Every Man in His Humour

Every Man in His Humour

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Every Man in His Humour is a 1598 play by the English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

. The play belongs to the subgenre of the "humours comedy
Humours comedy
The comedy of humours refers to a genre of dramatic comedy that focuses on a character or range of characters, each of whom has one overriding trait or 'humour' that dominates their personality and conduct. This comic technique may be found in Aristophanes, but the English playwrights Ben Jonson...

," in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession.

Performance and Publication

All the available evidence indicates that the play was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

 in 1598 at the Curtain Theatre
Curtain Theatre
The Curtain Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Curtain Close, Shoreditch , just outside the City of London. It opened in 1577, and continued staging plays until 1622....

. That date is given in the play's reprint in Jonson's 1616 folio collection of his works; the text of the play (IV,iv,15) contains an allusion to John Barrose, a Burgundian
Duchy of Burgundy
The Duchy of Burgundy , was heir to an ancient and prestigious reputation and a large division of the lands of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy and in its own right was one of the geographically larger ducal territories in the emergence of Early Modern Europe from Medieval Europe.Even in that...

Fencer may refer to:* Fencer, a person who participates in the sport of fencing* Fencer, a person who makes fences* Fencer, the device which energizes an electric fence* Fencer, the NATO reporting name of the Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jetSee also:...

 who challenged all comers that year and was hanged for murder on July 10, 1598. The play was also acted at Court on February 2, 1605.

A theatre legend first recorded in 1709 by Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe (dramatist)
Nicholas Rowe , English dramatist, poet and miscellaneous writer, was appointed Poet Laureate in 1715.-Life:...

 has it that Shakespeare advocated production of the play at a point when the company was about to reject it. While this legend is unverifiable, it is all but certain, based on the playlist published in the folio
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

, that Shakespeare played the part of Kno'well.

The play was entered into the Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 of the Stationers' Company
Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers
The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Stationers' Company was founded in 1403; it received a Royal Charter in 1557...

 on August 4, 1600, along with the Shakespearean plays As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy written by William Shakespeare about two pairs of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, and Claudio and Hero....

and Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

in an entry marked "to be stayed." It is thought that this entry was an attempt to block publication of the four plays; if so, the attempt failed, since the latter three plays appeared in print soon after. Every Man In was re-registered ten days later, on Aug. 14, 1600, by the booksellers Cuthbert Burby
Cuthbert Burby
Cuthbert Burby was a London bookseller and publisher of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. He is remembered for publishing a series of significant volumes of English Renaissance drama, including works by William Shakespeare, Robert Greene, John Lyly, and Thomas Nashe.-Beginnings:Burby...

 and Walter Burre
Walter Burre
Walter Burre was a London bookseller and publisher of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, best remembered for publishing several key texts in English Renaissance drama....

; the first quarto
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 was published in 1601, with Burre's name on the title page. The play was next printed in Jonson's 1616 folio.

The play's contemporary popularity is attested by such quick publication; although there are few records of performance, it presumably stayed in the King's Men's repertory until the theatres closed in 1642.

Gerard Langbaine
Gerard Langbaine
Gerard Langbaine was an English dramatic biographer and critic, best known for his An Account of the English Dramatic Poets , the earliest work to give biographical and critical information on the playwrights of English Renaissance theatre...

 reports that the play was revived by the King's Company
King's Company
The King's Company was one of two enterprises granted the rights to mount theatrical productions in London at the start of the English Restoration. It existed from 1660 to 1682.-History:...

 in 1675. The play remained vivid enough in memory for John Rich
John Rich (producer)
John Rich was an important director and theatre manager in 18th century London. He opened the New Theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields and then the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and began putting on ever more lavish productions...

 to revive it at Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public square in London, UK. It was laid out in the 1630s under the initiative of the speculative builder and contractor William Newton, "the first in a long series of entrepreneurs who took a hand in developing London", as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner observes...

 in 1725. However, it was not until David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 revived the play with substantial alterations in 1751 that the play regained currency on the English stage. Garrick's revisions served to focus attention on Kitely's jealousy; he both trimmed lines from the other plots and added a scene in which he attempts to elicit information from Cob while hiding his jealousy. The scene was a favorite, praised by Arthur Murphy
Arthur Murphy
Arthur Murphy , also known by the pseudonym Charles Ranger, was an Irish writer.-Biography:He was born at Cloonyquin, County Roscommon, Ireland, the son of Richard Murphy and Jane French....

 and others; Kitely became one of Garrick's signature roles, and the play was never long out of his repertory.

The play declined in popularity in the last quarter of the century, in large part because it was seen as a Garrick vehicle. George Frederick Cooke
George Frederick Cooke
George Frederick Cooke was an English actor. As famous for his erratic habits as for his acting, he was largely responsible for initiating the romantic style in acting that was later made famous by Edmund Kean.-Career:Although he claimed to have been born in Westminster, it seems likely that he...

 revived the play at Covent Garden. Elizabeth Inchbald
Elizabeth Inchbald
Elizabeth Inchbald was an English novelist, actress, and dramatist.- Life :Born on 15 October 1753 at Standingfield, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, Elizabeth was the eighth of the nine children of John Simpson , a farmer, and his wife Mary, née Rushbrook. The family, like several others in the...

 lauded the performance, calling Cooke's Kitely the equal of Garrick's. Cooke had mixed success with the play, though; it failed in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

 in 1808. After 1803, Cooke may have alternated with Kemble
John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble was an English actor. He was born into a theatrical family as the eldest son of Roger Kemble, actor-manager of a touring troupe. His elder sister Sarah Siddons achieved fame with him on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane...

 in the title role for productions at Covent Garden.

Thereafter, the play has been subject to tentative revivals, none of which have established it as viable for modern repertory. Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean was an English actor, regarded in his time as the greatest ever.-Early life:Kean was born in London. His father was probably Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk, and his mother was an actress, Anne Carey, daughter of the 18th century composer and playwright Henry Carey...

 played Kitely in an unsuccessful 1816 production; his performance was praised by William Hazlitt
William Hazlitt
William Hazlitt was an English writer, remembered for his humanistic essays and literary criticism, and as a grammarian and philosopher. He is now considered one of the great critics and essayists of the English language, placed in the company of Samuel Johnson and George Orwell. Yet his work is...

. William Charles Macready
William Charles Macready
-Life:He was born in London, and educated at Rugby.It was his intention to go up to Oxford, but in 1809 the embarrassed affairs of his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management. On 7 June 1810 he made a successful first...

 essayed the role at the Haymarket Theatre
Haymarket Theatre
The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a West End theatre in the Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use...

 in 1838; Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

 attended and approved the performance, but the play did not figure prominently in Macready's repertory.

Perhaps the most unusual revival occurred in 1845, when Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 and his friends mounted a benefit production. Aided by Macready, Dickens took the faintly Dickensian role of Bobadill; George Cruikshank
George Cruikshank
George Cruikshank was a British caricaturist and book illustrator, praised as the "modern Hogarth" during his life. His book illustrations for his friend Charles Dickens, and many other authors, reached an international audience.-Early life:Cruikshank was born in London...

 was Cob; John Forster played Kitely. The production went off well enough to be repeated three or four times over the next two years. Bulwer-Lytton
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton
Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton PC , was an English politician, poet, playwright, and novelist. He was immensely popular with the reading public and wrote a stream of bestselling dime-novels which earned him a considerable fortune...

 wrote a poem as prologue for an 1847 production; in addition to Browning, Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language....

 and John Payne Collier
John Payne Collier
John Payne Collier , English Shakespearian critic and forger, was born in London.-Reporter and solicitor:...


Ben Iden Payne
Ben Iden Payne
Ben Iden Payne was an English actor, director and teacher. Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, he was raised and educated in Manchester. He started his career as a walk-on actor in 1899. He served as director of the Abbey Theatre for a short time in 1907 and then returned to Manchester to work with Annie...

 produced the play in Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 in 1909, and again in Stratford
Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It lies on the River Avon, south east of Birmingham and south west of Warwick. It is the largest and most populous town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term "on" to indicate that it covers...

 for the Jonson tercentenary in 1937. The later production received much more favourable reviews.

John Caird
John Caird (director)
John Newport Caird is a British stage director and writer of plays, musicals and operas. He is an Honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a regular director with the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and the Principal Guest Director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre,...

 directed the play during the inaugural season of the Swan Theatre
Swan Theatre (Stratford)
The Swan Theatre is a theatre belonging to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. It is built on to the side of the larger Royal Shakespeare Theatre, occupying the Victorian Gothic structure that formerly housed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre that preceded the RST but was...

 in 1986.

Plot and Style

In general outline, this play follows Latin models quite closely. In the main plot, a gentleman named Kno'well, concerned for his son's moral development, attempts to spy on his son, a typical city gallant
-People with the surname Gallant:* A. Ronald Gallant , leading American econometrician* Cheryl Gallant , Conservative Canadian politician* Gerard Gallant , Canadian ice hockey coach and former NHL player...

; however, his espionage is continually subverted by the servant, Brainworm, whom he employs for this purpose. These types are clearly slightly Anglicized versions of ancient types of Greek New Comedy, namely the senex, the son, and the slave. In the subplot, a merchant named Kitely suffers intense jealousy, fearing that his wife is cuckolding him with some of the wastrels brought to his home by his brother-in-law, Wellbred. The characters of these two plots are surrounded by various "humorous" characters, all in familiar English types: the irascible soldier, country gull, pretentious pot-poets, surly water-bearer, and avuncular judge all make an appearance. The play works through a series of complications which culminate when the justice, Clement, hears and decides all of the characters' various grievances, exposing each of them as based in humour, misperception, or deceit.

The details of the plot, are, however, less important than the style of the play. Jonson's purpose is delineated in the prologue he wrote for the folio
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 version. These lines, which have justly been taken as applying to Jonson's comic theory in general, are especially appropriate to this play. He promises to present "deeds, and language, such as men do use:/ And persons, such as comedy would choose,/ When she would show an Image of the times,/ And sport with human follies, not with crimes." The play follows out this implicit rejection of the romantic
Romantic love
Romance is the pleasurable feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.In the context of romantic love relationships, romance usually implies an expression of one's love, or one's deep emotional desires to connect with another person....

 comedy of his peers. It sticks quite carefully to the Aristotelian unities; the plot is a tightly woven mesh of act and reaction; the scenes a genial collection of depictions of everyday life in a large Renaissance city.


Critics of the nineteenth century tended to credit Jonson with the introduction of "humour" comedy into English literature. It is now well known, not only that George Chapman
George Chapman
George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...

's An Humorous Day's Mirth
An Humorous Day's Mirth
An Humorous Day's Mirth is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy by George Chapman, first acted in 1597 and published in 1599.Algernon Charles Swinburne called Chapman's play one of the finest comedies in English...

preceded Jonson's play by a year or more, but that Jonson himself was not especially intrigued by the trope of "humours." Since only Kitely is dominated by a "humour" as Jonson defined it in Every Man Out of His Humour, it seems more likely that Jonson was using a contemporary taste aroused by Chapman to draw interest to his play, which became his first indisputable hit.

Jonson revised the play for the 1616 folio
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

, where it was the first play presented. The most significant change was in the location. The 1598 edition was set in a vaguely identified Florence. Even in the original version, the background details were English; the revision formalizes this fact by giving the characters English names and replacing the vaguely English details with specific references to London places.

The folio also gives a cast list for the original 1598 production. After Shakespeare, the main players are given in the following order: Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

, Augustine Phillips
Augustine Phillips
Augustine Phillips was an Elizabethan actor who performed in troupes with Edward Alleyn and William Shakespeare. He was one of the first generation of English actors to achieve wealth and a degree of social status by means of his trade....

, John Heminges
John Heminges
John Heminges was an English Renaissance actor. Most noted now as one of the editors of William Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio, Heminges served in his time as an actor and financial manager for the King's Men.-Life:Heminges was born in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire in 1556...

, Henry Condell
Henry Condell
Henry Condell was an actor in the King's Men, the playing company for which William Shakespeare wrote. With John Heminges, he was instrumental in preparing the First Folio, the collected plays of Shakespeare, published in 1623....

, Thomas Pope
Thomas Pope (16th-century actor)
Thomas Pope was an Elizabethan actor, a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men and a colleague of William Shakespeare. Pope was a "comedian and acrobat."-Beginnings:...

, William Sly
William Sly
William Sly was an actor in English Renaissance theatre, a colleague of William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage in the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men....

, Christopher Beeston
Christopher Beeston
Christopher Beeston was a successful actor and a powerful theatrical impresario in early 17th century London. He was associated with a number of playwrights, particularly Thomas Heywood.-Early life:...

, William Kempe
William Kempe
William Kempe , also spelt Kemp, was an English actor and dancer specializing in comic roles and best known for having been one of the original players in early dramas by William Shakespeare...

, and John Duke. (Kempe would leave the company the next year, for his famous morris dance
Morris dance
Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers. Implements such as sticks, swords, handkerchiefs and bells may also be wielded by the dancers...

 from London to Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...


In 1599, Jonson wrote what would prove to be a much less popular sequel, Every Man out of His Humour
Every Man Out of His Humour
Every Man out of His Humour is a satirical comedy written by English playwright Ben Jonson, acted in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. It is a conceptual sequel to his 1598 comedy Every Man in His Humour...


The play was revived around 1670; Sackville
Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset
Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex was an English poet and courtier.-Early Life:He was son of Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset...

 provided a verse epilogue in which Jonson himself appeared as a ghost. David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 brought a revised version to the stage in 1751; the changes he made served chiefly to focus attention on the part of Kitely, which he played. The largest change was an entirely new scene featuring only Kitely and his wife, in which Kitely attempts to hide his jealousy. The production featured a prologue by William Whitehead
William Whitehead
__FORCETOC__William Whitehead was an English poet and playwright. He became Poet Laureate in 1757 after Thomas Gray declined the position.-Life:...

and proved popular enough for many revivals. However, as critics near the end of the eighteenth century noted, the play's popularity arose more from Garrick than from Jonson; the play fell from regular use, with the rest of Jonson's comedies, by the beginning of the nineteenth century.

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