Popular Jonson

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Jonson, as critics have long emphasised, frequently expressed disdain for popular taste and popular audiences. Yet he also chose to make a spectacle of himself before large crowds, most notably on his 1618 walk to Edinburgh. This essay explores Jonson’s conscious management of his reputation, even in its apparently negative aspects, during this unusual journey and through various publications from the Epigrams to the prologues, epilogues, inductions, choruses, and commentaries of the plays. Drawing on the conceptual framework of celebrity theory, it challenges traditional considerations of and assumptions about Jonson’s unpopularity. The essay argues that his displays of irascibility should be taken not at face value but as a conscious strategy through which he curated his image. Pursuing fame, but aware of the peril of being famous for the wrong reasons, Jonson creates the idea of the bad reader or spectator in order to manage his celebrity and forestall becoming a mere public commodity. His seeming hostility towards his audiences was not a self-cancelling rejection of them but, paradoxically, a way of managing and extending his celebrity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBen Jonson and Posterity
Subtitle of host publicationReception, Reputation, Legacy
EditorsJane Rickard, Martin Butler
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print)9781108903967
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


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