Dryden’s comparison between Shakespeare and Jonson, which is presented in brief and suggestive remarks, really shows the process of a myth, about Shakespeare. in making, which lasted practically till the end of the 18th century, or even longer. The germs of the myth are latent in the concluding remark the Shakespeare was the Homer of the English stage, while Jonson provided that highest pattern of elaborate writing and should be regarded as the Virgil of English drama. Thus, the fundamental difference between the two is really the distinction between what a later: critic described as the two classes of geniuses. Firstly, those writers who achieve excellence by virtue of the natural gifts without the aid of art and learning and secondly, there are writers who cultivate and regulate the gifts of nature by study and careful observance of the rules and technical niceties of their profession. Dryden places Shakespeare in the first category and Jonson in the second.
Thus, he presents Shakespeare as a poet endowed with the most. comprehensive soul among all the poets ancient and modern. He had no bookish knowledge, but was naturally learned. He did not look at nature though the spectacles of books because all the images of nature were present within his heart, and he had simply to look into his own heart to find them there. There is why his descriptions are not only vivid, but also capable of touching the human heart.
But being indifferent to the art of drama he could produce great but irregular plays in which he rises to great heights when the occasion so demands it, but can otherwise fall into the comic crudities in his comedy. and swelling bombast of style in his tragedies.
Jonson, on the other hand, was one of the most learned of dramatic poets, so that every page of his writing bears the impression of his knowledge of ancient masters. Critics are apt to charge him with plagiarism, but he is great enough to commit his thefts openly and fearlessly. He seems to invade the author like a monarch and what will be theft in others is conquest in him.
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Moreover, Jonson was the first dramatist of England who wrote plays in the light of dramatic art, a good many canons of which are collected in his discoveries. His plays are, therefore, more regular than those of Shakespeare, and his mind frugal and economical enough not only to avoid the excesses of the former, but also to concentrate upon the most significant and essential truths. He was also a man of sober and saturnian nature and avoided treating of love, which was one of the favourite topics with Shakespeare. Jonson’s strongest point was ‘humour” which consisted in those oddities of conversation and behaviour which distinguish a particular individual from the rest of his fellow beings. In Jonson an individual is apt to become the embodiment of a single ‘humour and his mechanical behaviour is apt to produce that malicious laughter which is peculiar to his comedies. The contrast between Shakespeare and Jonson, in this respect, is suggested in Dryden’s comparison of Morose and Sir John Falstaff, which occurs in his analysis of the silent woman. Morose was modeled upon a living man. He is presented as an old man with a pair of delicate ears, intolerant of noise whose irritability of temper has been aggravated by his deep-rooted habit of his household like a veritable. dictator.
Shakespeare’s Falstaff, on the other hand, is a component of many ‘humours, a fat old man, given to lying and tall talks, to excessive eating and drinking and lewd sexual enjoyment. Yet a man of nimble wit. resourceful enough to wriggle out of the tightest corners into which he is mostly driven with his huge body and bubbling wit Falstaff is the very embodiment of comedy and good fun.
By virtue of these sterling qualities present in his artless and irregular plays Shakespeare was placed above learned Jonson in his own age, and even in the Caroline period associated with the reign of King Charles I, when Jonson for his art and learning, but he loves Shakespeare; which means that Shakespeare is capable of making a greater appeal than Jonson, whose comedies are naturally lacking in good, lovable, living characters. which abound in the plays of his great compeer and rival.