Ben Jonson: The Workes of Benjamin Jonson

London: Richard Bishop, 1640 (Sp Coll Hunterian De.2.8)

Line of text from 'Poetaster'.

Published in 1640, this is the second edition of Jonson's collected works, following the first of 1616. It is usually known as the "second folio". The term folio refers to the format of the volume. Often the format of an early printed book is mistakenly described as simply the size of paper on which it is printed: folio for large paper, quarto for smaller paper, octavo for even smaller etc. However, format is slightly more complicated; in short, the format is dictated by the order in which the inked-type is printed on the paper and the way in which the paper is subsequently folded. That said, since the paper on which hand-press books were printed was often of similar size to begin with, folios are usually larger than quartos since the paper has been folded fewer times to form each section (also know as a quire or gathering). A book of this size was expensive to produce since paper was expensive and more paper was required for these large folio volumes.

Jonson's desire to have his plays recognised as serious works of literature - not merely public entertainment - led him to have this luxurious edition of his works published. He was the first playwright to do so, creating a precedent for further large and expensive collections of dramatic works, including that of Shakespeare.

Title page and frontispiece portrait.  

Two of the actors who performed in Jonson's play, Sejanus, are listed as Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare:

List of characters in 'Sejanus' and the actors who were in the play. Two of the named actors are William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage.

Special Collections also holds two books that actually belonged to Ben Jonson: De Octo Orationis Partvm Constrvctione Libellvs, Aeditvs A Gvill... (1540: Sp Coll Hunterian Bv.3.25) and L. Annaei Senecae Philosophi Scripta Quae Extant... (1599: Sp Coll Bl11-y.1).

Second copy of Jonson's Collected Works available in Special Collections:

Sp Coll f306-307 (1640)

Also by Ben Jonson and held in Special Collections:

Hymenaei (1606), Volpone (1607), Catitline his conspiracy (1611) and The Alchemist (1612) all Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.27

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