Literature Writing

A Suit of Armour


Its probably fair to say Ben Jonson found criticism challenging.

According to contemporary accounts the Renaissance playwright was quick to anger and killed two men in duels.

The actor playing the Prologue in Jonson’s play Poetaster arrives on stage in a suit of armour, which is “Forty-fold proof against the conjuring means/Of base detractors, and illiterate apes”

A lot of the dramatist’s career was spent trying to come to terms with his audience.

In Every Man out of His Humour he distinguishes between “attentive auditors” and “monstrous fellows” who have “neither arts, nor brains.”

Winston Churchill was happy to accept both types: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Let’s be honest – taking positives from criticism is often easier said than done.

Jonson might have spent his time more profitably avoiding feuds. When he was buried in Westminster Abbey his reputation was that of a literary giant.

An audio version of this blog is available here:

By Henry Anderson

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