(from the Telegraph, 9/7.)
William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, friends and rivals in life, both have 400th anniversaries next year. For Shakespeare, it is the anniversary of his death on April 23, 1616, aged 52, following a bout of hard drinking and merry-making in Jonson’s company. For Jonson it is the anniversary of the 1616 folio edition of his work, the first time a playwright ever published his collected plays for reading in the library alongside enjoyment on the stage. Greg Doran, artistic director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, argues that if Jonson had not asserted the literary merit of his plays in this way, there might never have been a folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623, seven years after his death. Jonson wrote a prefatory poem to that folio: “To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare.”
Doran says: “In the Swan Theatre, we want to place Shakespeare’s genius firmly in the context of his peers.” Shakespeare did not“spring like Athena from the brow of Zeus”, but was part of a stable of writers, writing for the same or rival companies of actors, watching each other and prompted by one another’s innovations. In recognition of Jonson’s central place in this context, the RSC will follow the success of Trevor Nunn’s Volpone this season with a new production of The Alchemist, directed by Polly Findlay, as part of the next season (which is announced exclusively in The Telegraph today, see box, right). The Swan Theatre even celebrates an anniversary of its own next year (30 years since it opened). Most of Jonson’s major plays have been performed there and some of the lesser known, including Every Man in His Humour, The New Inn and Sejanus.
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