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Friday, August 31, 2012

Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe

In July or August 1597, a satirical play written by Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson -- The Isle of Dogs -- was performed. 

The Queen’s chief interrogator and famed torturer, Richard Topcliffe, informed Robert Cecil (soon to be the most powerful man in England) of the seditious, slanderous and lewd content of the play. 

Since the actual Isle of Dogs was where the Queen's Privy Council (in the above picture) met, the play most likely satirised Cecil and the other councillors, and may have even targeted the Queen herself.

Jonson and two other actors were imprisoned at Marshalsea. Nashe’s home was raided and his papers confiscated. The play was seized, has never been performed again, and is lost to us.

This incident is a reminder of how vulnerable artists such as Jonson, and Shakespeare for that matter, were in those days. It is also a clear picture of how sensitive the Queen and her Council, especially Cecil, were to any public criticism.

Some of Shakespeare’s plays have very questionable content. How did he avoid being imprisoned, and having his writing seized? Or, perhaps he was jailed for a time, and just maybe he did have some plays confiscated.

My version of Hamlet explores this matter.


David B. Schajer