You are on page 1of 3

Ben Jonson was born around June 11, 1572, the posthumous son of a clergyman.

He was educated at Westminster School by the great classical scholar William Camden and worked in his stepfather's trade, bricklaying. The trade did not please him in the least, and he joined the army, serving in Flanders. He returned to England about 1592 and married Anne Lewis on November 14, 1594.

presenting Jonson as a vain fool. Eventually, the writers patched their feuding; in 1604 Jonson collaborated with Dekker on The King's

Entertainment and with Marston and George Chapman on Eastward Ho.






tragedy Sejanus, His Fall (1603), based on Roman history and offering an astute view of dictatorship, again got Jonson into trouble with

Jonson joined the theatrical company of Philip Henslowe in London as an actor and playwright on or before 1597, when he is identified in the papers of Henslowe. In 1597 he was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison for his involvement in a satire entitled The Isle of Dogs, declared seditious by the authorities. The following year Jonson killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel in the Fields at Shoreditch and was tried at Old Bailey for murder. He escaped the gallows only by pleading benefit subsequent of clergy. he During converted his to

the authorities. Jonson was called before the Privy Council on charges of 'popery and treason'. Jonson did not, however, learn a lesson, and was again briefly imprisoned, with Marston and Chapman, for controversial views ("something against the Scots") espoused

in Eastward Ho (1604). These two incidents jeopardized his emerging role as court poet to King James I. Having converted to

Catholicism, Jonson was also the object of deep suspicion after the Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes (1605).


Roman Catholicism only to convert back to Anglicism over a decade later, in 1610. He was released forfeit of all his possessions, and with a felon's brand on his thumb. In 1605, Jonson began to write masques for the entertainment of the court. The earliest of his masques, The Satyr was given at Althorpe, and Jonson seems to have been appointed Court Jonson's second known play, Every Man in His Humour, was performed in 1598 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men at the Globe with William Shakespeare in the cast. Jonson became a celebrity, and there was a brief fashion for 'humours' comedy, a kind of topical comedy involving eccentric characters, each of whom represented a temperament, or humor, of Poet shortly after. The masques displayed his erudition, wit, and versatility and contained some of his best lyric poetry. Masque of

Blacknesse (1605) was the first in a series of collaborations with Inigo Jones, noted English architect and set designer. This collaboration produced masques such as The Masque of Owles, Masque of Beauty (1608), and Masque of Queens (1609), which were performed in Inigo Jones' elaborate and exotic settings. These masques ascertained Jonson's standing as foremost writer of masques in the Jacobean era. The collaboration with Jones was finally destroyed by intense personal rivalry.

humanity. His next play,Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), was less successful. Every Man Out of His Humour andCynthia's Revels (1600) were satirical comedies displaying Jonson's classical learning and his interest in formal experiment.

Jonson's explosive temperament and conviction of his superior talent gave rise to "War of the Theatres". In The Poetaster (1601), he satirized other writers, chiefly the English

Jonson's enduring reputation rests on the comedies written between 1605 and 1614. The first of these, Volpone, or The Fox (performed in 1605-1606, first published in 1607) is often regarded as his masterpiece. The play, though set in Venice, directs its scrutiny on the rising merchant classes of Jacobean London. The following plays, Epicoene: or, The Silent

dramatistsThomas Dekker and John Marston. Dekker and Marston retaliated by attacking Jonson in theirSatiromastix (1601). The plot of Satiromastix was mainly overshadowed by its abuse of Jonson. Jonson had portrayed himself as Horace in The Poetaster, and Dekker, ridicule and as

Woman (1609), The


and Bartholomew Fair (1614) are all peopled with dupes and those who deceive them. Jonson's keen sense of his own stature as

in Satiromastix Marston Demetrius and



author is represented by the unprecedented publication of his Works, in folio, in 1616. He was appointed as poet laureate and rewarded a substantial pension in the same year.

Jonson died on August 6, 1637 and was buried in Westminster Abbeyunder a plain slab on which was later carved the words, "O Rare Ben Jonson!" His admirers and friends contributed to the collection of memorial elegies, Jonsonus

In 1618, when he was about forty-five years old, Jonson set out for Scotland, the home of his ancestors. He made the journey entirely by foot, in spite of dissuasion from Bacon, who "said to him he loved not to see poesy go on other feet than poetical dactyls and spondus." Jonson's prose style is vividly sketched in the notes of William Drummond of Hawthornden, who recorded their conversations during Jonson's visit to Scotland 1618-1619. Jonson himself was sketched by Hawthornden: " He is a great lover and praiser of himself ; a contemner and scorner of others ; given rather to lose a friend than a jest ; . . . he is passionately kind and angry ; careless either to gain or keep ; vindictive, but, if he be well answered, at himself . . . ; oppressed with fantasy, which hath ever mastered his reason." After his return, Jonson received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Oxford University and lectured on rhetoric at Gresham College, London.







play, Sad Shepherd's Tale, was left unfinished at his death and published posthumously in 1641. Christopher Marlowe Born the same year as Shakespeare,

Christopher Marlowe was to become the first great poet of the theatre's second great age. His life, much like the lives of his characters, would be short and violent. The son of a shoemaker, Marlowe attended King's School, Canterbury and Corpus Christi College where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1584 and his Masters degree three years later. According to university records, Marlowe disappeared frequently during his last years at school, exceeding the number of absences permitted him by statute and putting his degree in jeopardy. Apparently, much of this time was spent in Rheims among the Catholics who were plotting against Queen Elizabeth's protestant

The comedy The Devil is an Ass (1616) had turned out to be a comparative flop. This may have discouraged Jonson, for it was nine years before his next play, The Staple of News (1625), was produced. Instead, Jonson turned his attention to writing masques. Jonson's later plays The New Inn (1629) and A Tale of a Tub (1633) were not great successes, described harshly, but perhaps justly by Dryden as his "dotages."

regime. Because of his absences and the fact that he refused to take holy orders, the university refused, for a time, to confer his degree, but the authorities intervened, and the degree was eventually granted. Although we cannot be certain, Marlowe may have fought in the wars in the Low Country after graduation. What we can be certain of is that he settled in London in 1587 and began his career as a playwright--although he may still have been

Despite these apparent failures, and in spite of his frequent feuds, Jonson was the dean and the leading wit of the group of writers who gathered at the Mermaid Tavern in the Cheapside district of London. The young poets influenced by Jonson were the self-styled 'sons' or 'tribe' of Ben, later called the Cavalier poets, a group which included, among Carew,Sir others, Robert John Suckling, Lovelace.

in the employ of the secret service as well. The young poet plunged himself into a social circle that included such colorful literary figures as Sir Phillip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. He shared a room with fellow playwright Thomas Kyd and was often seen frequenting the taverns of London with the likes of Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe. His magnificent appearance, impulsiveness, and bejeweled costumes soon became the talk of the town. Primed by this new-found intellectual

Herrick, Thomas and Richard

Jonson was appointed City Chronologer of London in 1628, the same year in which he suffered a severe stroke. His loyal friends kept him company in his final years and attended the King provided him some financial comfort.

stimulation, Marlowe soon wrote Tamburlaine, the first notable English play in blank verse. Elizabethan drama had reached the foothills and was beginning its final ascent when Marlowe

came onto the scene. All that was needed was a bold leap such as no one had yet dared or been able to make--and Marlowe was determined to make that leap. He had the advantage of having his plays presented by the Lord Admiral's company. While his contemporaries were watching their work performed by church boys, Marlowe saw his dramas staged by full-chested men such as the seven-foot-tall, majestic Edward Alleyn. No playwright had hitherto invoked the world, the flesh, and the devil so magnificently in plays such as Dr. Faustus, The Jew of

Malta, and Edward II. The young poet, however, had neither wealth nor position, and the disparity between his dreams and the reality of his situation began to weigh upon him. He grew more and more restless and irritable until even his friends began to lose patience with him. In 1593, after pointing out what he considered to be inconsistencies in the Bible, Marlowe fell under suspicion of heresy. His

roommate, Thomas Kyd, was tortured into giving evidence against him, but before he could be brought before the Privy Council, the twentynine-year-old poet was found dead at Dame Eleanore Bull's tavern in Deptford. On May 30, 1593, he had gone to the tavern to have dinner with some friends. According to witnesses, there was a quarrel over the bill and Marlowe drew his dagger on another man who, defending himself, drove the dagger back into the young poet's eye, mortally wounding him. There is reason to believe, however, that Marlowe may have been deliberately provoked and murdered in order to prevent his arrest. Had he been brought before the Privy Council, he might have implicated men of importance such as Raleigh. Christopher Marlowe's contribution to the drama, however, was complete. He had returned high poetry to its rightful place on the stage and left us characters as fiery and passionate as their creator, preparing the way for a poet even greater than himself--William Shakespeare.