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The following is an imagined account from the life of Ben Jonson, an English playwright whose works and influence rival those of William Shakespeare himself.


We certainly had similar backgrounds. His father made gloves and mine was a brick-layer; neither could afford to send us to university. We were grammar-school boys – and when I talk about his ‘small Latin and less Greek’, I mean to praise the lad and all of his Warwickshire cheek! Both of us left school with a limited knowledge of the Classics, but it never held us back. I went on reading and studying and making those Romans and Greeks more my own; Will showed that even by only having been to grammar-school he could rival some of the greatest authors of all time. Not a bad actor, either. Well, all right – he was bloody good. I saw that immediately - he took up that part in my Everyman In His Humour.

But can I just say for the record: he took my Stephano and Matheo and turned them into Andrew Aguecheek and Toby Belch in his slight, Ilyrian comedy. Little did I know we had a thief in our midst! And Thorello, my jealous husband, got transformed into his Othello – even the names are similar. I challenged our Warwickshire Will, and in public down the Mermaid, and all he could say was 'Well, isn’t it interesting how similar your bragging soldier Bobadillo is to my belovèd Sir John Falstaff' (he emphasised the knighthood, too), and furthermore, he got to his hind legs, 'Isn't the case therefore altered to one of every man for himself?' And set the whole table on a roar!

You've got to hand it to him – and I often did in our cups – did that evening a few weeks before he died up in Stratford, too – reckoning to share all our ideas with Drayton, and listening as intently as possible to each other to see who was really ahead. But Will always had this belief in magic and miracles, and I never did. Now I pride myself in following Cicero in these matters: comedy must imitate life, custom, and truth. There are classical rules and unities to be obeyed which he didn’t give a toss about. We differed on love, too – in the poems we wrote for that Welsh chappie, Sir John Salusbury, in 'Love’s Martyr'. For me true love comes when passion is chastened by reason, and Will goes and tries to trump this with his Phoenix and his Turtle-dove showing us that ‘Love hath reason, reason none.’ I do miss his wit, his musical verse, his unashamed sense of the old-fashioned.... I mentioned to Drummond the other evening: we were each other’s best foil – like Hamlet and Laertes – and occasionally we struck home and, yes, used our wit to wound.

Cast: Larry Robson, St Andrews Church, Shottery Colleagues

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