Does satire have the ability to effect social reform? If so, what satiric style is most effective in bringing about reform? This book explores how Renaissance poet and playwright Ben Jonson negotiated contemporary pressures to forge a satiric persona and style uniquely his own. These pressures were especially intense while Jonson was engaged in the Poetomachia, or Poets’ War (1598-1601), which pitted him against rival writers John Marston and Thomas Dekker. As a struggle between satiric styles, this conflict poses compelling questions about the nature and potential of satire during the Renaissance. In particular, this book explores how Jonson forged a moderate Horatian satiric style he championed as capable of effective social reform. As part of his distinctive model, Jonson turned to the metaphor of purging, in opposition to the metaphors of stinging, barking, biting, and whipping employed by his Juvenalian rivals. By integrating this conception of satire into his Horatian poetics, Jonson sought to avoid the pitfalls of the aggressive, violent style of his rivals while still effectively critiquing vice, upholding his model as a means for the reformation not only of society, but of satire itself.
Jay Simons received his PhD in English, with a specialty in British Renaissance literature, from Southern Illinois University in 2013. The same year, his article entitled "Stinging, Barking, Biting, Purging: Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and the Debate on Satire in the Poetomachia" was published in the Ben Jonson Journal. He is currently an adjunct professor at Jefferson Community & Technical College.