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The Golden Age of English Drama

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The Elizabethan Age is the golden age of English drama. Among so many playwrights, William Shakespeare was undoubtedly the greatest one. However, one contemporary deserves certain attentions, his name was Ben Jonson. People say Jonson was in many ways what Shakespeare was not. Ben Jonson called Shakespeare a poet not of an age, but for all time. They are both friends and rivals. As dramatists, the differences between them are obvious. Samuel Jonson described: Ben Jonson was the poet of art and Shakespeare was the poet of nature. Thus, the following statements are some detailed differences of the two great men in terms of drama writing.

The dramatic rules they held were totally different. Ben Jonson was an advocator of classic rules in drama while Shakespeare was very flexible in his handling of drama rules set by his predecessors. In respect of tragedy and comedy, Ben Jonson disapproved of any mixture of the tragic with the comic but Shakespeare was not. Shakespeare wrote romantic tragi-comedies like the Winter's Tale in his last years because his ideal of a humanistic society was disillusioned. Also, Ben Jonson advocated the classical idea of the unity of time, place and theme. His ideal was that each play should be completed within the framework of a single day. The Alchemist was an obvious one of this style. However,Shakespeare just created drama according to his own judgment and the taste of the audience.

Ben Jonson also formed a sharp contrast to Shakespeare in characterization. As"humor" was an important word for Jonson, most protagonists he created were flat, one-sided and have no development. Each character was dominated by one of the humors that decide his behavior, way of thinking and manner of speech. Take Volpone as an example, the main character, Volpone, was a static character who worshiped money like his life. Unlike him, the characters in Shakespeare's drama were round and developing. He dug deep into human nature and depicted the complexities of human relations.

The central themes the two persons are somehow different. Ben Jonson paid heed to the truthful description of life and exposed the social evils of his time. Like Volpone, it is a play attacked on the greed and hypocrisy of men and women in 17th-century London. And the Alchemist, Jonson showed people's desire for easy money. He tried to avoid turning his plays into simple sermons but still, they lacked certain qualities and depths.

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