Tag Archives: ben jonson

universal man: ‘Ben Jonson: A Life’, by Ian Donaldson – review

Ben Jonson: A LifeBen Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been drawn into a writer whose noble ambition and unswerving individuality are distinct from those of the officialized popularity of famed celebrities simply because of the sheer provocativeness of the author translated into the textual world of reality, which is a reflection of his conceptions by the barrier he establishes proudly and profoundly against those of others. In fact, it is this unapologetic individuality that enables the author to become what he is capable of in protean varieties; an alchemist of words, a high priest of the temple of Apollo, a mortal equivalent of Hercules, a neo-classist of a new renaissance, an independent scholar of the great leaning, and a humanist committed to the Classical principles to contribute to the new capital of the Arts. The hero of the splendid epithets is no less the poet and playwright than Ben Jonson himself, and it is in this superbly told biography Ben Jonson: A Life that his modern disciple Ian Donaldson resurrects the person of Jonson in flesh and spirit vividly.

Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson begins with the burial ground of Jonson and then comes alive as Donaldson presents the protagonist Jonson through a phantasmagorical display of the epochal chapters of Jonson’s life as though to be screened for posterity in Immortal Theater of Art. Donaldson’s capacity of screenwriter and director of Ben Jonson’s dramatic life is deprived of blind idolization of Jonson as a suffering lone wolf-typed writer whose brightness was unfairly adumbrated by that of his contemporary peer William Shakespeare, nor is it intent upon accounting the greatness of Jonson over Shakespeare by elucidating the dichotomic feud between the two equally but differently brilliant literary stars in the constellation of Arts. Also, the book rejects the conventional mode of biography in the frame of “cradle to grave” by guiding the reader through specific epochal moments that profoundly influenced Jonson both personally and professionally during one of the most politically and religiously turbulent periods in the history of Great Britain.

Rich in details of the political and social backgrounds of Jonson’s plays and poems in addition to his personal elements that make him stand out among the contemporary literary figures, Donaldson follows the Thucydidean way of examining the history of Jonson in attempt to transcend the subjectivity of the time and popular opinions on the subject and to balance scholarly objective equilibrium to test the validity of truth about the subject matter to the extent possible by holding his express personal opinion thereon. The result is myriad imaginations and images of Jonson as the reader likes to create, whether it be that of dauntlessly confident Achilles, wisely ambitious Agamemnon, divinely valorous Odysseus, or compassionately passionate Hercules.

Upon reading this book, I saw the images of Rodrigo Mendoza played by Robert De Niro from the excellent film “The Mission” and Ben Jonson as himself springing from my mind’s garden as both of their faces a piece like a great Ancient Greek statue. Both of them are passionately devoted to their causes, unfailingly humane, and admirably courageous in fulfilling their destiny to achieve their noble ambitions for the good of humanity – one for the building of terrestrial heaven governed by deeds according to the Gospel in the case of Fr. Mendoza and the other in the person of Jonson for the reconstruction of British Renaissance based upon classical principles as a stratagem of moral and artistic reform. And behind this fascinating literary witchcraft lays Donaldson’s superb biography of Ben Jonson that successfully resurrects the noble and heroic spirit of his literary Hero whose work is enshrined in the Temple of Divine Arts as a scintillating star of the Humanities. And I am sure that Jonson is so happy with Donaldson’s account of his life that he introduces his biographer to the Immortals (including his chum Shakespeare) and that they are having a divine feast with heavenly wine in a constellation of literary stars evermore.

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To readers

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Cat in a hat La Vincent Van Gogh by Olga Koval

Normally, I don’t post a crude litany of woes or untamed outcry of malaise because that’s not what I want my blog to be filled with. However, today is an exception to the rule because for the last couple of days the receptions to which my published posts have been particularly detrimental to my disposition and averse to my sensitivity. Well, I don’t think it really matters to any of you out there who happens to stumble into my hermit blog, but then I don’t really care what you think about it because it’s my sovereign blog, which is my only safe niche, an elbow room amidst this crazy existential daily life constantly threatening my sanity, bullying my sensitivity, knowing that I am distinct for that “Positive Thinking in Thick Skin” facade.

First of all, I don’t understand how people can follow a blog without liking any of my posts. Are they fishing in for their potential followers? I have noticed so many of them out there without liking any of my posts and following my blog, which I find it very insulting and odd. I am not here to foster an online relationship with anyone out there but to practice my writing skills as well as to use it as my creative, intellectual outlets yearning to surface from within because I can’t just will out what I feel and think without letting it out. Besides, I don’t want my existence to disappear into oblivion, which is a great injustice to my sovereign freedom of expression. That said, I don’t want to build up popularity by getting mindless followers either haughtily not bothering to like my writing or stopping to like it for whatever reasons. That breaks my heart to the extent to which it can’t be sawed up or replaced by a steel heart. It’s imbecility to have followers who are unappreciative of what I write.

Secondly, to pour hot lead into my already wide-open gap of the wounded heart and soul, I saw the stats that although people read my last post about 6 movies from the 60s celebration of National Classic Movie Day yesterday and today, only four people voted for likes! Such disastrous comeuppance made me so disappointed and disheartened that I could not but think that writing could also be a Modus Operandi of detecting all about yourself from the way you looked to where you were from. This betrayed my primal idea about being capable of metamorphosis and travel to become all that I want to be, to do, and to go under the protection of faceless stealth. Faceless because your face could be a hindrance to expressing your self in a true glass of the mind. In order to ascertain the cause of such an outrageously heartbreaking result of the last post, I have read my post over and over again, but there appears to be no sophomorically pesky solecism whatsoever.  Further to the attempts, I visited the blogs of others about the same subject, but none of them is hard to regard it as a magnum opus! Do they think my post is inaptly conceived and professionally benighted or just plain average? And they even had comments from their members of the coterie eulogizing how great their picks were! Seeing all of this in my very eyes, I could not help agreeing with Edgar Allan Poe criticizing a clique formed among the New York Literati that excluded any writer outside the league of their own. I don’t think any of them appreciates my writing, and it makes me feel like such a fool that from now onwards, I vow that I will NOT volunteer to do any contributory writing unless I am asked to.

Thus I have reorganized a list of followers because I think it necessary for me to do so for the love of my broken heart and wounded soul. I see writings of others, which are not tours de force but filled with a rhapsody of why their inane posts are great. Jealousy? What hokum! It’s such amusement to see even writings can become a tool for attracting strangers as a social get-together platform. Here I am, a hobbyist amateur writer working 9 to 6 to pay bills and rents but whose literary ambition is as great as Ben Jonson and Charlotte Bronte. Charlotte Bronte had been rejected to have her work published many times and was of the same disposition as I am. (Yes, I am closer to her in temperament and sensitivity than any of you out there who likes to think you are or wants to think you are when you are not!). She and I are in agreement in thinking that any appreciation from a considerate and intelligent reader for our writings is highly appropriate and proper as decorum to the author. You know what I mean?

famous, ambitious

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The incitement is fame to an honest mind, says Ben,

The spur the clear spirit raises is fame, says John,

I say the sap the adventurous keeps is fame anon.

 

P.S.: While reading Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life, I came across the chapter regarding the eminent English playwright/poet Ben Jonson expressing his sentiment toward the premature death of young Prince Henry Frederick, son of King James I of England, whose earthly princely fame was soon writ in water. He said: “Fame is the incitement to honest minds,” which was later adapted by John Milton, author of Paradise Lost thus: “Fame is the spur that the clear spirit raises. The desire for fame is the last infirmity of noble minds.” So I, who is an amateur hobbyist writer/indie-blogger, reworked the wise old sayings of fame by these reverential titans of English Literature. I don’t think fame is necessarily evil, corrupting the heart of a soul. If used wisely, it works as a stimulant to strive for the fulfillment of your goals and dreams, so long as the ambition doesn’t grow into Rabelaisian proportion. 

 

spiritual soldiers

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The Battle of Alexander at Issus, 1529 by Albrecht Altdorfer

The passion I find a rebel

From the cell of Reason

With loud dander of Babel

Raising an army of sedition

To rule the royalty of the soul

In its allegiance to Impulse alone.  

 

The Reason I turn wakeful

From the chamber of Temperance

With swift reveille at evenfall

Raising an army of dominance

To guard the palace of the soul

In its sovereignty over Instincts withal. 

 

P.S.: It’s a self-evidentiary poem about a battle of Passion and Reason, Id v. Superego, or Pleasure v. Morality, the neverending conflicts of the dichotomy of the body and the mind that has invoked myriads of imaginations culminating in intellectual treaties and artistic opuses throughout the history of civilizations. The equanimity of the mind results from successful governance of instincts, the raw emotions that Reason must tame to transform them into ideas and thoughts. This sounds easier said than done, but it’s true. Sometimes, doing a simple thing is the hardest thing to do. 

Great feast of fellowship, what a thing it is!

Education is quintessentially utilitarian. it is the soul of a society that grows into a collective human civilization in which individuals become cosmopolitans of the global village. William Butler Yeats saw education as “not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” In fact, education is the beginning of enlightenment, the road to Alpine Path to reach the peaks of your dreams and goals in triumph, no matter how rigid and challenging it may be. It is, therefore, a human right belonging to all ranks and titles, and it is this very reason that I was very glad to come upon this wonderful website “Working Class Academics Conference” on Twitter.

The conference is a congress of academics with honorable intentions to form a supporting network of collegiality that encourages their increasing presence and voices in academia where normally is dominated by scholars and academics of the affluent middle-class and privileged high class. It purposes to signify, acknowledge, and salute the achievements of working-class people embarking on an odyssey of their own in search of will to meaning in life via education despite biological, social, and cultural inhibitions against the elitist currents of Higher and Education and the University often unfriendly toward their peers of another class. It is Parliament of Kindred Spirits and Faeries that guide their fellow academics of similar socio-economic backgrounds to climb to their due respect and well-deserved recognition from the mainstream academia. 

In fact, there have been many notable figures of the working class who rose above social and biological planes that would not dispirit their noble, unyielding spirits flying high over the mountains of existential difficulties. Take Charles Dickens. Although Dickens’s family was originally of the middle class, his debt-ridden lawyer father took his family to a debtor’s jail and even sent very young Dickens to a factory for livelihood, which practically makes Dickens and his family working class. However, his talent for words and literary aspirations overcame the vicissitudes of hardscrabble life and made him arrive as one of the greatest writers in English Literature. Then there is also Ben Jonson, a leading neo-classist in the Elizabethan era who was abruptly driven out of his much-beloved the College of St. Peter at Westminster by his bricklayer stepfather at his youth to be set to work at bricklaying for living. And yet, Jonson tried to preserve a sense of purpose and a tenacious grasp on social recognition by relentlessly pursuing his literary ambition to be justifiably on par with his contemporary less-talented stiff upper lipped university-educated dramatists, poets, and scholars. Speaking of which,the immortal Elizabethan playwright and poet William Shakespeare also worked as an actor as well, ruffling the feathers of his expensively educated high class contemporaries and to our contemporaries to this date.

In conclusion, the conference is a great feast of celebrating the fellowship of working-class scholars whose existence in academia is often regarded as slighted lesser equals who dare to hobnob with their academic peers of privileged class on equal terms. These fellows of solidarity do not brandish placards championing a campaign against expensively privately educated scholars or academics in a frenzy of excitement fulled by their class-related jealousy. On the contrary, the conference is a celebration of their achievements, a festivity of who they are, a festivity of where they come from. And I want to praise them for the following virtues: pleasant without affectation, welcoming without exclusion, audacious without impudence, learned without pedantry, and brilliant without sententious bromides.