Friday, March 20, 2015


Jonson and Shakespeare

James Freeman Clarke, “Did Shakespeare Write Bacon's Works?”, North American Review, Vol. 132, No. 291 (February, 1881) 163-175 (at 167-168):
But Ben Jonson himself furnishes the best reply to those who think that Shakespeare could not have gained much knowledge of science or literature because he did not go to Oxford or Cambridge. What opportunities had Ben Jonson? A brick-layer by trade, called back immediately from his studies to use the trowel; then running away and enlisting as a common soldier; fighting in the Low Countries; coming home at nineteen, and going on the stage; sent to prison for fighting a duel—what opportunities for study had he? He was of a strong animal nature, combative, in perpetual quarrels, fond of drink, in pecuniary troubles, married at twenty, with a wife and children to support. Yet Jonson was celebrated for his learning. He was master of Greek and Latin literature. He took his characters from Athenaeus, Libanius, Philostratus. Somehow he had found time for all this study. "Greek and Latin thought," says Taine, "were incorporated with his own, and made a part of it. He knew alchemy, and was as familiar with alembics, retorts, crucibles, etc., as if he had passed his life in seeking the philosopher's stone. He seems to have had a specialty in every branch of knowledge. He had all the methods of Latin art—possessed the brilliant conciseness of Seneca and Lucan." If Ben Jonson—a brick-layer, a soldier, a fighter, a drinker—could yet get time to acquire this vast knowledge, is there any reason why Shakespeare, with much more leisure, might not have done the like? He did not possess as much Greek and Latin lore as Ben Jonson, who, probably, had Shakespeare in his mind when he wrote the following passage in his "Poetaster":
"His learning savors not the school-like gloss
That most consists in echoing words and terms,
And soonest wins a man an empty name;
Nor any long or far-fetched circumstance
Wrapt in the curious generalties of art—
But a direct and analytic sum
Of all the worth and first effects of art.
And for his poesy, 'tis so rammed with life,
That it shall gather strength of life with being,
And live hereafter more admired than now."
Hat tip: Karl Maurer.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?