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Transcript of Ben Jonson
One of the major dramatists and poets of the 17th century.
Birth and Death
of Ben Jonson
Born on June 11,1572 in London
Died on August 6 or 8, 1637 in Westminster or London
Ben Jonson was a controversial family man who wrote poems, plays, and masques. He is often referred to as England's first Poet Laureate. He interacted with many of the other most famous poets of the age, such as William Shakespeare.
Jonson's poem "A Fit of Rhyme Against Rhyme" is a satirical mockery of the literature of his time period and the alleged use of rhyme to gloss over badly written lyrics.
His father was a minister who died shortly before Ben’s birth; his mother remarried, to a brick-layer.
Growing in Favour
Jonson was favoured by King James I, and wrote many famous satirical plays during this time. He was given royal favour and patronage and a significant pension. He is often known as England’s first Poet Laureate.
He had many followers who met regularly at taverns in London. Some were writers and nobles, including Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle.
Jonson was friends with many of the major writers of that time, and some of his poems pay tribute to them. This is the major way his writing was influenced by the time period in which he wrote.
Becoming an Adult
He worked with his stepfather briefly as a bricklayer, then served in the army in Flanders, then began working as an actor and playwright for Philip Henslowe’s theater company.
He married Anne Lewis in 1594, and they had at least two children.
Growing in Skill and Infamy
He wrote what is considered to be his first great play in 1598, Every Man in His Humor. In 1616, William Shakespeare played one of the lead roles.
He killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder, but was released because he pleaded “benefit of clergy,” proving he was fluent reading and writing in Latin, so he could face an easier court. He was only in prison for a few weeks, but soon after being released, he was arrested for not paying an actor.
He was friends with people such as William Shakespeare and John Donne, and was certainly influenced by their writing, though often he went against the norm for poetry at that time.
He influenced many, such as those writers who in the 1620s formed the "Tribe of Ben," meeting together regularly to discuss his works and such; many authors of the 17th century were inspired by his classical themes and witty lyrics.
Jonson was extremely influential throughout the 17th century, in the 18th century his popularity began to decline as he was critised for not being more like Shakespeare. In the 20th century his popularity began to rise again, and sense then his poetry has been linked with that of John Donne.
Style and Influences
A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme
A Hymn to God the Father
An Epitaph on S.P.
An Ode to Himself
Cynthia's Revels: Queen and huntress, chaste and fair
Epitaph on Elizabeth, L. H.
Inviting a Friend to Supper
My Picture Left in Scotland
Ode to Himself [“Come leave the loathéd stage”]
On English Monsieur
On My First Daughter
On my First Son
Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount
Song: to Celia [Come, my Celia, let us prove]
Song: to Celia [“Drink to me only with thine eyes”]
To Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland
To Fool or Knave
To John Donne
To Lucy, Countess of Bedford, with John Donne's Satires
To Sir Henry Cary
To the Immortal Memory and Friendship of That Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison
To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare
To the Reader
A Sample Poem by Ben Jonson
Spies, you are lights in state, but of base stuff,
Who, when you’ve burnt yourselves down to the snuff,
Stink and are thrown away. End fair enough.
A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme
A portrait by George Vertue done in 1730.
Rhyme, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits
Spoiling senses of their treasure,
Cozening judgment with a measure,
But false weight;
Wresting words from their true calling,
Propping verse for fear of falling
To the ground;
Jointing syllabes, drowning letters,
Fast'ning vowels as with fetters
They were bound!
Soon as lazy thou wert known,
All good poetry hence was flown,
And art banish'd.
For a thousand years together
All Parnassus' green did wither,
And wit vanish'd.
Pegasus did fly away,
At the wells no Muse did stay,
So to see the fountain dry,
And Apollo's music die,
All light failed!
Starveling rhymes did fill the stage;
Not a poet in an age
Not a work deserving bays,
Not a line deserving praise,
Greek was free from rhyme's infection,
Happy Greek by this protection
Was not spoiled.
Whilst the Latin, queen of tongues,
Is not yet free from rhyme's wrongs,
But rests foiled.
Scarce the hill again doth flourish,
Scarce the world a wit doth nourish
Phoebus to his crown again,
And the Muses to their brain,
Vulgar languages that want
Words and sweetness, and be scant
Of true measure,
Tyrant rhyme hath so abused,
That they long since have refused
He that first invented thee,
May his joints tormented be,
Still may syllabes jar with time,
Still may reason war with rhyme,
May his sense when it would meet
The cold tumor in his feet,
And his title be long fool,
That in rearing such a school
Was the founder.
Jonson uses the rhyme scheme AABCCB throughout this poem. The "B" lines are always short, clipped lines of three or four syllables. The poem could be split into 10 stanzas, following the rhyme scheme with six lines per stanza. Most of the poem is in trochaic octameter (8 syllables; stressed, unstressed).
This poem is a blatant, satirical mockery of poetic and literary artistry during the17th century. He mocks the overuse of rhyme while using it himself throughout the poem to make a point.
Specific year when this poem was written is unknown. His poems shed light on the literary history of England, the politics, patronage, and attitudes.
Within this poem, he discusses a period of a thousand years, during which "wit vanished." It is assumed that this time period envelops the 17th and 18th centuries as well as basically everything since the time of the Odyssey and such Greek and Roman writings.
The reader can look at it as something that Jonson is simply musing about, or something that he actually experienced and was passionate about.
Interestingly enough, much of the poem is written in language that sounds modern (e.g. "Wresting words from their true calling,/ Propping verse for fear of falling/ To the ground"), but then the speaker goes back to language such as "Soon as lazy thou wert known,/ All good poetry hence was flown."
He grew up in Westminster and went to St. Martin’s parish school and Westminster School.
At Westminster School he came under the influence of classical scholar William Camden.
He ensured his works were published, and was very conscious of his own legacy and self-importance.
Jonson was majorly influenced by classical literature and myths, which was very evident in much of his writing. This is a major theme in other writings of the 17th and 18th centuries as well, and is one major way he conformed to the themes of the age.
There are many references to Greek mythological characters and ideas throughout this poem.
Parnassus: line 17, refers to Mt. Parnassus, sacred in ancient Greece, which represented the world of poetry. The mountain withers because of a lack of true art.
Pegasus: line 19, refers to the flying horse leaving because of the lack of beauty.
Muse: line 20, refers to the Greek inspirations giving up hope because of the lack of art ("fountain dry").
Apollo: line 23, refers to the Greek god of prophecy, music, medicine, and poetry, sometimes identified with the sun, whose music died and light failed (because of rhyming...).
Pallas: line 30, another name for Athena, worshiped as the goddess of wisdom, fertility, the useful arts, and wise warfare. She frowns at the literature of the age.
Phoebus: line 40, another name for Apollo; returning to his throne.
http://shake-speares-bible.com/2011/09/16/honest-ben/ analysis help
Stanza by Stanza
Lines 1-6 Rhyme is witty and shows the conceit of the rhymer (who revels in his cleverness in using rhyme). Their conceit distracts from the gift they have, though this skill in rhyming has no real value.
7-12 Rhyming uses words out of the context they were meant for, debasing and dishonouring them, using rhyme (which sounds clever) to cover up their lack of writing skills.
13-18 When you who use rhyme were revealed to be lazy, all good poetry and art was gone; for a thousand years Mount Parnassus (representing the world of poetry) had no life, and wit was nonexistent.
19-24 Mythological Greek characters left hopeless, and were sad to see the fountain of poetic creativity and talent so dead, and ‘left’ because of it.
25-30 The rhymes are ‘starved,’ struggling for survival though they don’t deserve to exist. There are no poets in that thousand years worth recognising or praising. Not one poem deserves applause or cheers, and the goddess of useful arts, wise warfare, and fertility looks down on it disapprovingly.
31-36 Ancient Greece was not plagued by rhyme, so their happiness was not hindered. However, Latin did not remain untouched, but was dirtied by rhyme and will stay so forever.
37-42 It is unlikely that the world of literature will again flourish or be witty in order to restore the mythological characters to their rightful places as they were in the past.
43-48 Unrefined languages that have no true value have been so ruined by rhyme that they have begun to refuse other literary development
49-54 I hope that the man who first thought of rhyming is tortured and plagued for eternity. I wish that rhyme and rhythm will continue not to work or become well-known or well-loved.
55-60 May his mind grow unstable and may the man who founded such a way of thought be titled a fool.
A Tale of a Tub, comedy (ca. 1596? revised? performed 1633; printed 1640)
The Case is Altered, comedy (ca. 1597–98; printed 1609), 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 (ca. 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 (performed Feb. 1626; printed 1631)
The New Inn, or The Light Heart, comedy (licensed 19 January 1629; printed 1631)
The Magnetic Lady, or Humors Reconciled, comedy (licensed 12 October 1632; printed 1641)
The Sad Shepherd, pastoral (ca. 1637, printed 1641), unfinished
Mortimer his Fall, history (printed 1641), a fragment
He wrote a variety of styles of literature, including poems, plays, and masques.
Personification & Alliteration
Personification: Lines 25 & 46; 25 describes rhymes as "starveling," basically saying they are incompetent actors crowding the stage. Line 46 describes rhyme as a tyrant who 'abuses' languages.
Alliteration: Lines 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 52, 53. e.g. "spoiling senses," "wresting words." Adds to the lyrical feeling of this poem.
Metaphor & Simile
Metaphor: Lines 8-9, 14; lines 8-9 implicitly compares rhyme to a sort of prop or support for badly-written literature. Line 14 is another implied metaphor, with ideas performing actions that aren’t human but imply a comparison to an object not specified.
Simile: Line 11 "Fastening vowels as with fetters they were bound," compares rhyme to fetters (or chains, something restricting action).
By Katie Vogt
I enjoy this poem and included it in my presentation because it is so clever and concise. It is an observation of 17th and 18th century society, in which powerful people used then threw other people away in disgust when they were no longer useful (and in which spies were often used in government).