May 05 2014

Commendatory Verses

Published by at 5:37 am under Uncategorized

In early modern literary culture, poets would write “commendatory verses” for their peers, short poems of praise in honor of a new publication. The first edition of The Duchess of Malfi appeared with poems written by several of the other noteworthy playwrights of the London stage. John Ford and William Rowley contributed, but Thomas Middleton wrote the longest of the pieces:

In the just worth of the well-deserver, Mr. John Webster, and upon this masterpiece of tragedy

In this thou imitat’st one rich and wise,

That sees his good deed done before he dies;

As he by works, thou by this work of fame,

Hast well provided for thy living name.

To trust to others’ honorings is worth’s crime—

Thy monument is rais’d in thy life-time;

And ‘tis most just; for every worthy man

Is his own marble and his merit can

Cut him to any figure, and express

More art than Death’s cathedral palaces

Where royal ashes keep their court. Thy note

Be ever plainness, ‘tis the richest coat.

Thy epitaph only the title be—

Write “Duchess,” that will fetch a tear for thee,

For who’er saw this Duchess live and die,

That could get off under a bleeding eye?


— Megan Smith, dramaturg


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