Ben Jonson – English History

Ben jonson

  • born: c. June 11, 1572, Westminster, England
  • died: c. August 16, 1637 (age 65), London, England
  • notable works: each man in his humor, volpone, or the fox, the alchemist, just bartholomew
  • (Benjamin) Ben Jonson (c. June 11, 1572 – c. August 16, 1637) was an English dramatist and poet, best known for his satirical works Every Man in His Humor (1598), Volpone, or the fox (c . 1606), the alchemist (1610) and bartolomé justo (1614), as well as his lyrical poetry.

    jonson was writing at the same time as william shakespeare and certainly knew him, but whether or not they were friends is unclear. Johnson is generally regarded as the second greatest English playwright, after Shakespeare.

    Throughout his life, Johnson was often in trouble with the English authorities and was sent to prison on a few different occasions. he lived in london and made a living writing, even being named the “first poet laureate”. Toward the end of his life, Johnson suffered several strokes that left him bedridden, and he died in 1637.

    benjamin jonson – early life and education

    Benjamin Johnson was born around June 11, 1572 in Westminster, England, shortly after his father’s death. His father had been a minister who claimed descent from Scottish nobility, and had been imprisoned and confiscated under Queen Mary. Two years after his birth, Johnson’s mother married a bricklayer, and Johnson went to school in St Martin’s Lane.

    Even though the family was poor, Johnson received a good education after a family friend paid for his tuition at Westminster School. After this, Johnson was going to attend Cambridge University, but reluctantly she had to leave to work with her stepfather as a bricklayer.


    after his work as a bricklayer, jonson traveled to the netherlands and volunteered as a soldier in francis vere’s (1560-1609) english regiments in flanders. The story has been told that Johnson fought and killed an enemy soldier in single combat, taking the defeated soldier’s weapons as trophies.

    acting and writing career

    Upon returning to England, Johnson turned to writing plays and acting. As an actor, Johnson was the lead “Hieronimo” (Geronimo) in Thomas Kyd’s (1558-94) The Spanish Tragedy (ca. 1586), the first revenge tragedy in English literature.

    In 1597, he was working as a dramatist for Philip Henslowe, the leading producer of the English public theatre, where the production of Every Man in His Humor (1598) established Johnson’s reputation as a dramatist. He had a fixed position in the admiral’s men, acting under the direction of Henslowe on the Rose.

    Despite being employed as an actor, Johnson is reportedly not a successful actor and his talents were put to better use as a writer. however, none of his early tragedies survive. an undated comedy, the case is altered, it may be the earliest surviving work of him.

    Also in 1597, Henslowe hired Johnson to finish Thomas Nashe’s satire The Isle of Dogs (now lost), but the work was suppressed for alleged seditious content and Johnson was imprisoned for a short time in Marshalsea Prison and charged with “leude and riotous behaviour.” Two of the actors, Gabriel Spenser and Robert Shaw, were also jailed.

    A year later, Johnson was briefly imprisoned again, this time in Newgate Prison, for killing Gabriel Spenser in a duel on September 22, 1598 on Hogsden Field. he narrowly escaped hanging by claiming the benefit of the clergy (meaning leniency was shown him for showing that he was literate and educated). While he was incarcerated, Johnson converted to Catholicism.

    After his release from prison, Every Man in His Humor (1598) was produced, with William Shakespeare as one of the first actors to be cast. Johnson followed this in 1599 with all men out of humor with him, a pedantic attempt to imitate Aristophanes.

    Shortly after this, Johnson became involved in a public feud with playwrights John Marston and Thomas Dekker when he was telegraphing to the Chapel Royal children at Blackfriars Theater in the 1600s. This became known as the “Theatre Wars”. “. Cynthia’s Sprees, which lampoons both Marston and Dekker, was followed by Poetastro (1601). dekker responded with satiromastix. Despite this, Johnson later reconciled with Marston and collaborated with him and George Chapman on writing Eastward Ho! (1605). However, the anti-Scottish sentiment of the play briefly landed Johnson and Chapman in jail, and Johnson had further trouble with the English authorities because of his work.

    masks and royal patronage

    After his release from prison and the English reign of James VI and I in 1603, Johnson entered a period of good fortune and productivity. He welcomed the king and James I highly valued learning from him, so he was asked to write the popular and elegant masques of him. He also enjoyed the patronage of aristocrats such as Elizabeth Sidney (daughter of Sir Philip Sidney) and Lady Mary Wroth.

    Two of his best-known masks were written during this time: The Satyr (1603) and The Mask of Blackness (1605). The Mask of Blackness was praised by Algernon Charles Swinburne as the consummate example of this now extinct genre, which blended speech, dance, and spectacle. Jonson’s Masquerades were performed at Apethorpe Palace when the King was in residence. Johnson often collaborated with designer Inigo Jones on his masks.

    during this period, jonson also produced his most successful comedies, beginning in 1606 with volpone and continuing with the silent woman (1609), the alchemist (1610), bartholomew fayre (1614) and the devil is an ass (1616). . the alchemist and volpone were immediately successful. Johnson’s remaining tragedies, Sejanus His Fall (1603) and Catilina His Conspiracy (1611), were not well received for their rigid imitation of classical tragic forms and their pedantic tone. In 1611, Johnson stopped writing plays for public theaters for a decade, possibly due to his success with masques.

    In 1616, Johnson published his plays, becoming the first English writer to dignify his dramas by calling them “plays.” for this, he was ridiculed. However, in the same year, he received an annual pension of 100 marks (about £60), leading some to identify him as England’s first poet laureate.


    On July 8, 1618, Johnson set out from Bishopsgate in London and walked to Edinburgh, arriving in the Scottish capital on September 17. here he initially stayed with john stuart, a cousin of king james, in leith, and was made an honorary citizen of edinburgh at a dinner hosted by the city on 26 september. Johnson remained in Scotland until the end of January 1619.

    return to england and decline

    on his return to england jonson received an honorary master of arts from oxford university. he continued to write masques, until his productivity began to decline in the 1620s.

    He returned to writing regular works in the 1620s, but these are not considered among his best, and a fire destroyed his library in 1623. When James I died in 1625, Johnson lost much of his influence at court and With the advent of King Carlos I, he felt neglected by the new court. However, he was appointed the town’s chronologist in 1628 and Charles increased Johnson’s annual pension to £100 and included a third of wine and ale.

    Later that year, he suffered the first of several strokes that left him bedridden, but he kept writing. Johnson produced four works during the reign of Charles I, but none of them were successful.


    Johnson died about August 6, 1637, and his funeral was held the following day. upon his death, two unfinished works were discovered among the mass of his papers and manuscripts. One was the sad shepherd, and while there are only two acts, this represents a remarkable new direction for Johnson: a move toward pastoral drama.

    jonson was buried in the north aisle of the nave in westminster abbey. A monument to Johnson was erected around 1723 by the Earl of Oxford and stands in the East Aisle of Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

    marriage and children

    In 1594, Johnson married Anne Lewis. they were married in the church of st magnus-the-martyr, near london bridge. while the marriage was unhappy, the couple had several children. s t. Martin’s church records indicate that Martin’s eldest daughter, Mary Johnson, died in November 1593, at six months of age. Then a decade later, in 1603, Benjamin Johnson, his eldest son, died of the bubonic plague when he was seven. 32 years later, a second son, also named Benjamin Johnson, died in 1635. During this period, Ann Lewis and Ben Johnson lived separate lives for five years.

    works, influence and style


    Johnson’s work for theaters was in comedy, apart from two tragedies, Sejanus and Catiline, which largely failed to impress renaissance audiences. Johnson’s works all vary slightly, with her early works featuring looser plots and less developed characters than those written later, for adult companies.

    in many of his early works, the plot is secondary to the comic facts, and many of them are hypocritical and moody. his mid-career plays are more of a city comedy, usually with a London setting, themes of deceit and money, and clear moral ambiguity.

    despite this, all his plays follow a similar style, and he wanted to write pieces that revived the classical premises of Elizabethan dramatic theory. however, he often eschewed distant places, noble characters, romantic plots, and other Elizabethan comedy staples, focusing instead on the new comedy’s satirical and realistic heritage and setting his works in contemporary settings. His works also had darker motives, such as greed and jealousy, and his characters were more recognizable.


    Jonson has been called a pioneer in dismissive poetry and is remembered for his recovery of classical forms and themes, his subtle melodies, and his disciplined use of wit. His work is clearly influenced by his classical learning, with some of his best-known poems being close translations from Greek or Roman models and showing careful attention to form and style.

    In his poetry, Johnson accepted both rhyme and emphasis to imitate classical qualities, while his writing was satirical and largely in a genre that was popular with late Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences.


    There has been speculation about Johnson’s relationship with Shakespeare for many years. the two men knew each other; The Shakespeare Company produced a number of Johnson’s plays, at least two of which (Every Man in His Mood and Sejanus The Fall of Him) were indeed performed by Shakespeare. however, it is now impossible to say how much personal communication they had and whether they were friends.

    jonson’s poem “in memory of my beloved author, mr. “William Shakespeare and What He Has Left Us” exemplifies the contrast Johnson perceived between himself, the disciplined and erudite classicist, contemptuous of ignorance and skeptical of the masses, and Shakespeare, portrayed in the poem as some kind of natural wonder whose genius was not he was subject to any rules except those of the audiences for which he wrote.

    after english theaters reopened at the restoration of charles ii, jonson’s plays, along with shakespeare’s and fletcher’s, formed the initial core of the restoration repertoire. It was not until after 1710 that Shakespeare’s plays (usually in heavily revised forms) were performed more frequently than those of his Renaissance contemporaries. Many critics since the 18th century have ranked Johnson below only Shakespeare among English Renaissance playwrights.

    historical significance

    Johnson is and was, even in his day, influential to writers who followed him, providing the template for many restoration comedies as well as literary figures in more modern times. Unfortunately, in the Romantic era, Johnson suffered the fate of being unfairly compared and contrasted with Shakespeare, and therefore his static comedies were not as popular.

    In the twentieth century, Johnson’s body of work has been the subject of a more varied body of analysis, generally consistent with the interests and programs of modern literary criticism. By studying Elizabethan themes, one can see how Johnson’s work was shaped by the expectations of her time.

    Johnson’s works, particularly his Masquerades, offer important insights into the relationships between literary production and political power, and he is widely regarded as an author whose skills and ambitions led him to a leading role in both the decadent culture of patronage as well as in the growing culture of the media.

    jonson has also been called the “first poet laureate” and although his works have been linked to shakespeare, his reputation as a poet, since the early 20th century, has been linked to that of john donne. Johnson has often been called the “father” of the cocky poets and many of the cocky poets described themselves as his “sons” or his “tribe”. he can also be considered as one of the most important figures in the prehistory of English neoclassicism.

    list of works


    • a story of a vat, comedy (revised c. 1596 made 1633; printed 1640)
    • The Isle of Dogs, Comedy (1597, with Thomas Nashe; lost)
    • the case is disturbed, comedy (c. 1597-98; printed 1609), possibly with Henry Porter and Anthony Muday
    • every man in his humor, comedy (performed 1598; printed 1601)
    • every man out of his humor, comedy (performed 1599; printed 1600)
    • Cynthia’s Sprees (performed 1600; printed 1601)
    • the poetaster, 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 and george chapman
    • volpone, comedy (c. 1605-06; printed 1607)
    • epicoene, or the silent woman, comedy (performed 1609; printed 1616)
    • the alchemist, comedy (performed 1610; printed 1612)
    • castilines his conspiracy, tragedy (performed and printed in 1611)
    • bartholomew’s fair, comedy (performed october 31, 1614; printed 1631)
    • the devil is an ass, comedy (performed 1616; printed 1631)
    • the staple of news, comedy (finished February 1626; printed 1631)
    • the new inn, or the light heart, comedy (licensed January 19, 1629; printed 1631)
    • the magnetic lady, or the reconciled humours, comedy (licensed October 12, 1632; printed 1641)
    • the sad shepherd, pastoral (c. 1637, printed 1641), unfinished
    • mortimer his fall, history (printed 1641), a fragment
    • skins

      • The Triumph of the Coronation, or The King’s Entertainment (performed March 15, 1604; printed 1604); with thomas dekker
      • a private entertainment of the king and queen on May Day (the penates) (May 1, 1604; printed 1616)
      • the entertainment of the queen and prince henry at althorp (the satyr) (June 25, 1603; printed 1604)
      • the mask of blackness (January 6, 1605; printed 1608)
      • hymenaei (January 5, 1606; printed 1606)
      • The Entertainment of the Kings of Great Britain and Denmark (The Hours) (July 24, 1606; Printed 1616)
      • the mask of beauty (January 10, 1608; printed 1608)
      • the queens mask (February 2, 1609; printed 1609)
      • the scream and scream after cupid, or the masque at the marriage of lord haddington (9 february 1608; printed c. 1608)
      • the entertainment in britain’s burse (april 11, 1609; lost, rediscovered 1997)
      • Prince Henry’s Barrier Speeches, or the Lady of the Lake (January 6, 1610; printed 1616)
      • oberon, the prince of fairies (January 1, 1611; printed 1616)
      • love freed from ignorance and folly (February 3, 1611; printed 1616)
      • Love Restored (January 6, 1612; Printed 1616)
      • a challenge in bowing, in a marriage (27 December 1613/1 January 1614; printed 1616)
      • The Irish Masque at Court (December 29, 1613; Printed 1616)
      • Mercury Vindicated by the Alchemists (January 6, 1615; printed 1616)
      • The Golden Age Restored (January 1, 1616; Printed 1616)
      • Christmas, His Masquerade (Christmas 1616; Printed 1641)
      • the vision of delight (January 6, 1617; printed 1641)
      • lovers made men, or the masque of lethe, or the masque at lord hay’s (February 22, 1617; printed 1617)
      • pleasure reconciled with virtue (January 6, 1618; printed 1641) the masque was a failure, so Johnson revised it by putting the anti-masque first, making it:
      • for the honor of Wales (February 17, 1618; printed 1641)
      • news of the new world discovered on the moon (January 7, 1620: printed in 1641)
      • the entertainment at blackfriars, or the entertainment of newcastle (may 1620?; ms)
      • anniversary of bread, or feast of the shepherd (June 19, 1620; printed in 1641)
      • The Metamorphosed Gypsies (August 3 and 5, 1621; Printed 1640)
      • the mask of the augurs (January 6, 1622; printed 1622)
      • time claimed for himself and his honors (January 19, 1623; printed 1623)
      • The Triumph of Neptune by the Return of Albion (January 26, 1624; Printed 1624)
      • the masque of owls at kenilworth (19 august 1624; printed 1641)
      • the fortunate islands and their union (January 9, 1625; printed 1625)
      • Love’s Triumph Through Calipolis (January 9, 1631; Printed 1631)
      • chloridia: rites to chloris and her nymphs (February 22, 1631; printed 1631)
      • The King’s Entertainment at Welbeck in Nottinghamshire (May 21, 1633; Printed 1641)
      • love’s welcome in bolsover (July 30, 1634; printed 1641)
      • other works

        • epigrams (1612)
        • the forest (1616), including penshurst
        • on my first son (1616), elegy
        • a love speech (1618)
        • barclay’s argenis, translated by jonson (1623)
        • the execration against vulcan (1640)
        • the art of poetry by horace, translated by jonson (1640), with a line of praise by edward herbert
        • undergrowth (1640)
        • English grammar (1640)
        • wood, or discoveries made about men and matter, as they have emerged from their daily reading, or have had their ebb in their peculiar notion of times, a common book
        • a celia (drink for me only with your eyes), poem
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