Part of the
Macmillan Master Guides
book series (MMG)
Jonson’s treatment at the hands of the critics has not always been just. He has all too often been compared disparagingly with Shakespeare, his great contemporary. In his lifetime Jonson’s reputation stood high, and even in the century after his death Dryden praised his work, calling him ‘the greatest man of the last age’. But in the nineteenth century, particularly among Romantic critics who were out of sympathy with Jonson’s aims and methods, his work was compared unfavourably with Shakespeare. One of the few who came to a just assessment of Jonson’s achievement was the poet Coleridge who considered The Fox to be the greatest of Ben Jonson’s works’, and wrote:
Ben Jonson is original; he is, indeed, the only one of the great dramatists of the day who was not either directly produced or very greatly modified by Shakespeare.
(Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare and other English poets)