“On the Famous Voyage”: Ben Jonson and Civic Space
Early Modern Literary Studies 4.2/ Special Issue 3 (September, 1998)
In this essay I want to contextualize Jonson’s troublesome poem, situating it within the physical and cultural environment of early modern London. This aim undersets a combination of literary and spatial interpretation. As postmodern geographers and social theorists have demonstrated, space demands analysis not merely as a neutral container but as itself a product. Moreover, the production of space implies not only the drive of economic power across the land, but an interrelated cultural fashioning of meaning and consciousness. At a time of unsettling change in London, characterized by rapid population growth, the movement of commercial and industrial practices towards capitalist structures, and devastating outbreaks of dearth and plague, cultural products played a crucial role in shaping the spatiality of urban life. “On the Famous Voyage” emerges within this context as an ironic commentary on, and disruptive intervention in contemporary constructions of space. The poem interweaves strains of satire and saturnalia, as Jonson maps a journey through a grotesque urban body.