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ALBERT S. COOK, EDITOR
Edited with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary
HERBERT S. MALLORY, PH.D.
Instructor in English in Yale University
A Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Yale University
in Candidacy for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
A peculiarity, not to say a misfortune, of Poetaster is that it continually reminds us of greater plays, continually suggests, without attaining, the manner of consummate artists. It is patchwork, and the patches are not all purple. Its pedestrian, uncalled-for translations of Ovid and Virgil, its hints of Aristophanes, its travesty of Horace, make us question the vaunted classicism of Ben Jonson. The Augustan satirist lightly derides a fretting adversary, or passes him by with a glance of scorn; the Elizabethan roars at an offender, pursues him with jeer and blow, exults in an inglorious victory. Aristophanes, a seer and yet a conservative, goes singing into battle for ideals and principles that must be established if nations and literatures are not to be hollow at heart; Jonson, awaking in the radiant morning of Elizabethan song, lingers in the shadow of Roman ruins, calling upon the spirits of a yesterday that no poet's magic can restore. Dedicated to the classical ideal, Jonson, we are told, stood unalterably, unquestioningly for its embodiment in the present, and censured the followers of other gods because he believed those gods were false. But have we reached the core of the matter? What Jonson most clearly lacks, as we hear him in prologue, induction, and intermean, or see him in acknowledged characterizations of himself, is temperance, repose, detachment. If he is convinced that his own ideals of art are immortal, his own laureateship secure, why all this nervous challenge, this bitterness toward those who bow to a lesser sovereignty? His self-sufficiency is too blatant, his satire too mean and mirthless. In short, Jonson looms there in the Elizabethan world like an inspired Goth wrapped in a Roman toga, and we have not accounted for him.