Ben Jonson was a classically educated, well-read and cultured man of the English Renaissance with an appetite for controversy whose cultural influence was of unparalleled breadth upon the playwrights and the poets of the Jacobean era and of the Caroline era.
41 Facts About Ben Jonson
In midlife, Ben Jonson said his paternal grandfather, who "served King Henry 8 and was a gentleman", was a member of the extended Johnston family of Annandale in the Dumfries and Galloway, a genealogy that is attested by the three spindles in the Ben Jonson family coat of arms: one spindle is a diamond-shaped heraldic device used by the Johnston family.
Ben Jonson's ancestors spelled the family name with a letter "t".
Ben Jonson's father lost his property, was imprisoned, and, as a Protestant, suffered forfeiture under Queen Mary.
Ben Jonson's widow married a master bricklayer two years later.
On leaving Westminster School in 1589, Ben Jonson was to have attended the University of Cambridge, to continue his book learning but did not, because of his unwilled apprenticeship to his bricklayer stepfather.
Ben Jonson described his wife to William Drummond as "a shrew, yet honest".
John Aubrey reports, on uncertain authority, that Ben Jonson was not successful as an actor; whatever his skills as an actor, he was evidently more valuable to the company as a writer.
Ben Jonson was jailed in Marshalsea Prison and charged with "Leude and mutynous behaviour", while Nashe managed to escape to Great Yarmouth.
In 1598 Ben Jonson produced his first great success, Every Man in His Humour, capitalising on the vogue for humorous plays which George Chapman had begun with An Humorous Day's Mirth.
Ben Jonson followed this in 1599 with Every Man out of His Humour, a pedantic attempt to imitate Aristophanes.
Ben Jonson collaborated with Dekker on a pageant welcoming James I to England in 1603 although Drummond reports that Ben Jonson called Dekker a rogue.
At the beginning of the English reign of James VI and I in 1603 Ben Jonson joined other poets and playwrights in welcoming the new king.
Ben Jonson quickly adapted himself to the additional demand for masques and entertainments introduced with the new reign and fostered by both the king and his consort Anne of Denmark.
Ben Jonson was again in trouble for topical allusions in a play, now lost, in which he took part.
The Satyr and The Masque of Blackness are two of about two dozen masques which Ben Jonson wrote for James or for Queen Anne, some of them performed at Apethorpe Palace when the King was in residence.
Ben Jonson later told Drummond that he had made less than two hundred pounds on all his plays together.
In 1616 Ben Jonson received a yearly pension of 100 marks, leading some to identify him as England's first Poet Laureate.
Ben Jonson delivers his opinions, in Drummond's terse reporting, in an expansive and even magisterial mood.
Ben Jonson recounted that his father had been a prosperous Protestant landowner until the reign of "Bloody Mary" and had suffered imprisonment and the forfeiture of his wealth during that monarch's attempt to restore England to Catholicism.
Notwithstanding this emphatically Protestant grounding, Ben Jonson maintained an interest in Catholic doctrine throughout his adult life and, at a particularly perilous time while a religious war with Spain was widely expected and persecution of Catholics was intensifying, he converted to the faith.
Ben Jonson's conversion came at a weighty time in affairs of state; the royal succession, from the childless Elizabeth, had not been settled and Essex's Catholic allies were hopeful that a sympathetic ruler might attain the throne.
Ben Jonson's stance received attention beyond the low-level intolerance to which most followers of that faith were exposed.
Ben Jonson did this in flamboyant style, pointedly drinking a full chalice of communion wine at the eucharist to demonstrate his renunciation of the Catholic rite, in which the priest alone drinks the wine.
Ben Jonson's productivity began to decline in the 1620s, but he remained well known.
Ben Jonson resumed writing regular plays in the 1620s, but these are not considered among his best.
Ben Jonson is buried in the north aisle of the nave in Westminster Abbey, with the inscription "O Rare Ben Johnson [sic]" set in the slab over his grave.
Henslowe's diary indicates that Ben Jonson had a hand in numerous other plays, including many in genres such as English history with which he is not otherwise associated.
The comedies of his middle career, from Eastward Hoe to The Devil Is an Ass are for the most part city comedy, with a London setting, themes of trickery and money, and a distinct moral ambiguity, despite Ben Jonson's professed aim in the Prologue to Volpone to "mix profit with your pleasure".
Ben Jonson 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.
Ben Jonson largely avoided the debates about rhyme and meter that had consumed Elizabethan classicists such as Thomas Campion and Gabriel Harvey.
William Drummond reports that during their conversation, Ben Jonson scoffed at two apparent absurdities in Shakespeare's plays: a nonsensical line in Julius Caesar and the setting of The Winter's Tale on the non-existent seacoast of Bohemia.
In "De Shakespeare Nostrat" in Timber, which was published posthumously and reflects his lifetime of practical experience, Ben Jonson offers a fuller and more conciliatory comment.
The poem has traditionally been thought to exemplify the contrast which Ben 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.
Ben Jonson was a towering literary figure, and his influence was enormous for he has been described as 'One of the most vigorous minds that ever added to the strength of English literature'.
Ben Jonson was at times greatly appreciated by the Romantics, but overall he was denigrated for not writing in a Shakespearean vein.
Critical judgment has tended to emphasise the very qualities that Ben 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 Lewis Theobald, too, Ben Jonson "ow[ed] all his Excellence to his Art," in contrast to Shakespeare, the natural genius.
All of them, including those like Herrick whose accomplishments in verse are generally regarded as superior to Ben Jonson's, took inspiration from Ben Jonson's revival of classical forms and themes, his subtle melodies, and his disciplined use of wit.
The best of Ben 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.
Ben 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.