Nano’s Aesthetics

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Nano appears with his companions a second time with speaking roles.  In III,ii, at the centre of the play and at a pivotal moment, Nano proposes as a way of entertaining their master Volpone  they are to play a game:

Dwarf, fool, and eunuch, well met here we be. / A question it were now, whether of us  three, / Being, all, the known delicates of a rich man, In pleasing him, claim the precedency can?

The game Nano proposes is not only a repetition of the main situation of Volpone but a mischievous cross reference to the famous opening scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear.  The way Castrone and Androgyno respond is an indication of where Jonson felt the dramatic centre of Shakespeare’s tragedy really lay.

Castrone.  I claim for myself

Androgyno.          And so doth the fool.

Jonson goes straight to the Shakespearean underbelly of the characters’ self-interest.  It is the satirist’s right to see things in this sardonic light.

Nano, however, does not agree.  He launches into a dozen line defence as to why he should be the favoured one.  It becomes a defence of littleness.  Then, more generally,  it becomes a proposal for reduction in scale as the preferred future option in literature, art and culture.

Nano. ‘Tis foolish indeed, let me set you both to school. /First for your dwarf, he’s little and witty, /And everything, as it is little, is pretty;/ Else, why do men say to a creature of my shape,/ So soon as they see him, “It’s a pretty little ape”?/ And, why a pretty ape? but for pleasing imitation/ Of greater men’s action, in a ridiculous fashion.

Is this Jonson’s way of acknowledging his relation to Shakespeare?  It should be noted here what a “high” view Jonson held on “imitation”.  In his prose writings Timber or Discoveries he wrote of “imitation”:

The third requisite in our poet or maker is imitation, imitatio, to be able to convert the substance or riches of another poet to his own use.  To make choice of one excellent man above the rest, and so to follow him until he grow very he, or so ;like him as the copy may  be mistaken for the principal.  Not as a creature that swallows what it takes in, crude, raw, or undigested; but that feeds with an appetite, and hath a stomach to concoct, divide, and turn all into nourishment.

Nano gives voice to Jonson’s views. As  Dr. Kathryn Wolford in her essay on Francis Bacon has noted :

Sir Francis Bacon developed a method for philosophers to use in weighing the truthfulness of knowledge. While Bacon agreed with medieval thinkers that humans too often erred in interpreting what their five senses perceived, he also realized that people’s sensory experiences provided the best possible means of making sense of the world. Because humans could incorrectly interpret anything they saw, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt, Bacon insisted that they must doubt everything before assuming its truth.

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