Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


A brief synopsis and history of the play by Ben Jonson

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

The Devil is an Ass, a comedy by Ben Jonson, was acted in 1616 by the King's servants at Blackfriars, but not printed till 1631. It was revived at the Theatre Royal in 1682.

Among the characters are Satan, "the great devil," and Pug, "the less devil." Pug "obtains leave to come on earth, as he is very desirous to do the commonwealth of hell some service. Pug is made an ass of on every possible occasion. He is at last put into prison for stealing a suit of clothes. Satan orders him to be carried off, as it would be a disgrace to their state to have a devil hanged" (Genest). The other personæ include Iniquity (the Vice), Fabian Fitzdottrel (a squire of Norfolk), Meercraft (a projector), Wittipol (a young gallant), Engine (a broker), Thomas Gilthead (a goldsmith), Sir Paul Eitherside (a lawyer and justice) and his wife, Shackles (keeper of Newgate), Lady Tailbush (a lady projector), and Pitfall (her woman). "The writing," says Swinburne, "is admirable; the wealth of comic matter is only too copious ... On the other hand, it is of all Ben Jonson's comedies since the date of Cynthia's Revels the most obsolete in subject of satire, the most temporary in its allusions and applications" (A Study of Ben Jonson).

Back to Ben Jonson