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Volpone's Bastards

Theorising Jonson's City Comedy

Isaac Hui

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Brings Ben Jonson to the twenty-first century by reading Volpone through psychoanalysis, poststructuralism and Marxism

Through studying Volpone’s three bastard children ̶ the dwarf, the androgyne and the eunuch ̶ from the theoretical argument of Freud, Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, this book discusses how Jonson’s comedies are built upon the tension between death, castration and nothingness on one hand, and the comic slippage of identities in the city on the other. This study understands Jonson, first and foremost, as a comedy writer, linking his work with modern film comedies such as the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Monty Python. It is a new approach to Jonsonian studies, responding to the current Marxist-Lacanian studies of literature, film and culture made popular by scholars such as Slavoj Žižek, Alenka Zupančič and Mladen Dolar. While the book pays close attention to the historical context of Jonson’s time, it brings him to the twenty-first century by discussing early modern comedies with modern critical theories and film.

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1. Introduction: Jonson and Comedy
2. ‘For pleasing imitation of greater men’s action’ – Nano the Anamorphic Ape
3. ‘Think me cold, frozen, and impotent, and so report me?’ – Volpone and his ‘Castrone’ Complex
4. ‘The case appears too liquid’ – The Two Sides of Androgyno
5. ‘I fear I shall begin to grow in love with my dear self’: the Parasite and his ‘Mirror Stage’
6. Jonson’s Comedy of Bastardy
7. Conclusion: ‘Fools, they are the only Nation’ – Re-reading the interlude and Beyond.

About the Author

Isaac Hui is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Translation at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He has published a range of articles on Jonson, Shakespeare, comedy, and on the studies of English translation of Chinese literature.


Isaac Hui's study presents us with a passionate and highly original approach to reading and thinking about Jonson's comedies. Taking under his critical lens – primarily, but not exclusively - Volpone and its 'bastards', the book takes us on a wide and most rewarding journey through many different and very topical issues and considerations.

- Alenka Zupančič, Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts

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