Ben Jonson, Man of Letters (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2009 semester seminar led by Martin Butler.

Because of Ben Jonson’s complex position at the intersections of the theatre, the court, and the nascent world of professional letters, his work touches on almost every corner of English Renaissance literature. Arguably the second most important dramatist in the period, he nonetheless had a love-hate relationship with the theatre in which he worked. His masques and poems develop the idea of the poet as social and political commentator, but also register the strains and opportunities of writing in the public world. Moreover, his self-conscious shaping of his own identity in print and his cultivation of a wide circle of friends and intellectuals suggest that he was a powerful role model for the emerging notion of the independent man of letters. With the forthcoming publication of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson in 2010, the time was ripe for a fresh look at Jonson’s multifaceted career. Participants examined ideas of laureateship and authority; the poet in the world of power; Jonsonian crossovers between the popular and the classical; attitudes to friendship and sexuality; Jonson’s construction of his text in manuscript and print, and its reconstruction by modern editors; the Sons of Ben and literary inheritance; and Jonson’s afterlife in theatre, opera, and anecdote.

Director: Martin Butler is Professor of English Renaissance Drama at the University of Leeds. His most recent book is The Stuart Court Masque and Political Culture (2008). He has edited The Tempest (2007) and Cymbeline (2005), and is General Editor, with Ian Donaldson and David Bevington, of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (forthcoming 2010).