Ben Jonson (1572 - 1637)
Benjamin "Ben" Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems. A man of vast reading and a seemingly insatiable appetite for controversy, Jonson had an unparalleled breadth of influence on Jacobean and Caroline playwrights and poets. Jonson claimed his family was of Scottish Border country descent, and this claim may have been supported by the fact that his coat of arms bears three spindles or rhombi, a device shared by a Borders family, the Johnstones of Annandale. His father died a month before Ben's birth, and his mother remarried two years later, to a master bricklayer. Jonson attended school in St. Martin's Lane, and was later paid for by a friend to go to Westminster School, where one of his teachers was William Camden. Jonson remained friendly with Camden, whose broad scholarship evidently influenced his own style, until the latter's death in 1623. On leaving, Jonson was once thought to have gone on to the University of Cambridge, but Jonson himself contradicts this, saying that he did not go to university, but was put to a trade, probably bricklaying, immediately: a legend recorded by Thomas Fuller indicates that he worked on a garden wall in Lincoln's Inn. He soon had enough of the trade and spent some time in the Low Countries as a volunteer with the regiments of Francis Vere. In conversations with poet William Drummond of Hawthornden, subsequently published as the Hawthornden Manuscripts, Jonson reports that while in the Netherlands he killed an opponent in single combat and stripped him of his weapons. Jonson married a woman whom he described to Drummond as "a shrew, yet honest." His wife has not been definitively identified, but she is sometimes identified as the Ann Lewis who married a Benjamin Jonson at St Magnus-the-Martyr, near London Bridge. The registers of St. Martin's Church state that his eldest daughter Mary died in November 1593, when she was six months old. His eldest son Benjamin died of the plague ten years later aged seven (Jonson's epitaph to him On My First Sonne was written shortly after), and a second Benjamin died in 1635. For five years during this period Jonson lived separately from his wife, enjoying the hospitality of Lord Aubigny.
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