Benjamin "Ben" Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems.
Jonson was not always a poet and playwright. He was a bricklayer for a short time and he fought with the English troops in Flanders.
Ben Jonson is said to have asked King Charles I to grant him eighteen square inches of land anywhere in England that he chose. When Charles granted the wish, Jonson asked for an eighteen square inch plot in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, where he was eventually buried, standing up.
Late in life Jonson was poor and in ill health. He received help from the King of England and loyal patrons. Those who published his work did not compensate him in any form.
In 1603 Ben Jonson and his wife lost their son Benjamin, who died of the plague at the age of seven. Jonson had already lost a daughter, and would lose another son (also named Benjamin) several years later.
In 1616 Jonson was ridiculed for publishing his "Works." At that time only Latin writers had "Works." English writers did not.
Ben Jonson's Volpone is widely taught and commonly performed. He wrote the play after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, an event in which he was personally involved.
Jonson, always hotheaded, was imprisoned and nearly executed for killing a fellow actor in a duel. Once released, he continued his career in the theatre.
Jonson was well connected in the theater. His play "Every Man in his Humour" included Shakespeare in its cast.
Volpone "argues that the play alludes to the plot as openly as censorship will allow, using the traditional form of the beast fable. As a Roman Catholic himself, Jonson shared in the repression suffered by his co-religionists in the wake of the Plot, and the play fiercely satirizes the man they chiefly blamed for this, Robert Cecil."
Jonson's work was scholarly, the result of several years of classical schooling he received as a child and many years of self-tutelage. He never went to university, however.