This side idolatry

When John Eglinton says of Shakespeare that "I admire him, as old Ben did, on this side idolatry," he is quoting words published four years after the Bard's death by fellow poet and playwright Ben Jonson. For Jonson, and for Joyce too, the words convey very precise significance. By locating himself on "this side idolatry" Jonson expresses high esteem while reserving the right to judge. His air of respectful rivalry suits the context in the library chapter, where Eglinton says that Irish writers have not yet produced anything as estimable as Shakespeare's Hamlet even as Stephen Dedalus is using the play to envision how he might do exactly that.

John Hunt 2022

Portrait of Ben Jonson held in the National Portrait Gallery, London, probably painted in the early 1800s after a ca. 1617 original probably painted by Abraham van Blyenberch. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Will Shakespeare held in the National Portrait Gallery, London. probably painted ca.1610 by John Taylor. Source: Wikimedia Commons.