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All previous editions of Jonson have adopted a structural arrangement essentially derived from emphases laid down by the playwright himself when he collected his texts. In the 1616 folio, Jonson organized his works by genre, beginning with the plays, followed by the poems, then the entertainments and masques. The various component sections of the 1640–1 folio were similarly grouped, though less schematically, and with various shortfalls in the ordering caused by the inconsistent sequencing of texts and their more miscellaneous character. The third folio (1692) and the ‘booksellers’ edition’ (1716–17), organized by genres as in these authorial collections, reproduced their structural divisions even when they drew in new material. Whalley’s edition altered the arrangement by grouping the poems together and placing them after the masques. Gifford and Herford and Simpson followed this ordering, and extended it to the canon as a whole, save for a few minor inconsistencies.
The Cambridge Edition breaks with this tradition by sequencing the texts chronologically. Our aim is to highlight their inner connections and outward historical relationships. The generic divisions built so emphatically into the complete editions have made it difficult always to see the overall shape and progression of Jonson’s career, and to draw connections between different parts of the canon. In earlier collections, texts written close to one another in time are often printed in widely separated parts of the edition, discouraging readers from attending to similarities and continuities which might otherwise be evident in Jonson’s development. For example, the generic arrangement disguises the coincidental but intriguing fact that Epicene, The Masque of Queens, and the ‘Epitaph on Cecilia Bulstrode’ – with their radically different depictions of womanhood – were all written within a few months of one another. Similarly, our changing understanding of Jonson’s later career can be enhanced by having A Tale of a Tub, the Welbeck and Bolsover entertainments, and Letter 19 to the Earl of Newcastle printed adjacent to one another. The traditional generic divisions have reinforced a conception of Jonson as a literary artist whose work stands outside the flux of event and away from the competition with other writers which in fact constituted his daily milieu. The Cambridge Edition’s chronological arrangement aims to allow Jonson’s relationship to his historical context to be more readily explored (see Donaldson, 1995; Butler, 1999).
Jonson’s editorial management of his collected writings, especially in the 1616 folio, further idealized his texts by removing evidence of internal development and authorial biography. The 1616 folio obscured the circumstances behind some of its texts, remaining silent about their relationship to events surrounding their original composition. For example, the folio text of Hymenaei omits the information that the masque had been written for the wedding of Frances Howard and the Earl of Essex – an episode in a political and dynastic story which by 1616 had ended in disaster. Jonson added dedicatory letters to various works, which had the effect of framing strategically the texts which they prefaced. He rewrote several texts in order to convey an impression of premature maturity in himself as young playwright. Instead of reprinting the first play in the collection, Every Man In His Humour, as it had appeared in quarto in 1601, Jonson gave to the press the version that he had radically revised some years later. Jonson’s dedication to William Camden, calling Every Man In His Humour ‘the first fruits of my studies’, thus encouraged the impression that his genius had instantaneously leapt into life in the late 1590s. This impression depends, however, on the 1616 collection beginning with a text that was not only preceded by other plays but must have been rewritten at a later point or points. Similarly, the folio includes no work written before 1598, and ignores all collaborative work, as well as virtually all the civic pageantry that Jonson had written for the city guilds. The one exception is the royal entry of 1604, incorrectly but tellingly retitled as an entertainment ‘for the Coronation’. Conversely, at the end of the 1616 folio, the cut-off point does not correspond with a single historical moment. The divisions imposed by the choice of texts mean that Bartholomew Fair, which was performed in 1614, was omitted from the first folio, whereas Mercury Vindicated and The Golden Age Restored, which date from 1615–16, were included. Jonson’s grouping of the texts into plays, poems, and masques further imposes a narrative onto his career. It implies that he had moved effortlessly out of the playhouse and into the worlds of patronage poetry and crown service, and it carefully locates the poetry in a personal space between the more public arenas of theatre and court (Butler, 1993).
By retaining Jonson’s generic arrangement, successive editors have reinforced the frame about his life and works that the poet himself strategically cast around them. They have underwritten one narrative that Jonson wished his works to tell – a narrative specific to his sense of his career in 1616 – and thereby neglected opportunities for complicating and enriching the canon historically. By choosing a chronological sequence, the Cambridge Edition relocates Jonson more emphatically in his times, and allows him to be read with more awareness of the changing contexts of his writings.
Inevitably, this process is problematic, since not all the dates of Jonson’s works can be confidently ascertained, and since many of his writings – particularly the poems – were originally created independently of the collections within whose larger structures they now occupy a formal place. Jonson himself arranged the Epigrams and The Forest into distinct collections in the 1616 folio, and was probably responsible for ordering some of the poems that were printed in 1641 as The Underwood. In a strictly chronological edition, the individual poems might be printed in the sequence in which they were written. Yet many cannot be precisely dated, and the order of the Epigrams and The Forest, in particular, shows clear evidence of authorial design, such as the positioning of ‘To My Muse’ after the poems to the Earl of Salisbury ( Epigr. 63, 64, 65), or the arrangement by which the many satirical squibs early in the Epigrams gradually give way to longer and more weighty panegyrics. We have chosen, therefore, to leave these three collections as they stand, and to place them chronologically at the time when they were printed. The non-collected poems, on the other hand, are distributed throughout the edition according to their probable dates of composition or publication. As a consequence, the paradoxically named category of ‘Ungathered Verse’, which was invented by the Simpsons for those poems which lay outside the three main collections, does not exist in the Cambridge Edition. These miscellaneous poems are listed in their appropriate chronological places in the Table of Contents. An Index of Titles and First Lines of the Poems enables the reader to locate individual poems quickly without having first to know the dates or approximate dates.
The other texts affected by this redistribution are the masques and entertainments that were originally printed as small collections and were then left in the same sequences when they were drawn into the 1616 folio. Part of the King’s Entertainment, the Panegyre, and A Particular Entertainment at Althorp were printed together in that order in a quarto of 1604, although in fact Althorp – which appears in the quarto as a pendant to the other two texts – was the first of this group to be written. Similarly, the masques of Blackness and Beauty were written three years apart from each other, and yet were printed together in 1608 as The Characters of Two Royal Masques. In the Cambridge Edition, these texts are repositioned according to the historical sequence in which they were originally performed. Old-spelling texts and digital images of the quartos as subsequently printed can be found in the Electronic Edition.
For most texts in the edition, the criteria for sequencing are the date of first performance or first known publication. Plays, masques, and entertainments are positioned according to the date of their earliest (or only) known performances, concerning which scholarly opinion offers little dispute or only a narrow margin of doubt. Much of the miscellaneous poetry originally appeared as commendatory verse in printed volumes and thus can be dated without too much difficulty. The English Grammar and Discoveries appear to have been largely composed during the latter part of Jonson’s career, but were not published until after his death; their publication dates determine their place in this edition. Mortimer His Fall, which was printed in 1641 but is sometimes regarded as a fragment from earlier work, we likewise believe to be one of Jonson’s last projects. The letters and lost works, together with the Informations to William Drummond, are positioned as closely as possible to the dates at which they are believed to have been written. When we edit more than one version of those few texts which Jonson extensively reworked, such as Every Man In His Humour, we sequence these variant versions separately, according to their dates of original performance and subsequent revision (when this can be clearly determined) or publication (when it cannot).
We have also taken some opportunities to adjust the sequencing of Jonson’s career as it has traditionally been presented. Herford and Simpson’s edition begins with A Tale of a Tub, a play they believed to have been written in the 1590s. The critical consensus is now that it was written in 1634; accordingly, the Cambridge Edition places it as Jonson’s last completed play. Similarly, confusion over the documentation surrounding Mercury Vindicated and The Golden Age Restored led Percy Simpson to suppose that in the 1616 folio these masques were printed in the reverse order of their composition and performance. This mistaken judgement is corrected in the Cambridge Edition. Other texts that are significantly redated include Pan’s Anniversary, and Letters 1, 18, and 19.
The chronology of Jonson’s writings is sometimes affected by ambiguities arising from his habit of alternating unpredictably between legal and calendrical styles of dating. (For discussion of this problem, see Butler, ‘The Riddle of Jonson’s Chronology Revisited’, Electronic Edition.) All dates in the Cambridge Edition are given in calendrical form, with the new year beginning on 1 January.