Ben Jonson (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Ben Jonson’s literary career began in the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, encompassed that of her Scottish cousin James I, and extended well into the time of Charles I. Certain contradictory aspects of his character have long been recognized. Here was a man who assaulted and killed an actor named Gabriel Spencer but whose poetic theory recommended rationality, moderation, and restraint; who admitted to such excesses as drunkenness, adultery, and raging quarrels, and was jailed on several occasions for presumably seditious passages in his plays, but who also earned a reputation as a scholarly, judicious, modest man who relished the quiet companionship of a few good friends.
In undertaking the challenge of reconciling the diverse and paradoxical elements in Jonson’s nature, David Riggs has blended the traditional methods of the social historian and the psychological approaches of the modern biographer. He understands the hazards of the quest to understand a psyche at several centuries’ remove, but he has interpreted the known facts in the light of pervasive and recurrent themes in Jonson’s writings, particularly in the plays. For several reasons these facts are somewhat more plentiful in Jonson’s case than in that of his somewhat older contemporary, William Shakespeare. Because Jonson was frequently in trouble with the law, because he took business initiatives unusual for a writer in his time, and because he served at court for a...
(The entire section is 2272 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Boston Globe. February 14, 1989, p.27.
Chicago Tribune. January 1, 1989, XIV, p.5.
Choice. XXVI, May, 1989, p.1519.
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, November 1, 1988, p.1589.
Library Journal. CXIV, February Is, 1989, p.159.
The New Republic. CC, March 13, 1989, p.40.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIV, March 19, 1989, p.20.
The New Yorker. LXV April 24, 1989, p.111.
The Times Literary Supplement. December 22, 1989, p.1405.
The Village Voice. March 7, 1989, p.10.
The Washington Post Book World. XIX, March 12, 1989, p.6.
(The entire section is 64 words.)