I to the end It is not very often that a play begins without the playwright identifying the speaker of the first line, but it is also not very often that a playwright like Ben Jonson comes along. Known for flouting convention while simultaneously touting his adherence to the rules of classical drama, Jonson is a paradox of reverence and irreverence, rule abiding and rule breaking; and this contradiction is on full display in the prologue. The open-ended nature of the first speech (if it is even preserved in performance) leaves a director with numerous options and questions when thinking about how best to begin the production. Most importantly, a director must select the appropriate actor(s) to deliver the prologue. Looking at the meter, several scholars have observed that the verse sounds strikingly similar to the verse of Nano, Androgyno and Castrone. Another option would be to assign the prologue to the actor portraying Volpone. This choice lends the production a nice symmetry since it is Volpone who delivers the epilogue. It is also possible for a director to enlist multiple speakers and divide the text among some or all of the cast members, creating a unified show of support for Jonson’s claim of literary superiority. The director must also decide whether s/he wishes to present the speaker(s) as actor(s) or character(s).
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