Ben Jonson on Shakespeare

AG: Well ,  I think people should go ahead and read the thing on Shakespeare      [Ben Jonson’s “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr William Shakespeare”] by yourselves,

I won’t go over it, except a couple of phrases in here – (page 260)  [sic] -It’s a real good poem. It’s an interesting poem, and it’s well-written, and it’s very.. it’s full of energy, at a certain point – “I therefore will begin. Soul of the age!/ The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!” – (he really gets with it)

But.. later on, he has a couple of interesting generalizations about poetry – He was saying that Shakespeare was better… (in the middle of page 269) – “The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,/ Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please,.” – (the Greek and Roman… certain Greek and Roman playwrights are not as pleasing as Shakespeare) – “But antiquated and deserted lie,/ As they were not of Nature’s family/Yet must I not give Nature all: thy art,/ My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part/. For though the poet’s matter nature be,/ His art doth give the fashion..” – (That’s an interesting phrase -” though the poet’s matter nature be..” – he’s going on to say, his artistry in dealing with it,.gives it the style, or the mode, or the fashioning of the form – but he is laying it out as a nature thing, that is, there’s a meaning – art as… the matter of art, the subject matter, the reference within art is back to our own nature, (human or.. flora, fauna, geology   – but it’s still nature, human nature, not abstract,  or not non-nature, or, not something outside of nature, which, in the twentieth-century, is kind of interesting, since so much of our industrial art is not natural, (or even anti-natural or counter-natural). He’s just saying that poetry has got to make sense in terms of ..I think, poetry, or art, has to make sense of reference back to the space where we live and the things that we’re doing -nature.

And then he’s interested in revising. So he’s got a very interesting image for the justification for revising in the next line)  – “His art doth give the fashion; and, that he/ Who casts to write a living line..” – (“living line” is nice, “living line”, something thay has a spark in it”) -“…he/ Who casts to write a living line must sweat,/ (Such as thine are)” – (I guess, Shakespeare’s lines are) – “and strike the second heat/ Upon the Muses’ anvil” – (in other words, “and strike the second heat/ Upon the Muses’ anvil” -that is, so you take your line in the tongs and you turn it over in the heat and hit it again with the hammer of your mind, and make it more compressed, and better, you know, get out all the… get rid of all the particples and.. or, you know, add in another word, or throw in another thunderbolt in the middle of the line, a little diamond or thunderbolt, or…cow!, in the middle of the line, just to … But his image is, actually,, very much like (William) Blake‘s image of the poetic creator, the maker (poesis is maker), the maker, at the anvil (“What the anvil? what dread grasp/ Dare its deadly terrors clasp!“) . But his image for revising the poem is pretty funny, putting on that.. on the livid, burning line, (I guess the hot line, the hot line, a hot poker, go bang) – “For a good poet’s made, as well as born” – (“made, as well as born”, meaning, “I’ll just study up and you figure things out”, and you count the syllables a little bit, once in a while, check out what’s going on in the words, instead of just sort of daydreamily repeating it, without noticing what’s going on in the pen (or in your mind).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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