Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (7a)

    “They were not of Nature’s Family”

     Section 7a (51 - 54): Not of Nature’s Family

The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated, and deserted lye
     As they were not of Natures family.

    This statement indicates that the broad range of ancient Greek and Roman dramatists (including all those who were merry, tart, neat, and witty) have been abandoned (and their plays no longer performed with the same regularity, or accepted with the same delight) because they are no longer aligned with Nature (with that which is true and natural
—and in accord with the heart).  These lines could suggest a "new dawn" of English literature, which began with Philip Sidney (and continued with his sister, the Author); this new literature was so good, and in line with Nature, that the once-admired plays of the ancients, now seem out-dated; and the sole reliance upon which has now been abandoned.  The mention of these Greek and Roman dramatists might also be some kind of coded reference to an epigram written by Thomas Freeman (in 1614), which is to Shakespeare, and which also mentions some of these same ancient writers.

Analysis of Lines 51-54  ———————————————————

The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated, and deserted lye
    As they were not of Natures family.

The plays of the merry Greeke [an ancient Greek playwright, known for his comedies, most likely Menander], tart [and cynical] Aristophanes [an ancient master ofGreek comedy] neat [precise, exacting] Terence [a Roman playwright], and witty [clever and amusing, and sometimes farcical] Plautus, now not please [no longer have the power to please—especially when the works of these ancient playwrights are compared to those of the Author]. [Just like these once-great, but now fallen, civilizations the work of these ancient masters is] but antiquated and lie deserted, [and no longer acted out or played on the stage—the reason being that] they were not of Nature’s family [they were not born of the same natural genius and immortal talent possessed by the Author].

     These four lines are somewhat orphaned; and their placement, meaning, and relationship to the rest of the eulogy is uncertain.  They seem to provide a tenuous link between the previous section and the later section—in that all three sections make some reference to Nature.  This section clearly links back to the section (in Jonson's eulogy) which refers to the Mere’s essay; in that section dozens of Greek and Latin playwrights are cited only to be overshadowed by Author.  The four ancients cited in this section head Mere’s list of “best Poets for Comedy”[or best comic playwrights] in Greek and Latin.  Thus, in accord with this reference, Jonson's line could have read: "The very best of the comedic Greek and Latin playwrights now not please (nor bring the same laughter as they once did), in light of the "new dawn" of English literature (as evidenced by the Author and her brother).

From the Meres Essay:
"The best Poets for Comedy among the Greeks are these: Menander, Aristophanes, Eupolis Atheniensis, . . . ; and among the Latins: Plautus, Terence, Næsuius, Sextus Turpilius . .

Ancient Playwrights

(c 190 bc  – 160 bc) was a Roman comic poet. Four of his plays, Andria, Adelphi, Eunuchus, and Heautontimorumenos, are adaptations of Menander; his other two plays, Hecyra and Phormio, are imitations of Greek plays by Menander’s imitator Apollodorus of Carystus. Before writing his plays he was already famed for the elegance and colloquial character of his Latin. Along with Plautus, he contributed plots, characters, and tone to the mainstream of Renaissance comedy in 16th-centtury.      (From, The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature)

A famous quote by Terence reads: Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto, or “I am human, nothing that is human is alien to me.”  This appeared in his play Heauton Timorumenos. Unlike Plautus, Terence was not the people’s poet, but the darling of the aristocracy. Among the Roman playwrights, he is perhaps the only one who aimed at perfection rather than at instant pleasure. His characterization is subtle, and his dialogue combines grace with economy. The taste of the impatient Roman populace, however, denied him widespread popularity. They preferred the coarse jokes of a playwright such as Plautus over the refined sentiment of Publius Terentius Afer (Terence).

Menander (342-291 B.C.)
was an Athenian comic playwright. He was the acknowledged master of the so-called New Comedy in Greece. Famed for his realistic portrayal of situations and characters, he greatly influenced later comic dramatists. New Comedy was the term for the comedy of manners popular in Greece after 320 B.C., in strong contrast to the Old Comedy, whose most famous practitioner was the Athenian Aristophanes (ca. 450-385 B.C.). Whereas the Old Comedy was characterized by broad burlesque, fantasy, coarseness, and biting political and social satire and the Middle Comedy (ca. 400-320 B.C.) by stock “characters” like the courtesan, the parasite, and the braggart soldier, the New Comedy portrayed ordinary people and their private domestic problems. The absurdity and fantasy of the Old and Middle Comedy were abandoned in favor of realistic situations and characters who speak and act as they would in real life. The chorus virtually disappears except as an interlude between the acts.
      (From, Encyclopedia of World Biography)

(ca. 254-ca. 184 B.C.) was a Roman writer. His theatrical genius, vitality, farcical humor, and control of the Latin language rank him as Rome’s greatest comic playwright. During the 3d century B.C., Roman writers began to imitate the forms and contents of Greek literature. Unlike the early poets, Plautus confined himself to one area: translation and adaptation of Greek New Comedy (ca. 336-ca. 250 B.C.).

   The total of Plautus’s plays is probably close to 50. Twenty plays are extant more or less in their entirety.  All the plays are based on Greek originals, especially those by the 3d-and 2d-century B.C. comic playwrights Menander, Diphilus, and Philemon. Dates for the production of only two plays are known: Stichus (200 B.C.) and the Pseudolus (191 B.C.).

    Roman comedy for the most part paid careful attention to delineation of character but within a framework of types in which subtlety, complexity, and individuality were severely restricted. The Plautine cast of characters often includes the traditional figures: the young man (adulescens ) hopelessly in love but lacking the courage and resourcefulness to achieve his desires; the aged parent (senex ) who must be deceived and won over; the slave (servus ) whose cunning and bustling create humor and intrigue; the young girl (virgo ) of acknowledged free birth or to be rescued from shame; the courtesan (meretrix) who may be mercenary or noble; the hungry but shrewd parasite (parasitus ); the despised slave dealer (leno ); and the soldier (miles ) whose boasting is equaled only by his stupidity.

    Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors (1592) reflects Plautus’s Menaechmi and Amphitruo; and Ben Jonson’s The Case is Altered (1597) blends Aulularia and Captivi. The esteem Plautus enjoyed among 16th-century dramatists is clear when Shakespeare has Polonius in Hamlet say, “Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light.”

(From, Encyclopedia of World Biography)

(c.448 BC-c.388 BC) was a Greek playwright, Athenian comic poet, and greatest of the ancient writers of comedy . His plays, the only full extant samples of the Greek Old Comedy, mix political, social, and literary satire. The direct attack on persons, the severity of invective, and the burlesque extravagances made the plays fitting for the festival of Dionysus.
     (From: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition)

Philip Sidney ?
    The last section involved the invocation and praise of Mary Sidney's "god-like" brother, Philip,
where, "Nature her self was proud of his designes, | And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines." The reference to "antiquated and deserted" Greek and Roman writers could signify that the "new age" of poetry and play writing had emerged with Philip Sidney, and that the old forms
were not in accord with "Nature's family," or what Nature had created (in the likeness of its own beauty) in the words of Philip Sidney, and have been abandoned.  In his Defense of Poesy, Philip Sidney mentioned several Greek and Roman writers, and their flaws—suggesting that some of their works was not in accord with Nature.

     "Now [in their use] of time they [the ancient writers] are much more liberal. For ordinary it is that two young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with child, delivered of a fair boy, he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child,—and all this in two hours' space; which how absurd it is in sense even sense may imagine, and art hath taught, and all ancient examples justified, and at this day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some bring in an example of Eunuchus in Terence, that containeth matter of two days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and so was it to be played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though Plautus have in one place done amiss, let us hit with him, and not miss with him."  (The Defense of Poesy).

Thomas Freeman

    Jonson's mention of Terence, Plautus, and a likely reference to Menander, (as “the merry Greek”) may be a link to an epigram by Thomas Freeman (published in 1614).  Freeman's epigram, one of the few early poems addressed to Shakespeare, mentions these same ancient playwrights. 

Thomas Freeman (1614)
From Runne and a Great Cast

To Master W. Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, that nimble Mercury, thy brain,

Lulls many hundred Argus-eyes asleep,

So fit for all thou fashionest thy vain.

At the horse-foot fountain thou has drunk full deep:

    [Everywhere the horse of the Muses, Pegaus, strikes its foot
    there a wellspring of inspiration flows

    and you have drunk your full of that stream.]
Virtue’s or vice’s theme to thee all one is.

Who loves chaste life, there’s Lucrece for a teacher;

Who list read lust, there’s Venus and Adonis,

True model of a most lascivious lecher.

Besides in plays thy wit winds like Meander,

Whence needy new-composers borrow more

Than Terence doth from Plautus and Menander.

But to praise thee aright I want thy store.

     Then let thine own works thine own worth upraise,
     And help t’ adorn thee with deserved baies. [praise, laurel wreaths]

John Davies of

Another notable reference to Terence (in the Shakesepare literature) is found in a cryptic epigram by John Davies of Hereford (1610), entitled, To our English Terence, Mr. Will: Shake-speare.  Virtually every anti-Stratfordian cites this epigram as evidence that William Shakespere of Stratford was a “play-stealer” like Terence. (This faulty interpretation relies upon the “hearsay” that the Roman playwright, Terence, stole the plays of others and putting his name on them.  Terence did not steal plays but skillfully adapted and enlivened them, much like Shakespeare did.)  Terence was well-favored during this time and he is mentioned in a positive light by both Meres and Jonson. Davies calling Mr. Will “our English Terence” was a high complement.

   The confusion, and inability to understand Davies’s epigram likely results from its mis-attribution to William Shakspere of Stratford.  In 1610 Shakspere of Stratford was not associated with the plays, nor considered by anyone to be the Author of the Shakespeare plays, and Davies, not knowing of Shakspere of Stratford or anything about him, did not address him as “our English Terence.”  Thus, the notion that Shakspere stole the plays and put his name on them (or a name which sounded similar to his own) is not supported by Davies’s poem.  The epigram is not addressed to Will Shakspere of Stratford.  Thus, the reason why no anti-Stratfordian has been able to properly interpret the poem is because—good, bad, or indifferent—it was not written about William Shakspere of Stratford, nor the Author, nor any of the Authorship Candidates.  The poem, written one year after Shake-speare’s Sonnets were published (in 1609)—was most likely addressed to William Herbert—“Mr. W. H.” of “Shake-speare’s Sonnets”—and not to the little known businessman-actor William Shakspere of Stratford.  (For additional interpretations of Davies’s epigram, and how it relates to William Herbert, see “Questions and Answers”)


Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (7b)
“For a good Poet is made”
Section 7b, (55-65): A Refutation of the claim made by Heminges and Condell

Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
    My gentle
Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
For though the Poets matter, Nature be,
    His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
    (such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the
Muses anvile : turne the same,
    (And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
    For a good
Poet’s made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou.

This section affords Jonson a rebuttal to the claim, made by Hemings and Condell, in their note “to the great Variety of Readers” (which was attributed to them but actually written by Jonson) that they received near perfect plays from ‘their friend’—whom most would assume was the Author, William Shakespere of Stratford.. In the note it states: [Our friend and fellow] Who, as he was a happy imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it.  His mind and hand went together: And what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that wee have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.  Jonson refutes this assertion—and with it the whole legitimacy of Condell and Heminigs (both as editors of the Folio and as true witnesses, who can be believed)
by stating that every good playwright must revise his work, and that the Author, being a developer of his Art, did just that.  (This is also Jonson's refutation of the so-called "genius argument," which holds that a person, without education and background, could simply write plays of the highest caliber"becasue he was a genius.")  The implication, made by Jonson, is that none of the “papers” received by Hemings and Condell (from their “friend and fellow”) represent the plays of the Author; thus, the plays that appear in the Folio (which were the results of many drafts and revisions) are different from the “blotless papers” received by Hemings and Condell.  (Thus, if Hemings and Condell received near perfect papers from “their friend” then the papers they received could only have been mere copies of the much-revised originals.)

In his book, Tiger's Heart in Woman's Hide, Fred Faulke writes this about "the genius argument":
     "A great unease set in over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as students of Shakespeare became more and more aware of this second gulf here opening [i.e., the gulf between Shakspere’s troubles in Stratford and his presence in the London theater scene—where there was no indication of any formal education].  The gathering storm was only averted by a quip that Ben Jonson had uttered in Shakespeare’s 1623 folio about the Stratford man. There Jonson [through the words of Heminges and Condell] had written: Who,as he was a happy imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it.His mind and hand went together: and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers. All innuendo aside, to those gaping at the hole here in the biography of Shakspere-as-Shakespeare, Jonson’s remarks appeared as a godsend. Though Jonson never said so much, the implication appeared to be that William Shakspere had not needed study, that all the words had simply appeared spontaneously in his brain from where they had flowed unerringly via his pen unto paper!  By the time of the second edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1777-84) it could be safely reported that Shakspere (-as-Shakespeare) was the only instance of a human being to whom learning was unnecessary; the favourite child of Nature, produced and educated entirely by herself; but so educated,that the pedant Art had nothing new to add."   (Faulkes, Tiger’s Heart in Woman’s Hide, p. 11)

Analysis of Lines 55-65 ———————————————————

Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art, 
    My gentle
Shakespeare, must enjoy a part

Yet I must not give Nature all [the credit, nor say that one’s work can be produced from pure, inborn talent alone, or that a dramatist can produce a work of brilliance, ex nihilio—out of nothing, without access to source materials and without the support of a literary culture]. Thy Art[thy skill, thy talent; that which is cultivated through your own study and effort] My gentle Shakespeare [my friend, who has written under the name of “Shakespeare,”and who is gentle in nature] must enjoy a part [must play a part in the development of the great work you have produce].

For though the Poets matter, Nature be,
    His Art doth give the fashion

For though the Poets matter, [Although the Poet’s talents and abilities matter, and are needed to create a great work] Nature be, [Nature still plays an important part—as part of a poet’s talent is inborn, and comes from nature—and cannot be learned or cultivated.]  [Even so, even though the poet relies on nature for some measure of inborn ability, ultimately] His Art doth give the fashion [it is only his Art, his effort and personal development of that Nature-given (or God-given) talent which brings his work to fruition and brings final form to his expression.  Thus, what Nature alone provides is not enough—it must be combined with individual cultivation, experience, etc.  And the development of one’s Art cannot occur in a vacuum; it comes about by being in a culture which supports and enables that development].   

                                    And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
    (such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the
Muses anvile : turne the same,
    (And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,

    For a good Poet’s made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou.

And, that he, who casts [who intends] to write a living line [a line with true power and effect, such as the lines of the Author] must sweat (such as thine are) [must put forth effort, as thou has done] and strike the second heat upon the Muses anvil [and engage in a process whereby the work is revised and perfected—either by subsequent written drafts, or where one takes to revising the plays after seeing it performed on stage].  Turn the same (and himself with it) that he thinks to frame. [And in this process of revision, where the writer perfects the lines of his play, he, in the process, is also transformed]. [If a playwright does not perfect his art (in subsequent drafts and revisions), if he relies solely upon his raw talents (and hands in a first draft only), then] or for the laurel [instead of creating a great play, and receiving honor for his work in the form of a laurel wreath—which is the way that poets are traditionally honored], he may gain a scorn, [he, instead, would likely gain scorn—and boos—for producing a work of poor and unworthy quality]. For a good Poet is made [through his own efforts and work], as well as born [as well as with the God-given talents and the culture he is born into] And such wert thou [and this was the case with you—you were born with the raw talent, given by nature (and you were born into a literary family and culture that supported your talent), and you cultivated your craft, and developed your gifts, through personal effort. Thus, you did not hand in your plays as finished products, without a ‘scarce a blot on them.’  Handing in plays without revision, which did not “strike the second heat upon the Muses anvil,” could not have produced plays of such quality, and deserving of such praise].

Scarce a blot in his papers

The line attributed to Hemings and Condell, “we have scarcely received from him a blot in his papers” is echoed in note written by Jonson (around 1630) which was found among his papers after his death.  The note was written after the printing of the First Folio and may have been part of a contemplated work, which Jonson hoped to write at some time—a work designed to debunk the growing myth that William Shakspere of Stratford was “Shakespeare,” the Author.

"I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn’d) 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; and to justify mine own candor, for I loved the man, and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any."

    Quite clearly, Jonson is saying that the ‘writing’ handed in by William Shakspere, the actor, was a result of one, unrevised—and very poor—draft.  Writing plays suitable for the public stage, the plays handed in were written quickly, for profit and with no regard to artistry or quality.  Such was the opposite of that which was produced by the Author, who made her plays great through careful revision and the cultivation of her art—and who was writing for a completely different audience.

In his note Jonson goes on to describe an overly-talkative and humorous Will Shakespeare.

"He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stopped [or stuffed]. “Sufflaminandus erat,” as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too. 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."

    Jonson’s note cannot be taken at face value—as a true description of Shakspere of Stratford—nor does it necessarily describe a particular event, and this is because a large portion of Jonson’s note is a paraphrase of something written by Seneca.  Again, this description of Shakespeare, not being an actual description written by Jonson, but pulled from another source, may have been part of a contemplated parody is was working on about Will Shakspere of Stratford.

Jonson's Poem to Edward Sackville

In an epistle written to Edward Sackville, Third Earl of Dorset (written sometime after 1624) Jonson expressed the sentiment he expressed in this section of his eulogy—that a poet must develop his art.

No! he must feel and know that will advance;

Men have been great, but never good by chance,
Or on the sudden. It were strange that he
Who was this morning such a one, should be

Sydney ere night? Or that did go to bed
Coryate* should rise the most sufficient head
Of Christendom? And neither of these know,

Were the rack offered them, how they came so;

‘Tis by degrees that men arrive at glad

Profit in aught; each day some little add,

In time ‘twill be a heap; this is not true

Alone in money, but in manners too.

    * Thomas Coryate was employed by Prince Henry , eldest son of James I,  as a “court jester” or fool.  He was best known, however, for the written account of his extensive travels throughout Europe.

    It is curious that Jonson, stating quite plainly in his eulogy (written in 1623) that “Shakespeare” was the greatest writer of his age, or any age would invoke the name of Sydney in his poem to Sackville and not “Shakespeare.”  A more fitting line might have been, “It were strange that he | Who was this morning such a one, should be | Shakespeare ere night?”  Was Jonson’s reference to “Sydney” a reference to Philip Sidney (as suggested) or “Shakespeare,” Mary Sidney?  It is Jonson’s continued omission which seems to speak louder than his glowing words—for after his luminous praise of the Author, “Shakespeare,” 1623, he forever falls silent with respect to Shakespeare, or invoking his name.  Thereafter he only invokes the name of “Sidney
” as representing the greatest writer of the age.

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