Contemporary Playwright

Ben Jonson

By: Anita Kalangara

Early Life

Ben Jonson was born on June 11th 1572 in Westminister, London England. He was born into poverty. His father died before his birth and his mother was an expert bricklayer. An unidentified friend paid for him to go to Westminister School. After school he tried to be a bricklayer and then later joined the armed forces in the 1590s. In 1594 he got married and by 1597 he was an actor in the theatre. This was the same year his oldest surviving play, "The Case is Altered" was performed.
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Jonson and two other actors were arrested for a play he wrote and performed that upset powerful people. Some people contribute his play to close of London theaters which were stopped due to lewd material. He was released a few months later only to be arrested again.

His Classics

Characteristics of his Plays

Jonson's plays had thinly veiled characters as political figure, witty banter, tricksters, and devils in disguise.

Relationship With Court

Growing up poor, he enjoyed luxuries and wanted to get the attention of the court. He wrote over 20 masques for for the court. One was the "Masque of Blackness" in which Queen Anne herself performed. In 1616 Ben Jonson was named England's first Poet Laureate

Connection to "The Merchant of Venice"

Jonson's popularity rivaled that of William Shakespeare, the author of "The Merchant of Venice". He is considered the 2nd most important English dramatist after William Shakespeare. He criticized Shakespeare's work and even made a play about his criticism. Despite this, they were friends and inspired each other. Jonson even cast William Shakespeare as the leading role in the play "Every Man in his Humor". It is believed that Antonio, who is Bassanio's best friend in "The Merchant of Venice" is a character based upon Shakespeare himself. The friendship within "The Merchant of Venice" likely depicts that of the one between Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare. Bassanio in the story can represent Jonson in the fact that both had troubles with money throughout their lives.

To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare


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  • Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
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