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Treasured volume of Renaissance plays saved for nation

Annotated plays by influential English dramatist Ben Jonson - earmarked for sale in North America - have been acquired by the University of Edinburgh.

Experts say no other editions of Jonson’s works show how they were actually performed in this significant age of English theatre. 

Professor James Loxley, Professor of Early Modern Literature in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), has described the acquisition as potentially "the most extraordinary addition” to the University’s collections.

A leading Ben Jonson scholar, James was the first to uncover an account of the writer’s epic walk from London to Edinburgh in the Cheshire Archives in 2009, subsequently recreating the journey online as Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project, ‘Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland, 1618’.

Writing in an age of great social change

Ben Jonson is arguably the most important writer of the English Renaissance after Shakespeare. He lived and worked in an age of great social change that produced some of the finest works of English literature. 

The rare book acquired by the University of Edinburgh was printed in 1640 and features manuscript annotations from the time, such as stage directions, details of props and textual corrections. An export bar had been imposed on it by the UK Government to give British libraries the chance to acquire it, with the University doing so supported by Friends of Edinburgh University Library, Friends of the National Libraries and John R Murray Trust.

Joseph Marshall, Head of the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, has said: “We are delighted to purchase this landmark collection of works, and are grateful to our supporters for helping us save this volume of recognised cultural importance. [Its] arrival is a great moment for our collections, our students and researchers who will now have access to it through our Centre for Research Collections.”

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Related links

Retrace Ben Jonson's walk to Scotland on our blog site

Find out more about James Loxley