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Reviews Robert C. Evans. Jonson and the Contexts ofhis Time. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1994. Pp. xiv + 226. $34.00. This is a rich and thoughtful book which addresses the personal and political contexts of some of Jonson's works. It is mainly concerned with some of the plays and masques, but there is also comment upon specific individual poems, following the precedent of Evans' earlier study, Ben Jonson and the Poetics of Patronage (1989). The present book is mainly a series of studies of individual works which are not closely related. There is strong interest in identifying people whom Jonson might have been using or challenging in his work. This is done on the unexceptionable grounds that a more specific understanding of the particular circumstances of composition may be used to illuminate the artistic or literary merits of the works. In fact Evans, though speaking firmly about the latter, actually avoids a discussion of them and prefers instead to concentrate upon what he calls the micropolitics: the individual contexts which relate to political events but also to Jonson's concern with and presentation ofhimself, which are, of course, intimately bound up with the politics of the time. Relying partly upon some original scrutiny ofprimary archives and also upon an extensive knowledge of Jonson scholarship, Evans seeks to shed light upon a number ofplaces where Jonson's work may be better understood if it is seen as a response to others. Indeed this goes as far as the attempt in Chapter 2 to show how the attack by Dekker and Marston upon Jonson was actually orchestrated in Satiromastix. This may be explained by one theme which runs through many ofthe studies here—that is, Jonson's relationship to his patrons and rivals. Other personal aspects include the possible identification of the money lender Thomas Sutton as one of the models for Volpone, the parodie elements in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (possibly a response to Robert White's masque Cupid's Banishment, where Jonson may have been concerned with the threat from a rival for the Queen's support), and an extensive critique of some Ayres by Thomas Campion which were part of a masque to which Jonson's The Gypsies Metamorphos'd was probably a riposte. In the last case Evans makes much of a possibly long-lasting competition between the poets. The substance of these rivalries is used by Evans in a sensitive way, and such tact is necessary if one is to avoid falling into the trap of polarizing the many confrontations in Jonson's work. Evans thoughtfully opens up this question by avoiding a dogmatic approach and by suggesting that Jonson was inevitably involved in competition for patronage for most of his life, and that this posed difficult moral dilemmas, especially over the extent ofpersonal freedom that could be retained by the individual artist under a patronage system. It is undeniable that Jonson did engage in many rivalries, and thus Evans' accurate and sensitive approach 519 520Comparative Drama concerning what precisely was going on may be invaluable. At the same time he is concerned to suggest that Jonson's freedom as an artist did depend upon his ability to negotiate with both patrons and rivals. It is a question that every Jonson scholar must address since, as the works discussed here indicate, Jonson apparently always wrote with a particular circumstance and a particular audience or readership in mind. While there is evidence to be found from newly examined sources and also from a close reading ofJonson's published texts, both ofwhich Evans uses carefully, it has to be said that some of the proposed circumstances must remain no more than propositions, there being sometimes a lack of evidence to render certainty inevitable, as in the case of the extended chapter on the political contexts of The Devil is an Ass. Evans begins by a reminder that political context may be related to artistry , but he does not mind remarking that the play "has rarely been judged a complete artistic success." Though he does counter this by quoting a firmly approving judgment by Anne Barton (p. 62), the mud may very well stick, and the idea that somehow...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 519-521
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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