Ben Jonson : biography
Ben Jonson (Benjamin Jonson, c. 11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) was a Jacobean playwright, poet, and literary critic, of the seventeenth century, whose artistry exerted a lasting impact upon English poetry and stage comedy. Ben Jonson is best known for the satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Foxe (1605), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fayre: A Comedy (1614), and for his Lyric poetry; he is generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist, after William Shakespeare, during the reign of James I. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/306058/Ben-Jonson
A Classically educated, well-read, and cultured man of the English Renaissance, with an appetite for controversy (personal and political, artistic and intellectual), Jonson’s cultural influence was of unparalleled breadth upon the playwrights and the poets of the Jacobean era (1603–1625) and of the Caroline era (1625–1642).“Ben Jonson”, Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, volume 10, p. 388.
Jonson recounted that his father had been a prosperous Protestant landowner until the reign of "Bloody Mary" and had suffered imprisonment and the forfeiture of his wealth during that monarch’s attempt to restore England to Catholicism. On Elizabeth’s accession he was freed and was able to travel to London to become a clergyman.Donaldson (2011: 56)Riggs (1989: 9) (All we know of Jonson’s father, who died a month before his son was born, comes from the poet’s own narrative.) Jonson’s elementary education was in a small church school attached to St Martin-in-the-Fields parish, and at the age of about seven he secured a place at Westminster School, then part of Westminster Abbey.
Notwithstanding this emphatically Protestant grounding, Jonson maintained an interest in Catholic doctrine throughout his adult life and, at a particularly perilous time while a religious war with Spain was widely expected and persecution of Catholics was intensifying, he converted to the faith.Donaldson (2011: 176)Riggs (1989: 51–52) This took place in October 1598, while Jonson was on remand in Newgate gaol charged with manslaughter. Jonson’s biographer Ian Donaldson is among those who suggest that the conversion was instigated by Father Thomas Wright, a Jesuit priest who had resigned from the order over his acceptance of Queen Elizabeth’s right to rule in England.Donaldson (2011: 134–140)Harp; Stewart (2000: xiv) Wright, although placed under house arrest on the orders of Lord Burghley, was permitted to minister to the inmates of London prisons. It may have been that Jonson, fearing that his trial would go against him, was seeking the unequivocal absolution that Catholicism could offer if he were sentenced to death. Alternatively, he could have been looking to personal advantage from accepting conversion since Father Wright’s protector, the Earl of Essex, was among those who might hope to rise to influence after the succession of a new monarch.Donaldson (2011: 143) Jonson’s conversion came at a weighty time in affairs of state; the royal succession, from the childless Elizabeth, had not been settled and Essex’s Catholic allies were hopeful that a sympathetic ruler might attain the throne.
Conviction, and certainly not expedience alone, sustained Jonson’s faith during the troublesome twelve years he remained a Catholic. His stance received attention beyond the low-level intolerance to which most followers of that faith were exposed. The first draft of his play Sejanus was banned for "popery", and did not re-appear until some offending passages were cut. In January 1606 he (with Anne, his wife) appeared before the Consistory Court in London to answer a charge of recusancy, with Jonson alone additionally accused of allowing his fame as a Catholic to "seduce" citizens to the cause.Donaldson (2011: 229) This was a serious matter (the Gunpowder Plot was still fresh in mind) but he explained that his failure to take communion was only because he had not found sound theological endorsement for the practice, and by paying a fine of thirteen shillings he escaped the more serious penalties at the authorities’ disposal. His habit was to slip outside during the sacrament, a common routine at the time—indeed it was one followed by the royal consort, Queen Anne, herself—to show political loyalty while not offending the conscience. Leading church figures, including John Overall, Dean of St Paul’s, were tasked with winning Jonson back to orthodoxy, but these overtures were resisted.Donaldson (2011: 228–9)