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What is Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio?

It is the first edition of The Workes of Beniamin Jonson published in folio in 1616 by William Stansby. The Workes is so entitled because it collects and prints, although only selectively, what Ben[jamin] Jonson (1572-1637) had written so far in various genres of literature such as plays, epigrams, court masques and entertainments. The genre that is conspicuously presented in this volume is no doubt the play. Apart from fewer preliminaries, in which we can see no general dedications to patrons nor no `to the readers', the volume opens with the carefully revised Every Man in His Humours followed by the other six plays arranged apparently according to their date of the first performances, the records of which Jonson meticulously appended to the texts of each play.

It is well known that this `play'/`work' association of Jonson's caused some contemporary criticism. A search of The Short Titled Catalogue of the English Printed Books will generate the fact that the term `works' was, before 1616, basically associated with serious writings such as theology or classical literature. Herford and the Simpsons record several quotations from this criticism including the following lines:

To Mr. Ben. Johnson demanding the reason
why he call'd his playes works.

Pray tell me Ben, where doth the mystery lurke,
What others call a play you call a worke,
Thus answer'd by a friend in Mr.
Johnsons defence.

The authors friend thus for the author sayes,
Bens plays are works, when others works are plaies.
(Epigrams 269 and 270, Wits Recreations, 1640. Quoted in Herford & Simpsons, Ben Jonson, IX, p.13)

It may not be fair, however, for posterity to rush in accusation of Jonson too much for being immodest in this publication of 1616. There were publications of vernacular literature under the title of the works such as The Workes of Geoffrey Chaucer first published in 1532 reprinted four times up to 1602 and formatted in folio. Iohn Heywoodes woorkes first published in 1562 and reprinted five times up to 1598 is even more noteworthy in that it was a publication within the life times of the author himself. John Heywoods was an epigramist who also wrote some plays and worked very near to the court. Although printed in quarto, John Heywood was the first man to publish his own workes during his lifetime as Mark Bland notices in his `William Stansby and the Production of The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, 1615-16'(The Library, 6th Series, Vol. XX, No. 1, March 1998, 26-28).

The publication of the collected plays with or without pieces of other genres was also not unprecedented in 1616. Thomas Norton, George Gascoigne, Seneca in translation, Samuel Daniel, Philip Sidney and William Alexander are the examples of the authors whose works were published in collections so far, as Oya Reiko rightly points out in her `"Hibonnaru dokusha no minasama e"--Ben Jonson no shibaibon?'-- (`"To the Readers extraordinary"--Ben Jonson's play books--')(Ben Jonson edited by Tamaizumi Yasuo, Tokyo: Eihousha, 1993, pp.379-407).

Let us go back to the play/work association once again. So what was so distinctly innovative about Jonson's 1616 Folio as to have invited those criticisms? As Oya Reiko suggests, we might be now able to answer the question rather assuredly. It was the fact that his folio included plays presented on the popular stage. This innovation, by Ben Jonson, was to encourage the publication of Shakespeare's folios and of Beaumont and Fletcher's.

Nevertheless Jonson's 1616 Folio was still distinct from the folios of the other playwrights' in that it was produced in collaboration with the author and the printer/publisher while Shakespeare's and Beaumont and Fletcher's folios were published posthumously. The 44 year-old Jonson was to be granted `a certain annuity or pension of one hundred marks' by way of a patent issued by King James on the first of February 1616 (Herford & the Simpsons, Ben Jonson, I, 231-32). The project of printing the Workes is conjectured to have been going on at the printing house of William Stansby from January 1615 through the end of November or the beginning of December 1616 (Kevin J. Donovan, `The Final Quires of the Jonson 1616 Workes: Headline evidence', Studies in Bibliography, 40 (1987), p. 120). The publication of the Workes marks Jonson's pride as a representative poet of the age as well as its public acknowledgement.

To Jonson, a non resident poet of the dramatic company, the page was another media for his plays other than the stage. Unlike Shakespeare, a resident poet of the Chamberlain's/King's Men, Jonson committed himself to the printing of his plays either in quarto or in folio. He seems to have had a wish to publish a second edition of his Workes, which was eventually published in 1640, three years after his own death.

MUSC will clearly show what different page faces the folio format could produce for dramatic texts. While Shakespeare's folios have a larger type-page printed in double columns, Jonson's folio has smaller type-page mostly printed in single column leaving ample space to the margins. The editions which Stansby and Jonson might have taken as their typographic models, according to Mark Bland, seem to be the late sixteenth-century continental editions of Plautus and other classical authors such as the 1583 Paris edition of Plautus (p.24).

March 31, 2008

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