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Re-Presenting Ben Jonson: Text, History, Performance.

Re-Presenting Ben Jonson: Text, History, Performance. Ed. by MARTIN BUTLER. (Early Modern Literature in History) Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St Martin's Press. 1999. xii + 255 pp. 45 [pounds sterling].

This collection, ably introduced by Martin Butler, contains James Knowles's annotated text of Jonson's newly-discovered Entertainment at Britain's Burse and a series of papers originally presented in 1995 at the University of Leeds. The punning title points both to the immediate concern of that occasion (developing guidelines for a replacement to Herford and the Simpsons' monumental Oxford edition) and to the broader issue of how to represent Jonson to modern readers.

As prolegomena to the projected Cambridge edition of Jonson's works under the general editorship of Butler, Ian Donaldson, and David Bevington, several of these essays deal with the principles to be employed in a modern, and modernized, printed version with a complementary electronic database for old-spelling texts, manuscript facsimiles, Jonson allusions, and stage history. More importantly, they revise our understanding of Jonson's texts in the same way that recent biographical studies have complicated our view of his career moves and patronage connections. While Butler's introduction, Bevington's rationale for a new edition, David L. Gants's piece on the 1616 Workes, and Kevin Donovan's on Every Man Out of His Humour acknowledge the Folio's revolutionary contribution to modern strategies of textual legitimation, they also identify problems posed by an uncritical dependence on its 'authorized' version of Jonson's works. Using modern bibliographic techniques to examine the sequence of press work and the press variants in the Folio, Gants shows that Jonson's involvement in proof-reading declined progressively as the printing went forward and that hundreds of variants in spelling and punctuation should be attributed to the compositors. Butler, Bevington, and Donovan question the value of the Folio as a copy-text for the two Every Man plays, Sejanus, the early masques, and The New Inn, since the Quartos either offer significant alternative versions or point to controversial histories that are suppressed in the Folio. In an interesting pairing, Donovan's argument for privileging the Every Man Out Quarto because its scene divisions are closer to Jonson's original dramatic intentions is followed by Helen Ostovich's perceptive analysis of the Paul's Walk sequence in Act III Scene 1 (split into six scenes in the Folio) as a carefully choreographed dance which invites the audience's judgement of different points of view.

However, Donovan's argument, repeated by Bevington and Butler, that the Folio's typography, marginal stage directions, neo-classical scene divisions, and massed entries situate his plays 'within the tradition of learned Renaissance humanist drama', but 'stifle a reader's sense of [their] dramatic life' (p. 61) seems only partly true. Although Jonson's publication practices are a revolutionary assertion of authorial status, they are not necessarily 'anti-theatrical' (see, for example, Richard Cave's observations about the Folio's value as a guide to theatrical pacing and performance in Ben Jonson and Theatre: Performance, Practice and Theory (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 23-32). The 1616 Folio, after all, is the only contemporary dramatic publication to list the original actors, and Jonson's marginal notes indicating stage business, set off as they are by the generous white space of his pages, are an innovative aid to visualizing theatrical action, always a difficult challenge to negotiate, as Lois Potter observes later in the collection in some shrewd comments about editorial choices (pp. 205-07).

Other contributors also force us to revise simplistic assumptions. Potter's review of Jonson productions at the Swan Theatre in Stratford points to moments of surprising emotional depth; Hugh Craig's analysis of common word counts demonstrates that A Tale of a Tub contains strata characteristic of both Jonson's early and late work; Knowles's introduction to The Entertainment for Britain's Burse confirms Jonson's ability to work in the polycentric Jacobean court by tracing the patronage connections of its manuscript in the Conway collection to the circle of Protestant militants around Prince Henry; Michael Cordner's piece on the later fortunes of Bartholomew Fair questions the assumption of a knee-jerk anti-Puritanism in the Restoration audience. In one of the most impressive contributions, Blair Worden examines the sources of Catiline to show how Jonson judiciously blended material from Sallust with the humanist viewpoints of Durantinus Felicius and Justus Lipsius to rehabilitate Cicero and comment indirectly on Jacobean England. All in all, readers will find this volume in the Early Modern Literature in History series to be a valuable contribution to Jonson studies.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:David Kay, W.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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