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To the Reader

Saturday, 11 June, 2016

Ben Jonson’s most famous play is Volpone, the story of an ageing Venetian nobleman whose only passion is greed. The first three lines set the tone, when Volpone says:

“Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world’s soul and mine!”

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson was born in London on this day in 1572. His father died shortly before his birth and his mother remarried a bricklayer. Ben attended Westminster School, worked as a bricklayer, fought in Flanders and became an actor and playwright. In 1598, he wrote Every Man in His Humor and in one production a young actor called William Shakespeare appeared in a leading role. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He was released by pleading “benefit of clergy” (by proving he could read and write in Latin). “Language most shows a man,” Ben Jonson said, “speak that I may see thee.”

To the Reader

Pray thee, take care, that tak’st my book in hand,
To read it well: that is, to understand.

Ben Jonson (1572 — 1637)


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