Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part Two > Ben Jonson > Early life
  Ben Jonson’s character and friendships Production of Every Man in His Humour  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

I. Ben Jonson.

§ 2. Early life.


The events of his life, 3  apart from his writings, can here be traced only in meagre outline. He was born in Westminster in 1572 or 1573, and “poorly brought-up,” working, probably, at the trade of his step-father, a bricklayer. In spite of poverty, however, he was sent to Westminister school, where Camden, his life-long friend, was master. He did not enter either university, 4  although, later, he received honorary degrees from both; and the details of his life for a decade after he left school are unknown. He married, possibly in 1592, a wife “curst but honest”; had several children, none of whom survived him; enlisted and served a time in Flanders; and, in 1597, is found employed as both actor and playwright by Henslowe. He must have already won considerable reputation as a dramatist, for, in 1598, Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, mentions him as one of the six most excellent in tragedy. On 22 September, 1598, he killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel. His goods were confiscated and he was branded with a T; but he escaped capital punishment by pleading benefit of clergy. While in prison, he became a Roman Catholic; but, twelve years later, he returned to the church of England.   4

Note 3. The chief recent authorities for the life of Jonson are Fleay, F. G., English Drama, 1559–1642, 2 vols. 1891; Ward, A. W., vol. II, pp. 298 ff.; Herford, C. H., art. in Dict. of Nat. Biogr.; Castelain, M., Ben Jonson, l’Homme et l’(Euvre, 1907. See, also, Small, R. A., The Stage Quarrel between Ben Jonson and the so-called Poetasters, 1899. A life by Gregory Smith is promised in the English Men of Letters Series. [ back ]
Note 4. Certain indications—they cannot be called evidence—in favour of the supposition that Jonson, about 1590, was resident for a short time at St. John’s college, Cambridge, are discussed by J. Bass Mullinger in The Eagle, vol. XXV (1904). [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Ben Jonson’s character and friendships Production of Every Man in His Humour  
 
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