By W. David Kay
This concise biography surveys Jonson's occupation and offers an creation to his works within the context of Jacobean politics, court docket patronage and his many literary rivalries. Stressing his wit and inventiveness, it explores the ideas during which he tried to keep up his independence from the stipulations of theatrical construction and from his consumers and introduces new facts that, regardless of his vaunted classicism, he time and again appropriated the problem or sorts of different English writers so one can show his personal creative superiority.
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Additional resources for Ben Jonson: A Literary Life
Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, however, were less concerned with originality than with the skilful reworking of age-old themes. They agreed with Horace that it is harder 'to treat in your own way what is common' than to give the world 'a theme unknown and unsung'P The 'sacred invention' about which Lorenzo Junior rhapsodises in Every Man in His Humour is the power of finding material- from whatever source - that is appropriate to the occasion for which one writes and of arranging it in artful or ingenious ways.
The metaphor of the imitator as a bee is derived from Seneca's Epistle LXXXIV, but Buchler and Jonson are essentially following Quintilian, who twice recommends that the advanced student pick one speaker for special imitation, though he cautions against too exclusive devotion to a single model. In pointing to Virgil's imitation of Homer and Horace's of Archilochus, Jonson in effect advocates selecting a different guide for each poetic genre, as he himself had followed Horace in his verse epistles, Martial in his epigrams, and Pindar in his odes.
In his great middle comedies, as we shall see, he aspired to surpass ancients and modems alike by recombining motifs from earlier comedy and satire into more intricate and more richly ironic plots. For the most part, however, his rivalry was directed at his fellow Elizabethans, with whom he was often at odds. 17 His strategy, in fact, often was to distinguish himself from his contemporaries by claiming to have realised a more authentic classicism or a higher standard of art even when working with forms that had been introduced by others.