Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson

Overview
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance
English Renaissance
The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries to the early 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century; like most of northern...

 dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, he is best known for his satirical
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 plays, particularly Volpone
Volpone
Volpone is a comedy by Ben Jonson first produced in 1606, drawing on elements of city comedy, black comedy and beast fable...

, The Alchemist
The Alchemist (play)
The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King's Men, it is generally considered Jonson's best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature...

, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 poems. A man of vast reading and a seemingly insatiable appetite for controversy, Jonson had an unparalleled breadth of influence on Jacobean and Caroline playwrights and poets.

Jonson claimed his family was of Scottish
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 Border country
Border Country
Border Country is a novel by Raymond Williams. The book was re-published in December 2005 as one of the first group of titles in the Library of Wales series, having been out of print for several years. Written in English, the novel was first published in 1960.It is set in rural South Wales, close...

 descent, and this claim may have been supported by the fact that his coat of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 bears three spindles or rhombi
Rhombus
In Euclidean geometry, a rhombus or rhomb is a convex quadrilateral whose four sides all have the same length. The rhombus is often called a diamond, after the diamonds suit in playing cards, or a lozenge, though the latter sometimes refers specifically to a rhombus with a 45° angle.Every...

, a device shared by a Borders family, the Johnstones of Annandale
Annandale, Dumfries and Galloway
Annandale is a strath in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, named after the River Annan. It runs north-south through the Southern Uplands from Annanhead to Annan on the Solway Firth and in its higher reaches it separates the Moffat hills on the east from the Lowther hills to the west...

.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

There shall be no love lost.

Every Man out of His Humour (1598), Act II, scene 1. Compare: "There is no love lost between us", Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, part ii, chapter xxxiii.

Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears:Yet, slower, yet; O faintly, gentle springs:List to the heavy part the music bears,Woe weeps out her division, when she sings.Droop herbs, and flowers,Fall grief in showers,Our beauties are not ours;O, I could still,Like melting snow upon some craggy hill,Drop, drop, drop, drop,Since nature's pride is now, a withered daffodil.

Cynthia's Revels (1600), Act I, scene i

True happinessConsists not in the multitude of friends,But in the worth and choice.

Cynthia's Revels (1600), Act III, scene ii

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,Now the sun is laid to sleep,Seated in thy silver chair,State in wonted manner keep:Hesperus entreats thy light,Goddess, excellently bright.

Cynthia's Revels (1600), Act V, scene iii

That old bald cheater, Time.

The Poetaster (1601), Act I, scene i

Of all wild beasts preserve me from a tyrant; and of all tame, a flatterer.

Sejanus (1603), Act I.

The world knows only two,—that's Rome and I.

Sejanus (1603), Act V, scene 1.

Calumnies are answered best with silence.

Volpone (1606), Act II, scene ii

You that would last long, list to my song,Make no more coil, but buy of this oil.Would you be ever fair and young?Stout of teeth and strong of tongue?Tart of palate, quick of ear?Sharp of sight, of nostril clear?Moist of hand and light of foot?(Or, I will come nearer to it)Would you live free from all diseases,Do the act your mistress pleases;Yet fright all aches from your bones?Here's a medicine for the nones.

Volpone (1606), Act II, scene ii

Preserving the sweetness of proportion and expressing itself beyond expression.

The Masque of Hymen (1606)
Encyclopedia
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance
English Renaissance
The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries to the early 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century; like most of northern...

 dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, he is best known for his satirical
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 plays, particularly Volpone
Volpone
Volpone is a comedy by Ben Jonson first produced in 1606, drawing on elements of city comedy, black comedy and beast fable...

, The Alchemist
The Alchemist (play)
The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King's Men, it is generally considered Jonson's best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature...

, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 poems. A man of vast reading and a seemingly insatiable appetite for controversy, Jonson had an unparalleled breadth of influence on Jacobean and Caroline playwrights and poets.

Early life


Jonson claimed his family was of Scottish
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 Border country
Border Country
Border Country is a novel by Raymond Williams. The book was re-published in December 2005 as one of the first group of titles in the Library of Wales series, having been out of print for several years. Written in English, the novel was first published in 1960.It is set in rural South Wales, close...

 descent, and this claim may have been supported by the fact that his coat of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 bears three spindles or rhombi
Rhombus
In Euclidean geometry, a rhombus or rhomb is a convex quadrilateral whose four sides all have the same length. The rhombus is often called a diamond, after the diamonds suit in playing cards, or a lozenge, though the latter sometimes refers specifically to a rhombus with a 45° angle.Every...

, a device shared by a Borders family, the Johnstones of Annandale
Annandale, Dumfries and Galloway
Annandale is a strath in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, named after the River Annan. It runs north-south through the Southern Uplands from Annanhead to Annan on the Solway Firth and in its higher reaches it separates the Moffat hills on the east from the Lowther hills to the west...

. His father died a month before Ben's birth, and his mother remarried two years later, to a master bricklayer
Bricklayer
A bricklayer or mason is a craftsman who lays bricks to construct brickwork. The term also refers to personnel who use blocks to construct blockwork walls and other forms of masonry. In British and Australian English, a bricklayer is colloquially known as a "brickie".The training of a trade in...

. Jonson attended school in St. Martin's Lane
St. Martin's Lane
St. Martin's Lane is a street on the edge of Covent Garden in Central London, which runs from the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, after which it is named, near Trafalgar Square northwards to Long Acre.A narrow street with relatively little traffic, St...

, and was later paid for by a "friend" to go to Westminster School
Westminster School
The Royal College of St. Peter in Westminster, almost always known as Westminster School, is one of Britain's leading independent schools, with the highest Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rate of any secondary school or college in Britain...

, where one of his teachers was William Camden
William Camden
William Camden was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms. He wrote the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.- Early years :Camden was born in London...

. Jonson remained friendly with Camden, whose broad scholarship evidently influenced his own style, until the latter's death in 1623. On leaving, Jonson was once thought to have gone on to the University of Cambridge, but Jonson himself contradicts this, saying that he did not go to university, but was put to a trade, probably bricklaying, immediately: a legend recorded by Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller was an English churchman and historian. He is now remembered for his writings, particularly his Worthies of England, published after his death...

 indicates that he worked on a garden wall in Lincoln's Inn
Lincoln's Inn
The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn is one of four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are called to the Bar. The other three are Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Gray's Inn. Although Lincoln's Inn is able to trace its official records beyond...

. He soon had enough of the trade and spent some time in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 as a volunteer with the regiments of Francis Vere
Francis Vere
Sir Francis Vere was an English soldier, famous for his career in Dutch service.He was the son of Geoffrey Vere of Crepping Hall, Essex, and nephew of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford.-Military career:...

. In conversations with poet William Drummond of Hawthornden
William Drummond of Hawthornden
William Drummond , called "of Hawthornden", was a Scottish poet.-Life:Drummond was born at Hawthornden Castle, Midlothian. His father, John Drummond, was the first laird of Hawthornden; and his mother was Susannah Fowler, sister of William Fowler, poet and courtier...

, subsequently published as the Hawthornden Manuscripts, Jonson reports that while in the Netherlands he killed an opponent in single combat
Single combat
Single combat is a fight between two single warriors which takes place in the context of a battle between two armies, with the two often considered the champions of their respective sides...

 and stripped him of his weapons.

Jonson married, some time before 1594, a woman whom he described to Drummond as "a shrew, yet honest." His wife has not been definitively identified, but she is sometimes identified as the Ann Lewis who married a Benjamin Jonson at St Magnus-the-Martyr
St Magnus-the-Martyr
St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge is a Church of England church and parish in the City of London, located in Lower Thames Street near The Monument and the modern London Bridge. It is a part of the Diocese of London and under the pastoral care of the Bishop of London. By arrangement with the...

, near London Bridge
London Bridge
London Bridge is a bridge over the River Thames, connecting the City of London and Southwark, in central London. Situated between Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Tower Bridge, it forms the western end of the Pool of London...

. The registers of St. Martin's Church state that his eldest daughter Mary died in November 1593, when she was six months old. His eldest son Benjamin died of the plague ten years later aged seven (Jonson's epitaph to him On My First Sonne
On My First Sonne
On My First Sonne, a poem by Ben Jonson, was written in 1616 after the death of Jonson's first son Benjamin at age seven. The poem, a reflection of a father's pain in his young son's death, is rendered more acutely moving when compared with Jonson's other, usually more cynical or mocking, poetry.On...

was written shortly after), and a second Benjamin died in 1635. For five years during this period Jonson lived separately from his wife, enjoying the hospitality of Lord Aubigny.

Career


By summer 1597, Jonson had a fixed engagement in the Admiral's Men
Admiral's Men
The Admiral's Men was a playing company or troupe of actors in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras...

, then performing under Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe was an Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur and impresario. Henslowe's modern reputation rests on the survival of his diary, a primary source for information about the theatrical world of Renaissance London...

's management at The Rose
The Rose (theatre)
The Rose was an Elizabethan theatre. It was the fourth of the public theatres to be built, after The Theatre , the Curtain , and the theatre at Newington Butts The Rose was an Elizabethan theatre. It was the fourth of the public theatres to be built, after The Theatre (1576), the Curtain (1577),...

. John Aubrey
John Aubrey
John Aubrey FRS, was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives...

 reports, on uncertain authority, that Jonson was not successful as an actor; whatever his skills as an actor, he was evidently more valuable to the company as a writer.

By this time Jonson had begun to write original plays for the Admiral's Men; in 1598 he was mentioned by Francis Meres
Francis Meres
Francis Meres was an English churchman and author.He was born at Kirton in the Holland division of Lincolnshire in 1565. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1587 and an M.A. in 1591. Two years later he was incorporated an M.A. of Oxford...

 in his Palladis Tamia as one of "the best for tragedy." None of his early tragedies survives, however. An undated comedy, The Case is Altered
The Case is Altered
The Case is Altered is an early comedy by Ben Jonson. First published in 1609, the play presents a range of problems for scholars attempting to understand its place in Jonson's canon of works.-Date and publication:...

, may be his earliest surviving play.

In 1597 a play which he co-wrote with Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe was an English Elizabethan pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist. He was the son of the minister William Nashe and his wife Margaret .-Early life:...

, The Isle of Dogs
The Isle of Dogs (play)
The Isle of Dogs is a play by Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson which was performed in 1597. It was immediately suppressed, and no copy of it is known to exist.-The Play:...

, was suppressed after causing great offence. Arrest warrants for Jonson and Nashe were issued by Queen Elizabeth I's so-called interrogator, Richard Topcliffe
Richard Topcliffe
Richard Topcliffe was a landowner and Member of Parliament during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. He became notorious as a priest-hunter and torturer and was often referred to as the Queen's principal "interrogator"....

. Jonson was jailed in Marshalsea Prison and charged with "Leude and mutynous behavior", while Nashe managed to escape to Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth, often known to locals as Yarmouth, is a coastal town in Norfolk, England. It is at the mouth of the River Yare, east of Norwich.It has been a seaside resort since 1760, and is the gateway from the Norfolk Broads to the sea...

. A year later, Jonson was again briefly imprisoned, this time in Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison was a prison in London, at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey just inside the City of London. It was originally located at the site of a gate in the Roman London Wall. The gate/prison was rebuilt in the 12th century, and demolished in 1777...

, for killing the actor Gabriel Spenser in a duel
Duel
A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.Duels in this form were chiefly practised in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period especially among...

 on 22 September 1598 in Hogsden Fields (today part of Hoxton
Hoxton
Hoxton is an area in the London Borough of Hackney, immediately north of the financial district of the City of London. The area of Hoxton is bordered by Regent's Canal on the north side, Wharf Road and City Road on the west, Old Street on the south, and Kingsland Road on the east.Hoxton is also a...

). Tried on a charge of manslaughter
Manslaughter
Manslaughter is a legal term for the killing of a human being, in a manner considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is said to have first been made by the Ancient Athenian lawmaker Dracon in the 7th century BC.The law generally differentiates...

, Jonson pleaded guilty but was released by benefit of clergy
Benefit of clergy
In English law, the benefit of clergy was originally a provision by which clergymen could claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried instead in an ecclesiastical court under canon law...

, a legal ploy through which he gained leniency by reciting a brief bible verse (the neck-verse), forfeiting his 'goods and chattels' and being branded on his left thumb.

In 1598 Jonson produced his first great success, Every Man in his Humour
Every Man in His Humour
Every Man in His Humour is a 1598 play by the English playwright Ben Jonson. The play belongs to the subgenre of the "humours comedy," in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession.-Performance and Publication:...

, capitalising on the vogue for humorous plays which George Chapman
George Chapman
George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...

 had begun with An Humorous Day's Mirth
An Humorous Day's Mirth
An Humorous Day's Mirth is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy by George Chapman, first acted in 1597 and published in 1599.Algernon Charles Swinburne called Chapman's play one of the finest comedies in English...

. William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 was among the first actors to be cast. Jonson followed this in 1599 with Every Man Out of His Humour
Every Man Out of His Humour
Every Man out of His Humour is a satirical comedy written by English playwright Ben Jonson, acted in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. It is a conceptual sequel to his 1598 comedy Every Man in His Humour...

, a pedantic attempt to imitate Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

. It is not known whether this was a success on stage, but when published it proved popular and went through several editions.

Jonson's other work for the theatre in the last years of Elizabeth I's reign was marked by fighting and controversy. Cynthia's Revels
Cynthia's Revels
Cynthia's Revels, or The Fountain of Self-Love is a late Elizabethan stage play, a satire written by Ben Jonson, The play was one element in the so-called Poetomachia or War of the Theatres between Jonson and rival playrwights John Marston and Thomas Dekker.-Performance:The play was first performed...

was produced by the Children of the Chapel
Children of the Chapel
The Children of the Chapel were the boys with unbroken voices, choristers, who formed part of the Chapel Royal, the body of singers and priests serving the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they were called upon to do so....

 Royal at Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre was the name of a theatre in the Blackfriars district of the City of London during the Renaissance. The theatre began as a venue for child actors associated with the Queen's chapel choirs; in this function, the theatre hosted some of the most innovative drama of Elizabeth and...

 in 1600. It satirised both John Marston
John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

, who Jonson believed had accused him of lustfulness, possibly in Histrio-Mastix, and Thomas Dekker. Jonson attacked the two poets again in 1601's Poetaster
Poetaster
Poetaster, like rhymester or versifier, is a contemptuous name often applied to bad or inferior poets. Specifically, poetaster has implications of unwarranted pretentions to artistic value. The word was coined in Latin by Erasmus in 1521...

. Dekker responded with Satiromastix, subtitled "the untrussing of the humorous poet". The final scene of this play, whilst certainly not to be taken at face value as a portrait of Jonson, offers a caricature that is recognisable from Drummond's report – boasting about himself and condemning other poets, criticising performances of his plays, and calling attention to himself in any available way.

This "War of the Theatres
War of the Theatres
The War of the Theatres is the name commonly applied to a controversy from the later Elizabethan theatre; Thomas Dekker termed it the Poetomachia....

" appears to have ended with reconciliation on all sides. Jonson collaborated with Dekker on a pageant
Procession
A procession is an organized body of people advancing in a formal or ceremonial manner.-Procession elements:...

 welcoming James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 to England in 1603 although Drummond reports that Jonson called Dekker a rogue. Marston dedicated The Malcontent to Jonson and the two collaborated with Chapman on Eastward Ho, a 1605 play whose anti-Scottish sentiment briefly landed both authors in jail.

Royal Patronage


At the beginning of the reign of James I of England
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 in 1603 Jonson joined other poets and playwrights in welcoming the new king. Jonson quickly adapted himself to the additional demand for masque
Masque
The masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe, though it was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio...

s and entertainments introduced with the new reign and fostered by both the king and his consort Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark was queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland as the wife of King James VI and I.The second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, Anne married James in 1589 at the age of fourteen and bore him three children who survived infancy, including the future Charles I...

. In addition to his popularity on the public stage and in the royal hall, he enjoyed the patronage of aristocrats such as Elizabeth Sidney
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland was the son of John Manners, 4th Earl of Rutland.He married Elizabeth Sidney , on 5 March 1599....

 (daughter of Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

) and Lady Mary Wroth
Lady Mary Wroth
Lady Mary Wroth was an English poet of the Renaissance. A member of a distinguished literary English family, Wroth was among the first female British writers to have achieved an enduring reputation...

. This connection with the Sidney family provided the impetus for one of Jonson's most famous lyrics, the country house poem
Country house poems
A country house poem is a poem in which the author compliments a wealthy patron or a friend through a description of his country house. Such poems were popular in early 17th century England...

 To Penshurst
Penshurst Place
Penshurst Place is a historic building near Tonbridge, Kent, south east of London, England. It is the ancestral home of the Sidney family, and was the birthplace of the great Elizabethan poet, courtier and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney. The original medieval house is one of the most complete examples...

.

In 1603 Thomas Overbury
Thomas Overbury
Sir Thomas Overbury was an English poet and essayist, and the victim of one of the most sensational crimes in English history...

 reported that Jonson was living on Aurelian Townsend and "scorning the world." Perhaps this explains why his trouble with English authorities continued. That same year he was questioned by the Privy Council
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

 about Sejanus, a politically-themed play about corruption in the Roman Empire. He was again in trouble for topical allusions in a play, now lost, in which he took part. After the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot
Gunpowder Plot
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.The plan was to blow up the House of...

, he appears to have been asked by the Privy Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

 to attempt to prevail on a certain priest to cooperate with the government; the priest he found was Father Thomas Wright, who heard Fawkes's confession (Teague, 249).

At the same time, Jonson pursued a more prestigious career, writing masque
Masque
The masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe, though it was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio...

s for James' court. The Satyr
The Entertainment at Althorp
The Entertainment at Althorp, or The Althorp Entertainment, is an early Jacobean era literary work, written by Ben Jonson. It is also known by the alternative title The Satyr. The work marked a major development in Jonson's career, as the first of many entertainments and masques that he would write...

(1603) and The Masque of Blackness
The Masque of Blackness
The Masque of Blackness was an early Jacobean era masque, first performed at the Stuart Court in the Banqueting Hall of Whitehall Palace on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1605. The masque was written by Ben Jonson at the request of Anne of Denmark, the queen consort of King James I, who wished the...

(1605) are two of about two dozen masques which Jonson wrote for James or for Queen Anne; The Masque of Blackness was praised by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

 as the consummate example of this now-extinct genre, which mingled speech, dancing, and spectacle.

On many of these projects he collaborated, not always peacefully, with designer Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones is the first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England...

. For example, Jones designed the scenery for Jonson's masque Oberon, the Faery Prince
Oberon, the Faery Prince
Oberon, the Faery Prince was a masque written by Ben Jonson, with costumes, sets and stage effects designed by Inigo Jones, and music by Alfonso Ferrabosco and Robert Johnson...

 performed at Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

 on 1 January 1611 in which Prince Henry
Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales
Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales was the elder son of King James I & VI and Anne of Denmark. His name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Frederick II of Denmark. Prince Henry was widely seen as a bright and promising heir to his father's throne...

, eldest son of James I, appeared in the title role. Perhaps partly as a result of this new career, Jonson gave up writing plays for the public theatres for a decade. He later told Drummond that he had made less than two hundred pounds on all his plays together.

In 1616 Jonson received a yearly pension of 100 marks (about £60), leading some to identify him as England's first Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events...

. This sign of royal favour may have encouraged him to publish the first volume of the folio collected edition of his works that year. Other volumes followed in 1640–41 and 1692. (See: Ben Jonson folios
Ben Jonson folios
The folio collections of Ben Jonson's works published in the seventeenth century were crucial developments in the publication of English literature and English Renaissance drama. The first folio collection, issued in 1616, treated stage plays as serious works of literature instead of popular...

)

In 1618 Jonson set out for his ancestral Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 on foot. He spent over a year there, and the best-remembered hospitality which he enjoyed was that of the Scottish poet, Drummond of Hawthornden, in April of 1619, sited on the River Esk
River Esk, Lothian
The River Esk is a river which flows through Midlothian and East Lothian, Scotland.It initially runs as two separate rivers, the North Esk and the South Esk....

. Drummond undertook to record as much of Jonson's conversation as he could in his diary, and thus recorded aspects of Jonson's personality that would otherwise have been less clearly seen. Jonson delivers his opinions, in Drummond's terse reporting, in an expansive and even magisterial mood. Drummond noted he was "a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner of others".

In Edinburgh, Jonson is recorded as staying with a John Stuart of Leith
Leith
-South Leith v. North Leith:Up until the late 16th century Leith , comprised two separate towns on either side of the river....

. While there he was made an honorary citizen of Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

. On returning to England, he was awarded an honorary
Honorary degree
An honorary degree or a degree honoris causa is an academic degree for which a university has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, study, and the passing of examinations...

 Master of Arts degree
Academic degree
An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree...

 from Oxford University.

From Edinburgh he travelled west and lodged with the Duke of Lennox
Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox
Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond was a Scottish nobleman and politician. He was the son of Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox and his wife Catherine de Balsac. Stewart was involved in the Plantation of Ulster in Ireland and the colonization of Maine in New England...

 where he wrote a play based on Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond is a freshwater Scottish loch, lying on the Highland Boundary Fault. It is the largest lake in Great Britain by surface area. The lake contains many islands, including Inchmurrin, the largest fresh-water island in the British Isles, although the lake itself is smaller than many Irish...

.

The period between 1605 and 1620 may be viewed as Jonson's heyday. By 1616 he had produced all the plays on which his present reputation as a dramatist is based, including the tragedy Catiline
Catiline His Conspiracy
Catiline His Conspiracy is a Jacobean tragedy written by Ben Jonson. It is one of the two Roman tragedies that Jonson hoped would cement his dramatic achievement and reputation, the other being Sejanus His Fall .-Publishing:...

(acted and printed 1611), which achieved limited success, and the comedies Volpone
Volpone
Volpone is a comedy by Ben Jonson first produced in 1606, drawing on elements of city comedy, black comedy and beast fable...

, (acted 1605 and printed in 1607), Epicoene, or the Silent Woman
Epicoene, or the Silent Woman
Epicœne, or The silent woman, also known as The Epicene, is a comedy by Renaissance playwright Ben Jonson. It was originally performed by the Blackfriars Children, a group of boy players, in 1609...

(1609), The Alchemist
The Alchemist (play)
The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King's Men, it is generally considered Jonson's best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature...

(1610), Bartholomew Fair (1614) and The Devil is an Ass
The Devil is an Ass
The Devil is an Ass is a Jacobean comedy by Ben Jonson, first performed in 1616 and first published in 1631.The Devil is an Ass followed Bartholomew Fair , one of the author's greatest works, and marks the start of the final phase of his dramatic career...

(1616). The Alchemist and Volpone were immediately successful. Of Epicoene, Jonson told Drummond of a satirical verse which reported that the play's subtitle was appropriate, since its audience had refused to applaud the play (i.e., remained silent). Yet Epicoene, along with Bartholomew Fair and (to a lesser extent) The Devil is an Ass have in modern times achieved a certain degree of recognition. While his life during this period was apparently more settled than it had been in the 1590s, his financial security was still not assured.

Decline and death


Jonson began to decline in the 1620s. He was still well-known; from this time dates the prominence of the Sons of Ben
Sons of Ben
The phrase Sons of Ben is a mildly problematic term applied to followers of Ben Jonson in English poetry and drama in the first half of the seventeenth century....

 or the "Tribe of Ben", those younger poets such as Robert Herrick
Robert Herrick (poet)
Robert Herrick was a 17th-century English poet.-Early life:Born in Cheapside, London, he was the seventh child and fourth son of Julia Stone and Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith....

, Richard Lovelace
Richard Lovelace
Richard Lovelace was an English poet in the seventeenth century. He was a cavalier poet who fought on behalf of the king during the Civil war. His best known works are To Althea, from Prison, and To Lucasta, Going to the Warres....

, and Sir John Suckling who took their bearing in verse from Jonson. However, a series of setbacks drained his strength and damaged his reputation. He resumed writing regular plays in the 1620s, but these are not considered among his best. They are of significant interest, however, for their portrayal of Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

's England. The Staple of News
The Staple of News
The Staple of News is an early Caroline era play, a satire by Ben Jonson. The play was first performed in late 1625 by the King's Men at the Blackfriars Theatre, and first published in 1631.-Publication:...

, for example, offers a remarkable look at the earliest stage of English journalism. The lukewarm reception given that play was, however, nothing compared to the dismal failure of The New Inn
The New Inn
The New Inn, or The Light Heart is a Caroline era stage play, a comedy by English playwright and poet Ben Jonson.The New Inn was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on 19 January 1629, and acted later that year by the King's Men at the Blackfriars Theatre...

; the cold reception given this play prompted Jonson to write a poem condemning his audience (the Ode to Myself), which in turn prompted Thomas Carew
Thomas Carew
Thomas Carew was an English poet, among the 'Cavalier' group of Caroline poets.-Biography:He was the son of Sir Matthew Carew, master in chancery, and his wife, Alice daughter of Sir John Rivers, Lord Mayor of the City of London and widow of Ingpen...

, one of the "Tribe of Ben," to respond in a poem that asks Jonson to recognise his own decline.

The principal factor in Jonson's partial eclipse was, however, the death of James and the accession of King Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 in 1625. Jonson felt neglected by the new court. A decisive quarrel with Jones harmed his career as a writer of court masques, although he continued to entertain the court on an irregular basis. For his part, Charles displayed a certain degree of care for the great poet of his father's day: he increased Jonson's annual pension to £100 and included a tierce
Tiercé
Tiercé is a commune in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France....

 of wine.

Despite the strokes that he suffered in the 1620s, Jonson continued to write. At his death in 1637 he seems to have been working on another play, The Sad Shepherd. Though only two acts are extant, this represents a remarkable new direction for Jonson: a move into pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

 drama. During the early 1630s he also conducted a correspondence with James Howell
James Howell
James Howell was a 17th-century Anglo-Welsh historian and writer who is in many ways a representative figure of his age. The son of a Welsh clergyman, he was for much of his life in the shadow of his elder brother Thomas Howell, who became Lord Bishop of Bristol.-Education:In 1613 he gained his B.A...

, who warned him about disfavour at court in the wake of his dispute with Jones.

Jonson died on 6 August 1637 and his funeral was held on 9 August. He is buried in the north aisle of the Nave in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, with the inscription "O Rare Ben Johnson" (sic) set in the slab over his grave. It has been suggested that this could be read "Orare Ben Jonson" (pray for Ben Jonson), which would indicate a deathbed return to Catholicism, but the carving shows a distinct space between "O" and "rare". Researchers suggest that the tribute came from William D’Avenant
William Davenant
Sir William Davenant , also spelled D'Avenant, was an English poet and playwright. Along with Thomas Killigrew, Davenant was one of the rare figures in English Renaissance theatre whose career spanned both the Caroline and Restoration eras and who was active both before and after the English Civil...

, Jonson’s successor as Poet Laureate, as the same phrase appears on D'Avenant's nearby gravestone. The fact that he was buried in an upright grave could be an indication of his reduced circumstances at the time of his death, although it has also been written that Jonson asked for a grave exactly 18 inches square from the monarch and received an upright grave to fit in the requested space. The same source claims that the epitaph came from the remark of a passerby to the grave.

Drama


Apart from two tragedies, Sejanus
Sejanus (play)
Sejanus His Fall, a 1603 play by Ben Jonson, is a tragedy about Lucius Aelius Seianus, the favorite of the Roman emperor Tiberius. It was possibly an allegory of James I and his corrupt court....

and Catiline, that 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 player
Boy player
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...

s, present 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
Thomas Davies (bookseller)
Thomas Davies was a Scottish bookseller and author. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and was for several years on the Stage; but having been ridiculed by Churchill in The Rosciad he gave up acting and opened a bookshop in Covent Garden. It was here that in 1763 he introduced Boswell to Dr...

 called Poetaster "a contemptible mixture of the serio-comic, where the names of Augustus Caesar, Maecenas, Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

, Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

, Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, and Tibullus
Tibullus
Albius Tibullus was a Latin poet and writer of elegies.Little is known about his life. His first and second books of poetry are extant; many other texts attributed to Tibullus are of questionable origins. There are only a few references to him in later writers and a short Life of doubtful authority...

, are all sacrificed upon the altar of private resentment." Another early comedy in a different vein, The Case is Altered
The Case is Altered
The Case is Altered is an early comedy by Ben Jonson. First published in 1609, the play presents a range of problems for scholars attempting to understand its place in Jonson's canon of works.-Date and publication:...

, is 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 Ho to The Devil is an Ass
The Devil is an Ass
The Devil is an Ass is a Jacobean comedy by Ben Jonson, first performed in 1616 and first published in 1631.The Devil is an Ass followed Bartholomew Fair , one of the author's greatest works, and marks the start of the final phase of his dramatic career...

are for the most part city comedy
City comedy
City comedy, also called Citizen Comedy, is a common genre of Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline comedy on the London stage from the last years of the 16th century to the closing of the theaters in 1642...

, with a London setting, themes of trickery and money, and a distinct moral ambiguity, despite Jonson's professed aim in the Prologue to Volpone
Volpone
Volpone is a comedy by Ben Jonson first produced in 1606, drawing on elements of city comedy, black comedy and beast fable...

to "mix profit with your pleasure". His late plays or "dotages", particularly The Magnetic Lady
The Magnetic Lady
The Magnetic Lady, or Humors Reconciled is a Caroline era stage play, the final comedy of Ben Jonson. It was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on October 12, 1632, and first published in 1641, in Volume II of the second folio collection of Jonson's works.The...

and The Sad Shepherd, exhibit signs of an accommodation with the romantic tendencies of Elizabethan comedy
English Renaissance theatre
English Renaissance theatre, also known as early modern English theatre, refers to the theatre of England, largely based in London, which occurred between the Reformation and the closure of the theatres in 1642...

.

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
Every Man in His Humour
Every Man in His Humour is a 1598 play by the English playwright Ben Jonson. The play belongs to the subgenre of the "humours comedy," in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession.-Performance and Publication:...

: he promises to represent "deeds, and language, such as men do use." 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
Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...

 and Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

, he intended to apply those premises with rigour. This commitment entailed negations: after The Case is Altered
The Case is Altered
The Case is Altered is an early comedy by Ben Jonson. First published in 1609, the play presents a range of problems for scholars attempting to understand its place in Jonson's canon of works.-Date and publication:...

, Jonson eschewed distant locations, noble characters, romantic plots, and other staples of Elizabethan comedy, focussing instead on the satiric and realistic inheritance of new comedy. 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
Jealousy
Jealousy is a second emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, particularly in reference to a human connection. Jealousy often consists of a combination of presenting emotions...

. 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
Farce
In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases,...

 (as William Congreve
William Congreve
William Congreve was an English playwright and poet.-Early life:Congreve was born in Bardsey, West Yorkshire, England . His parents were William Congreve and his wife, Mary ; a sister was buried in London in 1672...

, for example, judged Epicoene.) He was more diligent in adhering to the classical unities
Classical unities
The classical unities, Aristotelian unities or three unities are rules for drama derived from a passage in Aristotle's Poetics. In their neoclassical form they are as follows:...

 than many of his peers—although as Margaret Cavendish
Margaret Cavendish
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was an English aristocrat, a prolific writer, and a scientist. Born Margaret Lucas, she was the youngest sister of prominent royalists Sir John Lucas and Sir Charles Lucas...

 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: the vividness with which he depicted the lives of his characters, and the intricacy of his plots. Coleridge, for instance, claimed that The Alchemist
The Alchemist (play)
The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King's Men, it is generally considered Jonson's best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature...

had one of the three most perfect plots in literature.

Poetry


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
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

 manner. Jonson largely avoided the debates about rhyme and meter that had consumed Elizabethan classicists such as Thomas Campion
Thomas Campion
Thomas Campion was an English composer, poet and physician. He wrote over a hundred lute songs; masques for dancing, and an authoritative technical treatise on music.-Life:...

 and Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, though his reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe...

. Accepting both rhyme and stress, Jonson used them to mimic the classical qualities of simplicity, restraint, and precision.

“Epigrams” (published in the 1616 folio) is an entry in a genre that was popular among late-Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences, although Jonson was perhaps the only poet of his time to work in its full classical range. The epigrams explore various attitudes, most from the satiric stock of the day: complaints against women, courtiers, and spies abound. The condemnatory poems are short and anonymous; Jonson’s epigrams of praise, including a famous poem to Camden and lines to Lucy Harington, are longer and are mostly addressed to specific individuals. Although it is an epigram in the classical sense of the genre, "On My First Sonne" is neither satirical nor very short; the poem, and others like it, resemble what a later age sometimes called "lyric poetry", and it is almost in the form of a Sonnet, however there are some elements missing. It is possible that the title symbolises this with the spelling of 'son' as 'Sonne'. Johnson's poems of “The Forest” also appeared in the first folio. Most of the fifteen poems are addressed to Jonson’s aristocratic supporters, but the most famous are his country-house poem “To Penshurst” and the poem “To Celia” (“Come, my Celia, let us prove”) that appears also in ‘’Volpone.’’

Underwood, published in the expanded folio of 1640, is a larger and more heterogeneous group of poems. It contains A Celebration of Charis, Jonson’s most extended effort at love poetry; various religious pieces; encomiastic poems
Encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

 including the poem to Shakespeare and a sonnet on Mary Wroth; the Execration against Vulcan and others. The 1640 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


There are many legends about Jonson's rivalry with Shakespeare, some of which may be true. Drummond reports that during their conversation, Jonson scoffed at two apparent absurdities in Shakespeare's plays: a nonsensical line in Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (play)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, also known simply as Julius Caesar, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against...

, and the setting of The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale is a play by William Shakespeare, originally published in the First Folio of 1623. Although it was grouped among the comedies, some modern editors have relabelled the play as one of Shakespeare's late romances. Some critics, among them W. W...

on the non-existent seacoast of Bohemia. Drummond also reported Jonson as saying that Shakespeare "wanted [i.e., lacked] art." Whether Drummond is viewed as accurate or not, the comments fit well with Jonson's well-known theories about literature.

In Timber, which was published posthumously and reflects his lifetime of practical experience, Jonson offers a fuller and more conciliatory comment. He recalls being told by certain actors that Shakespeare never blotted (i.e., crossed out) a line when he wrote. His own response, "Would he had blotted a thousand," was taken as malicious. However, Jonson explains, "He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature, had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped". Jonson concludes that "there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned." Also when Shakespeare died he said "He was not of an age, but for all time."

Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller was an English churchman and historian. He is now remembered for his writings, particularly his Worthies of England, published after his death...

 relates stories of Jonson and Shakespeare engaging in debates in the Mermaid Tavern
Mermaid Tavern
The Mermaid Tavern was a tavern on Cheapside in London during the Elizabethan era, located east of St. Paul's Cathedral on the corner of Friday Street and Bread Street. It was the site of the so-called Friday Street Club...

; Fuller imagines conversations in which Shakespeare would run rings around the more learned but more ponderous Jonson. 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 one of which (Every Man in his Humour
Every Man in His Humour
Every Man in His Humour is a 1598 play by the English playwright Ben Jonson. The play belongs to the subgenre of the "humours comedy," in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession.-Performance and Publication:...

) 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.

Jonson's most influential and revealing commentary on Shakespeare is the second of the two poems that he contributed to the prefatory verse that opens Shakespeare's First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

. This poem, "To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR, Mr. 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!" It has been argued that Jonson helped to edit the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

, and he may have been inspired to write this poem by reading his fellow playwright's works, a number of which had been previously either unpublished or available in less satisfactory versions, in a relatively complete form.

Reception and influence


During most of the 17th century Jonson was a towering literary figure, and his influence was enormous. Before the English Civil War, the "Tribe of Ben" touted his importance, and during the Restoration Jonson's satirical comedies and his theory and practice of "humour characters" (which are often misunderstood; see William Congreve's letters for clarification) was extremely influential, providing the blueprint for many Restoration comedies. In the 18th century Jonson's status began to decline. 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. In the 20th century, Jonson's status rose significantly.

Drama


As G. E. 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
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 of Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, Jonson's work, along with Shakespeare's and Fletcher
John Fletcher (playwright)
John Fletcher was a Jacobean playwright. Following William Shakespeare as house playwright for the King's Men, he was among the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day; both during his lifetime and in the early Restoration, his fame rivalled Shakespeare's...

's work, formed the initial core of the Restoration repertory. It was not until after 1710 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
English Renaissance theatre
English Renaissance theatre, also known as early modern English theatre, refers to the theatre of England, largely based in London, which occurred between the Reformation and the closure of the theatres in 1642...

. 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: the realism and propriety of his language, the bite of his satire, and the care with which he plotted his comedies.

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 initiate this interpretation in the second folio, and Samuel Butler
Samuel Butler (poet)
Samuel Butler was a poet and satirist. Born in Strensham, Worcestershire and baptised 14 February 1613, he is remembered now chiefly for a long satirical burlesque poem on Puritanism entitled Hudibras.-Biography:...

 drew the same comparison in his commonplace book later in the century.

At the Restoration, this sensed difference became a kind of critical dogma. Charles de Saint-Évremond
Charles de Saint-Évremond
Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, seigneur de Saint-Évremond was a French soldier, hedonist, essayist and literary critic. After 1661, he lived in exile, mainly in England, as a consequence of his attack on French policy at the time of the peace of the Pyrenees . He is buried in Poets' Corner,...

 placed Jonson's comedies above all else in English drama, and Charles Gildon
Charles Gildon
Charles Gildon , was an English hack writer who was, by turns, a translator, biographer, essayist, playwright, poet, author of fictional letters, fabulist, short story author, and critic. He provided the source for many lives of Restoration figures, although he appears to have propagated or...

 called Jonson the father of English comedy. John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

 offered a more common assessment in the Essay of Dramatic Poesie, in which his Avatar
Avatar
In Hinduism, an avatar is a deliberate descent of a deity to earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation," but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation"....

 Neander compares Shakespeare to Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Jonson to Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

: the former represented profound creativity, the latter polished artifice. But "artifice" was in the 17th century almost synonymous with "art"; Jonson, for instance, used "artificer" as a synonym for "artist" (Discoveries, 33). For Lewis Theobald
Lewis Theobald
Lewis Theobald , British textual editor and author, was a landmark figure both in the history of Shakespearean editing and in literary satire...

, too, Jonson “ow[ed] all his Excellence to his Art,” in contrast to Shakespeare, the natural genius. Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe (dramatist)
Nicholas Rowe , English dramatist, poet and miscellaneous writer, was appointed Poet Laureate in 1715.-Life:...

, to whom may be traced the legend that Jonson owed the production of Every Man in his Humour to Shakespeare's intercession, likewise attributed Jonson's excellence to learning, which did not raise him quite to the level of genius. A consensus formed: Jonson was the first English poet to understand classical precepts with any accuracy, and he was the first to apply those precepts successfully to contemporary life. But there were also more negative spins on Jonson's learned art; for instance, in the 1750s, Edward Young
Edward Young
Edward Young was an English poet, best remembered for Night Thoughts.-Early life:He was the son of Edward Young, later Dean of Salisbury, and was born at his father's rectory at Upham, near Winchester, where he was baptized on 3 July 1683. He was educated at Winchester College, and matriculated...

 casually remarked on the way in which Jonson’s learning worked, like Samson’s strength, to his own detriment. Earlier, Aphra Behn
Aphra Behn
Aphra Behn was a prolific dramatist of the English Restoration and was one of the first English professional female writers. Her writing contributed to the amatory fiction genre of British literature.-Early life:...

, writing in defence of female playwrights, had pointed to Jonson as a writer whose learning did not make him popular; unsurprisingly, she compares him unfavorably to Shakespeare. Particularly in the tragedies, with their lengthy speeches abstracted from Sallust
Sallust
Gaius Sallustius Crispus, generally known simply as Sallust , a Roman historian, belonged to a well-known plebeian family, and was born at Amiternum in the country of the Sabines...

 and Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, Augustan
Augustan literature
Augustan literature is a style of English literature produced during the reigns of Queen Anne, King George I, and George II on the 1740s with the deaths of Pope and Swift...

 critics saw a writer whose learning had swamped his aesthetic judgment.

In this period, Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

 is exceptional in that he noted the tendency to exaggeration in these competing critical portraits: "It is ever the nature of Parties to be in extremes; and nothing is so probable, as that because Ben Johnson had much the most learning, it was said on the one hand that Shakespear had none at all; and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Johnson wanted both." For the most part, the 18th century consensus remained committed to the division that Pope doubted; as late as the 1750s, Sarah Fielding
Sarah Fielding
Sarah Fielding was a British author and sister of the novelist Henry Fielding. She was the author of The Governess, or The Little Female Academy , which was the first novel in English written especially for children , and had earlier achieved success with her novel The Adventures of David Simple...

 could put a brief recapitulation of this analysis in the mouth of a "man of sense" encountered by David Simple.

Though his stature declined during the 18th century, Jonson was still read and commented on throughout the century, generally in the kind of comparative and dismissive terms just described. Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg
Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg
Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg was a German poet and critic.Gerstenberg was born in Tondern, Schleswig. After attending school in Husum and at the Christianeum Hamburg, and studying law at the University of Jena, he entered the Danish military service and took part in the Russian campaign of 1762...

 translated parts of Peter Whalley
Peter Whalley (clergyman)
Peter Whalley was an English clergyman, academic and schoolmaster, known as an antiquarian author and literary editor.He was the son of Peter Whalley of Rugby, born on 2 September 1722 at Ecton. He was at Merchant Taylors' School from 1731 to 1740, and in June 1740 was elected to a scholarship at...

's edition into German in 1765. Shortly before the Romantic revolution, Edward Capell
Edward Capell
Edward Capell , English Shakespearian critic, was born at Troston Hall in Suffolk.-Biography:Through the influence of the Duke of Grafton he was appointed to the office of deputy-inspector of plays in 1737, with a salary of £200 per annum, and in 1745 he was made groom of the privy chamber through...

 offered an almost unqualified rejection of Jonson as a dramatic poet, who (he writes) "has very poor pretensions to the high place he holds among the English Bards, as there is no original manner to distinguish him, and the tedious sameness visible in his plots indicates a defect of Genius." The disastrous failures of productions of Volpone and Epicoene in the early 1770s no doubt bolstered a widespread sense that Jonson had at last grown too antiquated for the contemporary public; if he still attracted enthusiasts such as Earl Camden
Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden
Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden was an English lawyer, judge and Whig politician who was first to hold the title of Earl of Camden...

 and William Gifford
William Gifford
William Gifford was an English critic, editor and poet, famous as a satirist and controversialist.-Life:Gifford was born in Ashburton, Devonshire to Edward Gifford and Elizabeth Cain. His father, a glazier and house painter, had run away as a youth with vagabond Bampfylde Moore Carew, and he...

, he all but disappeared from the stage in the last quarter of the century.

The romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 revolution in criticism brought about an overall decline in the critical estimation of Jonson. Hazlitt refers dismissively to Jonson’s “laborious caution.” Coleridge, while more respectful, describes Jonson as psychologically superficial: “He was a very accurately observing man; but he cared only to observe what was open to, and likely to impress, the senses.” Coleridge placed Jonson second only to Shakespeare; other romantic critics were less approving. The early 19th century was the great age for recovering Renaissance drama. Jonson, whose reputation had survived, appears to have been less interesting to some readers than writers such as Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

 or John Heywood
John Heywood
John Heywood was an English writer known for his plays, poems, and collection of proverbs. Although he is best known as a playwright, he was also active as a musician and composer, though no works survive.-Life:...

, who were in some senses “discoveries” of the 19th century. Moreover, the emphasis which the romantic writers placed on imagination, and their concomitant tendency to distrust studied art, lowered Jonson's status, if it also sharpened their awareness of the difference traditionally noted between Jonson and Shakespeare. This trend was by no means universal, however; William Gifford
William Gifford
William Gifford was an English critic, editor and poet, famous as a satirist and controversialist.-Life:Gifford was born in Ashburton, Devonshire to Edward Gifford and Elizabeth Cain. His father, a glazier and house painter, had run away as a youth with vagabond Bampfylde Moore Carew, and he...

, Jonson's first editor of the 19th century, did a great deal to defend Jonson's reputation during this period of general decline. In the next era, Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

, who was more interested in Jonson than most Victorians, wrote, “The flowers of his growing have every quality but one which belongs to the rarest and finest among flowers: they have colour, form, variety, fertility, vigour: the one thing they want is fragrance” – by “fragrance,” Swinburne means spontaneity.

In the 20th century, Jonson’s body of work has been subject to a more varied set of analyses, broadly consistent with the interests and programmes of modern literary criticism. In an essay printed in The Sacred Wood, T.S. Eliot attempted to repudiate the charge that Jonson was an arid classicist by analysing the role of imagination in his dialogue. Eliot was appreciative of Jonson's overall conception and his "surface," a view consonant with the modernist reaction against Romantic criticism, which tended to denigrate playwrights who did not concentrate on representations of psychological depth. Around mid-century, a number of critics and scholars followed Eliot’s lead, producing detailed studies of Jonson’s verbal style. At the same time, study of Elizabethan themes and conventions, such as those by E. E. Stoll and M. C. Bradbrook
M. C. Bradbrook
Muriel Clara Bradbrook was a British literary scholar and authority on Shakespeare. She was Professor of English at the University of Cambridge, and Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge....

, provided a more vivid sense of how Jonson’s work was shaped by the expectations of his time.

The proliferation of new critical perspectives after mid-century touched on Jonson inconsistently. Jonas Barish was the leading figure among critics who appreciated Jonson's artistry. On the other hand, Jonson received less attention from the new critics than did some other playwrights and his work was not of programmatic interest to psychoanalytic critics. But Jonson’s career eventually made him a focal point for the revived sociopolitical criticism
New Historicism
New Historicism is a school of literary theory, grounded in critical theory, that developed in the 1980s, primarily through the work of the critic Stephen Greenblatt, and gained widespread influence in the 1990s....

. Jonson’s works, particularly his masques and pageants, offer significant information regarding the relations of literary production and political power, as do his contacts with and poems for aristocratic patrons; moreover, his career at the centre of London’s emerging literary world has been seen as exemplifying the development of a fully commodified literary culture. In this respect he is seen as a transitional figure, an author whose skills and ambition led him to a leading role both in the declining culture of patronage
Patronage
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors...

 and in the rising culture of mass consumption.

Poetry


If Jonson's reputation as a playwright has traditionally been linked to Shakespeare, his reputation as a poet has, since the early 20th century, been linked to that of John Donne
John Donne
John Donne 31 March 1631), English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest, is now considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are notable for their strong and sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs,...

. In this comparison, Jonson represents the cavalier
Cavalier poet
Cavalier poets is a broad description of a school of English poets of the 17th century, who came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the English Civil War. Much of their poetry is light in style, and generally secular in subject...

 strain of poetry, emphasising grace and clarity of expression; Donne, by contrast, epitomised the metaphysical
Metaphysical poets
The metaphysical poets is a term coined by the poet and critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of British lyric poets of the 17th century, who shared an interest in metaphysical concerns and a common way of investigating them, and whose work was characterized by inventiveness of metaphor...

 school of poetry, with its reliance on strained, baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 metaphors and often vague phrasing. Since the critics who made this comparison (Herbert Grierson for example), were to varying extents rediscovering Donne, this comparison often worked to the detriment of Jonson's reputation.

In his time Jonson was at least as influential as Donne. In 1623, historian Edmund Bolton
Edmund Bolton
Edmund Mary Bolton , English historian and poet, was born in 1575.-Life:Nothing is known of his family or origins, although he referred to himself as a distant relative of George Villiers. Brought up a Roman Catholic, he was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Bolton then lived in London at the...

 named him the best and most polished English poet. That this judgment was widely shared is indicated by the admitted influence he had on younger poets. The grounds for describing Jonson as the "father" of cavalier poets are clear: many of the cavalier poets described themselves as his "sons" or his "tribe." For some of this tribe, the connection was as much social as poetic; Herrick
Robert Herrick (poet)
Robert Herrick was a 17th-century English poet.-Early life:Born in Cheapside, London, he was the seventh child and fourth son of Julia Stone and Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith....

 described meetings at "the Sun, the Dog, the Triple Tunne." All of them, including those like Herrick whose accomplishments in verse are generally regarded as superior to Jonson's, took inspiration from Jonson's revival of classical forms and themes, his subtle melodies, and his disciplined use of wit
Wit
Wit is a form of intellectual humour, and a wit is someone skilled in making witty remarks. Forms of wit include the quip and repartee.-Forms of wit:...

. In these respects Jonson may be regarded as among the most important figures in the prehistory of English neoclassicism
Augustan literature
Augustan literature is a style of English literature produced during the reigns of Queen Anne, King George I, and George II on the 1740s with the deaths of Pope and Swift...

.

The best of Jonson's lyrics have remained current since his time; periodically, they experience a brief vogue, as after the publication of Peter Whalley's edition of 1756. Jonson's poetry continues to interest scholars for the light which it sheds on English literary history, such as politics, systems of patronage, and intellectual attitudes. For the general reader, Jonson's reputation rests on a few lyrics that, though brief, are surpassed for grace and precision by very few Renaissance poems: "On My First Sonne
On My First Sonne
On My First Sonne, a poem by Ben Jonson, was written in 1616 after the death of Jonson's first son Benjamin at age seven. The poem, a reflection of a father's pain in his young son's death, is rendered more acutely moving when compared with Jonson's other, usually more cynical or mocking, poetry.On...

"; "To Celia
To Celia
To Celia is a poem first published after March 1616 by Ben Jonson. It was set to music after 1770, in the form of the song Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, the poem's first line.-The Poem:Drink to me only with thine eyesAnd I will pledge with mine....

"; "To Penshurst"; and the epitaph
Epitaph
An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial...

 on boy player
Boy player
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...

 Solomon Pavy.

Plays

  • A Tale of a Tub
    A Tale of a Tub (play)
    A Tale of a Tub is a Caroline era stage play, a comedy written by Ben Jonson. The last of his plays to be staged during his lifetime, A Tale of a Tub was performed in 1633 and published in 1640 in the second folio of Jonson's works.-History:...

    ,
    comedy (ca. 1596? revised? performed 1633; printed 1640)
  • The Case is Altered
    The Case is Altered
    The Case is Altered is an early comedy by Ben Jonson. First published in 1609, the play presents a range of problems for scholars attempting to understand its place in Jonson's canon of works.-Date and publication:...

    ,
    comedy (ca. 1597–98; printed 1609), with Henry Porter and Anthony Munday
    Anthony Munday
    Anthony Munday was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer. The chief interest in Munday for the modern reader lies in his collaboration with Shakespeare and others on the play Sir Thomas More and his writings on Robin Hood.-Biography:He was once thought to have been born in 1553, because...

    ?
  • Every Man in His Humour
    Every Man in His Humour
    Every Man in His Humour is a 1598 play by the English playwright Ben Jonson. The play belongs to the subgenre of the "humours comedy," in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession.-Performance and Publication:...

    ,
    comedy (performed 1598; printed 1601)
  • Every Man out of His Humour
    Every Man Out of His Humour
    Every Man out of His Humour is a satirical comedy written by English playwright Ben Jonson, acted in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. It is a conceptual sequel to his 1598 comedy Every Man in His Humour...

    ,
    comedy ( performed 1599; printed 1600)
  • Cynthia's Revels
    Cynthia's Revels
    Cynthia's Revels, or The Fountain of Self-Love is a late Elizabethan stage play, a satire written by Ben Jonson, The play was one element in the so-called Poetomachia or War of the Theatres between Jonson and rival playrwights John Marston and Thomas Dekker.-Performance:The play was first performed...

    (performed 1600; printed 1601)
  • The Poetaster
    The Poetaster
    The Poetaster is a late Elizabethan stage play, a satire written by Ben Jonson, and first performed in 1601. The play formed one element in the back-and-forth exchange between Jonson and his rivals John Marston and Thomas Dekker in the so-called Poetomachia or War of the Theatres of...

    ,
    comedy (performed 1601; printed 1602)
  • Sejanus His Fall, tragedy (performed 1603; printed 1605)
  • Eastward Ho, comedy (performed and printed 1605), a collaboration with John Marston
    John Marston
    John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

     and George Chapman
    George Chapman
    George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...

  • Volpone
    Volpone
    Volpone is a comedy by Ben Jonson first produced in 1606, drawing on elements of city comedy, black comedy and beast fable...

    ,
    comedy (ca. 1605–06; printed 1607)
  • Epicoene, or the Silent Woman
    Epicoene, or the Silent Woman
    Epicœne, or The silent woman, also known as The Epicene, is a comedy by Renaissance playwright Ben Jonson. It was originally performed by the Blackfriars Children, a group of boy players, in 1609...

    ,
    comedy (performed 1609; printed 1616)
  • The Alchemist
    The Alchemist (play)
    The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King's Men, it is generally considered Jonson's best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature...

    ,
    comedy (performed 1610; printed 1612)
  • Catiline His Conspiracy
    Catiline His Conspiracy
    Catiline His Conspiracy is a Jacobean tragedy written by Ben Jonson. It is one of the two Roman tragedies that Jonson hoped would cement his dramatic achievement and reputation, the other being Sejanus His Fall .-Publishing:...

    ,
    tragedy (performed and printed 1611)
  • Bartholomew Fair, comedy (performed 31 October 1614; printed 1631)
  • The Devil is an Ass
    The Devil is an Ass
    The Devil is an Ass is a Jacobean comedy by Ben Jonson, first performed in 1616 and first published in 1631.The Devil is an Ass followed Bartholomew Fair , one of the author's greatest works, and marks the start of the final phase of his dramatic career...

    ,
    comedy (performed 1616; printed 1631)
  • The Staple of News
    The Staple of News
    The Staple of News is an early Caroline era play, a satire by Ben Jonson. The play was first performed in late 1625 by the King's Men at the Blackfriars Theatre, and first published in 1631.-Publication:...

    ,
    comedy (performed Feb. 1626; printed 1631)
  • The New Inn, or The Light Heart, comedy (licensed 19 January 1629; printed 1631)
  • The Magnetic Lady, or Humors Reconciled, comedy (licensed 12 October 1632; printed 1641)
  • The Sad Shepherd, pastoral (ca. 1637, printed 1641), unfinished
  • Mortimer his Fall, history (printed 1641), a fragment

Masques

  • The Coronation Triumph
    The Coronation Triumph
    The Coronation Triumph is a Jacobean era literary work, usually classed as an "entertainment," written by Ben Jonson for the coronation of King James I and performed on 15 March 1604. Jonson's work was half of a total performance, the other half written by Thomas Dekker...

    ,
    or The King's Entertainment (performed 15 March 1604; printed 1604); with Thomas Dekker
  • A Private Entertainment of the King and Queen on May-Day (The Penates) (1 May 1604; printed 1616)
  • The Entertainment of the Queen and Prince Henry at Althorp
    The Entertainment at Althorp
    The Entertainment at Althorp, or The Althorp Entertainment, is an early Jacobean era literary work, written by Ben Jonson. It is also known by the alternative title The Satyr. The work marked a major development in Jonson's career, as the first of many entertainments and masques that he would write...

     (The Satyr)
    (25 June 1603; printed 1604)
  • The Masque of Blackness
    The Masque of Blackness
    The Masque of Blackness was an early Jacobean era masque, first performed at the Stuart Court in the Banqueting Hall of Whitehall Palace on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1605. The masque was written by Ben Jonson at the request of Anne of Denmark, the queen consort of King James I, who wished the...

    (6 January 1605; printed 1608)
  • Hymenaei
    Hymenaei
    Hymenaei, or The Masgue of Hymen, was a masque written by Ben Jonson for the marriage of Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, and Lady Frances Howard, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, and performed on their wedding day, January 5, 1606...

    (5 January 1606; printed 1606)
  • The Entertainment of the Kings of Great Britain and Denmark (The Hours) (24 July 1606; printed 1616)
  • The Masque of Beauty
    The Masque of Beauty
    The Masque of Beauty was a courtly masque composed by Ben Jonson, and performed to inaugurate the refurbished banqueting hall of Whitehall Palace on January 10, 1608. It was a sequel to the preceding Masque of Blackness, which had been performed three years earlier, on January 6, 1605...

    (10 January 1608; printed 1608)
  • The Masque of Queens
    The Masque of Queens
    The Masque of Queens, Celebrated From the House of Fame is one of the earlier works in the series of masques that Ben Jonson composed for the House of Stuart in the early 17th century...

    (2 February 1609; printed 1609)
  • The Hue and Cry after Cupid
    The Hue and Cry After Cupid
    The Hue and Cry After Cupid, or A Hue and Cry After Cupid, also Lord Haddington's Masque or The Masque at Lord Haddington's Marriage, or even The Masque With the Nuptial Songs at the Lord Viscount Haddington's Marriage at Court, was a masque performed on Shrove Tuesday night, February 9, 1608, in...

    ,
    or The Masque at Lord Haddington's Marriage (9 February 1608; printed ca. 1608)
  • The Entertainment at Britain's Burse (11 April 1609; lost, rediscovered 2004)
  • The Speeches at Prince Henry's Barriers
    The Speeches at Prince Henry's Barriers
    The Speeches at Prince Henry's Barriers, sometimes called The Lady of the Lake, is a masque or entertainment written by Ben Jonson in honour of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son and heir of King James I of England...

    ,
    or The Lady of the Lake (6 January 1610; printed 1616)
  • Oberon, the Faery Prince
    Oberon, the Faery Prince
    Oberon, the Faery Prince was a masque written by Ben Jonson, with costumes, sets and stage effects designed by Inigo Jones, and music by Alfonso Ferrabosco and Robert Johnson...

    (1 January 1611; printed 1616)
  • Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly
    Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly
    Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones, with music by Alfonso Ferrabosco...

    (3 February 1611; printed 1616)
  • Love Restored
    Love Restored
    Love Restored was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson; it was performed on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1612, and first published in 1616...

    (6 January 1612; printed 1616)
  • A Challenge at Tilt, at a Marriage (27 December 1613/1 January 1614; printed 1616)
  • The Irish Masque at Court (29 December 1613; printed 1616)
  • Mercury Vindicated from the Alchemists
    Mercury Vindicated from the Alchemists
    Mercury Vindicated from the Alchemists at Court is a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones. It was performed at Whitehall Palace on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1615...

    (6 January 1615; printed 1616)
  • The Golden Age Restored
    The Golden Age Restored
    The Golden Age Restored was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones; it was performed on January 1 and January 6, 1616, almost certainly at Whitehall Palace.-The show:...

    (1 January 1616; printed 1616)
  • Christmas, His Masque
    Christmas, His Masque
    Christmas, His Masque, also called Christmas His Show, was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and performed at the English royal court at Christmas of 1616...

    (Christmas 1616; printed 1641)
  • The Vision of Delight
    The Vision of Delight
    The Vision of Delight was a Jacobean era masque written by Ben Jonson. It was most likely performed on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1617 in the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, and repeated on January 19 of that year....

    (6 January 1617; printed 1641)
  • Lovers Made Men
    Lovers Made Men
    Lovers Made Men, alternatively titled The Masque of Lethe or The Masque at Lord Hay's, was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson, designed by Inigo Jones, and with music composed by Nicholas Lanier...

    ,
    or The Masque of Lethe, or The Masque at Lord Hay's (22 February 1617; printed 1617)
  • Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue
    Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue
    Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue is a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones. It was first performed on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1618, in the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace...

    (6 January 1618; printed 1641) The masque was a failure; Jonson revised it by placing the anti-masque first, turning it into:
  • For the Honour of Wales
    For the Honour of Wales
    For the Honour of Wales was a masque written by Ben Jonson and first performed on February 17, 1618. It was written in honour of Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales....

    (17 February 1618; printed 1641)
  • News from the New World Discovered in the Moon
    News from the New World Discovered in the Moon
    News from the New World Discovered in the Moon was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson; it was first performed before King James I on January 7, 1620, with a second performance on February 29 of the same year...

    (7 January 1620: printed 1641)
  • The Entertainment at Blackfriars, or The Newcastle Entertainment (May 1620?; MS)
  • Pan's Anniversary, or The Shepherd's Holy-Day
    Pan's Anniversary
    Pan's Anniversary, or The Shepherd's Holiday was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones. The date of the masque's performance at the English Court has long been in dispute: while the earliest text assigns it to 1625, mid-twentieth-century scholars placed it on June...

    (19 June 1620?; printed 1641)
  • The Gypsies Metamorphosed
    The Gypsies Metamorphosed
    The Gypsies Metamorphosed, alternatively titled The Metamorphosed Gypsies, The Gypsies' Metamorphosis, or The Masque of Gypsies, was a Jacobean era masque written by Ben Jonson, with music composed by Nicholas Lanier...

    (3 and 5 August 1621; printed 1640)
  • The Masque of Augurs
    The Masque of Augurs
    The Masque of Augurs was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones. It was performed, most likely, on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1622....

    (6 January 1622; printed 1622)
  • Time Vindicated to Himself and to His Honours
    Time Vindicated to Himself and to His Honours
    Time Vindicated to Himself and to his Honours was a late Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and with costumes, sets, and stage effects designed by Inigo Jones...

    (19 January 1623; printed 1623)
  • Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion
    Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion
    Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion was a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson, and designed by Inigo Jones. The masque is notable for the contradictory historical evidence connected with it and the confusion it caused among generations of scholars and critics.- Context :The masque was...

    (26 January 1624; printed 1624)
  • The Masque of Owls at Kenilworth (19 August 1624; printed 1641)
  • The Fortunate Isles and Their Union
    The Fortunate Isles and Their Union
    The Fortunate Isles and Their Union is a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones, and performed on January 9, 1625...

    (9 January 1625; printed 1625)
  • Love's Triumph Through Callipolis
    Love's Triumph Through Callipolis
    Love's Triumph Through Callipolis was the first masque performed at the Stuart Court during the reign of King Charles I, and the first in which a reigning monarch appeared...

    (9 January 1631; printed 1631)
  • Chloridia: Rites to Chloris and Her Nymphs
    Chloridia
    Chloridia: Rites to Chloris and Her Nymphs was the final masque that Ben Jonson wrote for the Stuart Court. It was performed at Shrovetide, February 22, 1631, with costumes, sets and stage effects designed by Inigo Jones.-The masque:...

    (22 February 1631; printed 1631)
  • The King's Entertainment at Welbeck in Nottinghamshire (21 May 1633; printed 1641)
  • Love's Welcome at Bolsover
    Love's Welcome at Bolsover
    Love's Welcome at Bolsover is the final masque composed by Ben Jonson. It was performed on July 30, 1634, three years before the poet's death, and published in 1641....

    ( 30 July 1634; printed 1641)

Other works

  • Epigrams (1612)
  • The Forest (1616), including To Penshurst
  • A Discourse of Love (1618)
  • Barclay
    John Barclay
    John Barclay may refer to:*John Barclay , Scottish satirist and Latin poet*John Barclay , Scottish theological writer*John Barclay , Canadian Church of Scotland clergyman...

    's Argenis
    Argenis
    Argenis is a book by John Barclay. It is a work of historical allegory which tells the story of the religious conflict in France under Henry III of France and Henry IV of France, and also touches on more contemporary English events, such as the Overbury scandal...

    ,
    translated by Jonson (1623)
  • The Execration against Vulcan (1640)
  • Horace's Art of Poetry
    Ars Poetica
    Ars Poetica is a term meaning "The Art of Poetry" or "On the Nature of Poetry". Early examples of Ars Poetica by Aristotle and Horace have survived and have since spawned many other poems that bear the same name...

    , translated by Jonson (1640), with a commendatory verse by Edward Herbert
    Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury
    Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Chirbury was an Anglo-Welsh soldier, diplomat, historian, poet and religious philosopher of the Kingdom of England.-Early life:...

  • Underwood (1640)
  • English Grammar (1640)
  • Timber, or Discoveries made upon men and matter, as they have flowed out of his daily readings, or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of the times, a commonplace book
  • On My First Sonne (1616), elegy
    Elegy
    In literature, an elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.-History:The Greek term elegeia originally referred to any verse written in elegiac couplets and covering a wide range of subject matter, including epitaphs for tombs...

  • To Celia (Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes), poem


It is in Johnson's Timber, or Discoveries... that he famously quipped on the manner in which language became a measure of the speaker or writer:
As with other English Renaissance dramatists, a portion of Ben Jonson's literary output has not survived. In addition to The Isle of Dogs
The Isle of Dogs (play)
The Isle of Dogs is a play by Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson which was performed in 1597. It was immediately suppressed, and no copy of it is known to exist.-The Play:...

(1597), the records suggest these lost plays as wholly or partially Jonson's work: Richard Crookback (1602); Hot Anger Soon Cold (1598), with Porter and Henry Chettle
Henry Chettle
Henry Chettle was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer of the Elizabethan era.The son of Robert Chettle, a London dyer, he was apprenticed in 1577 and became a member of the Stationer's Company in 1584, traveling to Cambridge on their behalf in 1588. His career as a printer and author is...

; Page of Plymouth (1599), with Dekker; and Robert II, King of Scots (1599), with Chettle and Dekker. Several of Jonson's masques and entertainments also are not extant: The Entertainment at Merchant Taylors (1607); The Entertainment at Salisbury House for James I (1608); and The May Lord (1613–19).

Finally, there are questionable or borderline attributions. Jonson may have had a hand in Rollo, Duke of Normandy, or The Bloody Brother
Rollo Duke of Normandy
Rollo Duke of Normandy, also known as The Bloody Brother, is a play written in collaboration by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and George Chapman. Scholars have disputed almost everything about the play; but it was probably written sometime in the 1612–24 era and later revised,...

, a play in the canon of John Fletcher and his collaborators. The comedy The Widow
The Widow (play)
The Widow is a Jacobean stage play first published in 1652, but written decades earlier.On the limited evidence available, the play is usually dated to c. 1615–17, partially on the basis of a "yellow bands" reference to the execution of Mrs...

was printed in 1652 as the work of Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

, Fletcher and Jonson, though scholars have been intensely sceptical about Jonson's presence in the play. A few attributions of anonymous plays, such as The London Prodigal
The London Prodigal
The London Prodigal is a play in English Renaissance theatre, a city comedy set in London, in which a prodigal son learns the error of his ways. The play was published in quarto in 1605 by the stationer Nathaniel Butter, and printed by Thomas Cotes...

,
have been ventured by individual researchers, but have met with cool responses.

Ben Jonson in Popular Culture

  • A fictionalized Jonson is a central character in the 2011 film Anonymous
    Anonymous
    - People :* Anonymous work, a work of art or literature that has an anonymous, undisclosed, or unknown creator or author* Anonymous IV, a 13th century English student of medieval music theory whose works are a major source for modern scholars of that era...

    . He is played by Sebastian Armesto
    Sebastian Armesto
    -Television and film:Armesto played Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in the series The Tudors. He also starred alongside Jane Asher in the 2008 ITV drama series The Palace as the King's carefree younger brother Prince George. He then played the character of Edmund Sparkler in the 2008 BBC version of...

    .

Biographies of Ben Jonson

  • Ben Jonson: His Life and Work by Rosalind Miles
    Rosalind Miles
    Rosalind Miles is an author born and raised in England and now living in Kent, England. She has written 23 works of fiction and non-fiction. As a child, Miles suffered from polio, and had to undergo several months of treatment. At high school Miles acquired a working knowledge of Latin and Greek,...

  • Ben Jonson: His Craft and Art by Rosalind Miles
    Rosalind Miles
    Rosalind Miles is an author born and raised in England and now living in Kent, England. She has written 23 works of fiction and non-fiction. As a child, Miles suffered from polio, and had to undergo several months of treatment. At high school Miles acquired a working knowledge of Latin and Greek,...

  • Ben Jonson: A Literary Life by W. David Kay
  • Ben Jonson: A Life by David Riggs
  • Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson

External links