Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Volpone Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Apr. 2018. Web. 10 Dec. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Volpone/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2018, April 2). Volpone Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 10, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Volpone/

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Volpone Study Guide." April 2, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Volpone/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Volpone Study Guide," April 2, 2018, accessed December 10, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Volpone/.

Ben Jonson | Biography

Share
Share

Early Life

The turbulent life of British poet and playwright Ben Jonson began on June 11, 1572, two months after his father's death. No surviving records remain of the names of Jonson's parents, and little is known of his early childhood, except that he grew up poor. Despite this situation, an unknown benefactor secured him a spot at the prestigious Westminster School, one of the most elite academies in England, where he completed his education. His mother married Robert Brett, a bricklayer, whom Jonson worked alongside. Unsuited to life as a bricklayer, Jonson spent a short time serving in the British army before securing a place in the theater company of influential theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe.

Early Works

Jonson's reached critical acclaim with the production of his first great play, Every Man in His Humor (1598). The play drew the attention of King James I, who offered Jonson royal patronage or sponsorship. Over the next 15 years, Jonson wrote and produced some of his most famous works, including Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610). A 1598 production of Every Man in His Humor included English playwright William Shakespeare in the cast, further evidence of a reported close friendship between the two playwrights. In 1616 King James I offered Jonson a pension of 100 marks a year, bestowing upon the playwright the honor of being England's first poet laureate.

Masques

From 1605–34 Jonson regularly contributed theatrical masques—elaborate parties in which disguised guests brought their host a gift and participated in choreographed dances—to the royal court. Under Jonson's influence, masques began to take on greater theatrical flair. Whereas masques previously were little more than a procession of gifts and dancing, Jonson's masques introduced lyric drama and elaborate stages, designed by stage designer Inigo Jones. Jonson also created the antimasque, which featured grotesque satire and comedy rather than elegant dance and music.

Controversy

Despite his courtly prestige, Jonson's quick temper and volatile nature earned him many enemies. In 1597 Jonson was arrested for co-writing a seditious—intentionally controversial—play, Isle of Dogs. No copy of the play exists today, but scholars generally believe the play satirized the monarchy, and even Queen Elizabeth I herself. Jonson was charged with "lewd and mutinous behavior." Jailed alongside Jonson were two of the play's actors, Robert Shaa and Gabriel Spenser. In 1598, the same year as his first theatrical success, Jonson killed Gabriel Spenser in a duel. Although sentenced to death by hanging, Jonson managed to escape by claiming an arcane procedure called "benefit of clergy," in which priests—or those with religious education—can claim exclusion from secular courts. To prove his case, Jonson requested a Latin Bible and read from it fluently. The court did, however, brand him with the letter T to ensure the court would not offer such leniency for a second offense.

Perhaps not learning from the mistake of his previous satire, in 1601 Jonson produced his play The Poetaster, which mocked the work of rivals John Marston and Thomas Dekker. In response, Marston and Dekker released the scathing Satiromastix (1601), which portrayed Jonson as a talentless creep desperate to elevate his status at the cost of his peers. His plays Sejanus (1603) and Eastward Ho (1605) both resulted in Jonson being questioned by the government on charges of "popery and treason," although to modern scholars, the reason for the charges remains unknown. Toward the end of his masque career, Jonson's jealousy over set designer Inigo Jones's sensational contributions caused the pair to end their professional relationship.

Death and Legacy

By 1623 Jonson had fallen out of favor in the royal court, and he struggled to produce new work. He suffered a stroke in 1628, which essentially left him bedridden. He died a few years later on August 6, 1637, and was entombed at Westminster Abbey. Jonson is widely heralded as "one of the most vigorous minds that ever added to the strength of English literature." His legacy is second only to William Shakespeare himself as the most influential dramatist of the 17th century.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Volpone? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!