What literary ideals are implied in Ben Jonson's poem "To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ben Jonson's famous elegy of William Shakespeare implies a number of significant literary ideals, including the following:


  • The best praise of a writer should be well-informed and judicious. It should be praise offered by someone who knows what s/he is talking about. Such praise should come from someone who is himself respected, but it should not be blind, fawning flattery (1-16).
  • Great writers can enhance the reputations of their nations, and Shakespeare is one of the greatest of English writers (19-21, 29-30, 41-42).
  • Ideally great writers should know the classics, although a writer can be greateven if he does not read the classical languages. In any case, the classical authors provide a standard by which we can judge modern writers, who can sometimes surpass the ancients (31-40).
  • Great writers can become historical figures who will never be forgotten (43).
  • Great contemporary writers can be effectively praised by using language associated with the Greek and Roman classics (44-46, 51-53).
  • Nature can be the subject of great poetry, but great writing is also the result of great skill and art. Great works are works that are well designed and well-constructed (47-50).
  • Natural talent, and nature as the source of literary subjects, are both  important in creating great writing, but craftsmanship and art are also very significant:

. . . though the Poet's matter Nature be
His art doth give the fashion. (57-58; see also 68)

  • Anyone who hopes to produce writing that will really last must work hard at his/her writing (58-60).
  • Hard work at writing is a process that transforms the writer as well as the work (62).
  • A careless writer may earn scorn (63), “For a good Poet’s made as well as born” (64).
  • A great writer’s character and intelligence survive in what he writes (66-68).






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