(Article/content is below...)

Life and History of Ben Jonson

Around this time, Jonson made enemies by satirizing the work of Thomas Dekker and John Marston in his The Poetaster. The two responded with a vitriolic play, Satiromastix, which attacked Jonson and his work.

In 1603, Jonson was questioned by the Privy Council for "popery and treason" for his work Sejanus, His Fall (1603), a politically-themed play about corruption in the Roman Empire. Just two years later, he was imprisoned along with George Chapman and Marston for poking fun at the King's Scottish countrymen in Eastward Ho!.

As Jonson became more successful with his plays and masques, The Satyr (1603) and >Masque of Blackness (1605), Jonson began writing less material for the public theatres and more for the court. As of 1605, Jonson was responsible for "painting and carpentry" as court poet.

During this time, Jonson began producing many of his greatest masques in partnership with architect Inigo Jones, who designed elaborate designs for his performances. However, the rivalry between the two eventually left to their falling out.

Jonson also wrote his most successful comedies, most notably, The Alchemist (1610), Bartholomew Fair (1614) and The Devil is an Ass (1616) during this period.

As of 1616, Jonson was identified as the very first Poet Laureate, receiving an annual pension of 100 marks. The royal favor encouraged him to publish his first volume of the folio collection edition of his works the same year.

In 1618, Jonson visited ancestral Scotland, on foot. He spent a year there, most notably with the Scottish poet, William Drummond of Hawthornden. Drummond took the liberty of recounting upon Jonson's personality by describing him as "a great lover and praiser of himself, a condemner and scorner of others" in his diary.

While in Scotland, Jonson was made an honorary citizen of Edinburgh, only to return to England and receive an honorary Master of Arts degree from Oxford University.

With Jonson returning to writing regular plays in the 1620s, many of which are not considered his best, he found himself in the center of a literary group that met at the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside, with such young poets as Robert Herrick and Thomas Carew.

Jonson's library went aflame in 1623, leaving him severely saddened as in Execration upon Vulcan shows. In 1628, Jonson became city chronologer of London, leaving him a salary, but little work. He suffered a stroke the same year leaving his position sinecure. His later years were relied heavily upon an income by his great friend and patron, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle.

On his deathbed Jonson seemed to have been working on his last play, The Sad Shepherd, although only two acts are still in existence.

Ben Jonson died on August 6, 1637 and was buried in Westminster Abbey with the epitaph, "O rare Ben Jonson", which could have meant "Orare Ben Jonson" (pray for Ben Jonson), which would indicate his return to Catholicism on his deathbed.

Back to Ben Jonson biography

Poetry of Ben Jonson

Epicoene, or the Silent Woman: Still to be neat, still to be drest
Epitaph on Elizabeth
On My First Sonne (on my first son)
To Celia
Last update: