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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.
In the biographical materials included in the first volume of the Oxford edition of Ben Jonson (1925–52) are some reminiscences entitled Memorandums of the Immortal Ben. Based on early handwritten marginalia found in a copy of the 1674 quarto of Catiline, these purport to be an account of Jonson’s writing habits, in his own voice.
Bringing together leading Jonson scholars, Ben Jonson and Posterity provides new insights into this remarkable writer's reception and legacy over four centuries. Jonson was recognised as the outstanding English writer of his day and has had a powerful influence on later generations, yet his reputation is one of the most multifaceted and conflicted for any writer of the early modern period. The volume brings together multiple critical perspectives, addressing book history, the practice of reading, theatrical influence and adaptation, the history of performance, cultural representation in portraiture, film, fiction, and anecdotes to interrogate Jonson's 'myth'. The collection will be of great interest to all Jonson scholars, as well as having a wider appeal among early modern literary scholars, theatre historians, and scholars interested in intertextuality and reception from the Renaissance to the present day.
Jonson and James both responded forcefully to the increase in popular discussion of state affairs and news circulation in the politically fraught period of the early 1620s, Jonson in a series of masques and manuscript poems, James in a variety of genres and media. This chapter explores how to some extent the works the two produced in these years are mutually reinforcing. There are even instances of the King appearing to borrow words and images from Jonson. The chapter also argues, however, that these works reveal marked divergences between James’s strategies of self-representation and Jonson’s depictions of the relations between the monarchy, the court poet, and the people. Especially through his extraordinary contributions to the culture of manuscript verse libel, James disrupted the fictions of monarchy that Jonson was trying to maintain. Attending to these divergences illuminates the pressure popular discussion and news exerted upon literary and political culture in the early 1620s. It also highlights the multiple challenges faced by Jonson as a court poet in the late Jacobean period, and his attempts nonetheless to defend that position.