Ben Jonson - Wikipedia
Benjamin Jonson was an English playwright, poet, actor, and literary critic, whose artistry Regarding his marriage Jonson described his wife to William Drummond as "a shrew as "Ann Lewis", the woman who married a Benjamin Jonson in , at the church William Shakespeare was among the first actors to be cast. Shakespeare Studies: Ben Jonson We see Jonson exploring the relations between culture and society, the difficulties of ideal virtue in a far from . Epicene , or, The silent woman by Ben Jonson; Edited byRichard Dutton. Ben Jonson went from a classically educated schoolboy to an apprentice and how his success was often marred by a difficult relationship with alcohol, with other children, they seem to have been with women other than his wife. . Shakespeare's death in meant that Jonson was now regarded as.
Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. August Drama[ edit ] Apart from two tragedies, Sejanus and Catilinethat largely failed to impress Renaissance audiences, Jonson's work for the public theatres was in comedy.
These plays vary in some respects. The minor early plays, particularly those written for boy playerspresent somewhat looser plots and less-developed characters than those written later, for adult companies.
Already in the plays which were his salvos in the Poet's War, he displays the keen eye for absurdity and hypocrisy that marks his best-known plays; in these early efforts, however, plot mostly takes second place to variety of incident and comic set-pieces. They are, also, notably ill-tempered. Thomas Davies called Poetaster "a contemptible mixture of the serio-comic, where the names of Augustus CaesarMaecenasVirgilHoraceOvid and Tibullusare all sacrificed upon the altar of private resentment".
Another early comedy in a different vein, The Case is Alteredis markedly similar to Shakespeare's romantic comedies in its foreign setting, emphasis on genial wit and love-plot. Henslowe's diary indicates that Jonson had a hand in numerous other plays, including many in genres such as English history with which he is not otherwise associated.
The comedies of his middle career, from Eastward Hoe to The Devil Is an Ass are for the most part city comedywith a London setting, themes of trickery and money, and a distinct moral ambiguity, despite Jonson's professed aim in the Prologue to Volpone to "mix profit with your pleasure".
His late plays or " dotages ", particularly The Magnetic Lady and The Sad Shepherd, exhibit signs of an accommodation with the romantic tendencies of Elizabethan comedy. Within this general progression, however, Jonson's comic style remained constant and easily recognisable.
He announces his programme in the prologue to the folio version of Every Man in His Humour: He planned to write comedies that revived the classical premises of Elizabethan dramatic theory—or rather, since all but the loosest English comedies could claim some descent from Plautus and Terencehe intended to apply those premises with rigour.
He set his plays in contemporary settings, peopled them with recognisable types, and set them to actions that, if not strictly realistic, involved everyday motives such as greed and jealousy. In accordance with the temper of his age, he was often so broad in his characterisation that many of his most famous scenes border on the farcical as William Congrevefor example, judged Epicoene.
He was more diligent in adhering to the classical unities than many of his peers—although as Margaret Cavendish noted, the unity of action in the major comedies was rather compromised by Jonson's abundance of incident. To this classical model Jonson applied the two features of his style which save his classical imitations from mere pedantry: Coleridge, for instance, claimed that The Alchemist had one of the three most perfect plots in literature.
Poetry[ edit ] "Epitaph for Cecilia Bulstrode" manuscript, Jonson's poetry, like his drama, is informed by his classical learning. Some of his better-known poems are close translations of Greek or Roman models; all display the careful attention to form and style that often came naturally to those trained in classics in the humanist manner.
Jonson largely avoided the debates about rhyme and meter that had consumed Elizabethan classicists such as Thomas Campion and Gabriel Harvey. Accepting both rhyme and stress, Jonson used them to mimic the classical qualities of simplicity, restraint and precision.
The epigrams explore various attitudes, most from the satiric stock of the day: Although it is included among the epigrams, " On My First Sonne " is neither satirical nor very short; the poem, intensely personal and deeply felt, typifies a genre that would come to be called "lyric poetry.
A few other so-called epigrams share this quality. Jonson's poems of "The Forest" also appeared in the first folio. Underwood, published in the expanded folio ofis a larger and more heterogeneous group of poems. It contains A Celebration of CharisJonson's most extended effort at love poetry; various religious pieces; encomiastic poems including the poem to Shakespeare and a sonnet on Mary Wroth ; the Execration against Vulcan and others.
The volume also contains three elegies which have often been ascribed to Donne one of them appeared in Donne's posthumous collected poems. Relationship with Shakespeare[ edit ] A 19th century engraving illustrating Thomas Fuller 's story of Shakespeare and Jonson debating at the " Mermaid Tavern ". There are many legends about Jonson's rivalry with Shakespearesome of which may be true. Drummond also reported Jonson as saying that Shakespeare "wanted art" i.
Whether Drummond is viewed as accurate or not, the comments fit well with Jonson's well-known theories about literature.
He recalls being told by certain actors that Shakespeare never blotted i. His own claimed response was "Would he had blotted a thousand! That the two men knew each other personally is beyond doubt, not only because of the tone of Jonson's references to him but because Shakespeare's company produced a number of Jonson's plays, at least two of which Every Man in His Humour and Sejanus His Fall Shakespeare certainly acted in.
However, it is now impossible to tell how much personal communication they had, and tales of their friendship cannot be substantiated. William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us"did a good deal to create the traditional view of Shakespeare as a poet who, despite "small Latine, and lesse Greeke",  had a natural genius. The poem has traditionally been thought to exemplify the contrast which Jonson perceived between himself, the disciplined and erudite classicist, scornful of ignorance and sceptical of the masses, and Shakespeare, represented in the poem as a kind of natural wonder whose genius was not subject to any rules except those of the audiences for which he wrote.
But the poem itself qualifies this view: Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art, My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part. Some view this elegy as a conventional exercise, but others see it as a heartfelt tribute to the "Sweet Swan of Avon", the "Soul of the Age!
John Aubrey wrote of Jonson in " Brief Lives. In the Romantic era, Jonson suffered the fate of being unfairly compared and contrasted to Shakespeare, as the taste for Jonson's type of satirical comedy decreased. Jonson was at times greatly appreciated by the Romantics, but overall he was denigrated for not writing in a Shakespearean vein.
Inafter more than two decades of research, Cambridge University Press published the first new edition of Jonson's complete works for 60 years. Bentley notes in Shakespeare and Jonson: Their Reputations in the Seventeenth Century Compared, Jonson's reputation was in some respects equal to Shakespeare's in the 17th century.
After the English theatres were reopened on the Restoration of Charles IIJonson's work, along with Shakespeare's and Fletcher 's, formed the initial core of the Restoration repertory.
It was not until after that Shakespeare's plays ordinarily in heavily revised forms were more frequently performed than those of his Renaissance contemporaries. Many critics since the 18th century have ranked Jonson below only Shakespeare among English Renaissance dramatists. Critical judgment has tended to emphasise the very qualities that Jonson himself lauds in his prefaces, in Timber, and in his scattered prefaces and dedications: For some critics, the temptation to contrast Jonson representing art or craft with Shakespeare representing nature, or untutored genius has seemed natural; Jonson himself may be said to have initiated this interpretation in the second folio, and Samuel Butler drew the same comparison in his commonplace book later in the century.
Not only did the Globe produce it, but Shakespeare was in the cast. Jonson should have loved him and no doubt did, in his all-too-human and contradictory way. The vicar of the Stratford church, John Ward, wrote that the trio of poets -- Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton and Shakespeare -- met in April for ''a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.
The Man Who Knew Shakespeare
Of course we shall never know. Jonson is the unanswerable argument against idiotic beliefs that Shakespeare's plays were written by somebody else, like the Earl of Oxford who died inbefore ''Lear'' and ''The Tempest'' were written. In his essay ''Morose Ben Jonson,'' Edmund Wilson calls him ''anal erotic'' and traces his lifelong resentment to ''two sources -- first, the grievance of the man of good birth unjustly deprived of his patrimony; second, the sulky resentment of the man who can only withhold, against the man who can freely lavish'' -- meaning Shakespeare.
He was born Benjamin Johnson with an ''h. Ben was so thoroughly grounded in the classics that his lifetime of devotion to them won him honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. This may also explain his snide reference to Shakespeare's ''small Latin and less Greek. Removed from Westminster, he was ''sentenced'' to a low trade, bricklaying, which he said he ''could not endure. He worked at bricklaying until he found a way out -- the army.
He served in the Low Countries, where he had ''in the face of both camps killed an enemy. With children coming he began acting with playwagon groups in the country, working up to a role at the Swan, where he played Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd's ''Spanish Tragedy.
He collaborated with the poet Thomas Nashe on a new play, ''The Isle of Dogs,'' and its satire of the nobility was considered so subversive the queen's kennels were on the Isle of Dogs that Jonson landed in prison.
In he killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel. He told Drummond that Spencer ''hurt him in the arm with a sword 10 inches longer than his, for which he was imprisoned and almost at the gallows. His big break came in February In this way he acquired the habit of trying to express unpoetical ideas in verse. Art could change the prose into metrical rhyming lines, but art could not breathe into them the living soul of poetry.
In after times Jonson said that Shakespeare lacked art, but Jonson recognized that the author of Hamlet had the magic touch of nature. Jonson's pen rarely felt her all-embracing touch. If Jonson served an apprenticeship as a bricklayer, as his enemies afterward said, he did not continue long at such work. He crossed the Channel and enlisted for a brief time as a soldier in the Netherlands. He soon returned to London and became a writer for the theater, and thenceforth lived the life of an author and a student.
He loved to study and translate the classics. In fact, what a novice might think original in Jonson's plays was often borrowed from the classics. Of his relations to the classical writers, Dryden says, "You track him everywhere in their snow. He knew the boundaries of Bohemia, and he took pleasure in saying to a friend: He was extremely combative. It was almost a necessity for him to quarrel with some person or with some opinion.
He killed two men in duels, and he would probably have been hanged, if he had not pleaded benefit of clergy. For the greater part of his life, he was often occupied with pen and ink quarrels. When James I ascended the throne inJonson soon became a royal favorite. He was often employed to write masques, a peculiar species of drama which called for magnificent scenery and dress, and gave the nobility the opportunity of acting the part of some distinguished or supernatural character.
Such work brought Jonson into intimate association with the leading men of the day. It is pleasant to think that he was a friend of Shakespeare. Jonson's pithy volume of prose, known as Discoveries Made upon Men and Matter, contains his famous criticism on Shakespeare, noteworthy because it shows how a great contemporary regarded him, "I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any.
Inthe year in which Shakespeare died, Jonson was made poet laureate. When he died inhe was buried in an upright position in Westminster Abbey. A plain stone with the unique inscription, "O Rare Ben Jonson," marks his grave. Ben Jonson's comedies are his best dramatic work.