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"The paratexts to Ben Jonson’s translation of Horace’s Ars poetica (1640): A contemporary reading of Jonson’s poetics"

Abstract : It is well-known that Jonson described himself as a new Horace, even casting himself as the poet Horace in his comedy Poetaster (1601). But Jonson’s translation of Ars Poetica, published posthumously in 1640 has been overlooked by modern critics, who often describe it as flatly literal. This chapter contends that it can in fact be read as an astute interpretation of Horace's Art of Poetry. There were two significantly different, rival editions of the Jonson translation in 1640, resulting from an editorial imbroglio which will be briefly described in this essay: the first one was published by John Benson under the title Q. Horatius Flaccus His Art of Poetry, and the second appeared in the second Folio of Jonson’s Works, published for Richard Meighen and Thomas Walkley in 1641. In the Benson edition, the paratext and the title-page unsurprisingly present Jonson as a second Horace and an outstanding poet both in verse and for the stage. Far from treating the translation of The Art of Poetry as derivative, it foregrounds and celebrates Jonson’s accomplishment as a translator. This must of course be seen as part of a clever editorial strategy to promote the publication as a literary coup, and as such, it reflects the cultural significance and increasing commodification of translation in the period; but there is more to it than just a promotional, marketing strategy. The paratext in fact highlights the importance of Horace and of Jonson’s translation of The Art of Poetry as a key for a full understanding of all of Jonson’s oeuvre: in retrospect. By repeatedly blurring the distinction between Horace and Jonson, both the title-page and the paratext thus end up presenting The Art of Poetry as Jonson’s own poetic manifesto, while Benson's editorial project also clearly acquires a political dimension in the context of the Bishops' War and mounting opposition to the rule of King Charles I.
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Contributor : Line Cottegnies <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 11, 2021 - 6:57:26 PM
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Line Cottegnies. "The paratexts to Ben Jonson’s translation of Horace’s Ars poetica (1640): A contemporary reading of Jonson’s poetics". Marie-Alice Belle; Brenda Hosington. Thresholds of Translation: Paratexts, Print, and Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Britain (1473-1660), Palgrave-Macmillan, pp.229-250, 2018, 978-3-319-72772-1. ⟨halshs-03106440⟩

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