Ben Jonson By: George Mousmoules

The Life of Ben Jonson

"Language most shows a man, speak that I may see thee." - Ben Jonson
  • Ben Jonson was born in London, England on June 11, 1572
  • He spent the majority of his life in Westminster, England and London writing and performing in plays
  • Jonson was educated at St. Martin's Parish school and later at Westminster school, where he recieved his teachings from classical scholar William Camden. Later in his life he recieved and honorary Master of the Arts degree from Oxford University
  • He lived in poverty throughout his childhood with his mother and his stepfather. His birthfather died before he was born
  • He married his wife Anne Lewis on November 14, 1594 and he described her as "a shrew but honest" to a friend
  • He had at least two children but probably more, all of which died before adulthood
  • After he became well known and was paid substantial amounts by King James I, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and enjoyed the finer things in life
  • He had a group of friends that called themselves the "Tribe of Ben" and they met at the Mermaid Tavern and later the Devil's Head
  • In 1598, the same year his first popular play Every Man in His Humor premered, he dueled and killed fellow actor Gabriel Spencer
  • He was put on trial with the penalty of death but after pleading "benefit of clergy", which was proving that he could read and write, he was given a more modest sentence and only served time for a few weeks
  • During his time in prison he converted into a Roman Catholic
  • His life was one of talk and writing and he would frequently participate in "wit-combats" with William Shakespeare and win
  • Jonson was a playwrite and a poet and is known for his plays, The Alchemist, Every Man in His Humor, and Volpone; or The Fox
  • During his prime, Jonson had many patrons including King James I of England, judge Sir Robert Townshed, and aristocrat Elizebeth Sidney
  • Jonson was a classicist as many of his plays were based on traditional Latin principals, however he put his own signature on it and created a whole new style of playwriting

Every Man in His Humor

The title page of a 1616 print of Every Man in His Humor
Charles Dickens as the boastful Captain Bobadill in a mid 19th century showing of Every Man in His Humor
  • Every Man in His Humor was first shown in 1598 at the Curtain Theatre by the Lord Chamberlain's Men
  • Shakespeare himself acted in the original showing of the play
  • The term "humor" at the time described any specific trait or quirk a person had, fitting with Jonson's characters which usually had a specific idea they pusued
  • The focus of on trait on a character allowed them to have a unique granduer, which is what Jonson was known for doing
  • He also included the four main ”humors” of the time, choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood which determined the makeup of a person.
  • Jonson's imagery demonstrated how he used traditional Roman ethics of solid virtue and variable vice
  • The plot focuses on the adventures of Edward Knowell who goes to London to visit his friend Wellbred and to marry a lower class girl named Bridget
  • Edward’s father disapproves of the marriage, as their family is a wealthy, high class family and travels to London to stop it
  • Edward realizes this and he asks his father’s servant, Brainworm, to disguise himself and throw his father off his trail
  • The characters encounter a boastful soldier named Braggart, a jealous husband named Kitely, the fool Stephen, and city fool Mathew which represent the personality traits associated with the theory of humors
  • The play ends in the courtroom belonging to Justice Clement where Edward and Bridget are married, and his father’s acceptance of the marriage
  • This play demonstrated Jonson's classical views as it was based on the classic setup of the old Latin plays
  • It also showed humanism due to the human emotions and follies it focuses on
  • This play is facinating to me as it has a simple, yet touching plot of a man trying to live a happy life despite what others tell him
  • The play was also Jonson's first major play and put him up right next to the likes of Shakespeare in playwriting and showed his great ability to put life into a character

Works Cited

"Ben Jonson Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

"Ben Jonson." Academy of American Poets, 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

"Ben Jonson." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Donovan, Kevin J. "Ben Jonson." Discovering Authors, Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context

"Every Man In His Humour." DFILES. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

"Every Man in His Humour." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Dec. 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

"Jonson, Ben 1572–1637 English Poet and Playwright." Renaissance: An Encyclopedia for Students, edited by Paul F. Grendler, vol. 2, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004, pp. 216-218.

Jonson, Ben. "Every Man in His Humor." Glutenburg. Project Glutenburg, 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.

Leech, Clifford. "Ben Jonson." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

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