chapter
4 Pages

INTRODUCTION

This book examines the life, works and critical reception of Ben Jonson. A former bricklayer and convicted murderer who became James I’s ‘poet laureate’, the loyal servant who simultaneously asserted his own poetic authority, and the writer of elevated court entertainments whose works are also shaped by the rhythms of urban popular culture, Jonson’s contradictory career and complex literary inventions have been sources of both pleasure and bewilderment for four hundred years. And while he has at times been on the wrong end of an invidious comparison with Shakespeare, his friend and rival, recent developments in literary criticism and the renewed attentions of theatrical practitioners have ensured that the seemingly strange shapes and textures of his works continue to fascinate.