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Ben Jonson: A Life Hardcover – January 13, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0198129769 ISBN-10: 0198129769 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


"A deeply researched but happily readable new biography of Jonson" --The New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating portrait... Brilliant biography." --Daily Telegraph

"An authoritative and lucid biography." --Sunday Telegraph

"Definitive biography of this quarrelsome playwright." --Sunday Times

"The biographical material on Jonson is extraordinarily rich... Donaldson's fine book is stocked with new material." --The Guardian

"A work of clarity and lucidity, exact in its historical detail, full of new material and ingeniously suggestive in its conjecture and interpretation." --Sam Leith, Spectator

"An absorbing biography" --New Statesman

"This is a measured, comprehensive book written with style, sympathy for his subject, and scholarly balance. Other good Jonson bios are out there...but for sheer reach, grasp, and panache, there may never be a better one than this." --The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Donaldson's biography is well-paced, readable, and authoritative." --lThe New Criterion

"His deep involvement with Jonson scholarship and criticism ... is apparent on every page of his authoritative, elegantly written, and illuminatingly illustrated biography." --Stanley Wells, The New York Review of Books

"This volume embeds Jonson intimately in the social, political, and literary crosscurrents of Jacobean London. ... An indispensable research aid. Highly recommended." --Choice

"Provides an incisive summary of contemporary research on Jonson's life and works." --Renaissance Quarterly

"Wherever he may be in his after-life, Ben Jonson must be purring with delight at this latest, most magisterial biography of his. Than this Life, nothing more detailed, more elaborate, more painstakingly researched can be conceived. Through all the recorded details, many of them left to posterity by the subject himself, the author has so well succeeded - as no author of Shakespeare's life has ever succeeded - in entering into the mind of his poet, in agreeing with him at almost every point, even (it might seem) in sharing with him what he calls 'his spiritual shuttling between the English and the Roman religions' (p. 57), as to form almost one entity." --The Heythrop Journal

About the Author

Ian Donaldson is Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. He has written many books on Jonson and is a General Editor, with David Bevington and Martin Butler, of the forthcoming seven-volume Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson. An eminent scholar, Donaldson is a Fellow of the British Academy and past president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198129769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198129769
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.4 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #977,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Haverstick on April 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Donaldson is Jonson's editor in the new Oxford edition and it shows in his complete knowledge of the man and times. New material re a hiking trip took from London to Edinburgh has emerged lately and a description of it is included in the text.. I've seen a good production of the Alchemist recently and ordered a DVD of Volpone to watch and boned up on some of the poetry to go with this read, so I feel I got a good deal out of it.

Jonson's life was amazingly eventful: drinker, intellectual, fighter, killer...these Elizabethians seem to have led some pretty exciting lives. Frankly - besides Shakespear - there are a few of his contemporaries whose work I enjoy more, Marlowe, for one, but I really have to admire the life accomplishments of Jonson. His constant thin-ice skating politically and religiously shows him to be fearless. His editing of Shakespear and remarks on the writing of his times show his critical skills and intellectual skills. Donaldson's bio is for the serious reader, however. The section of illustrations in color is quite nice, the index is full and complete and there's a detailed bibliography. If you go for this period, you'll need this as a reference in your library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D. Eckersley on July 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ian Donaldson considers all the evidence at hand to reconstruct the life of Ben Jonson and the age, its politics, its dangers, and its poetry, masques, and plays as Elizabeth I is in her last years and as James VI and I consolidates his authority. Well constructed, the book begins with Jonson's walking tour to Scotland from London in middle age and moves back to birth and forward chronologically to his death. Anyone interested in this contemporary of Bacon and Donne and Shakespeare should read this well-written book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bryan H. Wildenthal on March 12, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Ian Donaldson's 2011 biography appears, as other reviews have noted, to be the most thorough one-volume study yet of Ben Jonson, an Elizabethan-Jacobean playwright utterly overshadowed today by Shakespeare, but very highly regarded in his own time. I have only started reading parts of Donaldson's book, but it appears mostly of high quality so far. It will have a place on my shelf right next to David Riggs's earlier Jonson biography, amongst my other books on Shakespeare and Elizabethan life and literature generally.

Riggs, disappointingly, devoted only the most minimal attention to Jonson's editing of the First Folio in 1623, collecting most of the plays published under the name "William Shakespeare" (sometimes spelled "Shake-Speare"; and often published anonymously before the Folio).

Donaldson pays better attention to Jonson's role in the Folio, though still devotes only about six pages out of 533 to the issue (pp. 370-76 in the hardcover). Really? Barely more than 1% of a biography on Jonson's obviously central role in the editing and publication of one of the 2 or 3 greatest books ever published in human history?

Granted, there is an enormous amount we don't know about the Folio and Jonson's role. We are certainly in the realm of speculation and inference there, to a very large extent. A biography must understandably focus on the documentary evidence we have.

But it's disappointing that Donaldson opens his discussion by taking at face value the Folio's own (extremely dubious) claim that it was "edited by the two surviving members of the original company of the Lord Chamberlain's Men established in 1594: John Heminges and Henry Condell." (p.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Any serious student of Ben Jonson must at least read (if not own) a copy of this book. Well written and extensively documented by an eminent critic, it contains the latest in scholarship. Donaldson weaves a rich fabric of biography and literary achievement, clearly substantiating Jonson's place as the major figure of his time.
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