Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship

Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship

Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship

Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship

Excerpt

This book has a twin focus: it provides an account of Ben Jonson and the politics of early Stuart theater, and it provides an account of censorship. Broadly speaking, I concentrate on Jonson and early modern England in order to contest a set of ahistorical assumptions about censorship which inform present accounts of the politics of the theater. As Renaissance critics and historians have debated whether the early Stuarts were barbarians who repressed radical drama or enlightened, sophisticated rulers who licensed dramatic criticism of the state, those on both sides of the debate have increasingly turned to licensing and censorship to prove their respective cases. Although these critics and historians have contested the politics of the theater, they have not contested the meaning of censorship itself, taking it to be repressive or consensual state control intended to inhibit or silence oppositional or radical voices. In my view, to account for Jonson's case, we must historicize censorship. If we adopt the traditional definition we cannot make sense of Jonson's writings, their reception, and the shape of his career. As a dramatist who was both censored by the court and in line to become the court censor, Jonson registers with great resonance and complexity the many paradoxes and contradictions that traversed what I take to be the complicated, uneven development of theater censorship. My focus on Jonson is thus strategic. Through a reading of the exemplary paradoxes of his complex career, a career that . . .

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