Polybian text: historiography in the margins of Ben Jonson's Quarto Sejanus




MacLeod, Brock Cameron

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Since its 1605 quarto publication, Ben Jonson's Sejanus has inspired much critical commentary. Although criticism credits Jonson with a compositorial role in the Quarto's production, critics continue to assess its marginalia as a defense against application or a scholarly pretense. Editors have pared down the marginalia, setting them as footnotes or endnotes; others have relegated them to appendices; still others have abandoned them entirely. Neither critics nor editors have weighed Jonson's marginalia beside the dramatic text they inform. Reading the Quarto Sejanus as a composite of margins and centre, within its bibliographical, theoretical, and literary contexts, shows it to be a learned study in emergent theories of historiography. In its innovations, the composite redresses the inefficacies of contemporary historians and editors. To understand Sejanus's textual interactions. the opening chapter examines tbe quarto itself. In each feature of its composition - from its title page, through its prefatory epistle, laudatory poems, and argument, to its very mise-en-page - the Quarto Sejanus declares itself the learnedly innovative product of long labour, and demands to be read as such. Chapter 2 considers the impact upon Renaissance historiographers of historiographic models, ranging from Gildas Sapiens to North's Plutarch, and theoretic models, from the Florentine to the Polybian. The composite Sejanus is innovatively Polybian in its comprehensive attention to human cause and circumstance. Sejanus' historiographic claims are tested against Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Chapter 3 begins the process of investigating Sejanus's bibliographical innovations. The investigation begins with the reception of the scholarly text in 1605 through three interdependent early-modern practices - margination. education, and reading - to show that, having no conception of supplemenlarity, the Renaissance reader read the whole page. Chapter 4 produces something afthe Quarto Sejanus's bibliographical context through two contemporary marginated texts - Matthew Gwinne's Latin drama Nero and Sir John Harington's translation of Orlalldo Furioso. Chapter 5 tests my claims to the Quarto Sejanus's bibliographical innovation within the context created in Chapter 4. The Quarto's composite fonn transcends the limits of the text to a degree unmatched by its dramatic or historiographic contemporaries, allowing Jonson to model right and ill-reasoned action through psychologically realized characters within vividly historicized events.



Jonson, Ben, 1573?-1637, Sejanus, historiography, marginalia