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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: September 2020

Chapter 8 - Jonson in the Shadows

from Part III - Jonsonian Afterlives


This essay examines how in editions, on the stage, and in biographies, Jonson was revised and reinterpreted for the eighteenth century, generally as a foil to Shakespeare. The first illustrated Jonson was published in 1716, with the plays for the most part represented as if on a modern stage, though few had been performed since the early seventeenth century. Portraits of Jonson too went through much revision, even at one point substituting a slim, youthful, lively poet for the heavyset middle-aged scholar of the previous century. Critical treatments of the playwright were ambivalent, even maintaining that the role he conceived for himself, and that best expressed his character, was that of Morose in Epicene. David Garrick made the roles of Kitely in Every Man in His Humour and Drugger in The Alchemist particularly his own, with the latter even spawning a series of tobacconist sequels. But these productions rebalanced the plays around star performances and increased their sensationalism and emotional temperature. In print, portraits, and performance Jonson was not afforded the same care and respect that were lavished on Shakespeare and was increasingly overshadowed by him.

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