Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson


Ian Donaldson, Ben Jonson: A Life Oxford University Press, 2011.

Melbourne-bred Ian Donaldson has been a major academic in English literature sequentially at Oxford, Canberra, Edinburgh and Cambridge and he has long been acknowledged as a dominant forces in the world of Jonson studies. Jonson has been overshadowed by the more immediately appealing, user-friendly, tear-jerking Shakespeare, but it was Ben who was buried in Westminster Abbey while Shakespeare mouldered away in Stratford.

Scholarship has been fairly slow to pickup on the richness of Jonson's plays and other work: the major edition is long out of date, though a new multi-volume version masterminded by Donaldson himself, will very shortly be available. But the crucial work is this biography, which both gathers together the substantial amount of information and interpretation that is available on Jonson and also shapes a strong, intelligent and long overdue cases for this strong-minded, deeply learned, theatrically vigorous – and often very funny – great writer. Shortlisted for the very prestigious British James Tait Black prize, this is a major book to own and read and re-read to understand the lateral riches and remarkable variety of the greatest period of Enlgish drama. 

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