AD's English Literature : Ben Jonson: English Dramatist and Poet of Classical Learning, Gift for Satire, and Brilliant Style made him one of the Great Figures of English Literature

Ben Jonson: English Dramatist and Poet of Classical Learning, Gift for Satire, and Brilliant Style made him one of the Great Figures of English Literature

When first he threw in his lot with the playwrights, Ben Jonson frankly followed the current demand for romantic drama, showing no small skill in adopting the full – blooded romantic manner. Even here, in the early years of apprenticeship, he displayed vigorous power of imagination; but romantic drama was not characteristically expressive of the man’s personality. After his dismissal by the theatrical manager, Henslowe, a rival manager – William Shakespeare – came forward and helped him to put on his comedy, Every Man in His Humour. It was performed in 1598 by the Lord Chamberlain's Company with William Shakespeare in the cast.   Here Jonson for the first time struck the anti – romantic note, and sought to establish a satirical comedy of manners framed in a definite plan. He saw clearly enough that despite the splendid, exuberant power of the Shakespearean drama, there was no underlying theory or convention, and that its tendency to guide and control. 

In the prologue to Every Man in His Humour (1599), Jonson puts forward his plan of reform, clouting to “sport with human follies, not with crimes”. The word “humour”, as used by Jonson, implied some oddity of disposition, especially with regard to the manners of the day. Jonson had invented a kind of topical comedy involving eccentric characters, each of whom represented a temperament, or humor, of humanity. Here is the same care for clearness and definition are observed; but the moral aim of the satirist is somewhat too obvious; and the machinery creaks at times rather painfully. 

Ben Jonson
Jonson’s comedies, such as Cynthia's Revels (1600) and The Poetaster (1601 satirized other writers, especially the English dramatists Thomas Dekker and John Marston. The writers patched their public feuding; in 1604 Jonson collaborated with Dekker on The King's Entertainment and with Marston and George Chapman on Eastward Ho in 1605. When Marston and Chapman were imprisoned for some of the views espoused in Eastward Ho, Jonson voluntarily joined them.

  Jonson continued to write for the commercial theater along with writing for the court. During this period he produced two historical tragedies, Sejanus (1603) and Catiline (1611), and the four brilliant comedies upon which his reputation as a playwright primarily rests: Volpone (1606), Epicene, or the Silent Woman (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). The best is Volpone which is a comical and sarcastic portrait of a wealthy but selfish old man who keeps his greedy would-be heirs hanging on his wishes, each thinking that he will inherit Volpone's wealth. Volpone is no common miser, he glories less in the hoarding of his treasure than in its acquisition; and he revels in the hypocrisies of those who are ever ready to fawn upon the rich man, fooling them to the top of the their bent. The play is extraordinarily claver, and brilliantly constructed. Its defects lie in certain hardness, and in lack of humanity.

Jonson sought to advance English drama as a form of literature, attempting to make it a conscious art through adherence to classical forms and rules.his is the plays more   “correct”—that is, they are more carefully patterned after the drama scheme of the ancient Greek and Roman writers. 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. However, only later did critics begin to prefer the deeper genius of writer and to realize that mechanical “correctness” is not the highest aim of a play or poem.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Encerta

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