Ben Jonson

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Jonson, Ben,

1572–1637, English dramatist and poet, b. Westminster, London. The high-spirited buoyancy of Jonson's plays and the brilliance of his language have earned him a reputation as one of the great playwrights in English literature. After a brief term at bricklaying, his stepfather's trade, and after military service in Flanders, he began working for Philip Henslowe as an actor and playwright. In 1598 he was tried for killing another actor in a duel but escaped execution by claiming right of clergy (that he could read and write).

His first important play, Every Man in His Humour, was produced in 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast. In 1599 its companion piece, Every Man out of His Humour, was produced. In The Poetaster (1601) Jonson satirized several of his fellow playwrights, particularly Dekker and Marston, who were writing at that time for a rival company of child actors. He collaborated with Chapman and Marston on the comedy Eastward Ho! (1604). A passage in the play, derogatory to the Scots, offended James I, and the three playwrights spent a brief time in prison.

Jonson's great period, both artistically and financially, began in 1606 with the production of Volpone. This was followed by his three other comic masterpieces, Epicoene (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). Jonson became a favorite of James I and wrote many excellent masques for the court. He was the author of two Roman tragedies, Sejanus (1603) and Catiline (1611). With the unsuccessful production of The Devil Is an Ass in 1616 Jonson's good fortune declined rapidly. His final plays were failures, and with the accession of Charles I in 1625 his value at court was less appreciated.

Jonson's plays, written along classical lines, are marked by a pungent and uncompromising satire, by a liveliness of action, and by numerous humorhumor,
according to ancient theory, any of four bodily fluids that determined human health and temperament. Hippocrates postulated that an imbalance among the humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) resulted in pain and disease, and that good health was achieved
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 characters, whose single passion or oddity overshadows all their other traits. He was a moralist who sought to improve the ways of men by portraying human foibles and passions through exaggeration and distortion. Jonson's nondramatic poetry includes Epigrams (1616); The Forrest (1616), notable for the two beautiful songs: "Drink to me only with thine eyes" and "Come, my Celia, let us prove"; and Underwoods (1640). His principal prose work Timber; or, Discoveries (1640) is a collection of notes and reflections on miscellaneous subjects.

Jonson exerted a strong influence over his contemporaries. Although arrogant and contentious, he was a boon companion, and his followers, sometimes called the "sons of Ben," loved to gather with him in the London taverns. Examples of his conversation were recorded in Conversations with Ben Jonson by Drummond of Hawthornden.

Bibliography

See Jonson's works (11 vol., 1925–52); biographies by M. Chute (1953), R. Miles (1986), D. Riggs (1989), and I. Donaldson (2012); studies by E. B. Partridge (1958), J. A. Barish (1960), W. Trimpi (1962), G. B. Jackson (1969), J. G. Nichols (1970), J. B. Bamborough (1970), J. A. Bryant (1973), W. D. Wolf (1973), and D. H. Craig (1989).

Jonson, Ben

 

Born June 11, 1573, in London; died there Aug. 6, 1637. English playwright, poet, and drama theoretician.

Jonson studied at Westminster School. His first comedy was The Case Is Altered (1597; published 1609). He collaborated with Marston and Chapman on the comedy Eastward Ho! (1605), which contained political allusions for which the authors were arrested. In 1616, Jonson edited a collection of his works. In the prologue to the plays he disputed the creative principles of his contemporaries, including his friend Shakespeare. He demanded conformity to the conditions of everyday life in the plot and a linear depiction of characters.

In the comedies Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Every Man out of His Humour (1599), Jonson explained the humors, according to his own theory, as individual “oddities.” However, in the comedies of manners Volpone, or the Fox (1605), Epicoene, or the Silent Woman (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614), he explained the humors as the typical social flaws of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The tragediesSejanus (1603) andCatiline (1611) embody the principles of classicism. Jonson also wrote approximately 30 masques—allegorical plays on mythological themes for performance at court.

WORKS

Works, vols. 1-11. Oxford, 1925-52.
The Complete Plays, vols. 1-2. London-New York, 1929-34.
Ben Jonson’s Literary Criticism. Lincoln, Neb. [1970].
In Russian translation:
Dramaticheskie proizv., vols. 1-2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931-33. P’esy. Leningrad-Moscow, 1960.

REFERENCES

Varsher, S. A. Angliiskii teatr vremen Shekspira. Moscow-Petro-grad. 1920
Aksenov, I. Elizavetintsy. Moscow, 1938.
Istoriia angliiskoi literdtury, vol. 1, issue 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.
Romm, A. S.Ben Dzhonson, 1573-1637. Leningrad-Moscow, 1958.
Bentley, G. E. Shakespeare and Jonson: Their Reputations in the
Seventeenth Century Compared, vols. 1-2. Chicago [1945].
Chute, M. Ben Jonson of Westminster. New York, 1953.
Tannenbaum, S. A. Ben Jonson: A Concise Bibliography. New York, 1938.

E. V. KORNILOVA

References in periodicals archive ?
Wilson, "The Problem in the Middle: Liminality in the Jonsonian Masque," Limen: Journal for Theory and Practice of Liminal Phenomena 1 (2001).
Technically, and from the very first, he identifies with Jonsonian satire rather than Shakespearean romance.
Nevertheless, I think it is safe to read this line as explicitly pointing to 1605's Masque of Blackness as the only other Jonsonian masque which deploys a similar convention of blackface.
When I Acted Young Antinous': Boy Actors and the Erotics of Jonsonian Theater.
deception follows deception right up to the most concise denouement that even Jonsonian comedy has to offer--the gesture with which Dauphine "takes off Epicoenes perruke" just fifty lines before the last word of the play is spoken.
Personation in less narrowly satirical contexts, in The Roaring Girl, Swetnam the Woman Hater, and A Game At Chess, tended to fit more closely with the idea of the text as an (authorless) event rather than a Jonsonian text, though The Whore of Babylon's text is presented as a poem, complete with Jonsonian annotations.
Just as Burre merely translated into print the disdain for popular theater which the plays themselves enunciate, does the valorization of their own public disapproval really further a Jonsonian "eras[ure of] the theatrical origins of the play" (63), or suggest that the same heightened performativity of self and taste now governs their private reception as well?
In Fletcher's big picture, Galilean Motion transpires either in infinitely expanded Space or, as hyperactivity, in a bounded, urban space like that of Jonsonian comedy.
No mention is made of the landmark scholarly books that would complicate these claims, Stephen Orgel's The Jonsonian Masque (1965) and The Illusion of Power (1975).
While Jonson invested in the power of the poet and his theater to "cure" social madness (especially the "humours" of London's citizens), Shakespeare contends that madmen (especially his transparently Jonsonian Malvolio) are ultimately deserving of our pity, and that it is perhaps the gallants/poets themselves who need curing.
Kathleen McLuskie apparently speaks for many when she characterizes the Jonsonian corpus as "barren ground for feminist reading" (159).
Appropriately, then, The Early Stuart Masque is divided into three sections: "Dance," "Costume," and, finally, "Case Studies," which presents in-depth readings of a selection of particularly significant entertainments, including two Jonsonian masques (The Masque of Queens and Oberon) and a fascinating wedding masque intended for performance in the Ottoman Empire in the 1650s.