Early Life and Challenges
Benjamin Johnson, known as Ben Johnson in the literary world, was born on June 11, 1572, in Westminster, London. His father passed away shortly after his birth, and his mother remarried a bricklayer to support the family. Growing up in poverty, he spent his early years in Westminster with his mother and stepfather, an experience that deeply influenced his life.
Despite his financial struggles, Ben attended St. Martin’s Lane and later Westminster School. Here, he found a mentor and friend in the renowned antiquary, William Camden, whose intellectual ideas left a lasting mark on Johnson's literary style. While he didn't attend Oxford University due to his stepfather's demands, Johnson managed to master Latin and Greek, enabling him to pursue his literary interests.
Marriage and Tragedy
After establishing himself as a dramatist, Johnson married Ann Lewis in 1594. Although their marriage was troubled, they had three children, two of whom tragically passed away. Their daughter Mary died in infancy, and their eldest son fell victim to the Bubonic plague in 1603. The pain of these losses was expressed in Johnson's poignant elegy, "On My First Son."
Challenges and Death
Despite the adversities he faced, Johnson persisted in his writing endeavors. In 1620, he faced health setbacks but continued producing plays. He sustained a series of strokes but remained committed to his craft until his passing. Despite leading a successful life, Ben Johnson passed away on August 16, 1637. His contributions to literature and drama left an enduring legacy.
Key Achievements and Facts
- Regarded as the second most important English dramatist after Shakespeare.
- His work, The Alchemist, is celebrated as one of the three perfect plots in literature.
- Despite lacking formal higher education, he is hailed as a leading figure in history.
Ben Johnson: A Literary Journey
Early Career and Challenges
Ben Johnson's journey took him from being a bricklayer to becoming a renowned poet and writer. Following graduation, he initially assisted his stepfather in bricklaying and even served in the military. However, upon his return to London in 1594, he joined a theatrical company as an actor and playwright. His play, The Isle of Dogs (1597), led to his imprisonment due to its controversial content.
Despite facing setbacks, Johnson continued to create provocative works. His play Eastward Ho (1605) mocked King James and the Scotts, resulting in another imprisonment. Undeterred, he produced numerous successful masques and comedies from 1605 to 1611, such as The Alchemist, Volpone, and The Silent Woman. He excelled in various genres, including masques, comedies, and poetry, leaving a rich and varied literary legacy.
Distinctive Literary Style
Ben Johnson's literary style was characterized by wit, satire, and sharp intellect. Despite facing adversity and controversy, he fearlessly expressed his ideas through plays, masques, and poetry. His writing showcased his bold and intelligent perspectives, leaving an indelible mark on the world of literature. His works often featured satire, making him stand out alongside Shakespeare and Marlowe.
Ben Johnson's Enduring Influence
Ben Johnson's artistry profoundly impacted the realms of poetry and comedy, inspiring countless poets and playwrights during the Jacobean and Caroline Eras. His unique expression and thought-provoking ideas distinguished him among English poets, leaving an enduring mark on literary history. The "Tribe of Ben" praised his worth before the outbreak of the civil war, and his thoughtful ideas influenced generations of writers.
Famous Quotes by Ben Johnson
"Drink to me only with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine; Or leave a kiss but in the cup, And I’ll not look for wine." (Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes)
"Give me a look, give me a face, That makes simplicity a grace; Robes loosely flowing, hair as free, Such sweet neglect more taketh me Than all the adulteries of art: They strike mine eyes, but not my heart." (Epicene, or The Silent Woman)
"Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy. Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay, Exacted by thy fate, on the just day." (On My First Son)