Ben Jonson’s Life (1572-1637)

Jonson was a great dramatist and poet who is known to be the most distinguished rival to Shakespeare. He led a stormy life in the period of ruthless kings and had to go with the British army to fight the Spaniards. There he killed a soldier in a duel and returned to England. He joined the theatre to become an actor. He also began to revise old plays in the theatre. He killed an actor but escaped being hanged for being the son of a minister. He died in a state of penury and was buried in Westminster Abbey with full state honour.
Jonson was a man of strong appetite and vitality who derived his typically Renaissance admiration for ancient Roman culture. He was a moralist, classicist and reformer of drama. His plays are realistic rather than romantic. As a moral satirist, he made it his business to chasten the ‘humour’. This made him a self-conscious artist in matters of literary form. His meetings with other poets and his discussions with them at the Mermaid Tavern were commemorated by Francis Beaumont in Francis Beaumont to Ben Jonson’ and much later by John Keats in ‘Lives on the Mermaid Tavern’ and in his old. age he had a school of disciples who called themselves ‘the sons of Ben’. They included such poets as Thomas Carew and Robert Herrick.
Jonson’s comedies are full of satire. The glorious days of Queen Elizabeth were over and great ideals had fallen. Jonson noted the vice in a filthy and loathsome form in society which he wanted to eradicate. His victims were all kinds of quacks and hypocrites, parasites, fortune-hunters, lusty lovers, gulls, alchemists, astrologers, witch-finders and Puritans.

His Works:
(A) Satires

  1. Every Man in His Humour (1598): ‘It is his most famous book and his first comedy. Its special aim was to ridicule the humour of the city.’ (Long)
  2. Cynthea’s Revels (1600): In this book, the humour of the court are satirised.
  3. The Poetaster (1601): The purpose of this book was to bring to light the false literary standards of the period and to check them from further downfall through the medium of satire.

(B) Comedies

  1. Volpone or The Fox (1605): It is a satirical comedy which is one of the most relentless exposures of vices in England. The two main characters, Volpone and Mosca, engineer various novel plots. All the fun arises when Volpone feigns illness, while Mosca, his parasite, shows his excessive fondness for money.
  2. The Alchemist (1610): This work shows two negative qualities in human traits-quackery diehard credulity and gullibility.
  3. Epicoene or The Silent Woman (1609): It is a prose comedy whose chief character Morose is afraid of noise. The reading of this play is not as hilarious as its stage – effect.

(C) Tragedies

  1. Sejanus (1603)
  2. Catiline (1611)

(D) Travelogue

  1. Foot Pilgrimage

(E) Unfinished Work

  1. Sad Shepherd

(F) Masques

  1. The Satyr (1603)
  2. The Penates (1604)
  3. The Masque of Blackness (1605)
  4. The Masque of Beauty (1608)
  5. The Masque of Queens (1609) 6. Hue and Cry after Cupid. (1608)

Some Other Works

  1. Bartholomew Fair (1614)
  2. The Devil Is An Ass (1616)
  3. The Staple of News (1625)
  4. Oberon, The Fairy Prince (1611)
  5. The Magnetic Lady (1632)
  6. The Tale of a Tub (1633)

Lyrical Poems:

  1. To the Memory of My Beloved Mother
  2. Drink To Me With Only Thine Eyes
    ‘Timber’ or ‘Discoveries’ (1640): It is a commonplace book with a collection of notes and reflections. It also contains comments on literature.

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