Every Man out of His Humour

by Ben Jonson

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Italian countryside

Italian countryside. The play’s opening scene and several others throughout the drama are set in the country. Many of the major characters are country folk, and they exhibit behaviors often associated with less sophisticated men and women who wish to ape the fashion and behavior of city dwellers. The appearance in the country of figures who have lived in the city and been to court is enough to cause people with a propensity for pretentious behavior to pay close attention to those who claim to be able to help them improve their social status and fortune by transforming their dress and manners.

Italian city

Italian city. Several scenes take place in an unnamed city, where the country bumpkins become objects of ridicule. Jonson points out the hypocrisy and affectation of several of his major characters by contrasting their behavior with that of the more sophisticated citizens of the city.

Unidentified royal court

Unidentified royal court. Two key scenes are set at court, which in this play represents both the legitimate center of culture and power and the place where the pretensions of country folks are most apparent. The Lady Saviolina, who rules at court, quickly sees through the shallow behavior of would-be courtiers, and rebukes them for their attempts to masquerade as nobility.


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Beaurline, L. A. Jonson and Elizabethan Comedy: Essays in Dramatic Rhetoric. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1978. Analyzes the rhetorical devices Jonson uses to satirize literary pretensions. The intent of Every Man out of His Humour is more “corrective” than its predecessor’s, Every Man in His Humour, and its occasional roughness derives from its being an experiment.

Brock, D. Heyward. A Ben Jonson Companion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. A guide to Jonson’s life and works and to the literary milieu in which Jonson flourished. Plays are summarized; identifies characters in the works and people in Jonson’s life. Defines literary terms and includes bibliography.

Dessen, Alan C. Jonson’s Moral Comedy. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971. Sees Jonson as converting the materials of nondramatic verse satire to the stage in Every Man out of His Humour. The characters Macilente and Carlo Buffone replace the satirist of the nondramatic tradition. Every Man out of His Humour reveals much about Jonson’s aims as a satirist.

Enck, John J. Jonson and the Comic Truth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957. Useful discussion of the background to the theory of humors and an analysis of Jonson’s adaptation of it. Identifies Desiderius Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly (1509) as a source of inspiration.

Watson, Robert N. Ben Jonson’s Parodic Strategy: Literary Imperialism in the Comedies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987. Stresses three features of Every Man out of His Humour: the indifference to unity in plot and tone; the treatment of literary characters; and the attention to audience attitudes.

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Critical Essays