Ben Jonson pp 78-93 | Cite as

Learned Inventions

  • W. David Kay
Part of the Literary Lives book series (LL)


At the same time that Sejanus and Eastward Ho provoked difficulties with the authorities, Jonson’s royal entertainments and masques — those festive shows combining poetic fable, scenic display and dancing by the nobility — won him favour and reward in the new Jacobean court. Jonson’s confidence in his skill as a masque writer is shown by his boast to Drummond ‘that next himself only Fletcher and Chapman could make a masque’ (Cony., 11. 43–4). In this genre as in others he achieved success by setting a new standard of competition for his rivals — a standard based on his conviction that even such ephemeral entertainments demanded the ingenious application of the poet’s learning in ways that would both honour and instruct their noble participants. His belief that the poet’s role was central to masque-making and that masques were an educative ritual for the masquers inevitably brought him into conflict with his artistic collaborators and the social realities of such occasions. Yet partly through force of personality and partly through skill at invention he established himself as the leading Jacobean masque writer. In the theatre, too, he gained a striking success with his comedy Volpone, or The Fox (1606), which pleased both popular and learned audiences in London, Oxford and Cambridge.


Lightning Flash Striking Success Learn Invention Symbolic Picture Faustian Bargain 
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Copyright information

© W. David Kay 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. David Kay
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUSA

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