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not be lightly regarded, for, as we shall see here-
after, he had trustworthy sources of information
at his command, and he exercised a wise dis-
cretion in making use of them. In a man of
Jonson's temperament a sense of obligation due
to the kindness of a successful rival goes far to
account for the conflict between jealousy of a
rival, love of the man, and admiration of his
genius, to which this extraordinary man gave
varying expression during his lifetime. It was
not until after the death of Shakespeare that
feelings of love and admiration finally prevailed.

* Palladis lamia.
117



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

Such evidence as we have of the relations of
Jonson with Shakespeare during his lifetime
suggest that they were friendly. A story which
was current not many years after the death of
Shakespeare was included by Sir Nicholas
L'Estrange, an industrious collector of anecdotes,
among Merry Passages and Jests, a compilation
from which a selection were printed by the
Camden Society. Sir Nicholas had the story
from ' Mr. Dun,' and if he was, as is supposed,
the poet Dr. John Donne, a contemporary of
Shakespeare, there could be no better authority.
At all events the story bears the impress of truth.
It is as follows : ' Shake-speare was Godfather
to one of Ben : Johnson's children and after the
christning being in a deepe study, Johnson came
to cheere him up, and askt him why he was so
Melancholy ? " No faith Ben ; (sayes he) not
I, but I have beene considering a great while
what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow
upon my God-child, and I have resolv'd at last ;
I pry' the what, sayes he ? I faith Ben : I'll
e'en give him a douzen good Lattin* Spoones
and thou shalt translate them." If Dr. Donne
had preserved for us the ponderous jest at the
expense of Shakespeare's small Latin to which this

• Latten was composition, something like brass, cf. Merry
Wives, I. i. 165.

Il8



BEN JONSON

was the retort courteous we could, in some sort,
realise the wit-combats of which Fuller writes —

' Many were the wit-combates betwixt him and
Ben Johnson ; which two I behold like a Spanish
great Gallion and an English man of War :
Master Johnson (like the former) was built far
higher in Learning : solid, but slow in his per-
formances. Shake-spear, with the English man
of war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could
turn with all tides, tack about, and take advan-
tage of all winds, by the quickness of his Wit and
Invention.' *

Fuller was born in the lifetime of Shakespeare,
and he must have received an account of these
wit-combats from those who were actually
present, for there was present to his mind's eye
such a living image that he writes of them as if
he himself had been the eyewitness.

These were the merry meetings of which
Francis Beaumont wrote,

What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid ? Heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life.

* Worthies of England, 1662."
119



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

The friendship which had its origin in an act
of kindness on the part of Shakespeare con-
tinued to the end, notwithstanding their rivalry
as popular playwrights. This rivalry is reflected
in the literature of the day, and of the next
succeeding age. It is the eternal rivalry between
what are commonly known as Nature and Art.
So it was regarded by Milton when he wrote,

Then to the well-trod stage anon

If Jonson's learned sock be on,

Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,

Warble his native wood notes wild.

Comedy, not tragedy, was present to the mind of
Shakespeare when, in U Allegro, he wrote thus
of Shakespeare : not Hamlet, but As You Like It,
and the forest of Arden. In // Penseroso he
writes in a different strain :

Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy,
In sceptred pall, come sweeping by,
Presenting Thebes, or Pelops' line,
Or the tale of Troy divine ;
Or what (though rare) of later age
Ennobled hath the buskin'd stage.

The noble Epitaph on the admirable dramaticke
poet, W . Shakespeare, prefixed to the second folio
edition, published in 1632, leaves us in no
doubt as to the tragedies by which the buskined

120



BEN JONSON

stage had been of later age, all too rarely,
ennobled.

Dear Sonne of Memory, great Heire of Fame,

What needst thou such dull witnesse of thy Name ?

Thou in our wonder and astonishment

Hast built thy selfe a lasting Monument :

For whil'st to th' shame of slow-endeavouring Art

Thy easie numbers flow.

( Milton, a strict Puritan, when he wrote these

words of a dramatic poet, and allowed his verse
to be prefixed to a collection of his plays, showed
how profoundly he had been affected by the
work of Shakespeare. The study of his poetry
created in the mind of Milton a sense of personal
attachment to Shakespeare. He is ' My Shake-
speare,' ' Sweetest Shakespeare,' and ' dear
Sonne of Memory.' His ' wood notes wild '
are contrasted with the ' learned sock ' of
Jonson, and in tragedy his easy numbers flow
to the shame of slow-endeavouring Art.

Milton wrote thus of Shakespeare in the life-
time of Jonson, at a time when the rivalry
between the works of the two great dramatists
was at its height .'-^rThat this rivalry continued
to be the talk of the town, and that the verdict
of the ordinary playgoer, like Milton's, was for
Shakespeare and Nature, may be learned from
verses by Leonard Digges, prefixed to the Folio

121



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

of 1640. Digges was a member of a family dis-
tinguished in science as well as in literature.
His father was a celebrated mathematician,
who had a seat in the Parliament of 1572. Other
members of the family were sufficiently dis-
tinguished to find places in the Dictionary of
National Biography. Leonard Digges was a
good classical scholar, well acquainted with
Spanish and French. He was a poet, and pub-
lished in 1 61 7 a verse translation from Claudian.
He may be accepted as a representative of the
intelligent literary criticisms of the day. Verses
by Digges were prefixed to the Folio of 1623,
and a more elaborate composition to the edition
of 1640. Of him Sir Sidney Lee writes : ' Few
contemporaries wrote more sympathetically of
Shakespeare's greatness.'

Digges and Kempe are of one mind in holding
that Shakespeare had outstripped the ' needy
Poetasters of the age ' — the university pens —
and even such a competitor as Ben Jonson.

Tis the fate
Of richer veines, prime judgements that have far'd
The worse, with this deceased man compar'd
So have I seene, when Cesar would appeare,
And on the Stage at halfe-sword parley were,
Brutus and Cassius : oh how the Audience
Were ravish'd, with what wonder they went thence,

122



BEN JONSON

When some new day they would not brooke a line,

Of tedious (though well laboured) Catiline ;

Sejanus too was irkesome, they priz'de more

Honest Iago, or the jealous Moore.

And though the Fox and subtill Alchimist,

Long intermitted could not quite be mist,

Though these have sham'd all the Ancients, and night

raise,
Their Authours merit with a crowne of Bayes.
Yet these sometimes, even at a friends desire
Acted, have scarce defrai'd the Seacoale fire
And doore-keepers ; when let but Falstaffe come,
Hall, Poines, the rest, you scarce shall have a roome.
All is so pester'd ; let but Beatrice
And Benedicke be seene, loe in a trice
The Cockpit, Galleries, Boxes, all are full
To hear Malvoglio that crosse gartered gull.

This was the drastic purge administered by
Shakespeare, of which Kempe spoke in The
Returne from Pernassus ; houses so badly filled
that, even when a favourite play was bespoken,
the money would scarce defray the cost of sea-
coal fire and doorkeepers, while Henry IV.,
Much Ado and Twelfth Night drew such crowds
that a seat might hardly be found, and the
reason assigned by Digges is the same as that
noted by Milton ; Catiline is tedious, though
well laboured, while Shakespeare's work is

The patterne of all wit
Art without Art, unparalel'd as yet.

123



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

So drastic was the purge that, according to
Kempe, it made Ben Jonson ' beray his credit,'
that is to say, ' show the true nature of the
character with which he was credited.' This is
the nearest approach that can be made, with the
aid of the New English Dictionary, to this
phrase. Jonson, in the opinion of the players,
bewrayed his credit, and showed himself in his
true character of an envious detractor when he
expressed a wish that Shakespeare had blotted
a thousand lines.

Much allowance should be made for Jonson,
when, suffering under the effects of Shakespeare's
purge, he, now and then, indulged in a sneer at a
successful rival, who was so far without art as
to ignore the unities of time, place and action.
In such a mood he tells the audience in the
Prologue to Every Man in his Humour that he
will not purchase their delight

At such a rate
As, for it, he himself must justly hate :
To make a child, now swadled, to proceede
Man, and then shoote up, in one beard and

weede,
Past threescore years : or, with three rustie swords,
And helpe of some foot-and-halfe-foote words,
Fight over Torke, and Lancaster's long jarres ;
And in the tyring-house, bring wounds, to scarres.

124



BEN JONSON

Here and there traces can be found of the inter-
mittent action of this purge. The New Inn pro-
duced in 1629 failed to fill the playhouses, and
Jonson wrote in some lines prefixed to the play-
when published in 1631,

No doubt some mouldy tale,

Like Pericles, and stale
As the shrieve's crusts, and nasty as his fish
scraps, out of every dish

Throwne forth, and rak't into the common tub,
May keepe up the Play-club.

In the Induction to Bartholomew Fair the
Stagekeeper, introducing the piece, says : * If
there be never a servant-monster in the Fayre,
who can helpe it, he says ; nor a nest of
Antiques?' He is loth to make Nature afraid
in his Playes, ' like those that beget Tales,
Tempests and such like Drolleries, to mixe his
head with other mens heeles.' And through-
out his life a line which he attributes to Julius
Caesar, but which, as he quotes it, is not to
be found in any printed copy of the play, was
to him a source of genuine delight. In the
Prologue to the Staple of News this passage
occurs :

Expectation. I can doe that too if I have cause.
Prologue. Cry you mercy, you never did wrong but
with just cause.

125



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

That Jonson could be ' angry ' is true ; but
that, at the bottom of his heart, in his feelings
towards Shakespeare he was ' passionately
kynde ' will presently appear.

Many were the quarrels of Ben Jonson, in
which he bore himself like a giant. We are only
concerned with one ; the famous literary war-
fare carried on for years by Marston, Dckkcr and
Jonson. Shakespeare took no part in this
rather unseemly conflict. He cared for none of
those things. But as his name was introduced
into a play in which the fight is mentioned, and
as an attempt has been made by some critics
to implicate him in the quarrel, it ought not to
be overlooked.

The origin of the quarrel was described by
Jonson in his conversations with Drummond.
He had many quarrels with Marston, ' beat
him, and took his pistol from him, wrote his
■poetaster on him ; the beginning of them were
that Marston represented him on the stage in
his youth given to venery.' The origin of his
quarrel with Dekker is obscure. In 1629 Jonson
told Drummond that Dekker was a knave.
This was a reminiscence of the old quarrel
which took a literary form in Cynthia's Revels
produced in 1600, in which Dekker and Marston
were satirised in the characters of Hedon and

126



BEN JONSON

Anaides. Marston and Dekker were engaged in
the preparation of a joint attack on Jonson-
Meanwhile, Jonson forestalled them by the
Poetaster (1601), in which he demolished with
his giant's club not only Marston and Dekker,
but lawyers, soldiers and actors. The quarrels
and reconciliation of the rival dramatists is a
curious, and not edifying, chapter in the literary
history of the Elizabethan age. Some Shake-
spearian commentators have exercised their in-
genuity in interpreting certain passages in the
works of Shakespeare as references to this
quarrel, but happily without success. It would
have been more to the purpose to note with
satisfaction that Shakespeare stood outside the
wordy strife.

Two of the plays which had their origin in this
contest are deserving of attention. The Poetaster
is possessed of literary merit. There is a fine
passage in praise of Virgil, who is exalted as the
chief of the Latin poets. It is supposed by some
that by Virgil Shakespeare has been intended,
and that he was introduced into the piece by
way of contrast to Marston and Dekker. If this
were so, the play would, indeed, be deserving of
note as regards the relations of Jonson and
Shakespeare.

The central idea of the Poetaster is the arraign-

127



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

mcnt on the prosecution of Horace, of Crispinus,
' my brisk Poetaster ' and Demetrius, ' his
poor Journeyman.' Marston is Crispinus ;
Dekker, Demetrius ; and Horace, of course,
Ben Jonson. The indictment, drawn by Tibullus,
is under the Statute of Calumny, Lex Ruminia.
The offence is, that the prisoners, not having
the fear of Phoebus, or his shafts, before their
eyes, contrary to the peace of their liege lord,
Augustus Caesar, maliciously went about to de-
prave and calumniate the person and writings
of Quintus Horatius Flaccus, poet and priest to
the Muses, who is Ben Jonson. The prisoners
are convicted on the evidence of their own
writings, and sentenced by Virgil to suitable
punishment.

In the first scene Ovid is caught by his father,
Ovid, senior, in the act of composing a poem
which we know as El. 15, Jmor., Lib. 1, of which
Jonson gives his version in English. He is
warned of the approach of his father, Ovid,
senior, and hastily puts on the gown and cap
of a student. His father intends him to be a
lawyer, and is indignant to find him a poet and
playmaker. ' Name me a profest poet,' he says
to his son, * that his poetry did ever afford him
so much as a competency.' He leaves, telling
his son to keep his chamber and fall to his

128



BEN JONSON

studies. Ovid, junior, is at work when Tibullus
comes in, but at ' law cases in verse.'

Troth if I live I will new dress the law
In sprightly Poesy's habiliments.

The whole of this act is excellent comedy, with
amusing attacks on the law and lawyers. The
succeeding acts do not, regarded from this point
of view, come up to the same level. Jonson's
objects were twofold. To cover Marston and
Dekker with ridicule, in the characters of
Crispinus and Demetrius, and to associate him-
self, in the character of Horace, with the great
poets of the Augustan age, and in particular
with Ovid, Tibullus and Virgil.

The kind of classical medley which was
adopted had the incidental advantage that it
admitted of the introduction of translations in
verse of well-known passages from these poets.
Jonson valued himself specially on his transla-
tions : ' As for his translations he was perfectly
incorrigible there ; for he maintained to the last
that they were the best part of his works.' *
He succeeded in impressing this view on Drum-
mond, who writes in Conversations : i above all
he excelleth in a Translation.' Virgil was to
Jonson the King of Latin poets. He writes of

* Works, Ed. Gifford, Vol. II., p. 474.
s I29 K



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

him as ' the incomparable Virgil.' He is placed
at the right hand of Caesar. His address con-
sists of a rhyming translation of some lines from
the fourth book of the Aeneid. Jonson was justly
proud of his version of the lines beginning
Farna malum, quo non aliud vclocius ullum, for it
compares favourably with Dryden's. To suggest
that Shakespeare is presented in the character of
Virgil is not in accordance with the purpose of the
drama. There is no reason to suppose that the
Poetaster was written in praise of any of Jonson's
contemporaries. The primary object was the
castigation of Marston and Dekker ; a subordi-
nate one, the glorification of Virgil, and of Jonson,
his translator. In the acutest phase of the rivalry
between Jonson and Shakespeare, it is not
likely that he would have taken occasion to
exalt his rival above all his contemporaries.
The lines spoken by Horace in praise of Virgil
might have been written of Shakespeare, and
also of other great poets. But if Jonson were to
write in praise of Shakespeare, he would hardly
have selected his learning for special com-
mendation.

Hor. His learning savours not the school-like
gloss,
That most consists in echoing words and terms
And soonest wins a man an empty name ;

130



BEN JONSON

Nor any long or far-fetched circumstance
Wrap'd in the curious generalities of arts ;
But a direct and analytic sum
Of all the worth and first effects of arts.

The Returne from Pernassus was produced
while the Poetaster was the talk of the town. His
Poetaster was the pill which Ben Jonson ' brought
up Horace giving the poets,' according to Kempe.
The significance of the piece was thoroughly
understood at the time. The intelligent author
of the Returne, so far from interpreting the
Poetaster as a glorification of Shakespeare, repre-
sents the players as taking part in the rivalry
between Shakespeare and Jonson. They were,
of course, on the side of Shakespeare, and gloried
in the purge of empty houses, by the administra-
tion of which the pestilent Jonson met with his
desert at the hands of their fellow Shakespeare ;
a shrewd fellow, indeed.

It was not until after the death of Shakespeare
that Jonson revealed the side of his nature
which Drummond noted as 'passionately kynde.'
In the year of Shakespeare's death he had pub-
lished in a folio volume a collection of his plays,
under the title of his Works, a title which
brought upon him a certain amount of ridicule,
as plays were not then regarded as literature
deserving of so pretentious a name. These plays

131



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

were carefully edited. It may not have occurred
to Jonson that the work of collecting and editing
the works of Shakespeare would have been
better done by a man of letters than by his
fellow players. At all events, the task was not
undertaken by him, and a volume published in
1623 under the modest title of Mr. William
Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies,
presents a marked contrast in pretension, as well
as in editing, to the Works of 1616. But when
Jonson took up his pen at the request of the
players and wrote some lines ' to the memory
of my beloued, the Avthor, Mr. William Shake-
speare and what he has left us,' all feelings of
rivalry and jealousy disappeared, and the better
side of his nature found expression in words
which share the immortality of him of whom
they were written :

Soule of the Age
The Applause ! delight ! the wonder of our stage !

In these lines and in the following where he
would tell

how farre thou didst our Lily out-shine
Or sporting Kid, or Marlowes mighty line,

we have his true estimate of the greatness of
Shakespeare.

132



BEN JONSON

He was not of an age, but for all time.

This noble line will be quoted at each recurring
centenary so long as the English language is
spoken.

Then his thoughts turn from contemplation
of the poet to the constant friend, and perhaps
with a regretful remembrance of some things
that he had said of Shakespeare's neglect of the
unities and of certain other artificial canons of
dramatic art, he adds

Yet must I not giue Nature all : Thy Art
My gentle Shakespeare, must enioy a part,

and in the address to the reader prefixed to the
Folio, recurring to the personal characteristics
expressed by the word ' gentle ' he writes

This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut.

Five-and-twenty years after the death of
Shakespeare, a collection of essays, which had
been written by Jonson, was published under the
title Timber, or Discoveries made upon Men and
Matter, in which some of the finest examples of the
prose of the age are to be found. What he writes
of his relations with Shakespeare is intended as
an apologia, addressed to posterity :

' I remember the Players have often men-
tioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his

133



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

writing (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never blotted
out line. My answer hath becne, would he had
blotted a thousand, which they thought a
malevolent speech. I had not told posterity
this, but for their ignorance, who choose that
circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein
he most faulted. And to justifie mine owne
candor (for I loved the man, and doe honour his
memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any).
Hee was (indeed) honest and of an open and free
nature : had an excellent Phantsie ; brave notions
and gentle expressions ; wherein he flow'd with
that facility, that sometimes it was necessary
that he should be stop'd ; Sujflaminandus erat ;
as Augustus said of Hatcrius. His wit was in his
owne power ; would the rule of it had beene so.
Many times hee fell into those things, could not
escape laughter. As when hee said in the person
of Caesar, one speaking to him ; Caesar thou
dost me wrong. Hee replyed, Caesar never did
wrong but with just cause ; and such like ; which
were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with
his vertues. There was even more in him to be
praysed, than to be pardoned.'*

The concluding words, in which he finds in
Shakespeare more to be praised than to be

• Timber, or Discoveries made upon Men and Matter. Works,
1641.

!34



BEN JONSON

pardoned, read strangely. They were perhaps
prompted by memory of the ' purge,' and they
should be overlooked for the sake of the noble
words in which Jonson does honour to the
memory of the man.

' Honest and of an open and free nature,'
these are the qualities which Henry Chettle
found in the man who had been traduced by
Greene, and they are essential parts of the
character and nature which Spenser had, many
years before, discerned in Aetion. The influence
which Shakespeare had obtained over an intellect
of the giant force of Jonson's reveals to us a
different aspect of his nature from that which is
suggested by his relations with Spenser or with
the players. The indomitable force of will by
which Shakespeare gained mastery over a fate
which at one time seemed to be invincible
accords with the character which compelled the
honour, on this side idolatry, paid to him by a
man so great, and little given to worship as
Jonson, ' a great lover and praiser of himself ;
a contemnor and scorner of others.'

We have no evidence of affectionate regard
for Jonson, such as is afforded by his gift of
mourning rings to his fellow players, and his
tributes to the memory of Spenser and of
Marlowe. If Drummond's sketch of the character

135



SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS

of Jonson approaches the truth, his nature and
Shakespeare's were not sympathetic. But they
lived on terms of friendship. They took part
in the witcombats at the Mermaid tavern,
and in family gatherings, and Jonson, with
Drayton, was with Shakespeare at the time
when he contracted the fever of which he died.



136



CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE

Marlowe stands by himself among the fel-
lows and contemporaries of Shakespeare, for of
him alone can it be said that he was the Master
of Shakespeare. ' He first, and he alone,
guided Shakespeare into the right way of work ;
his music, in which there is no echo of any man's
before him, found its own echo in the more pro-
longed, but hardly more exalted, harmony of
Milton. He is the greatest discoverer, the most
daring and inspired pioneer in all our poetic
literature. Before him there was neither genuine
blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language.
After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths
made straight, for Shakespeare.' *

Christopher, or Kit, Marlowe as he was
familiarly known, is one of whose life and
character trustworthy information is to be
desired, not only on account of his greatness as a
poet, but by reason of the influence which he
exerted on one whose name is among the greatest,
if not the greatest in all literature.

He was born in Canterbury in 1564. He

* A. C. Swinburne, Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SHAKESPEARE AND HIS FELLOWS


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