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Every Man in His Humour Paperback – Jun 1 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; 2 edition (June 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393900886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393900880
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.4 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,053,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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Format: Hardcover
A few months ago I had the good fortune to find a copy of a parallel text edition (Regents Renaissance Drama series by University of Nebraska Press) of the 1601 quarto and the 1616 folio of Every Man In His Humour. My enthusiasm may seem surprising for what might be considered an obscure work.
Ben Jonson has always been hidden in the shadow of Shakespeare. About a year ago I first read The Alchemist, Volpone, and Bartholomew Fair and found all three to be as amusing and appealing today as they were four centuries ago.
Every Man In His Humour, Ben Jonson's first theatrical success, was first performed in 1598 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Remarkably, the cast included Shakespeare, Burbage, and Kemp. (Note: While this play is humorous, the term Humour in the title is an Elizabethan physiological term that refers to an individual's temperament and disposition.)
Jonson later significantly revised this play. My edition compares the two versions on facing pages: the 1601 quarto with a Florentine setting and Italian names, and the 1616 folio with a London setting and English characters.
I first tried reading the two versions in parallel, a page from one followed by the equivalent page from the other. I was soon confused. I began again, reading one version in its entirety before reading the other. Now that I am familiar with both, I may attempt a parallel reading later.
Every Man in His Humour was more challenging than I expected. I was into Act 2 before I began to appreciate the humorous interplay between the characters. The turning point occurred when the servant Musco (weirdly named Brainworm in the London version) disguised himself as a penniless soldier looking for charity.
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Amazon.com: 1 review
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Two Very Different Versions - Challenging, But Enjoyable Nov. 7 2003
By Michael Wischmeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A few months ago I had the good fortune to find a copy of a parallel text edition (Regents Renaissance Drama series by University of Nebraska Press) of the 1601 quarto and the 1616 folio of Every Man In His Humour. My enthusiasm may seem surprising, but I did enjoy this rather obscure work. This play, Ben Jonson's first theatrical success, was first performed in 1598 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Remarkably, the cast included Shakespeare, Burbage, and Kemp.

The term humour, derived from the Latin word for fluid, refers to a Medieval and Renaissance medical theory that a man's health and personality were due to the balance (or imbalance) of four fluids, or humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler), and black bile (melancholy). The Elizabethan audience would have recognized that Jonson's characters were caricatures of various temperaments and personalities.

Jonson later significantly revised this play. My edition compares the two versions on facing pages: the 1601 quarto with a Florentine setting and Italian names, and the 1616 folio with a London setting and English characters. I first tried reading the two versions in parallel, a page from one followed by the equivalent page from the other, but I was soon utterly confused. I began again, reading one version in its entirety before reading the other.

Every Man in His Humour is more challenging than Jonson's better known plays. I was into Act 2 before I began to appreciate the humorous interplay between the characters. The turning point occurred when the servant Musco (weirdly named Brainworm in the London version) disguised himself as a penniless soldier looking for charity. I gradually recognized four intertwined themes:

1) Two young, high-spirited gentlemen, Lorenzo Junior (Edward Kno'well) and Prospero (Wellbred), deliberately encourage the foolish antics of other characters, quietly laughing at them in frequent asides.

2) Meanwhile, Lorenzo Senior (Kno'well) worries that his son is mixing with less reputable acquaintances.

3) Musco (Brainworm) independently embarks on several zany ventures, all involving disguises, to assure that Lorenzo Junior (Edward Kno'well) is beholden to him.

4) And lastly, the merchant Thorello (Thomas Kitely) mistakenly convinces himself that his wife Biancha (Dame Kitely) and his sister Hesperida (Mistress Budget) are being wooed by the foolish mix of characters that descended upon his home. (Shakespeare may have derived the name Othello from Jonson's jealous Thorello.)

For the reader new to Ben Jonson, I suggest starting with either The Alchemist, or Volpone, or possibly Bartholomew Fair. All three plays are widely available from publishers like Oxford World Classics, the New Mermaids editions, or the Dover Thrift editions (least expensive, but sparse footnotes).

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