Daily Archives: September 22, 2010

Ben Jonson

On this date in 1598 Ben Jonson was indicted for manslaughter.  In the same year he also produced his first major success, Every Man in His Humour.

Frye in A Natural Perspective:

With Every Man in His Humour Jonson began a new type of comedy, of which Ibsen and Chekhov (Ibsen at least in his middle or “problem” period) are the inheritors.  The contrast between Shakespeare and Ben Jonson is hackneyed, but like many hackneyed subjects, not exhausted.  One seventeenth-century play that we know failed to please was Ben Jonson’s The New Inn: we know this because its failure was highly publicized by Jonson himself.  Jonson wrote on the occasion a poem in which he scolds the public for not appreciating it and for preferring “some mouldy tale like Pericles” instead.  A critical issue is involved here that it might be fruitful to examine.  The New Inn is not first-rate Jonson; but neither is Pericles first-rate Shakespeare.  Yet Pericles was not only popular in its own time, but has been revived with success in ours, and I doubt that any dramatic company in its right mind would attempt to revive The New Inn, though I should hope to be wrong on this point.  Jonson’s critical principle was obviously true to him that he honestly could not understand why his audience preferred Pericles, and in trying to explain why it did we may get some insight into the rationale of Shakespeare’s technique. (14-15)