A comprehensive, scholarly biography of the Elizabethan/Jacobean dramatist and poet; by Stanford Univ. professor Riggs, who here also illuminates the elaborate literary theories that underlay the structures of Jonson's plays--including Volpone, Cynthia's Revels, and Every Man in His Humour. Riggs traces Jonson's rise from a bricklayer's apprentice to England's leading literary figure. The consummate ""literary careerist,"" Jonson's was often nearly derailed by his hot temper and independent nature. Accused of sedition, he was imprisoned several times and came close to being hanged; in his youth, he killed two men and indulged in a number of adulterous relationships. Riggs shows how Jonson was nevertheless able to transcend his background and transmute it through his enormous talent into literary gold. His popular comedies eventually brought him to the attention of King James I, who hired Jonson to fashion elaborate court dances and entertainments. As a courtier, Jonson was a loyal supporter of the new king, who rewarded his ""well beloved servant"" with an annual pension. Jonson also broke new ground when he became the first English playwright to publish his plays in folio form. After Charles I succeeded James I, the monarchy fell upon hard financial times and Jonson's pension was irregularly paid; his career also began to wane swiftly. Jonson died in near penury in 1637 and was buried in the poet's corner of Westminster Abbey. In this painstakingly thorough biography, Riggs describes in detail Jonson's milieu--the rise of London's new urban classes, the inner workings of the Jacobean Court, the growth in popularity of the theater, and the web of literary rivalries and friendships that Jonson wove about himself. Riggs' reliance on a scholarly armature, however, often weighs down the narrative flow.