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<   No. 2315   2009-05-29   >

Comic #2315

1 Mercutio: So who are your favourite writers?
2 Shakespeare: Oh, you know, all the classics. Dickens, Austen, Melville, Wilde, Hemingway. And of course Jonson.
3 Mercutio: Mmmm. I sometimes wonder what English literature would be like today if Jonson had never existed.
4 Shakespeare: Oh, it doesn't bear thinking about.

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Ben Jonson was one of the most influential poets and playwrights of the English Renaissance. He was widely read and put his broad knowledge of literature, the classics, and the English language into his many poems and plays. Of the plays, he wrote both tragedies and comedies - the comedies mostly built around romantic plots. These were published in folio editions.

During the 17th century, both before and after his death, Jonson was considered a leading light of English literature, known by reputation far and wide. People sang his praises, performed his works, and copied his styles. His work influenced the writing of generations of dramatists and poets. He left behind a slew of plays whichwere soon regarded as classic works of English literature. Unfortunately, it is known that some of his plays have been lost to the ravages of time; we even know the title of a few that he apparently wrote, but which no known manuscript survives. On a more mysterious note, there is also some question over the true author of the works attributed to Jonson, although most scholars are satisfied with the evidence behind the standard attributions.

In short, Jonson is a towering figure who left an indelible mark on the history of English literature.

Unfortunately for him, in our history he happened to live at the same time as another playwright.

2022-06-19 Rerun commentary: According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Ben Jonson "is generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist, after William Shakespeare, during the reign of James I."

I suppose if you have to be second to someone, that's not a terrible choice.

Ben Jonson popularised a comedic technique known as the comedy of humours. The name comes from the Ancient Greek idea that personalities come in four types defined by bodily humours. In a comedy of humours, there is a representative of each personality type: choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic. The comedy arises through the interactions of these different personality types.

It's a bit of a shame that it's not called "humour of humours".

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