Plays of Ben Jonson
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152 ] Plays of Ben Jonson An unsigned review of Ben Jonson, vol III: A Tale of a Tub, The Case Is Altered, Every Man in his Humour, Every Man out of his Humour, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson Oxford: Clarendon, 1927. Pp. xv + 608. Eastward Hoe, by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, edited with an introduction by Julia Harris New Haven: Yale UP; London: Oxford UP, 1927. Pp. lviii + 191. The Alchemist, replica of First Quarto, by Ben Jonson London: Noel Douglas, 1927. n.p. The Times Literary Supplement, 1329 (21 July 1927) 500 The appearance of Volume I (the Introduction) of this magnificent Herford and Simpson edition of Jonson was noticed everywhere with the applause that it deserved.1 For any but an audience of highly trained specialists there is less matter for discussion in the subsequent volumes containing the plays; but each merits, and the future volumes will merit, distinguished mention and the renewed thanks of the general as well as the academic public. For exact texts are the basis of literary criticism and appreciation; we have now, after three hundred years, a definitive text of Jonson, the text which everyone who writes about Jonson will have to use. The text of Jonson’s plays has always been thought to be the most nearly accurate in the whole of Elizabethan drama. So they are: Jonson took great trouble over the publication of his plays; of all the Elizabethans it was he who cared most deeply for the judgment of posterity. He cared also for his plays,notonlyasdramabutasliterature;thoughtofthemprobablyasmatter that would be read as well as played. One of the things to be learnt about Jonson from this edition, which gives every important variant, is the labour of alteration and improvement which he expended in giving literary perfection and polish to his work: he would have continued to revise and alter with every new edition. He it is who taught the English poet to write with [ 153 Plays of Ben Jonson care and revise with labour; he is the ancestor of Dryden and Pope, the first “classic” of English literature in the French sense.2 Nevertheless any one of the short prefaces prefixed by the editors of this edition to the several plays is the fruit of great labour of textual criticism. We think of the Elizabethans as careless editors of their own texts and of the Elizabethan publishing trade as swarming with “pirates.” But Jonson was not a careless editor, and we are not at the mercy of piratical publishers of his plays; yet the state of the publishing trade and the printing art in his time was so undeveloped that even Jonson could not expect to produce a perfect text. And this being so, the situation is only complicated by Jonson’s passion for revision. The editors say modestly that “no problem arose” in editing the first two plays of this volume, though they admit a few confused passages and a number of misprints [xi]. For the text of The Case is Altered they make handsome recognition of the work of Whalley (1756) and Gifford (1816).3 But – in Every Man out of his Humour Jonson did not rewrite, he revised his early version. He worked over the Quarto text, submitted it to a close scrutiny , and retouched it in detail. Occasionally he makes a point a little clearer for the actor, but usually he strengthens or improves the phrasing. The underlying spirit of the changes is not so much the attitude of a practical playwright as a distant approach to Pope’s standard of correctness . [xii] Miss Harris’s edition of Eastward Hoe was a dissertation for the doctorate .4 Apart from its great interest as a study in collaboration the play is still a lively and amusing play, and deserves this full edition with every sort of critical apparatus and informative note. It will be interesting to compare Miss Harris’s conclusions with those of Dr. Herford and Dr. Simpson. The chief interest of the book is Miss Harris’s skilful and intelligent distribution of authorship; her preliminary account of the history of the prodigal son theme in drama is valuable chiefly in establishing the presumption that Chapman was responsible for those parts of the play which follow most closely the ItaliantaleofMasuccio.5 WhenJonsonalludedtotheplayinconversation with Drummond he seems from his words to dissociate himself from it, and to intimate that he assumed responsibility only from a loyalty to Chapman and Marston...