The Passionate Pilgrim 1.2: “The Poets’ War”: A Prelude

One of the most curious aspects of the so-called “Poets’ War” was the fact that when he chose to attack other, rival, playwrights, Ben Jonson was not acting from a position of strength. In fact, in 1597 he had been sent to Marshalsea prison on charges of sedition arising from the production of The Isle of Dogs by Pembroke’s Men at the Swan. Co-authored with Thomas Nashe, this was Jonson’s first play and it satirized various members of the Court, quite possibly including the Privy Council and the Queen. The play was immediately suppressed and no copies survive.

Marshalsea Prison, circa 1620

While in prison, Jonson met the actor Gabriel Spencer, and, subsequent to their release in 1598, they engaged in a duel which left Spencer dead. Spencer was then the lead actor for Pembroke’s Men and his death more or less ruined the company.

Jonson was taken to Tyburn Prison where he was to be hanged, but managed to escape this fate by reportedly claiming the “right of clergy” which provided clemency to scholars fluent in Latin. This “right” could be claimed only once, so if Jonson was taken to prison again, that would be that.

Jonson came out of Tyburn with no assets and no reputation. His thumb had been branded with a capital “T,” so there was no mistaking his status. Despite all of this, he found his way to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men who promptly staged Every Man in his Humor with great success.

From the perspective of the “Poets’ War,” the play included some notable passages, in particular the Prologue in which Jonson asserted that plays should be about “deedes, and language, such as men do use” rather than fantastical events or historical pageants. Later, in Act I, Master Matthew, “the town gull” quotes rapturously to Captain Broadbill lines from The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd’s most famous play.

Thomas Kyd

By his own testimony before the Privy Council in 1593, Kyd declared that he had been “writing in one chamber” with Christopher Marlowe since at least 1590. Personally, I think that collaboration started much earlier as Kyd and Marlowe had known each other since Marlowe’s Cambridge days. The point being that Marlowe was very likely a contributor to The Spanish Tragedy, which has strong similarities to his own Tamburlaine, both of which featured bombastic characters and long descriptions of bloody battles, spectacular victories and glorious parades, all of which Jonson declared he had had enough.

Christopher Marlowe was declared dead in May, 1593 and Thomas Kyd died less than a year later. By 1598, there was no reason that Jonson should concern himself with their possible response to his mockery of their theatrical style. Instead, he was applauded for advocating a more natural form of theatre.

That said, Jonson had thrown down the gauntlet. He wanted to bring the theater down to earth. With Henry V then being prepared for production, the very type of play against which he had declared his opposition, he decided to turn his attention to Shakespeare.

The name Shakespeare had only recently been acknowledged in print. Francis Meres, in Palladis Tamia (1598), recorded him as a playwright and attributed twelve plays to him (Meres also complimented Jonson in the same volume). At nearly the same time, several of these same plays appeared in print under Shakespeare’s name. It is doubtful that Shakespeare approved of any of these quarto publications, but his name had never been in better repute and he would appear to have been beyond reproach.

It seems safe to say that Jonson should not have expected to improve his association with the Lord Chamberlain’s men by attacking its leading playwright and very significant partner. But, that is what he did.

Next:     Sogliardo Revisited

PeteHeadshotDr. Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

The Passionate Pilgrim Begins

Welcome to “The Passionate Pilgrim”, the blog dedicated to all matters dealing with the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage.  As this blog is sponsored by Island Shakespeare Festival, it will focus initially on the plays being offered by them during their current season.

Unlike the standard academic introductions to As You Like It, which discuss plot, character, theme and so forth, I want to start with the very unusual circumstance of the so-called “Poets War” or “War of the Theaters” and the unique role this play performed in this dispute.

The standard academic history of this “war” asserts that it was ignited by John Marston in the play Histriomastix (1599), which included an attack on Ben Jonson, which supposedly censured Jonson “for being too dependent upon scholarship” (Bednarz, James P., Shakespeare and the Poets’ War, p. 91)

Ben Jonson (c. 1617), by Abraham Blyenberch; oil on canvas painting at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Ben Jonson (c. 1617), by Abraham Blyenberch; National Portrait Gallery, London

Jonson responded with Every Man Out of his Humour (1599), which included the clown character Clove, generally understood to be a stand in for Marston, who speaks “fustian” [ie: pompous, pretentious speech] in mimicry of Marston’s style. Insults are said to have followed in several plays, with other poets,  primarily Thomas Dekker, sometimes alone and sometimes in combination with Marston, throwing in their tuppence, until it all flamed out in 1602. Not atypically, there is some dispute about the sequence of these events, in particular whether or not Jonson’s satire of Marston actually preceded Histriomastix. In general, the academic version leaves Shakespeare out of the action.

The truth is a little different.

Title page of 1600 printing of "Every Man out of His Humour."
Title page of 1600 printing of “Every Man out of His Humour.” By Ben Jonson ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If there ever was such a thing as a “Poets’ War,” itself being a characterization created by nineteenth century academicians, then it must fairly be said to have begun with Jonson’s very direct attacks on Shakespeare in Every Man Out of His Humour, where he mocks a character named Sogliardo for his acquisition of a herald whose motto is “Not Without Mustard.” This is universally understood as an unflattering reference to Shakespeare who had recently acquired a Heraldic emblem with the Latin motto “Non Sanz Drocit” which translates as “Not Without Right.”

Artist unknown, some say it may be William Shakespeare (College of Heralds, London) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, Jonson’s previous play, Every Man In His Humour (1598) is the only play that actually records Shakespeare as an actor. He is listed in the 1616 printing of Jonson’s Folio as a principal commedian. Shakespeare is often listed with the Lord Chamberlain’s and later the King’s Company, but only as a shareholder or player, never as an actor and never in any printed script as an actor, not even in those credited to him.  All the academics who claim that Shakespeare played the Ghost of Hamlet, Amiens, etc., are just making it up (ie: Shakespeare is listed as a “player”, therefore he must have had a “part”, therefore I, Mr. Academic, based on nothing more than my personal preference, am going to cast him thus: post hoc ergo propter hoc at its best). There is, in fact, no evidence for Shakespeare playing any role onstage other than one written by Jonson.

After which, Jonson writes a play which mocks Shakespeare, and the Lord Chaimberlain’s Men, of which Shakespeare is a shareholder, immediately presents it.  Even Stephen Greenblatt admits how strange this must have been:

“As a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Will would have listened to this insult    again and again in rehearsal and in performance. He probably laughed uncomfortably- how else does one get through this kind of teasing?” Greenblatt, Stephen,  Will in the World, p. 80

All things considered, just as Greenblatt imagines that Shakespeare laughed it off, it is just as easy to imagine that by including Shakespeare in his Folio’s cast list Jonson was repeating the insult in print.

One might expect Shakespeare to respond to this as Marston appears to have done with an insult of his own. Or, as Greenblatt imagines, he might have laughed it off. What happened, however, is much more surprising.

Next: Will, Audrey and Touchstone

PeteHeadshotDr. Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Doc Hodges (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

The Story Before Shakespeare: As You Like It

Published December 24th 1997 by Edinburgh University Press
Published December 24th 1997 by Edinburgh University Press
Published December 24th 1997 by Edinburgh University Press

From whence did Shakespeare draw his inspiration?  This question has intrigued scholars for centuries, and we have a wealth of knowledge to show for it. For As You Like It, the direct and immediate source is Thomas Lodge’s pastoral romance Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie published in 1590. Shakespeare used much of Lodge’s novel, even adapting the title for the play “As You Like It” from one of the introductory notes of the novel:  “If you like it.” Shakespeare usually took influence from other writers. With the exception of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Tempest, Shakespeare borrowed, sometimes directly and in precise detail, from existing works. Recurring influence can be traced to Geoffrey Chaucer, Plutarch, Euripides, and Ovid. Even so, nothing is more characteristic of Shakespeare’s talent than his ability to transform the stories of other artists and writers to create superior pieces, illuminating the human experience more brightly than the works on which they are based.


When comparing Lodge with Shakespeare’s play, it is clear that  As You Like It owes much to the novel.  All the important lines of action in the play are borrowed from Lodge: the enmity between the Dukes, the quarrel between Orlando and Oliver, the love-affairs of Orlando and Rosalind, of Oliver and Celia, of Silvius and Phebe, all find parallels in Lodge. But Shakespeare has rolled out some noteworthy improvements and additions, as Shakespeare is wont to do.

François Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
François Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lodge’s Rosalynde is a pastoral romance, a genre which mixed pastoral poems with a fictional narrative in prose, taking inspiration from ancient classics (notably Ovid) set in the countryside. This was a popular, albeit rather pedestrian genre, that Shakespeare often used to contrast a depiction of court.  The Bohemia of The Winter’s Tale, the island of The Tempest, and even the forest, populated by outlaws, of the The Two Gentlemen of Verona exemplify this device.  The sentiment of Lodge’s novel is thick, overwhelming, and conventional. Yet when Shakespeare took on writing his piece, he metamorphosed the tangled web of hidden identities and incomprehensible violence into As You Like It, the upbeat, poetic romance we cherish today. Shakespeare altered a great deal of the action, by both modifying existing and inventing new characters. Shakespeare kept in tact the characters of Rosalynde, Celia, Phebe, Corin, and Silvius from Lodge, but invented others like Touchstone, Jaques, Amiens, Audrey, and Le Beau to facilitate a parody of the traditional and conventional pastoral romance.

1969-Shakespeare-VS-ShawWhen comparing  As You Like It with its principal source, Shakespeare’s manipulation of the borrowed story is a testament to his writing genius .  George Bernard Shaw sneers at As You Like It, a play for which he had an extreme dislike. Shaw terms Rosalind “a fantastic sugar doll,” and makes the strange suggestion that the title of the play was given in a spirit of ill-humor, as a stinging satire. Shaw holds, “that Shakespeare found that the only thing that paid in the theatre was romantic nonsense… a cheap falsehood [of] borrowing the story and throwing it in the face of the public with the phrase ‘As You Like It.'”

The thought that Shakespeare shows special contempt for As You Like It “‘by borrowing the story'” is a surprising suggestion. As a rule, Shakespeare’s plays were often derived from known and identifiable sources. And unlike Shaw suggests, the manner in which Shakespeare manipulates and supplements the material derived from his sources is a fundamental subject of study in examining the genius of Shakespeare.

Katrina HeadshotKatrina Lind is a graduate of Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre (Performance). She has worked with such companies as Island Shakespeare Festival (2015, Miranda in The Tempest, Ensemble in The Three Musketeers), Shakespeare in the Vines and South Coast Repertory.

Jacques: Misquoted and Misunderstood

All the World can’t seem to get this quote right.

While not Shakespeare’s most famous work, As You Like It contains one of his most famous speeches – or at the very least, his most quoted. You’ve heard it before, whether you were aware of the source or not. Say it with me: All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. There’s quite a bit more to it, but the first bit is the most you’ll usually catch on TV. You’ve heard it in everything from SNL to Star Trek, Deadwood to Ducktails (twice in separate episodes). Authors love to twist it around – Oscar Wilde wrote “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta includes the line “All the world’s a stage, and everything else is vaudeville.” It’s the name of a live Rush album. All The World’s A Stage is even the name of Tom Cruise’s officially licensed biography (yes, really).


The rest of the monologue is moody, to say the least. Jaques – the guy philosophizing and moping through the speech – goes through The Seven Stages of Life and then proceeds to crap on each one. His words: when you’re a baby you throw up a lot, when you’re a little kid you hate going to school, et cetera et cetera until you literally die and decay. It’s a grim look at fate – if we are merely players, then someone else has already written the script. Then nothing we do matters! Every act of the play is a tragedy unto itself! How can we go on living like this?! It’s horribly depressing, almost comically so.

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation: The Seven Ages of Man, by William Mulready, 1838

It’s a favorite speech to quote for people who want to appear cultured – meaning it’s a bit of an easy crutch for writers who want to create characters that appear so. There’s a bit of irony to this, though. While the “All The World” speech is frequently quoted as “poetry” by Shakespeare, that’s a bit misleading. While it has poetic tone – just like anything else he wrote in verse –it’s actually a monologue. The distinction is an important one, and is key to understanding the ultimate irony of the speech’s use in pop culture. Poetry is representative of the ideas and feelings of the author, while a monologue is representative of the character.

410a45FbBaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_And the character, I will argue, is an inflated, self-important windbag who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Shakespeare is so well remembered for his brooding, tragic characters that people tend to forget that the other half of his work is made up of Farce and Sex Comedies. That’s right, the guy who wrote “To be, or not to be…also wrote the Elizabethan American Pie. People also tend to forget that Jaques is in one of those comedies making remarks about everyday tragedy. Hamlet is bummed because his father got murdered and his uncle is sleeping with his mom. Macbeth gets sad when his wife goes mad and dies, and it all might be his own fault. Jaques cries woe-is-me just to sound cool.

Let’s take a look at his first few lines. Jacques comes in with Ameins, another lord, listening to Ameins sing a sad song. Jacques wants to hear more but Ameins refuses:


It will make you melancholy, Monsieur Jaques


I thank it. More, I prithee, more. I can suck
melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs.
More, I prithee, more.

Jacques is really just that emo kid you know

This our first taste of Jaques unique worldview, and the closest modern approximation is the kid sitting in the back of class in all black listening to Death Cab For Cutie and thinking this band GETS me. He’s just imitating the tortured hero – a character with very little backstory to prove that he’s got any particular sad stories to back up his inflated miserable speeches. So consider the following: Maybe we’re not supposed to take the guy who compares himself to an egg-sucking weasel seriously.

Jaques presents no new ideas, though he carries himself like he’s God’s gift to philosophy. The ideas of fate controlling life just like it controls man is a theme as old as theater itself. That’s practically what every piece of Greek theater is about. Shakespeare didn’t intend his audiences to say “oh wow, how deep;” he intended a roll of the eyes as the audience cried “not this crap again!” Though modern performances usually take Jacques straight and at face value, he is actually a sort of sad clown, equivocating about things he doesn’t fully understand. His speech is, ironically, a performance. It has the aura of something he’s practiced in the mirror, thinking “all the kids at school are gonna think I’m so cool when I drop this one.” The whole thing is a joke, with each description of life defying the expectation of a positive depiction of each stage of life by presenting one that is so bleak it becomes funny. Jaques is a character we’re supposed to laugh at!

A likely representation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Not to mention that the first line is already a joke – albeit one that would only make sense to Shakespeare’s audience. The stage Shakespeare’s original troop performed on was called The Globe. All The World’s a stage – in this case, literally.

The ultimate irony? The modern audience buys it. When we see depictions of this speech in modern media, it’s usually by a character with an inflated ego, huffing about in an attempt to prove how smart they are. That’s right, they’re doing exactly the same thing Jaques was doing. In a way, Shakespeare’s most famous line has also become one of his most misunderstood. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women should deeply analyze four hundred year old works more closely to make sure that they aren’t just taking things at the surface level of interpretation.

tylerTyler Kubat is an actor and playwright currently residing in Orange County California with a BFA in Theater Performance from Southern Oregon University.  He is the former Artistic Director of the Oregon Fringe Festival, and has performed with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and  Island Shakespeare Festival.

Jane Eyre and the Crux of Contemporary Feminism

From the editor: Here, we offer the beginning of a deep and complex conversation.  “Jane Eyre and the Crux of Contemporary Feminism” touches on what is a many faceted conversation about history, changing definitions, changing ideals, and what is, and isn’t, steadfast in the human condition.  Stay tuned for different sides to this conversation, to come later.

By Katrina Lind


It’s difficult to classify a piece of classical literature feminist or not feminist. When examining Jane Eyre, one has to look at the merit of a classic novel through a contemporary feminist lens.

From the blog Suffragette Cinema

However, it is still critical to study the wide social influence such a novel has on society today. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one of those classics largely considered a quintessential epic of a feminist novel. Yet when we evaluate the novel with a contemporary eye, things begin to get a little blurry. Twenty-first century readers can identify with Jane’s cry to be equal, “I am no bird and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” Yes! You go girl! However, for some readers, this liberating feeling comes to a stop when approaching the end of the novel and its more traditional conclusion. Is it a contradiction for Jane to return to Rochester when she finally obtains financial security and independence, only to become a wife and a mother?

Jane 2

Feminism, like a lot of social movements, comes in waves. No matter how much has changed with feminism, one thing has always stayed the same: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.  Within the social constructs of Victorian Era England, Jane Eyre is absolutely a feminist novel, but only to an extent. In terms of feminist and not feminist to the modern reader, Jane Eyre falls into a gray area; it was considered feminist then, but not feminist now. The crux of the problems lies mainly within Jane’s relationship with Rochester. It might be argued that Jane constantly sees herself as less than equal to the man she loves, and idolizes the prospects of marriage so highly that she would throw away a better life for herself, believing that only a marital document can validate a relationship.  However, in demanding a legal marriage, the point can also be made Jane stays true to herself and to her morals.


Back in Victorian England, I can see how this story can be viewed as a “you go girl” instance, when most other novels portray women as hopelessly in love and willing to do whatever they can to be married (I’m looking at you Jane Austen). But in today’s light, such a story might seem less “you go girl”, and rather “you’re better than this, girl.” It is clear that Jane’s journey to understanding herself is closely tied to her relationships with men. Jane’s discovery of her own self-worth and happiness is affected by the men her life. But one still has to see that in Victorian England, one’s social mobility, and way of life, was much more closely related to their romantic relationships than ours today.


It could be said that Jane is a “bad” feminist. However, it’s impossible to suggest that a novel written in the 19th century should perfectly fit my mold of what 21st century feminism should be. Feminism is a movement powered by people, and because it is powered by people, it can be flawed. Instead, literature should function as an education in how society has evolved since the 1840s. We should look at how Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë fit and break the molds within that time. Maybe in a contemporary Jane Eyre, Jane would say “suck it” to Rochester and move to better herself in ways that didn’t involve marriage, but Jane Eyre and its ending can teach us the beauty of being both true to ourselves–whether we want to be an entrepreneur or a housewife/husband or both–and being a feminist.

Katrina HeadshotKatrina Lind is a graduate of Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre (Performance). She has worked with such companies as Island Shakespeare Festival (2015, Miranda in The Tempest, Ensemble in The Three Musketeers), Shakespeare in the Vines and South Coast Repertory.

Introducing ISF (Aside)

Leonato (Kent Junge-Much Ado About Nothing, 2013) says “Ta-Da!”  Pictured with (L-R) Matthew Bell, Ahna Dunn Wilder, Valerie Huntington, Gabe Harshman, Miles Harrison, Andrew Pearce, and Cameron Gray  (Photo by Michael Stadler)

Welcome to Island Shakespeare Festival’s new blog series, ISF (Aside).  Through these pieces, we hope to illuminate some of the less-discussed facets of what we do.  We’ll discuss some in depth ideas about our current season, as well as tangential explorations of all things Shakespeare!  For our 2016 season of As You Like It, Jane Eyre, and Julius Caesar, we’re looking forward to some posts about Mod Culture and the Free Jazz Era, the character of Bertha (Jane Eyre) and mental illness in Victorian England, political assassinations through the ages, the up-cycled shipping container phenomenon (to become our new amphitheater space!), and many more exciting topics.  Stay tuned–we’ve got lots to share with you!

Stay tuned! Thisbe (Cameron Gray) and Pyramus (Andrew Fling) discuss our upcoming posts through a chink in the Wall (Melanie Lowey) in our 2012 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Photo by Michael Stadler)