Ben Jonson: A Life

Ian Donaldson

Ben Jonson: A Life

Ben Jonson was the greatest of Shakespeare's contemporaries. In the century following his death he was seen by many as the finest of all English writers, living or dead. His fame rested not only on the numerous plays he had written for the theatre, but on his achievements over three decades as principal masque-writer to the early Stuart court, where he had worked in creative, and often stormy, collaboration with Inigo Jones. One of the most accomplished poets of the age, he had become — in fact if not in title — the first Poet Laureate in England. Ian Donaldson's new biography draws on freshly discovered writings by and about Ben Jonson, and locates his work within the social and intellectual contexts of his time. Jonson emerges from this study as a more complex and volatile character than his own self-declarations (and much modern scholarship) would allow, and as a writer whose work strikingly foresees — and at times pre-emptively satirizes — the modern age. 4.9 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
Ben Jonson: A Life

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 560
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication October 2011
ISBN 978-0198129769
Publisher OUP
 

Ben Jonson was the greatest of Shakespeare's contemporaries. In the century following his death he was seen by many as the finest of all English writers, living or dead. His fame rested not only on the numerous plays he had written for the theatre, but on his achievements over three decades as principal masque-writer to the early Stuart court, where he had worked in creative, and often stormy, collaboration with Inigo Jones. One of the most accomplished poets of the age, he had become — in fact if not in title — the first Poet Laureate in England. Ian Donaldson's new biography draws on freshly discovered writings by and about Ben Jonson, and locates his work within the social and intellectual contexts of his time. Jonson emerges from this study as a more complex and volatile character than his own self-declarations (and much modern scholarship) would allow, and as a writer whose work strikingly foresees — and at times pre-emptively satirizes — the modern age.

Reviews

The Guardian

Charles Nicholl

Exemplary … The book is rich in detail and insights, combines meticulous research with readability, and is full of quoted examples of Jonson's inimitably muscular, pungent yet precise style. It is not, as the publishers claim, the first major biography for 30 years — an excellent Life by David Riggs was published in 1989 — but it is now certainly the definitive one.

15/10/2011

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The Spectator

Sam Leith

... a terrific book about an amazing man ... As far as its position on the pop/scholarly scale goes, this is a book by an academic reaching out to the general reader rather than vice-versa. You won’t find much of the florid, novelistic ‘conjuring of the sights, sounds and smells of Tudor London’, or speculation on what Jonson ‘must have felt’. It’s much more interesting than that. Instead, you have a work of clarity and lucidity, exact in its historical detail, full of new material and ingeniously suggestive in its conjecture and interpretation.

15/10/2011

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The Sunday Times

John Carey

As general editor of the Cambridge Edition of Jonson’s complete works, due out next month, Donaldson is ideally placed to write the definitive life, and he has done so, encapsulating, as he acknowledges, one and a half decades of discovery by an international team of scholars. The result is not just a biography but an engrossing study of a writer’s predicament in a society that he strove to influence and improve.

16/10/2011

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The Literary Review

John Stubbs

Much of this biography’s work consists indeed of ironing out cruxes, unpicking the discrepancies of myth. In paying tribute to other scholarship as it does so, the book gives evidence of just how well served this writer has been over the past few decades. But Jonson’s creative force still comes across as grandly, vehemently self-contradictory and, unlike his pet Reynard, untameable.

01/10/2011

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