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Università degli Studi di Firenze Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia Corso di laurea in lingue e letterature straniere Tesi di laurea Renaissance Self-Fashioning: Epicoene by Ben Jonson Relatore: Payne Susan

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Università degli Studi di Firenze Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia Corso di laurea in lingue e letterature straniere Tesi di laurea Renaissance Self-Fashioning: Epicoene by Ben Jonson Relatore: Payne Susan Candidato: Luzzi Mariangela Anno Accademico Introduction This thesis considers the issue of Renaissance self-fashioning through one of Ben Jonson s satirical play called Epicoene which was first performed at the Blackfriars theatre in London in This early seventeenth century playwright is almost unknown in Italy and his plays are rarely performed in England. Such an analysis leads us to discuss the fundamental question of why an early sixteenth century play should be revived or performed on the stage today. It is not mere opinion that each of us is the result of many constructs and our cultural roots reach back far into the past. Renaissance selffashioning has been chosen as the subject of my dissertation because this period is widely considered as a turning point for our Western culture and mainly because it is well known that it is always the individual that should be scrutinized in the annals of history to gain a satisfactory answer for those basic deeper questions which have always baffled mankind within European literature; where the truth lies behind appearances, who we really are, where we come from and how man has evolved into what he is today.. We now know that literature functions within the systems of meaning which constitute our culture in interlocking ways that allow us to investigate in language both the social presence to the world of the literary text and the social presence of the world in the literary text 1 1 Stephen Greenblatt, Introduction Renaissance Self-Fashioning( Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005) 4 By drawing on Greenblatt s observation that there was in the sixteenth-century an increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process 2, I will attempt to throw light upon the following issues : In the first place, what self-fashioning effectively meant in the Renaissance with a brief overview of its humanistic roots and what it means today. I then wish to go on to analyze the City of London itself in Early Jacobean times and its influence on playwrights and society. Afterwards, I propose to discuss as an example a broad range of individual male and female characters and social groups in Ben Jonson s satirical play Epicoene together with the influences that played upon him and the choices he made in fashioning his characters. By analyzing Ben Jonson s use of self-fashioning in Epicene I will then discuss why and how Ben Jonson attempted to fashion himself as a playwright and poet for that Jacobean society and his audiences. I then wish to reflect upon how much of the satirical, Renaissance legacy of Ben Jonson s world is left in today s global market-society and the unpredictable, long-term consequences Renaissance selffashioning has had on our world. Finally, I would like to comment on the evolutionary nature of selffashioning in our modern times in order to gain a deeper awareness not only of myself and my personal environment but also to hopefully provide my reader with such a similar realization which he or she might wish to apply to his or her personal inner needs. It is well known that any effort made in exploring, analyzing and understanding the world around us can be compared to looking 2 Ibidem, 5 insistently at the sun; it cannot be done without the serious risk of becoming blind. However, as human beings, we repeatedly do so as it reflects our curiosity, our natural tendency to gain knowledge to sustain our innermost needs for certainties and a controllable order. To sum up, in Greenblatt s words, to abandon self-fashioning - and the power over our life it implies as an important element in the sense of ourselves is to abandon the craving for freedom, and to let go of one s stubborn hold upon selfhood, even selfhood conceived as a fiction, is to die 3. 3 Greenblatt, op. cit., p RENAISSANCE SELF-FASHIONING, ITS ROOTS AND ITS MEANING IN TODAY S WORLD. Nosce te ipsum 4 What is self-fashioning? Why do we need to look back at the Renaissance? It can be fairly stated that the term self-fashioning today is commonly and widely accepted as a way of designating the forming of the self but it is in the Renaissance that it seems to come into wide currency in this way. Such forming is now mostly perceived as referring to our appearance together with our ability of choosing what is appropriate for it. In brief, it is often said that the term fashion is essentially associated with the external realm of all things, human beings included. However, it must also be underlined that this outer appearance is not as superficial as it seems as it is assumed it arises from and contributes to man s and woman s distinctive personality in a swift interplay between the outer and the inner world. This façade is considered a reflection of any person and of any given time socially, politically, economically and artistically. That is to say, it is made up of what people think, what they value and how they live. Fashion is a statement, a way of speaking, a way of living and it is also an instrument which can be used both to construct our identity and to influence other people s ideas and opinions. 4 A Greek aphorism which means know yourself and is generally given in Latin. 7 This way of conceiving ourselves, i.e. this self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process 5 actually seems to come into a wider use in the Renaissance which is considered a turning point in our Western culture. It is a well known fact that since the invention of written signs to communicate with, words themselves have changed their inner meaning and evolved along with the social and cultural transformations of human society to satisfy the primary need of communication. The ideas, attitudes and feelings which are embedded both in the spoken and written language modify the sense of words according to the evolution of the context in which we live. As in Geertz s statement, we are all the result of a set of control mechanisms (plans, rules, instructions) which creates specific individuals by governing the passage from abstract potential to concrete historical embodiment 6. Even if we cannot forget that others created those plans, rules and instructions, I intend to adopt this assessment as my starting point to attempt to justify my argument. When one considers the hidden realities which exist beyond language which literature expresses, there are several directions we can move towards including the psychological and psychoanalytical ones. Thus any search for an acceptable answer should cover all cultural fields or systems of signs and literature functions within this system of meanings in interlocking ways which allows us to investigate in a 5 Greenblatt, Introduction op.cit. 6 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) quoted by Greenblatt, Introduction op. cit. 8 work of art both the social presence to the world of the literary text and the social presence of the world in the literary text 7. Consequently, for a brief overview of the subject, it is appropriate to begin by tracing our cultural roots back to the Latin word effingere(fashion), a term primary used for the action or process of making, while still reminding ourselves that self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity was widespread among the elite even in the classical word with their preoccupation about living in the right way. In fact, Nosce te ipsum(know yourself) was the aphorism inscribed in the pronaos(forecourt) of Apollo s Temple in Delphi, while Horace wrote in his Epistles: Quo teneam vultus mutantem Protea nodo (With what knot can I hold this Proteus whose face is ever changing?) 8. Such philosophers were concerned with cultivating the higher, more noble and refined potentialities of human beings through disciplines which were directed towards transforming the coarser energies present in men into more subtle and pleasing ones in order to live a balanced life without excess. However, the advent of Christianity brought a growing suspicion of man s power to shape identity 9 and S. Augustine wrote, Try to build up yourself and you build a ruin 10. Since then Christ has become the ultimate model of forming one s self not only for the elite but for all levels of society. Indeed the Christian 7 Greenblatt, Introduction op. cit. 8 Horace, Epistles (I, 1, 1.90) quoted by Thomas Green, The Flexibility of the Self in Renaissance Literature in The Disciplines of Criticism, ed. Peter Demetz, Thomas Green, and Lowry Nelson, Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968) p Ibidem 10 Augustine, sermon 169, quoted in the Introduction of Renaissance Self-Fashioning by Stephen Greenblatt 9 message for all of humanity was a revolutionary one as it incapsulated the true essence of universal feelings such as hope, brotherhood and freedom. Nevertheless, it also carried within it the complex and limiting concept that our freedom and our own free will was conceded only according to the grace of God. First of all Aristotle and then the Scholastics believed that human nature was unalterably fixed and the individual was unable to modify it. The habitus difficile mobilis (i.e. an aquired disposition) was a conception which set narrow limits to any hypothetical metamorphosis within the individual 11. Having said that, it must be underlined that in stressing the sinner s incapacity for self-improvement, Christian doctrines went beyond Aristotle, strongly opposing the freedom of self-determination. Besides, once Christian doctrines were accepted by any ruler, they became the justification and the consolidation of that power at the same time. Consequently, individuals were defined by a complex of given traits but mainly by their occupation and estate in the Middle Ages. That is to say, human personality, if we assume identity and personality as being equal, depended heavily on the rigid social role a man was called upon to play. In addition, sociological factors must be considered such as social immobility imposed by feudalism and the small extent and prestige of formal education. These factors, combined with the metaphysically immovable view of personality, accounted for the almost total rigidity or inflexibility of medieval society. In medieval literature, this stasis or rigidity of persona, as Green calls it in his fine essay The Flexibility of the Self in Renaissance 11 Green, op. cit., p Literature, was challenged by a few authors, and this remains a token of their greatness for us but they did not greatly influence other writers thoughts. As Green points out, Petrarch is worth mentioning because of his personal anguish about his spiritual instability, the varietas mortifera (fatal complexity), which recalls the voice of the pagan Horace and, above all, Dante who was the major and notable exception in medieval literature particularly as far as the representation of human personality is concerned. Petrarch s life was so striking both to his contemporaries and to posterity because of the variety of books he wrote but also and essentially because of the multiple roles he improvised. He often dramatized his weariness in his works and it is his self-yeast of spirit which renders him so modern. We see the achievement of his freedom in the lack of continuity of his passions, in his passionate restlessness and his anguish. We can find something heroically human in living as fully as he did but we do not share Petrarch s world-view and this explains how important the personal cultural context is in the life of each of us to reach a fuller understanding of ourselves. On the contrary, what is highly remarkable about the theme of identity in Dante, is that it is within the characters of his Comedy that the most powerful representation of the drama of selfhood 12 can be found and which will be later dramatized in the plays of the Renaissance. Besides, he makes an uncongenial distinction to our modern mind between identity and personality which throws light and gives a different perspective on our way of conceiving ourselves. 12 Thomas Green, Dramas of Selfhood in the Comedy in From Time to Eternity, ed. Thomas Bergin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967). 11 In his Comedy personality tends to pale whereas identity, [considered as the sum of character, body and soul], is sustained 13 but this only emerges at the end of the work as a result of a process. In his play this process is not simply fulfilled but, rather, it is expanded in the Paradise, a place beyond Earth which strongly reminds us of the new scientific theories about parallel universes. The modern reader who does not share Dante s values may at least be sympathetic towards his own dramatic experience and he/she can agree with his attitude of man seen as a being full of oppression and greatness, compulsions and aspirations, of all the complementary ambiguities which make up our identity. In the double role of actors and spectators/readers we are progressively led to understand ourselves through a dramatic journey which is the journey of each individual. As Jonson would write in one of his play centuries after, it is as if we were looking at ourselves in a mirror that someone has placed in front of us, so realizing what we did not previously know about ourselves. This knowledge is only made possible by changing the points of view from which we look at ourselves. It must be said in fact that, according to several studies, defining identity may be as complex as developing one s identity and there has been no definitive explanation as to the right way to go about it yet. It may be that a definition includes the unity of all aspects of self, the conscious and the unconscious; it may even be that it is possible to define identity through answering questions like who am I, as a result of the complex relationships between the inner self and the outer world. 13 Green, Dramas of Selfhood in the Comedy, op. cit., p However, we can agree with Green when he writes that it is towards the fifteenth century that we find perhaps the initial more extravagant assertion of human freedom in self-fashioning ever written; the freedom to select one s destiny, to transform the self. In Oration on the dignity of man Pico Della Mirandola wrote: A man may choose to fashion (effingere) himself as a plant or a brute or an angel can make himself one with the Godhead Himself. 14 Green clearly explains that the key-word in this statement is choose but Pico conceived essentially of a vertical scale along which men might move upward or downward 15 and, what can be called the horizontal scale, i.e. the horizontal personality and diversity, was seen as an impediment to the vertical mobility. The lateral flexibility, and the deep discontent arising from it we find in Petrarch s life, testifies to the depth of rigidity of the self in medieval culture. In fact, the important scale throughout the fifteenth century remained the vertical in spite of the Humanist revolution. The freedom of the will was a fundamental point of Humanist discourse. Erasmus formula homines non nascuntur sed finguntur (men are fashioned rather than born) had been the new faith, and pliability the new belief, and had led to the birth of many institutes 16 but it was misunderstood. Humanist writers conceived of individual development upward to an ideal as a result of education and formation 14 Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, quoted by Green in The Self in Renaissance Literature, op. cit., p Green, ibidem, p The Renaissance institutes were inspired by such works as Plato s Republic, Cicero s De Oratore and Quintilian s Institutiones Oratoriae, ideal portraits of a society or institutions or occupation. Quotation from Green, ibidem, p
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