Selected Poems of Ben Jonson
Place and Patronage in Country House Poems: The Political Appeal of Retreat
“The private space, the dark cave or rural estate, the distance of isolation, these became the places of the poet, and, paradoxically, offered the readiest means for him to recreate a politically alert audience.” (Greg Walker)
The purpose of country house poetry is clear, in the context of directly seeking to flatter a patron, but the effect on a wider audience may be less certain. The classical appeal of the quiet countryside as an aesthetically superior retreat from civilisation is not as simple as its beauty, and the political implications of isolation as a positive attribute are unavoidable when gender is involved.
Æmilia Lanyer’s poem ‘The Description of Cookeham’, the first published country house poem in English, was dedicated to Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford, and was a part of her 1611 collection Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. There were ten other prefatory poems to different potential patrons, which may initially seem odd for a book published with a public audience in mind, but as Erin A. McCarthy proposes, the prefatory poems had a purpose beyond attempting to ‘solicit patronage’ or ‘authorize the book’s content’. She argues that Richard Bonian (Lanyan’s publisher) included them because ‘it recommended the book to upwardly mobile, educated female readers’, the ideal audience for Bonian to try and solicit due to the image of idle educated women of the time having money to spend on worthy entertainment. Lanyer’s class position may have prohibited her from successfully appealing to patronage, as Su Fang Ng suggests in her article ‘Aemilia Lanyer and the Politics of Praise’, but her poetry had a wider audience than those direct appeals, and the existence of the wider genre means that shared tropes can exhibit this type of poetry’s draw.
If the country-house poems were not then strictly personal lyrics in praise of stately houses, their focus on gentry and these personal spaces must have served a different purpose as a public poem. The bucolic landscapes that they praised therefore were probably attractive to most at the time, rather than just catalysts for direct compliments, and the idea that they captured – that of escape from the modern world – connected to an idea of moral virtue, as Lanyer suggests in the lines ‘where Virtue then did rest, And all delights did harbour in her breast’ (7-8). In Cooke-ham’s case, the refuge was practical as well as spiritual. As Misheline White summarises, ‘One of the striking things about this country-house poem is that Cooke-ham was not the ancient family seat of the Clifford family, but a temporary refuge loaned or rented to these women by the king while they persisted in their stubborn fight to be allowed, as women, to inherit land.’ This particular utopia is an actual temporary refuge from an ongoing legal struggle, allowing the freedoms for women that Lanyer portrays like ‘beauteous Dorset’s (Anne’s) former sports’ (119) and ‘Those pleasures past, which will not turne again’ (118, here emphasising the temporary nature of this idyll). This personal freedom for women, especially of Lanyer’s slightly different class, paradoxically makes the insular, perhaps regressive culture of country-house poetry praising the lord and land through classical references into a wider call for liberation to a public audience. The fact of their gender and circumstance makes this refuge’s Edenic description an implicit endorsement of women inheriting land, a rather more practical purpose than praising beauty.
R.V. Young claims that Ben Jonson was performing a similar kind of practicality in his country-house poem ‘To Penshurst’, saying that he was ‘making a virtue of necessity in praising the Sidneys for living at home on their rural estate when they could hardly afford to do otherwise’. Both poets have romanticised the necessity of specific circumstances, but in general poets striving to make an original but flattering point often performed some kind of pardiastole. Marvell, in ‘Upon Appleton House’, explains the ‘humility’ of the house’s architecture as a compliment to its lord:
‘So honour better lowness bears,
Than that unwonted greatness wears
Height with a certain grace does bend,
But low things clownishly ascend.’ (57-60)
The small door is described as purposefully low, so men can practice as if ‘To strain themselves through Heaven’s Gate’ (32), as well. A simile invoking heaven in this way emphasises the moral values behind the house’s design, and the rhyming couplets pair together images like bending with grace and ascending clownishly, so that the wisdom espoused is as neatly-phrased as a common aphorism, therefore gaining authority through style.
Country-house poets therefore consciously created an idyll out of real life imperfections, and through their admiration of a countryside refuge, they inspired the later literature of Herrick, Dryden, Pope, and even, much later, Waugh. The concept of a peaceful closeness to nature as a retreat from the city’s business, however, was hardly original, and Young argues that the humanists’ renewed interest in classical Greek and Latin literature as well as Jonson’s personal learning meant that Virgil’s Georgics and Horace’s pastoral writing influenced poems like these. The original meaning of ‘pastoral’, the life of a shepherd, had an appeal due to the harmonic relationship with nature it suggested, as a refuge from the man-made chaos of the city for courtiers. In ‘To Penshurst’, for example, the family seem to exist in temporal unity with their grounds, as in the image of a ‘painted partrich’ (29) lying in every field, which Jonson describes in the next line as entirely compliant with the family’s wishes: ‘And for thy messe is willing to be kill’d.’ (30) The freeing isolation that this provides them is detailed in lines 13-14:
‘The taller tree which of a nut was set,
At his great birth, where all the Muses met.’
As Young explains, oaks were not planted at a son’s birth unless there was great hope for the family’s longevity; the tradition being fulfilled here places the son’s fate parallel to the natural world from birth, and the mention of ‘the Muses’ strengthens the image of a rite from a classical society more immediately connected to nature than Jonson’s contemporaries. The rite could even be seen as in opposition to the christening tradition, adopting the more secular humanist movement’s tenants and isolating the family from the wider societally-mandated institution of the Church.
The ways in which these poets represent a pastoral idyll indicate their expected reader’s desires at the time, rather than specifically the potential patrons, but that expected reader was influenced by ideas of gender. Furey claims that ‘Description of Cooke-ham’ reflects a ‘religiously influenced utopian vision of desire’ specifically, which is different to those utopias typically written by men’ (like the possibly more secular Jonson) ‘which focus on political systems, as cultural issues of control and freedom are prioritised instead.’ Religion’s representation in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum is admittedly linked to female longing; in the opening poem she calls Christ ‘all that Ladies can desire’ (85) and wishes ‘those sweet desires’ (103) upon her reader, who, as previously stated, would be ideally an educated woman of high rank. Due to the real women’s circumstances, however, the utopia in ‘Description of Cooke-ham does still seem more politically-motivated in its idyllic isolation than religiously, especially if, as Michael Morgan Holmes suggests, the religious elements here disguise homoerotic implications between the women. The idea of Christ as ‘the locus of triangulated eroticism between women themselves’ makes sense with lines where Margaret Russell becomes the location for Lanyer’s image of Christ, such as 1325-28, where the other woman’s body itself is ‘holy’:
‘In your heart I leave
His perfect picture, where it still shall stand,
Deepely engraved in that holy shrine,
Environed with Love and Thoughts divine.’
Religious overtones do not nullify the political implications of an all-female refuge from the world in relation to the all-male lines of succession at the time, especially with the added controversy of possible homo-eroticism, as there conceivably is here.
Jenkins argues that Jonson focuses on the Lady of Penshurst (‘Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal’, 90) and that the presence of her female body plays a central role in the characterisation of the house and grounds, such as with the word ‘fruitful’: through this, supposedly, he advocates for a more egalitarian society in general, through myopic focus on a highly-vaulted utopia. The primary political value of the poem can probably be found, however, in lines like 54-55:
‘They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none that dwell about them wish them down;’
The focus on the fruits of the estate being raised ‘with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan’ connects to the larger transferred epithet of the entire poem’s conceit, as Jonson is really referring to the gentry living blameless lives. A kind of triadic structure is created by the negative statements here, reinforcing the idea that the family treats the lower classes who live around them fairly through contrast to the hypothetical other households. In Ben Jonson: Public Poet and Private Man, George Parfitt describes this poem as Jonson’s ‘vision of how the gentry should live, stressing their responsibility to the country and people around their houses,’ and that certainly seems to be the main political message.
Although the motivation behind many early country-house poetry in relation to the potential patrons may have been practical considerations and romanticism of necessities, the ideas of isolation and retreat connected with a wider audience, particularly because these humanist ideas of ‘utopia’ tend towards egalitarianism and freedom through a refuge in nature. In the context of women claiming property or showing homoerotic affection towards each other, or of good treatment of the lower classes living around the grand country houses being endorsed as a primary trait of a good lord, the freedom afforded by a ‘distance of isolation’ creates a political utopia like those created by Thomas More and Plato. The liberty and beauty of pastoral retreat, which gender or circumstance might inherently politicise, is the public appeal of this genre.
1. Aemilia Lanyer, ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’, Ben Jonson, ‘To Penshurst’, and Andrew Marvell, ‘Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax’ in: The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659, ed. David Norbrook and Henry Woudhuysen
2. Erin A. McCarthy, ‘Speculation and Multiple Dedications in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,’ Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 55.1 (2015)
3. Micheline White, Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550-1700: Volume 3: Anne Lock, Isabella Whitney and Aemilia Lanyer, Routledge, (15 May 2017)
4. R.V. Young, ‘ Ben Jonson and Learning’, in: The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson, ed. Richard Harp and Stanley Stewart, Cambridge University Press (2000)
5. Constance M. Furey, ‘The Real and Ideal in Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex
Judaeorum’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36 (2006): 561-84.
6. Michael Morgan Holmes, ‘The Love of Other Women’ in: Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, ed. Marshall Grossman, University Press of Kentucky, 13 Jan 2015
7. Hugh Jenkins, Feigned Commonwealths: the country-house poem and the fashioning
of the ideal community, Pittsburgh, Pa.: Duquesne University Press (1998)
The Presentation of the Beloved in the Poem ‘To Celia’
“To Celia” is a four-stanza poem written by Ben Jonson that has been said to be centered around his fellow poet Lady Mary Wroth, who had also been the subject of his other poems such as ‘To Penshurst’ and ‘Sonnet to the Noble Lady, the Lady Mary Wroth’. This poem is essentially a depiction of an exquisite woman that the speaker is romantically interested in. In the first half of the poem ‘To Celia’, the speaker describes how her smallest of actions would trigger the largest of reactions in his mental state. The speaker then continues the poem by chronicling the events in their relationship. This can be seen through the mention of his decision to send his beloved a rosy wreath, and eventually his beloved’s response towards this particular action. It is crystal clear that her every move is of utmost significance to him, and the reader gets a sense of the speaker’s transcendental love for his beloved. Therefore, the question before us is: how was the beloved presented in this poem?
First of all, ‘To Celia’, could be interpreted as the speaker addressing the poem to his beloved, and this is supported by the use of second-person pronouns, such as ‘thine’, ‘thou’, and ‘thee’ throughout the four stanzas. On the other hand, the phrase ‘To Celia’ also sounds like a toast to celebrate the existence of Celia, thus presenting Celia as a rather special human being. The title of the poem has not only provided a hint to the reader about drinking but has also begun the pedestalling of the beloved. In the first stanza of the poem, alcohol is used as a metaphor for the beloved’s intoxicating eye contact. This is suggestive of the fact that the speaker is addicted to the beloved, which explains why he would go so far as to ‘pledge’ to her. In other words, Celia is depicted as a woman who is lovely enough for the speaker to be committed and loyal to her at the drop of a hat, so long as she would merely glance at him. Her kiss is then described as a substance that exceeds wine in terms of its ability to cause infatuation. In this instance, the reader is again reminded of the beloved’s ethereal qualities, which perhaps is used by the speaker to justify his love for her. It is worth noting that the speaker’s desire for her to communicate any reciprocal feelings through actions instead of words creates an atmosphere of secrecy. The reader would now be curious about the identity of the beloved and the nature of their mysterious relationship.
In the second stanza, the analogy of his love and desire being related through wine and thirst is demonstrated through the rhyme scheme of the first two stanzas. The corresponding lines of each stanza rhyme with each other, for example the last word of the first line of the first stanza ‘eyes’, rhymes perfectly with the last word of the first line of the second stanza, ‘rise’. In the first line, thirst is used as a metaphor to express the speaker’s desires and urges as a physical need. This is done through the implied desperation by the usage of the word ‘thirst’ and it shows how the affection of the beloved is of utmost necessity for the speaker to live. The idea is further strengthened with the phrase ’from the soul doth rise’, as it gives the reader the impression that the speaker yearns for his beloved with every fibre of his being. In the following line, the speaker begins to draw a connection between Celia and the divine. Firstly, the speaker elevates the depiction of Celia by indicating that she is the ‘divine drink’ that his soul requires, and proceeds by further idealizing the beloved through hyperbolic comparisons. For example, the speaker confesses that the desirability of Jove’s nectar pales when juxtaposed against that of the divine drink of Celia’s love. Hence, it can be said that the speaker considers the divine drink to have powers even greater than that of Jove’s nectar, which is a substance that allegedly provides immortality. This mythical allusion helps cement the message that the speaker is trying to get across: that Celia’s love is so wonderful, it exceeds even the best of what the mystical realm can offer.
The poem then departs from the drinking analogy that has previously been presented. Now the focus of the poem is on a wreath, and the speaker uses this to again prove that his beloved is indeed heavenly. The depiction of the wreath as ‘rosy’ could suggest beauty and fragility, but the seemingly positive intention of sending the beloved a lovely wreath is diminished by the following line. ‘Not so much honouring thee’ would shock the reader as it is an unforeseen tonal shift from the devotee-like praise that came from the speaker in the first two stanzas. In fact, the phrase seems to insinuate a form of insult towards the beloved. The speaker then defends himself by clarifying that he considers Celia to have powers of immortality, thus his actions serve as an experiment to test the veracity of his belief. This provides evidence that the speaker thinks that his beloved is not mortal and therefore is not subject to the same mortality as the flowers in the wreath, which perfectly explains why the speaker attempts to prolong the existence of the wreath by sending it to her. The Petrarchan convention of immortality in romantic poetry, which is introduced in the previous stanza, is clearly sustained. Besides that, the enjambment in the third stanza in lines 10-12, mirror the speaker’s hope to immortalize the beauty of the wreath. The lack of a pause could also be linked to the continuation of the life of the wreath.
In the final stanza, the reader is informed on what becomes of the wreath. It is sent back by Celia, and thus can be seen as a direct rejection towards the speaker’s romantic intentions. This paints an image of the beloved as a coy and scornful woman, which fits in with the Petrarchan conventions commonly found in love poetry. Essentially, the main point of the stanza is that despite being sent back, the wreath is still alive as it still ‘breathes and smells’. Similarly, despite a rather obvious dismissal, the speaker’s affections have yet to be crushed. However, the speaker’s seemingly foolish behavior of clinging onto this potential relationship could be justified by the fact that since the rose smells of Celia, it could mean an implied acceptance. Moreover, the rose smelling of Celia is an apparent statement of power because it shows that the smell of Celia is so powerful that it overwhelms the smell of the rose, even though the rose has only been in Celia’s presence for a relatively short while. Therefore, the wreath is not only symbolic of the speaker’s hopes for the continued life of his relationship with Celia, but it is also symbolic of Celia’s quasi-divine abilities as well.
Overall, the poem presents the beloved as a woman who is above mere mortals. In the first stanza, Celia is presented as a woman so lovely that her kiss is capable of providing more intoxication than alcohol. The speaker then continues to elevate Celia’s image by comparing the desirability of Celia’s love and Jove’s nectar, and ultimately decides that he would trade off this drink of immortality in favor of Celia’s love. This again positively slants Celia and presents her as an extraordinary woman. Finally, through the revival of the wreath, the speaker makes it unquestionable that Celia is to be considered as absolutely divine. In conclusion, Celia is presented to the reader as an ethereal woman whose beauty and love is more powerful than what both earthly and supernatural worlds can offer.
A Biting Elegy: Ben Jonson on Shakespeare
A master of humor and satire, Ben Jonson was a playwright, poet, and actor; he was also known as one of Shakespeare’s theatrical contemporaries, if not Shakespeare’s prime literary rival. His poem “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare” was as an elegy to commemorate Shakespeare and his works. However, Jonson is not truly sincere in his admiration of Shakespeare. Jonson shrewdly undermines Shakespeare by hiding his criticism under the laudatory guise of the poem. Jonson subverts the expected, masterful image of Shakespeare by overtly praising him in a theatrical manner, discrediting his admirers, exposing his faults, and questioning his greatness relative to the great poets of the past.
While the poem is written as an elegy to Shakespeare and therefore is supposed to be extolling in nature, Jonson’s excessive use of praise hinders the reader from fully admiring Shakespeare. The title not only overstates the obvious intention of the poem (a devotion to Shakespeare), but also is also especially lengthy and superfluous that it hints insincerity. Jonson attempts to praise Shakespeare by giving him several adjectives as decorative titles. He opens with “My Beloved,” an intimate and loving term. However, instead of being consistent with this level of affection, he unexpectedly distances himself and calls Shakespeare “the Author” and then formally addresses him as “Mr. William Shakespeare,” with the full prefix, first name and last name, halting the reader from fully viewing Shakespeare affectionately and signaling the reader to question his relationship with Shakespeare. Such disconnect also makes it look as if Jonson cannot find any other good things to say about Shakespeare and is resorting to a fact. By using such formal term and resorting to the obvious (i.e., his profession and official name respectively) Jonson succeeds in pretending to praise, while not evoking any admirable feelings from the reader for Shakespeare. Immediately, the title of the poem sets the premise for the rest of the poem as it makes the reader be more skeptical look for Jonson’s criticism beneath his praise for Shakespeare.
Jonson continues to stage the obvious and over exaggerates his praise for Shakespeare that it verges on mockery, trivializing Shakespeare and his works. Jonson presents the poem like as with an over exaggeration of everything as if it’s staged. Thus, the praises should not be taken seriously, so transitively trivializing Shakespeare’s achievements. To illustrate, Jonson stops midway in the poem and announces, “I therefore will begin,”(17) referring to how he will begin eulogizing Shakespeare. The sudden change in narrative voice to first person, and the fact that the speaker is stating his intent instead of just diving into a praise creates an image of Jonson as a narrator on the stage, telling the audience that the show is about to start, the show being his applause for Shakespeare’s “great” achievements. In fact, in addition to the abrupt change in narrative voice, the period at the end of the phrase also creates a dramatic pause, stops the flow of the poem, making whatever comes after the phrase forced an unnatural. Jonson further dramatizes his praise of Shakespeare through his excessive use of exclamations marks. By using exclamation marks back to back with praises like “soul of the age!” followed by “the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!” (17/18), takes away the impact the exclamation mark usually makes. Suddenly, the praises carry less weight and is trivialized. Moreover, later in the poem Jonson tries to top his previous praise of saying Shakespeare is “soul of the age” when he exclaims how Shakespeare “was not of an age but for all time!” as if he is playing a game to see how more over the top he could be. Logically, these two phrases also contradicts each other, which makes both laudatory statements cancel each other out, leaving them as empty praises. Therefore, Jonson’s imagery of a stage as well as his over exaggerated compliments trivializes Shakespeare and his works.
In fact, Jonson not only demeans Shakespeare through his own hyperbolic praises, but also discredits other people’s praise for Shakespeare. Jonson understands that one of the reason Shakespeare’s popularity is because he’s celebrated for being celebrated (similar to the idea of being famous for being famous) – people admire him because a lot of other people praise him. Thus, Jonson attempts to take away this shield of praise as he explains how praise can be harmful and discredits Shakespeare’s admirers. Jonson presents the concept that praise is not always positive when he uses the “too much” to describe praise in the line “neither man nor muse can praise too much”(4). The phrase “too much” strikes as rather unconventional. In contrast to using “can praise enough” which evokes the idea of an empty space that still needs to be filled to be completed, Jonson uses “can praise too much” which presents an image of an overload of praise, as thought its gone past the point of completeness. Therefore, presenting how praises are now doing more harm than good. This slight change in wording, causes the reader to look at praises for Shakespeare differently, if not more critically.
Jonson elaborates on this idea of how praises can be more harmful than beneficial when he analyzes Shakespeare’s admirers. Jonson is introducing the fact that many of Shakespeare’s admirers are “blind [in] affection” and praise him out of “seeliest ignorance,” lacking the ability and knowledge to truly appreciate his works (9). Naturally, such an argument causes the reader to look to themselves and question whether they hold Shakespeare in high regard because of others? Consequently making the reader even more critical of their views on him. At the same time, putting down some of Shakespeares admirers further gains Jonson the reader trusts as he presents himself as the few who can really understand Shakespeare’s work. Jonson does not stop there as he compares the situation to when “some infamous bawd or whore/ Should praise a matron” (13-14). Suddenly, Jonson presents the case to be worse than it actually is as comparing someone who can’t appreciate work to a whore or bawd is rather extreme. Nonetheless, it proves effective in that it converts these praises from something positive to negative and subtracts from Shakespeare’s greatness.
Not only does Jonson cancel out many of Shakespeare’s ignorant and thus fake admirers, but he also decreases the praise of Shakespeare’s top admirers like Queen Elizabeth and King James I. Instead of addressing them formally with their respective titles of “Queen” and “King,” Jonson refers to them as “Eliza and our James” (74). Jonson reference to the Queen and King in such casual terms may on the surface show Shakespeare’s close relationship with them. However, by using informal language, Jonson also reduces the monarchs, something so high and unreachable, to familiars, which takes away from the awe inspiring fact that Shakespeare is under the patronage of the highest ranking person in the country. Thus, by discrediting Shakespeare’s blind admirers and familiarizing his high ranking admirers, Jonson is stripping Shakespeare from the praises that make him so great, consequently reducing Shakespeare to the shadow of his former, admirable self. Like how Jonson makes the monarchs seem more relatable, he also tries to pull Shakespeare from his pedestal by familiarizing Shakespeare and presenting him as an imperfect commoner who make mistakes as opposed to an unreachable literary genius. Jonson starts by exposing Shakespeare’s low educational background as he superficially commends Shakespeare for being able to make it this far when Shakespeare “hadst small Latin and less Greek” (31). Although it seems like Jonson is praising Shakespeare for becoming successful despite his educational background, the reader cannot fully admire Shakespeare. The reason for this incomplete admiration to is due to Jonson’s use of superlatives. Jonson could just said“hadst small Latin and Greek” withot the “less Greek” and it would still have relayed the same point across. However, by adding the extra superlative he creates a descending imagery, which conflicts with the idea of Shakespeare inclining in position, consequently halting the reader from truly admiring Shakespeare. In fact, Jonson is rather biased in his commentary, as Jonson is known for his grasp of the classics and is judging Shakespeare from his own high standard. Already Shakespeare’s educational background creates a hole in the prior image of a perfect Shakespeare.
Moreover, Jonson tears at an image of a genius Shakespeare when he reveals that Shakespeare can makes mistakes, like any other ordinary person. Jonson states how “who casts to write a living line, must sweat (such as thine are)” referring to how hard Shakespeare had to work to produce a prose so good that it is “living.” Such a statement is meant to compliment Shakespeare’s hard work ethic, but Jonson’s real motive is attribute Shakespeare’s success to his hard work and not his genius as a way of brining him down from the pedestal. Jonson also uses brackets as a means of demoting Shakespeare to an ordinary citizen when puts “(such as thine are)” in brackets. Although “Thine” could be referring to Shakespeare, it could also be referring to the reader. The brackets allow Jonson to break the fourth wall and address the readers as it creates a space for an aside, as it doesn’t cut the flow of the poem. By exposing Shakespeare’s educational backstory and showing that Shakespeare can make mistakes, Jonson is able to take away Shakespeare’s pedestal as he presents as ordinary. Jonson acknowledges Shakespeare’s abilities. However, he attempts to shrink Shakespeare’s greatness as he poses the question of how great Shakespeare relative to the great poets in history as he calls Shakespeare’s burial location into question. Jonson pretends to be indignant of how Shakespeare is buried in Stratford and not buried where “Chaucer, or Spencer, or bid Beaumont lie” (20) in Westminster Abbey. However, Jonson’s true motive for protesting is to shed light on this issue so that reader, naturally, would be inclined to ask why he wasn’t buried there in the first place? Did the authorities see something they didn’t? Or was Shakespeare good, but just not exemplary enough to be buried with other great poets?”
After creating this gap of doubt in the readers mind, Jonson shows Shakespeare’s inadequacy by challenging Shakespeare himself and filling in the gap of doubt with an image of Shakespeare trying to squeeze himself into the poet’s corner. Jonson starts off by mockingly challenging Shakespeare to find himself a space when he cries “Shakespeare rise!” By using the word “rise”, Jonson conjures an image of a dead Shakespeare “rising” from the dead, which is not only disrespectful to Shakespeare, but also paints Shakespeare in a very weak and disturbing state, an image that makes Shakespeare seem even farther away from the poetic martyr. Moreover, by using a one-syllable verb followed by an exclamation mark, Jonson treats Shakespeare as an inferior, someone he can command. Therefore, making Shakespeare seem even less deserving to be buried by the greats. Most importantly, Jonson ends with a relatively weak sentence “to make thee a room” (21). The phrase is weak because it lacks a subject and thus presenting an imagery of a limited space that Shakespeare has to force and squeeze himself into it as opposed to a more definitive phrase of “a room will be made” where the subject is present and in the beginning, creating an image of a room that must be present for him. By challenging Shakespeare on his burial space and building an undeserving image of him, Jonson succeeds in making Shakespeare’s accomplishment become relatively less great.
Throughout the poem, Jonson fervently praises Shakespeare and his works. However, there is always an underlying motive to undermine Shakespeare beneath all of them. Jonson criticizes Shakespeare through the superfluous title of the poem, his theatrical praises, attempts to discredit Shakespeare’s admirers, revealing his faults as well as questioning his burial location. In a way, by hiding his attacks behind his praises, the reader is led to actually listen and be swayed by Jonson and his attempts to subvert Shakespeare’s great legacy.