The Workes with The Workes…the Second Volume
In 1616 Ben Jonson, with many years left in his career as a writer, published his Workes in grand style—a large format. The Workes included nine plays (with some of his earliest works excluded), his Epigrammes and a collection of other poems, and over a dozen masques and a group of other entertainments for the court. Believing himself “better versed, and [knowing] more in Latin and Greek than all the poets in England,” he saw literary merits in each of the included pieces and carefully revised and supervised the works through printing. At the time his contemporaries were bemused by Jonson’s inclusion of dramas in the folio, which were widely thought to be undignified entertainment and not “literature.” In doing so, he set the stage, so to speak, for a future venture by the fellow actors of William Shakespeare, who died that year.
Jonson (1572–1637) clashed with many of his contemporary playwrights; yet, he showed admiration for Shakespeare’s talents, drank with him, and came closer than others to being his peer as a poet and dramatist. Every Man in his Humor (1598) was Jonson’s first great success. Unlike Shakespeare’s, his comedies invariably were stories that he created. They were full of ingeniously entangled subplots with primarily two types of characters: gulls and cheats. The plays reflected a dim view of human behavior with realistic characters and shunning the romantic aura of Shakespeare’s comedies.
With the ascendancy of King James, Jonson continued to write plays but also quickly adapted to changing tastes for court entertainment. Over his career he wrote some two dozen masques for James and his Queen. It is ironic that the playwright of realistic comedies should become involved in such fanciful, lavishly costumed and staged productions for the court—working with the famous architect and stage designer Inigo Jones. The work, however, was prestigious and did provide Jonson ample opportunities to demonstrate his knowledge of the classics, his penchant for symbolism, and his command of poetic styles.
The present copy has the leather bookplates of Jerome Kern, the American composer for musical theater and musical films. It includes the first editions of Volume 1 and the later-published Volume 2 (1631, and with the rare title page) and Volume 3 (1640–41).
Chrzanowski 1616j *
STC 14751 and 14754