Ben Jonson, English poet ; Poetry Foundation


Ben Jonson, English poet

Ben Jonson was an English poet, dramatist, and actor. He was born on June, 11th 1572. Ben is best known for his plays that were largely satirical. He had a vast amount of reading and almost always engaged in controversial issues. His poems were also very lyrical. Indeed, John was a contemporary of the renowned writer William Shakespeare. He claimed that he was of Scottish Border Country origin. His father died just a month before he was born. He attended school at St. Martins Lane and later on a friend of his paid for his schooling at Westminster.

He married Ann Lewis whom he described as shrew yet honest. John’s success as an actor was dwindling though he was considered a very successful writer. In 1597, he co-wrote a play, The Isle of Dogs, which was vehemently suppressed after meaning a great offense. Consequently, he was arrested, charged with mutinous behavior and imprisoned. He was again briefly imprisoned a year later for killing Gabriel Spenser. He was found guilty of manslaughter but was released shortly by a clergy’s benefit. Ben’s messages were explicitly clear and are very applicable even in contemporary society.

The style of writing

Ben’s writings were mainly in the form of poems and plays. He wrote several poems and plays for the Admiral’s Men. Some of his plays were tragic and interestingly none of these tragedies survived. Perhaps the only one that could be thought to have survived was, The Case is Altered. His works had significant elements of comical sense. Satire formed a very fundamental basis upon which these comedies were delivered. Ben’s works were also very lyrical in style and touch.

The plays that he wrote for boy players exhibited a substantial degree of looser plots. The characters in these plays were also considered less developed than those he wrote later for adult companies. Most of his plays are also said to have been ill-tempered. The plot took second place in his writing considerations. One of his plays, The Case is Altered exhibited a great degree of foreign setting and genial wit. The plot was largely driven by love themes.

His comic style of writing remained a very fundamental way of recognizing is worked with much ease indeed. He presented deeds and languages as they are used and practiced in the real world. Ben was very broad in his characterization. This was attributed to the temper of his age. Most of his famous scenes, therefore, bordered on the farcical. His works also displayed very keen attention to form and style. This made most of his poems very lively, engaging and natural.

He avoided the debates about rhyme and meter. These were dominant elements among the Elizabethan classicists like Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Campion. However, Ben accepted both stress and rhymes and used them to use them in a bid to ensure the mimicry of the classical qualities of precision, simplicity, and restraint.

Themes of Ben’s Writings

Ben wrote plays some of which never attracted the audiences in terms of the themes and messages. He was considered a great writer but a poor dramatist. Most of his plays were comedies. The plays were mainly displaying a keen eye for hypocrisy and absurdity. The messages in his plays were also notably very ill-tempered. One of his famous comedies, The Case is Altered, was typical of Shakespeare’s work and had the theme of romance as a very significant component. This, like most of his other plays, was also a comedy. Messages of love, driven in humorous scenes, therefore, featured significantly in the play. He had a hand in many other plays whose messages were delivered in the form of comedy.

Themes of trickery and money are also very significant in some of his plays. His plays, Eastward Ho and The Devil is an Ass, for instance, represented his city comedy and had the themes of money and trickery forming major components. They also delivered messages of distinctive moral ambiguity. His famous quote “mix profits with pleasure”, evidently express elements of money and romance. The Sad Shepherd exhibits accommodation of romantic tendencies. This was a play that he wrote later in his writing career. His comic style of writing remained very apparent and easily recognizable. Satire was a very fundamental element of his works.

Like his drama, Jonson’s poetry was driven by classical learning. However, unlike the drama that many people considered as being not very influential, he is thought to have had a keen eye and careful thought and mastery of poetry rather than drama. His works display very significant and careful attention to form and style. This brought about natural sense particularly to those who had training in the classics of the humanistic manner. He explores most attitudes which again were presented in a satirical manner indeed. Many of his poems also contained love messages just like Shakespeare’s writings.

Historical Events that influenced Ben’s Messages

Jonson’s works were driven by several historical and cultural events which substantially influenced his themes. In 1603, while welcoming the reign of King James, the first king of England, he joined other poets and playwrights. This new reign demanded masques and introduced entertainments. This influenced his style of writing the comic plays a great deal. He therefore quickly adapted himself to the new situation and was later on considered one of the great poets of the time. He became very popular in the public stage and the royal hall. Ben enjoyed the aristocrat’s patronage.  For instance, Lady Mary Wroth and Elizabeth Sidney’s patronages were well enjoyed by Jonson.

The connection that Ben had with the family of Sidney particularly provided an impetus for him to come up with effective lyrics which were very popular. Some of these lyrics were the Country House Poem and. Ben’s troubles with the English authorities then began. This was necessitated by the report that Thomas Overbury gave alleging that Jonson was living in Aurelian Townsend and even more stinging that he was scorning the country. This did not go down well with the authorities of England. As a result, his troubles with them became enormous. That same year, he had a hard task of explaining himself before the Privy Council concerning his politically driven play, The Sejanus.

These historical developments significantly drove Jonson’s works of poetry and the writing of plays. His religious and cultural beliefs were also fundamental in shaping the themes and messages that featured in his works. People are usually known to develop secret convictions from religions that are in a position to shape their cultural beliefs, attitudes in society and even the behaviors in the society. Jonson’s father was a protestant and suffered forfeiture of his land and imprisonment for his strong protestant beliefs. Notwithstanding the strong protestant foundation, Jonson believed strongly in Catholics Doctrines. Experience and convictions sustained his faith during trying times. The first draft of his play, The Sejanus was later banned for popery. This certainly was out of religious practices and greater cultural beliefs and deeper religious convictions. It is therefore very clear that Jonson’s works were informed by the historical events and cultural beliefs at the time.

The themes of Jonson’s works are still very relevant in the world today. His themes of corruption, for instance, are very fundamental in contemporary society where several countries wallow at the brink of starvation owing to corrupt leaders. His message of love and romance is still very applicable in the society where every individual wants to identify with a loved one and find a place for romance. The manner of delivery of his messages in a comical fashion is significant in that it makes the play and the poems lively and vivid.


Johnson was definitely one of the greatest poets of his time. He is best known for taking very controversial positions over issues. His works remain popular among the lovers of literature to date. The themes of love, trickery, money, romance, and corruption are very significant and have vast applicability in modern-day society.  Many, however, argue that he was a better writer rather than a dramatist. His writings were very concise, explicit and clear. However, most of his plays were soon to be forgotten with the passing of time. His contribution to the field of literature cannot be underestimated.

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