The comparison of Ben Jonson`s The Alchemist
The comparison of two plays studied in the second semester of the BA English Studies degree This essay is going to look at two plays studied in the second semester of the BA English studies degree- Ben Jonson ‘s The Alchemist and John Webster ‘s The Duchess of Malfl. The essay is going to look at the context of both of these plays, considering that it has had influence on the plot of the plays. There will be a brief pr©cis of the contents of plays given to be able to discuss differences and similarities of both plays and try to find reasons for them.
The satire functions in both plays will also be revealed in this essay. The essay is going to look at satire functions trough different themes that are revealed in both plays such as greed, gender, sexuality, social disintegration and others. Looking at these themes will again refer to the context of the plays to show how important it was at the time when authors created their works and what role does it play nowadays when audience become acquainted with these plays. When looking at any work of literature, the context of the time period, when this piece of work had been created is very important.
It tells the reader what was happening at the time and gives him the chance to comprehend how it ffected the work of authors. Both of discussed plays had been created in the seventeenth century which is the early modern period of Europe, therefore these plays have specific differences from the plays that had been created earlier. There are significances of modern literature distinguishable in these plays. Seventeenth century was the zenith of Renaissance and it has been reflected in both plays. There is Italian influence observed in these plays.
It has affected the language of texts, the description of settings, character names and other components of plays. References of Italy, Italian and Latin languages are used in texts. An obvious example is the play The Duchess of Malfl which is situated in Italy, uses Italian names for characters and includes the Italian language in the text. ‘A number of important critical contributions over the last decade treat Webster’s play as a post-Reformation phenomenon written during a more settled period of the established Anglcan Church.
However, English Protestantism still found its identity in relation to the faith it had renounced, namely Catolicism, whose home was Italy where Webster sets The Duchess’ (Lucky] 77). When looking at the context of the time, the economic and political conditions in he country are very important as well. The time when these two plays had been created was Jacobean England revealing a particular condition of the country. Satire on different themes in plays can be seen as a response to this condition. A twofold political crisis was looming. The financial needs of the crown, as inflation eroded the yield of crown lands, had increasingly through the sixteenth century to be met by parliament, and under James I the relationship between crown and parliament was beginning to manitest the serious tensions that were to result in the civil war’ Conson 9). Authors of the time were worried about the situation in the country and therefore they discussed issues related to important events in their works.
Another reason why they wanted to talk about them was to inform people about what is happening in the country. As situation seemed not very comfortable for English people, authors decided to use satire to let the audience see the happening from aside. Sarcasm was also used to let the audience relax from usual stressful life and have a bit of laugh whilst enjoying the play, at the same time understanding that it reveals the situation of Jacobean England. Religious position of the country plays a big role as well. England was an officially Protestant country, the citizens of which were, by law, members of the Church of England. The Elizabethan religious settlement had, nevertheless, compromised on certain key issues of reform in order to accommodate those who might otherwise have been reluctant to accept the new religion, and also to forestall reprisals by the Catholic powers of Europe’ Conson 9). As changes in the religious condition of England were going on, the Religion was a very common theme in Jacobean plays.
Both of discussed plays include the theme of Religion. All of these current events and positions affected plays at the time because these are the things which interest the audience and makes plays popular. Nothing is more important for people than what is going on around them in their lives, therefore the context of the literature work is very important. The content of both plays is quite different but there can be themes found which are discussed in both plays. This again refers to the context of the time, because themes of plays completely depend on it.
The Alchemist is a story about three of the play ‘s central characters, Face, Subtle and Dorothy, who have entered into a contract by which they agree to work together for their mutual benefit- achieving wealthiness for all of them. The scene is set for a comedy of fraudulent characters and their potential victims. As the plot develops the trio struggle to work together because they cannot control each of their desires. The trio ‘s unscrupulous activities stop when Lovewit, the master of the house unexpectedly comes back.
The threesome then turn upon each other and the most accomplished trickster of all wins at the end. This is a great comedy satirising greed in Jacobean society. The comedy gives releasing ending by showing that the biggest fraudster of all wins. This is sarcasm on what happens in the real life. The Duchess of Malfl is a story of the widowed Duchess of Malfl who secretly marries her steward Antonio, despite the opposition of her brothers, Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal.
Bosola, a malcontent courtier, is hired by the brothers to discover the secret husband ‘s identity, but the Duchess bears three children without anyone knowing who the father is. Later, the Duchess is imprisoned and eventually murdered, together with her maidservant Cariola and two of her children. Bosola, who has turned against the brothers, then kills the Ferdinand. The Duchess and the eldest child of Antonio survive and remain thinking about his maternal inheritance. This play is a study of revenge, unlike the comic plot of The Alchemist this is a tragic story with characters dying at the end.
It seems like both of these plays are very different but looking closer, it appears that there are similarities in them. Both of the plays reveal present events of the time and both of them satirise these events, they show how England as a country was seen at the time. The most significant difference etween these two plays is the genre, one ot them is a comedy, the other- tragedy, but not taking that into account, the viewer can see that both authors have tried to address the audience in the same way, satirising the most common events of their lives in their plays.
The reason of different plots of the plays is different standpoints of the authors, but the key ideas are displayed at the same way in both plays. Satire works in both of the plays through different themes. Authors use sarcasm to make plays more interesting and exciting, usually satirising domestic themes. One of the most common themes satirised in Jacobean plays was the greed. The financial situation in the country was unstable therefore everyone tried to get something better for themselves to provide their material status.
People were ready to do everything to get something to hold on to and this was very often satirised in the plays. The Alchemist is a striking example of satirised greed in the play. The main aim of all the main characters of the play is to obtain infinite treasure and they are willing to undertake any obligations to reach their aim. Greed is also noticeable in The Duchess of Malfl, in characters Ferdinand and the Cardinal, because their action is the result of their greed when they confiscate the Duchess ‘s property and get her banished from the state of Ancona.
This play shows the result of the greed when one of the brothers dies at the end, proving that plays not only satirise events but also enlightens viewers and teaches them to not allow the same mistakes as characters in the plays do. Another important theme satirised in The Duchess of Malfl is the status of women and the role of gender in the society. Woman in that period of the time was upposed to be submissive and calm, however, the Duchess went against her brother ‘s wishes and remarried, and this is the reason of the tragedy which would not happen if the Duchess would act like she was supposed to.
The play shows that women at the time had no right to have their own point of view and act without coordinating with men; it also shows what happened if someone went against the assumed rules. Both of the plays satirises the social class system in the Jacobean England. There are members of all social classes shown in the plays revealing the ndications of the social status. Sexuality is also satirised in plays, for example the character of Sir Epicure Mammon in The Alchemist who dreams of drinking the elixir of youth and enjoying fantastic sexual conquests.
All of these satirised themes show what worried authors and the audience at the time. Looking at these plays nowadays helps the learner to understand the Jacobean time period in the history of England and see what affected plays at that time. Now the reader can also call together the history of England and nowadays, see what issues had affected English literature and ow it has formed. Looking at two plays from the Jacobean time period has shown that the context of the time has had the biggest influence on the playwrights and their work.
Even though Jonson and Webster have created absolutely different plays, they seem to reveal the same ideas. Both of the plays satirise themes that had been important at the time and are still important nowadays. Authors used sarcasm to let the audience enjoy the play but also to educate viewers about the situation in the country. Playwrights revealed very important matters in their plays like social tatuses, roles of gender and sexuality, the greediness of people and others and this shows that the audience gets both, emotional and intellectual release when reading or watching these plays.