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Apology closing Poetaster he introduces the lines which form Epigram cviii. There he declares :
“I swear by your true friend, my Muse, I love
Your great profession, which I once did prove
No more than I dare now do with my pen." In his conversations with Drummond he said that “ in his service in the Low Countries he had, in the face of both the campes, killed ane enemie, and taken opima spolia from him,”.
an action which may be explained by the custom of champions from both armies contending in the presence of the hosts, à la David and Goliath.
On his return from the wars, his stepfather had died, and he went at first to live with his mother; he had no better liking for bricklaying after being a soldier than before; he was too poor to enter a profession, and his only capital seems to have been his mind and its stores.
He chose the pursuit of literature as most congenial and expedient, and he wrote for the stage as he would a hundred years or more afterward have written for the booksellers. He married, too, after the manner of poor
littérateurs the world over, probably in 1592.*
* The date is doubtful, but is inferred from a registry in the church of St. Martins-in-the-Field : “1593, November 17, sepulta fuit Maria Johnson, peste," — and this, taken with Jonson's lines on the death of his first daughter Mary, Epigram xxii., would seem to imply that the marriage took place not later than the middle of 1592.
The stage was his means of livelihood, not only by affording him occupation as a writer, but by giving him a chance to show his histrionic power. There is no evidence that this was in any way noticeable, or that he rose at all above the position of a strolling player. He was made useful as writer and as actor, but his writing was largely the patching of other men's work, and his acting is referred to only to be sneered at. The theatre with which Jonson was connected was the Rose on the Bankside, conducted by Henslowe. Henslowe's diary has been preserved, and under date of the 28th of July, 1597, there is acknowledgment of the receipt of three shillings and ninepence as part of " Bengemenes Johnsone's share," indicating that Jonson was of Henslowe's company ; on the 3d of December following there is a memorandum of twenty shillings“ lent unto Bengemen Johnsone upon a book which he was to write for us before Christmas next after the date hereof, which he showed the plot unto the company.” He now began to produce plays on his own account, and to this time may be referred the first draft of Every Man in his Humor. The play gave occasion, if we may believe a tradition often repeated, to the beginning of a friendship between Jonson and Shakespeare. Jonson offered the play at Black Friars, where Shakespeare was one of the company, and it was about to be rejected when Shakespeare got sight of it, recognized
its merits, and secured its representation. Shakespeare himself took one of the parts, as did Burbage and other actors of the day. A play was so exclusively regarded as business for the theatre, that neither authorship nor the integrity of the play seem to have been much regarded; the book as offered was cut and slashed to suit the company, and the test of acting undoubtedly led to important changes in the text. We find Jonson himself anglicizing this play, substituting English for Italian names.
It was about this time that Jonson's life was affected by an incident which sprang, we may easily believe, out of his hot, irascible temper. The returned soldier quarrelled with one Gabriel Spencer, a member of Henslowe's company, and fought a duel with him in Hoxton Fields, in which he killed his adversary, and was cast irto prison. This was in September, 1598. His imprisonment brought him near the gallows, and his pearness to death perhaps brought him into the Romish Church, for he was visited by a priest of that communion, who found Jonson devoid of any special faith and ready to listen to the positive instruction given him. He returned to the Church of England twelve years later, in 1610.
Every Man in his Humor was followed by Every Man out of his Humor, and Jonson began to taste the pains and pleasures of popularity. To judge by the epigrams and satires and scurrilous verses which filled the air, the minor dramatists and poets of the great Elizabethan age were kept in an unfailing strife of jealousy and envy. Jonson's quarrel with Spencer seems to have been an exhibition of this heated condition, and his broils with Dekker, Marlowe, Marston, and other playwrights, if less fatal, were quite as noisy and vituperative. In justice, it should be said that these sharp-tongued dramatists could love heartily and praise gloriously, and perhaps the strong phrases either of hate or of love are to be interpreted as indicating a more passionate life than falls to this age that sits in judgment on them. The pleasures of popularity came to Jonson in his recognition by the great patrons of literature and the stage. Queen Elizabeth went to see Every Man out of his Humor, and the epilogue was altered to carry a eulogy upon her merits. It was first acted in 1599, and was followed the next year by Cynthia's Revels. In the two previous comedies Jonson had reflected the town talk and ways; in this he flew at higher game, and ridiculed the euphuism and affectation of court manners. Cynthiu's Revels was acted by the children of the Queen's Chapel, who were in effect a dramatic company under special royal patronage. It was amusing to everybody who was not satirized; but it brought down upon Jonson's head the rage of Marston and Dekker, who discovered themselves under the disguise of two of the characters, and they lost no opportunity of revenge upon the stage. The quarrel was now hot, and Jonson produced shortly after Poetaster, which was directly aimed at his dramatic enemies. It was so violent and indecent in its satire that its representation was forbidden. Dekker retaliated with Satiromastix, in which Jonson was vituperated; and the two dramatic writers called the public into their petty quarrel as noisily as was the wont of rival metropolitan papers among us less than a generation since. But the public of that day found its fun in this bear-buiting of authors, and it was impossible for either Jonson or Dekker to gird at each other without at the same time making their weapons to flash with a fire and sparkle that are not now dulled by time.
Jonson's first tragedy was Richard Crook-back, followed by Sejanus in its first draft; but neither tragedy was successful. The former has perished without giving us an opportunity to compare it with Shakespeare's Richard III.; the latter he afterward rewrote and published. His comedies had so far been fairly successful, and they had exhibited characteristics peculiar to Jonson, by which he was rendered, though still a playwright, as an individual amongst men who were all strongly marked. It should be remembered that throughout his life Jonson's ideals were not to be found on the stage. He wrote for the stage be