Every Man in His Humour

by Ben Jonson

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Student Question

Discuss how Ben Johnson's Every Man in His Humour represents different temperaments of humanity.

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This is clearly a play in which Jonson presents the various aberrations of human nature and folly and offers them to the audience to be laughed at. The eccentricities of human nature are presented to the audience through a bewildering array of different characters who each serve to model some sort of folly or fault taken to extremes. What is of interest is the way that Jonson seems to connect characters in their folly through differences, presenting some characters who appear to oppose each other in the play as actually being very similar and vice versa. Consider how Matthew is presented as being very similar to Stephen. Matthew is presented as the town gull, whereas Stephen is the country gull. In spite of their different locations, both are presented as being very similar in the way that they try to copy fashions in sport and are fanatical about a particular fashion. The difference lies in the way that Matthew is shown to have kept up with the trends of style and Stephen, as befits his position as the country gull, has not, with hilarious consequences. Note how Matthew describes Stephen in Act III scene 1:

Troth, nor I, he is of a rustical cut, I know not how: he doth not carry himself like a gentleman of fashion--

Clearly the audience laughs both at Stephen for his "rustical cut" and at Matthew for the obsessive way with which he seeks to keep up with the latest style. The desire of man to fit in and to keep up with changes in fashion and style is thus mocked through these two characters, who are actually presented as being quite similar in spite of their overt differences. In this play, Jonson presents the audience with a world in which each character's fate is determined by their personality, and this is a fate that remains unaltered by any other character.

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