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Ben Jonson: The Man Behind The Branded Thumb

Autor:   •  March 8, 2011  •  Essay  •  841 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,398 Views

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Ben Jonson: The Man Behind the Branded Thumb

Poets and playwrights of the 17th century are generally looked upon as holding characteristics of gentlemen; liberal educations, knowledge of the law, never labored with their hands and so on, strong with words and slow to sweat. These were not the types to labor laying brick or to be found in a brawl in the local pub. The poet and playwright kept in the circles of the Lords and Ladies, yet, here we find Ben Jonson, a man's man, and one of the most influential poets and playwrights of the century. Jonson was known to have a bit of a temper, and on occasion spent time in prison for letting it get the best of him. He spent time laboring as a brick layer, and a stint in the military. Somewhere behind the rough, crusty, and tough exterior laid a soft, sensitive, and endearing man, as evidenced by the wildly influential poems Jonson has left behind.

In, "On My First Son", we see Jonson as a loving father and devout Christian. Jonson's first son passed away at the young and tender age of seven. In this poem, Jonson writes as if talking to his child, as if hoping that his words will somehow find their way to his boy. Jonson refers to his son as the child of his "right hand". This suggests his son's great worth and also the fact that he would have been the Jonson's heir. The image conjures up ideas and biblical references, Christ sitting on the right hand of God, as well as that of royalty, with the most trusted knight sitting on the right hand of the king and queen.

Jonson sees the boy's death as caused by his (the father's, not the boy's) sin, in loving the child too much. This idea returns at the end of the poem. Jonson sees the boy's life in terms of a loan, which he has had to repay, after seven years, on the, "just day…" set for this. This extended metaphor expresses the idea that all people really belong to God and are permitted to spend time in this world.

Jonson looks at the contradiction (or paradox) that we "lament" something we should really envy, that being the ability to escape the hardships of life and the misery of ageing. Jonson suggests that "his best piece of poetry", his greatest creation, is his son. This thought process again has biblical


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