the serious and comic, the topical and the timeless.

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

The Case is Alterd (play) 1598

Every Man in His Humor (play) 1598

The Comicall Satyre of Every Man out of His Humor (play) 1599; also published as Every Man out of His Humour, 1920

Cynthias Revels; or, The Fountain of Self-Love (play) 1601

Poetaster; or, The Arraignment (play) 1601

Sejanus His Fall (play) 1603

Eastward Ho! [with George Chapman and John Marston] (play) 1605

Masque of Blackness (masque) 1605

Hymanaei (masque) 1606

Volpone; or, The Foxe (play) 1606

Masque of Beauty (masque) 1608

Epicoene; or, The Silent Woman (play) 1609

Masque of Queenes (masque) 1609

The Alchemist (play) 1610

Catiline His Conspiracy (play) 1611

Oberon, the Fairy Prince (masque) 1611

Bartholomew Fayre (play) 1614

The Divell is an Asse; or, The Cheater Cheated (play) 1616

The Golden Age Restored (masque) 1616

The Workes of Benjamin Jonson (plays and poetry) 1616

Pleasure Reconcild to Vertue (masque) 1618

Informations by Ben Jonson to W. D. When He Came to Scotland upon Foot (conversations) 1619; also published as Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden [revised edition], 1976

The Gypsies Metamorphosed (masque) 1621

The Fortunate Isles and Their Union (masque) 1625

The Staple of News (play) 1626

The New Inne; or, The Light Heart (play) 1629

The Magnetick Lady; or, Humors Reconciled (play) 1632

*A Tale of a Tub (play) 1633

The Workes of Benjamin Jonson. 2 vols. (plays, poetry, and prose) 1640-41

Timber; or, Discoveries Made upon Men and Matter as They Have Flowed out of His Daily Reading, or Had Their Reflux to His Peculiar Notion of the Times (prose) 1641

Ben Jonson. 11 vols. (plays, poetry, and prose) 1625-52

The Complete Masques of Ben Jonson (masques) 1969

The Complete Poems of Ben Jonson (poetry) 1975

The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson. 4 vols. (play) 1981-82

*This work was probably written in 1596 and was later revised.

†This work is sometimes referred to as Sylva or Silva.

Martin Seymour-Smith (essay date 1966)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Seymour-Smith, Martin. Introduction to Every Man in His Humour, edited by Martin Seymour-Smith, pp. xiii-xxxi. London: Ernest Benn, 1966.

[In the following essay, Seymour-Smith considers the central themes and chronicles the history of Every Man in His Humour.]


Benjamin Jonson, known by his own preference and that of posterity as Ben, was born in 1572, probably on 11 June, in or near Westminster. He was the posthumous son of a Protestant minister; soon after his birth his mother married a bricklayer. He was sent to Westminster School, where his master was William Camden, the antiquary, to whom he dedicated Every Man in His Humour. Probably he did not finish at Westminster, but was removed by his stepfather about 1589 and apprenticed to the bricklaying trade. Gibes about this followed him to his grave, and do little credit to those who made them.

From 1589 until his appearance in Henslowe's Diary in 1597 little is known of him. He was in the wars in Flanders and killed an enemy in single combat, and he married, probably in 1594, a woman called Anne Lewis. A seven-year-old son died in 1603. It seems likely that after his career as a soldier he became an actor. From later references to him we gather that he was a strolling player in 1597, and that he played the part of Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy. He completed Nashe's lost play The Isle of Dogs (1597), which became the subject of legal proceedings for reasons not now clear. Nashe fled to Yarmouth, but Jonson was imprisoned for a time. He had written a number of plays by 1598, including some lost comedies and one tragedy. His career proper, as he himself conceived it, began with Every Man in His Humour, which was produced by the Lord Chamberlain's men with great success at the Curtain Theatre in September 1598 (perhaps because of a difference with Henslowe) with Shakespeare in the cast. Within a week or so of this event Jonson had a duel with one of Henslowe's actors, Gabriel Spencer, and killed him. He was branded as a felon but escaped hanging through the routine reciting of his neck-verse. While in prison he became a Roman Catholic, and remained one until 1610 (when he said he celebrated his return to the Anglican fold by drinking off the whole bottle of wine at Communion).

Between 1599 and 1601 Jonson was deeply involved in the complicated so called ‘war of the theatres’, between the select playhouses in the city and the public ones on Bankside. After a period of poverty, when he was supported by Sir Robert Townshend, and a failure in 1603 with the still underrated tragedy Sejanus (1603), Jonson became established and successful. His Catholicism seems to have had little effect on his career: he wrote a long series of masques and entertainments for the Court, and enjoyed some influence there. He and his wife were examined for recusancy in 1606, but this seems to have been a technicality, for in 1605 he had actually been employed by the government to discover the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. When in 1604 Marston and Chapman were imprisoned for making fun of James I (an occupation difficult to resist) in Eastward Ho!, in which he had also collaborated, he joined them voluntarily, and may have been instrumental in their all three avoiding the threatened penalty of having their noses slit. His finest plays, Volpone, Epicene, The Alchemist, followed in the next few years. In 1612 he went with Ralegh's son, as tutor, to the Continent. In 1616 was published the definitive Folio edition of his works: no English author before him had seen his own works through the press with such scrupulous care, nor had plays ever before been treated as seriously. It is unlikely that the Shakespeare Folio of 1623 would ever have been inaugurated had it not been for the prestige accorded to playwriting by Jonson by his inclusion of plays in his Folio volume. His is probably the greatest single influence on punctuation practice in the whole of English literature; authors gave little or no attention to the matter before him. The contribution made by this man, who never attended a university—though he later became an honorary M.A. of both—to the stature of poetry and to the prestige of the poet in society is impossible to estimate. In 1616 his supremacy as a professional man of letters was recognized by the granting to him of a pension of £66.13.4 (one hundred marks) a year for life.

During his last twenty-five years Jonson wrote fewer plays, and those he did write show some falling-off. The Staple of News (1626) is his last good play. In 1623 his library was destroyed by fire, which he lamented in his poem An Execration Upon Vulcan.

In 1628, at the age of fifty-six, Jonson had a stroke, and he appears to have been paralysed and confined to his room for the remaining nine years of his life. In this final period he wrote three poorish plays, The New Inn (1628/9), The Magnetic Lady (1632) and A Tale of a Tub (1633), which was perhaps a revision of a play originally written in 1596/7. He also wrote two masques for the Court of Charles I, and other entertainments. He seems to have been forgotten by some—but not by a whole generation of poets known as ‘the Tribe of Ben’ or ‘Ben's boys’. There is no doubt that this group, which included almost every poet of talent (but not Milton) of the time, sincerely admired him, and cheered his last days. He died in Westminster on 6 August 1637, and was buried in the Abbey.

Jonson was an arrogant and quarrelsome man, who hardly courted popularity. That he was so respected is a tribute to the solidity of his achievement and to his essential warmth and humanity. The essence of his critical thought is to be found in Timber: or, Discoveries; Made upon Men and Matter (1641). He has suffered, as has often been pointed out, by being so highly respected that he remains unread, as if his work were dry or boring. The monumental eleven-volume Oxford edition of his works by Herford and Simpson, and the spate of studies and articles that have followed it, are doing much to rectify this state of affairs. He is remembered and valued for his understanding of poets (such as Shakespeare and Donne) who were very different from himself, for his brilliant formulations of sound and practical critical principles, his genius for subtle and witty characterization, his magnificent craftsmanship in versification and dramatic structure, and, perhaps above all because permeating all his work and transcending his faults, his sound good sense.



Every Man in His Humour exists in two forms: the Quarto version issued in 1601, and the revision which opens the 1616 Folio collection, hereinafter referred to respectively as Q and F. A notice inserted at the end of F states ‘This comedy was first Acted, in the year 1598. By the then L. Chamberlain his Servants.’, and lists Shakespeare, Burbage, Hemings and Cordell (the latter pair masterminded the Shakespeare Folio of 1623, perhaps with Jonson's active help and advice), among others, as ‘the principal comedians’. This date for the first performance, which must have been at the Curtain Theatre, Shoreditch, is confirmed and further limited by a reference, preserved in F, to a Burgundian, John Barrose, who was hanged for murder on 10 July 1598 (IV, ii, 17), and by a letter from Toby Mathew to Dudley Carleton of 20 September 1598, in which he speaks of a German who lost 300 crowns at ‘a new play called, Every Man's Humour’. There are some interesting references to the play made before its publication, which show that it was a success. In Th' overthrow of Stage-Plays (1599) a self-exiled Puritan, Richard Schilders, wrote of those who ‘bring upon the Stage the very sober countenances, grave attire, modest and matronlike gestures and speeches of men and women to be laughed at as a scorn and reproach to the world’ and went on to claim that his book had been issued ‘to correct the bad humour of such humourists as these’. In 1601 another, unidentified, writer, W. I., not so offensively puritan, attacked Jonson in a book called The Whipping of the Satire.

There is a tradition, first recorded by Rowe in 1709, the details of which are suspect, but the main fact of which may well be true, that Shakespeare interceded on Jonson's behalf when his manuscript was on the point of being rejected. Evidently Shakespeare played the part of Old Kno'well.

The title Every Man in His Humour appears first in the Stationer's Register in 1600 (its entry follows another of May 1600, and there is no reason to doubt the date), when, along with As You Like It, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing, it was entered ‘to be stayed’: this almost certainly meant that Shakespeare's company was insuring it against piracy by an unauthorized printer. Later in the same year it was entered by Cuthbert Burby and Walter Burre, and in 1601 Q made its appearance under the imprint of Walter Burre, ‘As it hath been sundry times publicly acted by the right Honourable Lord Chamberlain his servants’. The printer is unknown.

It has been demonstrated beyond doubt by Herford and Simpson that F was set up ‘from a copy of the 1601 Quarto which Jonson had worked over with manuscript corrections to prepare it for the press’. (The eccentric assertion of H. de Vocht, to the effect that Jonson did not oversee the 1616 Folio, was totally destroyed by Herford and Simpson, and can safely be ignored.) Q had been set ostensibly in Florence, although it is clear that Jonson had even then conceived his play against a backcloth of contemporary London. In his revision he preserved the time, 1598, but changed the scene from an unconvincing Florence to a remarkably real and informative London. He further improved the text by substituting the colloquial forms of the contemporary stage (which he had done so much to develop) for the literary dialogue of Q. The main differences between Q and F are discussed in a later section.

As a stage-play Every Man in His Humour has hardly ever fallen entirely out of fashion. Garrick ‘improved’ it in 1752, playing the part of Kitely, but giving himself much additional dialogue and cutting out large sections of the play that seemed irrelevant to his own performance. As Theophilus Cibber observed, he gave the original to his cat, and ‘What Puss clawed off, the Actor left out’. Dickens loved the play, and enjoyed acting the part of Bobadill, for reasons that can easily be imagined. There have been several revivals in this century, and the play is popular with amateurs.


Various dates have been put forward, but by far the most convincing is that put forward by Simpson in his 1919 Oxford edition, and adhered to by Herford and himself in their subsequent Collected edition. There is every reason to suppose that Jonson began work on the 1616 Folio in 1612, and since it was Every Man in His Humour that was chosen to open the volume, it is likely that he undertook the revision in this same year. The dates of 1601 and 1606 that have been suggested are unconvincing if only in that there would have been less pressing reasons for them—whereas in 1612 Jonson would have had the incentive to prepare and drastically revise the play with which he had made his first reputation. We know that he thought of Every Man in His Humour as the foundation of his achievement from the “Induction” to The Magnetic Lady (1632), where he wrote of himself as ‘beginning his studies of this kind, with every man in his Humour. …’ The whole manner of the revision belongs to his mature period. The arguments for a date of 1601 do not really merit discussion, since they depend on the rather absurd basis that new references to the Queen would not have been introduced if so careful a recasting had taken place in the reign of James I. But it was utterly characteristic of Jonson to have revised the play to take place in a particular past year. Besides which, as Simpson pointed out, John Trundle (I, ii, 54) did not begin to publish until 1603.

The arguments for a date of 1606 cannot be dismissed quite so lightly, but they are unconvincing, if only because there is no evidence for a revival of the play in 1606, and because they depend on Jonson's having intended to bring the play up to date in that year—which he clearly could not have wished, since he introduced new references to the Queen and preserved others. These arguments are summarized and refuted by Simpson in his Introduction to his 1919 edition, which is reprinted more or less verbatim in the later (1927) Herford and Simpson Collected edition.

What will clinch the argument for 1612 for most readers is the introduction of two lines given to Kitely in III, ii:

He's no precisian, that I am certain of.
Nor rigid Roman Catholic. …

Jonson himself said that he remained ‘twelve years’ a Catholic after the killing of Spencer. Is it likely that, while a Papist, he would have put these words into Kitely's mouth? The notion that he was poking fun at the popular mistrust of Catholics seems beyond possibility; it would not have gone down with any audience; besides, as Simpson pointed out, ‘Roman’ has a marked Protestant ring.

All the real evidence, in fact, goes to support the theory that Jonson revised the text of Q in 1612, in order that it might take its place as the first of the plays in the collected edition that was almost certainly first planned in that year.


The extent to which Jonson, in the composition of his earlier plays—notably Every Man in His Humour, Every Man out of His Humour, Cynthia's Revels, Poetaster—was guided by his theories concerning humours has not been, and perhaps never will be, determined. Certainly the question of humours has bedevilled discussion of these plays: critics of an earlier generation tended to look for ‘humour theory’ in them, and consequently to distort them. The truth is that Jonson chose to exploit a topic—‘humours’—that was in the air, in order to express his own theories of drama; and further, as he developed as a dramatist, the achievement of his plays transcended theoretical considerations more and more frequently—a fact that is still not sufficiently acknowledged, in spite of the large number of books that have been written on him in recent years. Even Herford and Simpson, whose massive edition of his works has done so much to rehabilitate him, may have insisted too rigidly upon his originality as a theoretician, and thus sometimes tended to smother his dramatic and poetic achievement in a web of critical theory.

Neither the idea of humours nor, wholly, the comedy of humours was invented by Jonson. This was the old-fashioned assumption. By the time Jonson came to concern himself with the stage, the topic was so lucubrated that he could even satirize (at any rate by the time he came to write Every Man out of His Humour) a certain current fashionable use of the term ‘humour’: when it was used to describe a mere fad or affectation, such as the wearing of particular clothes, or a whimsicality of speech. This use had developed naturally from the Fourteenth Century use of the word to denote the supposed fluid constituents of the body. A fuller history of the word in this connection may be found in Charles Read Baskerville's English Elements in Jonson's Early Comedy (Texas, 1911) and in Simpson's Introduction to his edition of Every Man in His Humour (Oxford, 1919). Baskerville argued that Jonson had been deeply influenced in his thinking on the subject by his reading of Lyly, Nashe and of Fenton's Tragical Discourses (1567); Simpson snubbingly refused to accept this. Nevertheless, opinion is now perhaps swinging more towards Baskerville's thesis.

Medieval medicine associated physical and mental dispositions with the preponderance of certain humours in the body: blood (hot and moist), phlegm (cold and moist), yellow bile (hot and dry) and black bile (cold and dry) should blend equally in the body. Imbalance led to various kinds of distempers. The theory became more and more complex, and the most elaborate account is to be found in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, by which time, however, medicine had begun to discountenance the theory. As has frequently been pointed out, the notion was not as silly as it may sound to us today—most particularly in its insistence that every psychological disorder had its origin in a physiological one.

The use of ‘humour’ in the sense of ‘mood’ has been traced back at least to 1525: ‘Hacklewitt and another … in a mad humour … coyted him … to the bottom of the stairs’. A few years later it could generally be understood to mean ‘a particular disposition … especially one having no apparent ground or reason’. This is really the main use that was exploited by Jonson's predecessors, and it was fastened upon by Jonson himself. In the “Induction” to Every Man out of His Humour (1600), the first humour play he committed to the press, Jonson provided a clear definition of what he meant in the words of Asper, the presenter:

Why, Humour (as 'tis ens) we thus define it
To be a quality of air or water,
And in itself holds these two properties,
Moisture, and fluxure: as, for demonstration,
Pour water on this floor, 'twill wet and run:
Likewise the air (forc'd through a horn, or trumpet)
Flows instantly away, and leaves behind
A kind of dew; and hence we do conclude,
That whatsoe'er hath fluxure, and humidity,
As wanting power to contain itself,
Is Humour. So in every human body
The choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood,
By reason that they flow continually
In some one part, and are not continent,
Receive the name of Humours. Now thus far
It may, by Metaphor, apply itself
Unto the general disposition:
As when some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a Humour.
But that a rook, in wearing a pied feather,
The cable hat-band, or the three-piled riff,
A yard of shoe tie, or the Switzer's knot
On his French garters, should affect a Humour!
Oh, 'tis more than most ridiculous.

Cordatus replies:

He speaks pure truth now, if an Idiot
Have but an apish, or phantastic strain,
It is his Humour.

And Asper continues:

                                                            Well I will scourge these apes;
And to these courteous eyes oppose a mirror,
As large as is the stage, whereon we act:
Where they shall see the time's deformity
Anatomized in every nerve, and sinew,
With constant courage, and contempt of fear.

What was new in Jonson's approach, and what he began to initiate in the earlier Every Man in His Humour, is not, however, contained in this exposition. His didactic purpose was, like that of every true satirist, ‘to scourge the follies of the time’: broadly, to castigate the essential selfishness of individual affectations and pretensions on the grounds that it detracted from the serious and reasonable conduct of affairs. In his best plays, such as Volpone, he transcends this intention, and produces a subtle and poetic view of life that is quite beyond satire; nevertheless, his actual programme remained what one might call—in contrast to less self-consciously articulate dramatists such as Shakespeare or Webster or even Middleton—prosaic. What Jonson did above all, and he was more than fumbling towards it in Every Man in His Humour—was to bring home the vices and follies and ‘humours’ of people by presenting them in the familiar milieu of real life, as it might be projected on to the stage. In the original Quarto the play is set in Italy; it was clearly important to Jonson that he should transfer this to London. He himself saw more clearly that Every Man in His Humour had marked the beginning of ‘his studies of this kind’. What concerned him was not the humour-theory itself, but the dramatic psychology which he had used this theory to implement. The theory in itself, after all, when divorced from the specific ‘humour’ terminology, is commonplace enough.

It seems likely that Jonson had written plays in collaboration with that other shamefully neglected Elizabethan Classicist, George Chapman. In May 1597 Henslowe presented a play by Chapman called An Humourous Day's Mirth, of which a Quarto text appeared in 1599. Thus Chapman precedes Jonson in his use of the ‘humour’ catchword in a play title. Furthermore, although his play is structurally a shambles in comparison to Jonson's, it bears many resemblances—some of them not superficial. Critics do not on the whole like Chapman (who did not much...

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Maria Gottwald (essay date 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Gottwald, Maria. “Every Man in His Humour: Classical and Native Elements in the First Comedy of Humours.” In Satirical Elements in Ben Jonson's Comedy, pp. 25-33. Wroclaw, Poland: Zaklad Narodowy im Ossoli'nskich, 1969.

[In the essay below, Gottwald underscores the satirical content in the 1616 Folio version of Every Man in His Humour.]

The 1616 Folio of Jonson's works is headed by the two so-called humour comedies, Every Man in his Humour (1598) and Every Man out of his Humour (1599). Though the titles sound very much alike the two plays differ so much that they cannot be placed in one row1. The significant subtitle of the...

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Gabriele Bernhard Jackson (essay date 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Jackson, Gabriele Bernhard. Introduction to Ben Jonson: Every Man in His Humour, edited by Gabriele Bernhard Jackson, pp. 1-34. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1969.

[In the following essay, Jackson provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Every Man in His Humour, contending that “all Jonson's characteristic concerns, values, turns of mind and phrase, dramatic techniques, structural designs—all are here ready to be selected, developed, recombined.”]

When Ben Jonson placed Every Man in His Humor at the head of his collected works and alluded to it in his dedication as his first-fruits, both position and allusion were...

(The entire section is 11237 words.)

J. W. Lever (essay date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Lever, J. W. Introduction to Every Man in His Humour: A Parallel-Text Edition of the 1601 Quarto and the 1616 Folio, edited by J. W. Lever, pp. xi-xxviii. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.

[In this essay, Lever offers an overview of the changes Jonson made to the original Quarto version of Every Man in His Humour.]


On the title page of the Folio (F [the first folio of Jonson's Works, 1616]), the date of the original version of the play (Q [the quarto of 1601]) is given as 1598. This is confirmed by a letter from Toby Matthew to Dudley Carleton dated September 20, 1598, which mentions a German who lost three hundred...

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Lawrence L. Levin (essay date spring 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Levin, Lawrence L. “Clement Justice in Every Man in his Humour.SEL 12, no. 2 (spring 1972): 291-307.

[In the essay that follows, Levin explores the function of the character of Doctor Clement in Every Man in His Humour and contends that the magistrate is a prototype for characters in Jonson's later plays.]

In both his comedies and tragedies, Ben Jonson reveals an almost obsessive concern with law and order and the various and insidious threats to the social fabric. In his comedies he demonstrates the relationship between satire and law as social instruments intended for the improvement of society through the correction of debilitating...

(The entire section is 6204 words.)

A. Richard Dutton (essay date April 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Dutton, A. Richard. “The Significance of Jonson's Revision of ‘Every Man in His Humour.’” Modern Language Review 69, no. 2 (April 1974): 241-49.

[In the following essay, Dutton contends that the 1616 revision of Every Man in His Humour provides a valuable opportunity to study Jonson's maturation as a dramatist.]

A number of major changes marked the development of Jonson's career as a dramatist, but none is more striking than the difference of tone and approach between Volpone (1605) and Epicoene (1609). Professor Harry Levin neatly summed up what has come to be the general attitude to this change in saying: ‘As [Jonson's] powers...

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Ralph Alan Cohen (essay date spring 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Cohen, Ralph Alan. “The Importance of Setting in the Revision of Every Man in his Humour.English Literary Renaissance 8, no. 2 (spring 1978): 183-96.

[In the essay below, Cohen contends that “the most striking difference” between the Quarto and Folio versions of Every Man in His Humour is the setting.]

In the version of Every Man in his Humour that Ben Jonson rewrote for inclusion in his carefully prepared Workes (1616), he changed the scene from Florence to London and added the dimension of a well-executed setting to his play. Other changes have been made—some speeches have been lengthened and some shortened, profane...

(The entire section is 6010 words.)

James A. Riddell (essay date 1997)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Riddell, James A. “Jonson and Stansby and the Revisions of Every Man in His Humour.Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 9 (1997): 81-91.

[In this essay, Riddell investigates the printing history of the 1616 Folio revision of Every Man in His Humour, focusing on the reasons for the extensive cuts made to that version of the play.]

The first play in the Jonson Folio of 1616, Every Man in His Humour, was not the first one printed. Indeed, the largest portion of it, everything after act 1, scene 3, line 104,1 was not printed until all of the other plays were through the press and the printer was at work on the next section...

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Ian Donaldson (essay date 1997)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Donaldson, Ian. “Politic Picklocks: Reading Jonson Historically.” In Jonson's Magic Houses: Essays in Interpretation, pp. 125-42. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

[In the essay below, Donaldson offers an autobiographical reading of Every Man in His Humour.]

A central problem in the methodology of both the new and ‘old’ historicism turns on the nature of the link that is assumed to exist between historical description and literary interpretation. The monolithic accounts of Elizabethan systems of belief assembled by so-called old historicists such as E. M. W. Tillyard (it is common these days to complain) often seem quite at variance with the diverse and at...

(The entire section is 7521 words.)

Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (essay date 1999)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Summers, Claude J., and Ted-Larry Pebworth. “The Comedies.” In Ben Jonson Revised, pp. 27-44. New York: Twayne, 1999.

[In the following excerpt, Summers and Pebworth offer a thematic and stylistic overview of Every Man in His Humour and assert that the play is not one of Jonson's more successful comedies.]

Ben Jonson is among the premier writers of comic drama in the English language. Energetic and vital, gritty and satiric, Jonson's comedies are the product of a self-conscious artist who took seriously the Horatian maxim that poetry should entertain and instruct. Best known today as the author of Every Man in His Humour, [E. M. I.]...

(The entire section is 7904 words.)

Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Craig, Hugh. “‘An Image of the Times’: Ben Jonson's Revision of Every Man in His Humour.English Studies 82, no. 1 (February 2001): 14-33.

Itemizes the semantic changes made to the Quarto version of Every Man in His Humour.

Gibbons, Brian. “The Question of Place.” Cahiers Elisabethains 50 (October 1996): 33-43.

Discusses the 1598 production of Every Man in His Humour at the Globe Theatre and its use of fictional space.

Kallich, Martin. “Unity of Time in Every Man in His Humour and Cynthia's Revels.Modern Language Notes 57, no. 6...

(The entire section is 245 words.)