Ben Jonson on Shakespeare and Francis Bacon: Essays Micro-blog #2

by Paul Mathers

ImageThere is a story about the original opening night of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Alexander Woollcott was among the theater critics who were there to write about the opening. He was spotted after the performance in the alley behind the theater weeping. A member of the production approached him in that state and said, “Mr. Woollcott, will you give this show an endorsement?”

To which he replied, “Certainly not. It doesn’t need it. I’d as soon think of endorsing the Twenty-Third Psalm.”

These two essays reminded me of that story. Reading Ben Jonson write about these two author reminded me of if Norman Mailer had written an essay about Kurt Vonnegut or Booth Tarkington about Joseph Conrad. The essayist may have been highly read in his own day, but today people are far more inclined to read the object of their essay. I know I am.

In short, Ben Jonson had a lot of respect for the work of Francis Bacon. Jonson’s piece about Shakespeare was a bit like Emperor Joseph II telling Mozart that there were “too many notes.” He likes Shakespeare, but does think he goes on a bit. I’m sorry, Mr. Jonson, but shall we compare the call for productions of Bartholomew Fayre to the call for productions of Hamlet?

Am I glad I read it? Yes, it was interesting from a historical perspective. Would I recommend it? Well, as I’ve pointed out before, considering that this blog post is nearly as long as the pieces I’m writing about, sure. Go spend 11 minutes of your life reading what Ben Jonson thinks of Shakespeare and Bacon.

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