A Ben Jonson page


1/ Ben Jonson on:

The eager multitude, who never yet
Knew why to love, or hate, but only pleased
To express their rage of power, no sooner heard
The murmur of Sejanus in decline,
But with that speed, and heat of appetite,
With which they greedily devour the way
To some great sports, or a new theatre
They filled the Capitol and Pompey's cirque;
Where, like so many mastiffs biting stones,
As if his statues now were sensive grown
Of their wild fury, first, they tear them down:
Then fastening ropes, drag them along the streets,
Crying in scorn - This, this was that rich head
Was crowned with garlands, and with odours, this
That was in Rome so reverenced! Now
The furnace and the bellows shall to work,
The great Sejanus crack, and piece by piece
Drop i'the founder's pit...

... Forbear, you things
That stand upon the pinnacles of state,
To boast your slippery height: when you do fall,
You pash your selves in pieces, never to rise:
And he that lends you pity, is not wise.

- Sejanus, 5.1.759-776, 893-7.

The sinks ran grease, and hair of measled hogs,
The heads, houghs, entrails, and the hides of dogs:
For, to say truth, what scullion is so nasty
To put the skins and offal in a pastie?
Cats there lay divers had been flayed and roasted
And after mouldy grown, again were toasted;
Then selling not, a dish was ta'en to mince them,
But still, it seems, the rankness did convince 'em.
For here they were thrown in wi' the melted pewter,
Yet drowned they not. They had five lives in future.

- "On the Famous Voyage" 147-156

MOSCA. Sure, sir? Why, look you, credit your own sense.
[shouts in Volpone's ear] The pox approach and add to your diseases... Would you would once close
Those filthy eyes of yours, that flow with slime
Like two frog-pits, and those same hanging cheeks,
Covered with hide instead of skin - [to Corvino] - Nay, help, sir.
- That look like frozen dish-clouts set on end...
[to Corvino] Faith, I could stifle him rarely with a pillow...

Volpone 1.5.43-67

2/ A very short Jonson bibliography -

Ben Jonson, Ben Jonson ed. Herford, Herford, & Simpson,11 vols (Oxford, 1925-52), generally known as H&S. Large, user-unfriendly, but complete, and indispensable.

My favourite edition of the four big plays is Ben Jonson, Four Comedies: 'Volpone, or the Fox'; 'Epicoene, or The Silent Woman'; 'The Alchemist'; 'Bartholomew Fair', ed. Helen Ostovich (London: Longman, 1997). Very good on performance considerations. See also G.A.. Wilkes' edition in Jonson, Five Plays (Oxford, 1988).

Editions of the poetry include The Complete Poems ed G. Parfitt (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975): Selected Poems ed. I. Donaldson (Oxford, 1995), based on Donaldson's 1985 Oxford Authors selection of Jonson.

Possible secondary material -

On-line resources:

Pages devoted to Jonson's friends and rivals: