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Mandelbaum, G. (2008). On Ben Jonson's Comedies. Am. Imago, 65(2):165-190.

(2008). American Imago, 65(2):165-190

On Ben Jonson's Comedies

George Mandelbaum

This paper examines Ben Jonson's comedies from the psychoanalytic point of view. The author argues that Jonson's comedies embody derivatives of his unconscious memories as well as of the fantasies they engendered. These derivatives appear in a recurrent sequential pattern of scenes in his work. Comedies embodying these patterns helped Jonson to keep his memories buried; when his effort at mastery broke down, he “acted out.” The action and structure of the comedies also functioned as a continuing defense against depression, the syndrome that Freud in his day called “melancholia.” Jonson's great failing as a playwright—his continuing inability to create lifelike, three-dimensional characters—resulted from his inability to detach himself sufficiently from the pressure exerted by his inner life.

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