To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare

by Ben Jonson
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Last Updated on August 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

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Or blind affection, which doth ne’er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance

Jonson wants readers to know that he is not writing in “blind” adoration of Shakespeare. He has carefully considered his talents, his works, and his impact and is not praising Shakespeare merely because he is a popular writer. This helps establish the tone of the piece: it is a serious examination of Shakespeare’s merits and talents. Because Jonson is not thoughtlessly furthering Shakespeare’s merits, he prompts the reader to weigh his impact and talents more carefully as well.

Soul of the age!
The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!

Jonson uses a metaphor, identifying Shakespeare as the “Soul of the age.” Effectively, Shakespeare is in touch with the hearts of his audience and of the time period. He entertains by reflecting the values of the people during this time period. Jonson goes on to say that Shakespeare is the “applause . . . delight . . . [and] wonder” of the stage of Britain. He is their great source of pride, the celebration of their artistic achievements. This high sense of adoration furthers the tone of the elegy.

My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room:
Thou art a monument without a tomb,

Jonson calls forth some great and much-respected names in these lines. All British authors, Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, and Francis Beaumont have earned respect for their own works. However, Jonson asserts that he will not ask these other authors to make space for Shakespeare, because he is a “monument without a tomb.” Shakespeare transcends even the greatest British writers because his works continue to be read and performed, thus keeping him alive. It is also worth noting the historical significance of these lines. In Westminster Abbey, Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont are buried together in a space often referred to as “Poet’s Corner.” At the time when Jonson wrote this elegy, Shakespeare was not buried there.

He was not of an age, but for all time!

This famous line is often quoted by Shakespeare enthusiasts. Shakespeare wasn’t just a writer who achieved literary greatness in his own time; he reflects a beauty in literature that is appreciated for all time. He is truly timeless.

For a good poet’s made, as well as born.

Jonson spends part of the preceding lines explaining that Shakespeare is a natural talent; he was born with an innate ability to create beauty out of words. However, in this line, Jonson is likely referencing his own work; although he isn’t blessed with the raw talent of Shakespeare, he can achieve greatness through hard work and determination.