The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf
eyeteeth

O rare Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson is one of the famous people I stood, if not on, then very near when I visited Westminster Abbey. I had heard before of his epitaph and there it was: "O rare Ben Johnson." (I don't know what that h is doing there.) Apparently some people think that it could be "Orare Ben Johnson," which is an injunction to pray for him, but I like the first one better. It is an exclamation of the rarity of Ben Jonson.

At the time I had not read any of his work but a few years ago I read the play Volpone and liked it very much. Now I am reading another of his plays, The Alchemist, and I like it very much as well. All the characters are so base and conniving!

This is how it begins:

FACE:     Believe ‘t, I will.
SUBTLE:                      Thy worst.  I fart at thee.
DOL:      Ha’ you your wits?  Why, gentlemen! for love—
FACE:     Sirrah, I’ll strip you—
SUBTLE:                           What to do?  Lick figs
          Out at my—
FACE:                Rogue, rogue! —out of all your sleights.
DOL:      Nay, look ye, sovereign, general, are you madmen?
SUBTLE:   O, let the wild sheep loose.  I’ll gum your silks
          With good strong water, an you come.
DOL:                                          Will you have
          The neighbors hear you?  Will you betray all?
          Hark!  I hear somebody.
FACE:                            Sirrah—
SUBTLE:                                  I shall mar
          All the tailor has made, if you approach.
FACE:     You most notorious whelp, you insolent slave,
          Dare you do this?
SUBTLE:                    Yes, faith; yes, faith.


I have nothing to add to this except to say that, since Subtle is the alchemist of the title, many critical readers interpret the line "I'll gum your silks/With good strong water" as a threat to throw acid on Face from some vessel he is carrying. To me, it is perfectly clear that Subtle is threatening to piss on him. Just because Ben Jonson was friends with Shakespeare doesn't mean we have to be dainty about him, OK?
Tags: ben jonson
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