His surname quite often mutilated into the more ordinary Johnson, Ben Jonson is one of the few writers from the 16th century who was picking up songwriting credits during the early rock & roll era. The main reason for this is the poem entitled "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes", composed circa 1595, but still relevant to crooner Johnnie Ray in 1955. Moving on even farther in history, Jonson might be considered to have even more in common with rap artists, and not just because they both write lines that tend to rhyme at the end. Like many rappers, as well as rockers, Jonson did jail time. He was locked up first in 1597 for helping to write a satire entitled The Isle of Dogs, declared seditious in an era well before the Patriot Act came along. Things got worse the following year, when Jonson murdered a fellow actor Gabriel Spencer, joining an even more select group of performers who don't limit their killing to the bandstand. An appeal to the clergy saved him from being hung, although he emerged from jail with the brand of a felon on his thumb. Jonson's theatrical career included the play Every Man in His Humour, first performed in 1598 with a minor character named William Shakespeare in the cast. Despite this connection, it is the comedies Jonson dashed out between 1605 and 1614 that really cemented his reputation, although some kind of term having to do with mortar or free-standing masonry would be more appropriate considering the era. Volpone, or the Fox, first published in 1607 after having been performed for several years, is considered to be his masterpiece. In later years, he became an important mentor for a group of writers who gathered at London's famed Mermaid Tavern, including Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling, and Richard Lovelace. In 1628 Jonson suffered a serious stroke but survived nearly another decade. "O Rare Ben Jonson!" is the entire eulogy written on his grave in Westminster Abbey. ~ Eugene ChadbournePortions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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