A figure of remarkable contradictions, Ben Jonson was both 'passionately kind and angry' and yet an advocate of Stoic self-control, both the Jacobean age's leading satirist and its pensioned court poet. Taken from school and put to brick-laying by his stepfather, he compensated for his interrupted formal education by creatively imitating the classics, pioneering a new mode of satiric comedy and developing the English verse epistle, epigram and ode. Yet his early experience as an actor-playwright gave him a thorough grounding in the popular theatre he scorned. This concise biography traces Jonson's career in the context of Jacobean politics, court patronage and his many literary rivalries. Stressing his wit and inventiveness, it explores the strategies by which he attempted to maintain his independence and introduces new evidence that, despite his vaunted classicism, he repeatedly appropriated the matter or forms of other English writers in order to demonstrate his own artistic superiority.