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Thou entertaining in thy brest
But such a Mind, mak'st God thy Guest. 15
The impression made by Jonson's non-dramatic poetry, as a whole, falls
far short of that produced by the half-dozen short lyrics which, alone,
have survived in men's memories. These have a unique and happy grace, a
sure touch of immortality. And the two songs, To Celia ("Drink to me
only with thine eyes") and "Goddess excellently bright," 22 have the
allurement of Elizabethan poetry at its best. On the other hand, the
great majority of his poems are lacking in melody, charm, or
distinction. They are the work of a forerunner of classicism, of one who
departs from Spenser, and looks forward to Dryden. The frequent choice
of occasional subjects, the restriction to definite forms, the
prevalence of satire-all tend toward pseudoclassicism. Moreover, as
Schelling has shown the character of the versification, the use of the
rimed couplet, the prosaic vocabulary, the avoidance of enjambement, the
fixed caesura, point the same way. That Jonson's verse was very
influential in advancing the change in poetic taste, can, however,
hardly be maintained. Doubtless, his preaching and precepts had
something to do with promoting a tendency toward classicism; but the
tribe of Ben-Carew, Cartwright, Suckling, Herrick and others-did not
profit largely from their master's practice. Herrick, who most imitated
him, greatly excelled him; and his general influence was not comparable
to Spenser's or to Donne's. 23

9. The Sad Shepherd.

His plays fall into well defined classes: masques, comedies and
tragedies, with the addition of the unfinished pastoral, The Sad
Shepherd. As the pastoral and the masque are treated elsewhere in this
work, 24 Jonson's contributions to these two dramatic types must be
very briefly noticed here. The Sad Shepherd, 25 probably, represents an
attempt of his last years to revise and complete for the stage (then
addicted to pastorals) a play written, in part, many years before.
Whenever his little excursion to Arcadia was first planned, it has since
succeeded in carrying many readers thither. It is another of those
delightful surprises in Jonson's work, not unlike the trouvaille of the
"Queen and huntress" hidden in the impenetrable jungle of Cynthia's
Revels. Among later comedies, The Sad Shepherd is like a breeze in a
drowsy lecture-room. Its Arcadia is called Sherwood and is inhabited by
Robin Hood and his merry men, but it has visitors from the fantastic
Arcadia of the pastorals, and others from fairyland; and it most
resembles the rural England of Jonson's observation. The plan of
bringing together Robin Goodfellow and Robin Hood, Maudlin the witch of
Paplewick and Aeglamour the sad, was ingenious. And Jonson managed to
write about little fishes without making them talk like whales. He
evidently had collected a formidable array of data in regard to fairies,
folklore, rustic terms and habits; but, as he wrote, sweet fancy, for
once, shared with realism in guiding his pen. No other of his plays can
be read from beginning to end with such genuine refreshment. 17
Less refreshing are the masques, 26 with which Jonson delighted both
the pleasure-loving court and the pedantic king. The libretti of these
splendid entertainments are rather flavourless, without the music,
dancing and spectacle. To the elaboration of these compositions,
however, Jonson devoted his ingenuity and learning, his dramatic and
lyrical gifts in prodigal effort. Moral allegory, classical myth,
English folklore, with realistic and satirical pictures of contemporary
life, were all summoned to provide novelty, grandeur, or amusement as
might be desired. For the masque, as for other forms, Jonson conceived
definite rules and restrictions; but he was bound, of course, to respond
to the desires of his royal patrons. Remembering the limitations and
conditions, we must allow that his work in these masques displays in
full all the remarkable talents which he exhibited elsewhere. The
anti-masques gave opportunity for comic scenes, in which persons similar
to those of his comedies find a place. The spectacular elements called
for the play of fantastical invention, such as Jonson denied to his
regular dramas. And the songs gave a free chance for lyrical verse. It
must be said, however, that neither in dramatic nor lyric effects is
there supreme excellence. No lyric in all the forty masques is
unforgettable, and few rise above a mediocre level of adequacy. But
Jonson virtually invented and perfected the court masque in its Jacobean
form. Its history is mainly the record of his contributions.

10. Early Plays.

We turn now to by far the most important division of Jonson's writings,
the comedies and tragedies which he wrote for the popular theatres. At
the beginning of Jonson's dramatic career, however, we are confronted by
a lack of data. What were the plays that, by 1598, had gained him praise
as one of the best writers of tragedy? None survives; but there are some
hints that his early work did not differentiate itself from that of his
fellow dramatists. From 1597 to 1602, he wrote at least one play a year
for Henslowe, none of which could have been a comedy of humors. These
include an unnamed play of which he made the plot; Hot Anger Soon Cold,
which he wrote with Porter and Chettle; Page of Plymouth, a domestic
tragedy on the story of a murder of 1581, in collaboration with Dekker;
a tragedy, Robert II King of Scots, with Dekker and Chettle; and another
tragedy, Richard Crookback. At the time when he was writing this last
play, he was also engaged on additions to The Spanish Tragedie. In spite
of definite external evidence, these have sometimes been denied to
Jonson because of their theme and style. 27 The style is not, indeed,
like that of his later plays; but we may fairly assume that it is not
unlike that which he was employing on domestic and historical tragedies.
28 Splendidly imaginative in phrasing and conception, rehabilitating
the old Hieronimo, giving his madness and irony new truth and new
impressiveness, the "additions" far surpass in imaginative power most of
the contemporary attempts at tragedy which they rivalled. But they imply
an unhesitating acceptance of the whole scheme of the old revenge play
at which Jonson was wont to scoff. Further evidence that his early work
was romantic rather than realistic may be found in the romantic elements
of The Case is Altered, and in the Italian scene and names with which
Every Man in His Humor was first decked. Of plays still earlier than
those named, we may surmise that, whether realistic or romantic, tragic
or comic, they conformed to the fashions of the time. Jonson was serving
his dramatic apprenticeship and writing the kind of plays demanded; but
he early showed that imaginative power which gave him high rank among
his fellows, at least in tragedy. 19
The presentation of Every Man in His Humor apparently marked a change
of plan on his part and his devotion to a new propaganda. By 1598, the
drama was long out of its swaddling clothes. Since the union of poetry
and the theatre on the advent of Marlowe, ten years earlier, the
importance of theatres in the life of London had been rapidly
increasing, and the drama had been gaining recognition as a form of
literature. Marlowe, Kyd, Peele, Greene, Lyly and others, as well as
Shakespeare, had played important parts in creating a drama at once
national, popular and poetical. On the whole, this dramatic development,
while breaking away from classical models and rules, had established no
theory or criticism of its own. It had resulted from the individual
innovations of poets and play-wrights, who strove to meet the demand of
the popular stage through the dramatisation of story. The main divisions
of tragedy and comedy were recognised, and a third, the chronicle
history, created; and there were various species corresponding to the
initiative of individuals, as a Marlowe type of tragedy or a Lyly type
of comedy; but there were no accepted laws for any species, and hardly
any restrictions or principles guiding the presentation of narratives on
the stage. 20
To those acquainted with classical drama, these tragedies, comedies
and histories offered much that was absurd and lawless. Frequent change
of place, long duration of time represented, absence of a unified plan
or coherent structure, mingling of farce and tragedy, of clowns and
kings, lack of definite aesthetic or ethical aims, seemed errors that
could find little palliation. The matter was as objectionable as the
form, for it was similarly unrestricted. As Sidney asserted, dramatists
did not always distinguish a dramatic fable from a narrative, and they
brought any matter whatsoever into their plays. They did not mirror
nature or imitate life, they merely told impossible stories. The
impulses that had found freest expression in the popular drama were,
indeed, romantic. Marlowe, Greene, Shakespeare and the rest had been
inspired to give the thrills and glory, the wonder and sentiment of
life. They had dealt with remote places, idealised persons, marvellous
adventures, conquests and vicissitudes; they had not attempted an
orderly analysis of history or a rationalised imitation of the life of
their own day. The drama was romantic, in the sense that it ran counter
to the theory and practice of the Greeks and Latins, and, also, in the
sense that it departed from a veracious representation of actuality.
Inevitably, criticism cried for classical form and a realistic
presentation of life. 21
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