Monday, 7 August 2017

"On Shakespeare" ...by Ben Jonson

To draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name,
 Am I thus ample to thy book and fame, While I confess thy writings to be such
As neither man nor Muse can praise too much.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I therefore will begin. Soul of the age! The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!
 My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
 Chaucer or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further to make thee a room:
Thou art alive still while thy book doth live, And we have wits to read and praise to give.

That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses,
 I mean with great, but disproportioned Muses;
 For, if I thought my judgment were of years,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
sporting Kyd, or Marlowe’s mighty line.
 And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,

From thence to honor thee I would not seek
For names, but call forth thund’ring Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread,
 And shake a stage; or, when thy socks were on,
 Leave thee alone for the comparison
 Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
 Triumph, my Britain; thou hast one to show
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
 And all the Muses still were in their prime
 When like Apollo he came forth to warm
 Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm.
 Nature herself was proud of his designs,

And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines,
 Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit: \
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
 Neat Terence, witty Plautus now not please,
 But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of Nature’s family.
 Yet must I not give Nature all; thy Art,
 My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
 For though the poet’s matter Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion; and that he
Who casts to write a living line must sweat
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses’ anvil; turn the same,
 And himself with it, that he thinks to frame,
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn;
For a good poet’s made as well as born.
such wert thou! Look how the father’s face
 Lives in his issue; even so the race
Of Shakespeare’s mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-turned and true-filed lines,
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
 As brandished at the eyes of ignorance.
Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
 That so did take Eliza and our James!
But stay; I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanced and made a constellation there!
 Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
Or influence chide or cheer the drooping stage,
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.
 ________________________________________
Jonson contributed a long poem in praise of Shakespeare to the dedicatory materials to the First Folio of Shakespeare's works (1623). The poem is one of the best known of all comments on Shakespeare, and one of the most generous. Jonson is writing a formal panegyric—a poem of praise—and it may be thought that his praise is correspondingly formal rather than heartfelt; but as if to forestall just such a criticism, he begins with a comment that he could be accused of being foolish, doting—or even malicious, simply choosing to “pretend” to praise. He goes on to claim that there is no English author to compare Shakespeare with. He must be put with the greatest classical tragedians (Euripides, Sophocles, Seneca); and in comedy, Jonson says, he stands alone, above even Aristophanes, Terence and Plautus.

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