Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ben Jonson’s Satiric Voice

Benjamin (Ben) Jonson (1572?––1637) was an English dramatist, poet and actor and one of the most influential writers during the Jacobean era (1603-1642). He is best known for his hard-edged, satiric comedies which exposed individual and societal vice. Jonson wrote at a time when London was a booming metropolis on the verge of becoming Europe’s largest city as it transitioned from a stagnant agricultural economy to a rapidly expanding early market economy, driven by the impact of trade. The benefits of rapid growth and increased wealth, however, were not shared by all and contributed to rising tensions and economic disparity between social classes. Jonson’s disillusioned view of mankind was forged during the reign of James I and his court of self-seeking opportunists. Jonson’s satires often addressed government corruption, human vice and other themes, which resonated strongly within his contemporary audience.

Well-versed in Latin and Greek theatre and inspired by the rediscovery of classical texts during the English Renaissance, Jonson wrote within a classical framework. This characteristic style served to distinguish him from other contemporary playwrights, most notably William Shakespeare, who he thought pandered to the masses. Jonson died in 1637 and was buried beneath Westminster Abbey under the inscription “O Rare Ben Johnson.”

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