Introduction

"On Shakespear" was Milton's first published poem, appearing anonymously in the second folio of plays by Shakespeare (1632). There it bears the title, "An Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W.SHAKESPEARE" but has no attribution. Gordon Campbell reckons that Milton's contribution was solicited for the second folio (1632) commendations because one from his father had appeared in the first folio (1623), and the request represented a significant show of gratitude towards the Milton family. John Milton senior had been a trustee of Blackfriars Theatre, famed as the winter quarters (after 1608) of the King's Men, the company of actors for whom Shakespeare served as chief playwright and also as a performer (Campbell, "Shakespeare and the Youth of Milton" in Milton Quarterly 33.4 (1999). The first-folio commendation appears as "To the memorie of M. W.Shake-speare." on leaf A6. In 1632, the younger John Milton was just commencing M.A. and had a small but promising reputation as a versifier if not yet a poet.

Professor Campbell also believes that young John Milton wrote "On Shakespear" convinced that he was imitating an epitaph written by Shakespeare himself. "An Epitaph on Sr Edward Standly. Ingraven on his Toombe in Tong Church" may or may not have been written by Shakespeare, but Campbell has located several contemporary attributions and local people in the Shropshire village of Tong still refer to the epitaph, and its accompanying, "On Sr Thomas Standly," as written by Shakespeare. The tomb on which the epitaphs appear is decorated with obelisks reminiscent of "Star-ypointing" pyramids.

"On Shakespear" from the 1632 folio exists in three states. The second state changes "starre-ypointed" to "starre-ypointing." The poem also appeared in Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare, Gent. of 1640 as the first of three elegies on Shakespeare and titled "An Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, William Sheakespeare." The present edition takes the 1645 Poems version for its copytext. Only significant variants are noted.