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The Devil is an Ass

Ben Jonson

Book Overview: 

An inferior devil, Pug, asks Satan to send him to Earth to tempt men to Evil. But when Pug arrives in 1616 London and sets himself at the Squire Fabian Fitzdottrel, he finds Fabian currently beset by con men, cheats, connivers, thieves, villains, and seductresses - a delightful mix of cunning criminality in a world that already has far more vice in it than anything Pug is prepared to offer

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . You are so covetous still to embrace More than you can, that you lose all.

Yet a word of parting praise must be given to Satan: a small part as far as extent goes, but a splendid example of high comic imagination after the order of Aristophanes, admirably relieved by the low comedy of the asinine Pug and the voluble doggrel by the antiquated Vice.

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TEXT

EDITOR’S NOTE

The text here adopted is that of the original edition of 1631. No changes of reading have been made; spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and italics are reproduced. The original pagination is inserted in brackets; the book-holder’s marginal notes are inserted where 1716 and Whalley placed them. In a few instances modern type has been substituted for archaic characters. The spacing of the contracted words has been normalized.

1641 =  Pamphlet folio of 1641. 1692 =  The Third Folio, 1692. 1716 = . . . Read More

Community Reviews

Among the top 5 Renaissance plays I've ever read, not excluding Shakespeare. It's really a shame that Jonson stopped writing for public stage for 10 years after this one. He's on such a good momentum! Also, for a notoriously misogynic author like him, this play is surprisingly proto-feminist-ish.

the play seems to get a lot of bad rep but i actually love it, especially upon reading it the second time - mixes city comedy with infernal elements and comments on early modern consumerism and commodity fetishisation! (jonson knew what he was doing ahead of it time it seems…) also the opening is gr

Excessive events, a hallmark of Jonson's plays, is fully in force here, but the mystical elements go a long way to justifying them. However over the top, this play is just fun and really very good. Read it, because chances are you will never get to see it.

The Devil may be an ass but he was correct about Pug not being ready to wreak havoc on Earth yet. Pug spent the entire play being so incompetent at being bad that it is funny. Unfortunately, the play is not that funny. I don't know if I did not find it funny since most of the jokes did not age well

Originally published on my blog here in October 1999.

Other than Volpone, I find Jonson's plays rather difficult to read, and I have never had the opportunity to see one on the stage. The main reason for both of these observations is to do with the large size of the cast and the lack of any large sta

Very long and crammed with incidents, but the core concept, of a demon given twenty-four hours in contemporary London to do as much damage as he can, is amusing. Inevitably, as it's Jonson, the demon fails, as humans are far too corrupt and nasty for him to make any difference. Lots of cross-dressin

Half because of the play itself, half because of this particular edition.

If the edition was half readable, I would have perhaps enjoyed this more.

As it stands, I couldn't tell who was speaking because of the edition format and I was underwhelmed by Jonson's plotting. The Devil is a hilarious figure

It's hard to read anything from this period and not compare it to Shakespeare but even so, it is very underwhelming and I didn't find it funny. Of course I am sure that there would be more comic potential if I saw it performed but as a reading experience it is not the best play of it's time.

The few that have the Seeds
Of goodness left, will sooner make their way
To a true life, by shame than punishment.

I've never read any other plays by this guy, but off this: Halfway through I'm like "If I ever meet Armando Iannucci, I'mma ask him what its like being the 21st century's Ben Jonson."

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