This Side Idolatry
by Freeman Dyson
"I did love the man this side idolatry as much as any," wrote Elizabethan dramatist Ben Jonson. "The man" was Jonson's friend and mentor, William Shakespeare. Jonson and Shakespeare were both successful playwrights. Jonson was learned and scholarly, Shakespeare was slapdash and a genius. There was no jealousy between them. Shakespeare was nine years older, already filling the London stage with masterpieces before Jonson began to write. Shakespeare was, as Jonsonsaid, "honest and of an open and free nature," and gave his young friend practical help as well as encouragement. The most important help that Shakespeare gave was to act one of the leading roles in Jonson first play, "Every Man in His Humour," when it was performed in 1598. The play was a resounding success and launched Jonson's professional career. Jonson was then aged 25, Shakespeare 34. After 1598, Jonson continued to write poems and plays, and many of his plays were performed by Shakespeare's company. Jonson became famous in his own right as a poet and scholar, and at the end of his life he was honored with burial in Westminster Abbey. But he never forgot his debt to his old friend. When Shakespeare died, Jonson wrote a poem, "To the Memory of My BelovedMaster, William Shakespeare,"