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In dedicating the 1616 Folio version of Cynthia's Revels to the court, Jonson addressed that body as “A bountiful and brave spring” that “waterest all the noble plants of this island. In thee, the whole kingdom dresseth itself, and is ambitious to use thee as her glass. Beware, then, thou render men's figures truly, and teach them no less to hate their deformities than to love their forms; for, to grace there should come reverence; and no man can call that lovely which is not also venerable.” If, as Jonson claimed, the court nurtured and sustained the whole island, it would be impossible to overestimate the importance of his self-appointed role as court reformer. Throughout his career, though in varying modes and intensities at different times, he assigned himself the gargantuan and foolhardy task of critiquing the foibles and vices of the court. Jonson lived most of his life in close proximity to the English court at Whitehall, and the court figures prominently in his writings. But physical proximity is not the same thing as access.
In the prologue to John Dryden's revised version of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (1678), Dryden had “Mr. Betterton, representing the ghost of Shakespeare” rise up and intone to the audience, 'Untaught, unpractic'd, in a barbarous age, /I found not, but created first the stage.' Before Shakespeare was the void - an uncouth, dark time with nothing to offer England's first master dramatic poet. There are traces of Dryden's perspective in the titles of this chapter and the one that follows it. While the age of Shakespeare proudly sets forth “Dramatic Achievements,” the pre- Shakespearean era can offer only “Experiments.” To be sure, we have abandoned Dryden's formulation in some ways. No scholar would now contend that Shakespeare took nothing from the drama that preceded him; indeed, a flourishing twentieth-century scholarly industry has devoted itself precisely to demonstrating how Shakespeare's achievement needs to be understood as the culmination of earlier developments in the Tudor theatre. Shakespeare was neither “untaught” nor “unpractic'd” in an earlier English drama, but found much to emulate and adopt.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674) and his Hesperides have long been admired for their lyricism. After a century of relative neglect between the poet's death and the late eighteenth century, interest in Herrick was revived by John Nichols through the Gentleman's Magazine. Poems like 'To the Virgins, to make much of Time', 'Corinna's going a Maying', 'Delight in Disorder', 'To Live Merrily, and to Trust to Good Verses', 'How Roses came Red', and 'How Violets came Blue' made Herrick the darling of nineteenth-century anthologists; Algernon Charles Swinburne called him 'the greatest songwriter - as surely as Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist - ever born of English race'. The copy of Hesperides now in the Newberry Library (Chicago, Illinois) was once owned by a Mr William Combes of Henley, an amiable gentleman book collector who was said to carry Hesperides in his right-hand coat pocket and Izaak Walton's Complete Angler in his left whenever 'with tapering rod and trembling float, he enjoys his favourite diversion of angling on the banks of the Thames'. But the genteel songster of this pastoral vignette was not the only image of the poet to surface during the nineteenth century: at least one Herrick poem, 'To Daffodils', was appropriated by Chartist writers, who identified him as a poet 'for the People'.
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