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Ben Jonson and fame

Ian Donaldson FBA, Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

Date/Time: 12th March 2013

During his lifetime and the century following his death, Ben Jonson was often seen as the greatest of all English writers. His reputation rested not only on the dazzling comedies by which he’s generally known today but also on a range of works that are nowadays unfamiliar to a wider public. But fame, as Jonson himself realised and as his own fluctuating reputation testifies, is a precarious commodity. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Jonson’s work was largely ignored; yet in recent years its boldness, range and modern outlook have been increasingly recognised. Neglected plays are now delighting new audiences with their surprising topicality. The entire Jonsonian canon has been re-edited in a format congenial to modern readers and the curious complexities of Jonson’s life, with which this lecture was principally concerned, are gradually coming to light.