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1 COMPARATIVE ? ai a Volume 24Summer 1990Number 2 More's Richard III and Jonson's Richard Crookback and Sejanus Robert C. Evans One of the most tantalizing of all the surviving data about Ben Jonson's life is Philip Henslowe's record that in June 1602 he paid Jonson not only for additions to Kyd's Spanish Tragedy but also "in earnest of a Boocke called Richard crockbacke." The sum listed—£.10—was substantial, suggesting either that the additions were extensive or that Jonson's play on King Richard III was nearly complete.1 Yet no other unambiguous record of the play survives, and most catalogues list it simply as "lost." However, the possibility that the play was not lost but was deliberately suppressed, as Jonson seems to have suppressed other early works, has also been raised. Various explanations have been offered for why Jonson may have chosen not to publish this play. Perhaps he rejected it as not wholly his; after all, Sejanus survives only in a rewritten version designed to eliminate the work of an anonymous collaborator. Or perhaps Jonson, dissatisfied with the work, withdrew it from posterity's judgment. Despite his early reputation as a competent ROBERT C. EVANS is Associate Professor of English at Auburn University in Montgomery. He is the author of Ben Jonson and the Poetics of Patronage and a number of publications on Jonson and other Renaissance figures. His " 'Other Men's Provision': Ben Jonson's Parody of Robert White in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue" appeared in the Spring issue of this journal. 97 98Comparative Drama writer of tragedies, and despite surviving records of his other works in this genre, Sejanus and Catiline are the only two tragedies he chose to print. Still another possibility is that he felt that his work could not rival its most obvious competitor, Shakespeare's King Richard III. If Sejanus was written partly in response to Julius Caesar, perhaps Richard Crookback was meant to reply to Richard 111, and perhaps Jonson was disappointed in his own performance.2 Certainly it would be fascinating to know how he would have handled a subject so effectively handled by Shakespeare, and it would be intriguing to see how he might have responded not only to Shakespeare but to one of the most enigmatic and compelling figures in English political history. And certainly it would be interesting to know how he might have dealt with the themes and problems raised by Richard's reign. As it happens, newly discovered evidence—the playwright's marked copy of the Latin version of Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III—allows us to speculate with much more assurance about the possible nature of Jonson's play and his response to Richard. The marked book not only suggests die shape the play may have taken but also the kinds of political issues and concerns that Richard's life may have raised for Jonson. Jonson's markings imply that he saw More's Historia not only as a source of useful information and dramatic techniques but also as a valuable warning about the dangers of tyranny and of unbridled ambition and selfishness. Moreover, the markings suggest much about the kinds of historians—and historiographical principles—that Jonson found important. In short, the newly discovered book implies a great deal, not simply about one of Jonson's most important "lost" works but also about the political and historical concerns that seem to have motivated his early thinking. As an immediate predecessor to Sejanus and as a play with clear political implications, Richard Crookback would be a valuable work to possess. Lacking that, we at least now have what is arguably the next best thing—probably the major source of Jonson's missing drama, complete with his own marginal markings. Jonson's 1565 Louvain edition of More's Latin works is presently housed at the Library at Canterbury Cathedral.3 Its existence seems to have been unknown to all previous cataloguers of Jonson's books, and in fact it seems to have been discovered only recendy during preparation of an extensive Robert C. Evans99 new computerized listing of the Cathedral's holdings. Everything points to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 97-132
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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