( England: 1572-1637)
Elizabeth Quay Sullivan
Ben Jonson was born in London or its environs in 1572 to a widowed mother; his father (who had become a minister after his lands were confiscated by Queen Mary) died a month before his birth. His mother remarried a master bricklayer who apprenticed Ben to the craft in 1589 after he had graduated from the Westminster School. To avoid the boredom of bricklaying, he escaped to enlist in the Flanders War, where he apparently killed a man in hand-to-hand combat. Upon his return, he became an actor and then an apprentice playwright. He married in 1595 to a wife who bore him three children. None of them survived him, and he and his wife later separated. The Isle of Dogs, written with Thomas Nashe , his first play (now lost), was produced in the summer of 1597. It was so controversial that he and Nashe were imprisoned, not to be released until October. He worked for Philip Henslowe, producing A Tale of a Tub and The Case Is Altered in 1597- 1598, and other pieces of unknown name.
In 1598 Everyman in His Humour was performed by the Lord Chamberlain Company and secured his reputation, but in the same year he killed a man in a duel and was imprisoned, this time being released by pleading benefit of clergy. He converted to Roman Catholicism while incarcerated. He continued to poke fun at contemporaries, ridiculing John Marston and Thomas Dekker successively in Everyman out of His Humour ( 1599) and Cynthia's Revels ( 1600). The years 1599- 1601 marked the "war of the theaters" between the select playhouses in London and the public playhouses at Bankside; Jonson contributed "comical satires" to the public theater. With the accession to the throne of James I in