Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
Jonson’s References to Shake-Speare
In Jonson’s Every man out of his Humour (1599) Act .3.1.2010-47, Sogliardo, described as an “essential clown” and whose name is Italian for “filth”, has just acquired a Coat of Arms, and the following conversation ensues between Sogliardo and Puntarvolo:
Sog: I’ faith, I thank god I can write myself Gentleman now, here’s my patent, it cost me thirty pound by this breath.
Punt: A very fair coat, well charged and full of armoury.
Sog: Nay, it has as much variety of colours in it, as you have seen a coat have; how like you the crest, Sir?
Punt: I understand it now well, what is’t?
Sog: Marry Sir, it is your Boar without a head, rampante.
Punt: A boar without a head; that’s very rare!
Carlo: I, and rampant too; troth, I commend the Herald’s wit, he has decyphered him well: a Swine without a head, without braine, wit, anything indeed, ramping to gentilitie. You can blazon the rest, signior, can you not?
Punt: Let the word be, Not without mustard. Your crest is very rare, Sir.
Cockburn Comment: This is plainly a dig at Shakspere whose father (no doubt with Shakespere’s encouragement) had acquired a Coat of Arms in 1596 with the motto Non sanz droict [Not without right]. “Marry Sir, it is your Boar without a head, rampante” tells that the gentleman Puntarvolo’s own crest featured a boar (unless “your Boar” means only “a boar, an animal you are familiar with”). Jonson gives Sogliardo’s crest a headless boar to symbolise boorish stupidity. “Not without mustard” is a parody of Non sanz droict and enjoins Shakspere not to eat boar without mustard. Bacon’s crest too featured a boar, and the Baconians interpret the above lines as meaning that Bacon was the “head” in the partnership between Shakspere and Bacon. But there is likewise a boar in the crests of Sir Philip Sidney and the Earl of Oxford. Jonson probably gave Sogliardo’s crest a boar because it was thus a familiar patrician emblem, and lent itself to Jonson’s joke. So the lines throw no light on whether Jonson believed Shakspere to be Shake-Speare.
On the other hand, if this is ‘plainly a dig at Shakspere”, and if Jonson chose to use a headless boar to “symbolise boorish stupidity” in the character, then it’s not far-fetched to think also that Jonson, at that time in 1599, was additionally implying that he thought Shakspere was not-well educated and not an intellectual. This is emphasized by the words of the character Carlo that followed. Remember that Jonson had likely seen William act in his play Every Man in his Humour from just a year earlier.
Then again, one who disagrees with the above comment by Cockburn says that current research shows that William Shakspere never used ‘Not without right’ as a motto. And furthermore, that Jonson’s play was performed at the Globe by The Chamberlain’s Men where William Shakspere was a shareholder and would never have allowed such insults of himself played on the stage.
On the other hand, again, the phrase ‘Not without right’ is shown in large letters on his coat of arms patent. Here’s the link to an image of it along with some further commentary by an Oxfordian:
Also, regarding the statement that Will Shakspere would not have allowed such a play to insult him, that’s pure speculation, especially since it suggests someone can know the motivation of someone he has never met and that had lived hundreds of years before, and of whom we have no personal letters of to even know how this person may have thought. Perhaps William, if he was the great Shake-Speare, wouldn’t have been bothered that a rival playwright was satirizing him. Maybe he would have just laughed it off. Also, assuming the play’s words above do refer to William, as they seem to fit him extremely well, it would not be likely that more than a few of the regular audience would realize who they were aimed at.