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Working with Ian Donaldson and David Bevington on the Cambridge Ben Jonson was the most enjoyable, and stressful, period of my professional life. The intellectual rewards were huge, but another level of reward came from the people involved, the wonderful team that we assembled and the special pleasure of being in virtually day-to-day contact with Ian and David. As personalities they were completely opposite. David was a bundle of explosive energy, a sender of immense and frequent emails, endlessly worrying away at details, and involved in so many other editions he sometimes had to ask which set of guidelines we were using (guidelines he had largely written himself). Ian, by contrast, radiated calm, the reassuring presence with a clear overall vision and a confident sense of how to carry it through. He was also intimately familiar with Jonson’s language and canon, and had an unrivalled knowledge of the critical history. He could effortlessly summon up the precise allusion, cross-reference, or date that you needed – a crucial skill in helping editors shape their introductions and commentaries. But he wore all this so lightly that you barely knew you were being encouraged down particular paths. It’s a great talent to know how to get everyone to feel part of a common enterprise. There’s a lot of variety in CWBJ, as we thought it important to recruit a team with many interests and strengths, but the underlying unity is principally his achievement.
We record with great sadness the death on 2 August 2019 of our dear friend and colleague David Bevington, a fellow General Editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson and an inspiring force behind its creation. David was recruited in 1994, to our great delight, to join the then still-nascent Cambridge Jonsonian team, to which he brought astounding energy and experience. Perhaps the most seasoned Shakespearian scholar of his generation, David had already edited Shakespeare’s complete works in 29 volumes for Bantam Classics and in a single collected volume for Longmans, and written illuminatingly about aspects of the entire Shakespearian canon. But his sense of the English dramatic tradition hardly stopped there. His classic study, From Mankind to Marlowe (1962), had given early indication of his dramatic appetite and reach, which was later vividly demonstrated in the range and number of scholarly ventures in English drama, especially of the early modern period, with which he was constantly involved. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson is one of the many enterprises to have been blessed by his learning, his dedication, and his enthusiasm. The entire editorial team and those who worked on the project at Cambridge University Press remember him with deep admiration and gratitude. To his widow, Peggy – always an engaged and supportive companion in his work -- and his family we offer our most sincere condolences.
Ian Donaldson and Martin Butler
A moment of Jonsonian history was made on 20 November 2018, when the Playhouse Lab at the University of Leeds gave an unrehearsed reading of A Tale of a Tub. Tub is one of the few plays in the canon for which there is virtually no backstory of stage performance. When we compiled the Performance Archive for the electronic edition we could find no record of revival later than the original stagings in 1634, so (as far as I’m aware) our scratch performance at Leeds is the first documented staging since Jonson’s death.
A few exciting Jonson volumes have turned up in the last few months which may interest readers of this occasional blog. One is a book from Jonson’s own library: Adagia, sive proverbia Graecorum (Antwerp, 1612) by Andreas Schottus. This book, which has hitherto been in a private collection and does not appear in David McPherson’s catalogue of Jonson’s library, has Jonson’s signature (‘Svm Ben: Ionsonij’) and motto (‘tanquam Explorator’). It will be sold later this year at Sotheby’s.
Last week I managed to catch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Volpone at Stratford before the end of the run. I was looking forward to seeing Henry Goodman in the title role, as he is such a thrilling actor; I still have powerful memories of him as Kitely in the RSC Every Man In in 1986. His marvellous ability to create empathy was very much in evidence last week, though as things went on I came to think empathy is not the top quality one needs for Volpone, whose heartlessness and recklessness need equally to be on the top. Goodman managed to find some humanity in the character, but at some cost to the caustic humour and edginess.