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.

needs. 1640 has "neede."

Shakespear. The Second Folio text of 1632 and the 1640 Poems have "Shakespeare."

reliques. Shakespeare, of course, was never consecrated a saint by any ecclesiastical authority. "Hallow'd reliques" here is merely a poetic way of referring to the admired poets remains.

Star-ypointing. The earliest state of 1632 has "starre-ypointed," perhaps an attempt to correct Milton's "starre-ypointing" which was restored in the second and third states of 1632 and remains in subsequent editions. The locution is a clumsy attempt at Spenserian archaism. As John Leonard points out, the Middle English "y-" was a prefix of the past, not the present, participle.

son of memory. The Second Folio has "Sonne of Memory," calling direct attention to the conceit of Shakespeare as a son of Mnemosyne, described as the goddess of memory and the mother of the Muses in Hesiod's Theogony 915.

weak. The Second Folio has "dull."

live-long. The Second Folio has "lasting."

easie numbers. Metrical periods or rhymed verses. The Second Folio has a prefatory epistle "To the great variety of Readers" by Heminge and Condell, that states that Shakespeare's plays

. . . are now offer'd to your view cured, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them. . . . His minde and hand went together: And what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his Papers.

heart. The Second Folio has "part."

unvalu'd. Invaluable.

Delphick. Apollo, Greek god of poetry (among other things) had his oracle at Delphi.

it self. The Second Folio has "her selfe".

make us Marble. The reader is similarly imagined as changed into a marble monument in Il Penseroso, 40-3. This may allude to the myth of Niobe, who was turned to stone for bragging that her children were greater than Latona's children, Apollo and Diana (Apollodorus Library 3.5.6). The mourner for Shakespeare could, like Niobe, become a stone monument to his memory while grieving. See also Shakespeare's Sonnet 55 (Find "Not marble").