Ben Jonson and Cervantes


Yumiko Yamada

As the title shows, this book aims to find analogies between Ben Jonson and Cervantes*, by seeing how the leading humanist of the age would have read and responded to Don Quixote.

A common reaction to this might be "Why Ben Jonson, not Shakespeare?" Ever since Turgenev's celebrated lecture at a Paris soirée in 1860, Shakespeare has been most closely linked with Don Quixote. The bond was tightened this century by Ortega in 1914 and Foucault (1966). [1] Turgenev's misconceived belief­that the two works were composed in the same year by some providence­was not merely embraced but even enhanced by our contemporary Carlos Fuentes: "It is not fortuitous that Don Quixote, King Lear and Macbeth were written in the selfsame year of 1605", he asserts, in ecstasy at the revelation that the two writers in fact are one and the same person, and that Cervantes created Shakespeare's plays in England, while Shakespeare composed Don Quixote in Spain. [2]

Turning our eyes to the academic field, almost all Cervantes studies refer to Shakespeare, and it is equally hard, it might be added, to find studies mentioning Jonson. [3] Now that the pairing of the twin geniuses has been established as if irrefutable fact, it is a Herculean task to insert Jonson in the place of Shakespeare.

Is it possible to connect these supposed "antagonists"­a notorious classicist who showed open hostility to the unbound imagination of the myriad-minded bard on one side, and on the other, the founding father of the modern novel whose liberal mind is said to have freed literature from the bondage of inkhorn formalism?

If we suspend our preconceptions and observe the historical background, we may find the bond between Cervantes and Shakespeare weaker than it looks. The first thing to notice is that Jonson, not Shakespeare, was first connected with Cervantes, as a writer who possessed analogous values and principles.

The most conspicuous examples are two English Quixotes, Hudibras (1662, 1663, 1678) and Joseph Andrews (1742); these were significantly influenced in their vigorous and lusty humour by Cervantes and Jonson. The errantry of that indefatigable Presbyterian Sir Hudibras reminds us also, in his hypocritical zeal to rectify the world, of the "acts and monuments" of Rabbi Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614). [4] Nor is Joseph Andrews . . . Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote unmindful of the English humourist: its preface exalts him as one "who of all Men understood the Ridiculous the best".

It is noteworthy that both authors ardently admired Jonson. Butler made a resolute defense of Jonson's "Art and Wit" against Dryden's preference for Shakespeare's fancy. [5] Fielding began his career as a successful playwright in the stout Jonsonian vein, and would have surely remained so, had his plays not been suppressed by the Licensing Act of 1737. [6]

We can cite three people who strengthen Butler's link with Jonson: John Selden, one of Jonson's best friends and supporters, is said to have trained the young Butler's mind at the house of the Countess of Kent (Dictionary of National Biography); Edward Hyde, the first Earl of Clarendon, who had professed his admiration for Jonson as "the best Judge of . . . Poetry and Poets, of any Man who had lived with, or before him, or since", greatly admired Butler, doubtless for his Jonsonian faculty; [7] and the dramatist Shadwell, an avowed "disciple" of Jonson and "missionary" for his comedy, was enlisted among Butler's pallbearers at his funeral. [8]

We may add the author of Joseph Andrews; it may have been also written with Hudibras in mind, considering the allusions in Tom Jones (bk. 4, chs. 1, 8; bk. 8, chs. 1,9).

More "witnesses" support the Cervantes-Jonson link. Robert Burton says Don Quixote's madness results from indulging in chivalric romances in his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621; 1652 2:207), and refers to Jonson in the same work as "Arch-Poet". [9] Saint-Évremond, a precursor of the eighteenth century enlightenment and "the most penetrating of French seventeenth-century Quixote critics", saw Jonsonian comedy during his exile in England and praised its classical unity. [10] Even more surprising is that Jeremy Collier, the notorious detractor of the theatre and dramatists of his age, shows exceptional generosity towards Jonson and Cervantes. In his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698), he defends the former against contemporary criticism, and esteems the latter as a "Giant". [11] Thus Jonson, rather than Shakespeare, was linked with Cervantes, as a writer at least equal to him in esteem.

Jonson also has a better claim to possible Cervantiean influence. As detailed in chapter I, Jonson starts alluding to Don Quixote c. 1610. Judging from when the references suggest certainty, we can infer that Jonson had read the first part of Don Quixote, at least, in Shelton's English translation (1612). If we read the novel in the "traditional" way, that is, literally and as it is written, some passages not only embody Jonson's humanistic attitudes, but may have influenced his writing.

We can only infer that Shakespeare may have been influenced by Cervantes; there is a stage record of a lost play in collaboration with Fletcher entitled The History of Cardenio (1613); he is the hero of an episodic short story in the first part of Don Quixote. [12] This "proof" is too vague to establish a direct and overall influence, so is seldom referred to in Quixote criticism.

The author's preface states that the novel "doth ayme at no more, then to diminish the authoritie and acceptance that Bookes of Chivalrie have in the world, and among the vulgar ('deshacer la autoridad y cabida que en el mundo y en el vulgo tienen los libros de caballerías')". Here Jonson would have lost no time in accepting Cervantes as an ally; anti-chivalrous sentiment was a common attitude among humanists of the day. Don Quixote, in addition, is a novel which consists largely of literary criticism of almost every genre, with censures and denunciations directed at noticeable deviations from the classical norm. Jonson would not have missed this trait either, for it was also his life-long principle "to diminish the authoritie and acceptance" that nonconformists to the classical canon had "in the world, and among the vulgar".

Among the various targets of criticism in Don Quixote, dramatic works follow chivalric romances. Sometimes the frequency of allusions to plays exceeds those to chivalric romances, officially the chief object of the novel's satire. The preface mainly attacks the popular dramatist Lope de Vega; towards the end of the first part, nearly half a dozen pages are devoted to criticising Lope's plays.

The gist of the criticism is that Lope's series of perverse, unclassical plays are a bad example as they bow to vulgar taste and aim at nothing but the box-office. The biographical background to these sharp rebukes, as examined later, is that Cervantes was once a fairly successful dramatist but had to leave the stage, with his Aristotelian principles frustrated and crushed by the rising popularity of his competitor.

This recalls a parallel rivalry between Jonson and Shakespeare. Like Spain, England developed its own commercial theatres for permanent performance, where the initiative rested with the audience, rather than with the playwright. [13] Jonson, a professed classicist like Cervantes, was also defeated by Shakespeare, who preferred profit to artistry, like Lope. The theatre criticism in Don Quixote would have hit Jonson more acutely than that of chivalric romances.

Thus biographical and literary circumstances make Cervantes a writer nearer in principle to Jonson, and Shakespeare as nearer to Lope. How did it come to pass, then, that he is associated with England's Lope de Vega in a curious dramatic irony? The initial consensus linking Jonson and Cervantes ceased some time in the history of Quixote criticism, and Jonson was supplanted by Shakespeare.

This abrupt change could not have occurred without a revolution in Don Quixote criticism. In his article "Don Quixote as a Funny Book" (1969), P. E. Russell reminds us that the novel had been regarded in Spain and all Europe as just a successful, funny book of mock chivalry in line with the author's preface, until modern sensibility rescued its "sublime tragedy" from the "barbarous" mockery of the seventeenth century. It is noteworthy that Russell named most of the Jonson and Cervantes admirers cited above­Butler, Fielding, Burton, and Saint Évremond­writers who interpreted Don Quixote as funny, contrary to the modern sentimental reading (315-22).

Critics no longer see the novel as a burlesque of chivalric romances. More generally accepted is a reading that idealizes the protagonist and invalidates the satirical tone, thus furnishing the work with a complexity, profundity and sublimity, hitherto unduly excluded. For most, Don Quixote is not a "burlesque" but an "authentic" romance of chivalry; its protagonist not a mock but genuine hero.

Once on the tragic stage, the ex-comedian soon dissolved into a Hamlet, Lear or Macbeth, and further into Captain Ahab, Duke Mishkin or Cyrano de Bergerac. [14] Sometimes he is consecrated into "a martyr to his own inner ideal" or "a Gothic Christ crushed under the weight of modern anguish". [15]

We should bear in mind, however, that idealizing the hero is achieved by ignoring the author's goal of burlesquing chivalric romances; this is a fact acknowledged even by Ortega, the professed votary of Don Quixote as "a Gothic Christ" (96). The same novel which Melville (1851), Dostoyevski (1866) and Rostand (1897) strove to imitate in a spirit of sentimental adoration had, one or two centuries before, offered a very unromantic source of inspiration. The mock-heroic interpretation had been widely aseen as valid until abruptly dismissed. What matters here is that the change occurs at a point coinciding with the period when Jonson was superseded by Shakespeare as the nation's leading poet.

Let us now examine the rise and fall of the two writers with opposite literary styles in relation to the critical history of Don Quixote. We may discover, in the process, some hitherto unnoticed facts about evaluating the rival poets.

Shakespeare and the "Romantic Interpretation"

Russell's argument about the decline of the historical comic reading and the importance of its restoration was fortified by Anthony Close with a close historical investigation in The Romantic Approach to 'Don Quixote': A Critical History of the Romantic Tradition in 'Quixote' Criticism (1978).

After drawing our attention, like Russell, to the fact that Don Quixote had been accepted as a funny mock-heroic book as claimed by Cervantes, Close attributes three tendencies to modern criticisms of the novel which oppose the traditional: a) idealization of the hero and denial of the novel's satiric purpose; b) belief that the novel is symbolic and so expresses ideas about the human spirit's relation to reality or the nature of Spain's history; c) interpretation of its symbolism, and more generally, whole spirit and style, to reflect modern ideology, aesthetics and sensibility (1).

They are called "Romantic", Close explains, because they came into being with the rise of German romanticism. Starting with August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel, Tieck, Schelling and Jean Paul, "the Romantic approach" spread to England in the early nineteenth century, then to France from mid to late in the century; names include Hazlitt, Coleridge, Byron, Hugo, Stendhal, Flaubert, de Vigny, Taine and many others (29-44). Spain was a little behind the trend, until the joint influx of German and French Romantic movements arrived: it was from the fin-de-siècle to the beginning of this century that Unamuno, Azorín, Ortega and Castro caught up with the rest of the world (Close 137,159, 170, 185, 194, 245).

Those mentioned above carry another association for us: without exception, each contributed significantly to popularizing Shakespeare, with foreign volunteers even more active than native Englishmen. A. W. Schlegel's co-translation of 17 plays with Tieck succeeded in making Shakespeare known in Germany; Hugo, who wrote William Shakespeare (1864) in his defense and praise, had captured the "citadel" of the theatrical ancien régime, the Comédie Française, by making a Shakespearean departure from the accepted canon in his Hernani (1830); Stendahl's Racine and Shakespeare (1825) declared its preference for the foreign bard over Racine; de Vigny gave the French audience his translation-adaptations of Othello (1828) and The Merchant of Venice (1829); and Hyppolyte Taine's History of English Literature devoted 102 pages of its second volume to Shakespeare (Peyre 1964, 27). Since all these writers referred to Shakespeare in their "Romantic" criticisms of Don Quixote, it became the norm for Unamuno, Azorín, Ortega, Castro and then for contemporary critics.

Don Quixote was first linked with Shakespeare in Germany when Ludwig Tieck translated the novel. Tieck, as we know, also collaborated on August's version of Shakespeare. Both brothers favourably reviewed his translation of Don Quixote, establishing a connection with Shakespeare. Once the trio took the initiative in the movement which eventually dominated Europe, the hero of the novel could no longer remain the laughing stock of cold-blooded rationalists.

It is not fortuitous, to borrow Fuentes's words, that any kind of "Romantic approach", tends to be linked to Shakespeare. German romanticism by its nature was directly linked to revaluating the English poet, who seemed to embody its very essence. Originally set up as a "revolt" against France and French Enlightenment, the movement had a social and nationalistic trait as well as an artistic and intellectual programme. [16]

French classicists, such as Molière and Racine, provided a good target for the promoters' unsparing criticism, as "incarnations" of the rationalism of the rival nation, whose overthrow was needed to accomplish their purpose. [17] Sturm und Drang leaders had to single out an official representative of Northern Teutonic values to vie with the Mediterranean; the ultimate choice fell on Shakespeare, viewed as unique and superlative, though a foreigner. [18]

The energy expended on "Germanizing" Shakespeare at the time of the rise of romanticism was unimaginable. The prose Shakespeare of Wieland (1766), followed by A. W. Schlegel's verse (1810), deeply influenced German literature from Goethe through Hauptmann, and its philosophy, e.g. in Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. [19] Bardolatory duly swallowed up their Gallic opponents, drastically cooling the heat of classicism which had given life to France's national identity. [20] With Molière and Racine in crisis, when they should have been geographically and historically removed and safe from Shakespeare, his compatriot and contemporary, plus rival and critic Jonson, could not remain undamaged.

From his time till the mid-eighteenth century, Jonson was at the pinnacle of literary reputation, for raising the still "underdeveloped" English language and literature to vie with "insolent Greece or haughty Rome". But as the tide of thought shifted from the rational to the sentimental, Jonson fell from public favour, while Shakespeare, his exact antithesis in style, took his place. No sooner had their order of precedence been reversed than the scholars and editors of Shakespeare began to condemn Jonson; his neo-classicism now served as "manifest evidence" of his "mediocrity". The age also produced critics who forged materials to "prove" Jonson's plagiarism and moral defectiveness. [21] Transformed into a convicted "witch" by Shakespearean zealots, Jonson fell to a low rank, a mere foil to the new principal.

As bardolatory affected the German nation and formed the axis of their romantic movement, A. W. Schlegel and Tieck joined in decrying Jonson to exalt Shakespeare. [22] They must have found Jonson as guilty of profaning their divine poet as their enemy Voltaire, who made disparaging references to German laws and customs and declared Shakespeare inferior to Addison. Had Jonson's comic connection with Don Quixote reached their ears, they would have refused to pay the slightest attention. The time-honoured link between Cervantes and Jonson sank into oblivion through a shift of power in the commonwealth of English letters.

Don Quixote's critical history reflects the rise and fall of the two English writers with opposing literary styles. Don Quixote was interpreted in relation to Jonson until the mid-eighteenth century, and then to Shakespeare, because Jonson embodied the classicism of the previous age and Shakespeare the subsequent romanticism.

Yet this is not the end of the story, for it can be argued that we still live in an age of romanticism. According to Close, after being shaped by Romantic interpretations, Quixote criticism was "swamped by successive fashionable waves of criticism" deriving from this source, i.e. symbolist aesthetics, perspectivism, existentialism, structuralism and its derivative semiotics, narratology, and post-structuralism. [23]

This continuance of Romantic interpretations in the broad sense is closely interlocked with bardolatory; as stated, Shakespeare formed the very essence of the romantic movement, and Shakespeare is still most often referred to in Cervantes studies. Alternatively, the romantic prejudice against Jonson in favour of Shakespeare remains as active as ever, but in the sophisticated guise of new critical theories.

Almost without exception, the successive fashionable waves of criticism listed above are basically identical in the anti-classicism inherited from romanticism. The major proof of this is provided by the phrase "essential humanist" we have often come across in post-structuralist literary theories of the last two decades. The term is applied by supporters of the relevant theories to anyone whom they consider conventional and out of touch with the times. In other words, it is a general term of censure for backwardness in fashion, stiffness in values, lack of creativity and imagination and subservience to the Establishment. Although it refers to the "humanist" of recent times, not necessarily his counterpart in the age of Jonson and Cervantes, the two kinds of "humanists" are often confused in actual criticism, almost always with negative comments.

It is true that those anti-humanistic methods demonstrate striking efficacy when dealing with Shakespeare and other basically romantic writers; they are indeed remarkable in extracting new meanings which might otherwise have remained unknown. But with a humanist writer like Jonson, aggressive denunciation or the radical alternative of assimilating him into their anti-humanistic system are common. Most recent post-structuralist interpretations of Jonson tend to deconstruct his works through a process which may articulate his "moral defectiveness". [24]

Of these two characteristics, it is the "assimilative" method, rather than the "deconstructive" or destructive, that concerns us more. Just as Don Quixote was changed from a burlesque into a genuine romance of chivalry by association with Shakespeare, so has Jonson, who contributed to the comic reading of Don Quixote, been changed (again through Shakespearean association) into a romantic poet from his exact opposite.

The most notable example involves Jonson's verses "To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, And What He Hath Left Us" written for the 1623 folio. The tribute seems, at least on first reading, a reversal of Jonson's customary judgements. Until shortly after his death, some doubted the sincerity of the poem and saw it as a mock encomium, but now most scholars conclude that it genuinely extols Shakespeare's genius.

To resolve the contradiction, they assert Jonson had become a worshipper of Shakespeare by that time. The poet's classical and satirical rigour, they say, was so enfeebled by age and infirmity that he succumbed to Shakespeare's profound humanity. They also ascribe the romantic, fantastic and sentimental outlook of Jonson's last plays to Shakespearean influence, which he had initially looked upon with contempt. [25]

This reasoning may help, to a certain degree, to reconcile the supposed contradiction, but does not provide a satisfactory solution. Most such arguments tend to gloss over the fact that the poem is the only example of Jonson's "generosity"; both before and after 1623, he is consistently critical of Shakespeare for seriously deviating from humanistic art principles. Chapter 4 analyzes the poem in detail. It needs a careful rereading in view of the many burlesque sonnets in Don Quixote. As shown later, Jonson left signs of the novel's strong influence on him, expressly after 1612; the romantic elements in his last plays are better understood as a variation on the burlesque of chivalric romances.

Once an essential part of the romantic movement, "Shakespearization" caused a revolution in the reading of Don Quixote and evaluation of Jonson, who had been closely linked with the traditional interpretation. The duration of the romantic or Shakespearean interpretation of the novel is about to surpass that of the traditional. After two centuries, the romantic value system which has consistently denounced classical academicism for its fogeyish intransigence, has itself formed a "tradition" so most criticism of Cervantes and Jonson is made from a Shakespearean point of view. Yet if we remove Shakespeare's mediation that has hindered their direct contact, we may put together a long-missing picture of their shared values.

© Dra. Yumiko Yamada
University of Kobe, Japan


* From the "Introduction" to Ben Jonson and Cervantes: Tilting against Chivalric Romances (Tokyo: Maruzen, 2000) by the author.
1 José Ortega y Gasset, Meditaciones del Quijote (1914; Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1987); Michel Foucault, Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (Paris, 1966), cited in Anthony Close, The Romantic Approach to 'Don Quixote': A Critical History of the Romantic Tradition in 'Quixote' Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1978) 255-56.
2 Carlos Fuentes, Cervantes o la crítica de la lectura (México: Editorial Joaquín Mortiz, 1976) 69
3 Robert N. Watson (Ben Jonson's Parodic Strategy: Literary Imperialism in the Comedies [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1987] 2, 72, 101, 154, 163-64 ) deals with the similarity between the ideas of Jonson's comedies and DQ, but only episodically; no systematic attempt is made, for example, to prove a direct influence.
4 See Samuel Butler, Hudibras, ed. John Wilders (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1967) 340n, 352n, 424n.
5 Butler, Prose Observations (Oxford, 1979) 128, qtd. in D.H. Craig, ed. Ben Jonson: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 1990) 244-45.
6 Ian Donaldson, The World Upside-Down (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1970) 192-93.
7 Edward Hyde, The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, Written by Himself (1668-70), qtd. in J. F. Bradley and J. Q. Adams, The Jonson Allusion-Book (1922; New York: Russell & Russell, 1971) 350. Hyde admired Jonson as a result of keeping company with him and of the favour Jonson showed him in his Inns of Court days. He had Butler's portrait painted for his own library (DNB).
8 Wilders, introduction, Hudibras, by Butler, xxi.
9 Craig (223) cites Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy as calling Jonson"Arch-Poet" in 402n of 1624 edition; the one cited above is based on the fifth edition of 1651-2.
10 For Saint-Évremond and DQ, see P. E. Russell, "Don Quixote as a Funny Book", Modern Language Review, 64 (1969) 317. It may seem strange that Sain-Évremond, who was regarded as unorthodox in France as he took the side of Corneille in the Le Cid controversy, should defend the tenets of classical decorum. Yet English drama then was still academically underdeveloped, so Sain-Évremond could pass for a rigid classicist by English standards. In a similar way, François Ogier, hailed in the late nineteenth century as a significant precursor of the romantics, was regarded as conservative in his own time (see Marvin Carlson, Theories of the Theatre [Ithaca, Cornell UP, 1984] 91).
11 Jeremy Collier, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698; New York: AMS, 1974) 196.
12 Anne Barton, introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Riverside Shakespeare 144.
13 Walter Cohen, Drama of a Nation: Public Theatre in Renaissance England and Spain (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell UP, 1985); "The Politics of Golden Age Tragicomedy", Renaissance Tragicomedy (New York: AMS, 1986).
14 Close 54.
15 Ortega 30.
16 Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, ed. Henry Hardy (London: John Murray, 1990) 218-19.
17 Berlin 73-76.
18 Hermann J. Weigand, "Shakespeare in German Criticism", Herbert Schueller, ed., The Persistence of Shakespeare Idolatry (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1964) 107-9.
19 Weigand 105-34.
20 Stendhal, Racine et Shakespeare (1825); Emile Montégut, Essais sur la littérature anglaise (1883): cited in Henri Peyre, "Shakespeare and Modern French Criticism", Schueller, ed., 18, 32-33.
21 Frances Teague (The Curious History of Bartholomew Fair [Cranbury, NJ: Associate UP, 1985] 97-99) points out that Charles Macklin announced the "discovery" of a nonexistent pamphlet, "Old Ben's Light Heart made Heavy by Young John [Ford]'s Melancholy Lover" (1748) and that Robert Shiells committed forgery in his edition of Conversations with Drummond (1753) by inserting a sentence he thought Drummond ought to have said.
22 A. W. Schlegel, A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (1808), trans. John Black (1815); Ludwig Tieck, Das Buch über Shakespeare (1794), qtd. in Craig 33, 574-77.
23 Close (212-42, 253-59). David Stove, The Platonic Cult and Other Philosophical Follies (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991) vii, 179-83. See also Berlin 34-35.
24 For a detailed analysis, see my "Problems in the Current Studies of Ben Jonson" Shakespeare News 32 (Shakespeare Society of Japan, 1992) 1: 10-12. For critical attempts to "deconstruct" Jonson's writings by pointing out his "moral defectiveness," see Roger B. Rollin, "The Anxiety of Identification: Jonson and the Rival Poets", Classic and Cavalier, eds. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Pittsburgh, Pa.: U of Pittsburgh P, 1982); Richard Helgerson, Self-Crowned Laureates (Berkeley: U of California P, 1983); Timothy Murray, Theatrical Legitimation (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987); George E. Rowe, Distinguishing Jonson (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1988): David Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1989).
25 For critical attempts to "assimilate" Jonson's late plays into the Shakespearean value system, see C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, eds., Ben Jonson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1925-52) 2:194; Gabriele Bernard Jackson, Vision and Judgment in Ben Jonson's Drama (New Haven: Yale UP, 1968) 99, 168-69; L. A. Beaurline, Jonson and Elizabethan Comedy (San Marino, Cal.: Hungtinton Library, 1978) 257-72; Anne Barton, Ben Jonson: the Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984) 254-84; Michael Hattaway, ed., The New Inn (Manchester; Manchester UP, 1984) 6-7; Riggs 302-8, etc.

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