Saturday, December 15, 2018

Oxford, Jonson and the Art of Sinking in Poetry

 Notes Towards a Ridiculous Shakespeare - 'The Master-Wit is the Master-Fool'

The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

From the sublime to the ridiculous is only a step, from the proverbial saying, late 19th century; in The Age of Reason (1795) the political theorist Thomas Paine had said, ‘One step above the sublime, makes the ridiculous; and one step about the ridiculous, makes the sublime again.’ A remark attributed to Napoleon I, on the retreat from Moscow in 1812, is ‘There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous’.

Thomas Paine
Age of Reason, Part II, Section 6
The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again;

 Jonson, on Shakespeare

Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter: as when he said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him, "Caesar, thou dost me wrong," he replied "Caesar did never wrong, but with just cause," and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.


Peri Bathous: or, The Art of Sinking in Poetry is a mock Ars Poetica, or Art of Poetry, a parodic treatise on how not to write poetry. It is a humorous inversion of Longinus's classical treatise, Peri Hupsous: or, The Art of the Sublime (1st century AD). Pope takes Longinus's description of the five sources of the sublime – grandeur of thought; inspired passion; the effective use of rhetorical figures; nobility of diction; and the dignity of the overall composition – and ironically advocates their opposites as guidance in the modern poet's quest to achieve true profundity. Pope uses Longinus's treatise as a framework for the parody, but he does not denigrate him in Peri Bathous


Pope, Peri Bathous

It hath been long (my dear countrymen) the subject of my concern and surprise, that whereas numberless poets, critics, and orators, have compiled and digested the art of ancient poesy, there hath not risen among us one person so public-spirited, as to perform the like for the modern. Although it is universally known that our every way industrious moderns, both in the weight of their writings, and in the velocity of their judgments, do so infinitely excel the said ancients.

NEVERTHELESS, too true it is, that while a plain and direct road is paved to their ΰφος, or sublime; no track has been yet chalked out to arrive at our βάθος, or profound. The Latins, as they came between the Greeks and us, make use of the word Altitudo, which implies equally height and depth. Wherefore considering with no small grief, how many promising geniuses of this age are wandering (as I may say) in the dark without a guide, I have undertaken this arduous but necessary task, to lead them as it were by the hand, and step by step, the gentle down-hill way to the Bathos; the bottom, the end, the central point, the non plus ultra, of true modern poesy!


When I consider (my dear countrymen) the extent, fertility, and populousness of our lowlands of Parnassus, the flourishing state of our trade, and the plenty of our manufacture; there are two reflections, which administer great occasion of surprise; the one, that all dignities and honours should be bestowed upon the exceeding few meagre inhabitants of the top of the mountain; the other, that our own nation should have arrived to that pitch of greatness it now possesses, without any regular system of laws. As to the first, it is with great pleasure I have observed of late the gradual decay of delicacy and refinement among mankind, who are become too reasonable to require, that we should labour with infinite pains to come up to the taste of these mountaineers, when they without any may condescend to ours. But as we have now an unquestionable majority on our side, I doubt not but we shall shortly be able to level the Highlanders, and procure a farther vent for our own product, which is already so much relished, encouraged, and rewarded by the nobility and gentry of Great Britain.


“The taste of the Bathos is implanted by Nature itself in the soul of man; till, perverted by custom or example he is taught, or rather compelled, to relish the Sublime.”


Soul of an Ignorant Age:

I remember, the players have often
mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that
in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never
blotted out line. My answer hath been, 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.


Of Imitation, and the manner of Imitating.

That the true Authors of the Profund are to imitate diligently the Examples in their own way, is not to be questioned, and that divers have by this Means attained to a Depth whereunto their own Weight could not have carried them, is evident by sundry Instances. Who sees not that De Foe was the Poetical Son of Withers, Tate of Ogilby, E. Ward of John Taylor, and Eusden of Blackmore? Therefore when we sit down to write, let us bring some great Author to our Mind, and ask ourselves this Question; How would Sir Richard have said this? Do I express myself as simply as A P______? Or flow my Numbers with the quiet thoughlessness of Mr. Welsted?
But it may seem somewhat strange to assert, that our Proficient should also read the Works of those famous Poets who have excelled in the Sublime: Yet is not this a Paradox. As Virgil is said to have read Ennius, out of his Dunghil to draw Gold; so may our Author read Shakespear, Milton, and Dryden, for the contrary End, to bury their Gold in his own Dunghil. A true Genius, when he finds any thing lofty or shining in them, will have the Skill to bring it down, take off the Gloss, or quite discharge the Colour, by some ingenious Circumstance, or Periphrase, some Addition, or Diminution, or by some of those Figures the use of which we shall show in our next Chapter.


jig-given times/Jonson

He is loth to make Na-
ture afraid in his Plays, like those that beget Tales, Tem-
pests, and such like Drolleries, to mix his HEAD with
mens HEELS ; let the Concupiscence of
Jigs and Dances,
reign as strong as it will amongst you:

Pope, Peri Bathous

Lastly, I shall place the CUMBROUS, which moves heavily under a Load of Metaphors, and draws after it a lont Train of Words.
And the BUSKIN, or Stately, frequently and with great Felicity mixed with the Former. For as the first is the proper Engine to depress what is High, so is the second to raise what is Base and Low to a ridiculous Visibility: When both these can be done at once, then is the Bathos in Perfection; as when a *Man is set with his Head downward, and his Breech upright*, his Degradation is compleat: One End of him is as high as ever, only that End is the wrong one. Will not every true Lover of the Profund be delighted to behold the most vulgar and low Actions of Life exalted in this Manner?


 William Cartwright:

...Shakespeare to thee was DULL, whose best jest lyes
I'th Ladies questions, and the Fooles replyes;
Old fashion'd wit, which walkt from town to town
In turn'd Hose, which our fathers call'd the CLOWN;
Whose wit our nice times would OBSCEANNESSE call,
And which made BAWDRY passe for Comicall:
Nature was all his Art, thy veine was FREE
As his, but without his SCURILITY


Dulness is the goddess who presides over Alexander Pope’s  The Dunciad.  She is the central character, introduced at the start of the work.
Dulness is the daughter Chaos and "eternal Night," and her mission is to convert all the world to stupidity ("To hatch a new Saturnian age, of Lead"). Her triumph is part of the translatio stultitia (the inverse of the translatio studii). As "enlightenment" moves ever westward, darkness follows behind. In Pope's poem, she already has control of all political writing and seeks to extend her reign to drama.

(Stultus – foolish, stupid)

Dull Grinning Ignorance:

John Beaumont , Jonsonus Virbius

...Twas he that found (plac'd) in the seat of wit,
DULL grinning IGNORANCE, and banish'd it;
He on the prostituted stage appears
To make men hear, not by their eyes, but ears;
Who painted virtues, that each one might know,
And point the man, that did such treasure owe :
So that who could in JONSON'S lines be high
Needed not honours, or a riband buy ;
But vice he only shewed us in a glass,
Which by reflection of those rays that pass,
Retains the figure lively, set before,
And that withdrawn, reflects at us no more;
So, he observ'd the like decorum, when
*He whipt the vices, and yet spar'd the men* :
When heretofore, the Vice's only note,
And sign from virtue was his party-coat;
When devils were the last men on the stage,
And pray'd for plenty, and the PRESENT AGE.


Of the Art of Sinking

Chap XII

The Expression is adequate, when it is proportionably low to the Profundity of the Thought. It must not be always Grammatical, lest it appear pedantic and ungentlemanly; nor too clear, for fear it become vulgar; for Obscurity bestows a Cast of the Wonderful, and throws an oracular Dignity upon a Piece which hath no meaning.(p.120)


Jonson's Discretion - Holding/Restraining/Ruling Shakespeare's Quill:

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

...And as thy Wit was like a Spring, so all
The soft streams of it we may Chrystall call:
No cloud of Fancie, no mysterious stroke,
No Verse like those which antient Sybils spoke;
No Oracle of Language, to amaze
The Reader with a dark, or Midnight Phrase,
Stands in thy Writings, which are all pure Day,
A cleer, bright Sunchine, and the mist away.
That which Thou wrot'st was sense, and that sense good,
Things not first written, and then understood:

Or if sometimes thy Fancy soar'd so high
As to seem lost to the unlearned Eye,
'Twas but like generous Falcons, when high flown,
Which mount to make the Quarrey more their own.

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)


                R Goodwin, ‘Vindiciae Jonsoniae’

Even so, these Gallants, when they chance to heare
A new Witt peeping in THEIR HEMISPHERE,
Which they can apprehend, their clouded Braines,
Will Straight admire, and Magnifie his Straines,
Farre above thine;  though all that he hath done,
Is but a Taper, to thy brighter Sun;
Wound them with scorne! Who greives at such Fooles tongues,
Doth not revenge, but gratifie their wrongs.     


 Pope, Peri Bathous

Style is divided by the Rhetoricians into the Proper and the Figured. Of the Figured we have already treated, and the Proper is what our Authors have nothing to do with. Of Styles we shall mention on the Principal, which owe to the Moderns wither their chief Improvement, or entire Invention. (p.122)


'To The Reader / This figure, that thou here seest put, It was for gentle Shakespeare cut; Wherein the graver had a strife With nature, to out-doo the life: O, could he but have drawn his wit / As well in brasse as he hath hit His face the print would then surpasse All that was ever writ in brasse But, since he cannot, reader looke Not on his picture, but his booke. / Ben. Jonson. / From the Folio Edition of Shakespeare's Plays, 1623'.

Pope, Peri Bathous, On the Art of Sinking

The third Class remains, of the Diminishing Figures: and first, the ANTICLIMAX, where the second Line drops quite short of the first, than which nothing creates greater Surprize.
On the Extent of the British Arms.

Under the Tropicks is our Language spoke,
And Part of Flanders hath receiv’d our Yoke. (Wall.)

On a Warrior.
And thou Dalhoussy the great God of War,
Lieutenant Colonel to the Earl of Mar. (Anon.)
At other times this Figure operates in a larger Extent; and when the gentle Reader is in Expectation of some great Image, he either finds it surprisingly imperfect, or is presented with something very low, or quite ridiculous. A Surprize resembling that of a curious Person in a Cabinet of antique Statues, who beholds on the Pedestal the Names of Homer, or Cato; but looking up, finds Homer without a Head, and nothing to be seen of Cato buy his privy Member.(pp.115-16)

 Observing the Droeshout Engraving - Cutting a Ridiculous Figure

“Damn the original portrait. I never saw a stupider face. It is impossible that such a mind and such a rare talent should shine with such a face and such a pair of eyes.” Gainsborough


On Bacon, Ben Jonson
Scriptorum catalogus. —Cicero is said to be the only wit that the people of Rome had equalled to their empire. Ingenium par imperio. We have had many, and in their several ages (to take in but the former seculum ) Sir Thomas More, the elder Wyatt, Henry Earl of Surrey, Chaloner, Smith, Eliot, B[ishop] Gardiner, were for their times admirable; and the more, because they began eloquence with us. Sir Nico[las] Bacon was singular, and almost alone, in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s times. Sir Philip Sidney and Mr. Hooker (in different matter) grew great masters of wit and language, and in whom all vigor of invention and strength of judgment met. The Earl of Essex, noble and high; and Sir Walter Raleigh, not to be contemned, either for judgment or style; Sir Henry Savile, grave, and truly lettered; Sir Edwin Sandys, excellent in both; Lo[rd] Egerton, the Chancellor, a grave and great orator, and best when he was provoked; but his learned and able, though unfortunate, successor is he who hath filled up all numbers, and performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome. In short, within his view, and about his times, were all the wits born that could honor a language or help study. Now things daily fall, wits grow downward, and eloquence grows backward; so that he may be named and stand as the mark and [Greek] of our language.

 Dryden, A Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693).

How easie is it to call Rogue and Villain, and that wittily! But how hard to make a Man appear a Fool, a Blockhead, or a Knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms! To spare the grossness of the Names, and to do the thing yet more severely, is to draw a full Face, and to make the Nose and Cheeks stand out, and yet not to employ any depth of Shadowing. This is the Mystery of that Noble Trade, which yet no Master can teach to his Apprentice: He may give the Rules, but the Scholar is never the nearer in his practice. Neither is it true, that this fineness of Raillery is offensive. A witty Man is tickl'd while he is hurt in this manner, and a Fool feels it not. The occasion of an Offence may possibly be given, but he cannot take it. If it be granted that in effect this way does more Mischief; that a Man is secretly wounded, and though he be not sensible himself, yet the malicious World will find it for him: yet there is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly Butchering of a Man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the Head from the Body, and leaves it standing in its place

[Pope's] Dulness is the daughter Chaos and "eternal Night," and her mission is to convert all the world to stupidity ("To hatch a new Saturnian age, of Lead"). Her triumph is part of the translatio stultitia (the inverse of the translatio studii)


Translatio studii (Latin for "transfer of learning") is a historiographical concept, originating in the Middle Ages, in which history is viewed as a linear succession of transfers of knowledge or learning from one geographical place and time to another. The concept is closely linked to translatio imperii, which similarly describes the movement of imperial dominance. Both terms are thought to have their origins in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible (verses 39–40).


On the Famous Voyage
by Ben Jonson

No more let Greece her bolder fables tell
Of Hercules, or Theseus going to hell,
Orpheus, Ulysses: or the Latin muse,
With tales of Troy's just knight, our faiths abuse:
We have a Shelton, and a Heyden got,
Had power to act, what they to feign had not.
All, that they boast of Styx, of Acheron,
Cocytus, Phlegeton, our have proved in one;
The filth, stench, noise: save only what was there
Subtly distinguished, was confused here.
Their wherry had no sail, too; ours had none:
And in it, two more horrid knaves than Charon.
Arses were heard to croak, instead of frogs;
And for one Cerberus, the whole coast was dogs,
Furies there wanted not: each scold was ten.
And, for the cries of ghosts, women, and men,
Laden with plague-sores, and their sins, were heard,
Lashed by their consciences, to die, afeared.
Then let the former age, with this content her,
She brought the poets forth, but ours the adventer. 


Horace Of the Art of Poetry - transl. Ben Jonson

...Most writers, noble sire and either son,
Are, with the LIKENESS OF THE TRUTH, undone.
Myself for shortness labour, and I grow
Obscure. This, striving to run smooth, and flow,
Hath neither soul nor sinews. Lofty he
Professing greatness, swells; that, low by lee,
Creeps on the ground; too safe, afraid of storm.
This seeking, in a various kind, to form
One thing prodigiously, paints in the woods
A dolphin, and a boar amid the floods.
So shunning faults to greater fault doth lead,

Ambisinister Droeshout - Wrong in Both Hands


Puttenham, Shakespeare, and the abuse of rhetoric.
By: Hillman, David, Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter96, Vol. 36, Issue 1

...The way in which this criss-crossing shaped the uses of the word "discretion" in early modern England is the subject of this essay.


The term came into prominence in a wide range of texts and acquired a new range of meanings during the early modern period. According to the OED, the word had, prior to 1590, denoted personal 'judgement," "discernment," or "prudence," as well as juridical "power of disposal" (in addition to being an honorific title, in such phrases as "your high and wise discretion"). But early modern discourse saw a burgeoning of overlapping meanings in a variety of cultural spheres. These included personal attributes (tact, propriety of behavior, or secrecy--in explicit contrast to madness, impertinence, and rashness); a social classification (the separation of those who possess these attributes--the "discreet"--from those who do not, and of those who have reached the "age of discretion" from those who have not); the legal power to enforce this stratification (the authority or "discretion of the law"); and the ostensibly purely aesthetic separations of literary decorum (the discrezione or "discernment" of Italian neoclassical literary theory; the Indo-European base of the word--[*][s]ker, to cut--is in fact the same as that of "critic"). The Latin root of "discretion"--cernere, to sift out--was reunited with the word only at the end of the sixteenth century, when it again began to mean, quite simply, "separation"; and it is this meaning, separation as such, that underlies the potential of the word to be used, in all these diverse contexts, to ground a hierarchical ideology. The word was almost invariably used in Elizabethan England as a means of constructing social, cultural, or aesthetic difference.


Sidney, Defense of Poetry

But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment; and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus hath Amphytrio. But, if we mark them well, we shall find that they never, or very daintily, match hornpipes and funerals. So falleth it out that, having indeed no right comedy in that comical part of our tragedy, we have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any chaste ears, or some extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else; where the whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight, as the tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration.


But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together. Nay, rather in themselves they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety. For delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves, or to the general nature; laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature. Delight hath a joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful tickling...But I have lavished out too many words of this playmatter. I do it, because as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused; which, like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy`s honesty to be called in question.
Alexander Pope


...of all English Poets Shakespear must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for Criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as the most conspicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all sorts. (Pope, ibid. p. i)


Jonson, Cynthia's Revels

Cynthia: Dear Arete, and Crites, to you two
We give the Charge; impose what Pains you please:
Remembring ever what we first decreed,
Since Revels were proclaim'd, let now none bleed.
Arete. How well Diana can distinguish Times,
And sort her Censures, keeping to her self
The Doom of Gods, leaving the rest to us?
Come, cite them, Crites, first, and then proceed.
Then, Crites, practise thy DISCRETION.


Ridiculous Figures - Amorphus/Oxford/Droeshout Deformity

(Jonson, Cynthia's Revels,
Amorphus. That's good, but how Pythagorical?
Phi. I, Amorphus. Why Pythagorical Breeches?
Amo. O most kindly of all, 'tis a conceit of that fortune,
I am bold to hug my Brain for.
Pha. How is't, exquisite Amorphus?
Amo. O, I am rapt with it, 'tis so fit, so proper,
so happy. --
Phi. Nay do not rack us thus?
Amo. .I never truly relisht myself before. Give me
your Ears. Breeches Pythagorical, by reason of their trans-
migration into several shapes.
Mor. Most rare, in sweet troth.




IN so thicke, and darke an IGNORANCE, as now almost couers the AGE, I craue leaue to stand neare 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 Poëme. I must call it so, against all noise of Opinion: from whose *crude, and airy Reports*, I appeale, to that great and singular Faculty of Iudgment in your Lordship, able to vindicate Truth from Error. It is the first (of this RACE) that euer I dedicated to any Person, and had I not thought it the best, it should haue beene taught a lesse ambition. Now, it approacheth your Censure chearefully, and with the same assurance, that Innocency would appeare before a Magistrate.

Your Lo. most faithfull Honorer. Ben. Ionson.


An Essay on Criticism
Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true Critics dare not mend;
From vulgar bounds with brave DISORDER PART,
And snatch a grace beyond the reach of Art,
Which, without passing thro' the judgment, gains
The heart, and all its end at once attains.
But tho' the ancients thus their rules invade,
(As Kings dispense with laws themselves have made)
Moderns, beware! or if you must offend
Against the precept, ne'er transgress its end;
Let it be seldom, and compell'd by need;
And have at least their precedent to plead;
The Critic else proceeds without remorse,
SEIZES YOUR FAME, and puts his laws in force. -- Alexander Pope


Cartwright, William, 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,
Which chance, and th'ages fashion did make hit;
*Excluding those from life in after-time*,
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
Made commendation a benevolence:
THY thoughts were their owne Lawrell, and did win
That best applause of being crown'd within..


Cynthia’s Revels, Jonson

Act V Sc. 1

We believe it.
But for our sake, and to inflict just pains
On their prodigious follies, aid us now:
No man is presently made bad with ill.
And good men, like the sea, should still maintain
Their noble taste, in midst of all fresh humours
That flow about them, to corrupt their streams,
Bearing no season, much less salt of goodness.
It is our purpose, Crites, to CORRECT,
And punish, with our laughter, this night's sport,
Which our court-dors so heartily intend:
And by that WORTHY SCORN, to make them know
How far beneath the dignity of man
Their serious and most practised actions are.

Ay, but though Mercury can warrant out
His undertakings, and make all things good,
Out of the powers of his divinity,
Th' offence will be return'd with weight on me,
That am a creature so despised and poor;
When the whole court shall take itself abused
By our ironical confederacy.
You are deceived. The better race in court,
That have the true nobility call'd virtue,
Will apprehend it, as a grateful right
Done to their separate merit; and approve
The fit rebuke of so ridiculous heads,
Who, with their apish customs and forced garbs,
Would bring the name of courtier in contempt,
Did it not live unblemish'd in some few,
Whom equal Jove hath loved, and Phoebus form'd

Well, since my leader-on is Mercury,
I shall not fear to follow. If I fall,
My proper virtue shall be my relief,
That follow'd such a cause, and such a chief.


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. 


“Rhetoric is the greatest barrier between us and our ancestors….Older than the Church, older than Roman Law, older than all Latin literature, it descends from the age of the Greek Sophists. Like the Church and the law it survives the fall of the empire, rides the renascentia and the Reformation like waves, and penetrates far into the eighteenth century; through all these ages not the tyrant, but the darling of humanity, soavissima, as Dante says, ‘the sweetest of all the other sciences.’ Nearly all our older poetry was written and read by men to whom the distinction between poetry and rhetoric, in its modern form, would have been meaningless. The “beauties” which they regarded in every composition were those which we either dislike or simply do not notice. This change of taste makes an invisible wall between us and them. Probably all our literary histories, certainly that on which I am engaged, are vitiated by our lack of sympathy on this point. If ever the passion for formal rhetoric returns, the whole story will have to be rewritten and many judgements may be reVERsEd.”
~C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century


In Poetaster, Virgil and his privileged homogeneous circle are precisely placed 'above', at the highest level of a Neoplatonic scale of being which underpins the play, Virgil, in particular, being identified at once as an embodiment of 'poor vertue' (v.ii.33), and, more specifically, as a 'rectified spirit' 'refin'd/From all the tartarous moodes of common men' (v.i.100 and 102-3: author's emphasis), refined, that is, from the material, impure - and Tartarean - moods motivating the 'common men' (and all the women) of the play, who are placed at the lowest level of the play's scale of being, the level closest to matter. The place of Virgil and his circle is the same as that occupied, in a well-known passage in Timber, by an elite of 'good men' identified as absolute 'Spectators' over 'the Play of Fortune' 'on the Stage of the world'. Indeed, Virgil is likened to a 'right heavenly body' (v.i.105, just as the good men are described as 'the Stars, the Planets of the Ages wherein they live' - images which underscore not only the absolute, transcendent place of these spectator figures, but their normative and regulatory function, their function, that is, as over-seers.
(Margaret Tudeau-Clayton,  Jonson, Shakespeare and Early Modern Virgil)


These two worlds [that of the masque and anti-masque] are comprehended in Poetaster by the paired authorial figures, Horace and Virgil. For, while Virgil inhabits a 'main masque' universe of truth, unity and harmony 'above', Horace addresses and engages with - in order to regulate - the anti-masque universe of ignorance, folly and malice 'below'. It is to this universe 'below' that, in the note of Silenus with which we began, those who fail to understand Virgil's - and Jonson's - learned poetic discourse are said to be cast by 'their own ignorance or folly'. The exclusion which is performed by the turn from anti-masque to main masque thus mirrors the exclusion which is at once the condition of its 'proper' reception and an effect of its learned character. (Margaret Tudeau-Clayton,  Jonson, Shakespeare and Early Modern Virgil, 134-135.)

 Stratford - 'bumpkinification' of the Earl of Oxford.

The earth covers him, the people mourn, Olympus holds him.

Fulke Greville - Recorder of Stratford-upon-Avon:

Greville, _Dedication_: Life of Sidney

...Neither am I (for my part) so much in love with this life, nor believe so little in a better to come, as to complain of God for taking him [Sidney], and such like exorbitant worthyness from us: fit (as it were by an Ostracisme) to be divided, and not incorporated with our corruptions: yet for the sincere affection I bear to my Prince, and Country, my prayer to God is, that this Worth, and Way may not fatally be buried with him; in respect, that both before his time, and since, experience hath published the usuall discipline of greatnes to have been tender of it self onely; making honour a triumph, or rather trophy of desire, set up in the eyes of Mankind, either to be worshiped as IDOLS, or else as Rebels to perish under her glorious oppressions. *Notwithstanding, when the pride of flesh, and power of favour shall cease in these by death, or disgrace; what then hath time to register, or fame to publish in these great mens names, that will not be offensive, or infectious to others? What Pen without blotting can write the story of their deeds? Or what Herald blaze their Arms without a blemish? And as for their counsels and projects, when they come once to light, shall they not live as noysome, and loathsomely above ground, as their Authors carkasses lie in the grave? So as the return of such greatnes to the world, and themselves, can be but private reproach, publique ill example, and a fatall scorn to the Government they live in. Sir Philip Sidney is none of this number; for the greatness which he affected was built upon true Worth; esteeming Fame more than Riches, and Noble actions far above Nobility it self.   


In Every Man in his Humour (performed 1598), this hierarchical binary opposition is articulated, even as it is worked for in the place of production, by a quotation from the Sibyl's description in Aeneid 6 of the few permitted to escape from the underworld into the upper air - 'pauci, quos aequus amavit/Juppiter' (lines 129-30, quoted in Every Man In, III,i, 21-2.) In Cynthia's Revels (performed 1600), the quotation recurs, translated, in a context which makes explicit what the spectator/reader of Every Man In must divine, that the description is to be understood in terms of the canonical Neoplatonic mediations of the Virgilian underworld as a description of the few permitted, on account of the 'merit' of their 'true nobility, called virtue', to escape from the Dis or Tartarus of contingent, material existence into an absolute, fixed and transcendent place 'above'. As we shall see, those who understand are granted, by virtue of their understanding, a means of 'grace', a means, that is, to escape from the multiple, particular heterogeneities of every man in his humour, to join the privileged homogeneous circle which the Virgilian voice in Every Man In  both addresses and describes. 

(Margaret Tudeau-Clayton,  Jonson, Shakespeare and Early Modern Virgil, 116-117.)

Soul of an Ignorant Age:

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.