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Ben Jonson in the Romantic Age$
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Tom Lockwood

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199280780

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199280780.001.0001

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Critical Jonson

Critical Jonson

(p.63) 3 Critical Jonson
Ben Jonson in the Romantic Age

Tom Lockwood (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the way in which anthologies, biographies, and critical accounts of Jonson and his work, set in the context of contemporary developments in the theory and practice of literary history, changed the way in which Jonson was viewed and received in the Romantic age. It argues that the material surveyed has been unduly neglected, and that without an understanding of such varied critical accounts our conception of the modes in which the Romantic age responded to Jonson is unfairly narrowed. Some key strands emerge: the difficulty of placing Jonson in the foundational (but very different) literary histories of Thomas Warton and Samuel Johnson; the connection between theatrical exposure to Jonson and critical estimation of his work in the accounts of Isaac Reed and Thomas Davies; the varied estimations of Jonson's classicism in anthologies of his poetry; and the way in which the Shakespearean editorial tradition constructed Jonson as a malign counter to the blameless Shakespeare. These trends are checked, and in some cases reversed, in 1808, the year in which Charles Lamb published his Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, and Octavius Gilchrist offered An Examination of the Charges Maintained...of Ben Jonson's Enmity &c. Towards Shakspeare. It is argued that critical responses to Jonson change after these two key interventions: they provoke a revaluation of Jonson's character and work, in which conceptions of Jonson's literary friendships come increasingly to matter.

Keywords:   Thomas Warton, Samuel Johnson, Isaac Reed, Shakespeare, Charles Lamb, Octavius Gilchrist, theatre, criticism, anthologies, biography

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