Jonson Versus Bakhtin

Carnival and the Grotesque


Ben Jonson has often been accused of needless erudition and of a morose refusal to join in the festive spirit. Further aggravation has come from the application of Bakhtin’s theory of carnival, especially in its posthumous form as a political allegory portraying the clash of high and low cultures. In an attempt to turn the tables on this tradition, Jonson Versus Bakhtin goes back to the sources, arguing that Jonson’s theatre allows for an original interpretation of the grotesque as a formal culture of antithesis and opposition that includes carnival. A robust observer of popular myths of festive liberation by way of a uniquely compendious adaptation of his sources, Jonson’s grotesque uncannily delves deep into the Renaissance theory of the coincidence of opposites as a way of envisaging virtue and other concepts of the mind, rather than serving up a pompous application of moral precepts or offering a political arena for ritual transgression. While richly based on an appropriate repertory of underlying sources, Jonson Versus Bakhtin steers away from any tiresome reference hunting mania, appealing to a broader audience interested in re-appraising Ben Jonson’s genius for richly contrastive imagery, as well as re-considering the relevance of Bakhtin’s theory to Elizabethan and Jacobean drama and to the Renaissance culture of the grotesque.

Review Quotes

”…a valuable addition to scholarship in the field of literary history. His bibliography is comprehensive and very helpful.” in: Renaissance Quarterly, 2005
“This study makes an interesting contribution to early modern English theatre studies and to the debate on Bakhtinian carnivalesque” in: Modern Language Review, Vol. 100, No. 1, 2005

Table of contents

Acknowledgments. 1. Carnival of Sorts. 2. Sejanus Plays Antics. 3. Catiline’s Spoiled Party. 4. A Silent Woman Is Hard to Find. 5. Fair Time for Pigs and Kings. 6. A Well-Timed Carnival. 7. Potted Gods and Poets. 8. The Islands of Mardigras. Epilogue. Bibliography. Index.