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(a) INTRODUCTION

This section provides an account of Jonson’s life and literary career, giving details both of his personal circumstances and the development of his reputation as a writer. It draws substantially on the biographies mentioned in ‘Further reading’ for its account. We ought to note, though, that none of these biographies agree on every point, and the frequently ambiguous evidence is interpreted in conflicting ways. This section seeks to represent points of consensus, but it should be remembered that there cannot be consensus on every aspect of Jonson’s life. Readers in search of greater detail are directed to the works listed in ‘Further reading’. The section also locates Jonson in contexts which are of particular significance to his works and for the criticism they have generated. For that reason, the narrative of the poet’s life is punctuated by subsections dealing with early modern London, Renaissance humanism, the theatres of Jonson’s city, and the political structures and issues of the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. The accompanying chronology provides a clear sequence of events for reference purposes.