Ben Jonson was commonly regarded during his lifetime and the century following his death as a writer whose powers were equal, if not superior, to those of Shakespeare. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, his reputation had sharply declined: while Shakespeare was increasingly venerated as a type of original genius, Jonson was contrastingly seen as a writer of patchy and derivative talents, excessively devoted to the authors of antiquity and to the
social minutiae of his age, anxiously resentful of his great and 'gentle' rival. This popular, formalized contrast of the two men's characters and abilities profoundly affected the subsequent reputations of both Shakespeare and Jonson. In this new collection of biographical, critical and historical
essays, Ian Donaldson challenges many long-held and recent assumptions about the nature of Jonson's personality and creative achievement, offering fresh readings of his life and art.