The Man Who Knew Shakespeare
Benjamin Jonson was an English playwright, poet, actor, and literary critic, whose artistry exerted a. Ian Donaldson's marvellously fresh and up to date biography of Ben to speak about the relationship between Jonson and Shakespeare at. We actually know nothing of the personal and professional relationship between Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare beyond the fact that the latter's company.
His late plays or " dotages ", particularly The Magnetic Lady and The Sad Shepherd, exhibit signs of an accommodation with the romantic tendencies of Elizabethan comedy.
Ben Jonson - his life, work, and relationship with Shakespeare
Within this general progression, however, Jonson's comic style remained constant and easily recognisable. He announces his programme in the prologue to the folio version of Every Man in His Humour: He planned to write comedies that revived the classical premises of Elizabethan dramatic theory—or rather, since all but the loosest English comedies could claim some descent from Plautus and Terencehe intended to apply those premises with rigour.
He 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.
In accordance with the temper of his age, he was often so broad in his characterisation that many of his most famous scenes border on the farcical as William Congrevefor example, judged Epicoene.
He was more diligent in adhering to the classical unities than many of his peers—although as Margaret Cavendish noted, the unity of action in the major comedies was rather compromised by Jonson's abundance of incident. To this classical model Jonson applied the two features of his style which save his classical imitations from mere pedantry: Coleridge, for instance, claimed that The Alchemist had one of the three most perfect plots in literature.
Poetry[ edit ] "Epitaph for Cecilia Bulstrode" manuscript, Jonson's poetry, like his drama, is informed by his classical learning. Some of his better-known poems are close translations of Greek or Roman models; all display the careful attention to form and style that often came naturally to those trained in classics in the humanist manner.
Jonson largely avoided the debates about rhyme and meter that had consumed Elizabethan classicists such as Thomas Campion and Gabriel Harvey. Accepting both rhyme and stress, Jonson used them to mimic the classical qualities of simplicity, restraint and precision.
The epigrams explore various attitudes, most from the satiric stock of the day: Although it is included among the epigrams, " On My First Sonne " is neither satirical nor very short; the poem, intensely personal and deeply felt, typifies a genre that would come to be called "lyric poetry.
A few other so-called epigrams share this quality. Jonson's poems of "The Forest" also appeared in the first folio. Underwood, published in the expanded folio ofis a larger and more heterogeneous group of poems.
It contains A Celebration of CharisJonson's most extended effort at love poetry; various religious pieces; encomiastic poems including the poem to Shakespeare and a sonnet on Mary Wroth ; the Execration against Vulcan and others.
The volume also contains three elegies which have often been ascribed to Donne one of them appeared in Donne's posthumous collected poems.
Relationship with Shakespeare[ edit ] A 19th century engraving illustrating Thomas Fuller 's story of Shakespeare and Jonson debating at the " Mermaid Tavern ". There are many legends about Jonson's rivalry with Shakespearesome of which may be true.
Drummond also reported Jonson as saying that Shakespeare "wanted art" i. Whether Drummond is viewed as accurate or not, the comments fit well with Jonson's well-known theories about literature.
He recalls being told by certain actors that Shakespeare never blotted i. His own claimed response was "Would he had blotted a thousand!
That the two men knew each other personally is beyond doubt, not only because of the tone of Jonson's references to him but because Shakespeare's company produced a number of Jonson's plays, at least two of which Every Man in His Humour and Sejanus His Fall Shakespeare certainly acted in. However, it is now impossible to tell how much personal communication they had, and tales of their friendship cannot be substantiated. William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us"did a good deal to create the traditional view of Shakespeare as a poet who, despite "small Latine, and lesse Greeke",  had a natural genius.
The poem has traditionally been thought to exemplify the contrast which 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. But the poem itself qualifies this view: Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art, My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
Some view this elegy as a conventional exercise, but others see it as a heartfelt tribute to the "Sweet Swan of Avon", the "Soul of the Age! John Aubrey wrote of Jonson in " Brief Lives. In the Romantic era, Jonson suffered the fate of being unfairly compared and contrasted to Shakespeare, as the taste for Jonson's type of satirical comedy decreased. Jonson was at times greatly appreciated by the Romantics, but overall he was denigrated for not writing in a Shakespearean vein.
Inafter more than two decades of research, Cambridge University Press published the first new edition of Jonson's complete works for 60 years. Bentley notes in Shakespeare and Jonson: Their Reputations in the Seventeenth Century Compared, Jonson's reputation was in some respects equal to Shakespeare's in the 17th century.
After the English theatres were reopened on the Restoration of Charles IIJonson's work, along with Shakespeare's and Fletcher 's, formed the initial core of the Restoration repertory.
It was not until after that Shakespeare's plays ordinarily in heavily revised forms were more frequently performed than those of his Renaissance contemporaries. Many critics since the 18th century have ranked Jonson below only Shakespeare among English Renaissance dramatists. Critical judgment has tended to emphasise the very qualities that Jonson himself lauds in his prefaces, in Timber, and in his scattered prefaces and dedications: For some critics, the temptation to contrast Jonson representing art or craft with Shakespeare representing nature, or untutored genius has seemed natural; Jonson himself may be said to have initiated this interpretation in the second folio, and Samuel Butler drew the same comparison in his commonplace book later in the century.
At the Restoration, this sensed difference became a kind of critical dogma. But "artifice" was in the 17th century almost synonymous with "art"; Jonson, for instance, used "artificer" as a synonym for "artist" Discoveries, Nicholas Roweto whom may be traced the legend that Jonson owed the production of Every Man in his Humour to Shakespeare's intercession, likewise attributed Jonson's excellence to learning, which did not raise him quite to the level of genius.
Jonson was the first English poet to understand classical precepts with any accuracy, and he was the first to apply those precepts successfully to contemporary life. But there were also more negative spins on Jonson's learned art; for instance, in the s, Edward Young casually remarked on the way in which Jonson's learning worked, like Samson's strength, to his own detriment. Earlier, Aphra Behnwriting in defence of female playwrights, had pointed to Jonson as a writer whose learning did not make him popular; unsurprisingly, she compares him unfavourably to Shakespeare.
Particularly in the tragedies, with their lengthy speeches abstracted from Sallust and CiceroAugustan critics saw a writer whose learning had swamped his aesthetic judgment. In this period, Alexander Pope is exceptional in that he noted the tendency to exaggeration in these competing critical portraits: Though his stature declined during the 18th century, Jonson was still read and commented on throughout the century, generally in the kind of comparative and dismissive terms just described.
Shortly before the Romantic revolution, Edward Capell offered an almost unqualified rejection of Jonson as a dramatic poet, who he writes "has very poor pretensions to the high place he holds among the English Bards, as there is no original manner to distinguish him and the tedious sameness visible in his plots indicates a defect of Genius.
The romantic revolution in criticism brought about an overall decline in the critical estimation of Jonson. Hazlitt refers dismissively to Jonson's "laborious caution. The early 19th century was the great age for recovering Renaissance drama.
Jonson, whose reputation had survived, appears to have been less interesting to some readers than writers such as Thomas Middleton or John Heywoodwho were in some senses "discoveries" of the 19th century. Moreover, the emphasis which the romantic writers placed on imagination, and their concomitant tendency to distrust studied art, lowered Jonson's status, if it also sharpened their awareness of the difference traditionally noted between Jonson and Shakespeare.
This trend was by no means universal, however; William GiffordJonson's first editor of the 19th century, did a great deal to defend Jonson's reputation during this period of general decline.
In the next era, Swinburnewho was more interested in Jonson than most Victorianswrote, "The flowers of his growing have every quality but one which belongs to the rarest and finest among flowers: In an essay printed in The Sacred Wood, T. Eliot attempted to repudiate the charge that Jonson was an arid classicist by analysing the role of imagination in his dialogue.
Eliot was appreciative of Jonson's overall conception and his "surface", a view consonant with the modernist reaction against Romantic criticism, which tended to denigrate playwrights who did not concentrate on representations of psychological depth.
Around mid-century, a number of critics and scholars followed Eliot's lead, producing detailed studies of Jonson's verbal style.
At the same time, study of Elizabethan themes and conventions, such as those by E. Bradbrookprovided a more vivid sense of how Jonson's work was shaped by the expectations of his time.
The proliferation of new critical perspectives after mid-century touched on Jonson inconsistently. Jonas Barish was the leading figure among critics who appreciated Jonson's artistry. On the other hand, Jonson received less attention from the new critics than did some other playwrights and his work was not of programmatic interest to psychoanalytic critics.
But Jonson's career eventually made him a focal point for the revived sociopolitical criticism. Jonson's works, particularly his masques and pageants, offer significant information regarding the relations of literary production and political power, as do his contacts with and poems for aristocratic patrons; moreover, his career at the centre of London's emerging literary world has been seen as exemplifying the development of a fully commodified literary culture.
In this respect he is seen as a transitional figure, an author whose skills and ambition led him to a leading role both in the declining culture of patronage and in the rising culture of mass consumption. Poetry[ edit ] Jonson has been called 'the first poet laureate'.
In this comparison, Jonson represents the cavalier strain of poetry, emphasising grace and clarity of expression; Donne, by contrast, epitomised the metaphysical school of poetry, with its reliance on strained, baroque metaphors and often vague phrasing.
Since the critics who made this comparison Herbert Grierson for examplewere to varying extents rediscovering Donne, this comparison often worked to the detriment of Jonson's reputation. In his time Jonson was at least as influential as Donne. Inhistorian Edmund Bolton named him the best and most polished English poet.
That this judgment was widely shared is indicated by the admitted influence he had on younger poets. The grounds for describing Jonson as the "father" of cavalier poets are clear: For some of this tribe, the connection was as much social as poetic; Herrick described meetings at "the Sun, the Dog, the Triple Tunne".
In these respects Jonson may be regarded as among the most important figures in the prehistory of English neoclassicism. The best of 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 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.
Jonson should have loved him and no doubt did, in his all-too-human and contradictory way. The vicar of the Stratford church, John Ward, wrote that the trio of poets -- Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton and Shakespeare -- met in April for ''a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.
Of course we shall never know. Jonson is the unanswerable argument against idiotic beliefs that Shakespeare's plays were written by somebody else, like the Earl of Oxford who died inbefore ''Lear'' and ''The Tempest'' were written.
In his essay ''Morose Ben Jonson,'' Edmund Wilson calls him ''anal erotic'' and traces his lifelong resentment to ''two sources -- first, the grievance of the man of good birth unjustly deprived of his patrimony; second, the sulky resentment of the man who can only withhold, against the man who can freely lavish'' -- meaning Shakespeare.
He was born Benjamin Johnson with an ''h. Ben was so thoroughly grounded in the classics that his lifetime of devotion to them won him honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. This may also explain his snide reference to Shakespeare's ''small Latin and less Greek. Removed from Westminster, he was ''sentenced'' to a low trade, bricklaying, which he said he ''could not endure.
He worked at bricklaying until he found a way out -- the army. He served in the Low Countries, where he had ''in the face of both camps killed an enemy. With children coming he began acting with playwagon groups in the country, working up to a role at the Swan, where he played Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd's ''Spanish Tragedy.
He collaborated with the poet Thomas Nashe on a new play, ''The Isle of Dogs,'' and its satire of the nobility was considered so subversive the queen's kennels were on the Isle of Dogs that Jonson landed in prison.Shakespeare: Ben Jonson
In he killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel. He told Drummond that Spencer ''hurt him in the arm with a sword 10 inches longer than his, for which he was imprisoned and almost at the gallows. His big break came in February James I granted him the royal pension of marks per annum for life, with an annual butt of Canary wine.
His career flourished, and he found a generous young patron in Lord Aubigny Esme Stuarta blood relative of the king, with whom he lived five years. As he told Drummond, his ''wife was a shrew, but honest. He had not bedded with her for five years, but remained with my Lord Aubigny. Perhaps his greatest coup was writing masques for performance at court. The new queen, Anne of Denmark, loved masques, in which she sometimes danced.
Shorter than five-act plays, they were better rewarded. Now patronized by the rich and famous as well as by noblemen and women who collected poets, Jonson also cultivated scholars and savants whose libraries were open to him. Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson exploited the publicity and financial advantages of book publishing.