I only read two plays in this collection so that is all I’m commenting on. They were both great. The two were Volpone and Epicoene and I read them for my British Drama class. Again, as with other classics I’ve read, a good professor can make all the difference in the world when you are reading things that may seem a bit foreign to a contemporary audience. My prof made these plays come alive! I would love to see them performed but I think I’ll have to leave my little corner of Kansas for that.
Volpone is set in Venice and is a story of a bunch of greedy people. Volpone is a rich man with no heir and he has a succession of other well-off people trying to insinuate themselves into his will. They constantly bring him gifts, which only makes him richer. None of them seem to have this scam figured out. Volpone has a “parasite,” a servant, who does most of the actual work on this scam. Volpone likes to pretend he is on his deathbed to get everyone’s hopes up and then he pretends to recover. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve. There are twists and turns and I don’t want to give those away but it’s a funny and clever play.
Epicoene takes the art of scamming to the next level. Dauphine is the nephew of a rich man who has no heir but the uncle, Morose, does not want to leave his estate to Dauphine. Morose also cannot stand the sound of anything except his own voice. He wants to marry a silent woman and have a presumably silent heir so that Dauphine will get nothing. Dauphine and his friends want to keep this from happening. The shenanigans they pull and the way they just keep twisting the scam make a hilarious plot and the other characters in the play are great fun. This was thoroughly enjoyable to read.
Ben Jonson is considered to be a technically better playwright than Shakespeare. He doesn’t leave all the memorable quotes and doesn’t have the same brilliance with language but his plays are well plotted, tight and satisfying. He leaves no loose ends. They are works of technical genius. Now, to find out where I can see them performed!