Benjamin (Ben) Jonson was an English playwright, poet, actor, and literary critic, who popularized the comedy of humours. He was born in London in 1572 but his father, a clergyman, died a month before he was born. His mother soon married Robert Brett, a master bricklayer. He attended Westminster School, where his tutor was the famous historian William Camden. He then served as a soldier in the Netherlands, and worked for his stepfather as a bricklayer. In 1594 he married Anne Lewis.
Jonson started out in the theatre as an actor, but he quickly moved into writing plays. His earliest surviving play is The Case is Altered, which was performed first in 1597. He followed this up with his first hit play, Every Man in his Humour, the following year.
He is best known for the satirical comedies, Volpone, or The Fox (c. 1605), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614), which he wrote quickly over the course of nine intense years.
Jonson was famous for getting into quarrels with several of his contemporaries and the Scottish poet, William Drummond, described him as "a great lover and praiser of himself". In 1598 he killed his opponent in a duel and only just avoided being executed for manslaughter. Jonson also took umbridge with his fellow playwrights, some of whom mocked his bricklaying background and his pompous nature, in his bitingly satiric play Poetaster (c. 1601).
There are many legends about Jonson's rivalry with Shakespeare, some of which may be true given his tendency to get into trouble, but none have been proved. In 1628, Jonson suffered a paralytic stroke. He died nine years later on 6 August 1637, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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