Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jonson's poem on Shakespeare

For convenience's sake, here is the poem

Analyze your assigned section of Jonson's "To the Memory of My Beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare" (149-51) and write up a one-page paper explaining what the lines are saying (literally), which line or lines is most effective as poetry (meter, sound, hidden effects), and how your part contributes to the entire poem as a whole.  Due Tuesday, 17 January, by 9 a.m., via email.

B  ll. 11-18. (Why does the poem not begin at l. 17?)

In lines eleven through eighteen of Ben Johnson’s “To the Memory of My Beloved…Shakespeare” the author’s literal words are essentially:

With clever ulterior motives or with the intention to give fake praise/ with the intention to tear down while pretending to build up/ to extoll may seem like some skeevy person or a prostitute complimenting a dignified married lady/ compliments from such people would be an insult/ But you [Shakespeare] have proved yourself against your detractors/ you are above needing to get vengeance on your critics or even bothering to wish them harm/ I’ll start by referring to you as the embodiment of the era/ the reason people applaud and love theatre (11-18)

Johnson argues that his motive is wholesome in extolling the virtues of Shakespeare. He states that his intent is not malicious or that he is not giving false praise with the ulterior motive of pointing out flaws in Shakespeare’s skill (although later in the work he seems to take a dig at Shakespeare’s lack of language acquisition). The author further concedes that his skills are viewed as less than Shakespeare’s and, as such, his praise may seem like a prostitute complimenting a dignified married woman (13-14). 
Of all the lines, “Or crafty malice might pretend this praise” is particularly poetic with its use of consonance in malice and might and again with pretend and praise. The same line uses heavy assonance particularly with “a” in ‘crafty’ and beginning of ‘malice’, the “i” sound in the end of ‘malice’, ‘this’, and even ‘praise’ to an extent.  There is further consonance with the repetition of a hissing sound in ‘malice’, ‘this’, and ‘praise’. This line also seems to be written in iambic pentameter. Other lines within the poem are written with different meter and rhythm. The line “The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage” has eleven beats which means it incorporates a half foot. The line is also not a regular unstressed-stressed pattern. This line is also effective since the irregular rhythm causes the reader to trip somewhat and read more slowly and carefully.
Lines eleven through eighteen of the text serve as a preamble: they contribute to the work as a whole by establishing the motive of the author, Ben Johnson. In stating that he is aware that he is viewed “unworthy” to comment on Shakespeare’s works, Johnson addresses this criticism and gives more credence to his poem. Had the poem began at line seventeen, any rivalry or disparity between the two writers could detract from the poem. In addressing these potential issues himself, Johnson removes the question of whether or not he is legitimately praising Shakespeare or if it is satirical and the reader is able to enjoy the work as it was meant: as an elegy.

To answer the question of “Why does the poem not start at 1. 17” I do not have an exact answer but I have an idea. I believe the poem starts after 1. 17 because it gets you into the reading of the poem and gets you excited to read what is next. Starting with line 11 from my assigned section I gathered that there is deceiving acts occurring and that they are purposely being evil. Line 12 gives off an even more descriptive version of line 11 because it is backing it up and stating that where something is going right they will bring wrong to it. Line 13 is showing us that the reason for these problems is because of women in a brothel? A woman that perhaps does not respect her self and neither do the men in her life. Line 14 is implying that there is a married women being talked about and nothing would upset her more than to have whore women admiring her and all she does for her husband and household. Line 15 is indicating that there is proof the whore’s did something wrong and there is a way to show they are in the wrong. Line 16 is describing that despite the need or wants to be better or do better they will not change. Line 17 is about beginning the action on the stage for the play. Lastly line 18 is about the atmosphere of the theater and being on stage with people applauding and taking in everything about the experience. My 8 lines in my opinion are crucial to the poem as a whole because they are describing important characters and information in the play. This poems sound and rhythm is well put together. The last word in some of the sentences rhymes with previous ones and it has that pattern throughout the stanzas.

D-F ll. 25-40

Explanation of lines 25-40:
That I am comparing you, I excuse myself
But I only mean that you hold your own, and then some, with the great incomparable poets
But if I thought my judgment impaired by age, I could compare you surely to your contemporaries
I would speak of your superiority when compared to Lyly, Kyd, or Marlowe
And though you possess less formal education than those mentioned, your works would hold their own
if Euripides, Sophocles, Pacuvius, and Accius were called to life again to witness your dramas and comedies
your work would stand above even the hallowed and revered Greeks and Romans

In my uneducated estimation, the most effective line within these lines of the poem is line 39, Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome. I chose this because the meter appears to change to me. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, but in this line it appears to be eleven syllables. I am sure that in my unpracticed ear, I am missing something, but I cannot reconcile nor discover the reasoning. The poem is written in couplets and this line, like many throughout the poem, uses enjambment. There is both a harshness and discordant sound in the consonants used here, which I felt reflected the feeling of the poet. Both haughty and insolent are somewhat severe to the ear. It is in this particular line that Johnson’s reverence becomes most vehement.
While the poem, overall, places Shakespeare in high esteem, I think it is the comparisons found in lines 25-40 with the most esteemed poets of the past that exemplifies the regard in which Johnson holds Shakespeare. With these exhaustive comparisons, he leaves no room for doubt Shakespeare’s timeless greatness.

G  ll. 41-54

In Ben Johnson’s “"To the Memory of My Beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare", we see get a lot of praising from Johnson for Shakespeare. He dives in, admiring his work and skill, but also recognizing that though they have different styles, they are both great at what they do and he would not have it any other way. Line 41 starts my sections off by changing the direction in which who the speaker is talking to. He addresses his Britain directly, which would be a place and not a person. Making this decision not only makes what he is saying a statement, because it cannot reply, but the change in audience makes the reader focus on what he is saying. Britain has the right to consider itself a winner because of the fat that Shakespeare doing his work there on the stage. Line 43 really sticks out to me because it has become so true. Johnson says that his had no age but was for all time, which can be interpreted as Shakespeare’s work transcending all time and all languages. His work will live on to become something greater than anything else. Lines 44-46, compares Shakespeare with Roman Gods like Apollo and Mercury. In doing this, it brings Shakespeare’s work being so dramatic and so popular, to an unquestionable point.

In this poem it sounds like he “Johnson” will excuse himself. The part “But I only mean that you hold your own, and then some, with the great incomparable poets” seems to be saying that Shakespeare is able to “hold his own” meaning to contend with the great poets of old. But if his ‘Johnson’ judgment was compromised do to his age he would compare Shakespeare to the peers that were in his own time and not the older ones. Johnson would say that Shakespeare was superior to Lyly, Kyd, and Marlowe even when Shakespeare himself had much less formal education because the works that he did could stand their own even when placed against works made by people of much higher education levels. If the great poets of old like Euripides, Sophocles, Pacuvius, and Accius came back to life and witnessed the dramas and comedies that Shakespeare made, they would say that they were good. Shakespeare’s works would stand higher than that of the works that the Greeks and Romans revered.

The line in the poem that seemed the most effective is the line that tells of Shakespeare’s less formal education. I say this line because it makes a point that even if one does not have any formal education one can still achieve greatness if only the effort to learn and do great is within them. I feel that this line holds Johnson’s portrayal of Shakespeare as one of the greatest poets if not the greatest over other lines. This part of the poem lines twenty-five through forty have a large influence on the rest of the poem because it give the high standing that Johnson has for Shakespeare in both education levels as well as the honour of saying that he ‘Johnson” holds Shakespeare in the same light as the poets of old both Roman and Greek. This part is saying that Shakespeare is great no matter the time one looks at and compares him to.

Johnson does a wonderful job when he uses Nature with Shakespeare as well. Not only does everyone love him but Nature personified as a woman, appreciates the beauty of his work so much, that she dreams of wearing his words as clothing. At this time, for Nature to appreciate and bask in you and your work, that means you must be something special. In line 54 we see a reference to “Natures family”, it feels like Johnson is saying that the ancients Terence, Plauttus, and Aristophanes were not apart of this family but Shakespeare is. It seems his work is so pure and natural because it was gifted to his from nature and not something that he had to learn, he was born with the gift.

M  ll. 55-64

 On lines 41 through 54 of Jonson's poem "To the Memory of My Beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare," Jonson discusses William Shakespeare's legacy. Jonson also discusses the impact Shakespeare’s work had on the world, its timeless quality, and lasting influence. Finally, Jonson dives into the works of others and even makes reference to what he thinks are more antiquated creative artists, basically stating that they lack the flow and clear, poetic feel of Shakespeare’s work.

Johnson also discusses the high quality of Shakespeare's writing, referencing nature and the tight, meaningful structure found throughout his pieces. This can be seen in lines 47-49, when Jonson states, “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.” He was basically stating that he felt that the sound of Shakespeare’s work and his word usage and overall structure was that of a master wordsmith.

In my personal opinion, these three lines are also some of the best from a poetic stance, they flow well, and, along with line 43, provide a lot of context regarding Jonson’s feelings toward Shakespeare’s work. Which is also what I consider the most important element in this section of the poem and why it was included. Jonson wanted to leave his audience with the impression that regardless of who you are or when you were born, there is a certain endearing element in Shakespeare’s work that transcends the typical bounds of literature.

In Ben Johnson’s poem “To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us”, Johnson writes exclusively on the prowess of Shakespeare’s abilities, lauding him as a true poet that could not possibly have any compare. It is clear from the work as a whole that Johnson not only holds Shakespeare in high regard as a poet, but also as an artist and as a fellow man in the general sense as well. Throughout the poem, he compares Shakespeare to other famous authors, and even to the poets of ancient Greece, which is possibly the highest compliment the late bard could be awarded at the time.
Lines 55 through 64 speak specifically on the talent of Shakespeare himself rather than the comparisons showered on him in the rest of the poem. This section is particularly important because it focuses not on comparing him to others, but, rather, singling him out as a remarkable individual in his own right. This section marks a turning point for the poem, which, up until line 52, had been name dropping in order to lift Shakespeare up for comparison. In this section, the object of the poem turns from comparison to establishing Shakespeare’s skills in his own right.
            The stanza of lines 59 through 60 are particularly interesting in this section because they note the importance not only of a poet’s ability to write, but to edit- what Johnson describes as ‘striking the second heat’ on ‘the Muse’s anvil’ is likening the art of crafting poetry to that of blacksmithing. The imagery here is quite profound, as blacksmithing is not easy work and involves a lot of sweat and toil. Yet Johnson compares the two arts like the work of a poet is a task that also involves a lot of sweat and hard work.

            Yet, the most poignant line in the section is the last line, line 64, which reads ‘For a good poet’s made, as well as born’. This is particularly notable because it brings up an excellent point of contention in the writing community, one that has certainly raged for as long as writing has been established as an art form. Are poets born talented, or is honing their craft a skill that can be established through study and hard work? According to Johnson, it is a combination of the two- and in saying this here, he alludes to the fact that Shakespeare is both these things- a born poet, and a poet that has worked hard to master his craft. This, in combination with the earlier lines that regard the crafting of poetry as hard and toilsome work, paint a picture of Johnson’s viewpoint of Shakespeare very clearly. Even in comparing him to other poets, he finds that Shakespeare has gone on to hone the craft of his own volition, not simply working off the foundation of others, and is truly a master craftsman of the time.

R-Z  ll. 75-80

Lines 75-80 paints the picture of Johnson looking up into the sky and envisioning Shakespeare being there. He sees him in the hemisphere because Shakespeare has created a constellation to make his mark in the night sky. Johnson then goes on to compliment Shakespeare saying he was the star of poets which relates to the constellation comment. Even though he’s gone he asks him to watch over the stage and continue to help influence it whether it would be for positive or negative judgement. Johnson says “drooping stage” which could mean that the theater community is in mourning because of the loss of Shakespeare. Since he is gone the world has gone dark like night. However, while they mourn it is also a celebration of Shakespeare’s work.

This poem was a tribute to William Shakespeare and Johnson’s way of recognizing how great he was. The lines that I analyzed were the ending lines so it gave a good closing summary to the poem. It was pretty much saying, in Johnson’s perspective, I see you up there, you were the best, the world misses you, and I hope you watch over the people who continue your work.

The poem is a couplet which means every two lines rhyme. This was mentioned earlier, but lines 76 and 77 create a good description. Johnson claims to see Shakespeare in the stars which he thinks is fitting because he calls him the star of poets. I thought that was pretty clever.

Jonson’s poem “To the Memory of my Beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare” is written with rhyming couplets of verse in iambic pentameter otherwise known as heroic couplet. The 80-line poem is an elegy to the poet Shakespeare, as the speaker of the poem seems to be Ben Jonson himself giving praise to his existence and influence. In the closing of the poem, lines 75-80, Jonson literally illustrates a sort of dreamy or heaven-like mural made of stars in the sky representing a remembrance or after-life of Shakespeare. The opening couplet, “But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere” (75) “Advanced, and made a constellation there!” (76) describes Jonson acknowledging Shakespeare’s passing and pointing out a constellation in the dark sky making him a literal and figurative star.  Shakespeare described as a constellation in the sky represents the brilliance and influence he has brought onto poets as the greatest poet of his peers, “Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage” (77).  The word rage could signify a strong emotional influence that Shakespeare had onto his audiences or a poetic inspiration. The stage is described as drooping or sadly falling, “chide or cheer the drooping stage;” (78), which personifies the stage mourning the death of the Shakespeare. The poets and audiences alike are described as mourning like night or darkness, “Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,” (79). At the very end of the poem, Jonson closes with the idea that although Shakespeare is gone there is still the influence of his work left behind which can be the “light” to his mourning. Jonson had written the poem in admiration of Shakespeare and the influence of his work and in his own perspective the best of his time now becoming a forever star in the sky.

Line 75 of Ben Jonson’s poem To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare states, “That so did take Eliza, and our James!”. When Jonson says Eliza and James he is referring to Queen Elizabeth and King James- They are said to have had a big impact on Shakespeare’s writing. Both Queen Elizabeth and King James are dead. Jonson links Shakespeare’s death with theirs stating that the same force took all of their lives. Jonson then transitions into line 76-78 by brightening the mood of the poem. He states...
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc’d, and made a Constellation there!
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
The thought of death is uplifted when Jonson claims he can still see Shakespeare in the Hemisphere because Shakespeare was capable of advancing and building a constellation. Jonson refers to Shakespeare as the “starre of poets” this can be related to the constellation reference. Jonson then encourages Shakespeare’s spirit to shine forth. These lines demonstrate Jonson’s view on the immense impact Shakespeare had on the world. This impact it still seen in the “Hemisphere”.
Lines 79-80 state…
“Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn’d like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.”
In these lines Jonson is explaining what the world is like without Shakespeare physically alive in this world. He explains that since Shakespeare’s death the theatre world has been dark like night and has undergone a “drooping Stage”. Though it is clear that Jonson is upset about Shakespeare’s death he still celebrates his life and works throughout the entire poem. Lines 75-77 are most effective as poetry. They evoke emotions in the reader that truly believe that though Shakespeare has died he is still very much alive in our world today.

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