Every Man in His Humour

by

Ben Jonson

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Poetry Symbol Analysis

Poetry Symbol Icon

Poetry occupies an important role in the play. Firstly, Old Knowell worries that his son, Edward Knowell, is too invested in “idle poetry.” Master Matthew, an urban fool, constantly tries to impress people with verses that he says he has “extemporized”—made up on the spot. Generally, though, he’s actually plagiarizing other, more legitimate Elizabethan poets. Poetry, then, foregrounds the play’s overall preoccupation with language, as set up in the Prologue’s promise that what follows will use “language such as men do use.” That is, Jonson promises to have his characters speak authentically, using the words, grammar, and syntax that were contemporary of Elizabethan London. Poetry thus comes to embody language more generally, with Jonson using it to show both the pretentions and the marvels that are possible. Poetry goes right to the heart of questions about identity and authenticity, with Jonson keen to stress, through the words of Justice Clement, that a good poet is a rare thing indeed—there are many imitators like Matthew. Poetry is a multi-functional symbol then, representing language both at its worst and its best.

Poetry Quotes in Every Man in His Humour

The Every Man in His Humour quotes below all refer to the symbol of Poetry. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Language Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Every Man in His Humour published in 2009.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

How happy yet should I esteem myself,
Could I, by any practice, wean the boy
From one vain course of study he affects.
He is a scholar, if a man may trust
The liberal voice of fame in her report,
Of good account in both our Universities,
Either of which hath favoured him with graces:
But their indulgence must not spring in me
A fond opinion that he cannot err.
Myself was once a student, and indeed,
Fed with the self-same humour he is now,
Dreaming on nought but idle poetry,
That fruitless and unprofitable art,
Good unto none, but least to the professors;
Which then I thought the mistress of all knowledge:
But since, time and the truth have waked my judgment.
And reason taught me better to distinguish
The vain from the useful learnings.

Related Characters: Old Knowell (speaker), Edward Knowell
Related Symbols: Poetry
Page Number: 8-10
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

He useth every day to a merchant's house (where I serve water), one master Kitely's, i’ the Old Jewry; and here's the jest, he is in love with my master's sister, Mrs. Bridget, and calls her mistress; and there he will sit you a whole afternoon sometimes, reading o’ these same abominable, vile (a pox on 'em, I cannot abide them), rascally verses, poyetry, poyetry, and speaking of interludes; 'twill make a man burst to hear him. And the wenches, they do so jeer, and tee-hee at him.

Related Characters: Cob (speaker), Master Matthew, Mistress Bridget, Tib
Related Symbols: Poetry
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

STEPHEN: Ay, truly, sir, I am mightily given to melancholy.

MATTHEW: Oh, it's your only fine humour, sir: your true melancholy breeds your perfect fine wit, sir. I am melancholy myself, divers times, sir, and then do I no more but take pen and paper presently, and overflow you half a score, or a dozen of sonnets at a sitting.

Related Characters: Master Stephen (speaker), Master Matthew (speaker), Edward Knowell, Wellbred
Related Symbols: Poetry
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

They are not born every year, as an alderman. There goes more to the making of a good poet, than a sheriff.

Related Characters: Justice Clement (speaker), Master Matthew
Related Symbols: Poetry
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
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Poetry Symbol Timeline in Every Man in His Humour

The timeline below shows where the symbol Poetry appears in Every Man in His Humour. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Language Theme Icon
Parenthood Theme Icon
...his education, but worries that he spends too much time “dreaming on naught but idle poetry, / That fruitless and unprofitable art.” (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
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Authenticity Theme Icon
...is in love with Bridget Kitely. Cob is appalled by Matthew’s habit of reading “rascally verses, poyetry” and making the women “tee-hee” at him.  (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Language Theme Icon
Human Folly Theme Icon
Authenticity Theme Icon
...is often leads him to “take pen and paper” and “overflow” with the composition of poetry. (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
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Authenticity Theme Icon
Bobadil and Matthew go inside, with the latter hoping to charm Mistress Bridget with his “verse.” Wellbred and Edward go inside to have the “happiness to hear some of his poetry... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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Authenticity Theme Icon
...Wellbred, Stephen, Edward, and Brainworm all enter at Kitely’s house. Matthew intends to read some poetry to Bridget, causing Downright to leave; he’d rather “endure the stocks.” (full context)
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Human Folly Theme Icon
Authenticity Theme Icon
Edward and Wellbred listen amusedly as Matthew utters “ stolen remnants ” from Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, passing them off as his own: “Would God... (full context)
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Wellbred asks Matthew “who made these verses.” Matthew claims to have written them, “extempore,” that very morning. Downright re-enters, increasingly vexed by... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 5
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Human Folly Theme Icon
Authenticity Theme Icon
Parenthood Theme Icon
...“part” of his “care.” Wellbred, in jest, pleads Matthew’s case, saying he is Bridget’s official poet. Clement insists that he will challenge any poet to “extempore,” right there and then; he... (full context)
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Human Folly Theme Icon
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Wellbred insists that Matthew is more of a “pocket” poet than one who likes to “extempore.” Clement notices that Matthew is carrying “commonwealth of paper”... (full context)
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Authenticity Theme Icon
Clement states that a “good poet” is a rare thing, “not born every year.” Clement announces that everyone will have food... (full context)