Ben Jonson

The Biography of Good Ole' Ben

Ben Jonson was born on June 11, 1572 and died on August 6, 1637, both in London, England. He received a formal education at Westminster School in London under the renowned scholar William Camden. He traveled some in his early years serving as a soldier in Flanders for about three years and then he got married and spent most of his life in London as a playwrite and a poet.

He did take some vacations such as one to Scotland where his host described him as " a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner of others, given rather to lose a friend than a jest; jealous of every word and action of those about him, especially after drink, which is one of the elements in which he liveth; ... oppressed with fancy, which hath ever mastered his reason." This portrait of some of the unflattering sides of Jonson's personality actually shows how his personality affected what he wrote; his most famous works are his satirical comedy plays.

Some of his famous satirical comedies are Every Man in His Humour (1598), Epicoene (1609), and The Alchemist (1610). Ben Jonson's works related most closely to the "isms" of Classicism because he took the old form of satirical writing and used it for his time period in his plays and Humanism because he wrote about people being people, about their emotions and actions, and found humor in this. He was looked highly upon for his dramatic genius and was patronized by King James I.

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Awesomely Fun Facts!

  • Jonson's first major work, Every Man in His Humour (a satirical comedy), was performed by The Lord Chamberlain's Men, with Shakespeare himself taking the leading role.
  • Ben Jonson was frequently in cooperation with Inigo Jones ,the famous architect, who designed the stage sets and machinery for Jonson's plays.

Epicoene (Epicene) or The Silent Woman (1609)

This play is a "comedy of humors", which essentially means that the characters act and behave based on their impulses and feelings. His inclusion of classical theory strengthened the effects of his gifts for creating lively dialogue, eccentric and interesting characters, and a detailed and controlled plot.

Speaking of the plot, it's hilarious! It takes place in London. Morose, an old gentleman who hates any form of noise, is tricked by his nephew that he wants to disinherit, Dauphine, into marrying a “silent woman”. This woman turns out to be extremely loud and talkative with equally loud and talkative friends which nearly drive Morose insane enough to divorce her. Then, PLOT TWIST… the lady turns out to be a boy dressed as a woman. The scoundrel!


I think humanism would relate most strongly with this piece because this play portrays humans as they are with all their faults in personality and weird quirks. This makes for a funny and relatable story, which is why I find it so interesting.

The play was very well received by its first audiences and had been performed many times, but if you want to see it nowadays, its a little hard to find. It has only been performed twice in New York in the last few decades: once in the 1980s and once in 2010. Recreations of this play are fairly rare and hasn't really been done except by the Shakespeare Theater Company in 2003.

Excerpt

Truewit: No, faith, I let her alone, as we'll let this argument, if you please, and pass to another. When you saw Dauphine Eugenie?

Clerimont: No these three days. Shall we go to him this morning? He is very melancholy, I hear.

Truewit: Sick of the uncle? Is he? I met with that stiff piece of formality, his uncle, yesterday, with a huge turban of night-caps on his head, buckled over his ears.

Clerimont: O, that's his custom when he walks abroad. He can endure no noise, man.

Citations

  • "Epicœne, or The Silent Woman." Wikipedia. N.p., 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
  • "Ben Jonson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
  • "Ben Jonson | English Writer." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
  • "Ben Jonson Biography." - Life, Parents, Death, Mother, Young, Information, Born, Time. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
  • "British Poets." Poet Seers ». N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
  • Woman, Epicoene; Or The Silent, By Ben Jonson, Introduction, and The Greatest Of English Dramatists Except Shakespeare, The First. "Epicoene: Or, The Silent Woman." (n.d.): 30. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.