Chasing Down an Allusion


I started this blog as a process journal for my research on Shakespeare, aka de Vere, first taking on Essex, to whom I will shortly return. My journey this last year has been fascinating to say the least. My take on a passage from Kevin Spacey’s series, House of Cards, with its Shakespearean themes, goes like this: unlike the Underwoods’ rather Macbethian marriage, which Claire says is not always happy, “but never dull,” my world has been “happy and never dull.” This may be because I am not looking to rule the free world like the guy with initials FU and the cufflinks to match. Discovery is never dull.  Research is discovery. And research does not happen in a bubble. I am indebted to the kindness and support of other well-regarded Oxfordian scholars, particularly that of Dr. Roger Stritmatter, of Coppin State, without whose patient and expert guidance this study would never have happened.

Well, in the course of discussing another scholar’s research and observing its evolution, I made my first possibly genuine, albeit, tiny literary discovery. It involves Ben Jonson,


Ben Jonson

who is a formidable subject. He is hardly taught to undergraduates, let alone graduate students, and he may be, next to Shakespeare, one of the most misunderstood writers, ever. But if you learn to read him carefully and with an open mind (even to issues of authorship) Jonson’s is an awe-inspiring creative and rhetorical mind.  I found an allusion to Shakespeare in one of Jonson’s paratexts (dedications, prefaces and other matter added to a text when it is published as a book) that apparently no one had ever noticed before. In my excitement to work on this, I gave Essex a long span of months off, and began a different kind of work.

This presented, eventually, some daunting tasks:

  • Prove that what I found was, indeed an allusion. IOW Look to my methodology. This is all the more complicated by there being an overlap of only a few words (not nouns) between Jonson and Shakespeare’s passages.
  • Combat post-structuralist ideas that negate the importance and justification of authorial intention; I had to learn more about the concept of intertextuality and the attempts of the new critics (who are now old hat) to squelch such analysis of literature.
  • Show that allusion and intertextuality were things Ben Jonson did by detailed contextualization which meant understanding his classicist rhetoric and poetic, as well as Jonson’s writerly tendencies, the many related works, and the history of all terms involved.
  • Gain a thorough understanding of the Shakespearean play Jonson alluded to as well as the context, genre and rhetorical situation in which “Honest Ben” probably alluded to said play.
  • Develop a more thorough understanding of Classical and Elizabethan into Jacobean rhetoric and rhetorical reading (especially Jonson’s and Shakespeare’s) as well as the way in which Jonson’s readers would have approached his paratext.
  • Understand the history behind the progression of texts involved and their relation to early modern politics.
  • Of course, as usual, this involved finding and ‘digesting’ most of the existing scholarship on especially the finer points above.
  • Figure out how to explain all of the above and prioritize the key points.

I did a fair job of getting this together for a decent conference presentation, (not without technical difficulties, but a sound improvement over my previous effort) which I will now attempt to develop into a paper. I’ve now been told I need to work especially hard on the play passage in question and how it supports my claim that Jonson alludes to it, in other words, more about the context. Luckily, literary interpretation is possibly one of my better skills, at least it is what I was trained to do in graduate school.

In the next installment, I will provide (at the very wise request of a colleague who saw my presentation) some resources I have found helpful in putting together literary conference presentations and what I have learned from my first two as well as from watching my more seasoned colleagues’ excellent work.  Also, I will describe any progress I have made on working toward the paper, and hopefully, its publication. All of this would not be possible without the guidance of my excellent friends and my best of all possible mentors.  As I like to say, in closing, Yours in all things E.ver,  Finis.

© Michelle Maycock 2014