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).