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The Magnetic Lady: Textual Essay

Helen Ostovich

Thomas Walkley:   Entered for his copy under the hand of Master Pulleyn,
warden, a book called Ben Jonson’s Works, the third volume
containing these pieces: viz., fifteen masques at court and
elsewhere; Horace his Art of Poetry Englished; English
Grammar; Timber, or Discoveries; Underwoods, consisting of
divers poems; The Magnetic Lady; A Tale of a Tub; The Sad
Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood; The Devil is an Ass.
Salvo jure cuiusunque. vi d.

               (Plomer, 1913-16, 2.196)

On 20 November 1658, Walkley sold his rights to Humphrey Moseley, no doubt happy to put the whole thing behind him.

Regarding The Magnetic Lady’s printing history, Percy and Evelyn Simpson suggest that the printers Walkley employed for The Magnetic Lady and the other works in F2(3) may have been Bernard Alsop and his partner from about 1625, Thomas Fawcett (or Forsett), but nothing on the title-page gives definitive evidence (H&S 9.104 ). D. F. McKenzie (1972 ) suggests instead that the printer was more likely John Dawson the younger, on the basis of one factotum depicting Salome receiving the head of John the Baptist, which appears on the first page of Christmas His Masque, and two upper case French Canon ‘H’s. None of this detail applies specifically to The Magnetic Lady, but since it was certainly printed in sequence with A Tale of a Tub and The Sad Shepherd (the plays are numbered as pages 1-155 consecutively), and since the last gives evidence of Dawson as printer, the paucity of evidence (the lack of commendatory verses, the omission of any printer’s or publisher’s names, mention of shop, device, or other signifier on the title-page or at beginnings or ends of acts) may be immaterial. Despite the negative comments H&S offer on the printing of the text, rising briefly to faint praise (‘The utmost that could be said for Walkley’s printer is that, after all, he was a better workman than John Beale’ (9.107 )), The Magnetic Lady is not unduly error-ridden, there are signs of regular corrections, and the appearance of the page is acceptable. The paper quality is rather thin in most copies, with print from one side bleeding through into the print on the other. Some volumes, apparently prepared as gifts, use heavier paper, as for example the Newnham College, Cambridge copy, which has been preserved in perfect condition, an appearance achieved in the twentieth century when it was rebound, its pages smoothed and gilt-edged, thus seeming virtually unread.

The play collates 2o: sigs A-H4; A1v, A2v, A4 blank; pp. 1-64; p. 36 misnumbered or poorly inked to appear as 35 in some copies; and p. 50 misnumbered 52 in some copies. The Magnetic Lady is the first play in some copies of F2, paginated 1-64, with A Tale of a Tub and The Sad Shepherd following immediately, beginning with I1 and paginated 65-155; but sometimes the other sections are put together in different order, beginning with masques (as in the text McKenzie examined), although the pagination remains the same. The binders were not always sure whether the volume should begin with the masques, or with some other group of quires, in the absence of preliminary pages that might have offered a table of contents. When bound together with F2(2), often the volume begins with the 1631 Meighen title page, listing only three plays, to the confusion of librarians and unwary scholars.

As Peter Happé has successfully argued in his own edition of Magnetic Lady (2000, 41-53 ), the likelihood is that the text was set from a Jonson autograph, since spelling, abbreviation or elision (‘hem, i’th’, ha’), punctuation, and design of the scenes reflect Jonson’s characteristic style. Jonson’s impulse to replicate classical style also appears in some spellings (sillabes, phant’sie), including diagraphs (Comœdy, œconomick, Præsto) and hyphenated compound words (states-man). The layout of the pages is regular and simple: ruled lines (sometimes wavy) above and below the running heads, and a single line separating the acts. On A3, ‘THE INDUCTION, OR, CHORUS’ is set over four lines in varyingly large uppercase letters, with a single line across the page before the stage directions. The scene headings usually list all characters in the scene, if necessary stating ‘To them’ as an indication of the relation between just-entered characters and characters who remain on stage from the previous scene. In scenes with more complicated coming and going, notably in 5.10, arrivals are named in the margins beside their entering cues, but generally exits are given only at the ends of scenes. So, for example, Lady Loadstone is on stage at the beginning of 5.10, since she did not exit at the end of 5.9, but her name appears in the margin at line 14, indicating an entrance; her exit, unmarked, probably occurs at line 2. The chorus at the end of each act is marked off with an extra space and ‘Chorus’ in italics in a slightly larger fount; the same is true of act and scene headings. The final ‘Chorus’ after Act 5, and the additional explanation, ‘Changed into an Epilogue: / To the King’ are set in a mix of larger fount, bold capital letters, small capitals, lowercase roman, and italics, with a line before and after the verses, set in italics, the whole centred on one page (H4v).

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