Every Man in His Humour / Every Man out of His Humour
On two comedies by Ben Jonson
(from The Oxford Companion to English Literature:)
Every Man in His Humour, a comedy by Jonson performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast, printed 1601. In his folio of 1616 Jonson published an extensively revised version., with the setting changed from Florence to London and the characters given English names.
In the latter version Kitely, a merchant, is the husband of a young wife, and his 'humour' is irrational jealousy. His house is resorted to by his brother in law Wellbred with a crowd of riotous but harmless gallants, and these he suspects of designs both on his wife and on his sister Bridget. One of these young men is Edward Knowell, whose father's 'humour' is excessive concern for his son's morals. Bobadill, one of Jonson's greatest creations, a 'Paul's man', is a boastful cowardly soldier who associates with the young men and is admired by Matthew, a 'town gull' and poetaster, and Edward's cousin Stephen, a 'country gull'. Out of these elements, by the aid of the devices and disguises of the mischievous Brainworm, Knowell's servant, an imbroglio is produced in which Kitely and his wife are brought face to face at the house of a water bearer to which each thinks the other has gone for an amorous assignation; Bobadill is exposed and beaten; Edward Knowell is married to Bridget, and Matthew and Stephen are held up to ridicule. The misunderstandings are cleared up by the shrewd and kindly Justice Clement.
To the folio version Jonson added a prologue giving an exposition of his dramatic theory.
Every Man out of His Humour, a comedy by Jonson, acted by the Lord Chamberlain's Men at the newly built Globe theatre 1599, printed 1600.
The play parades a variety of characters dominated by particular 'humours', or obsessive quirks of disposition: Macilente, a venomous malcontent; Carlo Buffone, a cynical jester; the uxorious Deliro and his domineering wife Fallace; Fastidious Brisk, an affected courtier devoted to fashion; Sordido, a miserly farmer, and his son Fungoso, who longs to be a courtier; Sogliardo, 'an essential clown, enamoured of the name of a gentleman'; and Puntarvolo, a fantastic, vainglorious knight, who wagers that he, his dog, and his cat can travel to Constantinople and back. By means of various episodes, such as Macilente's poisoning of Puntarvolo's dog and Brisk's imprisonment for debt, each character is eventually driven 'out of his humour'. Two judicious onlookers, Mitis and Cordatus, oversee the action throughout, and provide a moral commentary. Their opening debate with their friend Asper, who represents Jonson, contains an exposition of Jonson's theory of humours.
From Every Man Out of His Humour, Act I:
ASP. I will not stir your patience, pardon me,
I urged it for some reasons, and the rather
To give these ignorant well-spoken days
Some taste of their abuse of this word humour.
COR. O, do not let your purpose fall, good Asper;
It cannot but arrive most acceptable,
Chiefly to such as have the happiness
Daily to see how the poor innocent word
Is rack'd and tortured.
MIT. Ay, I pray you proceed.
ASP. Ha, what? what is't?
COR. For the abuse of humour.
ASP. O, I crave pardon, I had lost my thoughts.
Why humour, as 'tis 'ens', we thus define it,
To be a quality of air, or water,
And in itself holds these two properties,
Moisture and fluxure: as, for demonstration,
Pour water on this floor, 'twill wet and run:
Likewise the air, forced through a horn or trumpet,
Flows instantly away, and leaves behind
A kind of dew; and hence we do conclude,
That whatsoe'er hath fluxure and humidity,
As wanting power to contain itself,
Is humour. So in every human body,
The choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood,
By reason that they flow continually
In some one part, and are not continent,
Receive the name of humours. Now thus far
It may, by metaphor, apply itself
Unto the general disposition:
As when some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a humour
But that a rook, by wearing a pyed feather,
The cable hat-band, or the three-piled ruff,
A yard of shoe-tye, or the Switzer's knot
On his French garters, should affect a humour!
O, it is more than most ridiculous.
COR. He speaks pure truth; now if an idiot
Have but an apish or fantastic strain,
It is his humour.
ASP. Well, I will scourge those apes,
And to these courteous eyes oppose a mirror,
As large as is the stage whereon we act;
Where they shall see the time's deformity
Anatomised in every nerve, and sinew,
With constant courage, and contempt of fear.