Here is a witty and learned literary excursion into the world of humour and comic literature as revealed inter alia by the works of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Fielding leading in the second half to some glorious insights and observations provided by author s life experience in the world of diplomacy. It is a rich and fascinating mix of literary idiom, the theatre of the absurd and the comic element of the human condition. Importantly, it does speak to the difficulties and dilemmas facing today s diplomatic missions as much as it has ever done the necessary dance between reality and pragmatism, how the art of diplomacy often hinges on the quality of humour brought to bear in any particular context. As such, this thought-provoking text by a retired Norwegian ambassador could be said to offer a clever bridge between history, literature and diplomacy, creating a fascinating link between his prime sources and the world of the diplomat.
Having greedily devoured the author’s children’s books, a change of pace and a leap into the scholarly beckoned this time around. Using Jonson’s skill and invention as a poet to link into the world of diplomacy is effective and Jørgensen’s own experiences in such places as Harare, Bonn, Dar El Salaam and Tokyo amongst others make for a very diverse and entertaining book.
Part one is a wide-ranging study of history and literature and how various ideas and innovations have contributed to the play and the theory behind them. It’s also an underlining of Jonson’s enduring genius (although Shakespeare seems to have eclipsed him in popularity for the moment), his influence on 17th and 18th century comedy plays and literature and the wide range of sources from which his works are derived.
Jonson’s characters are formed through a mixture of sources, from the fields of scientific, psychological, medicinal and philosophical exploration and how they are linked to the humours and the rules (decorum) of the play. The humours I should explain are a blend of characteristics – personality types, that formed a foundation on which to base ideas and played a significant part in the above fields.
Despite the rigid rules of what was expected in the theatre at that time, Jonson and others managed to constantly reappraise and innovate their characters in order to create richer and more layered persona, allowing the masterful renaissance works of Elizabethan era to be created.
Finally there is an attempt to define the meaning of the Comic which rounds off the first part perfectly and is a neat bridge into the second with its lighter tone which is a great advert for the job of ambassador, where a sense of humour seems to be a key qualification. Jørgensen’s personal anecdotes from the world of diplomacy are not only wonderfully funny but derived from many places and like Jonson so many sources (as diverse as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and 11th Century letters about territorial disputes over the Shetland and Orkney Isles between Britain and Norway) . It make for a rewarding an eye-opening read into the mysterious world of the ambassador, where one has to play a role and say all the right things, it is a neat mirroring of the stage.
I really enjoyed this book, not only did I learn new things but it also allowed me to piece together the evolution of some of the theories I have come across through my reading over the years. The world of the theatre has always fascinated me, the manipulation of space and so forth but seeing how characters are created and the internal rules and logic of a play and its interpretations are fascinating and encourage the study of the stage and the ideas they were based upon.
Not only is this a good primer for the psychology of Elizabethan plays – as well as a welcome reminder of the Medieval mystery plays – but also brings about an understanding of the technical aspects of a play much less considered by the lay reader such as myself. Not only is this book a timely showcasing of Jonson’s capabilities as a writer but also a reminder of the parts that we all play in our daily lives.