Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (4)

My Shakespeare, rise

Section 4: (19-24) Citation and Refutation of William Basse’s Poem:

My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid  Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
    Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
                               [F2: Monument]
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
    And we have wits to read, and praise to give.

     This section references a poem by William Basse, written in 1622, which bid Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), and Francis Beaumont (1584-1616)—all of whom were buried in the Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey (where all the great poets and dramatists of England are buried)—to move over and make room for Shakespeare so that he could be buried alongside them.  (In other words,  Basse put forth the opinion that Shakespeare, the Author of so many great plays, had not been properly honored by a burial in Westminster Abbey).  Basse’s poem is premised upon the uncertain assumption that Shakespeare, the Author, had (recently) died.  Basse, however, makes no direct reference to any actual person, nor to William Shakspere of Stratford.  Basse, a writer in the know, did not know who “Shakespeare,” the Author was—only that he was dead—and he may have come to this conclusion since nothing had been written by, or attributed to, “Shakespeare” in over ten years.  Thus, Basse’s poem is not only a statement that “Shakespeare”—whoever he was—should be honored, but also a plea that anyone knowing the real “Shakespeare” step forward, and help make the arrangements to see this great playwright properly honored by a burial (and perhaps a monument) in Westminster Abbey.
Basse’s poem was not published until 1633 (and, at that time, mistakenly placed in a collection of poems by Dunne), yet it must have been in circulation before 1623 since Jonson referenced it.
In his refutation of Basse’s poem, Jonson is giving us a hint that “Shakespeare,” is not a real person—and not William Shakspere of Stratford; the inference is that “Shakespeare” is synonymous with “an immortal body of work,” which cannot die and which, accordingly, cannot be buried (in Westminster Abbey)—alongside other deceased persons, such Spenser, Chaucer, and Beaumont.

 “Shakespeare was the only Elizabethan poet of the time who did not write any eulogy of Elizabeth after her decease.”   (Sykes, Alias William Shakespeare?, p. 138)

    The most significant part of Basse’s poem is in whathe does not mention—he makes no mention of any memorial structure in Stratford (nor any mention that the present structure, erected to honor Shakespeare, was inadequate), nor does he make any mention that “Shakespeare” had been honored. (In addition, not one fellow poet or playwright wrote one word to honor the passing of William Shakspere of Stratford.  In his eulogy Ben Jonson refers to the Author as “my beloved”—accompanied by the most glowing honor and praise—yet he writes not one word upon the passing of Shakspere of Stratford.  On the flip side, Shakspere left nothing to Jonson in his will—and Shakspere died a relatively wealthy man).
Basse’s poem (which scholars date to the early part of 1622) must have been written after Basse made inquiries about the true identity of Shakespeare; it must have come after he concluded that Shakespeare, the Author, yet had never been honored by a monument or honored burial.  (Those who knew that “Shakespeare” was a penname, and that the real Author was Mary Sidney did not have any cause to complain; she was buried in her family vault in Salisbury Cathedral, on the banks of the Avon River,).  
    Basse’s poetic petitioning that Shakespeare be honored (by being buried in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey) would likely have produced some words about how he had not been honored, or honored imperfectly, and most likely Basse would have made some mention of the less than flattering memorial structure in Stratford (if he believed that William Shakspere of Stratford was the great playwright).Thus, by Basse’s total exclusion of any reference to Shakspere of Stratford, his poem suggests that (even after diligent research) he still did not know the identity of the Author; he only surmised that the Author had died and should be buried in Westminster Abbey.  Basse’s poem may be read as a petition—to those who knew the true identity of the Author—that they should reveal his identity and that they should honor him (with a Westminster Abbey burial), rather than let him slide into obscurity. 
    Basse, most likely, did not mention the Stratford memorial because a) he did not associate Shakespeare with Will Shakspere of Stratford (for the connection, trumped up by Jonson and Herbert, had not yet been made) or  b) he did not know about the monument—because there was no memorial in Stratford at the time Basse wrote his poem, in 1622). Basse only mentions that Shakespeare, the Author, was never properly honored.  He mentions this because there was no noted or identifiable grave of Shakespeare, the Author, when Basse wrote his poem in 1622. Basse states that the poet was not honored by any marble carving.  Had there been a memorial structure in Stratford—similarly placed to the one that is there now—and had it been considered at the time, that Shakspere of Stratford was “Shakespeare”—Basse would have surely mentioned it in his poem.  Yet, Basse makes no mention of it.
The dating of Basse’s poem—and the fact that Basse makes no mention of the memorial structure in Stratford (in 1622)—is important because, in the next year, 1623, a line in Leonard Digges’s poem mentions “thy Stratford Moniment”—which most people interpret as being a direct reference to an existing memorial structure, for William Shakspere, in Stratford.  The fact that Basse, in 1622, when talking about Shakespeare and memorial structures, makes no mention of Shakespeare’s memorial structure in Stratford, further supports the tenet that the present structure in Stratford did not exist in 1622 nor in 1623—but that it  was erected years later.  Most scholars assume that Digge’s poem, of 1623, referred to an existing monument in Stratford; the more likely scenario is that the Digges’s famous line (“thy Stratford Moniment”) was a reference to something entirely different, and that the building of the Stratford memorial structure came about as a result of Digge’s line rather than Digge’s line having been based on an extant memorial structure in Stratford. 

Basse’s poem:

RENOWNED Spencer lie a thought more nigh

To learned Beaumont, and rare Beaumont lie

A little nearer Chaucer, to make room

For Shakespeare in your threefold, fourfold tomb.

To lodge all four in one bed make a shift

Until Domesday, for hardly will a fifth

Betwixt this day and that by fate be slain,

For who the curtains shall be drawn again

But if Precedencie in death doe barre

A fourth place in your sacred Sepulcher,

In this uncarved marble of thy owne,
Sleepe, brave Tragedian, Shakespeare, sleepe alone ;
[Thy unmolested rest, unshared cave,]

[Possesse as lord, not tenant, to thy grave,]

That unto others it may be counted bee
Honour thereafter to be layed by thee.

Analysis of lines 19-24 ——————————————————

My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
    Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
    And we have wits to read, and praise to give.

My Shakespeare [“My Shakespeare,” the Shakespeare whom I know, whose true identity is known to me, as opposed to “Shakespeare” whom others know, which is only  the name associated with your plays] rise, [come to life; do not stay as if buried with those who have died—and who will one day be forgotten]; I will not lodge thee by [I will not place you, or call you to be placed, in a grave along with the other great poets of your age who lie buried at Westminster Abbey, such as] Chaucer, or Spencer[neither physically, in the grave, nor metaphorically, by comparison. Nor will I] bid Beaumont lie a little further [move over a bit, as Basse suggests, so as] to make thee a room [to make more room so that you could then be buried alongside him. There is no place for you in that graveyard (since you, in the name of “Shakespeare,” are bodiless and immortal, and cannot be buried, as such).] Thou [your true glory, what your work will mean to the world] art a Moniment without a tombe [an everlasting testament which cannot be buried nor entombed.  And you, the memory of you] art alive still, while thy Booke doth live and we have wits to read, and praise to give [so long as your words are still alive which we have sense enough to read—and so long as your plays entertain and delight us, and we have praise to give (in the form of applauding the performance of your plays).  In other words, so long as your plays are read and performed, you will be alive—which is forever]. 

Thou art a Moniment, without a tomb

Jonson’s line, Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe, directly connects to a line in the prefatory poem by Digges—both in terms of its expressed sentiment (that the poet will live forever) and in its use of the word, moniment.  This word is so rarely used that it can only have been included in both poems by design—and, most likely, by Jonson prompting Digges to use the word moniment so as to conform to his (Jonson’s) use of the same word in his eulogy.  (In the second edition of the Folio, Jonson’s specific term, moniment, is changed to the more recognizable word, monument—yet a word which carries a slightly different meaning than Jonson’s original word.  This was the only word changed in Jonson’s eulogy by subsequent editors.)  Digges’s poem (which, in its opening, is a disjointed in wording as Bottom’s speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) opens as follows:

Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellowes give

The world thy Workes: thy Workes, by which,
[you] out-live
Thy Tombe, thy name must
[live on forever, even] when that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy
Stratford Moniment.

This notion of someone’s written work or legacy outlasting a substantial and long-standing structure (such as a monument of fortress made out of stone) is a common way to indicate the enduring and immortal legacy of a writer.  Such an analogy would have no meaning if the Moniment indicated by Digges was a small, non-stone structure, subject to decay and crumbling, which is the case with the “Shakespeare” memorial structure in Stratford.  (In fact, the Shakespeare structure in Stratford had crumbled, and fell into disrepair; as part of the renovation, a new bust—with the playwright holding a pen and sporting a foreign mustache—replaced the old bust, where the playwrights hands are on a cushion or perhaps a sack of malt).  There is no evidence to indicate that Digge’s line referred to an existing memorial structure in Stratford.  Digge’s line is more suited to some formidable some stone structure, which might last for centuries.  The first evidence indicating the existence of the memorial structure in Stratford (an embodiment of which still stands today) came in 1634.
The date of construction of the Stratford memorial structure is a crucial piece of evidence.  By all indications the structure was erected after 1623, after the First Folio was published, after Jonson and Herbert engineered the idea that Shakspere of Stratford was the Author.  (Again, this case of misdirection—to a “red herring” Author—was done to preserve the anonymity of the true Author).  Thus, the Stratford structure, or wall plaque, was erected as a result of the First Folio; it became a place where Shakespeare fans could come to honor “him.” 
    A similar analogy (to the work of a poet outlasting a substantial structure) was made in reference to Mary Sidney by the Sir John Harington (1561-1612), who was her distant cousin, a fellow poet, and who later because a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth’s court (and was known as her “saucy Godson.”)  In his Treatise on Playe (1597) Harington encouraged Mary Sidney to publish her translations of the Psalms, which Harington, and other members of her literary ‘circle,’ had access to.  He writes: 

". . . those previous leaves (those hymns that she doth consecrate to heaven) shall outlast Wilton’s walls;  methinks it is a pity they are unpublished, but lie still enclosed within those walls like a prisoner, though many have made great suit for their liberty."

Barnfield Poem:

One of the first early references to “Shakespeare,” made in 1598, was in A Remembrance of Some English Poets (1598), most likely by Richard Barnfield.  In this reference, Barnfield invokes the same notion where a person may die, yet, what he hath left us—his Book—remains immortal.  

And Shakespeare thou, whose honey-flowing vein

(Pleasing the world) thy praises doth obtain:

Whose Venus and whose Lucrece, sweet and chaste,

Thy name in Fame’s immortal Book hath placed.
     Live ever you, at least in Fame live ever,
    Well may the body die, but Fame dies never.

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