Sunday, May 18, 2014

Benevolent Shakespeare, Malevolent Jonson

In his posthumously published Discoveries, Ben Jonson informs posterity that when he had attempted to offer a classically informed criticism of Shakespeare he was accused of ill will. Jonson's efforts to provide just and manly criticism were interpreted as malevolence - as Shakespeare's friends chose to 'ignorantly' commend Shakespeare for a characteristic that was clearly a fault:

I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never BLOTTED out line. My answer hath beene, 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...

Jonson's classically-based suggestion that the facile flow of Shakespeare's wit required some judicious editing was apparently rejected - and part of the reason for Shakespeare's refusal to reform seems to lie in his choice of friends - friends whose foolish 'ignorance' (lack of the trying faculty in Jonson's formulation)  led them to commend him where he most erred:

 The COMMENDATION of good things may fall within a many,  their approbation but in a few· for the most COMMEND out of affection,  selfe tickling, an easinesse, or imitation: but MEN iudge only out of *KNOWLEDGE*. That is the trying faculty. -- Jonson

The just critic - Jonson - was maligned for what he claimed to be his honesty. In the above passage, Jonson made a subtle distinction between a friendly but slightly foolish commendation and wise approbation (approbation - its obsolete meaning being 'proof', was presumably the province of the learned.)

Shakespeare is implicated in this cycle of flattery leading to error - his refusal to blot or correct his lines suggests self-love - which was understood in contemporary times as preferring his own way to the time tested methods of the ancients. Having suffered the rejection of his attempts to correct Shakespeare, Jonson was content to stand back in a classically detached manner - the language of his criticism suggests that he took as his model the Quintilius of Horace's Art of Poetry:

Horace, of the Art of Poetrie
transl. Ben Jonson

If to Quintilius, you recited ought:
Hee'd say, Mend this, good friend, and this; "Tis naught.
If you denied, you had no better straine,
And twice, or thrice had 'ssayd it, still in vaine:
Hee'd bid, BLOT ALL: and to the anvile bring
Those ill-torn'd Verses, to new hammering.
Then: If your fault you rather had defend
Then change. *No word, or worke, more would he spend
Alone, without a rivall, by his will*.

A wise, and honest man will cry out shame
On ARTELESS Verse; the hard ones he will blame;
Blot out the careless, with his turned pen;
Cut off superfluous ornaments; and when
They're darke, bid cleare this: all that's doubtfull wrote
Reprove; and, what is to be changed, not:
Become an Aristarchus. And, not say,
Why should I grieve my FRIEND, this trifling WAY?
These trifles into serious mischiefs lead
The man once mock'd, and SUFFERED WRONG TO TREAD.

The Players - the friends of Shakespeare who ignorantly commended him for his worst faults - were doing something that Jonson's protege William Cartwright called 'making commendation a benevolence' - in other words, making praise a matter of good will (or should I write Good Will?) and good fellowship. This indiscriminate praise threatened Jonson's economy of criticism (refiguring his 'honest' criticisms as 'malevolent speech'). Like Quintilius, Jonson's response to this attack on his honesty was to choose silence.

Then: If your fault you rather had defend
Then change. No word, or worke, more would he spend
Alone, without a rivall, by his will. 

Well, as silent as Ben Jonson could remain! His criticisms would reappear at the front of the First Folio but in satirical form -  extravagant flattery, fulsome praise and an over-plus of good will towards the author Shakespeare. One can begin to 'smell parasite' (Jonson's unpleasant turn of phrase) with his uncharacteristically servile address to Shakespeare as 'Beloved Master'.

 The Master of his Art appears in Horace - as the poet who impresses ignorant audiences with his vices/faults:

Hor. lib. 2. Epist. 1.

But lest you think 'tis niggard praise I fling
To bards who soar where I ne'er stretched a wing,
That man I hold TRUE MASTER of his ART
Who with fictitious woes can wring my heart,
Can rouse me, soothe me, pierce me with the thrill
Of vain alarm, and, as by magic skill,
Bear me to Thebes, to Athens, where he will.

Now turn to us shy mortals, who, instead
Of being hissed and acted, would be read:

After beginning with the absurd assertion in the FF encomium that it is impossible to praise Shakespeare too much, Jonson begins to reflect upon the 'way' he finds himself praising Shakespeare, identifying his seemingly unintended manner with the ways or paths that are commonly taken by seeliest ignorance (that when it sounds at best but echoes right), blind affection (which doth ne'er advance the truth), and crafty malice!

But these WAYS
Were NOT the PATHS I meant unto thy praise ;
For seeliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, BUT ECHOES RIGHT ;
Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;
Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin where it SEEMED to raise.
These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron ; what could hurt her more ?
But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,
Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
I therefore will begin
: Soul of the age!

After assembling this motley crew of ignorant flatterers Jonson then continues in the same way! Having been accused of malevolence before - Jonson now throws himself fully into the paths of ignorant and foolish praise! His commendations and benevolence know no bounds! If the ears of Shakespeare's praisers are too tender for true and manly disapprobation then they can feed to the full on this fulsome flattery. Soul of the Age? What was Jonson's opinion of the Age'? All I have found is the Ignorant Age, the Diseased Age, and the Lying Age - among other negative depictions. The following dedication to First Folio dedicatee Willliam Herbert should provide some idea of Jonson's opinion of the Age he claims Shakespeare was the soul of:

1611 - Catiline  
To the Great Example of H O N O U R and V E R T U E, the most Noble
E A R L of P E M B R O K E , L O R D C H A M B E R L A I N, &c.

M Y L O R D,

IN so thick and dark an IGNORANCE, as now almost covers the AGE, I crave leave to stand near your Light, and by that to be read. Posterity may pay your Benefit the Honour and Thanks, when it shall know, that you dare, in these Jig-given times, to countenance a Legitimate Poem. I must call it so, against all noise of Opinion: from whose crude and airy Reports, I appeal to that great and singular Faculty of Judgment in your Lordship, able to vindicate Truth from Error.

In the First Folio mock-encomium Jonson indicates that Shakespeare was praised in the wrong way by the wrong people - to his own discredit:

These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron ; what could hurt her more ?--Jonson, Shakespeare's First Folio

 --It is as great a spite to be praised in the wrong place, and by a wrong person, as can be done to a noble nature. (Jonson, Discoveries)

But not all were taken in. In his contribution to Jonsonus Virbius William Cartwright listed the virtues of his admired mentor Jonson, and included Jonson's method of correcting the errors of the now previous age.

First, before presenting Cartwright's poem, it might be helpful to recall Jonson's comments on Shakespeare:

I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, 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...

William Cartwright, offering his (no doubt) honest and manly praise to Jonson in Jonsonus Virbius described how Jonson censured incorrigible and unruly authors - HE DESTROYED THEIR IMMORTAL FAME:

Cartwright, to Jonson (in Jonsonus Virbius)

...Blest life of Authors, unto whom we owe
Those that we have, and those that we want too:
Th'art all so good, that reading makes thee worse,
And to have writ so well's thine onely curse.
Secure then of thy merit, thou didst hate
That servile base dependance upon fate:
Successe thou ne'r thoughtst vertue, nor that fit,

Who into Po'try first brought luck and rime:
Who thought the peoples breath good ayre: sty'ld name
What was but noise; and getting Briefes for fame
Gathered the many's suffrages, and thence
THY thoughts were their owne Lawrell, and did win
That best applause of being crown'd within.. 
Some more insight into Jonson's distrust of injudicious commendation:
Catiline, Jonson


THE Muses forbid, that I should restrayne your medling, whom I see alreadie busie with the Title, and tricking ouer the leaues: It is your owne. I departed with my right, when I let it first abroad. And,  now, so secure an Interpreter I am of my chance, that neither praise,  nor dispraise from you can affect mee. Though you COMMEND the two first Actes, with the people, because they are the worst; and dislike the Oration of Cicero, in regard you read some pieces of it, at School, and vnderstand them not yet; I shall finde the way to forgiue you. Be any thing you will be, at your owne charge. Would I had deseru'd but halfe so well of it in translation, as that ought to deserue of you in iudgment, if you haue any. I know you will pretend  (whosoeuer you are) to haue that, and more. But all pretences are not iust claymes. The COMMENDATION of good things may fall within a many,  their approbation but in a few· for the most COMMEND OUT OF AFFECTION,  selfe tickling, an easinesse, or imitation: but MEN iudge only out of knowledge. That is the trying faculty. And, to those workes that will beare a Iudge, nothing is more dangerous then A FOOLISH PRAYSE. You will say I shall not haue yours, therfore; but rather the contrary, all vexation of Censure. If I were not aboue such molestations now, I had great cause to thinke vnworthily of my studies, or they had so of mee. But I leaue you to your exercise. Beginne.

To the Reader extraordinary.
You I would vnderstand to be the better Man, though Places in Court go otherwise: to you I submit my selfe, and worke. Farewell.


Galateo, Giovanni Della Casa

.....Just as pleasant and polite manners have the power to stimulate the benevolence of those with whom we live, rough and uncouth manners lead others to hate and disdain us.


Jonson, Timber
De Poetica. - We have spoken sufficiently of oratory, let us now make a diversion to poetry. Poetry, in the primogeniture, had many peccant humours, and is made to have more now, through the levity and inconstancy of men' s judgments. Whereas, indeed, it is the most prevailing eloquence, and of the most exalted caract. Now the discredits and disgraces are many it hath received through men' s study of depravation or calumny; their practice being to give it diminution of credit, by lessening the professor' s estimation, and making THE AGE afraid of their liberty; and THE AGE is grown so tender of her fame, as she calls all writings ASPERSIONS.

That is the state word, the PHRASE OF COURT (placentia college), which some call PARASITES PLACE, the INN OF IGNORANCE.
Malvolio - Ill Will

Shakespeare and the Poets War - James Bednarz

An excellent account of the intertextuality of Cynthia's Revels and Twelfth Night is offered by Cristina Malcolmson, who identifies these plays as part of the "war of the theaters" and supports the opinion that their fundamental difference was the result of their obverse interpretaions of "self-love". After Jonson had valorized "allowable self-love" in Cynthia's Revels, Malcolmson contends, Sahekspeare mocked it in Twelfth Night by contrasting Viola and Malvolio. "Malvolio's 'self-love' satirizes Jonson's version of individual value not only as self-indulgent but as socially divisive, because it privileges censuring the faults of others and praising the self over the more difficult task of preserving the harmony of social relations." Shakespeare faults Jonson, Malcolmson continues, because he 'reproves those who would fluidity for their own benefit or as an opportunity to reorder the traditional structure according to new ethical and plitical principles." "Such ethical and political blueprints," she concludes, "are simply fantasies of power." (Bednarz, p.185).

Why should Jonson display such anxiety about the 'Stratford Man' being vulnerable to flattery? He does not accuse Shakespeare of being a parasite, which we might expect - but he seems to criticize Good Will for giving ear to flatterers - for accepting the commendations of his friends (benevolence), but not the criticism of Jonson (malevolence). (Presumably if 'Shakespeare' had listened to Jonson and undergone and acceptable reformation the authorship problem would not exist. A suitably reformed Oxford/Shakespeare would have fulfilled his noble role and been immortalized as an exemplary figure, rather than suffering the fate of the incorrigible: being cast into oblivion.)
875 I have seene, that Poverty makes men doe unfit things; but honest men should not doe them: they should gaine otherwise. Though a man bee hungry, hee should not play the Parasite. That houre, wherein I would repent me to be honest: there were wayes enow open for me to be rich. But Flattery is a fine Pick-lock of tender eares: especially of those, fortune hath borne high upon their wings, that submit their dignity, and authority to it, by a soothing of themselves. For indeed men could  never be taken, in that abundance, with the Sprindges of others Flattery, if they began not there; if they did but remember, how much more profitable the bitternesse of Truth were, then all the honey distilling from a whorish voice; which is not praise, but poyson. But now it is come to that extreme folly, or rather madnesse with some: that he that  flatters them modestly, or sparingly, is thought to maligne them. If  their friend consent not to their vices, though hee doe not contradict them; hee is neverthelesse an enemy. When they doe all things the WORST WAY, even then they looke for praise. Nay, they will hire fellowes to flatter them with suites, and suppers, and to prostitute their judgements. They have Livery-friends, friends of the dish, and of the Spit, that waite their turnes, as my Lord has his feasts, and guests.

I think it is important to remember that at the time of the publication of the First Folio Jonson's Discoveries were yet to be published. It was not until after Jonson's death that his Discoveries was published - a book which certainly holds the keys to unlocking Jonson's true opinion of Shakespeare's methods of achieving popularity:

Jonson, Discoveries

Censura de poetis. - Nothing in our AGE, I have observed, is more PREPOSTEROUS than the running judgments upon poetry and poets; when we shall hear those things COMMENDED and cried up for the best writings which a man would scarce vouchsafe to wrap any wholesome drug in; he would never light his tobacco with them. And those men almost named for MIRACLES, who yet are so VILE that if a man should go about to examine and correct them, he must make all they have done but one BLOT. Their good is so entangled with their bad as forcibly one must draw on the other’s death with it. A sponge dipped in ink will do all:-

“ - Comitetur Punica librum
Spongia. - ” {44a}

Et paulò post,

“Non possunt . . . multæ . . . lituræ

. . . una litura potest.”

Cestius - Cicero - Heath - Taylor - Spenser. - Yet their vices have not hurt them; nay, a great many they have profited, for they have been loved for nothing else. And this false opinion grows strong against the best men, if once it take root with the IGNORANT. Cestius, in his time, was preferred to Cicero, so far as the ignorant durst.  They learned him without book, and had him often in their mouths; but a man cannot imagine that thing so foolish or rude but will find and enjoy an admirer; at least a reader or spectator.  The puppets are seen now in despite of the players; Heath' s epigrams and the Sculler' s poems have their applause.  There are never wanting that dare prefer the worst preachers, the worst pleaders, the worst poets; not that the better have left to write or speak better, but that they that hear them judge worse; Non illi pejus dicunt, sed hi corruptius judicant.  Nay, if it were put to the question of the water- rhymer' s works, against Spenser' s, *I doubt not but they would find more suffrages; because the most favour common vices, out of a prerogative the VULGAR have to lose their judgments and like that which is naught.*
Poetry, in this latter age, hath proved but a mean mistress to such as have wholly addicted themselves to her, or given their names up to her family.  They who have but saluted her on the by, and now and then tendered their visits, she hath done much for, and advanced in the way of their own professions (both the law and the gospel) beyond all they could have hoped or done for themselves without her favour.  Wherein she doth emulate the judicious but preposterous bounty of the time' s grandees, who accumulate all they can upon the PARASITE or FRESH-MAN in their friendship; but think an old client or honest servant bound by his place to write and starve.
Indeed, the multitude COMMEND writers as they do fencers or wrestlers, who if they come in robustiously and put for it with a deal of violence are received for the braver fellows; when many times their own rudeness is a cause of their disgrace, and a slight touch of their adversary gives all that boisterous force the foil.  But in these things the unskilful are naturally deceived, and judging wholly by the bulk, think rude things greater than polished, and scattered more numerous than composed; nor think this only to be true in the sordid multitude, but the neater sort of our gallants; for all are the multitude, only they differ in clothes, not in judgment or understanding.

For seeliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes Right ;
Or BLIND AFFECTION, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;-- Jonson on Shakespeare

William Gamage
 Epig. 15.
BLIND AFFECTIONS picture. To Dunce the Pesaunt.

What mak’s thee, Dunce, Dick Truncus to COMMEND?
Of no Deserts a Boore, a Corridon;
Thou sai’st, because he is thy worships friend,
And, whome, the current of thy love runnes on.
But wherefore do’st, Nick Laudus, so dispraise?
A Gentleman of fashion, and of sort.
Forsooth, thou sai’st, thou can’st not brooke his way,
His comely carriage, or his seemely port.
*See then affection, whether good, or ill:
Laud’s or defames according to his will.* 
These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron ; what could hurt her more ?-- Jonson to Shakespeare

Horace, Epistles I.18.1-4
 If I know you well. Lollius, frankest of men ['liberrime'], you dread
seeming like a sponger, having declared yourself a friend.
Just as a respectable married woman and a prostitute are unlike one another and
don't go together, so is a friend far removed from an untrustworthy parasite.


 ...I know not truly which is worse - he that maligns all, or that praises all.  There is as a vice in praising, and as frequent, as in detracting.  --Jonson



Etymology: ME & Anglo-Fr extravagaunt <>extravagans, prp. of extravagari, to stray <>extra, beyond + vagari, to wander < vagus:

In every action it behoves the poet to know which is the utmost bound, how far with fitness, and a necessary proportion, he may produce, and determine it...For, *as a body without proportion cannot be goodly*, no more can the action, either the comedy, or tragedy, without its fit bounds. (Jonson, Discoveries)


Straying beyond Jonson's 'fit bounds':

Jonson, on Shakespeare

He was (indeed) honest, and of
an open, and free nature: had an excellent
fancy; brave notions, and gentle expressions:
wherein he flowed with that facility, that
sometime it was necessary he should be
STOP'D: sufflaminandus erat; as Augustus said
of Haterius. His wit was in his own power;
would the RULE of it had been so too."

The COMMENDATION of good things may fall within a many,  their approbation but in a few· for the most COMMEND OUT OF AFFECTION,  selfe tickling, an easinesse, or imitation: but MEN iudge only out of *KNOWLEDGE*. That is the trying faculty. -- Jonson

Ruling/Restraining/Holding Shakespeare's Unruly Quill:

From 'To the Deceased Author of these Poems' (William Cartwright)
by Jasper Mayne 

... For thou to Nature had'st joyn'd Art, and skill.
In Thee Ben Johnson still HELD SHAKESPEARE'S QUILL:
A QUILL, RUL'D by sharp Judgement, and such Laws,
As a well studied Mind, and Reason draws.
Thy Lamp was cherish'd with suppolied of Oyle,
Fetch'd from the Romane and the Graecian soyle. (snip)


BY David Abercromby, M. D.
Qui velit ingenio cedere rarus erit.
LONDON, Printed for John Weld at the Crown between the two Tem|ple Gates in Fleetstreet, 1686.

3. Let us not then impose upon our selves, and take for demonstra|tion by a certain Precipitation of judgement, what at the utmost bea|reth
but a fair show of probability. I may methinks be allowable to mis|trust a Mans Capacity, when he pre|tends to know all things to the bot|tom, or to say nothing, what is not either in it self, or by consequence clear and evident. I have always been a great admirer of Thomas Aquinas, the Angelical Doctor, and do look upon him as a transcending Wit, but meerly upon this account, that he seems to be certain of nothing, though in Corpore articuli, he stands at length stiffly to one part of the contradiction, and answers the Ar|guments for the other. But you may easily gather both from the difficul|ties he proposeth to himself, and his answers that he pretended no more than to doubt rationally of disputa|ble matters; and more than this can|not be expected from the capacity of Man, who has no comprehensive knowledge of natural things, as An|gels have. I take then an ingenuous Ignorant to be of the most ingenious
or knowing sort: I mean one that professeth sincerely he knoweth no|thing certainly, but who withal, be|cause of his penetrancy, and great Wit, can give a rational, though not a demonstrative account of every thing. Such an one I conceive ca|pable to defend probably, and no further, whatever you may propose to him. For few things are to a man of this Character self-evident. He doubts not only of the possibility of ever doubling the Cub, or squaring the Circle, of fixing of Mercury, of making malleable Glass, &c. But he discovers without Telescops, Stains, and Spots in the very Stars themselves, I mean Obscurity, False|hood, uncertainty in the clearest and most approved Notions, Errors, Mistakes, and sometimes flat Devia|tions from the Truth in the most ac|curate Authors. He neither admires the old Philosophy, nor dotes upon the New, but takes up the Cudgels indifferently for either, as it serves his
turn, or his fancy. He is not always satisfied with what we call Mathe|matical Demonstrations, and dis|covers them often to be but false ap|paritions, imposing easily upon a weak understanding. He scrupleth at the vulgar Opinions, and values them no more than vulgar Errors. This is the Sentiment of an honoura|ble Gentleman, whom I respect as a great Wit; I have heard him say more than once, that he found by experi|ence the most vulgar Opinions to be flat untruths, which he has inge|niously proved to conviction in seve|ral of his most learned Books. Ne|vertheless, though such Men seem to be satisfied with nothing, not through Pride, for they are of the Humblest sort, but through Know|ledge, yet they are desirous to learn from the meanest Capacities, as well knowing that their Understanding, how vast soever, is but of a limited ex|tent, and not Omniscient. Tho' they be sparing of their Elogiums, as admi|ring
nothing, yet they are seldom guil|ty of detraction, of too much bla|ming, or rashly condemning other mens labours; and if Books receive their Fates from the Capacity of the Readers, 'tis a good Fortune for a well penn'd Piece to fall into such mens hands: for being great Artists themselves, they are the best Judges of Arts, and do praise moderately what they judge to deserve it, or say nothing at all of what they either cannot, or will not COMMEND.