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

Chapter 4 - Seventeenth-Century Readers of Jonson’s 1616 Works

from Part II - Jonson’s Early Reception

Summary

Jonson’s folio collection, The Works of Benjamin Jonson (1616), represented an ambitious and ground-breaking attempt to preserve his plays, poems, and other writings for future generations to appreciate. Many copies of this monumental publication have indeed survived, some with extensive annotations, giving us a unique insight into Jonson’s early reception and early modern reading practices more broadly. Drawing on the remarkable collection of copies at the Huntington Library, this essay explores in detail a number that were extensively annotated in the 17th century. The investigation highlights how Jonson’s early readers ranged from university students to classical scholars to literary enthusiasts. It examines how these different kinds of engagement with Jonson’s Works relate both to his conceptions of the reader and to the attempts of his early admirers to shape his posthumous reputation. It shows how quickly and widely Jonson’s collection was recognised as a significant literary publication, and how unpredictable and diverse were the ways in which it would be read.

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