Shanelle Kim (Faculty Mentor: L. Monique Pittman, English)
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England, the transformation in categories of value resulting from a money economy clashed with older forms of institutionalized values—the family unit and religious morality. Ben Jonson’s dramatic satire Volpone (1606) diagnoses social ills arising from the emerging proto-capitalist culture of his time. Though Jonson critiques the corrosive impact of a money culture, his play offers little viable defense against its power. No agents of good manage to silence the opportunistic voices in his drama—rather, the immoral are silenced by the consequences of their own schemes. The two distinct embodiments of moral good in Jonson’s play, Celia and Bonario, prove ineffective in battling the creeping value transformations associated with money; in part, their failure derives from systemic fissures in Early Modern understandings of the family unit and gendered roles within such a structure. Celia as wife and Bonario as eldest son and heir occupy distinct gendered family roles that hinder their respective abilities to combat eroding morals and encroaching economic change. The rhetoric and actions of Celia and Bonario work to create an unsettling picture of morality and traditional family structures ill-equipped to deal with the negative effects of avarice.
My project combines a close reading of Celia and Bonario as dramatized in Jonson’s play with a careful study of sixteenth-century conduct books that articulate understandings of the family unit and gender roles during a time of proto-capitalist transition. In so doing, my project blends several techniques of literary scholarship—historical/archival work with literary criticism and analysis.