Your browser is not supported. This might affect how the content is displayed.

The Printing and Publishing of Ben Jonson's Works

David L. Gants and Tom Lockwood

When Ben Jonson first emerged as a playwright at the end of Elizabeth's reign, the English printing and bookselling trade that would preserve his texts for posterity was still a relatively small industry. The broad complex of continental printing houses and book distribution networks provided most of the classical-language texts for the domestic market, leaving the London printers to supply mainly English-language works. Periodic decrees limiting the number of master printers and working presses, complaints about lack of work from printers and journeymen, and attempts by some stationers to loosen the monopoly on profitable titles held by a small group of favourites reveal an often-struggling trade where a few prospered while most barely managed from year to year. In the bookstalls, religious materials dominated the market – bibles, catechisms, works of instruction and devotion – along with smaller amounts of history, philosophy, law, husbandry, science, and education. Drama, almanacs, and other such ‘riffe raffe’ books, famously banned by Sir Thomas Bodley from his library, played a small role in the economics of the early modern book trade.

During Jonson's lifetime, the number of small-format, single-work editions of plays, masques, pageants, and entertainments published in any one year fluctuated significantly, but rarely reached sustained levels of popularity. Between 1580 and 1593, only occasionally were more than five new or reprinted plays issued for sale in one year, and during some years no new play quartos were printed at all. Interest in drama then appeared to rise, but only sporadically; in 1594, 1599, 1600, and 1602 at least fifteen new editions appeared, while five or fewer were printed in 1596, 1597, and 1603. Peter Blayney (1997, 386) speculates that the jump in production around 1594 correlates with the opening of the theatres after a plague visitation, while the cause of the rise around 1600 is less certain. For the first ten years of James I's reign the publication of theatrical texts was somewhat steadier, with between ten and twenty-three new or reprinted editions issued annually. From that point popularity of play quartos dropped until 1627, when only one appeared in the bookstalls, the school drama Apollo Shroving by William Hawkins (STC 12963). In the last years before the English Civil War, the market for drama expanded radically, with especially large production totals in 1631 and 1640.

The early quartos

Responsibility for the publication of Jonson's works during his lifetime tended to cluster around a small group of stationers. For the years leading up to the printing of the 1616 folio Works, Walter Burre and his sometime collaborator Thomas Thorpe acquired control over the majority of Jonson's plays and masques. Burre, who during his twenty-five-year career published a number of literary and historical works, owned or bought from others the rights to seven plays, as follows:

Every Man In His Humour, entered to Burre and Cuthbert Burby 14 August 1600 (Arber 3.169). Burby's share was transferred to William Welby 16 October 1609 (Arber 3.421).

The Fountain of Self-Love [Cynthia's Revels], entered to Burre 23 May 1601 (Arber 3.185).

Sejanus, entered to Edward Blount 2 November 1604 (Arber 3.273), transferred to Thorpe from Blount 6 August 1605 (Arber 3.297), and then transferred to Burre from Thorpe 3 October 1610 (Arber 3.445).

Volpone, with no initial SR entry; the 1607 Q1 title-page imprint reads, ‘Printed for Thomas Thorpe’; transferred to Burre from Thorpe 3 October 1610 (Arber 3.445).

Catiline, with no initial SR entry; the 1611 Q1 title-page imprint reads, ‘Printed for Walter Burre’.

Epicene, entered to John Browne and John Busby 20 September 1610 (Arber 3.444), transferred to Burre from Browne 28 September 1612 (Arber 3.498).

The Alchemist, entered to Burre 3 October 1610 (Arber 3.445).

Thomas Thorpe was also responsible for a number of literary works during his career, and owned the rights to the following:

Eastward Ho!, entered to Thorpe and William Aspley 4 September 1605 (Arber 3.300).

Hymenaei, with no initial Stationers’ Register entry; the 1611 Q1 title-page imprint reads, ‘Printed by Valentine Sims for Thomas Thorpe’.

The Masques of Blackness and of Beauty, entered to Thorpe 21 April 1608 (Arber 3.375).

The remaining titles were eventually controlled by other members of the Stationers’ Company as follows:

Every Man Out of His Humour, eventually controlled by John Smethwicke; entered to William Holme 8 April 1600 (Arber 3.159); Q3 title-page imprint reads ‘Printed for Nicholas Linge’; individual title-page for EMO in F1 reads ‘for John Smethwicke’.

Poetaster, entered to Matthew Lownes 21 December 1601 (Arber 3.198).

The King's Entertainment, entered to Edward Blount 19 March 1604 (Arber 3.254).

The Case Is Altered, entered to Henry Walley and Richard Bonion 26 January 1609 (Arber 3.400).

The Masque of Queens, entered to Walley and Bonion 22 February 1609 (Arber 3.402).

‘Certayne Masques at the Court never yet printed’, entered to William Stansby 20 January 1615 (Arber 3.562).

The first four Jonson plays to be published all appeared within a two-year period. William Holme registered Every Man Out on 8 April 1600, and the work was printed by Adam Islip the same year. The playbook itself is a mixture of halfsheets folded and gathered into quarto format, supplemented by a handful of full sheets also gathered in quarto and used for the final quires. Despite the odd combination of paper stocks, the text itself has few errors. While Jonson adopted some earlier textual conventions such as Latinized speech headings and a ‘GREX’ choric frame, for the most part he employed the standard structures regarding speech prefixes and stage directions used by playwrights of his day. Jonson apparently revised the work for publication, declaring on the title-page that this version contains ‘more than hath been publicly spoken or acted’ (A2). He also appended his original ending to the text; although, as he said, ‘many seemed not to relish, and therefore ’twas since altered’, Jonson hoped by including his first conclusion that ‘a right-eyed and solid reader’ might perceive that ‘it was not so great a part of the heaven awry as they would make it’ (R3). Further evidence that the play did not receive unalloyed praise is to be found in an unsigned note located at the end of the preliminary cast of characters:

It was not near his thoughts that hath published this either to traduce the author or to make vulgar and cheap any the peculiar and sufficient deserts of the actors, but rather, whereas many censures fluttered above it, to give all leave and leisure, to judge with distinction (A4v).

The first edition of Every Man Out apparently sold well, for Holme issued a second edition later that same year printed by Islip and Peter Short. By eliminating certain blank pages and juggling the number of lines per page, the printers managed to produce a playbook one sheet (eight pages) shorter than the first edition and thus marginally less expensive. Other than some variation in punctuation and spelling, Q2 is an accurate reprint of Q1. A third edition with a title-page dated 1600 and ‘Printed for Nicholas Linge’ also survives, although some scholars speculate that this was actually printed at a later date. Linge used four printers to produce this quarto: William White, Valentine Simmes, Simon Stafford or Edward Allde, and a fourth as yet unidentified printer. Because of time pressures or simple carelessness, the playbook suffers from numerous errors, not only in the text but also in the misimposition of sheet N, where pages 3v and 4 are interchanged.

Just four months after Every Man Out was registered, Burre and Cuthbert Burby entered Every Man In with the Stationers. Printed by Simon Stafford, the volume employs the same textual layout as Q1 Every Man Out, although Stafford experienced occasional shortages of characters such as ‘B’, ‘M’, and ‘P’ in his speech prefixes, and the overall quality of his pica fount suffers in comparison with that of Islip. The corrected states of the extant copies indicate that reasonable care was taken in the setting, proofing, and printing of the work.

Later that same year, Burre published the first quarto edition of The Fountain of Self-Love [Cynthia's Revels], which, judging from the bibliographical and textual evidence, was produced in a rush by the young printer Richard Read. Many pages exist in multiple states, an indication that machining often got ahead of proofing. In addition, the pages abound in typographic infelicities and inconsistencies as well as what appears to be shifting type blocks owing to loose formes. We can only speculate as to the level of Jonson's involvement in the project, although two extant copies have special single-leaf insertions immediately after A1 containing dedications: one to William Camden and including a passage from Horace, and one to ‘Lucy of Bedford’ consisting of a ten-line poem.

Poetaster, the last play in the initial group of four published works, was registered by Matthew Lownes on 21 December 1601 and printed by Richard Braddock. Unlike Read, Braddock seems to have taken care with his work, as shown by regular layout and scarcity of typographical blemishes. Jonson inserts at the end of his text a short note ‘To the Reader’ in which he apologizes for the exclusion of an intended epilogue to the piece. Poetaster apparently aroused indignation of ‘Authorite’ (N1v), whom Jonson blames for the excision. (He reinstated the coda in F1.)

After this initial burst onto the bookshop shelves, Jonson published subsequent works with regularity for the remainder of the decade: Ben Jonson His Part of King James His Royal and Magnificent Entertainment (1604), Eastward Ho! (1605), Sejanus (1605), Hymenaei (1606), Volpone (1607), The Masques of Blackness, Beauty, and Haddington (1608), The Case Is Altered (1609), The Masque of Queens (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Catiline (1611). Although the earliest play quartos follow the conventions of early seventeenth-century playbook publishing, Jonson gradually began to develop the distinctive textual forms which became enshrined in the 1616 folio, and which are material evidence of his evolving ideas of literary authorship and self-presentation. These developments can be seen in the title-page design and use of paratextual elements, such a dedications, prefaces, and marginal notes; in his habit of marking new scenes with the arrival of new characters, and prefacing each scene with a massed header listing the characters to appear in it (as in Fountain and Poetaster); and in standardizing speech-prefixes and consolidating blank-verse dialogue into single columns of verse (as in Sejanus, Volpone, and The Alchemist).

Nevertheless, the individual playbooks themselves vary in significant ways. Some show signs of careless and sloppy printing, notably Eastward Ho!, The Alchemist, and especially The Case Is Altered, while others seem to have been carefully overseen; Sejanus stands out in particular for its competent handling of extensive textual notes. Jonson and Thorpe apparently took the added step of selecting special paper for Sejanus, printing some copies on large paper bearing the royal insignias IR-AR-HP (Iacobus Rex, Anna Regina, and Henricus Princips) and IAR (Iacobus Anglorum Rex) watermarks representing James, Anne, and Henry (Calhoun and Gravell, 1993, 16–22).

During this period Jonson also continued revising the staged versions of his plays for the press. In a preface to Sejanus he states that

this book, in all numbers, is not the same with that which was acted on the public stage, wherein a second pen had good share; in place of which I have rather chosen to put weaker (and no doubt less pleasing) of mine own than to defraud so happy a genius of his right by my loathed usurpation. (31–5)

The quarto Royal and Magnificent Entertainment, which suffered both a messy printing and publishing experience as well as a squabble over rights, contains texts significantly altered from the form in which they were originally presented. As Jonson noted following Althorp: ‘Thus much – which was the least of the entertainment in respect of the reality, abundance, delicacy, and order of all things else – . . . the author hath suffered to come out and encounter censure, and not here unnecessarily adjoined, being performed to the same Queen and Prince’ (298–302).

As Jonson developed his print persona, he used increasingly complex mixtures of prefatory material in his published works. Whereas his dedications to The Fountain of Self-Love seem almost an afterthought, he soon began adding more prefaces, dedications, commendatory verses, arguments, and other framing devices to the front of his printed works. He dedicated Volpone to ‘THE MOST NOBLE AND MOST EQUAL SISTERS, THE TWO FAMOUS UNIVERSITIES’, The Alchemist to Lady Mary Wroth, and Catiline to the Earl of Pembroke. Authors of commendatory verses found in the early quartos include Francis Beaumont, Edmund Bolton, George Chapman, John Donne, Nathan Field, John Fletcher, Hugh Holland, John Marston, and William Strachey. By the time he entered into an agreement to print the first volume of his collected works, Jonson had created a sophisticated set of paratextual practices.

The 1616 folio Works

The 1616 Works of Benjamin Jonson has received a great deal of bibliographical and editorial scrutiny in the last half of the twentieth century, providing a fairly accurate picture of the circumstances surrounding its creation. Some time before 1615, Jonson and the stationers who owned the rights to his works arrived at an agreement to print and publish in folio a compilation of nine plays, two poetry collections, two pieces of pageantry, four entertainments, and thirteen masques. Title-page evidence indicates that Smethwicke had acquired the rights to Every Man Out at some point, while Lownes retained the rights to Poetaster. Distribution of this latter edition to individual booksellers was handled by Richard Meighen, a young stationer who had just entered the trade. With one notable exception, the remaining rights-holders seemed to have had little or no involvement in the production of the collected works.

That one exception was Burre, who, by the time the volume went into production, controlled seven of the nine plays selected for inclusion and probably also owned Epigrams (registered on 15 May 1612, Arber 3.485, by Burre's associate John Stepneth, who died in 1613). The particulars of the negotiations enabling the folio partners to incorporate Burre's titles remain obscure, although certain details hint at a long-drawn-out process. In the first four years of Burre's publishing career, he had worked with Stansby at least nine times, producing mainly small- and medium-format volumes of a religious, political, and literary nature. At some point he raised his ambitions and commissioned two substantial folios from Stansby, Aaron Rathborne's The Surveyor (STC 20748), and an even larger volume that would have a significant impact on the progress of the Jonson folio through the Stansby printing house: Walter Ralegh's History of the World (STC 20637). The first edition of Ralegh's History was published 29 March 1614 and soon experienced suppression for ‘being too saucy in censuring princes’ (Greg, 1967, 52). A letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury dated 22 December 1614 ordered all outstanding copies to be turned over to him or to the Bishop of London (Jackson, 1957, 355–6). Given the size of the work (400 edition sheets) and the number of intaglio illustrations it contained, Burre must have suffered a significant financial setback. Three extant documents hint at the dealings that followed.

On 21 August 1615 the Stationers’ Court gave Burre the right to take legal action against Stansby on an unnamed matter outside the usual company resolution system (Jackson, 1957, 77). Six years later, on 16 May 1621, the court ordered a settlement between Burre, Stansby, and a ‘Mr. Pollard’ over the production of the third edition of the History (STC 20638a, printed by Stansby, William Jaggard, and Nicholas Okes; Jackson, 1957, 134). Finally, on 4 July 1635, Stansby transferred to himself the rights to all seven of Burre's plays ‘by note of 10 June 1621’ (Arber, 4.342). While numerous gaps in the historical record still remain, a plausible scenario proposed by Bland ( 1998b, esp. pp. 17–19) can help explain the negotiations determining the folio's production. Stansby may have begun printing the Works before reaching a final agreement with Burre over the rights to the plays he owned. Suppression of Ralegh's History would have provided the two businessmen with an opportunity for a partial settlement; prodded by Burre's legal action, Stansby might then have agreed to print a limited number of copies of a new edition of the History (STC 20638, published 1617) in exchange for limited rights to Burre's seven plays. Apparently the dispute over the Ralegh volume lingered until 1621, at which time a final accord was presumably reached, including full transfer to Stansby of the rights to Burre's plays (not recorded until 1635, Arber 4.343), after Burre's death. The accord may have been prompted by the publication that year of the third edition of the History.

A number of factors – Stansby's entry of the unprinted masques, modern bibliographical analyses of paper stocks and typographic resources, and recent estimates of printing-house production rates – cumulatively demonstrate that production of the 1616 folio most likely commenced around January 1615 (see Gants, 1998). As was the case with much of the trade in early modern London, the order of printing did not match the order of titles in the volume. For example, work did not begin with Every Man In; Stansby may have skipped this play while negotiating a settlement with Burre, its owner, or he may have been delayed by Jonson's extensive revisions to the manuscript (see Riddell, 1997b). Instead, machining began with the second play in the collection, Every Man Out, and proceeded with numerous revisions, resettings, and interruptions for the next eighteen months. After completing just one play, Stansby paused to print resettings of the first pages of that work. In the middle of Epicene, production halted once more as the first twelve pages of that comedy were reset and new sheets printed. Stansby finally resolved the issues holding up production of Every Man In around the time he was completing Catiline, and before proceeding with Epigrams he set and machined the bulk of the pages that begin the collection. The last third of the folio seems to have continued with little disruption until the final four gatherings, at which point at least thirty-seven pages of standing type were set aside while the workers focused on a different project. When they returned to the folio, they reimposed and printed the remaining formes, finishing as was the practice with the preliminaries.

The interruptions, non-sequential printing, reimpositions, and resettings found in Jonson's 1616 Works are, to be sure, by no means unique. Early modern printers regularly juggled projects and work schedules in the service of efficiency and financial gain, the bibliographical consequences of which McKenzie has described as the ‘normality of non-uniformity’ (1969, 12). When the balance of projects and schedules in a printing house went awry, the results were often visible on the pages of its output. Printing would sometimes get ahead of proofing, which required that production cease and corrections be made to the type in-press before work resumed. As a consequence, a page in one copy of an edition might differ textually from that in another copy of the same edition, depending on whether it was printed before or after the correction was made. The 1616 Works is remarkable for the sheer number of such press variants it contains. In this 1,028-page volume, editors and bibliographers have found over 2,500 instances where changes were made as a result of stop-press correction, resetting of type, and authorial intervention.

One additional factor complicated production of the Jonson folio. The parties behind the project decided to print most copies on regular pott paper common to books of the period, while at the same time printing a few on larger crown paper, most likely as presentation copies. This required that Stansby and his workers keep track of two separate stocks of paper during printing and warehousing. There is no indication that he machined the large-paper sheets last in order to avoid impressing incompletely corrected texts on them; early and late states of revised pages appear randomly in the large-paper copies. Nevertheless, the added responsibility of managing two distinct paper sizes must have further burdened an already busy establishment.

In preparing for publication, Jonson extensively revised much of his works to create a more visually unified and stylistically classical form. Every Man In was the most radically altered, with wholesale changes in setting and character as well as significant trimming in the last act, while a number of substantial passages were added to Cynthia's Revels and Poetaster. He also inserted previously unpublished material into the collection, including Epicene (of which Gifford claimed in 1816 to have seen an earlier quarto dated 1612, but this has never been substantiated), a large number of poems, and most of the masques and entertainments danced after 1609. Finally, Jonson standardized the paratextual components of F1, adding dedications and a list of actors to each play and moving all the commendatory verse to the front of the volume. The finished work was published sometime in late 1616; headline material shared with another volume under production at the same time (Aaron Rathborne's The Surveyor) indicates that the Works were likely completed in November of that year (Donovan, 1987). Although it attracted some initial humorous criticism – ‘Pray tell me Ben, where doth the mystery lurk, / What others call a play you call a work?’ (Wits’ Recreations, G3v, STC 25870) – it is now acknowledged to be an ambitious achievement that succeeds at every level.

Later seventeenth-century publications

As Jonson's writing for the public and private stage slackened, so did the appearance of his works in the bookstalls. In the thirteen years following F1, only six of his stage pieces were commercially printed:

four Twelfth-Night masques, Augurs, 1622, Time Vindicated, 1623, Neptune's Triumph, 1624, and The Fortunate Isles, 1625, none of which lists printer or bookseller responsibility on the quarto title-pages, even though all four were later entered to Andrew Crooke and Richard Sergier on 20 March 1640 in anticipation of F2 (Arber 4.503);

Lovers Made Men, 1617, a masque presented for the French Ambassador (for which no title-page statement or SR entry exists to indicate ownership);

a reprint of Epicene, 1620.

Thereafter, on the other hand, a renewed interest in Jonson's works accompanied the sudden explosion of dramatic publication that began in 1630:

Thomas Walkley published the masques Love's Triumph, 1630, and Chloridia, 1631, neither of which was entered in the SR, though both title-pages do identify Walkley as owner.

Thomas Alchorn published The New Inn in octavo, 1631, entered to Alchorn 17 April 1631 (Arber 4.251).

Robert Allott contracted John Benson to print the first three plays of an intended second folio volume of Jonson's collected works, including Bartholomew Fair (never registered); The Staple of News (entered to John Waterson 14 April 1626, Arber 4.156, and transferred to Robert Allott 7 September 1631, Arber 4.260); and The Devil Is an Ass (never registered).

This last effort stopped with the three initial plays. Jonson refers to the collapse of the enterprise in a letter (Letter 15 in our edition) to the Earl of Newcastle blaming the ‘lewd printer’ (John Beale) for his inability to forward a copy of Staple. (See John Creaser's essay discussing the abortive 1631 folio in the Electronic Edition.)

When Jonson died in August of 1637, the majority of the original publishers had also passed away. (Bonion died in 1612, Burre and Lownes in 1625, Thorpe probably also in 1625, Blount in 1632, Allott in 1635; later Stansby died in 1638, followed by Smethwick in 1641 and Meighen around 1642.) A new group of booksellers began laying plans for a multi-volume collection of Jonson's complete works. Richard Bishop had purchased Stansby's business in 1636 (the rights were transferred to Bishop by Stansby's widow on 4 March 1639, Arber 4.458–60), and, after acquiring Every Man Out from Smethwicke in 1638 (Arber 4.417), Bishop controlled all the materials in F1. Organizing rights for subsequent volumes proved much more difficult. Andrew Crooke and John Legatt gained the ownership of Allott's copy from his widow, Mary, in November 1636, although they did not enter them for another eight months despite the order to do so by the Stationers’ Court, and even then the list of items was far short of the actual total (Arber 4.387–8). As a consequence of this neglect, Meighen, apparently working under an arrangement with Mary Allott, published a folio volume containing Bartholomew Fair, Staple, and Devil in 1640 including some unsold sheets that had been printed in 1631. The result was a protracted legal battle over control of those three plays. At about the same time Thomas Walkley bought the rights to the remainder of Jonson's works from Jonson's executor, Sir Kenelm Digby (see Illustration 4, below), although, like Crooke and Legatt, Walkley neglected to register the titles. (Crooke and Richard Sergier did register Augurs, Neptune, Pan's Anniversary, and Time Vindicated on 20 March 1640, Arber 4.503.) This failure resulted in a lawsuit by Walkley and Crooke against John Benson, who in 1640 published Gypsies Metamorphosed (entered 20 February 1640, Arber 4.500), Horace His Art of Poetry (entered 8 February 1640, Arber 4.498), and assorted poems (entered 16 December 1639, Arber 4.493) in quarto and duodecimo formats. The tangle of rights was eventually sorted out, but not before the disputes caused significant delays. In the end, Bishop's reprint of F1 was published in 1640, followed by Meighen and Walkley's F2(2) (including unused sheets of Bartholomew Fair, Devil, and Staple from the 1631 edition) in 1640 and F2(3) in 1641, with a number of plays, masques, and poems printed for the first time. (The lawsuits are discussed in an essay by Eugene Giddens in the Electronic Edition.)

Illustration 4: Robert van Voerst, engraved portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Illustration 4: Robert van Voerst, engraved portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London. © National Portrait Gallery, London


During the years following the Civil War, Jonson's works would occasionally surface in the bookstalls. Three separate quarto editions of Catiline were published between 1669 and 1674. An octavo Alchemist appeared probably in 1680. Yet not until 1692 did a third collected edition of Jonson appear. Henry Herringman, one of the leading stationers of the second half of the seventeenth century, published the works of a number of contemporary literary figures – Dryden, Cowley, Davenant, and Waller – as well as collected editions of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Beaumont and Fletcher. He organized a syndicate of leading booksellers that included Edward Brewster, Thomas Bassett, Richard Chiswell, Matthew Wooten, and George Conyers, and in 1692 they published the third folio edition of the works of Jonson. Unlike the previous multi-volume collections that featured a single column of english-body type surrounded by generous margins, F3 gathers Jonson's output into a tall, single volume with the text arranged into two columns of pica-body type. Herringman and his associates did not rearrange the order of works from the previous editions, but they did add the previously excluded New Inn as well as Leges Convivales and lines ‘Over the Door at the Entrance into the Apollo’ (5C2). They also commissioned someone to revise and update The English Grammar.

The eighteenth century

The eighteenth-century publishing world differed in a number of significant ways from that of the previous century, especially in matters of copyright, book design, and editorial emendation of text, all of which can be seen in the shifting presentation of Jonson's writings. In 1716/17 his Works were published in an edition of six octavo volumes by a syndicate of London stationers. This, the so-called Booksellers’ Edition, though it marks some new departures in the printing and treatment of Jonson's text, is, at the same time, clearly linked back to the folio of 1692. To be sure, the Booksellers’ Edition represents an attempt to market Jonson according to the latest eighteenth-century fashions: its multi-volume octavo format keeps pace with the increasing move away from the large folios favoured by printers in the previous century; and the illustrative plates, engraved by Louis Du Guernier, align it with recent editions of Shakespeare (1709), Beaumont and Fletcher (1711), and Spenser (1715), all of which had been accompanied by engravings. (Du Guernier had also recently illustrated Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Gay's Shepherd's Week, and the seventh edition of Garth's The Dispensary, all in 1714, and Tickell's translation of the Iliad, 1715; see Williams, 1936, and Hadfield, 2000. The Booksellers’ plates, clearly popular, reappear in Peter Whalley's seven-volume Works of 1756, and in editions of single plays; e.g. in Epicene, London: D. Midwinter and others, 1739, and The Alchemist, London: D. Midwinter and others, 1739.) Yet the syndicate of stationers behind this up-to-the minute publication was very closely related to the syndicate that had financed the 1692 folio. The means of this relation was the Stationers’ Company: stationers like Matthew Wotton and George Conyers are featured in both imprints, and men who had been apprenticed through the Company to members of the 1692 syndicate reappear frequently in 1716/17. As McKenzie (1974) shows, George Conyers (named in both imprints, as we have seen) had been master to Thomas Ballard (named in 1716/17); Daniel Midwinter and Benjamin Cowse (both named in 1716) had been apprenticed to Richard Chiswell (named in 1692); Thomas Basset (named in 1692) had been master to Jacob Tonson (named in 1716/17).

Between the publication of the third folio and the Booksellers’ Edition stands a major change in the legal framework of the eighteenth-century book trade: the ‘Act for the Encouragement of Learning’, passed in 1710. The first Copyright Act (as it has come to be known) ought radically to have altered the legal and practical basis on which stationers conducted their business, though in fact, for the first twenty or so years after the Act came in to force, the book trade seems largely to have carried on as if little had changed. (Compare Dugas, 2001, with Feather 1980, 1987.) The impact of the Act, which (among other changes) for the first time legally gave a living author a period of time-limited rights to copy in his or her work, can been seen only sporadically in the publication of Jonson's work. The Act allowed that all existing books were to be copyrighted to their present owners for twenty-one years from the date of its enactment, 10 April 1710; those printed after this date were in copyright for only fourteen years. The owners of Jonson copyrights were the members of the 1692 syndicate or their successors in the trade; and the Three Celebrated Plays of that Excellent Poet Ben Johnson, printed by William Feales for an expanded syndicate in 1732, seems, in this legislative context, a clear response to the expiration of the twenty-one-year copyright allowed in 1710. Less clear is how Jacob Tonson's three elegant quartos in 1709 – of Volpone, Epicene, and The Alchemist – and Henry Hills's duodecimo editions of Catiline, Volpone, and Epicene, dated by their advertisements to 1710 – relate to the Act. Tonson held de facto rights to copy in the three plays, and may perhaps have been anticipating the Act. Hills, whom John Nichols (1812–15, 8.168) has described as ‘a notorious printer in Blackfriars who regularly pirated every good poem or sermon that was published’, certainly did not hold such rights, and may have been opportunistically attempting to publish these popular texts before legislation made such action illegal. In any event, whether by anticipation or subversion, the effects of the Act, so far as they affected Jonson's works, were muffled.

Peter Whalley's seven-volume edition of the Works (1756), even though the syndicate financing it maintained strong links back to 1692, gives evidence of a new thinking about what the process of editing might mean for and to Jonson. Here, for the first time, Jonson's texts appeared with annotation other than his own. Whalley, alive to the novelty of his undertaking, offered clearly to state its methods and assumptions by providing a selection of notes to Every Man In, published in The Gentleman's Magazine (22, January 1752, 3–4; compare Works, 1756, 1.ii–v). In these notes, a taster of and an advertisement for the forthcoming edition, Whalley reflected that Jonson's writing, having ‘but few passages that want correction’, would require the ‘chief business of his editor’ to be that of pointing out ‘the references to the customs of that age, and his [Jonson's] imitations of antient authors’. (Whalley's edition was to be published by subscription, a mode of finance that had earlier lain behind Jonson in 1729; see P. J. Wallis, 1974, and Speck, 1982). Whalley was also the first editor to speculate in print about the documents and processes that lay behind the early printed texts and manuscripts that his edition reproduced. Whalley believed the folio of 1616 to have been printed under Jonson's ‘own inspection’, ‘so that we have . . . an authentic copy for our pattern’. Whalley held that the works printed posthumously in 1640/1 were ‘undoubtedly’ derived from Jonson's ‘original manuscripts’, which, not having benefited from ‘the author's revisal’, occasioned ‘many more, as well as more material[,] blunders’ in the volume ( Works, 1756, 1.ii). Though Whalley's focus on folio texts prevented him in the main from using earlier quartos, he nonetheless added, with the help of the earlier quartos that David Garrick put at his disposal, a new play to the gathered works, namely, The Case Is Altered, printed in quarto in 1609 but not collected by Jonson. Reviewers welcomed the edition, though one complained that much still remained to be explained in annotation ( The Critical Review, 1, 1756, 462–72; shorter reviews were printed in The Literary Magazine, 1, 1756, 169–71, and The Monthly Review, 15, 1756, 198). Bound sets of Whalley's edition cost £1 1 5s; he was paid £210 for his work ( Gentleman's Magazine, 57, 1787, 76). Whalley's text and annotation were reprinted in a single volume after his death by John Stockdale in 1811. Whalley had previously attempted to revise and expand the edition, but a posthumous project, initiated by F. G. Waldron, to print it as a part-work in pamphlets was never completed; only the first pamphlet survives, exhibited in Waldron's Literary Museum; or, Ancient and Modern Repository of 1792.

Set against editorial reshapings of Jonson's works through the eighteenth century are a number of theatrical refashionings of his plays, the most famous (and most frequently republished) of which were David Garrick's adaptations of Every Man In (1752) and The Alchemist (1763), the former running through fifteen editions before 1777. Francis Gentleman adapted Sejanus (1752) and The Alchemist (1770), the latter for Drury Lane; he also contributed at least a Prologue to a truncated two-act farce, The Tobacconist (1771), derived from The Alchemist to allow the actor ‘Mr. Weston's established merit in the character of Abel Drugger, more frequent, familiar, and compact opportunity of showing itself than the old play can possibly afford’ (The Advertisement, The Tobacconist, London: J. Bell, 1771, sig. A4v). Less successful was George Colman's adaptation of Epicene, printed in 1776 with a Prologue that spoke feelingly of changing theatrical tastes: ‘now we bring him [Jonson] forth with dread and doubt, / And fear his learned socks are quite worn out’ ( Epicene . . . with Alterations by George Colman, London: T. Becket, 1776, sig. A2). Jonson's plays, even if not performed as frequently as those of Shakespeare, had remained steady theatrical and commercial property, though the warning note sounded by Colman was soon to prove prophetic.

The nineteenth century

William Gifford's landmark nine-volume edition of 1816 speaks slightingly of Whalley's example: ‘He did little . . . for the poet; the form of the old editions was rigidly observed, and though a few notes were subjoined, they were seldom of material import, and never explanatory of the author's general views, though they occasionally touched on his language’ ( Works, 1816, 1.ccxxxiv). Actually, it is in its commentary that Gifford's edition chiefly departs from Whalley; its textual advances, though it did add one newly recovered entertainment from the Newcastle manuscript (BL, Harl. MS 4955) and a scattering of previously ungathered poems, are not radical. Gifford's commentary, his ‘Biographical Memoir’ of Jonson, and his gloweringly ironic ‘Proofs of Ben Jonson's Malignity’, amount to a thoroughgoing defence of Jonson's character against the attacks that had been levelled at Jonson by (it was not unfairly said) generations of Shakespearean critics – a defence which, if it did not entirely persuade all its readers of its truth, certainly polarized the edition's reception. (Compare Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 2, 1818, 497–501, and 23, 1819, 558–60; The British Critic, n.s. 10, 1818, 183–99; The Retrospective Review, 1, 1820, 181–210; The British Quarterly Review, 25, 1857, 185–320; and The National Review, 6, 1858, 112–47, reprinted in The Eclectic Magazine, 44, 1858, 1–21. See Lockwood, 2005.) Two hundred and fifty sets of the edition were printed on royal paper and 1,000 on demy for purchase, at a cost of £9 0s 0d and £6 6s 0d respectively. Gifford was paid £450 for his work (publication accounts, 12 August 1816, Reading University Library, Longman Impression Book 6).

Whatever its faults of emphasis and accuracy, Gifford's edition served as the basis for the vast majority of those that followed in the nineteenth century. Barry Cornwall's single-volume stereotyped edition (Edward Moxon, 1838) reprinted Gifford's text (without annotation) and replaced his ‘Memoir’ with a new account (pp. ix–x). The stereotyped plates of the 1838 edition were employed by the publisher Edward Moxon in 1851, though here, perhaps under the influence of Alexander Dyce, whose notes correct and update many of its emphases, he returned Gifford's ‘Memoir’ to print (Dyce, ed. Jonson, 1853). In 1856, Robert Bell's edition of Jonson's The Poetical Works of Ben Jonson followed Gifford's text (as he put it) ‘for the sake of uniformity’ (p. 141). Francis Cunningham twice reprinted Gifford's text, first in a three-volume recension in 1870/1 (published by Hotten) and second in an elaborate nine-volume edition to which he contributed a series of end-notes to each volume ( The Works of Ben Jonson, 9 vols., Bicker and Son, 1875). Henry Morley's editions of the Plays and Poems (Routledge, 1885) and Masques and Entertainments (Routledge, 1890) are less explicit about their textual choices, though the latter edition offers to its readers ‘A Comment’ on Jonson's masques taken from Gifford's ‘Memoir’. As late as 1925, W. W. Greg, in reviewing the first two volumes of H&S, sniffed that since they departed from Gifford's ordering of The Underwood, ‘fuller references’ would have been helpful (Greg, 1926b, 1–17).

For a more detailed discussion of the collected editions discussed above, see Tom Lockwood's account of F3, 1716–17, 1756, and 1816 in the Electronic Edition.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries

With the new century came the emergence of a scholarly approach known as the ‘New Bibliography’. Pioneers such as R. B. McKerrow and W. W. Greg asserted that editors should consider the influence of the printer as well as the author in shaping the final form of the text. The extent of Jonson's editorial involvement in F1 first spawned a sustained critical dispute in 1903 when B. A. P. van Dam and C. Stoffel argued that certain changes in Every Man Out were the responsibility of Stansby's correctors, not the author. This idea was further explored in 1905 and afterwards with a series of Jonson plays edited from the early quartos, not folios, and published as part of the series Materialien zur Kunde des älteren englischen Dramas in Louvain. These included The Sad Shepherd (1905), Every Man In (1905), Every Man Out (1907), A Tale of a Tub (1913), Cynthia's Revels (1913), Poetaster (1934), Sejanus (1935), Volpone (1937), and The Alchemist (1950). In addition, a facsimile transcription of the first half of a single copy of F1 was published as part of the series (1905–8). Each volume in the series, initially under the direction of Willy Bang and later Henry De Vocht, sought to explore how compositors and correctors shaped the work, and included extensive analyses of the press variants between individual copies of a playbook as well as textual variants between editions. Concurrent with the Materialien volumes, Yale University Press began issuing editions of Jonson's plays as part of their Yale Studies in English series, based upon doctoral theses that likewise paid careful attention not only to the literary but also bibliographical elements of each work. This series included The Alchemist (1903), Bartholomew Fair (1904), Poetaster (1905), The Staple of News (1905), The Devil Is an Ass (1905), Epicene (1906), The New Inn (1908), Cynthia’s Revels (1912), The Magnetic Lady (1914), A Tale of a Tub (1915), Catiline (1916), The Case Is Altered (1917), Volpone (1919), Every Man In (1921), and Eastward Ho! (1926).

Nevertheless, critical consensus of the time focused on the centrality of F1 as source of Jonson's authorial intentions. Among those championing the folio was Percy Simpson, who lauded it as ‘one of the most carefully and correctly printed books of its time’, asserting, as had Whalley before him, that ‘Jonson himself corrected the proofs’ (Bayfield, 1920, 295). Simpson, along with his wife Evelyn and their fellow editor Charles Herford, made a huge impact on twentieth-century Jonsonian scholarship with their magisterial Oxford Ben Jonson, an eleven-volume scholarly edition published between 1925 and 1952. First contemplated in 1888, the edition had, by the time of its completion, accumulated praise from scholars, teachers, and librarians, and had almost single-handedly revived interest in Jonson as a subject of intellectual inquiry. Seemingly unhindered by concerns over time or space or materials, the Oxford editors included along with the texts a Jonson biography summing up all that was known of the poet and playwright at the time, a first-rate set of literary annotations and glosses, invaluable commentary on all the plays, and other essential secondary resources such as a stage history of the plays, Jonsonian allusions, and a reconstruction of Jonson's personal library. Each work was prefaced with a brief discussion of the textual source. Footnotes indicated those variants which the editors considered important. The editors announced their governing principle regarding variants at the outset as follows: ‘The text of this edition is conservative and ignores unnecessary variants.’ Because Jonson wrote in a clear hand and oversaw much of his works through the press, according to the editors, little room was left for ‘the conjecturalist’. Indeed, in the editors’ view a heavy-handed approach to Jonson would merely identify an editor as ‘unfit for his task’ (H&S, 3.xi). In all of the six volumes containing Jonson's work, the editors retained this consistent, conservative approach to their task.

Such a massive scholarly undertaking, stretching over so many decades and suffering as it did from the death of one of its editors early in its history (C. H. Herford died in April 1931 while volume 4 was at the press), inevitably contained some shortcomings. Although Percy Simpson wrote extensively and widely on textual and bibliographical matters (see in particular his important work, Proof-Reading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press, 1935), at times he and his fellow editors stumbled over obvious facts of early modern printing. When discussing the revision of Every Man Out, the editors have noted that the 1640 folio, printed after Jonson's death, ‘follows the text of 1616, but does not reproduce all its press corrections’. From this they conclude ‘that there was more than one state of the 1616 proofs’ (3.417). The reason for the failure of the 1640 folio to reproduce all corrections to the 1616 is obvious, and indeed the editors themselves implicitly concede the cause when they observe that, in books of this period, ‘corrected and uncorrected sheets are bound up together’ (9.51). Richard Bishop set the 1640 folio from one or perhaps two copies of the 1616 edition, reproducing the corrected and uncorrected sheets as they occurred in those individual and textually unique volumes.

Where the Oxford editors made their single most important error in judgement, according to many reviewers, was in over-emphasizing the value of the folio in their choices of copy-text. Following in the tradition of Whalley and Gifford (discussed above), Herford and Simpson announced, ‘We regard the 1616 Folio as the final authority for all the works which it contains’ (3.xii). They based their decision upon two main lines of reasoning, both of which rest upon the assumption that Jonson regularly attended Stansby's printing house to oversee production. The first line of reasoning concerns the distribution of textual corrections in F1, heaviest ‘in the older works, plays which had appeared in quarto’, and nearly nonexistent in the later plays such as ‘Catiline and in the Epigrams, which Jonson called “the ripest of my studies”’ (9.72). In the textual introductions to the various plays, the editors consistently delineated the changes wrought between quarto and folio, repeatedly emphasizing what they saw as Jonson's conscious intent of improving the work. The editors felt that this direct correlation between the age of the work and the amount of revision it bore revealed clearly the author's hand bringing his earlier and less-developed works up to the standards demanded by a mature poet. As for the second line of reasoning, the editors identified a consistent style emerging in the revisions, a coherent method of layout and format for the plays (massed entrances, unnumbered scenes, capitalization of personal names, etc.), typography based on ‘Greek and Latin forms of classical derivatives’, and ‘a fully developed system of punctuation’ (9.47–8). That the texts show a consistent revision aimed at achieving these standards indicates to Herford and Simpson ‘that the Folio of 1616 was printed with scrupulous care, especially in the matter of punctuation, which Jonson rather elaborated’ (3.293). Hence the editors felt fully justified in following what they felt to be Jonson's clear authorial final intentions. (Fredson Bowers, on the other hand, has trenchantly observed that if Jonson had had a hand in preparing the pre-printing proofs, then the corrections made during printing ‘should have shown light polishing and second thoughts plus the correction of compositorial failure to observe copy’ rather than the heavy revisions that indicates his having seen them for the first time in press-proof; in addition, the numerous revisions in the folio press-corrections ‘suggest that the original marking of the setting copy may have been less extensive than usually thought’, Bowers, 1978, 112, n. 22.)

This over-reliance upon F1 prompted a series of responses to the Oxford Ben Jonson specifically as well as to the larger questions surrounding the production of the volume. Johan Gerritsen began the debate with a pair of short pieces published in the journal English Studies in the late 1950s. The first takes the form of a review of volumes 9–11. It begins with justifiable praise of the just-completed edition, but quickly focuses on the textual shortcomings. Noting that the last volume containing plays and masques appeared in 1941, followed some years later by the prose and poems in 1947, Gerritsen argues that ‘We have seen of late much refinement in the methods available to an editor’ (Greg's ground-breaking ‘The Rationale of Copy-Text’ was first published in 1951) and suggests that ‘It might therefore be worth while to examine the editors’ treatment of their text in the light of modern theory’ (Gerritsen, 1957, 121).

He first argues that proof of Jonson's hand in textual corrections needs more than mere notice of ‘significant differences between the folio and the print used as copy-text’ (121). Most of the variants do not satisfactorily demonstrate the author's intervention. We can, on the other hand, recognize the hand of Jonson in those ‘formes which show indifferent alterations of the type that only someone who had more than a printer's concern for the text’ would make. Overall, says Gerritsen, the Oxford editors have given unjustified weight to F1; they, ‘by neglecting to distinguish between the author's correction in proof and the compositor's expedients when translating it into type, have preferred Stansby to Jonson’ (122).

Gerritsen then goes on to question the Oxford editors’ all-too-brief printing history of F1 – a lament that reverberates in post-World War II Jonson scholarship. He makes a minor contribution to meeting this need by offering a revised starting date for the volume's printing, and adding a few comments on the resetting of gatherings 2Y and 4M–4P, even if a full-scale investigation falls outside the scope of his review. He finally asserts the need for a full collation of many more copies than seen by the editors (8) or even by himself (32), if only ‘to record what states of known variant formes they contain’ (124). Gerritsen had good reason to advocate a larger sample from which to detect variants; among the stop-press corrections and reset sheets, the Oxford editors found a little more than 1,500 variants, whereas a machine collation of fifty copies by Gants has revealed over 2,500 (see Gants, 1997).

In his review of volumes 9–11, Gerritsen promised ‘to publish a fuller account elsewhere’ of F1's printing history (123). He took his first, and unfortunately last, step toward fulfilling that promise two years later when he published his brief, three-page ‘Stansby and Jonson Produce a Folio: A Preliminary Account’. Gerritsen admits in his initial sentence that ‘An authoritative account of the printing of . . . the Jonson Folio of 1616 does not exist, and in fact cannot yet be given’ (Gerritsen, 1959, 52). His contribution to the history consists mainly of a conjectural sequence of the book's printing, based primarily on his examination of headline evidence. Most of the story he gets right. Nonetheless, his analysis produced significant new insights into the Works’ printing history: that printing began with gathering G; that gatherings A–F were printed later in the sequence, and then in two distinctly different points; that Stansby printed the large-paper setting of gathering 2Y first, rather than the regular paper as assumed by the Oxford editors; and that what may have been a miscalculation in the number of printed copies of the final quires led to a situation in which ‘all the undistributed type of these quires was collected, the missing portions were reset, and further copies printed to make up the numbers’ (55). In an aside to this last point, Gerritsen concludes on the basis of some simple mathematics that Stansby had enough english roman type to leave thirty-seven folio pages of type standing without significant impact on his production schedule. (See also Donovan, 1987.)

Gerritsen's two compact articles have dominated views on F1. By publishing his findings while at the same time withholding the evidence upon which he based them in preliminary form, Gerritsen inadvertently dampened further bibliographical work on Jonson's Works until well into the 1980s. Anyone wishing either to supplement or challenge his findings was faced with mounting a full-scale physical and textual analysis without benefit of access to the single most important body of evidence compiled to date – a daunting task given the complexity of F1. Consequently, most work on Jonson during the 1960s and 1970s focused on textual problems posed by the multiple print and manuscript witnesses to his works.

Two articles from this period stand out among the others. The first was an assessment by T. H. Howard-Hill in 1972 of the need for a new concordance to Jonson's works. In it he asks a direct but essential question: ‘is Herford and Simpson a definitive edition, or does it otherwise possess an authority amongst scholars that would justify its selection as the base text for a concordance?’ (Howard-Hill, 1972, 21). In order to answer this question, Howard-Hill orchestrates a sharp, probing discussion of the textual problems displayed by the Oxford Ben Jonson, based both on his own analysis and that of W. W. Greg. He concludes with what by then had become patently clear:

If the scholarly value of a concordance to Jonson's dramatic works will outweigh the labor and cost of its preparation . . . then a prospective concordance editor has at the momen[t] only two acceptable alternative ways of proceeding. The first is to concord the materials for an edition, the second is to use the materials collaboratively in the preparation of an edition on which the concordance will eventually be based. (30)

The second and more important of the textual analyses concerning the Jonson folio came from Fredson Bowers in his 1978 reconsideration of Greg's ‘Rationale of Copy-Text’. Greg had reviewed volume 7 of the Oxford Ben Jonson for The Review of English Studies and had also edited Gypsies Metamorphosed, giving him firsthand experience with the problems posed by Jonson's works. In his ‘Rationale’ Greg had mainly agreed with the choice of the folio as copy-text for those works it contains, and singled out Every Man In as an example of a text where ‘revision and reproduction are so blended that it would seem impossible to disentangle intentional from what may be fortuitous variation, and injudicious to make the attempt’ (Greg, 1950–1, 35). Bowers focused on Greg's general support of the Oxford editors’ decision to adopt F1 as copy-text, examining in particular the evidence surrounding Every Man In and Sejanus. Taking note of the fact that Simpson, in responding to de Vocht's attacks on the Oxford Ben Jonson’s extensive reliance on F1, had used the circumstances of Every Man In’s re-editing to support F1 as a basis for the new edition, Bowers objected that the play does not in fact serve as ‘a useful example of revision either in its own day or later’; the degree to which Jonson reworked the text for publication makes it ‘almost unique’ and thus a poor candidate for textual exemplar (Bowers, 1978, 114). Sejanus, argued Bowers, offers itself as a better example by means of which to determine ‘how much of the accidental variation was due to Jonson and how much to the printer’ (112). Bowers admitted that the ‘press-correction of Sejanus is insufficient to produce all of the authentic variation’ between quarto and folio editions, and hence Jonson must have to some degree marked printer's copy (115). Yet throughout most of the plays, ‘Jonson did nothing in the press-corrections about the Folio departures from his ordinary spellings (and these were fairly numerous)’ (113). Therefore, Bowers concluded, using spelling preferences as ‘the main determinant’ must point to the earlier quarto editions as offering much better sources than F1 in the choice of copy-text. Bowers went so far as to state that ‘The Herford-Simpson Jonson was ostensibly an edition of the works which by a mistaken choice of copy-text for many parts turned into an edition of the Folio’ (114).

Almost as important as the publication of the Oxford Ben Jonson was the rapid expansion of the tertiary education system during the period after World War II and the mushrooming need for classroom texts that accompanied it. A number of publishers, including the university presses of Cambridge, Harvard, New York, and Oxford, as well as large commercial concerns such as Barnes & Noble, Crofts, D. C. Heath, Dell, Holt Rinehart and Winston, Longman, Macmillan, Methuen, Penguin, Routledge, St. Martin's, the Scolar Press, and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum's English Experience series of facsimiles, responded to the exploding market by issuing single works or selected collections of Jonson texts. For the most part the editors of these editions focused on the undergraduate classroom, producing volumes with expansive explanatory notes, glosses, and critical introductions aimed at helping students grasp the basic context of early modern English literature.

Typical of books produced for higher education was the Regents Renaissance Drama series published by the University of Nebraska Press, including Bartholomew Fair (1964), Epicene (1966), Every Man In (1971), Catiline (1973), and The Staple of News (1975), and the Regents Critics series volume of Literary Criticism (1970, 1988). With modernized texts, explanatory footnotes, modest introductions, occasional horizontal and historical collations, and appendices providing a literary and historical chronology of events during the Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods, these volumes were ideally positioned to serve the burgeoning population of Arts students. The 1971 edition of Every Man In, edited by J. W. Lever, is remarkable for presenting both Q1 and F1 texts in parallel, opposing-page style. Likewise the New Mermaids, which issued its first Jonson offering the same year as Regents, offered a basic critical apparatus while devoting more bibliographical attention to textual matters. This series included Bartholomew Fair (1964, 1977), The Alchemist (1966, 1991), Every Man In (1966, 1998), Sejanus (1966), Volpone (1968, 2003), Eastward Ho! (1973), and Epicene (1979).

Yale University Press began its Yale Ben Jonson series of selected plays in 1962 with an edition of Volpone edited by Alvin Kernan. Other texts included Bartholomew Fair (1963), Sejanus (1965), Every Man In (1969), the masques (1969, 1970), Epicene (1972), and The Alchemist (1974). George Parfitt's edition of the poems (1982), not part of this series, was prepared originally for Penguin in 1975 and was then acquired by Yale along with a group of other Penguin poets in a series edited by Christopher Ricks. In designing their texts for both student and scholar, the General Editors outlined their editorial goals in the Preface as follows:

First, the need of the modern reader for a readily intelligible text which will convey, as nearly as an edition can, the life and movement which invests the plays on the stage; second, the need of the critic and scholar for a readily available text which represents as accurately as possible, though it does not reproduce, the plays as Jonson printed them. (Kernan, Volpone, vii)

The Yale Jonson expanded the standard apparatus to include a more comprehensive introduction, a works cited section, and appendices detailing printing and stage histories as well as literary sources and technical glossaries where appropriate.

The longest-running post-war series, the Revels Plays, stands as a witness to the transformation in editorial sensibilities over the past forty years. Its volumes include Bartholomew Fair (1960), The Alchemist (1967), Eastward Ho! (1979), Volpone, (1983, 1999), The New Inn (1984), The Staple of News (1988), Sejanus (1990), The Devil Is an Ass (1994), Poetaster (1995), The Magnetic Lady (2000), Every Man In (2000), Every Man Out (2001), and Epicene (2003). Initial volumes from the 1960s follow the usual model of an apparatus designed for the broad undergraduate audience, but beginning with Eastward Ho! in 1979, added layers of critical, historical, and bibliographical information begin to appear. While not full-blown scholarly editions, the plays issued under the Revels banner provide a great deal of secondary scholarship not present in other single-work volumes: extensive glossaries; detailed stage, source, and publication narratives; musical settings; and background context on such contemporary subjects as court politics, the War of the Theatres, and the Essex Rebellion. Reflecting a renewed interest in the history of books and publishing, later editions in the series also present press variants arranged by formes rather than sequentially by act, scene, and line. A related series from Manchester University Press, the Revels Student Editions, features a somewhat reduced scholarship for classroom use: plays in this series include Volpone (1999) and Bartholomew Fair (2000).

In the latter half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century, many Jonson texts have found homes in digital repositories, either as single-source transcriptions or lightly edited Web-based reproductions. Large etext collections include the following: the Oxford Text Archives (, established 1976); the Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (, 1991); the electronic text center at the University of Virginia (, 1992, then moving to a new Digital Collections site in January 2008,, so that the URL will at some point become obsolete); the center at Indiana (, 1992); the center at Michigan (, 1994). These digital repositories provide simple facsimile transcriptions of early print witnesses with an added layer of structural tagging in schemes such as COCOA, SGML, and XML. While institution-based archives usually supply source, transcriber, and mark-up information, other large repositories such as Project Gutenberg ( distribute ‘plain vanilla’ texts with no attendant details as to the circumstances of their creation.

Commercial publishers have also included Jonson's works in large text- and image-based literary databases. University Microfilms (UMI) first began microfilming books in 1938 as part of its Early English Books series, and in the mid-1990s digitized its microfilm catalogue to create Early English Books Online (EEBO). For a number of years UMI had also issued textual databases of digitized print resources in CD-ROM form under the subsidiary imprint ProQuest; in 1995 they expanded the ProQuest distribution to the rapidly expanding realm of on-line publishing via the Internet. Four years later they purchased Chadwyck-Healey, which had been producing large literary databases encompassing a wide variety of genres (poetry, drama, prose, bibles, criticism, and journalism) and languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Latin). The resulting corporation, now called ProQuest Information and Learning (, offers three digital resources containing Jonson's works: EEBO, digitized images of sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century editions from the original UMI microfilms; Literature Online (LION); transcribed and XML-encoded texts of early print witnesses from the original Chadwyck-Healey sources; and Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP,, an ongoing collaboration between ProQuest, the Universities of Michigan and Oxford, and the Council on Library and Information Resources, to generate newly transcribed and more deeply encoded electronic texts to accompany roughly one quarter of the EEBO holdings.

In the 400 years since Ben Jonson first appeared in print, the processes for creating textual and illustrative images on physical surfaces have proliferated (scribal, relief, intaglio, planographic, digital), as have the editorial rationales employed by the men and women shaping each work for their readers. As they arranged for the printing and publication of the Every Man plays, neither Walter Burre nor William Holme could have conceived the myriad forms these and subsequent Jonsonian creations would take over the centuries. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the large team that has produced the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson likewise has no way of predicting the future manifestations of the writings they have bound within these volumes. What does appear certain is that interest in Jonson and his contemporaries among students, scholars, and readers will continue well into the future.

Login to CEWBJ