Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Helen Ostovich




Traditional criticism of Ben Jonson's relationship to his audience emphasizes the animosity that Jonson feels towards spectators who are unable to perceive his intentions correctly. Even sympathetic interpretations conclude that Jonson is at odds with his audience and disenchanted with the theatre. In forming this conclusion critics assume that Jonson's personal attitudes concur with the direct address to and sniping at the on-stage and off-stage audiences in his dramas. They find further support by decontextualizing specific instances of Jonson's complaints in his poetry and prose writings as a means to interpret the entire body of his work. This "antitheatricality" has become axiomatic to the majority of Jonsonian criticism since the eighteenth century. In this project, I examine this tradition of criticism to point out the flawed assumptions on which it is based. Informed by the practises of performance theory, I reexamine both Jonson's attitude toward the stage itself as a medium of expression and the nature of his relationship to the audience. Examining Every Man Out of His Humour, The Staple of News and The Magnetic Lady as performances, I find these comedies illustrate neither an antagonism for the audience nor the antitheatricalism of which Jonson has been accused. Instead, they demonstrate a dynamic relationship between auditor and performance, a reliance upon the physical theatre as a site of interpretation and Jonson's commitment to this medium.

McMaster University Library