AD's English Literature : A TO Z Literary Principles from History of English Literature: Note 23 (Ben Jonson)

A TO Z Literary Principles from History of English Literature: Note 23 (Ben Jonson)

 



'Drink to me only with thine eyes.” 'To Celia' The Forest (1616)
Ben Jonson (1572 - 1637)
English playwright and poet.

A. Beginning: Every Man in His Humour was performed in 1598 by the Lord Chamberlain's Company with William Shakespeare in the cast. 

B. The Duel: Jonson killed a man in a duel and narrowly escaped execution.

C. Humour: Invented a kind of topical comedy involving eccentric characters, each of whom represented a temperament, or humor, of humanity. According to him there are four humours which he explains in the introduction to his play, Every Man in His Humour : The humour of blood makes a man excessively optimistic or sanguine even without the slightest chance of hope or success; Phlegm makes one excessively calm and docile; Choler makes one highly ill-tempered; Black bile makes one excessively melancholy and morbid.

D. Entertainment: After 1603 Jonson began to write masques for the entertainment of the court of King James I, apparently fulfilling the role of poet laureate from 1616. 

E. Quote: The Forest includes his most famous song, 'To Celia,' which begins with the line, 'Drink to me only with thine eyes.” 

F. literary feuds: In spite of his literary feuds, Jonson was the dean and the leading wit of the group of writers who gathered at the Mermaid Tavern in the Cheapside district of London.

G. His classical models: Homer and Virgil for epics; Virgil also for pastorals; Seneca for tragedy; Plautus and Terence for comedy; Juvenal for Satire; Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus were model dramatists before Shakespeare. 

H. Critical Theories: Although Jonson's creative talents were many and varied, his considerable effect on English literature of the Jacobean and Carolinian periods was probably the result of his critical theories. 

I. Classic: Jonson held the ancient classical theories and principles of literature as laid down by Plato, Aristotle and Horace in high esteem.  He equally loved, admired and adored the ancient Greek and Latin poets.  They were the models fit to be followed and imitated by the moderns.  

J. Drama: He sought to advance English drama as a form of literature, attempting to make it a conscious art through adherence to classical forms and rules. 

K. Respect: Jonson held high respect for the great English authors like Shakespeare, Spenser, Bacon, Marlowe, Sidney, Donne and others. 

L. Protest: He protested particularly against the mixing of tragedy and comedy and was an effective advocate of the principles of drama established by Aristotle, which he praised at the expense of the flexibility and improvisational qualities of dramatists such as Shakespeare. 

M. Present Days: Jonson's importance today rests upon his comedies of manners and their witty, hilarious portrayal of contemporary London life.

N. Every Man in His Humour, in 1598 ,Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), Cynthia's Revels (1600) 

O. Attack: The Poetaster (1601), in which he satirized other writers, especially the English dramatists Thomas Dekker and John Marston. Dekker and Marston retaliated by attacking Jonson in their Satiromastix (1600). 

P. Collaboration: In 1604 Jonson collaborated with Dekker on The King's Entertainment with Marston and George Chapman on Eastward Ho in 1605.

Q. Friendly: When Marston and Chapman were imprisoned: Eastward Ho, Jonson voluntarily joined them and protested against the injustice.

R. The Masques: The Satyr (1603), Masque of Beauty (1608), Masque of Queens (1609).

S. Two Historical Tragedies: Sejanus (1603) ,Catiline (1611). 

T. The Four Brilliant Comedies: Volpone (1606), Epicene, or the Silent Woman (1609),  The Alchemist (1610),  Bartholomew Fair (1614).

U. Nontheatrical pieces,including epigrams, epistles, and lyrics: The Forest (1616), Underwoods (posthumously published, 1640).

V. No to Sonnet: The “neoclassicist” Ben Jonson scornfully rejects the sonnet form entirely in his career.

W. The Best: In Volpone, or, The Fox (1605) -Money leads to corrupt individuals. Volpone, the unmarried businessman with the help of his assistant, Mosca, cheats other wealthy people out of their money.

X. “Soul of the Age!
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room.” --"To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author, Mr William Shakespeare"

Y. “Calumnies are answered best with silence.” Volpone

Z. “That old bald cheater, Time.” The Poetaster


Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
       3. Microsoft Student Encerta
       4. Wikipedia

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