First staged in 1626, when the newspaper industry was bourgeoning due to the British public’s curiosity about the Thirty Year’s War, Ben Jonson’s The Staple of News reflects the dramatist’s anxiety about the availability of the news to women and members of the lower class. In early modern England, for fear of social unrest, news was taken as an exclusive privilege of the aristocracy, members of the social elite who were supposed to have the capacity for critical judgment. However, the advent of the news media disrupted this privilege. The newspapers’ accessibility to both sexes and to all classes liquidated traditional boundaries, threatening the established power hierarchy. In this play, therefore, Jonson satirizes the social manners and tastes of his contemporary readers. He likens the circulation of news to the vulgar to upper-class women’s frequenting taverns, seeing the consumption of news as a gullible, feminized fashion. In doing so, he reaffirms the educational value of the theater and defends the elitist and patriarchal hierarchies of his day.
KEYWORDS: Ben Jonson, The Staple of News, women as consumers, commodities, the early modern news business