Ben Jonson is one of the greatest of all English playwrights although, perhaps because most of his plays are farces, he is less well known than Shakespeare. The Devil is an Ass is set in a world of predatory men and shrewd women, fast money and shady scams, populated by a dazzling array of diverse and devious characters.
The Devil is an Ass opens in Hell, where Pug, a minor devil, is desperate to be allowed to visit Earth and wreak havoc. Satan warns him against it – “they have Vices will put ours to shame” – but Pug is as stubborn as he is naïve. So poor Pug’s wretched fate it is to be conjured from Hell by the asinine Fitzdottrel, newly arrived in the City and determined to make an impression. And even though poor Pug would love to “taste of every sin a little”, he is outwitted by everyone he meets and finds himself unexpectedly upholding virtue.
Jonson is ‘one of the most flamboyantly theatrical of all Renaissance dramatists.’ With its rich variety of characters, brilliantly crafted plotting and wonderful theatrical set pieces, The Devil is an Ass is not only a sharp and extraordinarily modern satire on greed, gullibility and affectation, it is also, ultimately a celebration of trust in human relationships and the ability of at least some people to change and grow.
Poster and set design for
The Devil is an Ass
by Iain Smith
Photography by Bronwyn Pringle
Click on any of the photographs below to enlarge