Humors Comedy Criticism: Major Figures: Ben Jonson - Essay

Henry L. Snuggs (essay date 1947)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Snuggs, Henry L. “The Comic Humours: A New Interpretation.” PMLA 42, no. 1, part 1 (March 1947): 114-22.

[In the following essay, Snuggs contends that previous critics have misunderstood Jonson's notion of humors in his comedies, and suggests that Jonson used the concept not in a strict scientific manner but in the more popular sense of affectation and eccentricity.]

The Induction to Every Man out of his Humour, which contains Jonson's most significant statement about humorous characterization, has been universally interpreted by critics as follows: Jonson rebelled against the “abuse of this word Humour,” which had come to be used popularly to...

(The entire section is 3703 words.)

John J. Enck (essay date 1957)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Enck, John J. “The Streame of Humour.” In Jonson and the Comic Truth, pp. 44-69. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1957.

[In the following essay, Enck claims that the Jonsonian concept of humors has been misinterpreted and misapplied, and maintains that the humors are less prevalent in Jonson's plays than critics have claimed.]

With Every Man out of His Humour Jonson unveiled his decisive exercise in what a play with a singleness of purpose throughout ought to be. As such, it remains one of those focal points which reinforce all an author's undertakings. Its strengths, further refined, run as supports through most later achievements; its...

(The entire section is 10294 words.)

James D. Redwine, Jr. (essay date 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Redwine, James D., Jr. “Beyond Psychology: The Moral Basis of Jonson's Theory of Humour Characterization.” ELH 28, no. 4 (December 1961): 316-34.

[In the following essay, Redwine contends that Jonsonian humors characterization, whether considered as an account of human behavior or a form of dramatic characterization, has its basis not in psychology or aesthetics but in morality.]

One critic has recently averred that Jonson's humours are among the most stifling subjects in literary history.1 That is very stifling indeed. Nevertheless, it is with his humours that an analysis of Jonson's theory of characterization must begin. As Enck himself goes on...

(The entire section is 7514 words.)

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: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich Wydawinctwo, 1969.

[In the following essay, Gottwald analyzes the structural content of Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, traces its classical and English roots, and explores its own distinctive features.]

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...

(The entire section is 3026 words.)

Robert Shenk (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Shenk, Robert. “The Habits and Ben Jonson's Humours.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 8, no 1 (spring 1978): 115-36.

[In the following essay, Shenk responds to critic James Redwine's analysis of Jonsonian humors characterization as primarily moral, but goes further and shows that the notion of habit or custom, the backbone of seventeenth-century morality, played a key role in Jonson's dramatic theory.]

Ill habits gather by unseen degrees,—
As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.



In 1961, ELH published an article by James D. Redwine, Jr., entitled “Beyond...

(The entire section is 8884 words.)

Richard McCabe (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McCabe, Richard. “Ben Jonson, Theophrastus, and the Comedy of Humours.” Hermathena, no. 146 (summer 1989): 25-37.

[In the following essay, McCabe argues that the Greek writer Theophrastus was the dominant influence on Jonson's theory of humors as displayed in Every Man in His Humour.]


The Characters of Theophrastus were tolerably well known throughout the sixteenth century, but their popularity was greatly enhanced in 1592 by the publication at Lyons of Isaac Casaubon's scholarly edition, Characteres Ethici, sive Descriptiones Morum, in which the Greek text was complemented by a Latin translation of notable concision...

(The entire section is 4983 words.)