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Principal features of editorial method

For a selected text of the Guidelines issued to contributing editors, see ‘Guidelines’. The following sections summarize the principal points of practice that have been adopted.
Layout, lineation, and marginalia


Our modern-spelling text in the Print Edition aims to make Jonson’s works available in accessible and comprehensible form. In modernizing Jonson’s language we have used the following rules:

The style of this edition is to spell words as they are spelled today, avoiding the use of archaic spellings as a way of indicating flavour of pronunciation: ‘virtue’ for ‘vertue’, ‘murder’ for ‘murther’, ‘mushroom’ for ‘mushrump’, and the like. The general rule is that when the OED lists a given word as a separate entry with its own linguistic history (thus distinguishing ‘corse’ from ‘corpse’, ‘clout’ from ‘cloth’, ‘beholding’ from ‘beholden’, etc.), this edition preserves the difference in spelling. The OED is not always perfectly consistent in such matters, of course, and its determinations need to be modified or overruled at times. Our intent is to determine what appears to be historically a spelling variant which should then be resolved into standard spelling: ‘handkerchief’ for ‘handkercher’, ‘lantern’ for ‘lanthorn’, ‘powder’ for ‘poulder’, ‘salad’ for ‘sallet’, ‘show’ for ‘shew’, ‘account’ for ‘accompt’, and so on. Where an element of wordplay is lost by the standardizing, as in choosing ‘travel’ to represent ‘trauail’, with its resonance of ‘travel’ and of ‘travail’, i.e. labour, a commentary note discusses the matter.

Some distinctive word forms occur in Jonson which modern-spelling editors have occasionally chosen to preserve, on the assumption that these were his personally preferred spellings, or that he spelled them thus because he wished to display the evidence of their etymology: for example, ‘porcpisce’ for ‘porpoise’, ‘tile-kill’ for ‘tile-kiln’, ‘moyle’ for ‘mule’, ‘alligarta’ for ‘alligator’, ‘neuft’ for ‘newt’, ‘windore’ for ‘window’, and ‘quiristers’ for ‘choristers’. In fact, close inspection shows that all of these are variant forms which were generally current during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – even ‘porcpisce’, which is sometimes cited as an example of a spelling adopted by Jonson for the sake of etymology (porcus piscis = hog-fish), but which is also spelled this way by Spenser and Dryden. Accordingly, our choice has been to standardize these supposedly distinctive idioms.

The one group of exceptions concerns those passages in which Jonson deliberately imitates local or regional dialects. Jonson often went to great lengths to pastiche regional speech, and texts such as Bartholomew Fair, A Tale of Tub, The Sad Shepherd, The Irish Masque, The Gypsies Metamorphosed, and For the Honour of Wales include characters who speak in extended imitations of Welsh, Irish, Midlands, and other dialects. As far as possible we preserve spellings which are designed to convey regional identity, though it is difficult to achieve absolute consistency across these pseudo-dialectical forms. Often Jonson alternated between dialect and standard forms among the same group of characters without obvious logic for these choices, and often it is unclear whether variations of spelling – such as between ‘you’ and ‘yow’, ‘gread’ and ‘great’, ‘pyt’ and ‘put’, all from For the Honour of Wales – were there deliberately or were accidentally created by his scribes and printers. In such cases we modernize the orthography where it does not affect the pronunciation, but make no attempt to remove the inconsistencies. The textual problems presented by such characters are discussed in more detail in the commentaries and textual essays for the texts concerned.

Jonson often preserves diphthongs in words that today we spell in simpler form: ‘tragœdie’, ‘Ægyptian’, and the like. A notable case is ‘Epicœne’, which we render as ‘Epicene’. This too is essentially a matter of variation in spelling. The more familiar spelling here makes clearer to today’s reader the joke about Epicene’s epicene nature. In a similar vein, this edition avoids italics and special founts in order to emphasize nouns or key words, as frequently occurs in Jonson’s texts. We also avoid the capitalizing of key words that is common in early modern texts.

Personal names are standardized according the forms in which they appear in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. For example, the friend of Jonson’s who appears in the 1616 text of Epigram 85 as Sir Henry Goodyere is in this edition named Sir Henry Goodere. The one difficulty concerns the name of Queen Anne. Although she always signed her letters as ‘Anna’ and was known before 1603 as Anna, Queen of Scots (see Barroll, 2001), in England she was usually publicly referred to as Queen Anne, and Jonson himself calls her Anne on the quarto title-pages of The Masque of Blackness and The Masque of Queens. We have therefore continued to use the name Anne, and in this we follow the practice of the ODNB.

A distinctive feature of Jonson’s verse (also found in the poetry of his friend John Donne) is his use of marks of elision to indicate where words spelled out in full or partially abbreviated could be elided further for the sake of metre. Hence in act 1 of Catiline (F1 text) we find ‘th’hast’, ‘my’emergent’, ‘W’are’, ‘the’affaire’, ‘army’in’, ‘By’his’, ‘I’haue’ (twice), ‘he’has’, and ‘Asia, ’art’. Some of these, such as ‘th’hast’ for ‘thou’st’, ‘W’are’ for ‘We’re’, and ‘I’haue’ for ‘I’ve’, correspond with standard forms of abbreviation, though they are not used systematically. For example, of the two instances of ‘I’haue’ in Catiline, 1.1, one clearly needs to be abbreviated (1.483) but the other could readily be spoken without extreme contraction (1.443). Other elisions function as guides to pronunciation, particularly in congested lines, marking points at which syllables might be spoken together quickly to facilitate regular scansion. In many of these cases, the elisions occupy an ambiguous space between contraction and compression. They indicate a momentary ambiguity where the metre has been stretched or extended, requiring only that we run the words together rapidly rather than employing a more radical abbreviation. We find, then, considerable leeway in the interpretation of such marks; typically, they are indicative rather than legislative. In our edition, words have been elided only where the demands of scansion absolutely require such elision. Other elisions marked by Jonson are recorded in the collation but are omitted from the text. Of the elisions that Jonson uses most frequently, we have substituted the standard modern form ‘you’re’ where he prints ‘yo’are’ or ‘yo’were’. His characteristic spelling of the abbreviated third-person pronoun, ‘’hem’, we render as ‘’em’.

Jonson’s punctuation presents an intractable problem. His works are unusual for the density and deliberateness of their punctuation system. They use a complex array of marks that separate clauses into minute divisions, pulling across the syntax and overlaying and subdividing the expected grammatical structures according to an intricate lexical taxonomy. In doing this, Jonson was following the example of sixteenth-century humanists such as Manutius and Ramus who, under the pressure of a rapidly changing and expanding print culture, rejected the inadequate structure of scribal pointing that they had inherited, and endeavoured to create a punctuation that unified logical, rhetorical, and hermeneutic functions within a single code. Their punctuation sought to fulfil several intersecting objectives: to mark the elements of a sentence, give help with oral delivery, and guide interpretation of meaning (for discussion, see van den Berg, 1995). In pursuit of this demanding ideal, new marks were invented, notably the colons, semi-colons, and parentheses that Jonson deploys with such frequency. In simplified form, these marks eventually passed into the punctuation systems that eventually stabilized in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Undoubtedly Jonson used his punctuation creatively and self-consciously. He himself discusses some of these marks in the The English Grammar (2.9), and distinguishes between the various kinds of ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’ clauses that they signal. He notes that colons imply a different degree of logical closure from that marked by semi-colons. This principle underlies the careful alternation between colons and semi-colons in his texts. He is one of the first English authors to employ the dash, and do so conspicuously. He capitalizes on it theatrically, for example, in Catiline, 5.3.55–62, deploying some nine dashes in Volturcius’s eight-line stuttering speech and then explaining the practice in an accompanying marginal note: ‘He answers with fear and interruptions.’ Similarly, dashes mark moments of suspense in Volpone’s oration as Scoto of Mantua (2.2). Commas are similarly scattered to dramatic effect through Abel Drugger’s hesitant dialogue in The Alchemist (1.3.10–16). Exclamation marks – called marks of ‘admiration’ in The English Grammar – are used to heighten moments of emphasis or rapture, as in The New Inn, 5.2.1–6. In such cases, Jonson’s punctuation might be regarded as having an active theatrical significance, carrying value as implied delivery signals to an actor. However, this possibility is complicated by the other needs that his pointing serves, particularly its function as a syntactic and rhetorical discriminator. The punctuation is too densely laboured to be helpful in terms of a script. Thus, although the three question marks in Mosca’s famous remark to Corvino – ‘Am not I here? whom you have made? your creature?’ ( Volpone, 1.5.78) – might be made to work as dramatic pauses in performance (as Richard Dutton argues in his edition of the play), the division into syntactic components seem intended at least as much for the reader as for the stage performer. Similarly, while Jonson uses brackets to mark asides, he also adds them for purely hermeneutic reasons to discriminate subordinate or dependent clauses. The situation is further complicated by the fact that as Jonson’s texts were revised or went into successive editions, the punctuation changed and generally increased, leaving unclear the boundary between Jonson’s own considered system and the vagaries of compositorial preference. Similar considerations apply to texts printed after Jonson’s death.

In Epigram 58, Jonson complains about readers who blunt his poems’ satirical thrust by misreading the punctuation: ‘so my sharpness thou no less disjoints / Than thou didst late my sense, losing my points’. Yet for modern readers his punctuation often appears intrusive and over-determined, especially in the context of a modern-spelling edition where a disparity unavoidably arises between the modernized text and punctuation that belongs to a past moment of textual production. In time, presumably, modern readers could acquire the skills and knowledge needed to interpret Jonson’s punctuation according to the author’s intention, but wholesale retention of his system would by no means guarantee that readers would thereby gain access to more ‘correct’ meanings. On the contrary, the danger is that a hybrid text would be created in which the pointing would constitute an obstacle to the adequate understanding of meaning, especially given the historically specific conventions according to which Jonsonian punctuation operates. The logic of modernization, then, is that punctuation too should follow modern principles. For that reason, the Cambridge Edition standardizes punctuation in line with modern practice. Of course, Jonson’s original punctuation continues to be fully accessible through the old-spelling texts in the Electronic Edition.

Layout, lineation, and marginalia

We present the layout of the plays in accordance with the principles of modern published drama, except that we have retained Jonson’s characteristic structure of scene divisions. Jonson adopted the convention of marking a new scene with the entry of a significant new character or group of characters, in imitation of the practice of printed classical drama. (The early quartos, to be sure, do this inconsistently, but the system is substantially in place with Cynthia’s Revels in 1601.) Each scene begins with a massed header, listing all the important characters who are currently on stage or are to join shortly. Sometimes a marginal note ‘To them’ is used to indicate that newly entering characters are about to join the characters on stage, but Jonson typically avoids using the stage direction ‘Enter’, requiring it to be inferred from the listing of characters. The first speech heading of the ensuing dialogue is also omitted as technically unnecessary, since the opening words are always spoken by the character named first in the massed header. ‘Exit’ and ‘Exeunt’ directions also usually have to be inferred.

In this edition we mark new scenes according to Jonson’s divisions, but specify an entry only for the newly arriving characters. The massed headers are reproduced in full in the collation, and the implied opening speech heading is supplied silently in the text. In some cases this arrangement creates anomalies, especially when the physical entrance of a character on stage must precede the beginning of the dialogue marked by Jonson as the beginning of the ‘scene’. This is a recurrent problem, for example, in The Devil Is an Ass. In such cases, we bring the character on stage where the action requires it while retaining Jonson’s scene division as marked, even though the scene may then begin without the presence of any entry direction. Special cases also occur when Jonson’s massed header is partly anticipatory, including the names of some characters who do not enter at once but arrive several lines later in the dialogue. In these instances we mark the delayed entry as follows: ‘[Enter] face’. The entry direction supplied by the editor is placed in square brackets, but not the character’s name, since it has already appeared in the massed header. If such a character then exits and re-enters in the same scene, the stage direction appears entirely within brackets, ‘[Enter face]’, since the textual authority for including him or her in the scene has already been expended with the first entry. All editorially added stage directions have been placed in square brackets. Since Jonson’s texts use stage directions comparatively sparsely, the editors have supplied additional directions where necessary to interpret and elucidate the implied action. However, we have avoided ‘novelizing’ the action of the plays or attempting to foreclose interpretative possibilities where the action is ambiguous. In such cases, different ways of interpreting the action are discussed in the commentary.

One of Jonson’s distinctive conventions is to indicate speeches spoken as asides by placing round brackets around the whole speech, including the speech heading. Sometimes whole passages of dialogue are treated in this way, to indicate that they are spoken sotto voce or that they constitute a subordinate strand woven obliquely into the main dialogue. In the Cambridge Edition, asides added by editors appear in square brackets. When, on the other hand, Jonson himself has indicated private speech by means of brackets, the direction ‘Aside’ is placed within round brackets. These features are also recorded in the collation. Where Jonson occasionally puts stage directions in the margins, these have been moved into the dialogue and incorporated in round brackets.

Jonson typically prints verse dialogue in consolidated blank-verse columns, with speech headings embedded in the column in abbreviated form. The printed texts carefully mark verse lines that are split between two or more speakers by printing them in a single line (sometimes turned over for length) and with abbreviated speech heading or headings in capital and small capital letters in mid-line to indicate the shift of speakers. We have presented split lines according to modern conventions, by indenting the second or subsequent half-lines to begin below the end of the previous half-line. We have expanded and standardized speech headings. In numbering the verse, we have counted split lines as one. Stage directions are not included in line counts, but are referenced in the collation as (for example) 41 sd for a single stage direction on or below line 41 of the text, or 41 sd.2 to indicate the second of two or more sds connected to line 41, or 41 sd.2–4 when the stage direction occupies more than one line.

Special rules apply to the masques, because of the complexity of their layouts, and because their stage directions are often indistinguishable from, or merge into, long passages of general descriptive prose. In the masques Jonson also uses (inconsistently, though predominantly) a convention of supplying speech headings in full and centring them above the individual lines or passages of dialogue, a feature that significantly disrupts the verse arrangement. In our edition, speech headings are moved to the customary position in the left-hand margin. Verse is printed in continuous and integrated form. The difficulties of annotating the masque prose descriptions and stage directions mean that in supplying line counts we have chosen to use a system of through line numbering. All descriptive prose and stage directions have been counted in the sequence of line numbering, although in the dialogue and songs split verse lines are counted as one.

Many of the masques have extensive marginalia requiring their own collation and commentary. Ideally, the marginalia demand to be read side by side with the text, but – except for cases where they are few in number and can be kept next to the main text – the complexities of annotation are such that they are here edited as a separate sequence and are placed at the end of the texts to which they refer. Jonson links his marginalia to the texts by a variety of devices, including letters, superscripts, asterisks, and parallel positioning, often in unpredictable combination with one another. Our text substitutes a modern system, using superscript numbers in regular sequence and correcting errors in Jonson’s numbering. Each number is placed at the end of the word or phrase to which it refers. This reverses early modern practice, including Jonson’s own, which was to position the note anchor at the beginning of the phrase. Thus, when The King’s Entertainment quarto prints ‘The seuerall (f) Circles, both of change and sway’ (234), and then provides a marginal gloss on ‘Circles’ marked with the letter ‘f’, our edition places the cue letter after the word ‘Circles’; and when the same text has ‘I tender thee the heartiest welcome, yet / That euer King had to his (c) Empires seate’ (277), with a marginal gloss on ‘Empires seate’, our cue letter appears at the end of that phrase. In extreme cases, this may involve repositioning the numeral by a line or more.

In the edited text of the marginalia, each marginalium is independently numbered, and its collation and commentary are keyed to that initial number. Latin and Greek abbreviations in the marginalia are silently expanded. Missing bibliographical information is supplied in square brackets. Modern forms of referencing are added or substituted in square brackets for those adopted by Jonson (who often uses ‘lib.’ or ‘cap.’ to preface book or chapter numbers). Hence the following changes are made to the marginalia of King James His Royal and Magnificent Entertainment:

Note 17, quarto: ‘Stat. Syl. 4. Epu. Domit.’
CWBJ: ‘Statius, Silvae, 4.[2.13]. Epulum Domitiani [Eucharisticon].’
Note 22, quarto: ‘De 4. Cons. Honor. Panegyri.’
CWBJ: ‘[Claudian,] De Quarto Consulato Honorii Panegyricus.’
Note 24, quarto: ‘Claud. de laud. Stil. lib. 3.’
CWBJ: ‘Claudian, De laudibus Stilichonis, 3.’

The same systems of numbering and modernization have been followed for the marginalia to Sejanus as for the masques.


All texts in the Cambridge Edition are edited on the basis of a comprehensive survey of the surviving textual witnesses. We have examined around 90 per cent of the surviving copies of the quartos, and have extensively collated copies of the first and second folios. The foundation of this textual survey is the systematic analysis of over fifty copies of F1 made in 1995 by David Gants. The starting point for analysis of Jonson’s manuscripts is the census of the scribal and holograph copies compiled by Peter Beal; his work underlies much of the collating in the present edition on the poems and masques. The Cambridge Edition tries as far as possible to acknowledge the shaping and circulation of the texts in manuscript, a dimension which modern editions have tended to neglect.

The on-page collation digests three kinds of information: (1) all substantive departures from the copy-text introduced by editors or by the process of modernization; (2) all substantive variants arising from press-corrections in the copy-text; and (3) all substantive differences that exist between the various textual witnesses. Our collation does not record minor errors caused in the process of production, such as errors of fount, or broken or turned letters; a complete list of stop-press variants, and an account of the printing, will be found in the textual essay for each text. Nor does it record changes or modernizations to punctuation, accidentals, or spelling unless these have a substantive bearing on the meaning of the text. Where the modernization of a word involves a potential change to meaning or scansion, or where a dispute over meaning may be in question, the matter is recorded in the following manner:

158 hoot] F1 (hout)

Here the reading of our text is given as the lemma, with the original unmodernized form, as it appears in F1, enclosed in italic brackets. The present collation is not a historical collation in that it does not routinely record variants in the texts of previous editors, including Herford and Simpson. When this edition adopts an emendation of a previous editor, or differs substantively from an emendation that other editors have found attractive, that textual matter is recorded in the collations. When a previous editor’s emendation has been adopted but with non-substantive differences of spelling or accidentals from the reading as printed in the Cambridge Edition, we have added the explanation ‘(subst.)’. The collation also records the sententiae that are marked in Jonson’s texts, usually signalled by the printers with italics, or with double inverted commas at the start of the relevant lines.

In the collation and textual essays we adopt the formula ‘state 1’, ‘state 2’, ‘state 3’, etc. (or, in the case of reset pages, ‘setting 1’, ‘setting 2’, etc.) to distinguish variant states of the textual witnesses. This form of notation substitutes for the formula ‘corrected’, ‘uncorrected’ (or ‘(c)’, ‘(u)’), which has often been used for collations but which is potentially ambiguous. It tends to suggest a clear hierarchical difference between the various states of the text, and implies that the later state of a page is always the most authoritative. It also fails to allow for the possibility that errors as well as corrections may be introduced in the press-work. Hence the formula ‘state 1’, ‘state 2’ is used, as more transparent and less prone to misinterpretation.

In collating the manuscripts, we have standardized sigla across the edition by adopting the referencing system developed in Peter Beal’s Index of English Literary Manuscripts, vol. I, 1450–1625 (1980). Beal gives each Jonson manuscript a separate reference number from 1 to 739, prefaced with the siglum JnB for Jonson, B. (for the full list, see ‘Sigla used in the Collations and Commentary’). The manuscripts have been re-examined in detail; the collations and textual essays give a full account of their significance as textual witnesses. The poetry presents a special challenge, since, although hundreds of versions of the poems appear in scribal miscellanies, only a few of these manuscripts have significance as evidence of authorial revision. Many manuscripts enshrine variations of transmission introduced into the poems as they were copied beyond the reach of Jonson’s circle or after his death. Such manuscripts illuminate the process by which Jonson’s work found its way into the general scribal culture, but they yield only limited results for the edited text of the poems. In response to this unusual situation, the editor of the poems, Colin Burrow, has created two levels of collation. The collation of the poems in the Print Edition is based on the holographs, presentation manuscripts, and scribal copies which have some close genetic relationship with Jonson. This collation presents the evidence as to which variations and revisions may reasonably be understood to originate with Jonson himself. In the Electronic Edition, on the other hand, a more extensive collation of the poems reflects the full range of variation as it is exhibited across all the manuscripts. Inevitably, the two collations yield rather different accounts of the poems’ transmission.


The on-page commentary presents lexical, contextual, and historical information necessary for the interpretation of the texts. Wherever possible, source materials are signalled in the commentary, though in a few cases, for reasons of space, these have been relegated to appendices at the ends of individual texts. Issues having to do with staging are also considered in the commentary, where relevant. Cross-references to other Jonsonian texts use the abbreviated forms listed under ‘Abbreviations and Common Forms of Citation’. Where the citation is to one of the miscellaneous poems, a page reference is also given. Citations from critical and historical sources are supplied in short-title form for texts to 1700, and in author-date form for sources later than 1700. A complete bibliographical listing of cited primary and secondary literature can be found at the end of volume 7 of the Print Edition. In the Electronic Edition these citations have been linked electronically to the on-line version of this bibliography.

Throughout the edition, translations of Latin, Greek, and other foreign language material are those of the contributing editors, unless otherwise indicated.