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Home » , » What is the function of the Prologue at the beginning of the play?
The Prologue sets forth the aim or purpose of the play. The practice of Roman writers of comedies is followed here by Jonson. Volpone has a satirical purpose, but it needs to be justified. "All that he writes is railing"-that is the charge brought against Jonson. Jonson, therefore, needs to vindicate himself. He holds up to ridicule the follies and vices of society, and his purpose is certainly moral, but he profit with a pleasure" in due measure is the aim, pursued in his satirical plays. So it is not mere vituperation that his plays come to, as it is wrongly complained.

The full complement of wit and humour gives a new character to his satire and half of its sting is gone. We can not say that all that he writers is railing. Characters may be mostly villains, but its is the author's delectable wit that makes them less reprehensible then they should be. This seems to be very true of Volpone and his parasite, Mosca. This legacy-hunters with whom they sport are certainly despicable and while we laugh at them as we must do against the context of wit and humour we cannot but condemn them. There, the moral intention of the author is carried into effect.

Jonson also defends himself against the charge that he usually takes too long a time in writing a play. This he shows to be totally unfounded. He has taken no more than five weeks in writing the play, and challenges anybody to improve upon it. Nor does he admit into his play any burlesque, such a bodily lifting a city feast in which many foolish tricks are played in the breaking of eggs and sharing out of an immense custard. Nor does he introduce a gull reciting odds and ends, or make use of stale time worn jests. He attempts genuine comedy with plenty of life in it, and no vulgarizing. In particular the Prologue shows the dramatist's hostility to the common practice in English comedy of introducing comic scenes which, though funny in themselves had no relevance to the plot. Jonson appreciated that there were 'laws' and 'rules' for the writing of good comedy, and he was willing to follow them when he saw they were 'needful'

The laws of time, place, persons he observeth,From no needful rule he swerveth.

Unities of time, place and action are observed, and satire is lightened with wit and humour. The Prologue is a vindication of the style and manner of Volpone and of its moral purpose too.


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