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In the ‘two bucket’ version of literary history whatever praise lightens Shakespeare’s load must fill Jonson’s with invective. This history is abetted by anecdotal accounts that bring the writers together in ‘wit contests’, which ransom Shakespeare’s reputation at the expense of Jonson. The prevailing morphology of the Jonson anecdote is that he often ends up as the butt of the joke. Such stories seem to respond to his attempts to manage his own legacy, especially his effrontery in supervising his own ‘works’ in 1616. This essay studies the tradition of Jonsonian anecdotes – including three previously unknown eighteenth-century examples – all of which show Jonson trying and failing to play executor to his own literary legacy. Tellingly, these rebuttals to Jonson often address him in his own terms, specifically poetic ones. For be it epigram, epitaph, or epilogue, these anecdotes offer light verse rejoinders to Jonson’s attempts to have the last word. Attention to Jonson’s reputation in his own time and in the century following his death complicates and enriches a narrative about the dilation of that reputation across the centuries, presenting him as not just the foil to Shakespeare but the casualty of his efforts to author his own legacy.
Until the advent of the twentieth century, the form of Faustus’s post-Renaissance fortunes upon the English stage was largely a comic one. From the humourous Faustus of 1697 to a comic ballet in 1833, Marlowe’s Faustus survived mostly in motley. When the Faustus story did return to the English stage as tragedy, it was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s, not Christopher Marlowe’s. 'The Devil and Doctor Faustus' therefore goes in search of Marlowe’s Faustus during its 'lost years'. It argues that while Marlowe’s play as we know it today disappeared for nearly three hundred years, it survived via its anecdotal variant, the story of an extra devil spawned by an early performance. For across the centuries—between Faustus’s premiere in the sixteenth century and its reemergence at the outset of the twentieth—Marlowe’s devil makes cameos at moments of theatrical crisis and remembers the spirit if not a word of Marlowe’s masterpiece.