A to Z Challenge – J is for Jonson

When I went looking for a playwright with a name that begins with the letter ‘j’, I was surprised to find so many. I was also surprised to see that James Joyce had written plays. I didn’t know that. I am familiar with his novels, only because I was forced to read them in college, but did not know he scripted plays. 

Another playwright that I did know about is Benjamin “Ben” Jonson, who was a contemporary of 
William Shakespeare. Jonson was born in 1572 and died in 1637. He is best known for his satirical plays, which got him in trouble during the reign of Elizabeth I. She had him imprisoned on one occasion for his lewd and mutinous behavior, and another time he was imprisoned for killing a man in a duel. At the time England had in it’s legal system a ploy called benefit of clergy, through which a prisoner could get leniency by reciting a verse from the Bible. Jonson used that ploy to be released after a short time in jail.

Ben Jonson portrait by Abraham Blyenberch, oil on canvas c. 1617, National Portrait Gallery, London

Some of Johnson’s early work included:  Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair.  In 1598 he produced his first great success, Every Man in His Humour.

Nobody is quite sure about the extent of the rivalry between Jonson and Shakespeare, but there is documentation of Jonson being openly critical of Shakespeare’s work. Despite the rivalry, Shakespeare’s company produced a number of Jonson’s plays, and it is believed that Shakespeare acted in at least one of them.

Jonson was also known for his poetry, and he published some of those in folios, which were popular methods of publications at the time. In 2012  Cambridge University Press published the first new edition for Jonson’s complete works for 60 years.

Title page of The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (1616), the first folio publication that included stage plays. (Note the antiquated spelling.)

While I did learn about Ben Jonson in classes when we were studying Shakespeare, I have not read any of his plays. In contemplating whether I should, I started to wonder if there are books and plays that we should read because it “is good for us”, or if it is okay to just read what we enjoy. I’m sure my daughter who is working her way toward a PhD in literature has a definite opinion about that. What about you?

On another note, I am featured on the terrific blog SlingWords, where the gracious Joan Reeves promotes authors and new books. She is featuring the second book in my Seasons Mystery Series, Stalking Season. Hop on over if you have a moment. Joan does such a terrific job with her blog, I’d love for her to have some attention.

2 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge – J is for Jonson”

  1. Interesting post. The only one of his plays I’ve heard of is Volpone, but I haven’t read it. I like to find reading material that is both enjoyable and good for me. I wonder if this one fits the bill…?

    Have fun with A to Z!

    Jenny at Choice City Native

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