Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Article abstract: The comic plays Jonson wrote in the 1600’s remain landmark works of the English Renaissance, and as mentor to younger writers he influenced the course of poetry in the seventeenth century.
Between his birth in 1573 and his death in 1637, Ben Jonson was at different times a soldier, an actor, a playwright, a poet, an essayist, and a translator. His fortunes were equally varied: from branded felon to poet laureate, from lionized man of letters to impoverished pensioner. Though he was influential as a mentor to young writers (the “tribe of Ben”), Jonson is remembered primarily as a dramatist, not for his tragedies and dozens of masques but for such comedies as Volpone: Or, The Fox (1606), Epicoene: Or, The Silent Woman (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614).
Benjamin Jonson was born on June 11, 1573, in or around London. His Protestant father (a descendant of Lowland Scots) had lost his property under Catholic Mary I, was imprisoned for a time, and then became a minister. The elder Johnson ( sic) died a month before his son was born. (The playwright always styled himself Ben—and gave this shortened name to three sons, all of whom died young—and also changed the spelling...
(The entire section is 3972 words.)
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Of humble Scottish origins, Jonson was fortunate in receiving a sponsorship to the Westminster School, one of England’s best. After apprenticing to a bricklayer, he joined the English army. Later, he entered what proved to be an equally dangerous profession by becoming an actor at the Rose Theatre. At that time, actors were continually under suspicion for personal immorality, slander, and political subversion.
Shifting from acting to writing, Jonson helped Thomas Nashe complete a play, The Isle of the Dogs, which the Privy Council decided was lewd in 1597. Its authors and lead actors were ordered arrested. Jonson spent over two months in prison before it was decided that no major offense had taken place. By that time Jonson had decided to write his own plays.
Jonson’s first major play, Every Man in His Humour (1598), was a success, but its sequel, Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), got him into difficulty, since it was produced shortly after verse satire was prohibited by church decree. After seeing the satirical works of his acquaintances publicly burned, he saved himself further trouble by revising the ending of his play.
Jonson then turned to tragedy and wrote Sejanus (1603), a new type of tragedy which led to his being called before the Privy...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Tradition has it that Benjamin Jonson was born in 1572; literary historians put his birth in 1573, probably on June 11. His father, an Anglican minister, died about a month before Jonson was born. His mother married a master bricklayer in 1574; the family lived in Westminster. While growing up, Jonson attended Westminster School and became a student of William Camden, who was perhaps the greatest classicist and antiquarian of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. Jonson’s interest in classical literature, his care in constructing what he wrote, and his respect for learning all have their origins in the teachings of Camden. Techniques for writing that Jonson used throughout his life were first learned from Camden, including the practice of writing out a prospective poem first in prose and then converting the prose to verse.
In about 1588, Jonson became an apprentice bricklayer. This part of his life became the subject of jokes and gibes in his later years, but he seems to have taken pride in his humble origins. His respect for achievement and general lack of respect for claims of importance based solely on heredity or accident may have had their roots in his own struggles as a lower-class laborer. He left his bricklaying work to join the army in its war against the Spanish in the Lowlands in 1591 or 1592. During his tenure in the army, he apparently served with some distinction; he claimed that he was the English champion in single combat against a Spanish...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Benjamin Jonson’s father, a minister, died a month before his son’s birth. Ben’s mother remarried, apparently fairly soon thereafter, the stepfather being a master bricklayer of Westminster. A friend enrolled Jonson at Westminster School, but (as he told William Drummond) he was taken from school at about the age of sixteen and put to a “Craft,” presumably bricklaying. Unable to endure this occupation, Jonson escaped briefly into the wars with the Netherlands. The next few years (roughly, his early twenties) are the most obscure of Jonson’s life. At some point during this time, he married and began having children, although practically nothing is known about his wife or family.
Jonson reappears in the late 1590’s in theatrical records as an actor and part-time playwright. In these years, Jonson was repeatedly at odds with the law, usually because of his involvement with satirical or political drama. He also attracted the authorities’ hostility through his conversion to Roman Catholicism. (Eventually he returned to the Church of England and later in life expressed, above all, distaste for those who claimed complete theological certainty.) In the series of comedies of humours beginning with Every Man in His Humour, Jonson coined an original form of satirical comedy based on the caricature of psychological types. In 1600 to 1601, he temporarily abandoned the open-air public playhouses to present his comical satires at the more...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Benjamin Jonson, posthumous son of a minister, was born in or near London, England, on June 11, 1573. He received an excellent foundation in classical letters at Westminster School under headmaster William Camden, a famous scholar. Although unable to continue his education at a university, he was an avid reader and on his own became a serious student of classical language and literature. For a time, Jonson followed his stepfather’s bricklaying trade, but in 1591 he went to the Low Countries to fight in the army. According to his own account, he bravely killed a foe in view of both the English and enemy camps.
Jonson returned to London in 1592, and two years later married Anne Lewis. In the next year or two, he began a career as actor and playwright. He soon got into trouble. In 1597, he was jailed for his part in The Isle of Dogs (pr. 1597), a play that the authorities considered subversive, and the next year killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel. His goods were confiscated, and he was branded on the thumb and jailed. While in prison, he converted to Roman Catholicism but later returned to the Anglican faith.
By the start of the seventeenth century, Jonson’s reputation as a satirical comedian was well established. He rejected the fashionable romantic comedy and, starting with Every Man in His Humour (pb. 1601),...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
For forty years, Ben Jonson was the preeminent literary force in England. He was the leading comic dramatist of Jacobean England, the most highly esteemed creator of masques, a celebrated poet, a cultivator of new literary talent, and an arbiter of his day’s literary taste.
Centuries after Jonson’s death, his dramatic and poetic legacy remains significant. Such plays as The Alchemist and Volpone are still being produced. Moreover, Jonson’s more ambitious poems are, along with his lyrics, now viewed as the products of an inspired genius. Among English authors, there are few whose works have weathered the passage of time as successfully as have those of Jonson.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
One of the most colorful personalities and the leading man of letters of his age, Benjamin Jonson left a vigorous impression on his time. Jonson was born in or around London on June 11, 1573. His father, a minister, died a month before Ben was born, and his widowed mother married a bricklayer. By 1580 Jonson was studying with William Camden, one of the finest scholars of his day, at Westminster School. From Camden, Jonson drew his delight and his competence in classical languages and literatures, and learned much of his own country’s history and literature. The Westminster boys also did three plays a year in English and Latin, experiences that constituted Jonson’s apprenticeship for the stage.
After leaving school, probably in 1588, Jonson was a bricklayer, a soldier, and a traveling actor. He married Anne Lewis on November 14, 1594. Of the couple’s four or more children, a six-month-old daughter and a seven-year-old son met untimely deaths. The brief poems written by the grieving father show a tenderness not common to the rugged, often rough-tongued, dramatist. During his acting career he performed as Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (pr. c. 1585-1589) and later sold additions to Jeronymo (obviously The Spanish Tragedy) to Philip Henslowe, the manager of the Admiral’s Men. Little is known about his career as...
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Biography (Poetry for Students)
Ben Jonson was born in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, sometime between May 1572 and January 1573. His father, a clergyman, died one month before he was born. Two years after his birth, his mother married a bricklayer. Jonson attended Saint Martin's parish school and, later, Westminster School, where he was influenced by a teacher named William Camden, who taught him the classics. In 1589, Jonson left Westminster to work as a bricklayer with his stepfather, but his bricklaying career was short-lived. Jonson entered the army briefly and then joined a theater company run by Philip Henslowe, a theatrical entrepreneur. In 1594, he married Anne Lewis, with whom he had at least two children.
Jonson was able to support himself and his growing family through his dual career as an actor and a writer. His work, however, would frequently cause him problems. He was first arrested for coauthoring and acting in a satire called The Isle of Dogs in 1597. The Privy Council considered it to be lewd, seditious, and slanderous and ordered London theaters to ban the play. It was subsequently destroyed.
In 1598, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer, an actor, in a duel and was arrested for the murder. Jonson escaped hanging by proving that he could read and write; this allowed him to be tried in a more lenient...
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Jonson was born in about 1572. The date is uncertain, since Elizabethans were very casual about the recording of exact dates. He was a scholar, a poet, and a dramatist. Jonson was born near London shortly after the death of his father. He was educated at Westminster School and for a brief period worked as a bricklayer for his stepfather. Jonson was briefly in the military where he killed an enemy in combat.
In his next career as an actor, Jonson also wrote additional dialogue for some of the works in which he performed. After killing another actor in a duel, Jonson was arrested but released after claiming benefit of clergy, which meant that he was an educated man. Jonson converted to Roman Catholicism during this period, and although he escaped hanging, he was still labeled a felon after his release.
Jonson's first play, Every Man in His Humour, was written in 1598, with William Shakespeare playing one of the roles on stage. Jonson continued with a new play every year for the next few years: Every Man out of His Humour (1599), Cynthia's Revels (1600), and Poetaster in 1601. Perhaps best known for his court masques, Jonson wrote the first of many, The Masque of Blackness, in 1605.
Although Jonson became well established as a playwright with works such as Volpone (1606), Epicene, or the Silent Woman (1610), The Alchemist (1610), Bartholomew Fair (1614) and The Devil...
(The entire section is 521 words.)