Ben Jonson, if he was anything like a normal person, would clearly have understood that the opportunity to re-establish himself as a playwright with the leading company in London, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was not to be squandered. Regardless, as soon as he had made a hit with Every Man In His Humor, he immediately attacked Shakespeare, the company’s leading playwright, in Every Man Out of his Humor, satirizing him with the major character Sogliardo.
“Sogliardo is a variant of the Latin soliardo, literally parched soil.”
Daryl Pinksen, Marlowe’s Ghost, iUniverse, Inc., 2008, p. 198.
Subsequent to his presentation of his not to be forgotten herald and it’s spicy motto, Sogliardo is introduced by a disgraced poet named Macilente (ie: emaciated) to a young woman named Saviolina. Macilente tells her that although Sogliardo appears to be nothing more than a clown, he is actually a very sophisticated person who enjoys presenting himself as a clown. Therefore, his apparent foolishness is really a disguise for his great refinement. Naturally, Sogliardo, who knows nothing of this and is in fact a clown, proceeds to give a ridiculous performance that nevertheless charms Saviolina:
Sogliardo: How does my sweet lady? hot and moist? beautiful and lusty? ha!
Saviolina: Beautiful, an it please you, sir, but not lusty.
Eventually, Maciliente grows impatient with the success of his ruse and tries to explain to Saviolina that Sogliardo really is nothing more than a clown. She, however, does not believe him. It is not until he tricks Sogliardo into showing her his hands that she realizes he is not man of the world but rather a country bumpkin. At that point Saviolina is furious and exits.
Defenders of Shakespeare’s reputation generally refuse to accept the libel that Sogliardo is in any way a mockery of the Bard:
“Sogliardo, a country bumpkin of manifest stupidity, could not possibly be construed as a portrait of Shakespeare.”
Duncan-Jones, Katherine, Ungentle Shakespeare, 2001.
To this I can only reply that Duncan-Jones and Greenblatt (and others) fail to take into account Jonson’s own perception of events. He was certainly closer to the scene and there is no question that Shakespeare purchased a herald at that time, a practice which was to become more and more criticized during the subsequent reign of King James.
Is it possible that Jonson was looking over his shoulder at the success of Henry V and therefore taking a shot at Shakespeare from two directions, first at the bombastic theatrical style and second at the playwright’s pretensions? That is all interpretation after the fact.
On the other hand, if Jonson intended to criticize Marston and if Marston and Dekker chose to respond, such that their interaction became the subject of stacks of Ph. D. dissertations, then why not credit Jonson’s mockery of Shakespeare as at least his own report of his time and place?
What does all this have to do with As You Like It? Quite a bit, actually.
Next: Shakespeare Responds, or Does He? Will, Audrey and Touchstone.
Dr. 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.