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Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson (c. 1617), by Abraham Blyenberch; oil on canvas painting at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Ben Jonson (c. 1617), by Abraham Blyenberch; oil on canvas painting at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Born Benjamin Jonson
c. 11 June 1572
Westminster, England
Died c. 16 August 1637 (aged 65)
London, England
Occupation Playwright, poet
Language Early Modern English
Alma mater Westminster School
Period before 1597–1637
Literary movement English Renaissance
Spouse Ann Lewis
Children 2

Signature

Benjamin Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – c. 16 August 1637) was an English playwright and poet. Jonson's artistry exerted a lasting influence upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours; he is best known for the satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Fox (c. 1606), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and for his lyric and epigrammatic poetry. "He is generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist, after William Shakespeare, during the reign of James I."

Early life

William Camden by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Westminster School master William Camden cultivated the artistic genius of Ben Jonson.
Attributed to Abraham van Blijenberch - William Drummond of Hawthornden, 1585 - 1649. Poet - Google Art Project
The Scottish poet William Drummond of Hawthornden was friend and confidant to Jonson.

In midlife, Jonson said his paternal grandfather, who "served King Henry 8 and was a gentleman", was a member of the extended Johnston family of Annandale in the Dumfries and Galloway, a genealogy that is attested by the three spindles (rhombi) in the Jonson family coat of arms: one spindle is a diamond-shaped heraldic device used by the Johnston family. His ancestors spelled the family name with a letter "t" (Johnstone or Johnstoun). While the spelling had eventually changed to the more common "Johnson", the playwright's own particular preference became "Jonson".

Jonson's father lost his property, was imprisoned, and, as a Protestant, suffered forfeiture under Queen Mary. Becoming a clergyman upon his release, he died a month before his son's birth. His widow married a master bricklayer two years later. Jonson attended school in St Martin's Lane in London. Later, a family friend paid for his studies at Westminster School, where the antiquarian, historian, topographer and officer of arms William Camden (1551–1623) was one of his masters. The pupil and master became friends, and the intellectual influence of Camden's broad-ranging scholarship upon Jonson's art and literary style remained notable, until Camden's death in 1623.

On leaving Westminster School in 1589, Jonson was to have attended the University of Cambridge, to continue his book learning but did not, because of his unwilled apprenticeship to his bricklayer stepfather. According to the churchman and historian Thomas Fuller (1608–61), Jonson at this time built a garden wall in Lincoln's Inn. After having been an apprentice bricklayer, Jonson went to the Netherlands and volunteered to soldier with the English regiments of Sir Francis Vere (1560–1609) in Flanders. England was allied with the Dutch in their fight for independence as well as the ongoing war with Spain.

The Hawthornden Manuscripts (1619), of the conversations between Ben Jonson and the poet William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649), report that, when in Flanders, Jonson engaged, fought and killed an enemy soldier in single combat, and took for trophies the weapons of the vanquished soldier.

After his military activity on the Continent, Jonson returned to England and worked as an actor and as a playwright. As an actor, he was the protagonist “Hieronimo” (Geronimo) in the play The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1586), by Thomas Kyd (1558–94), the first revenge tragedy in English literature. By 1597, he was a working playwright employed by Philip Henslowe, the leading producer for the English public theatre; by the next year, the production of Every Man in His Humour (1598) had established Jonson's reputation as a dramatist.

Jonson described his wife to William Drummond as "a shrew, yet honest". The identity of Jonson's wife is obscure, though she sometimes is identified as "Ann Lewis", the woman who married a Benjamin Jonson in 1594, at the church of St Magnus-the-Martyr, near London Bridge.

The registers of St Martin-in-the-Fields record that Mary Jonson, their eldest daughter, died in November 1593, at six months of age. A decade later, in 1603, Benjamin Jonson, their eldest son, died of bubonic plague when he was seven years old, upon which Jonson wrote the elegiac "On My First Sonne" (1603). A second son, also named Benjamin Jonson, died in 1635.

During that period, Jonson and his wife lived separate lives for five years; Jonson enjoyed the residential hospitality of his patrons, Esme Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox and 7th Seigneur d'Aubigny and Sir Robert Townshend.

Career

By summer 1597, Jonson had a fixed engagement in the Admiral's Men, then performing under Philip Henslowe's management at The Rose. John Aubrey reports, on uncertain authority, that Jonson was not successful as an actor; whatever his skills as an actor, he was evidently more valuable to the company as a writer.

By this time Jonson had begun to write original plays for the Admiral's Men; in 1598 he was mentioned by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia as one of "the best for tragedy." None of his early tragedies survive, however. An undated comedy, The Case is Altered, may be his earliest surviving play.

In 1597, a play which he co-wrote with Thomas Nashe, The Isle of Dogs, was suppressed after causing great offence. Arrest warrants for Jonson and Nashe were issued by Queen Elizabeth I's so-called interrogator, Richard Topcliffe. Jonson was jailed in Marshalsea Prison and charged with "Leude and mutynous behaviour", while Nashe managed to escape to Great Yarmouth. Two of the actors, Gabriel Spenser and Robert Shaw, were also imprisoned. A year later, Jonson was again briefly imprisoned, this time in Newgate Prison, for killing Gabriel Spenser in a duel on 22 September 1598 in Hogsden Fields (today part of Hoxton). Tried on a charge of manslaughter, Jonson pleaded guilty but was released by benefit of clergy, a legal ploy through which he gained leniency by reciting a brief Bible verse (the neck-verse), forfeiting his 'goods and chattels' and being branded with the so called Tyburn T on his left thumb.

While in jail Jonson converted to Catholicism, possibly through the influence of fellow-prisoner Father Thomas Wright, a Jesuit priest.

In 1598 Jonson produced his first great success, Every Man in His Humour, capitalising on the vogue for humorous plays which George Chapman had begun with An Humorous Day's Mirth. William Shakespeare was among the first actors to be cast. Jonson followed this in 1599 with Every Man out of His Humour, a pedantic attempt to imitate Aristophanes. It is not known whether this was a success on stage, but when published it proved popular and went through several editions.

Jonson's other work for the theatre in the last years of Elizabeth I's reign was marked by controversy. Cynthia's Revels was produced by the Children of the Chapel Royal at Blackfriars Theatre in 1600. It satirised both John Marston and Thomas Dekker. Jonson attacked the two poets again in Poetaster (1601).

This "War of the Theatres" appears to have ended with reconciliation on all sides. Jonson collaborated with Dekker on a pageant welcoming James I to England in 1603 although Drummond reports that Jonson called Dekker a rogue. Marston dedicated The Malcontent to Jonson and the two collaborated with Chapman on Eastward Ho, a 1605 play whose anti-Scottish sentiment briefly landed both Jonson and Chapman in jail.

Royal patronage

At the beginning of the English reign of James VI and I in 1603 Jonson joined other poets and playwrights in welcoming the new king. Jonson quickly adapted himself to the additional demand for masques and entertainments introduced with the new reign and fostered by both the king and his consort Anne of Denmark. In addition to his popularity on the public stage and in the royal hall, he enjoyed the patronage of aristocrats such as Elizabeth Sidney (daughter of Sir Philip Sidney) and Lady Mary Wroth. This connection with the Sidney family provided the impetus for one of Jonson's most famous lyrics, the country house poem To Penshurst.

In February 1603 John Manningham reported that Jonson was living on Robert Townsend, son of Sir Roger Townshend, and "scorns the world." Perhaps this explains why his trouble with English authorities continued. That same year he was questioned by the Privy Council about Sejanus, a politically themed play about corruption in the Roman Empire. He was again in trouble for topical allusions in a play, now lost, in which he took part. Shortly after his release from a brief spell of imprisonment imposed to mark the authorities' displeasure at the work, in the second week of October 1605, he was present at a supper party attended by most of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. After the plot's discovery he appears to have avoided further imprisonment; he volunteered what he knew of the affair to the investigator Robert Cecil and the Privy Council. Father Thomas Wright, who heard Fawkes's confession, was known to Jonson from prison in 1598 and Cecil may have directed him to bring the priest before the council, as a witness.

Jonson 1616 folio Workes title page
Title page of The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (1616), the first folio publication that included stage plays

At the same time, Jonson pursued a more prestigious career, writing masques for James's court. The Satyr (1603) and The Masque of Blackness (1605) are two of about two dozen masques which Jonson wrote for James or for Queen Anne, some of them performed at Apethorpe Palace when the King was in residence. The Masque of Blackness was praised by Algernon Charles Swinburne as the consummate example of this now-extinct genre, which mingled speech, dancing and spectacle.

On many of these projects he collaborated, not always peacefully, with designer Inigo Jones. For example, Jones designed the scenery for Jonson's masque Oberon, the Faery Prince performed at Whitehall on 1 January 1611 in which Prince Henry, eldest son of James I, appeared in the title role. Perhaps partly as a result of this new career, Jonson gave up writing plays for the public theatres for a decade. He later told Drummond that he had made less than two hundred pounds on all his plays together.

In 1616 Jonson received a yearly pension of 100 marks (about £60), leading some to identify him as England's first Poet Laureate. This sign of royal favour may have encouraged him to publish the first volume of the folio collected edition of his works that year. Other volumes followed in 1640–41 and 1692. (See: Ben Jonson folios)

On 8 July 1618 Jonson set out from Bishopsgate in London to walk to Edinburgh, arriving in Scotland's capital on 17 September. For the most part he followed the great north road, and was treated to lavish and enthusiastic welcomes in both towns and country houses. On his arrival he lodged initially with John Stuart, a cousin of King James, in Leith, and was made an honorary burgess of Edinburgh at a dinner laid on by the city on 26 September. He stayed in Scotland until late January 1619, and the best-remembered hospitality he enjoyed was that of the Scottish poet, William Drummond of Hawthornden, sited on the River Esk. Drummond undertook to record as much of Jonson's conversation as he could in his diary, and thus recorded aspects of Jonson's personality that would otherwise have been less clearly seen. Jonson delivers his opinions, in Drummond's terse reporting, in an expansive and even magisterial mood. Drummond noted he was "a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner of others".

On returning to England, he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Oxford University.

The period between 1605 and 1620 may be viewed as Jonson's heyday. By 1616 he had produced all the plays on which his present reputation as a dramatist is based, including the tragedy Catiline (acted and printed 1611), which achieved limited success and the comedies Volpone (acted 1605 and printed in 1607), Epicoene, or the Silent Woman (1609), The Alchemist (1610), Bartholomew Fair (1614) and The Devil Is an Ass (1616). The Alchemist and Volpone were immediately successful. Of Epicoene, Jonson told Drummond of a satirical verse which reported that the play's subtitle was appropriate, since its audience had refused to applaud the play (i.e., remained silent). Yet Epicoene, along with Bartholomew Fair and (to a lesser extent) The Devil is an Ass have in modern times achieved a certain degree of recognition. While his life during this period was apparently more settled than it had been in the 1590s, his financial security was still not assured.

Religion

Jonson recounted that his father had been a prosperous Protestant landowner until the reign of "Bloody Mary" and had suffered imprisonment and the forfeiture of his wealth during that monarch's attempt to restore England to Catholicism. On Elizabeth's accession he had been freed and had been able to travel to London to become a clergyman. (All that is known of Jonson's father, who died a month before his son was born, comes from the poet's own narrative.) Jonson's elementary education was in a small church school attached to St Martin-in-the-Fields parish, and at the age of about seven he secured a place at Westminster School, then part of Westminster Abbey.

Notwithstanding this emphatically Protestant grounding, Jonson maintained an interest in Catholic doctrine throughout his adult life and, at a particularly perilous time while a religious war with Spain was widely expected and persecution of Catholics was intensifying, he converted to the faith.

In May 1610 Henry IV of France was assassinated, purportedly in the name of the Pope; he had been a Catholic monarch respected in England for tolerance towards Protestants, and his murder seems to have been the immediate cause of Jonson's decision to rejoin the Church of England.

Decline and death

Jonson's productivity began to decline in the 1620s, but he remained well known. In that time, the Sons of Ben or the "Tribe of Ben", those younger poets such as Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and Sir John Suckling who took their bearing in verse from Jonson, rose to prominence. However, a series of setbacks drained his strength and damaged his reputation. He resumed writing regular plays in the 1620s, but these are not considered among his best. They are of significant interest, however, for their portrayal of Charles I's England. The Staple of News, for example, offers a remarkable look at the earliest stage of English journalism. The lukewarm reception given that play was, however, nothing compared to the dismal failure of The New Inn; the cold reception given this play prompted Jonson to write a poem condemning his audience (An Ode to Himself), which in turn prompted Thomas Carew, one of the "Tribe of Ben", to respond in a poem that asks Jonson to recognise his own decline.

The principal factor in Jonson's partial eclipse was, however, the death of James and the accession of King Charles I in 1625. Jonson felt neglected by the new court. A decisive quarrel with Jones harmed his career as a writer of court masques, although he continued to entertain the court on an irregular basis. For his part, Charles displayed a certain degree of care for the great poet of his father's day: he increased Jonson's annual pension to £100 and included a tierce of wine and beer.

Despite the strokes that he suffered in the 1620s, Jonson continued to write. At his death in 1637 he seems to have been working on another play, The Sad Shepherd. Though only two acts are extant, this represents a remarkable new direction for Jonson: a move into pastoral drama. During the early 1630s he also conducted a correspondence with James Howell, who warned him about disfavour at court in the wake of his dispute with Jones.

Jonson died on or around 16 August 1637, and his funeral was held the next day. It was attended by 'all or the greatest part of the nobility then in town'. He is buried in the north aisle of the nave in Westminster Abbey, with the inscription "O Rare Ben Johnson [sic]" set in the slab over his grave. John Aubrey, in a more meticulous record than usual, notes that a passer-by, John Young of Great Milton, Oxfordshire, saw the bare grave marker and on impulse paid a workman eighteen pence to make the inscription. Another theory suggests that the tribute came from William Davenant, Jonson's successor as Poet Laureate (and card-playing companion of Young), as the same phrase appears on Davenant's nearby gravestone, but essayist Leigh Hunt contends that Davenant's wording represented no more than Young's coinage, cheaply re-used. The fact that Jonson was buried in an upright position was an indication of his reduced circumstances at the time of his death, although it has also been written that he asked for a grave exactly 18 inches square from the monarch and received an upright grave to fit in the requested space.

It has been pointed out that the inscription could be read "Orare Ben Jonson" (pray for Ben Jonson), possibly in an allusion to Jonson's acceptance of Catholic doctrine during his lifetime (although he had returned to the Church of England); the carving shows a distinct space between "O" and "rare".

A monument to Jonson was erected in about 1723 by the Earl of Oxford and is in the eastern aisle of Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner. It includes a portrait medallion and the same inscription as on the gravestone. It seems Jonson was to have had a monument erected by subscription soon after his death but the English Civil War intervened.

His work

Drama

Apart from two tragedies, Sejanus and Catiline, that largely failed to impress Renaissance audiences, Jonson's work for the public theatres was in comedy. These plays vary in some respects. The minor early plays, particularly those written for boy players, present somewhat looser plots and less-developed characters than those written later, for adult companies. Already in the plays which were his salvos in the Poets' War, he displays the keen eye for absurdity and hypocrisy that marks his best-known plays; in these early efforts, however, plot mostly takes second place to variety of incident and comic set-pieces. They are, also, notably ill-tempered. Thomas Davies called Poetaster "a contemptible mixture of the serio-comic, where the names of Augustus Caesar, Maecenas, Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Tibullus, are all sacrificed upon the altar of private resentment". Another early comedy in a different vein, The Case is Altered, is markedly similar to Shakespeare's romantic comedies in its foreign setting, emphasis on genial wit and love-plot. Henslowe's diary indicates that Jonson had a hand in numerous other plays, including many in genres such as English history with which he is not otherwise associated.

The comedies of his middle career, from Eastward Hoe to The Devil Is an Ass are for the most part city comedy, with a London setting, themes of trickery and money, and a distinct moral ambiguity, despite Jonson's professed aim in the Prologue to Volpone to "mix profit with your pleasure". His late plays or "dotages", particularly The Magnetic Lady and The Sad Shepherd [Wikidata], exhibit signs of an accommodation with the romantic tendencies of Elizabethan comedy.

Within this general progression, however, Jonson's comic style remained constant and easily recognisable. He announces his programme in the prologue to the folio version of Every Man in His Humour: he promises to represent "deeds, and language, such as men do use". He planned to write comedies that revived the classical premises of Elizabethan dramatic theory—or rather, since all but the loosest English comedies could claim some descent from Plautus and Terence, he intended to apply those premises with rigour. This commitment entailed negations: after The Case is Altered, Jonson eschewed distant locations, noble characters, romantic plots and other staples of Elizabethan comedy, focusing instead on the satiric and realistic inheritance of new comedy. He set his plays in contemporary settings, peopled them with recognisable types, and set them to actions that, if not strictly realistic, involved everyday motives such as greed and jealousy. In accordance with the temper of his age, he was often so broad in his characterisation that many of his most famous scenes border on the farcical (as William Congreve, for example, judged Epicoene). He was more diligent in adhering to the classical unities than many of his peers—although as Margaret Cavendish noted, the unity of action in the major comedies was rather compromised by Jonson's abundance of incident. To this classical model Jonson applied the two features of his style which save his classical imitations from mere pedantry: the vividness with which he depicted the lives of his characters, and the intricacy of his plots. Coleridge, for instance, claimed that The Alchemist had one of the three most perfect plots in literature.

Poetry

Houghton MS Lowell Autograph File 185, Jonson
"Epitaph for Cecilia Bulstrode" manuscript, 1609

Jonson's poetry, like his drama, is informed by his classical learning. Some of his better-known poems are close translations of Greek or Roman models; all display the careful attention to form and style that often came naturally to those trained in classics in the humanist manner. Jonson largely avoided the debates about rhyme and meter that had consumed Elizabethan classicists such as Thomas Campion and Gabriel Harvey. Accepting both rhyme and stress, Jonson used them to mimic the classical qualities of simplicity, restraint and precision.

"Epigrams" (published in the 1616 folio) is an entry in a genre that was popular among late-Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences, although Jonson was perhaps the only poet of his time to work in its full classical range. The epigrams explore various attitudes, most from the satiric stock of the day: complaints against women, courtiers and spies abound. The condemnatory poems are short and anonymous; Jonson’s epigrams of praise, including a famous poem to Camden and lines to Lucy Harington, are longer and are mostly addressed to specific individuals. Although it is included among the epigrams, "On My First Sonne" is neither satirical nor very short; the poem, intensely personal and deeply felt, typifies a genre that would come to be called "lyric poetry." It is possible that the spelling of 'son' as 'Sonne' is meant to allude to the sonnet form, with which it shares some features. A few other so-called epigrams share this quality. Jonson's poems of "The Forest" also appeared in the first folio. Most of the fifteen poems are addressed to Jonson's aristocratic supporters, but the most famous are his country-house poem “To Penshurst” and the poem “To Celia” ("Come, my Celia, let us prove") that appears also in Volpone.

Underwood, published in the expanded folio of 1640, is a larger and more heterogeneous group of poems. It contains A Celebration of Charis, Jonson's most extended effort at love poetry; various religious pieces; encomiastic poems including the poem to Shakespeare and a sonnet on Mary Wroth; the Execration against Vulcan and others. The 1640 volume also contains three elegies which have often been ascribed to Donne (one of them appeared in Donne's posthumous collected poems).

Relationship with Shakespeare

Shakespeare and Jonson at the Mermaid Tavern
A 19th-century engraving illustrating Thomas Fuller's story of Shakespeare and Jonson debating at the "Mermaid Tavern".

There are many legends about Jonson's rivalry with Shakespeare. William Drummond reports that during their conversation, Jonson scoffed at two apparent absurdities in Shakespeare's plays: a nonsensical line in Julius Caesar and the setting of The Winter's Tale on the non-existent seacoast of Bohemia. Drummond also reported Jonson as saying that Shakespeare "wanted art" (i.e., lacked skill).

In "De Shakespeare Nostrat" in Timber, which was published posthumously and reflects his lifetime of practical experience, Jonson offers a fuller and more conciliatory comment. He recalls being told by certain actors that Shakespeare never blotted (i.e., crossed out) a line when he wrote. His own claimed response was "Would he had blotted a thousand!" However, Jonson explains, "He was, indeed, honest and of an open and free nature, had an excellent phantasy, brave notions and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped". Jonson concludes that "there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned." When Shakespeare died, he said, "He was not of an age, but for all time."

Thomas Fuller relates stories of Jonson and Shakespeare engaging in debates in the Mermaid Tavern; Fuller imagines conversations in which Shakespeare would run rings around the more learned but more ponderous Jonson. That the two men knew each other personally is beyond doubt, not only because of the tone of Jonson's references to him but because Shakespeare's company produced a number of Jonson's plays, at least two of which (Every Man in His Humour and Sejanus His Fall) Shakespeare certainly acted in. However, it is now impossible to tell how much personal communication they had, and tales of their friendship cannot be substantiated.

Jonson's most influential and revealing commentary on Shakespeare is the second of the two poems that he contributed to the prefatory verse that opens Shakespeare's First Folio. This poem, "To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us", did a good deal to create the traditional view of Shakespeare as a poet who, despite "small Latine, and lesse Greeke", had a natural genius. The poem has traditionally been thought to exemplify the contrast which Jonson perceived between himself, the disciplined and erudite classicist, scornful of ignorance and sceptical of the masses, and Shakespeare, represented in the poem as a kind of natural wonder whose genius was not subject to any rules except those of the audiences for which he wrote. But the poem itself qualifies this view:

Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.

Some view this elegy as a conventional exercise, but others see it as a heartfelt tribute to the "Sweet Swan of Avon", the "Soul of the Age!" It has been argued that Jonson helped to edit the First Folio, and he may have been inspired to write this poem by reading his fellow playwright's works, a number of which had been previously either unpublished or available in less satisfactory versions, in a relatively complete form.

Jonson's works

Plays

  • A Tale of a Tub, comedy (c. 1596 revised performed 1633; printed 1640)
  • The Isle of Dogs, comedy (1597, with Thomas Nashe; lost)
  • The Case is Altered, comedy (c. 1597–98; printed 1609), possibly with Henry Porter and Anthony Munday
  • Every Man in His Humour, comedy (performed 1598; printed 1601)
  • Every Man out of His Humour, comedy (performed 1599; printed 1600)
  • Cynthia's Revels (performed 1600; printed 1601)
  • The Poetaster, comedy (performed 1601; printed 1602)
  • Sejanus His Fall, tragedy (performed 1603; printed 1605)
  • Eastward Ho, comedy (performed and printed 1605), a collaboration with John Marston and George Chapman
  • Volpone, comedy (c. 1605–06; printed 1607)
  • Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, comedy (performed 1609; printed 1616)
  • The Alchemist, comedy (performed 1610; printed 1612)
  • Catiline His Conspiracy, tragedy (performed and printed 1611)
  • Bartholomew Fair, comedy (performed 31 October 1614; printed 1631)
  • The Devil is an Ass, comedy (performed 1616; printed 1631)
  • The Staple of News, comedy (completed by Feb. 1626; printed 1631)
  • The New Inn, or The Light Heart, comedy (licensed 19 January 1629; printed 1631)
  • The Magnetic Lady, or Humours Reconciled, comedy (licensed 12 October 1632; printed 1641)
  • The Sad Shepherd, pastoral (c. 1637, printed 1641), unfinished
  • Mortimer His Fall, history (printed 1641), a fragment

Masques

  • The Coronation Triumph, or The King's Entertainment (performed 15 March 1604; printed 1604); with Thomas Dekker
  • A Private Entertainment of the King and Queen on May-Day (The Penates) (1 May 1604; printed 1616)
  • The Entertainment of the Queen and Prince Henry at Althorp (The Satyr) (25 June 1603; printed 1604)
  • The Masque of Blackness (6 January 1605; printed 1608)
  • Hymenaei (5 January 1606; printed 1606)
  • The Entertainment of the Kings of Great Britain and Denmark (The Hours) (24 July 1606; printed 1616)
  • The Masque of Beauty (10 January 1608; printed 1608)
  • The Masque of Queens (2 February 1609; printed 1609)
  • The Hue and Cry After Cupid, or The Masque at Lord Haddington's Marriage (9 February 1608; printed c. 1608)
  • The Entertainment at Britain's Burse (11 April 1609; lost, rediscovered 1997)
  • The Speeches at Prince Henry's Barriers, or The Lady of the Lake (6 January 1610; printed 1616)
  • Oberon, the Faery Prince (1 January 1611; printed 1616)
  • Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly (3 February 1611; printed 1616)
  • Love Restored (6 January 1612; printed 1616)
  • A Challenge at Tilt, at a Marriage (27 December 1613/1 January 1614; printed 1616)
  • The Irish Masque at Court (29 December 1613; printed 1616)
  • Mercury Vindicated from the Alchemists (6 January 1615; printed 1616)
  • The Golden Age Restored (1 January 1616; printed 1616)
  • Christmas, His Masque (Christmas 1616; printed 1641)
  • The Vision of Delight (6 January 1617; printed 1641)
  • Lovers Made Men, or The Masque of Lethe, or The Masque at Lord Hay's (22 February 1617; printed 1617)
  • Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (6 January 1618; printed 1641) The masque was a failure; Jonson revised it by placing the anti-masque first, turning it into:
  • For the Honour of Wales (17 February 1618; printed 1641)
  • News from the New World Discovered in the Moon (7 January 1620: printed 1641)
  • The Entertainment at Blackfriars, or The Newcastle Entertainment (May 1620?; MS)
  • Pan's Anniversary, or The Shepherd's Holy-Day (19 June 1620?; printed 1641)
  • The Gypsies Metamorphosed (3 and 5 August 1621; printed 1640)
  • The Masque of Augurs (6 January 1622; printed 1622)
  • Time Vindicated to Himself and to His Honours (19 January 1623; printed 1623)
  • Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion (26 January 1624; printed 1624)
  • The Masque of Owls at Kenilworth (19 August 1624; printed 1641)
  • The Fortunate Isles and Their Union (9 January 1625; printed 1625)
  • Love's Triumph Through Callipolis (9 January 1631; printed 1631)
  • Chloridia: Rites to Chloris and Her Nymphs (22 February 1631; printed 1631)
  • The King's Entertainment at Welbeck in Nottinghamshire (21 May 1633; printed 1641)
  • Love's Welcome at Bolsover (30 July 1634; printed 1641)

Other works

  • Epigrams (1612)
  • The Forest (1616), including To Penshurst
  • On My First Sonne (1616), elegy
  • A Discourse of Love (1618)
  • Barclay's Argenis, translated by Jonson (1623)
  • The Execration against Vulcan (1640)
  • Horace's Art of Poetry, translated by Jonson (1640), with a commendatory verse by Edward Herbert
  • Underwood (1640)
  • English Grammar (1640)
  • Timber, or Discoveries made upon men and matter, as they have flowed out of his daily readings, or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of the times, (London, 1641) a commonplace book
  • To Celia (Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes), poem

It is in Jonson's Timber, or Discoveries...

As with other English Renaissance dramatists, a portion of Ben Jonson's literary output has not survived. In addition to The Isle of Dogs (1597), the records suggest these lost plays as wholly or partially Jonson's work: Richard Crookback (1602); Hot Anger Soon Cold (1598), with Porter and Henry Chettle; Page of Plymouth (1599), with Dekker; and Robert II, King of Scots (1599), with Chettle and Dekker. Several of Jonson's masques and entertainments also are not extant: The Entertainment at Merchant Taylors (1607); The Entertainment at Salisbury House for James I (1608); and The May Lord (1613–19).

Finally, there are questionable or borderline attributions. Jonson may have had a hand in Rollo, Duke of Normandy, or The Bloody Brother, a play in the canon of John Fletcher and his collaborators. The comedy The Widow was printed in 1652 as the work of Thomas Middleton, Fletcher and Jonson, though scholars have been intensely sceptical about Jonson's presence in the play. A few attributions of anonymous plays, such as The London Prodigal, have been ventured by individual researchers, but have met with cool responses.

See also

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