Reporter 442, 8 November 1999

Modernising drama for past master

English dramatist Ben Jonson is being given a £200,000 facelift by University researchers, bringing him up to date for the twenty-first century.

Jonson (1572 - 1637) was the first poet laureate and a close friend of Shakespeare. Jonson’s plays are normally printed and quoted in their original form, unlike his more famous colleague, making them appear inaccessible and ‘difficult’. Martin Butler is leading a research team in the English department modernising and re-editing the texts, in a joint project with Cambridge University and researchers in America.

"Not all of Jonson's work is as heavy as it appears," said Professor Butler. "But the old presentation can make it seem difficult to understand. Presenting his complete works with modern spelling and punctuation should help them be enjoyed by a wider audience."

The research team has a mammoth task. In addition to his seventeen plays, Jonson was a prolific writer of poems and letters. He also prepared over thirty court entertainments and masques (a combination of dancing and acting performed by players and courtiers).

When it is published in 2004, the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson will span five volumes and the researchers believe it will become the definitive version of his complete works.

The team are even preparing an electronic edition, with links to extra information including costumes and set design. More

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