Page images

low; he brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill; but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit.' Fleay has suggested that in Troilus and Cressida we may have this 'purge' that Kemp says Shakespeare administered to Jonson; and Small (StageQuarrel 139-171, esp. 153) shows that this play must have been written about the last of 1601 or the first of 1602. I subjoin the description of Ajax, Troilus and Cressida 1. 2. 19-31, which is generally considered a satire upon Ben Jonson:

Alexander. This man, lady, hath robbed many beasts of their particular additions; he is as valiant as the lion, churlish as the bear, slow as the elephant: a man into whom nature hath so crowded humours that his valour is crushed into folly, his folly sauced with discretion: there is no man hath a virtue that he hath not a glimpse of, nor any man an attaint but he carries some stain of it: he is melancholy without cause, and merry against the hair: he hath the joints of everything, but every thing so out of joint that he is a gouty Briareus, many hands and no use, or purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight. It appears from this passage (and also from the allusion in Troilus and Cressida, Prologue 22-6) that even Shakespeare was temporarily involved in the so-called stage-quarrel that raged about Jonson in Poetaster times; from which fact it must follow that in the anything but halcyon hours during which Jonson was at work on Poetaster he was not sufficiently serene and generous to burn incense before Shakespeare's shrine. Finally, as regards Jonson's lines on the Droeshout portrait, and his unstinted praise of Shakespeare in the Underwoods (GC. 8. 317-321), none of this, it seems to me, can affect our present argument. The noble eulogy was written after Shakespeare's death, when the stage-quarrel lay a quarter-century behind, so that juster judgments and fairer words were inevitable from an intelligent and honest man.

We turn now to our third general question: whether Jonson was likely, in 1601, to have written a characterization of

George Chapman that would coincide with any or all of the eulogy of Virgil in Poetaster. I confess at the outset that much of what is said of Virgil might, with a little Procrustean surgery, be said of Chapman. He was a poet who labored over his verses, tried, rejected, reconstructed, and polished. He abounds in gnomic utterances. He was one of the most learned men of his time, and, like Jonson, he loved, imitated, and translated the classics. His creations and his translations are often ‘rammed with life,' and even in his own day immortal fame might have been prophesied for him. On the other hand, although Chapman exhibited abundant energy, ardent feeling, noble conceptions, yet a Virgilian clarity and grace he cannot be said to have approached. Conceit, paradox, circumlocution, and farfetched allusion press like jungle-growth upon the solid and sculptured thought; indeed, he regarded plain speech as barbaric. Learning, pedantry, too frequently made his verse. Is it possible that the praise bestowed in Poetaster upon the deft and radiant Virgil can have been intended for Chapman, shackled by the knowledge and the theories of the schools? Cf. particularly the speech of Horace (Poetaster 129-135):

His learning labours not the schoole-like glosse,
That most consists in ecchoing wordes, and termes,
And soonest wins a man an empty name;
Nor any long, or far-fetcht circumstance,
Wrapt in the curious generalities of artes:
But a direct and analyticke summe
Of all the worth and first effects of artes.

It is improbable that any student of Chapman will regard this as a characterization of that poet's genius and manner.

*Cf. Ovid's Banquet of Sense, 1595, Ded. : ‘But that Poesy should be as pervial as oratory, and plainness her special ornament, were the plain way to barbarism, and to make the ass run proud of his ears, to take away strength from lions, and give camels horns.'This passage is a sufficient commentary upon Chapman's thought and style.

Now in the Conversations with Drummond we have Jonson's authentic opinions of Chapman, and these will prove of importance in our investigation, provided we do not forget that they were uttered some eighteen years after the stormy period of Poetaster. "That next himself, only Fletcher and Chapman could make a Mask' (p. 4). "That Chapman and Fletcher were loved of him' (p. 4). "That the translations of Homer and Virgill in long Alexandrines were but prose' (p. 3). There is little reason to doubt that, as Laing remarks in a note, Jonson is here alluding to Chapman's Iliad and to Phaer and Twyne's Virgil. Chapman began his translation of Homer in 1598, using at first ten-syllable lines, which he afterward exchanged for fourteen-syllable. "Chapman hath translated Musaeus, in his verses, like his Homer' (p. 17). This refers to the finishing of Marlowe's Hero and Leander (quarto 1606), in pentameters. 'He was dilated by Sir James Murray to the King, for writting something against the Scots, in a play Eastward Hoe, and voluntarily imprissoned himself with Chapman and Marston, who had written it amongst them' (p. 20).

Now there is nothing even in the references to Chapman's translations absolutely inconsistent with a flattering allusion in Poetaster, 1601. At the same time, there is evident here a qualified admiration quite different from the plenitude of enthusiasm evoked by the name of Virgil.

Poetaster itself contains another piece of evidence which is of some consequence here. In 3. 4. 258-9, we find what looks like a parody on Chapman:


Pyr. Murder, murder.
Pyr. Who calls out murder? lady, was it you?


Near the end of his Blind Beggar of Alexandria, Chapman has the following lines :

Aspasia. Who's there? come forth, for here is murder done, Murder, murder of good prince Doricles.

Eur es. Who calls out murther?-lady, was it you?

With this compare Eastward Ho (by Jonson, Chapman, and Marston, 1605) 2. I. 118 9:

Quicksilver (the drunken apprentice). Who cries on murther? Lady, was it you? how does our master? pray thee cry Eastward-ho!

Even in Othello (ed. Furness, 5. 1. 61-2) we find: lago. Who's there?

Who's noyse is this that cries on murther? Upon the Othello passage we have Malone's reference to the speech from Eastward Ho already quoted, of which Malone says: “That line is a parody on a line in The Spanish Tragedy. See also Ham. V. ii. 351. Cf. the Spanish Tragedy act 2, end of sc. 4:

Bel-imperia. Murder, murder: helpe, Hieronimo, helpe.
Lorenzo. Come, stop her mouth; away with her.

It will be observed that the words of Quicksilver in Eastward Ho are not at all a close parallel to the speeches quoted from the Spanish Tragedy, while they do imitate word for word Chapman's Blind Beggar as here quoted. Yet Chapman was one of the three authors of Eastward Ho, and we cannot suppose him to have been ridiculing his own former work. On the other hand, at this time Jonson and Marston must have been on good terms with him, and we should scarcely expect either of them to slip in a sly stroke at Chapman. If it be suggested that in the Blind Beggar Chapman himself parodied Kyd, the answer is that even if Kyd were to be regarded as a fair mark, yet in the passage where the debatable words appear, and indeed throughout the play, Chapman was perfectly serious, just as Shakespeare was in Othello 5. 1. 61-2.

Clearly enough, in Poetaster 3. 4 Jonson parodies the old bombastic tragedy, and imitations of it in his own day. He has already cited the Spanish Tragedy: is he still ridiculing that, or is he ridiculing Chapman's Blind Beggar, when he makes Pyrgus cry, 'Who calls out murder? lady, was

it you?' It seems to me that the words are too exactly like Chapman's and too little like Kyd's, to leave any doubt in our minds that Chapman is here burlesqued. The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, be it said, was just the high-flown, unnatural, crude sort of tragedy that Jonson scorned; it was much weaker and scarcely less blatant than the Spanish Tragedy itself. My own opinion is that in Poetaster Jonson does have his fling at Chapman, and that Quicksilver's travesties in Eastward Ho were also Jonson's work.

It may seem that we have been making a long digression. But the conclusion reached with reference to this bit of ridicule in Poetaster has a bearing on the Chapman-Virgil problem. For if Jonson had been thinking of Chapman's Blind Beggar of Alexandria as a latter-day example of the earlier bombastic tragedy—and he can hardly have thought of it as anything else—and had unmistakably made sport of an easily recognized passage in it, he can hardly have turned in his fifth act to present his audience with Chapman as the 'incomparable Virgil of the Elizabethan era. true that throughout our discussion of the relations of Jonson and Virgil, we have had to deal in probabilities and inferences; but it seems to the present editor that even these make a strong case against the identification of Virgil with Chapman.

The net results of our three-fold inquiry may now be presented. 1) The preliminary argument proved that the eulogies in Poetaster 5. I were for the most part aptly descriptive of the historical Virgil, while none were inapplicable, and all might have been addressed to him in Jonson's day. This gave strong presumptive evidence against the identification of Virgil with any Elizabethan. 2) Notwithstanding his tribute in later years, Jonson can never have respected the learning or sympathized with the art of Shakespeare; moreover, it appears that immediately after the production of Poetaster relations between the two dramatists became strained. It is therefore all but certain

It is

« PreviousContinue »