Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

With Every Man in His Humour (1598) having been a tremendous success, Ben Jonson—possibly urged on by his fellow investors in the theater—wrote Every Man out of His Humour as a companion piece to his earlier play. In this play, produced the following year, Jonson overreaches himself: There are too many characters and the plot seems to ramble pointlessly. One explanation for the comparative weakness of the play lies in the fact that at the time of its composition Jonson was actively engaged in the so-called war of the theaters, a controversy in which rival playwrights employed the stage to satirize each other and to ridicule actors of the rival companies. As a play, Every Man out of His Humour is a hodgepodge that manages somehow to work out; as personal satire it no longer holds meaning for the modern audience. Its subject and treatment, however, make it a work of particular interest to historians of literature.

Although intended as a battle in the war of the theaters, particularly as an attack upon Thomas Dekker and John Marston, Every Man out of His Humour is more than that. Jonson’s comedy of humors conceived of stage personalities on the basis of a ruling trait or passion, much as Charles Dickens later gave his fictional characters certain dominant traits or characteristics. By placing these typified traits in juxtaposition, the spark of comedy is struck in their conflict and contrast. The result, in Every Man out of His Humour, is often funny. Jonson possessed an arrogant, self-righteous personality and he smarted under the satire of his competitors, seeking to get back at them with this play. The satirical picture of contemporary manners, vivid caricatures, and the witty dialogue...

(The entire section is 715 words.)