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Ben Jonson and his Folio  

2009-07-11 05:21:42|  分类: 教学及科研资料 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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    Ben Jonson and his Folio
    By Clifford Stetner

    In the light of much recent study of the printed book as a defining element of the European Renaissance, the 1616 folio of Ben Jonson is receiving renewed attention.  The significance of this book can be understood relative to Jonson’s psychology, to his career, to Jacobean literature, or to the history of early modern culture.  Sara Van Den Berg’s chapter, "Ben Jonson and the Ideology of Authorship" and Jennifer Brady’s: "Noe Fault but Life: Jonson’s Folio as Monument and Barrier," in The 1616 Folio, edited by Brady, concentrate on Jonson’s psychological development as a poet, while David Riggs’ Ben Jonson: A Life takes a more conventional biographical approach to Jonson’s literary development.Ben Jonson and his Folio - yueming - 我的地盘我做主

    The Gypsies Metamorphosed
           The faery beam upon you,
          The stars to glister on you ;
                A moon of light,
                In the noon of night, Till the fire-drake hath o'ergone you !
    The wheel of fortune guide you,
    The boy with the bow beside you ;
                Run aye in the way,
                Till the bird of day,
            And the luckier lot betide you !


            For Riggs, Jonson’s withdrawal from the theater following publication of his portfolio presents a "paradox."  In 1616, Jonson was recognized as the foremost dramatist of the English stage, yet he brings his stage career to an end to continue as a court poet whose work gradually displays an increasing level of social alienation, until, by 1623, he was "thoroughly disaffected from the court" (264)  In his first play following publication of the folio (and one of the last of his stage career), The Devil Is an Asse, he echoes Shakespeare’s apparently autobiographical parting words spoken through Prospero in The Tempest: "Now my charms are all o’erthrown, / And what strength I have’s mine own"  Jonson’s epilogue states: "Thus, the Projector, here, is over-throwne. / but I have now a Project of mine own."

            The debt to Shakespeare seems probable.  Although the folio of Shakespeare’s works would not appear for several years, both poets seem to be bidding farewell to the stage.  For Shakespeare this renunciation came towards the end of his life.  Jonson’s career proceeded for another two decades.  His publication of a printed folio edition of his collected works, an unprecedented bid for legitimacy by a mere freelance playwright, was calculated to endow him with sufficient artistic authority to assist him in his move away from the stage into the court as acknowledged poet laureate.

            The Devil is an Asse was the product of the "prolonged self-scrutiny" (Riggs 241)  involved in the compilation of his edition of collected works.  The play involves elements from several of the folio comedies.  Riggs suggests that, beginning with a stock scene from an early morality play, The Devil is an Asse represents an abbreviated literary history with Jonson’s comedy standing at the height of Renaissance English drama.  The play culminates with a renunciation of the moral ambiguity of Jonson’s folio comedies, and this marks the beginning of the new identity Jonson set out to define for himself as Jacobean poet laureate.

            For Riggs, the decline of Jonson’s career following the publication of the folio was simply a matter of bad generic choices and political misfortune, specifically the decline of the Jacobean court in the wake of:

      …the death of the queen,…[the king’s] near-fatal illness…loss of his daughter and son-in-law’s kingdom in the Palatinate…collapse of his treasury…accusations of graft…attacks on his most trusted ministers, and widespread public opposition to the proposed match between Prince Charles and the Spanish Infanta. (264)

            Although we esteem Jonson primarily for his comedies, to him these had been merely a vehicle of advancement to a more exalted social station connected with the royal court.  His first masque written for the court, Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue,  was an unfortunate attempt to anticipate the moral priggishness of Prince Charles by casting himself in the role of the tutelary singer who "leads Charles down from the hill and into the court… Daedalus, the poet-priest who combines the roles of artist, educator and bard" (Riggs 251).  The moralizing theme of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue was a notorious failure, eliciting angry invectives from King James who wanted more dancing, which initiated the long series of vicious attacks on Jonson’s post-folio identity described by Jennifer Brady.

      Butt to advise thee, Ben, in this strict Age
      A Brickehill’s fitter for thee then a stage;
      Thou better knowes a groundsell how to Laye
      Than lay the plott or groundeworke of A playe,
      And better canst derecte to Capp a chimney
      Then to Converse with Clio, or Polihimny.
      Fall then to worke, In thy old Age agen
      Take upp thy Trugg and Trowell, gentle Ben. …(Gill qtd. in Brady 203)

            While he continued to provide Twelfth Night masques and holiday entertainments for the court, as an established master whose fees were paid in advance, his self-image, the identity he self-consciously set about to construct, alienated him from the values and interests of court culture and inevitably resulted in his professional decline.  Although his poem, To Penshurst, supported the crown’s position in the "Court versus Country" debate, the antifestive position he adopted in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (despite his own erstwhile conversion to Catholicism) seems sympathetic of the Puritan opposition to the crown’s Catholic tendencies, and while, in Christmas His Masque, Jonson preserves the festive pagan character of Gregorie Christmas, he makes him a "good Protestant," and even To Penshurst moves from the festive misrule of Bartholomew Faire towards the exalted image of the country estate expressed in Milton’s distinctly antifestive Comus masque.

            The role of court poet-priest whose great task was to raise the aristocratic  masquers to a higher moral awareness, which Jonson assigned himself in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, is manifest throughout his post-folio dramatic works.  King James, however, did not practice the sobriety and moderation he preached, and Jonson’s moralizing was "grossly at odds with the mood of James’s court" (Riggs 254).

            Because of a fire in Jonson’s library, we have only vague information regarding what he wrote between 1616 and 1623.  It was during this period that he made his walking tour to Scotland where he was highly honored (perhaps as his attempt to reverse his declining favor at court).  Here, in correspondence with the poet Drummond, he began to complain of his dependent status and that poetry "had beggered him, when he might have been a rich lawer, Physitian or Marchant," and furthermore, that Spenser "died for lake of bread in King street";  "Southwell was hanged"; and "Done himself for not being understood would perish" (Riggs 257).

             After returning to London following his hero’s reception in Scotland, Jonson was endowed with a number of personal and professional honors: he was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford, became a professor at Gresham College in London, was provided with a small annuity, and had his portrait done by the same artist who painted Lord Pembroke, Francis Bacon and Prince Charles, but his fortunes began to decline with the decline of the Jacobean court.
    He began compiling the collection of poems, Under-wood, intended as an appendix to The Forrest collection published in the folio, which gives clear expressions of the pain of an aging poet in decline.  In poems such as the Epitaph on William Corbet, he "focuses on the discrepancy between his sprightly verses, which remain oblivious to the passage of time, and his slovenly body, which plainly shows the ravages of age" (Riggs 259).

             His contempt for common spectators had made him withdraw from the public stage where he had achieved his literary greatness, but the court audience proved as unreceptive to his higher artistic aspirations as the city dwellers.  A subsequent attempt to return to the theater with The New Inne proved a dismal failure.  The decline of James’s power resulted in the suspension of pensions while providing fewer occasions for sincerely celebratory masques.  Rather than continuing to define himself as the poet-priest of a royal court at the pinnacle of the moral superstructure of his culture, Jonson, in masques like the 1620 Pan’s Anniversary "seeks to remove James and his entourage from the sphere of political discourse and heroic action…" (Riggs 266).

    Van den Berg

            Sara Van den Berg focuses upon publication of the folio as the defining act of Jonson’s career.  After first discussing Michel Foucault’s literary theory as expressed in What is an Author, she places Jonson’s folio in the context of Lacanian psychoanalysis.  Her analysis of Jonson’s folio poetry reveals that he viewed literature as serving the needs of "individuation and separation" whose emergence Lacan attributes to the mirror stage of infant development.  For Van Den Berg, Jonson’s folio belongs to the category of what Lacan referred to as "transitional objects" through which "self and other" are "…reunited in an act of substitution or symbolic play" (125).
      …the "I" in the mirror is an idea never entirely coeval with the gazing "I."  One way to cope with that dichotomy is to embrace symbolic substitutions, from transitional objects (teddy bears, blankets) to transitional phenomena (religion, politics, art) to personal relationships (marriage, parenthood). (127)

            According to Van Den Berg, the folio performed the same unconscious function for the mature Jonson that a teddy bear serves for an infant: a sort of externalization of the self for the purpose of security and stability. This Lacanian interpretation coincides with that of Timothy Murray quoted by Brady:

            Whereas the domain of the public theatre might be understood to nurture significational free play and intertextuality, the printed text offers the playwright the opportunity to transcend authorial anonymity and linguistic ruin through various operations of textual self-representation.  The textual materialization of authorship thus enacts the regeneration of the figure of the Self through its objectification in the printed text. (194)

            Van Den Berg gives much attention to the frontispiece of the folio through which, she argues, Jonson attempts to define, not simply the nature of a single book in the midst of his career, but his entire identity as a poet.  Jonson was exploiting what Michel Foucault recognized as the new humanist concept of authorship which defined the author as consisting in:

      …first, a constant level of value in a body of texts; second, a field of conceptual or theoretical coherence in those texts; third, a stylistic unity in their language; and fourth, a historical or circumstantial identification of writing as the person’s distinctive act. (qtd. in Van Den Berg 111)

            Van Den Berg reads the frontispiece of Jonson’s folio in terms of a Lacanian mirror image of his self as poet.  She interprets its various iconography, such as the title printed in block letters and the author’s name in script as expressing an explicit ideology of authorship.  The two allusions to Horace identify the ideal poetic identity Jonson means to emulate, while inscribed Latin quotations express the aspirations of Jonson’s personal and public identity: "I do not work so that I will be admired by the crowd, but am content with a few readers" and "let each particular variety hold the place allotted to it" (114).
    Jonson places Bacchus and Apollo at the top of the architectural facade of the frontispiece, representing the higher categories of comedy and tragedy, below which are figures representing tragedy, comedy, satire, pastoral, and tragicomedy.  Jonson omits any figure representative of poetry, but prints his own name in script in the middle of the page.  For Van Den Berg, this placement suggests the intentional representation of a textual theater in which "Benjamin Jonson" as textual poet/author(ity) is constructed.

            Not only is the transfer of stage works to the printed page "the crucial act of this publication," but "reading, writing, and speaking are the dominant actions of Epigrammes" (117), the first group of poems following the plays published in the folio.  Jonson used printed text for its power to create authorial identity, despite the stigma attached to it by traditionalists (following the example of King James who published a folio of his works the same year), while making the use of text and speech to create identity the ultimate theme of his collected works.  "…He dramatizes acts of reading, writing, and speaking to clarify the relationship between language and identity" (117).

            The poems of Epigrammes and The Forrest, such as "To My Booke" and "To My Booke-Seller" always involve relationships between the poet and one other persona which is the arena in which Lacanian identity formation takes place.
    Jonson’s ideology of authorship had to comprehend the paradoxical nature of language and its power as a mirror.  On the one hand, language defines self; it is the way self presents self to itself.  On the other hand, language is the ‘not-self’ as well, the vehicle of community… (129)

            In To My Booke, he redefines "the act of buying and selling his book as his own purchase of an identity" (119); in To My Booke-Seller, he complains of the merchant’s being content to sell his poetry as scrap paper; in his complimentary epigrams he emphasizes the "links between identity and language," identifying the figures in his poems variously as readers, writers and texts (120).

             In presenting language as the means to his own personal identity, Jonson places a new value on originality, contrasting himself to the plagiarists he caricatures:  Prowle, Old-End Gatherer, Poet-Ape, and Playwright.  The arrangement of the plays in chronological order rather than by genre emphasizes the life of the poet as the organizing principle of the work.

            In keeping with her Lacanian premise of  writing as "individuation and separation," Van Den Berg reads the Epigrammes as defining the folio as the mirror of the poet, while using the inevitable discrepancy between his self and any linguistic representation to preserve the traditional distinction between the author and his book (125).  The split between signifier and signified, between textual representation and self, that Jonson’s poetry is struggling to overcome is that created by the childhood trauma of separation from the mother.

            In The Forrest, Jonson begins to move away from the principle of poet as text and begins to explore his identity as body and person with physical needs and in relation to the world.  Language is defined in Epigrammes as vehicle of self; in The Forrest it is acknowledged as vehicle of community.  Poems such as To the World and To Sicknesse are far more about women than the Epigrammes had been and begin to suggest the theme of decay that Jennifer Brady finds in the post-folio Under-wood poems. Van Den Berg suggests that the images of decay fulfill the alternate role of a Lacanian mirror, to show also what one is not (129).


            While Riggs views the life of Jonson subsequent to publication of the folio in terms of a series of well or poorly calculated career moves, Jennifer Brady uses the poems of Under-wood and the critical verses of the "Sons of Ben" to create a portrait of Jonson’s post-folio identity as constructed within the tension between his deteriorating body and what Riggs calls: "…the authorial persona immured between the covers of Jonson’s Works…an artifact rather than an actual human being" (240).

            Brady shows that the decline in Jonson’s fortunes following 1616 described by Riggs did not meet with a great deal of sympathy from his contemporaries, least of all from the succeeding generation of poets who viewed his longevity as an obstacle to new forms of expression.  "The poet’s monument to himself had become an albatross, or at least a barrier to new work" (194). Jonson’s folio had taken on a "…canonical life independent of its author…" and "supplanted Jonson as the authority…"  His successors wished to "…adore a pure, stellified Folio, removed from its author’s intrusive…presence" (193).

            Their recourse was to develop a genre of severe criticism of Jonson’s ensuing work and life.

      …Die: seemes it not enough, thy Writing’s date
      Is endlesse, but thine owne prolonged Fate
      Must equall it?  for shame, engrosse not Age,
      But now, thy fifth Act’s ended, leave the stage,
      And lett us clappe.  … Oldisworth (192)

            The folio Workes were complete and self-contained, and Jonson only marred his own identity as a poet by refusing to step aside.  For Oldisworth along with Felltham, Carew, Goodwin and the Cavalier poets, the failure of The New Inne in 1629 was proof that Jonson had overstayed his welcome in the world of English letters.  For Brady, the folio was a locus of conflict.  The "Sons of Ben" saw themselves as offspring of the printed book, rather than of the living poet: "wee all conspir’d to make thy Herse / Our Workes"…(Mayne), to which … "no Posteritie / Can adde."  Jonson’s works "…had their whole growth then / When first borne, and came aged from thy Pen"… (194).

             The closure that Jonson had calculated in organizing the folio was part of his use of the printed text to create an identity as canonized poet, which identity he was to market to the English royal court.  It simultaneously created conditions which aggravated the decline of his fortunes.  It cast into sharp relief the contrast between immortal printed author and decaying human being. While Jonson’s 1616 Folio can be said "to have achieved a place and status outside ‘the time of the body and its voice," Under-wood, the collection of poems written subsequent to 1616 and published in the posthumous second folio of 1640, explores the terrain of the untranscended body which "engrosses age, space, the matter that is the unregenerate stuff of satire" (198).

            The failure at court of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue coincided with the onset of Jonson’s longstanding rivalry with Inigo Jones for ascendancy in the royal favor.  The Jonson who falters, whose penury, obesity and disabling strokes result in the downward spiral of his career, who "self fragments" before their collective gaze, becomes the object of the parricidal invectives of the next generation of poets during the 1630’s (200).

      …censures circulated by his increasingly vocal detractors…were widely read, as performance pieces.  Their vitriol gets out of hand.  The sons hurl Molotov cocktails of abuse, spatter insults calculated to enrage and maim.  Invariably, the locus for hostility is the poet’s body.  The parricides chart its decay in fulsome detail, in language appropriated from Jonson’s own work… (201)

            For Brady, the aim of the "parricides in verse" to separate Jonson from his canonized works amounted to the very fragmentation that Jonson’s use of printed text was intended to prevent.  The historical contingency that publication of the works attempted to transcend was forced upon him by his continued coexistence with his printed self, and he gradually came to acknowledge it in the poems of Under-wood.

            By 1633, Jonson was bedridden and utterly dependent upon the good will of others (including the unnamed lady who nursed him until his death).  The publication of the folio and its extraordinary success in creating within its cultural context the body of a canonized author in the person of his collected works prevented Jonson’s career from continuing to ascend, as he intended, after appointment to the court as poet laureate.  Instead it produced the conditions of his inevitable decline.  The poet for whom stage comedy had been a means to a more exalted literary role retains his place in cultural history primarily as the author of the first folio.

             For Brady, the attacks leveled against Jonson’s poetic identity by his successors were not simply the result of Jonson’s miscalculation of the moral atmosphere of the court, but a direct result of the nature of the folio itself.  Jonson intentionally designed the folio to be a complete and closed expression of his poetic persona, and therefore doomed all that lay outside of it to the role of superfluity and detriment.  The attacks on Jonson by the Sons of Ben, were not, as a rule, leveled against his work, however, but against his person.

            His own work reflects the desperation of an aging poet in a deteriorating body, increasingly dependent on others who are increasingly unable or unwilling to support him.

      MY LORD;
      Poore wretched states, prest by extremities,
      Are faine to seeke for succours, and supplies
      Of Princes aides, or good mens Charities.
      Disease, the Enemie, and his Ingineeres,
      Want, with the rest of his conceal’d compeeres,
      Have cast a trench about mee, now, five yeares;
      The Muse not peepes out, one of hundred dayes;
      But lyes block’d up, and straightned, narrow’d in,
      Fix’d to the bed, and boords, unlike to win
      Health, or scarce breath . . .
      Unlesse some saving-Honour of the Crowne,
      Dare thinke it, to relieve, no lesse renowne,
      A bed-rid Wit, then a beseiged Towne. (202)

            The analyses of Riggs, Brady and Van Den Berg share the conclusion the 1616 folio represents the high point of Jonson’s career, after which he entered a steady professional decline.  There is some question as to what degree this decline actually reflected his material circumstances, but the themes and tone of his ensuing poetry, as well as the strident attacks by his own disciples are clear enough.  While Riggs attributes Jonson’s decline to factors external to the nature of the folio itself, Brady locates its cause in the folio’s status as complete, self-contained monument.  Van den Berg’s focus on the folio as Lacanian "transitional object," makes the clearest statement of the three of the cultural significance of the advent of the printed book in English culture.

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