26 December 2019

Works cited:

Jonson, Ben. “An Expostulation with Inigo Jones.” 1631. Poem.

Gordon, D. J. “Poet and Architect: The Intellectual Setting of the Quarrel between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 12, 1949, pp. 152–178.

Paster, Gail Kern. “Ben Jonson and the Uses of Architecture.” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 3, 1974, pp. 306–320.

Further reading:

Orgel, Stephen. “To Make Boards to Speak: Inigo Jones's Stage and the Jonsonian Masque.” Renaissance Drama, vol. 1, 1968, pp. 121–152.


These works document and analyze the historic feud between English architect and stage designer, Inigo Jones (1573-1652), and English poet and playwright, Ben Jonson (1572-1637). Originally, the two successfully collaborated on several popular court masques but eventually their working relationship fell apart. This deterioration was documented in a series of personal and ideological written attacks. One prevalent theme of their feud was the importance of architecture versus poetry. Additional themes: invention versus expression, and architecture’s categorization as either a mechanical or liberal art.

Jonson’s poem is the most accessible original source for understanding this feud. In it, he ridicules Jones for adopting a lofty and false professional manner in an attempt to elevate his work to higher status than which Jonson believes it deserves. Jonson views poetry, and ideas expressed through words, as the soul of a stage production such as a masque. A set design supports this poetry, but it is not an originator or primary component of the theatrical work itself.

Gordon’s essay contextualizes the feud. It explains what was said and who said it. It also provides a general background on masques and a discussion of some of the important Neoclassical ideas and themes within them, particularly that of “invention.”

Paster’s essay expands on Gordon’s essay. It provides greater insight into both Jonson and Jones and the nuances of their fight by connecting to developments in architecture and the humanities in the Classical and Renaissance eras.

How does this relate to scenography?

These writings are directly about Jacobean and post-Jacobean set design. They also discuss important theoretical ideas about scenography and its place within the humanities and the liberal arts. Additionally, Paster's essay raises important questions about set design versus architecture and its relative impermanence.

The discussion of visual versus narrative content is very much alive today. In recent times, visual content seems to have boldly claimed a primary position in the world of art and humanities, enabled by and paralleling developments in technology. These readings remind design students that these issues reach back far to times far before our own.

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