The papers in this volume were given by some of the world’s foremost Jonsonian scholars at a conference at the University of Toronto which marked the 400th anniversary of his birth. Each contributor came from a different institution, and Canada, the United States, Great Britain, and New Zealand were represented. The balance of papers likewise reflects the range of Ben Jonson’s achievement and the combination of brio and control so characteristic of him.
The papers arrange themselves in pairs: ‘The Incredibility of Jonsonian Comedy,’ as discussed by Professor Clifford Leech, is of a piece with distrust and defiance of the audience as discussed in the paper ‘Jonson and the Loathèd Stage’ by Professor Jonas Barish; Professor George Hibbard in ‘Ben Jonson and Human Nature’ and Professor D.I. McKenzie in ‘The Staple of News and the Late Plays’ offer critical assessment of plays, the one wide-ranging, the other closely focused on a previously neglected play; and Professor H.N. Maclean in ‘"A More Secret Cause”: The Wit of Jonson’s Poetry’ and Professor L.C. Knights in ‘Ben Jonson: Public Attitudes and Social Poetry’ approach the difficult and rewarding task of defining Jonson’s poetry of appraisal in different but complementary styles.
About the authors
William Blissett was born in Saskatchewan on October 11, 1921. Reading the modernist poets at age sixteen, he wrote his first published scholarly essay, on T.S. Eliot, while still an undergraduate at UBC. He met George Johnston in graduate school at U of T where Northrop Frye supervised both their theses. Following ten years at the University of Saskatchewan and five at Western, Blissett returned to the University of Toronto in 1965, becoming a long-serving editor of the University of Toronto Quarterly and co-editor of The Spenser Encyclopedia. He retired from teaching, but not from scholarship, in 1987. Now in his ninetieth year, he still gives papers internationally.
Blissett is a writer in the Guy Davenport manner, extensive, encyclopedic and stylish, given to life-long projects at present being resolved into books: essays on his friend, the modernist poet and painter David Jones; on Shakespeare and Jonson; on the influence of Wagner on the literary modernists and of Edmund Spenser on poets alive at the mid-twentieth century (complete with letters from each poet); and essays for the William Morris Society and the Chesterton Society. Traveller, opera-goer, storyteller and wit, Blissett lives in Toronto.
Julian Patrick is Associate Professor of English, Victoria College, University of Toronto.
R.W. Van Fossen (1927-2009) was Professor of English, Erindale College, University of Toronto.