#38 Benjamin Jonson, Works (1640)
England’s first literary celebrity was Ben Jonson, an ambitious and learned poet, playwright, and scholar who was widely acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of his generation. In 1616, the year Shakespeare died, the first edition of Jonson’s Works was published. Jonson himself designed the book as a monument to his own achievement and success. The engraved title-page claims the authority of the classics: figures that represent the genres of Comedy and Tragedy flank the title, with Tragicomedy, Satire, and Pastoral above, while a Greek amphitheatre and a Roman coliseum are also visible. Jonson thus sought to raise the status of English poetry and drama. (He was not entirely successful, since he was sometimes mocked for including plays in his “works”). Jonson knew and admired Shakespeare, and contributed two prefatory poems in praise of him to the First Folio. Jonson wanted to publish a second, expanded edition of his Works but died before it was completed in 1640. The publication history of this second edition is extremely complicated: copies exist in varying states (of one, two, or three volumes) and some have even been completely disbound.