William Shakespeare, Mr William Shakespeares comedies, histories and tragedies..., 1623 'First Folio' - Poem by Ben Jonson, p. A4 r.

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Date:1623

Description:Ben Jonson’s tribute to Shakespeare.

Several years after William Shakespeare's death in April 1616, his fellow actors at the Globe theatre brought the texts of his plays together for publication in the book now generally known as 'The First Folio'. The initial poem in praise of the author was written by his friend and fellow playwright Ben Jonson, and described Shakespeare as 'soul of the age the wonder of our stage'.

A modern spelling transcript of this page reads:

To the memory of my beloved,
The AUTHOR
MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE:
AND
what he hath left us.
To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book, and fame:
While I confess thy writings to be such,
As neither man, nor muse, can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men’s suffrage. But these ways
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise:
For silliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echo's right;
Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
Or crafty malice, might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin, where it seem'd to raise.
These are, as some infamous bawd, or whore,
Should praise a matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proof against them, and indeed
Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore will begin. Soul of the age!
The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a room:
Thou art a monument, without a tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses;
I mean with great, but disproportion'd muses:
For, if I thought my judgement were of years,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
And tell, how far thou didst our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kid, or Marlowe’s mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latin, and lesse Greek,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
For names; but call forth thund'ring Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread,
And shake a Stage: Or, when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison


Full title: William Shakespeare, Mr William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies published according to the True Originall Copies, London, printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, 1623.

The 'Ashburnham' copy owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.


Timeline

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1570s
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1590s
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1610s
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1630s
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Donor ref:SR/OS 37 1623 [1] (32/10624)

Source: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - Library

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