Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy: A Mirror for Lovers

By Hugh M. Richmond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Shakespeare's Relevance

WHEN the increasing pressure of his own religious convictions made St. Augustine reject his first profession as a "teacher of the liberal arts," he protested that "there is no need for either the buyers or sellers of literary knowledge to cry out against me," for he knew that no man can be more than a clever technician of literary studies without those qualities of character and spirit that ultimately became so important to St. Augustine that he was forced out of the literary profession and into an exclusively religious life. By these standards Ben Jonson, that tirelessly belligerent veteran of so many battles both military and literary, was quite right to stress the personal integrity of "my beloved, the author, Mr. William Shakespeare," when he came to praise him. "I loved the man," he said, "and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any. He was indeed honest and of an open and free nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions."

These seem to be the truly sociable virtues Jonson requires of all civilized men, as well as of poets, and they also happily match his view of Shakespeare's literary character. The same ideal of consistency reappears in John Milton's later specification that he who "hopes to write well ... ought himself to be a true poem." Such testimony explains the special admiration and delight evoked by the career of Shakespeare, whose life seems to display something

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