More's Richard III and Jonson's Richard Crookback and Sejanus


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

One of the most tantalizing of all the surviving data about Ben Jonson's life is Philip Henslowe's record that in June 1602 he paid Jonson not only for additions to Kyd's Spanish Tragedy but also "in earnest of a Boocke called Richard crockbacke." The sum listed-£ 10-was substantial, suggesting either that the additions were extensive or that Jonson's play on King Richard III was nearly complete.1 Yet no other unambiguous record of the play survives, and most catalogues list it simply as "lost." However, the possibility that the play was not lost but was deliberately suppressed, as Jonson seems to have. sup~ pressed other early works, has also been raised. Various explanations have been offered for why Jonson may have chosen not to publish this play. Perhaps he rejected it as not wholly his; after all, Sejanus survives only in a rewritten version designed to eliminate the work of an anonymous collaborator. Or perhaps Jonson, dissatisfied with the work, withdrew it from posterity's judgment. Despite his early reputation as a competent writer of tragedies, and despite surviving records of his other works in this genre, Sejanus and Catiline are the only two tragedies he chose to print. Still another possibility is that he felt that his work could not rival its most obvious competitor, Shakespeare's King Richard Ill. If Sejanus was written partly in response to Julius Caesar, perhaps Richard Crookback was meant to reply to Richard Ill, and perhaps Jonson was disappointed in his own performance.2 Certainly it would be fascinating to know how he would have handled a subject so effectively handled by Shakespeare, and it would be intriguing to see how he might have responded to not only Shakespeare but to one of the most enigmatic and compelling figures in English political history. And certainly it would be interesting to know how he might have dealt with the themes and problems raised by Richard's reign.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.