Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson (1614)

Bartholomew Fair is a very long comic play set in London’s huge and sprawling Bartholomew Fair. The fair had been held every year on 24 August since the 12th century in the precincts of the Priory at West Smithfield, outside the Aldersgate, and by Jonson’s day had grown into a massive, teeming festival of entertainment, […]

The Alchemist by Ben Jonson (1610)

The Alchemist is a plague play. Not only was it written in 1610, when the London theatres were closed (yet again) for (yet another) outbreak of plague, but the plot itself derives from that fact. The master of the house, Lovewit, has (like everyone else who can afford it) fled London and is waiting at […]

Volpone or The Fox by Ben Jonson (1606)

Michael Jamieson edited the old Penguin paperback edition of Ben Jonson’s three greatest hits which are Volpone (1606), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614). Jonson is often depicted as Shakespeare’s greatest rival in the second half of his career, as Christopher Marlowe (d.1593) was the leading figure right at the start. Maybe – but […]

Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston (1605)

Six salient facts: 1. Eastward Ho and Westward Ho were the cries of the watermen who plied on the Thames, telling customers which way they were headed. 2. Eastward Ho! was a collaboration between three leading playwrights of the era, George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston. Scholars have been arguing for centuries about who […]

Every Man In His Humour by Ben Jonson (1598)

‘O, manners! that this age should bring forth such creatures! that nature should be at leisure to make them!’ (Ned Knowell, Every Man In His Humour, Act 4, scene 5) When he came to oversee the collection of all the poetry and plays he wished to preserve in a Folio edition of his Works in 1616, […]

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare (1606)

“These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, Or lose myself in dotage…” (Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, scene 2) Plot summary Act I The assassination of Julius Caesar in March 44 BC led to a period of chaos with warlords commanding legions around the Roman world, until a deal was brokered the three […]

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (1599)

Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, was first produced, in all probability, in 1599. The plot is based entirely on three of Plutarch’s biographies of eminent Romans, which Shakespeare found in Sir Thomas North’s translations into English of The Lives of the Most Noble Greeks and Romans, first published in 1579. The three lives he drew from […]

Of Friendship by Francis Bacon

Bacon is a hugely enjoyable read and his pithy brevity is a welcome break from Cicero’s rambling verbosity. Francis Bacon Francis Bacon was born in 1561 into an eminent family. His uncle was the Lord Cecil who became the first minister to Queen Elizabeth. Like Cicero he made a career at the bar and in […]

Mostellaria (The Ghost Story) by Plautus (c.210 BC)

The plot We are in Athens in front of the house of Theoproprides, a Greek merchant, and his neighbour Simo. Theoproprides has a son, Philolaches, who is in love with a courtesan Philematium (who has an elderly woman attendant, Scapha). Philolaches recently bought Philematium her freedom for 3,000 drachmas which he borrowed off a moneylender […]

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen (2006)

‘Face it, we live in a stinking shitwash of cruelty and greed and rotten manners.’ (Honey Santana, the nature girl of the title, page 264) Chapter one Tommy Tigertail was the strong, silent Native American member of the four-strong eco-‘terrorist’ group led by renegade journalist Skip Wiley, who wreaked havoc in Hiaasen’s farcical first novel, […]