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Jonson's "To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us"

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Jonson's "To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us"


Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, Shakespeare. Not often is the Bard included in a list of mythological gods. In fact, he is rarely thought of in connection with Greek and Roman mythology at all. Today, Shakespeare is hailed as one of the great playwrights of the English language, and is perhaps the most prominent, most studied of the English playwrights. But this was not the case in 1623, when Ben Jonson wrote his poem, “To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us.” Shakespeare died in 1616, and despite his popularity as a playwright of his day, he was hardly a household name, and had certainly not achieved the position of admiration which he holds today. Jonson’s poem is one of the first attempts to take Shakespeare beyond merely a popular playwright. His respect and esteem for the Bard is made plain in the poem, but Jonson has written much more than just a eulogy for his deceased friend. Through the style of his poem, and the various comparisons and the images used, Jonson attempts to immortalize Shakespeare, mythologizing him and bestowing upon him a god-like status.

Jonson was obviously close friends with Shakespeare. He had so much respect for Shakespeare’s talent that he feels grossly inadequate in praising him, and he states that “no man or muse can praise [Shakespeare] too much” (l. 4). Praise is clearly the purpose of this poem, however, and despite his professed inadequacy, Jonson intends to try his hand at extolling the great writer and giving him the recognition which he says all men can agree that Shakespeare deserves. He doesn’t mean to do this in...


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... Contrary to some opinions, Jonson feels Shakespeare’s talent is remarkable, so remarkable that it deserves to be remembered on the highest level possible, that of the gods.

Shakespeare’s flight and immortalization as a constellation is somewhat bittersweet, for although it awards Shakespeare the recognition Jonson feels he deserves, Jonson laments the absence of Shakespeare’s inspiring talent, saying “since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night, / And despairs the day but for thy volume’s light” (l. 79-80). Jonson recognizes agelessness in Shakespeare’s writings that he feels is on the same level as the Greek and Roman myths which have lasted for centuries. It is on this recognition that he bases his argument for Shakespeare’s status as a god. Jonson sums up this argument in line 43 of his poem. Shakespeare is “not of an age, but for all time”.


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