Anyway, Riggs seems to be going for a Ben-Jonson-Elizabethan-serial-killer kind of thing (he claims to have killed a man while in the army; we know he killed a fellow actor in a duel and very nearly went to Tyburn for it: actually, the murder was committed on my birthday (although of course I hadn't been born yet and it's on the wrong calendar anyway)) with the idea that Jonson was specifically looking for ways to express his aggression and act out a sort of generalized wrath at the universe. This seems a little shaky to me; sometimes, an asshole with a massive authority problem is an asshole with a massive authority problem just because he is an asshole with a massive authority problem, and Ben, with his need to shore himself up and undermine those around him, strikes me as somebody with a profound inferiority complex.
One gets the feeling that, as a self-educated man (he can't have had much schooling past his middle teens, when he would have been apprenticed to his stepfather the bricklayer) he had a bit of an Issue with the University Wits. Given the Issue that University Wits had with our buddy the Upstart Crowe over there--nevermind any later evidence of the so-called Poet's War--one presumes it was enthusiastically reciprocated. (And that impromptu allegiance may very well have something to do with Ben's apparently passionate and contradictory feelings about Shakespeare.)
And Ben was a London townie. Even worse.
It's not necessary to look for careful plotting in Ben getting himself into mortal combat--he had a tongue and a temper, and (as near as can be told) never backed down from a fight. (There's a notorious story about Ben--after he was nearly hanged for dueling--pistol-whipping another man who refused to meet him in a duel with the pistol that the other had brought as protection against Ben. (Really, I find that story almost as edifying as the Kit-Marlowe-caning-an-armed-man-on-the-H
Anyway, I don't think we can take anything Ben said about himself very seriously, as he has displayed a marked tendency to reinvent himself--changing his name (twice) (He was born Benjamin Johnson and bits kept falling out of his name over the years) and inventing a mythical connection to the gentry.
The astounding thing about Ben, from my perspective, is the unholy charm he must have been able to bring to bear. His collection of mistresses, both reputed and claimed, is really extraordinary, especially for a fat caustic man with a face like a muttonchop (and most of them seem to have been married to other people, incidentally), and more than that, what's astounding is that anybody would work with him. Or work with him twice. Or come back and work with him again after being on the receiving end of Jonson's famously savage wit.
And yet they did.
One is left with the impression of a charismatic individual, and perhaps the sort of person who was too much fun to be around, as long as he wasn't pointed in your direction this time.
The lovely thing about Ben, however, is that he was so self-aggrandizing. We know so much more about him than most of his contemporaries; he's comparatively well-documented because he did talk about himself so much.
That, and he hated Robert Poley with a passion.
That alone is enough to get him into my good graces right there.