The Self-Centred Art : Ben Jonson's Parts in Performance book cover
1st Edition

The Self-Centred Art
Ben Jonson's Parts in Performance

ISBN 9780367515621
Published March 31, 2021 by Routledge
316 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The Self-Centred Art is a study of the plays of Ben Jonson and the actors who first performed in them.

Jakub Boguszak shows how the idiosyncrasies of Jonson’s comic characters were thrown into relief in actors’ part-scripts—scrolls containing a single actor’s lines and cues—some five hundred of which are reconstructed here from Jonson’s seventeen extant plays. Reading Jonson’s spectating parts, humorous parts, apprentice parts, and plotting parts, Boguszak argues that the kind of self-absorption which defines so many of Jonson’s famous comic creations would have come easily to actors relying on these documents. Jonson’s actors would have moreover worked on their cues, studied their speeches, and thought about the information excluded from their parts differently, depending on the type they had to play. Boguszak thus shows that Jonson brilliantly adapted his comedies to the way the actors worked, making the actors’ self-centredness serve his art.

This book addresses Jonson’s dealings with the actors as well as the printers of his plays and supplements the discussion of different types of parts with a colourful range of case studies. In doing so, it presents a new way of understanding not just Ben Jonson, but early modern theatre at large.

Table of Contents



1 Reconstructing Jonson’s parts

2 Jonson’s revisions

3 Jonson among the actors

4 Spectating parts

Case study: ‘Cupid’ (Cynthia’s Revels (Q))

5 Humorous parts: sweet fools

Case study: ‘Polish’ (The Magnetic Lady)

6 Humorous parts: bitter fools

Case study: ‘Adam Overdo’ (Bartholomew Fair)

7 Apprentice parts

Case study: ‘Frances Fitzdottrel’ (The Devil Is an Ass)

8 Plotting parts

Case study: ‘Catiline’ (Catiline)

9 All parts assembled

Case study: The Alchemist 4.6–4.7

10 Taking the measure of Jonson’s plays

11 Conclusion

12 Bibliography

Appendix 1: Actors’ Parts in Case Studes

‘Cupid’ (Cynthia’s Revels (Q))

‘Polish’ (The Magnetic Lady)

‘Adam Overdo’ (Bartholomew Fair)

‘Frances Fitzdottrel’ (The Devil Is an Ass)

‘Catiline’ (Catiline)

The Alchemist 4.6–4.7

Appendix 2: Sizes of Actors’ parts in Jonson’s plays


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Jakub Boguszak is a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Theatre at the University of Southampton, UK. His published work includes studies of Shakespeare, Jonson, and early modern drama in performance and in print.