Last Updated on August 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 952
Ben Jonson (1572–1637) is the speaker of this poem, one of the commemorative elegiac verses in the preface to the First Folio, the first collection of William Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. Jonson was an English poet, essayist, and dramatist. He was named England’s first Poet Laureate in 1616. As a dramatist, he was a contemporary rival of William Shakespeare, who acted in one of Jonson’s plays, Every Man in His Humor, in its first performance in 1598. Among Jonson’s other plays, Sejanus (1603), a tragedy, and his comedies Volpone (1605), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) are the most well-known.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English poet, dramatist, and sometimes actor, is the subject of this elegy by Ben Jonson. His first two poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), were very well-received, as were his 154 sonnets, written between 1593 and 1601 and published in 1609. He is known to have written thirty-nine plays and collaborated on several others. The first collection of his plays, the First Folio, for which Ben Jonson wrote “To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare,” was published in 1623 and contained thirty-six of his plays.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400), English poet, is the author of The Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and Chaucer’s death in 1400), a collection of twenty-four stories written in Middle English. His major poems include The Book of the Duchess (1368), Troilus and Criseyde (mid-1380s), and The Legend of Good Women (1386, unfinished at his death), which is one of the first significant poems in English written in iambic pentameter (blank verse).
Edmund Spenser (1552–1599), English poet, is known as the author of a major epic, The Faerie Queene (1596), and a series of sonnets, Amoretti and Epithalamion (1595). Spenser was also active in politics and was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland by Queen Elizabeth I in 1580.
Francis Beaumont (1585–1616), English dramatist, wrote plays on his own, including The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), and between 1606 and 1613, he collaborated with John Fletcher (1579–1625) on more than fifty plays, including The Maid’s Tragedy (1609) and Philaster (about 1611).
John Lyly (1554–1606), English dramatist and poet, is the author of Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and His England (1580). His play Love’s Metamorphosis (before 1594) is considered to have influenced Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594–1595), and his Gallathea (1592) is cited as a major source for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595–1596).
Thomas Kyd (1558–1594), English dramatist, is most famous for his revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy (1592). Kyd’s characterization of Hieronimo, the protagonist in The Spanish Tragedy, is considered to have influenced Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600–1601). The only other play known to have been written by Kyd is Cornelia (1594).
Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), English poet and playwright, is the author of Doctor Faustus (1589–1593) and The Jew of Malta (1589). Marlowe is recognized for the quality of blank verse in his plays. An unfinished poem, Hero and Leander, was published after his early death, said to have been the result of a knife wound sustained in a fight over payment of a bill for food and drink.
Aeschylus (c. 525–455 BCE), Greek dramatist, is the first of the great dramatists of ancient Greece. He wrote about ninety plays, seven of which have survived, including Prometheus Bound, Seven Against Thebes, Agamemnon, and The Eumenides.
Euripides (c. 484–406 BC) is the youngest of the triumvirate of great Greek dramatists (along with Aeschylus and Sophocles). Euripides wrote about ninety plays, of which eighteen relatively complete plays survive. The characters in his plays were considerably more down-to-earth and true to life than the characters in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, who favored larger-than -life characters based on ancient Greek myths and legends.
Sophocles (c. 497–406 BCE), Greek dramatist, wrote over 120 plays, of which seven are extant—Ajax, Antigone, Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus Rex was considered by Aristotle to be the finest example of a Greek tragic play.
Marcus Pacuvius (c. 220–130 BCE) was a Roman poet, dramatist, and painter. As a painter, Pacuvius is famous for a painting in the Temple of Hercules mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia. His plays Antiope, Atalanta, Hermione, Iliona, Medus, Pentheus, and others are based primarily on myths and legends about the Trojan War.
Lucius Accius (c. 170–86 BCE), Italian poet and dramatist, wrote about forty plays, of which only about 700 lines survive. For the most part, his plays were translations of ancient Greek tragedies, primarily those of Euripides.
Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BCE) is known as the “Father of Comedy.” Eleven of his forty plays survive, including the Greek comic masterpieces Lysistrata, The Birds, The Clouds, and The Acharnians.
Publius Terentius Afer
Publius Terentius Afer (c. 195–159 BCE), Roman dramatist, was an enslaved man who was brought to Rome by Publius Terentius Lucanus and later freed. He based his plays on ancient Greek comic plays.
Titus Maccius Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BCE) was a Roman dramatist famous for his comic plays and farces that were based on ancient Greek plays but which contained contemporary Roman references.
Queen Elizabeth I (Eliza)
Eliza is the name used for Queen Elizabeth I, queen of England, a patron of Shakespeare and his acting company at the time, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which presented several of Shakespeare’s plays at Elizabeth I’s court.
King James I
James is a reference to King James I, the king of England at the time the First Folio was published (1623), which contained Ben Jonson’s elegiac poem to William Shakespeare, “To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare.” James I was also a patron of William Shakespeare and named Shakespeare’s acting company the King’s Men.