From Andrew Gurr’s The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642:
Jonson was far more openly opinionated than most of his fellow writers. Quite apart from Sejanus, his Cataline of 1611 is almost certainly a fictitious presentation of the Gunpowder Plot and a defence of his own dubious part in it (like Marlowe before him he seems to have found one source of finance in spying for the government). He was a violent controversialist against several of his fellow poets in his contributions to the so-called Poetomachia, or War of the Theatres, in 1601-2. With all this, however, he was also and always a passionate moralist, a running commentary on the follies of his times. Whatever the players made out of what he sold them, his masques were always statements of opinion, moral and political. The man who could write under a Stuart that ‘a good King is a publike Servant’ was brave as well as outspoken, and no acquiescent royalist. Jonson was imprisoned in 1597 for writing a seditious play, in 1598 for killing a man (a player) in a duel, and in 1605 for another play, Eastward Ho! which he wrote along with Chapman and Marston for the boys of the Blackfriars, in which they satirised the King and his Scottish entourage. (36-37)
Part of me giggles and appreciates this portrayal of Jonson as intriguing spy-murderer-seditionist, but I think Gurr’s description may be the tiniest bit hyperbolic. Cataline, according to Jonson’s preface to the play, was fairly unsuccessful (the play doesn’t seem to have been violently controversial enough to attract the same attention as Middleton’s A Game at Chess), and for all his “brave” advice to James, Jonson was far too dependent upon the income the court masques offered to truly criticise the royal follies in that medium.
It’s a good paragraph, nonetheless. More attention than Ben usually receives.
3 July 2009 ~ St. Catharines