The carnivalesque in Ben Jonson's three city comedies: Volpone, the Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair

Vale, Marcia
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Bilkent University
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The idea of carnival is explored in Rabelais and His World, in which Bakhtin shows that the carnival was an officially sanctioned period in which all dogmas and doctrines, as well as the fonns and ideologies of the dominant culture could temporaiily be overturned. This resulted in activities that could be seen as profane and heretical, such as the paiodies of religious rituals, or treasonous and socially subversive, such as the parodies of kingship, inversions of master-seiwant roles, and the like. Moreover, the phenomenon of carnival allowed the merging of categories that are kept separate by the ideologies of a certain culture; the serious and the ridiculous, the sacred and the profane, life and death, rulers and the mled, and so on. According to Bakhtin, the advantage of carnival was that it reminded of the athibutes of the dominant culture, the characteristics of the people at large, the divisions in the culture, of class distinctions, and of value judgments and differences. Bakhtin considers carnival as an actual socio-cultural phenomenon. In Bakhtin's analysis of carnival, symbolic polarities of high and low, official and unofficial, grotesque and classical are deformed and reconstructed. Ben Jonson's comedies deal with the symbolic extremities of the exalted and the base. In his comedies Jonson plumbs the depths of social classification, taking his characters from the lower strata of the underworld, as well as from the higher stiatum of the body politic; the advocates, masters, doctors, etc. Thus, Jonson comments on the political and the social changes in the first half of the seventeenth centuiy. In his plays the 'licensed release' of carnival is experienced, which is a kind of protest against the established order. Yet, the carnival Jonson depicts in his comedies is also intended to preserve and stiengthen the established order. It is a foim of social control of the low by the high. Although the world seems to be turned upside down and the roles change during the carnival, in fact the rulers who were chosen and crowned reaffinn the status quo. Therefore, the carnival spirit in Ben Jonson's comedies is a vehicle for social protest, but at the same time the method for disciplining that protest. Bakhtin's concept of camivalesque is highly significant in discussing the sociocultural and political content of Ben Jonson's comedies. His theoiy helps one see Jonson's comedies in an especially wide perspective. This dissertation aims to link Bakhtin's discovery of the importance of camivalesque with Ben Jonson's three best known comedies: Volpone, The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair.

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