Ben Jonson folios

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Title page of The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (1616), the first folio publication that included stage plays.

The folio collections of Ben Jonson's works published in the seventeenth century were crucial developments in the publication of English literature and English Renaissance drama. The first folio collection, issued in 1616,[1] treated stage plays as serious works of literature instead of popular ephemera—at the time, a controversial position. The 1616 folio stood as a precedent for other play collections that followed—most notably the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1623, but also the first Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647, and other collections that were important in preserving the dramatic literature of the age for subsequent generations.

The first folio, 1616[edit]

The first Jonson folio of 1616, printed and published by William Stansby and sold through bookseller Richard Meighen,[2] contained nine plays, all previously published, plus two works of non-dramatic poetry, thirteen masques, and six "entertainments."

The first five of the masques, from Blackness through Queens, had been printed previously, as had three of the entertainments, the Panegyre, and the Epigrams.

The abortive 1631 addition[edit]

In 1631 Jonson planned a second volume to be added to the 1616 folio, a collection of later-written works to be published by Robert Allot.[3] Jonson, however, became dissatisfied with the quality of the printing (by John Beale), and cancelled the project. Three plays were set into type for the projected collection, and printings of those typecasts were circulated—though whether they were sold commercially or distributed privately by Jonson is unclear. The three plays are:

Allot died in 1635; in the 1637–39 period, the rights to Jonson's works were involved in a complex legal dispute between Philip Chetwinde, the second husband of Allot's widow, and stationers Andrew Crooke and John Legatt, who believed they owned the rights to the works.[4]

The second folio, 1640/1[edit]

Two folio collections of Jonsonian works were issued in 1640-41. The first, printed by Richard Bishop for Andrew Crooke, was a 1640 reprint of the 1616 folio with corrections and emendations; it has sometimes been termed "the second edition of the first folio." The second volume was edited by Jonson's literary executor Sir Kenelm Digby, and published by Richard Meighen,[5] in co-operation with Chetwinde. That volume contained later works, most of them unpublished or uncollected previously—six plays (including the three printed in 1631), two of them incomplete, and fifteen masques, plus miscellaneous pieces. In the Digby/Meighen volume—identified on its title page as "the Second Volume" of Jonson's works—the varying dates (1631, 1640, 1641) in some of the texts, and what editor William Savage Johnson once called "irregularity in contents and arrangement in different copies," have caused significant confusion.

The third folio, 1692[edit]

The 1692 single-volume third folio was printed by Thomas Hodgkin and published by a syndicate of booksellers—the title page lists H. Herringman, E. Brewster, T. Bassett, R. Chiswell, M. Wotton, and G. Converse.[6] The third folio added two works to the previous total: the play The New Inn, and Leges Convivales.

Two other works by Jonson were left out of the 17th-century folios but added to later editions: the plays The Case is Altered and Eastward Ho (the latter written with Marston and George Chapman).


  1. ^ Brady and Herendeen, pp. 11–22 and ff.
  2. ^ When printers like Stansby acted as publishers, they usually had to arrange with one or more booksellers to sell their books—as, for one example, Thomas Creede sold his books through William Barley.
  3. ^ Allot was a member of the syndicate of booksellers who published the Shakespeare Second Folio in 1632.
  4. ^ Williams, pp. 75-95.
  5. ^ Meighen, like Allot, was a member of the Shakespeare Second Folio syndicate.
  6. ^ Herringman, Brewster, and Chiswell were members of the four-man syndicate that published the Fourth Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1685. Herringman was one of three stationers who issued the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio in 1679.


  • Brady, Jennifer, and W. H. Herendeen, eds. Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio. Newark, DE, University of Delaware Press, 1991.
  • Brock, Dewey Howard. A Ben Jonson Companion. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1983.
  • Harp, Richard, and Stanley Stewart, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Loxley, James. The Complete Critical Guide to Ben Jonson. London, Routledge, 2002.
  • Williams, W. P. "Chetwin, Crooke, and the Jonson Folios." Studies in Bibliography 30 (1977).

External links[edit]