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410 L.l:f l T.t:KI) iN CANADA 1979 one he shares with many critics: he is not as exciting as his subject . (JOHN H . ASTINGTON) Douglas Duncan. Ben Jonsonand the Ludanic Tradition Cambridge University Press. viii, 252. $24.95 'Clever but harmless and undeniably light-weight, the Lucian we know today accords oddly with the Lucian who was fought over in the sixteenth century' (p 77). Fought over, as Professor Duncan shows (exercising his own learned wit throughout), with learned wits as his champions and dunces as his adversaries. Lucian's family intended him to be a stone-carver as Ben Jonson's intended him to be a bricklayer, but the seductions and high promises of literary culture won out in each case, Jonson becoming (after false starts as a soldier and an actor) a playwright, poet, and critic, Lucian a professional educator and lecturer. 'Not for him the image of the teacher agonistes, sweating it out with his students in the classroom day by day. He is the travelling performer wafted to the airport on waves of applause' (p 16). He is a great dramatizerofhis ideas and literary inventions and his detachment from them is 'compulsive': his pervasive irony in tone and trope is in a sense dramatic, 'farcing' Platonic dialogue with Aristophanic ingredients (p 23), and yet Duncan very acutely points out that Lucian and his greater Renaissance admirer, Erasmus, in The Praise of Folly, for all their playfulness and histrionic skill, never gave to their pieces the dramatic consistency imposed by the dramatist and the actors in the playhouse. They play with and tease their auditors or readers far more than most playwrights (Jonson being somewhat of an exception and being demonstrably influenced by them) would be permitted to do. This Lucianic and Erasmian 'teasing' is well illustrated in the discussion of Va/pone: As farcical situations accumulate and cohere in an elaborate plot, the play's moral vision is correspondingly clarified and enforced. But farce is also a weapon which can be moral in the sense that it tests the audience's powers of discrimination. Instead of clarifying, it can actively obscure what is seriously at issue. In Vo[pone the temptation to 'laugh off' a predominantly evil world, and indeed to take part in it joyfully, is at least as strong as the encouragement to see it clearly for what it is and to reject it with the scornful laughter prescribed by Sidney. (P 146) After relating the fable of the play to the classical themes of legacyhunting and the fox outfoxed, espeCiallyas found in Lucian, he continues: One of the main contributions to Volpone of Erasmian lusus (in the sense of a deceptively playful testing of moral intelligence) was that it provided Jonson with a learned equivalent for techniques made familiar by Morality drama, thus giving them an authority which the humanist poet required. (P 157) Persuasive skills are turned against the audience with an effect no less trenchant for being unperceived by the slower or guiltier among their number. The laughter elicited by Volpone and Epicoene is 'nearly always tinged with some form of culpable delight, whether in blasphemy or cruelty, in the wilful perversion of the moral sense or in simple escape from it: and in The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair the playwright 'continues to let thoughtless spectators hang themselves but gives them more comfortable rope with which to do so' (p 191). This is very good indeed and is properly representative of this judicious and festive book. From the treatment of Bartholomew Fair I must not leave unmentioned the nicely drawn contrast, as if of opposite emblems, between Ursula the Pig-Woman and 'Queen and huntress chaste and fair' (p 207), or the curious affinity between justice Overdo and the Cicero of Caliline (p 244). Quarlous the author calls a 'law-school drop-out turned gamester' and adds, 'he is not so much a rogue as a pragmatist, wholly addicted to the "play of life". It is appropriate that he, as the arch-opportunist of the play, its expert in the ethics of the market, should steer it to its ambivalent close in the accents of Erasmus's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 416-418
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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