The Case for Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke

Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (9)

“Sweet Swan of Avon

Section 9 (71-80): Final Tribute to the Author, “Sweet Swan of Avon.”

               Mary Sidney

Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were                            
    To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of
    That so did take
Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the
    Advanc’d, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of
Poets, and with rage,
    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.


Analysis of Lines 71 – 80 ——————————————————

Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were                                            
    To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of
    That so did take Eliza, and our James !

Sweet Swan of Avon! [Sweet Mary Sidney, whose signature emblem is the swan, and whose primary residence, the famous Wilton House, was situated on the Avon River] what a sight it were to see thee in our waters yet appear [to see thee enter our lives, appear in the waters of the literary culture of the age] and make those flights [and present your plays] upon the banks of Thames, [where your plays were presented to the royal and literary audiences at Whitehall—and possibly Westminster Palace, Greenwich Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, and Baynard’s Castle—all of which are situated on the Thames] that so did take [that delighted, that did over take with joy] Eliza [Queen Elizabeth] and our [King] James!

    This passage suggests that the Author’s plays were performed before a royal audience at Whitehall and other “royal” locations along the Thames, which delighted Queen Elizabeth and King James.  However, Mary Sidney also knew Eliza and James personally and she may have delighted them with her presence (as well as with her plays).  In the fall of 1603, during the early part of King James’s reign, when the plague was severe in London, he moved his whole court to Mary’s residence at Wilton House. (During this close interaction between the royal court, and the literary figures who frequented Wilton House, the inspiration for a putting out a new translation of the Bible, called “the King James Version,” completed in 1610, may have been conceived.)  


an endearing term which tells us that Jonson had ‘sweet’ feelings toward the Author; this reiterates the title of the poem which is written to ‘my beloved.”

 Mary’s family name, Sidney, is similar in sound to the French cygne, meaning ‘swan’ and Mary’s famous brother, Philip, was known as the Swan (especially in France) because of the similarity between Cygne and Sidney.  The picture of Philip Sidney, used in the French edition of Arcadia, shows him topped with swans. Mary Sidney, who kept the name Sidney—at her brother’s request—also carried on with the swan as her symbol.  Mary adopted the image of a swan for her ‘logo,’ and numerous swans can be seen in a unique lace design which she donned for an engraving, made in 1618.  In addition, the swan is known to be silent all its life, except right before its death, when it sings a “swan song.”  Symbolically, Mary Sidney, as the Author of the Shakespeare plays, remained silent her whole life—and is now, upon her death, singing her song (yet few have the ears to hear it).

    "When Mary’s brother, Philip, was presented at the French court in August 1572, he impressed his hosts with the native quality of his French. King Charles IX made Sidney a baron of the French realm and gave him the arms of ‘the Swan’, because the French equivalent, cygnet (pronounced seen-yay), was the closest the heralds could come to the Englishman’s Frenchified name, de Sideney (pronounced de-see-de-nay).  (Faulkes, Tiger’s Heart in Woman’s Hide, p. 131)

The Wiltshire Avon River ran through Mary Sidney’s estate, Wilton Manor, which, at the time, encompassed 14,000 acres; Mary Sidney also had a seat at Ivychurch (a few miles southeast of Wilton) which was on the Avon River; and Mary Sidney is buried in Salisbury Cathedral, which sits on the Avon River. 

Sweet Swan of

    Jonson’s reference to the Author as the “Sweet Swan of Avon,” is perhaps the most significant—and most ‘misplaced’—line in the entire eulogy.  Many supporters of William Shakspere of Stratford hold vigorously to this line, claiming that it is a reference to their candidate, whose was from Stratford-on-Avon.  However, the term is completely incongruous with what is known about Shakspere of Stratford and what Jonson’s has written about the man.  Contrary to this, everything about this reference can be applied to Mary Sidney, and what Jonson has elsewhere written about her.

    Michael Drayton, a well known poet, wrote a series of nine poems called “Shepherd’s Garland” (1592) where three woman—Queen Elizabeth, Mary Sidney, and an unknown woman—were honored.  Dayton’s famous poem refers to Mary Sidney as “Thames’ fairest Swan”:

    The lofty subject of a heavenly tale,
   Thames’ fairest Swan, our summer’s Nightingale.

      "There are six Avons in England and though it is possible that Jonson used the expression, Sweet Swan of Avon” ambiguously just because it could be taken to refer to the Stratford Avon, nevertheless it is the Wiltshire Avon which would be most naturally in his mind when he spoke of the River Avon.  The Wiltshire Avon, though not large, is a main rive, while the Stratford Avon is a tributary of the Severn.  For many years Jonson was employed by the Earl of Pembroke in repairing or decorating Wilton House near the Avon, three miles from Salisbury.  It was to Wilton House that the Company to which Shakspere belonged was summoned in August 1603 and is was there that on occasion other plays of Shakespeare seem to have been performed.  James I saw As You Like It performed there in October 1603, and stayed with the Court at Wilton for a couple of months when the plague was bad in London. Daniel, who spent much of his life at Wilton and was a tutor to William [Herbert], later Earl of Pembroke, wrote: 

         Avon rich in fame though poore in waters
         Shall have my song, where Delia hath her seate.

    Daniel here without doubt referred to the Wiltshire Avon, and when he died there an unknown poet wrote and epitaph calling Daniel, “Sweetest Swan of Avon.”    To James and his courtiers the River Avon would unquestionably have meant the Wiltshire Avon.  Neither Elizabeth not James, as far as we know, ever visited Stratford.  Furthermore, the Earl of Pembroke [William Herbert], one of the “Incomparable Paire” to whom the Folio was dedicated, had his seat at Wilton House and for him [and his mother, Mary Sidney Herbert] the Avon would certainly mean the Wiltshire Avon.     If, therefore, there are other reasons for believing that Jonson was perpetuating a literary deception then the use of the expression, “Sweet Swan of Avon,” may well have been intended to serve a double purpose.  It could induce ordinary people, when taken in conjunction with Heminge’s and Condell’s testimony and the minor poems, to think he was referring to Shakspere of Stratford, while at the same time enabling him to give praise, with a clearer conscience, to some other poet, whom he knew to be Shakespeare."    (Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p. 135-36)

Lady Pembroke was a great patroness of learned men, and surrounded herself with the best writers, poets, and dramatists of the day.  Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton, Thomas Howell, and Samuel Daniel     were constant visitors at Wilton. . . . Wilton stands at the crux of the Wiltshire Avon and its tributary the Nadder.  Did Ben Jonson, the humourist, call the Countess (his patroness for many years) his ‘beloved the author’ and ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’?  And note the swans on the lace collar the Countess wears; a motif not known or used in any other contemporary lace. 
(Amphlett, Who Was Shakespeare?, p. 199-200)

For the Delight of Eliza and James

    It was impossible for noblemen such as Oxford or Stanley [or anyone in the Sidney or Herbert clan] to put plays upon the professional stage in their own names. [Less likely would be the case where they would write plays suitable to the sentiments of the common theater-goer].  The plays were primarily written either for the Court, as Titherley suggested, of for the edification of a circle of aristocratic and cultured friends—to be read and criticized in the group.  They were most certainly not written for “Gain not Glory” as Pope vilely suggested, nor was their subtle philosophy addressed primarily to the public stage.
     (Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p.45)

    Scene by scene, line for line, stroke upon stroke and touch after touch, he [the Author] went over all the old laboured ground again; and not to ensure success in his own day, and fill his pockets with contemporary pence, but merely and wholly with a purpose to make it worthy of himself [and his intended audience] . . . Not one single alteration in the whole play can possible have been made with a view to stage effect or to present popularity and profit.   (Swinburne)

    Jonson makes special note that the flights made by the Author “upon the banks of the Thames” so did take (with delight) Elizabeth and James, thus suggesting that the plays written for the delight of Queen Elizabeth, and later King James, (whose primary residence, Whitehall, was on the Thames).   Jonson does not mention that the plays delighted the hordes of commoners who stood watching them (in some simplified version) at the Globe Theatre, which was also located on the banks of the Thames—though Jonson’s reference would not exclude that crowd (since they also enjoyed the Author’s plays, after they were simplified and made suitable for the public playhouse). The “delight” had by the common theater-goer would have only been possible after 1599, when the Globe was constructed and after some 12 Shakespeare plays had already been written and performed elsewhere.  Bear in mind, however, that Shakespeare’s plays were not particularly popular in “his” day, most of them (even after adaptation) remained somewhat obscure and ‘too high-minded’ for the mass appeal.  Most of the Author’s earlier plays were complex and convoluted history plays, which may have taxed the common audience.  (If gender was an issue. it may be that history plays were a “more suitable” form of entertainment, to be written by a woman.  Likewise, during end of the 16th century, translation was more acceptable literary form than original writing, and that is one reason why Mary Sidney excelled in translation.)  

    In addition to Whitehall, the Pembroke’s London residence, Baynard’s Castle, was also located on the Thames. These are the two most likely sites where the Author’s work “took flights upon the banks of Thames.”  (With respect to the “deformed” plays—which were performed at the Globe, after having been adapted for the common stage—Jonson  may have more aptly described them as “limping along the bankside” and less so as having “taken flight upon the Thames.”

For whom were the plays written?
In terms of the authorship of the plays (and with respect to their exceptional quality) we might ask:  For whom were the plays written?  Who was the target audience? What was the Author’s intention?   Were the plays written for gain and profit rather than for glory and the pure expression of the art?  Were the plays written for the public stage (catering to the sentiments and education level that would delight the common theater-goer) or were they written for a royal and informed audience (including the Queen or King) for the purpose of royal entertainment and delight?   An analysis of the language and internal references found in every play (and the level of assumed knowledge of its target audience—which would allow the play to be most fully enjoyed) suggests that the plays were written and performed for an aristocratic or highly literary audience.  That is the milieu of most of the plays.  There is nothing which suggest the plays were written by an actor, about royal personages, for the profit, and for the entertainment of the common theater-goer.

     The plays, as written, were “above” the “knowledge and appreciation” level of the common theater-goer and would not have been presented, as such, by a playhouse intending to entertain its audience and make a profit.  If the plays were to be shown at the public houses they would have been ‘obtained’ and adapted—i.e., shortened and simplified—so as to fit the “entertainment level” of the common theater-goer.  Thus, the play as performed on the public stage would have looked much different from the play as originally conceived (and performed for a private audience).

    In the Dedication of the First Folio (to the William and Philip Herbert) the ‘editors’ (Hemings and Condell) suggest that many of the plays included in the Folio were enjoyed by the Herbert Brothers—which implies that they saw the plays privately performed (rather than at the public playhouse):

             “There is a great difference, whether any Booke chose his Patrons, or find them: This hath done both.  For, so much were your L.L. [Lordships] likings of the several [many] parts [plays], when they were acted as before they were published, the Volume asked to be yours.”

   It seems that William Herbert was a great fan of the theater and of Richard Burbage in particular (who died in 1619).  Two months after Burbage’s death, during the performance of an after-dinner play (Pericles), which was being performed for the Duke of Lennox, William Herbert wrote:     & even now the company are at a play, which I being tender-hearted could not endure to see so soon after the loss of my old acquaintance Burbadg. 

    Apart from providing entertainment and a sense of drama for a royal audience, many of the plays were designed to provide a documented and accurate account of the customs and lifestyles of other cultures.  Thus, besides providing dramatic entertainment the plays were also informational, becoming platforms whereby the audience could be introduced to the foreign cultures and courts, military exploits, seamanship, etc.  Many of the dramas were intended to entertain by showing a ‘slice of life.’  Evans, who puts forth the theory that the plays were the product of a writer’s group or “magic circle”, writes:
It seems to have been the intention of Shakespeare and his circle to incorporate in the plays as much collective knowledge as they possessed—that is to say almost all the knowledge which existed in England in that day.  They were not so much interested in plots, but rather in Plato and Aristotle, in philosophy, philology, science, falconry, horsemanship, dueling, alchemy, magic, law, mythology, and above all the reactions of human nature in the most tragic and trying circumstances.  It would be noted that there were two extremely accomplished women in the “magic circle”:  Lady Pembroke [Mary Sidney] and Lady Rutland [Elizabeth Sidney]—respectively the sister and daughter of Sir Philip Sidney.  (Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p. 53)
The Popularity of Shakespeare’s Plays

    "In his preface to “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets,” Bernard Shaw informs us that Shakespeare’s plays were not always so successful as people imagine and that some of them would have been failures but for the fact that they contained leading parts which suited Burbage, who as the Elizabethan equivalent of a modern matinee idol.  Some of Shaw’s readers may have been profoundly shocked by this.  Nevertheless, the matter demands investigation because it has an important bearing on the question of Shakespeare’s identity."   (Sykes, Alias William Shakespeare, p. 28)

    From a review of the records, it appears that the plays of Shakespeare were not very popular (nor profitable) during the time of “Shakespeare.”  This may be because the plays were not written for the likes and sentiments of the paying audience (and were generally “above” the level of the average viewer).  And though this “problem” was somewhat corrected by major editing of the original script, the adaptations were poorly conceived and the plays was left somewhat “maimed.”  As mentioned by Sykes, the plays were most likely appreciated because they provided venues for “starring roles” rather than because of their inherent entertainment value  Thus, if Shakespeare, the theater-owner (and genius), was writing plays for profitable performance, he was not doing a very good job.  The early Shakespeare plays were poor sellers; and the history play—which makes up most of his early work—required painstaking research and the reconstruction of elaborate relationship among the characters.  This was hardly the kind of play a novice playwright, writing for profit, would construct.  This certainly does not jive with the proven business savvy of Shakspere of Stratford.

    So, who were the plays written for?  If Shakspere of Stratford was a theater-owner, and writing for profit why were so many of the plays written but never performed, or performed only for a royal audience, or involving complex, and difficult to construct, history plays?  Why was there often such a long lag-time between the time the play was written and when it was publicly performance?  (Someone writing for profit would have had the plays produced immediately, right after they had been written, and before they could be stolen by some other playhouse).  And why would a theater-owner, writing for profit, write an elaborate play for a royal audience, without pay, which then had to be adapted and revised to suit a public audience? Is there any record of a Shakespeare play (not just a play with the same name) being performed first at a public playhouse and later for a private, aristocratic audience?  Were all the plays first played privately and then adapted for the public stage?  If so, what does this tell us?  Why never the reverse order? 

"There are ten English history plays that cover periods of time from 1199 (the opening of King John) to 1533 (the end of Henry VIII).  One might think history plays were a popular genre and that’s why this author wrote so many.  But they weren’t.  There is only one known English history play written before the Shakespearean set, an anonymous one (attributed to Richard Tarleton) called Famous Victories of Henry V.  David Bevington says Shakespeare “was an important innovator in the new genre of the history play” and that “the English history play as a recognizable form came into being with Henry VI.”  Why would an unknown upstart writer begin a body of work with an unproven form of drama?  [Why start with plays that were difficult to write, unpopular, and unlikely to bring any profit to the author or the playhouse that might produce it]?  Especially [why begin with] a form that entails such zealous [and time-consuming] historical research?"     (Williams, Sweet Swan of Avon, p., 133)

    Of the 37 plays found in the First Folio:
6 - private performances only 1 – no record of performance 10 – no record of production 20 – record of having been publicly performed (with records of most plays having first been privately performed)

Hamlet’s Commentary on Actors

 In Hamlet, Prince Hamlet engages a troop of actors to perform before the court. Hamlet’s direction of the actors—and his abhorrence at the commonly accepted acting style—suggests that high-minded plays were not only “deformed” through editing and simplification (as already discussed) but that the actual performance of the already-corrupted plays were further ruined by the over-acting style which actors routinely employed when performing for a public audience. (This same style was not employed when the play was performed before a royal or literary audience).  These passages give us an insight into the Author’s view toward the acting style used in the public theaters as well as the kind of plays performed there.  Hamlet says:

Q1: 1479

  I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted, or if it was, not above once, for the play I remember pleased not the million [the masses], t’was caviar to the general, [i.e., it was a true delicacy to those of discerning taste, however, to the general theater-goer (whose taste is blunt and unrefined) it was not good-tasting] but it was as I received it & others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine, an excellent play, well-digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning.  I remember one said there were no sallets in [spiciness added to] the lines, to make the matter savory nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation [and falsehood] but called it an honest method:

Q1: 1538  [After the play is performed]

Pol. This is too long.  Ham. It shall to the barbers with your beard; [i.e., the play is not too long, it needs no editing down—if anything needs trimming it is your beard] pray thee say on [please go on], he’s for a Jig [song-and-dance], or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. [Hamlet is portraying Polonius as a common theater-goer—one to whom the original play would be too long; or someone who needs to see a song-and-dance routine or hear of some bawdy story in order to be entertained and not to fall asleep.]

Q1: 1849
Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue, but if you mouth it as many of your Players do, I had as live the town crier spoke my lines, [I would rather have the town-crier, who yells out his line with no art, deliver the lines] nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently, that cut your hand through the air [i.e., do nor make these grand, unnatural gestures with your hand] for in the very torrent tempest, and as I may say, the whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it smoothness, ô it offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow [and actor who wears a big wig] tear a passion [an impassioned speech] to totters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings [those standing on the ground, in the “pit”], who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows, and noise: I would have such a fellow whipped for ore-doing [over-doing] Termagant, it out-Herods Herod, pray you avoid it.  [Such acting is more sinful than sin.].

Q1: 1863

I warrant your honour. [I assure your honor, we will not act this way]. Hamlet. Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor, suit the action to the word,  the word to the action, with this special observance,  that you ore-steppe  not the modesty of nature: For any thing so ore-done, is from the purpose of playing, whose end both at the first, and now, was and is, to hold as ‘twere the Mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature; scorn her own Image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure: Now this over-done, or come tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, [i.e., is pleasing to the masses but does not move a person with taste and discrimination] the censure of which one, must in your allowance ore-weigh a whole Theater of  others. [And, that one person who can appreciate the art is worth more than whole theater-full of those who are lacking such taste.] O there be Players that I have seen play, and heard others praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely, that neither having the accent of Christians, nor the gate of Christian, Pagan, or Norman [Turk], have so strutted & bellowed, that I have thought some of Nature’s journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.  Take heed, avoid it.

Q1: 1884

I hope we have reformed that indifferently with us, Sir. Ham. O reform it altogether, and let those that play your clowns speak no more then is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh to, though in the mean time, some necessary question of the play be then to be considered, that’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it: go make you ready.

But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
    Advanc’d, and made a Constellation there !

But stay [a) But now you stay, permanently present, no longer flying  among us like a swan, b) Please stay, in my memory] I see thee in the Hemisphere [I see your image in the northern sky] Advanc’d,  [a) slowly moving across the sky, b) high up in the heavens] and made a Constellation there ! [in the form of the constellation, Cygnet the Swan].

Interpretation 2:

But stay [But now stay with us, in the form of your plays]; I see thee [I imagine thy fame (in the name of “Shakespeare” and thy works] in the Hemisphere [famous throughout the world—where your work is not only played before a royal audience in London but all across the globe] advance’d [a) promoted, exalted; b) in the future], and made [becoming] a Constellation there [in the form of your plays.  Your plays will shine everywhere, like a constellation of stars].

    Nearing the end of his eulogy, Jonson takes one last opportunity to say something personal about the Author and his relationship with the Author—about what he sees or wants to see (or imagine).

    In this verse Jonson is still referencing the image of a “swan,” which takes flight, but now the swan is permanently affixed in the heavens, and no longer flies along the Thames. This is a reference to Mary Sidney personally, her plays and her lasting influence still flies.  (This might also be a personal plea by Jonson, bidding the Author to remain in his memory where Jonson can always look to the night sky and be reminded of her). There she is ‘advancing’ (moving) across the sky, in the form of the constellation Cygnet, the Swan; there she is flying across the heavens, as she flew along the banks of the Thames when she was alive. 

Supernova of 1572

    Jonson’s lines, “I see thee in the Hemisphere | Advanc’d, and made a Constellation there ! | Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets” could be interpreted as a generic type of praise, however, the reference to “made” and “Star” is a precise fit with a most significant event which took place in November 1572—the birth of a new star in the constellation of the Swan [a star which had an absolute magnitude of -15.8, nearly twenty times as bright as a full moon].  This celestial event was clearly impressed upon the minds of most Elizabethans.  Thus, Jonson’s reference to the Author as being in the hemisphere of the heavens and made as a new star, is another key-in to the Swan image cited a few lines earlier. 

    “The appearance of the Milky Way supernova, in November 1572 was perhaps one of the two or three most important events in the history of astronomy. The “new star” helped to revise ancient models of the heavens and to inaugurate a tremendous revolution in astronomy that began  with the realized need to produce better astrometric star catalogues (and thus the need for  more precise astronomical observing instruments). The supernova of 1572 is often called “Tycho’s supernova,”, because of the extensive work that Tycho Brahe (1573, 1602, 1610) did in both observing the new star and in analyzing his own observations and those of many  other observers. But Tycho was not even close to being the first to observe the 1572 supernova, although he was apparently the most accurate observer of the object (though not by much over some of his European colleagues like Wolfgang Schuler, Thomas Digges, John Dee and Francesco Maurolico).”  (Tycho Brahe website)

     Thomas Digges was father to Leonard Digges (who wrote a prefatory poem for the First Folio); John Dee was a foremost astrologer for the Pembrokes and Queen Elizabeth.  Another foremost astrologer (for the Pembrokes and the Queen) was Thomas Allen [b. 1542].  Allen is well-known in connection with the Pembrokes because, somewhere around 1628, he was given William Herbert’s birth chart [who was born on the 8th of April, 1580] and predicted that Herbert would die somewhere around his 50th birthday.  True to this prediction, Herbert died two days after his 50th birthday.  The following account is given by the Oxford historian, A. á Wood:  “He died suddenly in his house called Baynard’s Castle, in London, on the 10th of April in 1630, according to the calculation of his nativity, made several years before by Mr. Thomas Allen of Gloucester Hall.”

     Mr. Allen was a very cheerful, facetious man, and every body loved his company, and every House on their Gaudy-days were wont to invite him. The great Dudley, Earle of Leicester, made use of him for casting of Nativities, for he was the best Astrologer of his time. Queen Elizabeth sent for him to have his advice about the new Star that appeared in the Swan or Cassiopeia (but I think the Swan) to which he gave his Judgment very learnedly.”   (from: Aubrey’s Brief Lives)

From the poem, The Ruines of Time

Found in Spenser’s book of sundry poems, Complaints (1591)

Edmund Spenser’s famous poem, The Ruins of Time (dedicated to Mary Sidney), depicts a woman (Mary Sidney) lamenting the death of her brother (Philip).  Spenser was a dear friend of Philip Sidney, and Sidney was both Spenser’s patron and mentor.  By using parallel construction and imagery (to that found in Spenser’s poem) Jonson covertly links this poem (about Mary Sidney) to Spenser’s poem (about Mary Sidney and her brother).  The most telling association is between six lines of Jonson’s eulogy (71 -76) and a stanza which appears toward the end of Spenser’s poem (549 – 602). Spenser opens his stanza by telling of a River and a Swan (representing Philip Sidney) and closes his stanza with a reference to becoming a heavenly sign (or constellation).  This is the same imagery and construction as used by Jonson—and which links the subject of Jonson’s eulogy to that of Spencer’s poem.  The next stanza in Spenser’s poem, though not specifically linked to Jonson’s eulogy, also opens with the image of a River and ends with a constellation.  (Note that in England, many rivers are called “Avon” as in Gaelic, avon means river.)

Upon that famous River’s further shore,

There stood a snowy Swan of heavenly hue,     590
And gentle kind, as ever Fowl afore;
A fairer one in all the goodly crew
Of white Strimonian brood might no man view:
There he most sweetly sung the prophecy
Of his own death in doleful Elegy.
At last, when all his mourning melody
He ended had, that both the shores resounded,
Feeling the fit that him forewarned to die,
With lofty flight above the earth he bounded,
And out of sight to highest heaven mounted:      600
Where now he is become an heavenly sign;
There now the joy is his, here sorrow mine
At length out of the River it was reared
And borne above the clouds to be divin’d,
Whilst all the way most heavenly noise was heard
Of the strings, stirred with the warbling wind,
That wrought both joy and sorrow in my mind:
So now in heaven a sign it doth appear,
The Hare well-known beside the Northern Bear.

* The Hare [Lepus] and the Great Bear [Ursus Major] were counted among Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations.  Lepus appears near the legs of Orion and, according to mythology, escaped from Orion by running between his legs.  Lepus and Ursus Major are not “beside” each other in the heavens; accordingly, the term “beside,” as used by Spenser, most likely means “in addition to” rather than “next to.”

Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
    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.

Shine forth, thou Star of Poets [thou brightest of Poets, thou brightest star in the constellation of poets (and writers); thou star in terms of giving light, inspiration, and support to poets and writers, through your patronage] and with rage [and with passion and brilliance]. Or influence [And with the power of your words and the greatness of your plays] chide, or cheer [inspire and uplift] the drooping Stage [the current status of our theater, which is of poor quality and is ‘drooping’—just like an actual stage which droops when it was old and worn out]. Which, [And our stage,] since thy flight from hence [since the time you have departed and stopped offering your plays] hath mourn’d like night [has mourned with darkness and despair] And despaires [the] day [because in that day none of your plays can be seen anymore] but [yet our mourning and despair is not all-consuming] for thy Volumes light [because your volume of plays, in the form of this Folio, will bring us continued light and cheerfulness. Even though you are no longer here among us, and we are saddened by that, the plays you have left us bring us light in this darkness].


From a dedicatory poem, to Mary Sidney, by Christopher Marlowe:      

. . . And although your illustrious
not only among us but also foreign nations,

is propagated too widely ever to be destroyed by

the rusty antiquity of time or augmented by the

praise of mortals (for how can anything be more

than infinite?), crowned with the verse of many as
Ariadne with a diadem of stars, refuse even so to

despise this pure priest of Phoebus [Sun-god] if he

bestow another star upon your crown; but accept
and watch over it with that purity of mind which

the father of men and of gods, Jupiter, has linked

with your noble family as its inheritance.

HOME           8 << Previous                                                                        Next >> Notes