John Marston

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William Hazlitt (lecture date 1820)

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SOURCE: The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, Vol. 6, edited by P. P. Howe, J. M. Dent and Sons. Ltd., 1931, pp. 224-30.

[In the following excerpt from an essay originally written in 1820, Hazlitt discusses Marston primarily as a satirist, praising the power of his dramas despite their "impatient scorn, " "bitter indignation, " and indelicate language.]

Marston is a writer of great merit, who rose to tragedy from the ground of comedy, and whose forte was not sympathy, either with the stronger or softer emotions, but an impatient scorn and bitter indignation against the vices and follies of men, which vented itself either in comic irony or in lofty invective. He was properly a satirist. He was not a favourite with his contemporaries, nor they with him. He was first on terms of great intimacy, and afterwards at open war, with Ben Jonson; and he is most unfairly criticised in The Return from Parnassus, under the name of Monsieur Kinsayder, as a mere libeller and buffoon. Writers in their life-time do all they can to degrade and vilify one another, and expect posterity to have a very tender care of their reputations! The writers of [the Age of Elizabeth], in general, cannot however be reproached with this infirmity. The number of plays that they wrote in conjunction, is a proof of the contrary; and a circumstance no less curious, as to the division of intellectual labour, than the cordial union of sentiment it implied. Unlike most poets, the love of their art surmounted their hatred of one another. Genius was not become a vile and vulgar pretence, and they respected in others what they knew to be true inspiration in themselves. They courted the applause of the multitude, but came to one another for judgment and assistance. When we see these writers working together on the same admirable productions, year afteryear, as was the case with Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton and Rowley, with Chapman, Deckar, and Jonson, it reminds one of Ariosto's eloquent apostrophe to the Spirit of Ancient Chivalry, when he has seated his rival knights, Renaldo and Ferraw, on the same horse.

Oh ancient knights of true and noble heart,
They rivals were, one faith they liv'd not under;
Besides, they felt their bodies shrewdly smart
Of blows late given, and yet (behold a wonder)
Thro' thick and thin, suspicion set apart,
Like friends they ride, and parted not asunder,
Until the horse with double spurring drived
Unto a way parted in two, arrived.

Marston' s Antonio and Mellida is a tragedy of considerable force and pathos; but in the most critical parts, the author frequently breaks off or flags without any apparent reason but want of interest in his subject; and farther, the best and most affecting situations and bursts of feeling are too evidently imitations of Shakespear. Thus the unexpected meeting between Andrugio and Lucio, in the beginning of the third act, is a direct counterpart of that between Lear and Kent, only much weakened: and the interview between Antonio and Mellida has a strong resemblance to the still more affecting one between Lear and Cordelia, and is most wantonly disfigured by the sudden introduction of half a page of Italian rhymes, which gives the whole an air of burlesque. The conversation of Lucio and Andrugio, again, after his defeat seems to invite, but will not bear a comparison with Richard the Second's remonstrance with his courtiers, who offered him consolation in his misfortunes; and no one can be at a loss to trace the allusion to Romeo's conduct on...

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being apprized of his banishment, in the termination of the following speech.

Antonio. Each man takes hence life, but no man death:
He's a good fellow, and keeps open house:
A thousand thousand ways lead to his gate,
To his wide-mouthed porch: when niggard life
Hath but one little, little wicket through.
We wring ourselves into this wretched world
To pule and weep, exclaim, to curse and rail,
To fret and ban the fates, to strike the earth
As I do now.
Antonio, curse thy birth,
And die.

The following short passage might be quoted as one of exquisite beauty and originality—

—As having clasp'd a rose
Within my palm, the rose being ta'en away,
My hand retains a little breath of sweet;
So may man's trunk, his spirit slipp'd away,
Hold still a faint perfume of his sweet guest.
Act IV. Scene I.

The character of Felice in this play is an admirable satirical accompaniment, and is the favourite character of this author (in all probability his own), that of a shrewd, contemplative cynic, and sarcastic spectator in the drama of human life. It runs through all his plays, is shared by Quadratus and Lampatho in What You Will (it is into the mouth of the last of these that he has put that fine invective against the uses of philosophy, in the account of himself and his spaniel, 'who still slept while he baus'd leaves, tossed o'er the dunces, por'd on the old print'), and is at its height in the Fawn and Malevole, in his Parasitaster and Malcontent. These two comedies are his chef d'oeuvres. The character of the Duke Hercules of Ferrara, disguised as the Parasite, in the first of these, is well sustained throughout, with great sense, dignity, and spirit. He is a wise censurer of men and things, and rails at the world with charitable bitterness. He may put in a claim to a sort of family likeness to the Duke, in Measure for Measure: only the latter descends from his elevation to watch in secret over serious crimes; the other is only a spy on private follies. There is something in this cast of character (at least in comedy—perhaps it neutralizes the tone and interest in tragedy), that finds a wonderful reciprocity in the breast of the reader or audience. It forms a kind of middle term or point of union between the busy actors in the scene and the indifferent byestander, insinuates the plot, and suggests a number of good wholesome reflections, for the sagacity and honesty of which we do not fail to take credit to ourselves. We are let into its confidence, and have a perfect reliance on its sincerity. Our sympathy with it is without any drawback; for it has no part to perform itself, and 'is nothing, if not critical.' It is a sure card to play. We may doubt the motives of heroic actions, or differ about the just limits and extreme workings of the passions; but the professed misanthrope is a character that no one need feel any scruples in trusting, since the dislike of folly and knavery in the abstract is common to knaves and fools with the wise and honest! Besides the instructive moral vein of Hercules as the Fawn orParasitaster, which contains a world of excellent matter, most aptly and wittily delivered; there are two other characters perfectly hit off, Gonzago the old prince of Urbino, and Granuffo, one of his lords in waiting. The loquacious, good-humoured, undisguised vanity of the one is excellently relieved by the silent gravity of the other. The wit of this last character (Granuffo) consists in his not speaking a word through the whole play; he never contradicts what is said, and only assents by implication. He is a most infallible courtier, and follows the prince like his shadow, who thus graces his pretensions.

'We would be private, only Faunus stay; he is a wise fellow, daughter, a very wise fellow, for he is still just of my opinion; my Lord Granuffo, you may likewise stay, for I know you'll say nothing.'

And again, a little farther on, he says—

'Faunus, this Granuffo is a right wise good lord, a man of excellent discourse, and never speaks; his signs to me and men of profound reach instruct abundantly; he begs suits with signs, gives thanks with signs, puts off his hat leisurely, maintains his beard learnedly, keeps his lust privately, makes a nodding leg courtly, and lives happily.'—'Silence,' replies Hercules, 'is an excellent modest grace; but especially before so instructing a wisdom as that of your Excellency.'

The garrulous self-complacency of this old lord is kept up in a vein of pleasant humour; an instance of which might be given in his owning of some learned man, that 'though he was no duke, yet he was wise;' and the manner in which the others play upon this foible, and make him contribute to his own discomfiture, without his having the least suspicion of the plot against him, is full of ingenuity and counterpoint. In the last scene he says, very characteristically,

Of all creatures breathing, I do hate those things that struggle to seem wise, and yet are indeed very fools. I remember when I was a young man, in my father's days, there were four gallant spirits for resolution, as proper for body, as witty in discourse, as any were in Europe; nay, Europe had not such. I was one of them. We four did all love one lady; a most chaste virgin she was: we all enjoyed her, and so enjoyed her, that, despite the strictest guard was set upon her, we had her at our pleasure. I speak it for her honour, and my credit. Where shall you find suchwitty fellows now a-days? Alas! how easy is it in these weaker times to cross love-tricks! Ha! ha! ha! Alas, alas! I smile to think (I must confess with some glory to mine own wisdom), to think how I found out, and crossed, and curbed, and in the end made desperate Tiberio's love. Alas! good silly youth, that dared to cope with age and such a beard!

To which Gonzago replies, in a strain of exulting dotage:

May one have the sight of such a fellow for nothing? Doth there breathe such an egregious ass? Is there such a foolish animal in rerum natural How is it possible such a simplicity can exist? Let us not lose our laughing at him, for God's sake; let folly's sceptre light upon him, and to the ship of fools with him instantly.

Dondolo. Of all these follies I arrest your grace.

Molière has built a play on nearly the same foundation, which is not much superior to the present. Marston, among other topics of satire, has a fling at the pseudo-critics and philosophers of his time, who were 'full of wise saws and modern instances.' Thus he freights his Ship of Fools:

Molière has enlarged upon the same topic in his Mariage Forcé, but not with more point or effect. Nymphadoro's reasons for devoting himself to the sex generally, and Hercules's description of the different qualifications of different men, will also be found to contain excellent specimens, both of style and matter.—The disguise of Hercules as the Fawn, is assumed voluntarily, and he is comparatively a calm and dispassionate observer of the times. Malevole's disguise in the Malcontent has been forced upon him by usurpation and injustice, and his invectives are accordingly more impassioned and virulent. His satire does not 'like a wild goose fly, unclaimed of any man,' but has a bitter and personal application. Take him in the words of the usurping Duke's account of him.

This Malevole is one of the most prodigious affections that ever conversed with Nature; a man, or rather a monster, more discontent than Lucifer when he was thrust out of the presence. His appetite is unsatiable as the grave, as far from any content as from heaven. His highest delight is to procure others vexation, and therein he thinks he truly serves Heaven; for 'tis his position, whosoever in this earth can be contented, is a slave, and damned; therefore does he afflict all, in that to which they are most affected. The elements struggle with him; his own soul is at variance with herself; his speech is halter-worthy at all hours. I like him, faith; he gives good intelligence to my spirit, makes me understand those weaknesses which others' flattery palliates.

In reading all this, one is somehow reminded perpetually of Mr. [Edmand] Kean's acting: in Shakespear we do not often think of him, except in those parts which he constantly acts, and in those one cannot forget him. I might observe on the above passage, in excuse for some bluntnesses of style, that the ideal barrier between names and things seems to have been greater then than now. Words have become instruments of more importance than formerly. To mention certain actions, is almost to participate in them, as if consciousness were the same as guilt. The standard of delicacy varies at different periods, as it does in different countries, and is not a general test of superiority. The French, who pique themselves (and justly, in some particulars) on their quickness of tact and refinement of breeding, say and do things which we, a plainer and coarser people, could not think of without a blush. What would seem gross allusions to us at present, were without offence to our ancestors, and many things passed for jests with them, or matters of indifference, which would not now be endured. Refinement of language, however, does not keep pace with simplicity of manners. The severity of criticism exercised in our theatres towards some unfortunate straggling phrases in the old comedies, is but an ambiguous compliment to the immaculate purity of modern times. Marston's style was by no means more guarded than that of his contemporaries. He was also much more of a freethinker than Marlowe, and there is a frequent, and not unfavourable allusion in his works, to later sceptical opinions.—In the play of the Malcontent we meet with an occasional mixture of comic gaiety, to relieve the more serious and painful business of the scene, as in the easy loquacious effrontery of the old intriguante Maquerella, and in the ludicrous facility with which the idle courtiers avoid or seek the notice of Malevole, as he is in or out of favour; but the general tone and important of the piece is severe and moral. The plot is somewhat too intricate and too often changed (like the shifting of a scene), so as to break and fritter away the interest at the end; but the part of Aurelia, the Duchess of Pietro Jacomo, a dissolute and proud-spirited woman, is the highest strain of Marston's pen. The scene in particular, in which she receives and exults in the supposed news of her husband's death, is nearly unequalled in boldness of conception and in the unrestrained force of passion, taking away not only the consciousness of guilt, but overcoming the sense of shame.


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John Marston 1576–1634

English dramatist and poet.

Best known as the writer of The Malcontent (1602-03) and of violent, lurid, revenge tragedies, Marston also wrote elegant city comedies and classically-inspired satires. A successful working playwright who was associated with many different London acting companies, he exemplifies both the best and the worst traits of Elizabethan drama. Although his works were consigned to obscurity for centuries after his death, critical interest in Marston's works revived in the nineteenth century and during the 1930s; they are now acknowledged as an important part of Elizabethan literary history. H. Harvey Wood summarized Marston's career: "Marston began his literary life with satires, gave his comedies and tragedies over to cynical malcontents and firking satirists, and finished, like several more famous artists, by writing and preaching sermons."

Biographical Information

Marston was born in Wardington, Oxfordshire, to John Marston, a gentleman lawyer and member of the Middle Temple, and Mary Guarsi Marston, the daughter of an Italian surgeon. There is no information available about young Marston's early education, but records indicate that he enrolled at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1592 and that he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree there in 1594. Although Marston's father hoped that his son would pursue a legal career, young Marston became more interested in writing material for amateur theatrical productions mounted by his fellow students, and he soon became well-known for his wit and sharp satire. With the publication of The Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image in 1598, followed by The Scourge of Villanie in that same year, he had made a promising start as an author. Marston's career was cut short the following year, however, by the English bishops' ban on satire and their ensuing "Order of Conflagration," which mandated the public burning of all satirical works, including Marston's. Turning instead to writing for the stage, Marston began his association with various London acting companies including the Children of Pauls, the Blackfriars theater, the Children of Chapel Royal, the Children of the Queen's Revels, and the Whitefriars theater. His plays

were successful and popular with audiences but received mixed reviews from critics. Marston also collaborated with such other prominent playwrights as Thomas Dekker, George Chapman, and Ben Jonson, and with the latter became involved in a bitter professional feud. Marston had ridiculed Jonson in The Scourge of Villanie, and Jonson retaliated by making fun of Marston's Antonio and Mellida (1600) in his Poetaster in 1601. By 1604, however, they were on good terms and collaborated with Chapman on Eastward Ho (1605-05); Marston had even dedicated The Malcontent to his friend Jonson. When Marston and Chapman were sent to prison in 1608, probably due to the performance of an offensive play at Blackfriars theater, in which they were shareholders, Jonson joined them in solidarity. Marston had married in 1605 and, in 1608, following his release from prison, he decided to end his dramatic career. According to parish records, he was ordained deacon in 1609 and became a priest later that same year. He remained a clergyman for the remainder of his life, receiving a permanent position at Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1616. Perhaps because of his new calling, Marston's name was removed from several later editions of The Insatiate Countess, as well as from the 1633 edition of his collected works. He resigned his position in 1631 because of illness and died in London in 1634.

Major Works

Marston's The Metamorphosis and The Scourge of Villanie had established his reputation as a satirist. The first work was a licentious long poem written in the same meter as William Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, while in the second he launched pointed attacks on other satirists. His first play, Histriomastix, was performed at the Middle Temple in 1598-99. It combined a multiple plot structure with satire on the social and political themes of the day, and utilized the figure of the satirist who is both a part of and apart from the main action. Marston wrote for the Children of Pauls between 1600 and 1601 ; the five plays he wrote during that interval are marked by experimentation, and exhibit many of the themes and devices that were to become hallmarks of Marston's later style. Following the production with Dekker, John Day, and William Haughton of the comedy Lust's Dominion (1600); Jack Drum's Entertainment (1600) is a burlesque on the complications of courtship; Antonio and Mellida (1600) is a tragicomedy about the degenerate atmosphere of the Italian court; Antonio's Revenge (1600) is a revenge tragedy that is the sequel to Antonio and Mellida; and What You Will (1601) is the satirical tale of two gallants who compete for the attentions of a widow. Of this group, Antonio's Revenge is usually considered the most successful play. Borrowing from the Senecan revenge tragedy tradition, as well as Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, John Webster's Duchess of Malfi, and Shakespeare's Hamlet; Antonio's Revenge focuses on a son's revenge of his father's murder and features some of the most gruesome scenes in Elizabethan theater. Seeking retribution for his father's death, Antonio serves the head of the murderer's son to him on a plate, and later plucks out the murderer's tongue. The play's language is correspondingly lurid and marked by rhetorical excess. Marston's next play, The Malcontent (1602-03), another tragicomedy, is a topical satire that treats such themes as female chastity, political and social change, the actions of Fortune and Providence, and the then very popular interest in melancholy. Generally thought to be Marston's finest work, The Malcontent combines satire, philosophy, and an ingenious disguise plot. Parasitaster, or The Fawn (1604) is another satire dealing with corruption in court society and the uses and abuses of language. Marston's next two works, Eastward Ho (1604-05) and The Dutch Courtesan (1605) are city comedies based on the exposing of fops and other impostors, and are concerned with temperance and the moral nature of women, respectively. Marston's last completed play, The Wonder of Women, or The Tragedy of Sophonisba (1606), is a serious play about the rivalry of two Libyan kings for the love of Sophonisba. Derived from several classical sources including Appian, Levy, and Lucan, Sophonisba's main theme is personal integrity. The Insatiate Countess, a tragedy left unfinished when Marston ended his theatrical career in 1608, was completed by William Barkested.

Critical Reception

Describing himself as "a sharpe fangd satyrist," Marston insisted that his harsh and sometimes crude satires were deliberately styled in order to make their point. Although his plays were popular with theatergoers, he was often criticized for ill-plotted structure, inflated and coarse language, excessive violence and self-conscious theatricality, and for the moral ambiguity of his themes and characters. His reputation lapsed during his own lifetime and his works were usually dismissed as minor dramas of the era until the nineteenth century, when such critics as William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and Algernon Swinburne rediscovered Marston and praised the power and originality of his works. In a prominent essay written in 1888, Swinburne defended the sincerity of Marston's style, noting that, "at its best, when the clumsy and ponderous incompetence of expression which disfigures it is supplanted by a strenuous felicity of ardent and triumphant aspiration, [Marston's language] has notes and touches in the compass of its course not unworthy of Webster or Tourneur or even Shakespeare himself." Marston's reputation was fully revived in 1934 when H. Harvey Wood published his three-volume edition of Marston's works. In reviewing that edition, T. S. Eliot also praised the merits of Marston's style, deeming him "a positive, powerful and unique personality," and adding that, "His is an original variation on that deep discontent and rebelliousness so frequent among the Elizabethan dramatists." Recent criticism has focused on such issues as Marston's relationship to the other dramatists of his time, his use of classical sources, the relationship between Antonio's Revenge and Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the authorship of the final version of The Insatiate Countess. Scholarly interest in The Malcontent, The Dutch Courtesan, and Sophonisba remains strong, with much recent probing into the feminist elements of The Dutch Courtesan.

Charles Lamb (essay date 1820-25)

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SOURCE: "Elizabethan Drama," in Lamb's Criticism: A Selection from the Literary Criticism of Charles Lamb, edited by E. M. W. Tillyard, 1923. Reprint by Greenwood Press, 1970, pp. 18-19.

[In the following excerpt from an essay written between 1820 and 1825, Lamb offers brief commentary on Marston's Antonio and Mellida and What You Will,

comparing the former to Shakespeare's King Lear.]

Antonio and Mellida. The situation of Andrugio and Lucio, in the first part of this tragedy, where Andrugio Duke of Genoa banished his country, with the loss of a son supposed drowned, is cast upon the territory of his mortal enemy the Duke of Venice, with no attendants but Lucio an old nobleman, and a page—resembles that of Lear and Kent in that king's distresses. Andrugio, like Lear, manifests a kinglike impatience, a turbulent greatness, an affected resignation. The enemies which he enters lists to combat, 'Despair and mighty Grief and sharp Impatience,' and the forces which he brings to vanquish them, 'cornets of horse,' etc. are in the boldest style of allegory. They are such a 'race of mourners' as the 'infection of sorrows loud' in the intellect might beget on some 'pregnant could' in the imagination. The prologue to the second part, for its passionate earnestness, and for the tragic note of preparation which it sounds, might have preceded one of those old tales of Thebes or Pelops' line, which Milton has so highly commended, as free from the common error of the poets in his day, of 'intermixing comic stuff with tragic sadness and gravity, brought in without discretion corruptly to gratify the people.' It is as solemn a preparative as the 'warning voice which he who saw the Apocalyps heard cry.'

What you Will. Act I. Scene I. To judge of the liberality of these notions of dress, we must advert to the days of Gresham, and the consternation which a phenomenon habited like the merchant here described would have excited among the flat round caps and cloth stockings upon 'Change, when those Original arguments or tokens of a citizen's vocation were in fashion, not more for thrift and usefulness than for distinction and grace.' The blank uniformity to which all professional distinctions in apparel have been long hastening, is one instance of the decay of symbols among us, which, whether it has contributed or not to make us a more intellectual, has certainly made us a less imaginative people. Shakspeare knew the force of signs: a 'malignant and a turban'd Turk.' This 'mealcap miller,' says the author of God's Revenge against Murder, to express his indignation at an atrocious outrage committed by the miller Pierot upon the person of the fair Marieta.

Principal Works

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The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image. And Certaine Satyres (poetry) 1598

The Scourge of Villanie. Three Bookes of Satyres (poetry) 1598

Histriomastix (drama) 1598-99

Antonio and Mellida (drama) 1600

Antonio's Revenge (drama) 1600

Jack Drum's Entertainment (drama) 1600

Lust's Dominion (drama) [with Thomas Dekker, John Day, and William Haughton] 1600

What You Will (drama) 1601

The Malcontent (drama) 1602-03

Parasitaster, or The Fawn (drama) 1604

Eastward Ho (drama) [with George Chapman and Ben Jonson] 1604-05

The Dutch Courtesan (drama) 1605

The Wonder of Women, or, The Tragedy of Sophonisba (drama) 1606

The Insatiate Countess (drama) [with William Barksted] 1608?

The Works of Mr. J. Marston (poetry and dramas) 1633

The Plays of John Marston. 3 vols. (poetry and dramas) 1934-39

Algernon Swinburne (essay date 1888)

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SOURCE: "John Marston," in The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 24, No. 140, October, 1888, pp. 531-47.

[Here, Swinburne attempts to defend the merits of Marston's style from his detractors, asserting that, while the dramatist can be both inconsistent and coarse in his choice of language and subject matter, his writing is "striking and sincere" in its own, very individual way.]

If justice has never been done, either in his own day or in any after age, to a poet of real genius and original powers, it will generally be presumed, with more or less fairness or unfairness, that this is in great part his own fault. Some perversity or obliquity will be suspected, even if no positive infirmity or deformity can be detected, in his intelligence or in his temperament: some taint or some flaw will be assumed to affect and to vitiate his creative instinct or his spiritual reason. And in the case of John Marston, the friend and foe of Ben Jonson, the fierce and foul-mouthed satirist, the ambitious and overweening tragedian, the scornful and passionate humourist, it is easy for the shallowest and least appreciative reader to perceive the nature and to estimate the weight of such drawbacks or impediments as have so long and so seriously interfered with the due recognition of an independent and remarkable poet. The praise and the blame, the admiration and the distaste excited by his works, are equally just, but are seemingly incompatible: the epithets most exactly appropriate to the style of one scene, one page, one speech in ascene or one passage in a speech, are most ludicrously inapplicable to the next. An anthology of such noble and beautiful excerpts might be collected from his plays, that the reader who should make his first acquaintance with this poet through the deceptive means of so flattering an introduction would be justified in supposing that he had fallen in with a tragic dramatist of the very highest order—with a new candidate for a station in the very foremost rank of English poets. And if the evil star which seems generally to have presided over the literary fortunes of John Marston should misguide the student, on first opening a volume of his works, into some such arid or miry tract of wilderness as too frequently deforms the face of his uneven and irregular demesne, the inevitable sense of disappointment and repulsion which must immediately ensue will too probably discourage a casual explorer from any renewal of his research.

Two of the epithets which Ben Jonson, in his elaborate attack on Marston, selected for ridicule as characteristically grotesque instances of affected and infelicitous innovation—but which nevertheless have taken root in the language, and practically justified their adoption—describe as happily as any that could be chosen to describe the better and the worse quality of his early tragic and satiric style. These words are 'strenuous' and 'clumsy.' It is perpetually, indefatigably, and fatiguingly strenuous; it is too often vehemently, emphatically, and laboriously clumsy. But at its best, when the clumsy and ponderous incompetence of expression which disfigures it is supplanted by a strenuous felicity of ardent and triumphant aspiration, it has notes and touches in the compass of its course not unworthy of Webster or Tourneur or even Shakespeare himself. Its occasionally exquisite delicacy is as remarkable as its more frequent excess of coarseness, awkwardness, or violent and elaborate extravagance. No sooner has he said anything especially beautiful, pathetic, or sublime, than the evil genius must needs take his turn, exact as it were the forfeit of his bond, impel the poet into some sheer perversity, deface the flow and form of the verse with some preposterous crudity or fiatulence of phrase which would discredit the most incapable or the most fantastic novice. And the worst of it all is that he limps or stumbles with either foot alternately. At one moment he exaggerates the license of artificial rhetoric, the strain and swell of the most high-flown and hyperbolical poetic diction; at the next, he falls flat upon the naked level of insignificant or offensive realism.

These are no slight charges; and it is impossible for any just orsober judgment to acquit John Marston of the impeachment conveyed in them. The answer to them is practical and simple: it is that his merits are great enough to outweigh and overshadow them all. Even if his claim to remembrance were merely dependent on the value of single passages, this would suffice to secure him his place of honour in the train of Shakespeare. If his most ambitious efforts at portraiture of character are often faulty at once in colour and in outline, some of his slighter sketches have a freshness and tenderness of beauty which may well atone for the gravest of his certainly not infrequent offences. The sweet constancy and gentle fortitude of a Beatrice and a Mellida remain in the memory more clearly, leave a more lifelike impression of truth on the reader's mind, than the light-headed profligacy and passionate instability of such brainless bloodthirsty wantons as Franceschina and Isabella. In fact, the better characters in Marston's plays are better drawn, less conventional more vivid and more human than those of the baser sort. Whatever of moral credit may be due to a dramatist who paints virtue better than vice, and has a happier hand at a hero's likeness than at a villain's, must unquestionably be assigned to the author of Antonio and Mellida. Piero, the tyrant and traitor, is little more than a mere stage property: like Mendoza in The Malcontent and Syphax in Sophonisba, he would be a portentous ruffian if he had a little more life in him; he has to do the deeds and express the emotions of a most bloody and crafty miscreant; but it is only now and then that we catch the accent of a real man in his tones of cajolery or menace, dissimulation or triumph. Andrugio, the venerable and heroic victim of his craft and cruelty, is a figure not less living and actual than stately and impressive: the changes of mood from meditation to passion, from resignation to revolt, from tenderness to resolution, which mark the development of the character with the process of the action, though painted rather broadly than subtly and with more of vigour than of care, show just such power of hand and sincerity of instinct as we fail to find in the hot and glaring colours of his rival's monotonous ruffianism. Again, in The Wonder of Women, the majestic figures of Massinissa, Gelosso, and Sophonisba stand out in clearer relief than the traitors of the senate, the lecherous malignity of Syphax, or the monstrous profile of the sorceress Erichtho. In this laboured and ambitious tragedy, as in the two parts of Antonio and Mellida, we see the poet at his best—and also at his worst. A vehement and resolute desire to give weight to every line and emphasis to every phrase has too often misled him into such brakes and jungles of crabbed and convulsive bombast, of stiff and tortuous exuberance, that the reader in struggling through some of the scenes and speeches feels as though he werecompelled to push his way through a cactus hedge: the hot and heavy blossoms of rhetoric blaze and glare out of a thickset fence of jagged barbarisms and exotic monstrosities of metaphor. The straining and sputtering declamation of narrative and oratory scarcely succeeds in expressing through a dozen quaint and far-fetched words or phrases what two or three of the simplest would easily and amply have sufficed to convey. But when the poet is content to deliver his message like a man of this world, we discover with mingled satisfaction, astonishment, and irritation, that he can write when he pleases in a style of the purest and noblest simplicity; that he can make his characters converse in a language worthy of Sophocles when he does not prefer to make them stutter in a dialect worthy of Lycophron. And in the tragedy of Sophonisba the display of this happy capacity is happily reserved for the crowning scene of the poem. It would be difficult to find anywhere a more preposterous or disjointed piece of jargon than the speech of Asdrubal at the close of the second act.

Brook open scorn, faint powers!—
Make good the camp!—No, fly!—yes, what?—wild rage!—
To be a prosperous villain! yet some heat, some hold;
But to burn temples, and yet freeze, O cold!
Give me some health; now your blood sinks: thus deeds
Ill nourished rot: without Jove nought succeeds.

And yet this passage occurs in a poem which contains such a passage as the following.

And now with undismayed resolve behold,
To save you—you—for honour and just faith
Are most true gods, which we should much adore—
With even disdainful vigour I give up
An abhorred life!—You have been good to me,
And I do thank thee, heaven. O my stars,
I bless your goodness, that with breast unstained,
Faith pure, a virgin wife, tried to my glory,
I die, of female faith the long-lived story;
Secure from bondage and all servile harms,
But more, most happy in my husband's arms.

The lofty sweetness, the proud pathos, the sonorous simplicity of these most noble verses might scarcely suffice to attest the poet's possession of any strong dramatic faculty. But the scene immediately preceding bears evidence of a capacity for terse and rigorous brevity of dialogue in a style as curt andcondensed as that of Tacitus or Dante.

Sophonisba. What unjust grief afflicts my worthy lord?
Massinissa. Thank me, ye gods, with much beholdingness;
For, mark, I do not curse you.
Sophonisba. Tell me, sweet,
The cause of thy much anguish.

Massinissa. Ha, the cause?
Let's see; wreathe back thine arms, bend down thy neck,
Practise base prayers, make fit thyself for bondage.
Sophonisba. Bondage!
Massinissa. Bondage: Roman bondage.
Sophonisba. No, no!
Massinissa. How then have I vowed well to Scipio?
Sophonisba. How then to Sophonisba?
Massinissa. Right: which way
Run mad? impossible distraction!
Sophonisba. Dear lord, thy patience; let it maze all power,
And list to her in whose sole heart it rests
To keep thy faith upright.
Massinissa. Wilt thou be slaved?
Sophonisba. No; free.
Massinissa. How then keep I my faith?
Sophonisba. My death
Gives help to all. From Rome so rest we free:
So brought to Scipio, faith is kept in thee.
Massinissa. Thou darest not die!—Some wine.—Thou darest not die!
Sophonisba. How near was I unto the curse of man,
How like was I yet once to have been glad!
He that ne'er laughed may with a constant face
Contemn Jove's frown. Happiness makes us base.

The man or the boy does not seem to me enviable who can read or remember these verses without a thrill. In sheer force of concision they recall the manner of Alfieri; but that noble tragic writer could hardly have put such fervour of austere passion into the rigid utterance, or touched the note of emotion with such a glowing depth of rapture. That 'bitter and severe delight'—if I may borrow the superb phrase of Landor—which inspires and sustains the imperial pride of self-immolation might have found in his dramatic dialect an expression as terse and as sincere: it could hardly have clothed itself with such majestic and radiant solemnity of living and breathing verse. The rapid elliptic method of amoebaean dialogue is more in his manner than in any English poet's known to me except the writer of this scene; but indeed Marston is in more points than one the most Italian of our dramatists. His highest tone of serious poetry has in it, like Alfieri's, a note of self-conscious stoicism and somewhat arrongant self-control; while as a comic writer he is but too apt, like too many transalpine wits, to mistake filth for fun, and to measure the neatness of a joke by its nastiness. Dirt for dirt's sake has never been the apparent aim of any great English humourist who had not about him some unmistakable touch of disease—some inheritance of evil or of suffering like the congenital brain sickness of Swift or the morbid infirmity of Sterne. A poet of so high an order as the author of Sophonisba could hardly fail to be in general a healthier writer than such as these; but it cannot be denied that he seems to have been somewhat inclined to accept the illogical inference which would argue that because some wit is dirty all dirt must be witty—because humour may sometimes be indecent, indecency must always be humorous. 'The clartier the cosier' was an old proverb among the northern peasantry while yet recalcitrant against the inroads of sanitary reform: 'the dirtier the droller' would seem to have been practically the no less irrational motto of many not otherwise unadmirable comic writers. It does happen that the drollest character in all Marston's plays is also the most offensive in his language—'the foulest-mouthed profane railing brother;' but the drollest passages in the whole part are those that least want washing. How far the example of Ben Jonson may have influenced or encouraged Marston in the indulgence of this unlovely propensity can only be conjectured; it is certain that no third writer of the time, however given to levity of speech or audacity in selection of subject, was so prone—in Shakespeare's phrase—to 'talk greasily' as the authors of Bartholomew Fair and The Dutch Courtesan.

The laboured eccentricity of style which signalises and disfigures the three chief tragedies or tragic poems of Marston is tempered and subdued to a soberer tone of taste and a more rational choice of expression in his less ambitious and less unequal works. It is almost impossible to imagine any insertion or addition from the hand of Webster which would not be at once obvious to any reader in the text of Sophonisba or in either part of Antonio and Mellida. Their fierce and irregular magnificence, their feverish and strenuous intemperance of rhetoric, would have been too glaringly in contrast with the sublime purity of the greater poet's thought and style. In the tragicomedy of The Malcontent, published two years later than the former and two years earlier than the latter of these poems, if the tone of feeling is but little changed or softened, the language is duly clarified and simplified. 'The Malcontent, (augmented) by Marston, with the additions written by John Webster,' is as coherent, as harmonious, as much of a piece throughout, as was the text of the play in its earlier state. Not all the conscientious art and skill of Webster could have given this uniformity to a work in which the original design and execution had been less in keeping with the bent of his own genius and the accent of his natural style. Sad and stern, not unhopeful or unloving, the spirit of this poem is more in harmony with that of Webster's later tragedies than with that of Marston's previous plays; its accent is sardonic rather than pessimistic, ironical rather than despondent. The plot is neither well conceived nor well constructed; the catastrophe is little less than absurd, especially from the ethical or moral point of view; the characters are thinly sketched, the situations at once forced and conventional; there are few sorrier or stranger figures in serious fiction than is that of the penitent usurper when he takes to his arms his repentant wife, together with one of her two paramours, in a sudden rapture of forgiving affection; the part which gives the play its name is the only one drawn with any firmness of outline, unless we except that of the malignant and distempered old parasite; but there is a certain interest in the awkward evolution of the story, and there are scenes and passages of singular power and beauty which would suffice to redeem the whole work from condemnation or oblivion, even though it had not the saving salt in it of an earnest and evident sincerity. The brooding anger, the resentful resignation, the impatient spirit of endurance, the bitter passion of disdain, which animate the utterance and direct the action of the hero, are something more than dramatically appropriate; it is as obvious thatthese are the mainsprings of the poet's own ambitious and dissatisfied intelligence, sullen in its reluctant submission and ardent in its implacable appeal, as that his earlier undramatic satires were the tumultuous and turbid ebullitions of a mood as morbid, as restless, and as honest. Coarse, rough, and fierce as those satires are, inferior alike to Hall's in finish of verse and to Donne's in weight of matter, it seems to me that Dr. Grosart, their first careful and critical editor, is right in claiming for them equal if not superior credit on the score of earnestness. The crude ferocity of their invective has about it a savour of honesty which atones for many defects of literary taste and executive art; and after a more thorough study than such rude and unattractive work seems at first to require or to deserve, the moral and intellectual impression of the whole will not improbably be far more favourable than one resulting from a cursory survey or derived from a casual selection of excerpts. They bring little or no support to a very dubious imputation which has been cast upon their author; the charge of having been concerned in a miserably malignant and stupid attempt at satire under the form of a formless and worthless drama called Histriomastix; though his partnership in another anonymous play—a semi-romantic semi-satirical comedy called Jack Drum's Entertainment—is very much more plau sibly supportable by comparison of special phrases as well as of general style with sundry mannerisms as well as with the habitual turn of speech in Marston's acknowledged comedies. There is a certain incomposite and indigested vigour in the language of this play which makes the attribution of a principal share in its authorship neither utterly discreditable to Marston nor absolutely improbable in itself; and the satire aimed at Ben Jonson, if not especially relevant to the main action, is at all events less incongruous and preposterous in its relation to the rest of the work than the satirical or controversial part of Dekker's Satiromastix. But on the whole, if this play be Marston's, it seems to me the rudest and the poorest he has left us, except perhaps the comedy of What you Will; in which several excellent and suggestive situations are made less of than they should have been, and a good deal of promising comic invention is wasted for want of a little more care and a little more conscience in cultivation of material and composition of parts. The satirical references to Jonson are more pointed and effective in this comedy than in either of the two plays last mentioned; but its best claim to remembrance is to be sought in the admirable soliloquy which relates the seven years' experience of the student and his spaniel. Marston is too often heaviest when he would and should be lightest, owing apparently to a certain infusion of contempt for light comedy as something rather beneathhim, not wholly worthy of his austere and ambitious capacity. The parliament of pages in this play is a diverting interlude of farce, though a mere irrelevance and impediment to the action; but the boys are less amusing than their compeers in the anonymous comedy of Sir Giles Goosecap, first published in the year preceding: a work of genuine humour and invention, excellent in style if somewhat infirm in construction, for a reprint of which we are indebted to the previous care of Marston's present editor. Far be it from me to intrude on the barren and boggy province of hypothetical interpretation and controversial commentary; but I may observe in passing that the original of Simplicius Faber in What you Will must surely have been the same hanger-on or sycophant of Ben Jonson's who was caricatured by Dekker in his Satiromastix under the name of Asinius Bubo. The gross assurance of self-complacent duncery, the apish arrogance and imitative dogmatism of reflected self-importance and authority at second hand, are presented in either case with such identity of tone and colouring that we can hardly imagine the satire to have been equally applicable to two contemporary satellites of the same imperious and masterful egoist.

That the same noble poet and high-souled humourist was not responsible for the offence given to Caledonian majesty in the comedy of Eastward Ho, the authentic word of Jonson would be sufficient evidence; but I am inclined to think it a matter of almost certain likelihood—if not of almost absolute proof—that Chapman was as innocent as Jonson of a jest for which Marston must be held responsible—though scarcely, I should imagine, blamable at the present day by the most rabid of Scottish provincialists. In the last scene of The Malcontent a court lady says to an infamous old hanger-on of the court—'And is not Signor St. Andrew a gallant fellow now?' to which the old hag replies—'Honour and he agree as well together as a satin suit and woollen stockings.' The famous passage in the comedy which appeared a year later must have been far less offensive to the most nervous patriotism than this; and the impunity of so gross an insult, so obviously and obtrusively offered, to the new knightships and lordships of King James's venal chivalry and parasitic nobility, may naturally have encouraged the satirist to repeat his stroke next year—and must have astounded his retrospection, when he found himself in prison, and under threat of worse than imprisonment, together with his unoffending associates in an admirable and inoffensive comedy. It is impossible to suppose that he would not have come forward to assume the responsibility of his own words—as it is impossible to imagine that Jonson or Chapman would have given up his accomplice to save himself. But the law ofthe day would probably have held them all responsible alike.

In the same year as Eastward Ho appeared the best and completest piece of work which we owe to the single hand of Marston. A more brilliant and amusing play than The Dutch Courtesan, better composed, better constructed, and better written, it would be difficult to discover among the best comic and romantic works of its incomparable period. The slippery and sanguinary strumpet who gives its name to the play is sketched with such admirable force and freedom of hand as to suggest the existence of an actual model who may unconsciously have sat for the part under the scrutiny of eyes as keen and merciless as ever took notes for a savagely veracious caricature—or for an unscrupulously moral exposure. The jargon in which her emotions are expressed is as Shakespearean in its breadth and persistency as that of Dr. Caius or Captain Fluellen; but the reality of those emotions is worthy of a less farcical vehicle for the expression of such natural craft and passion. The sisters, Beatrice and Crispinella, seem at first too evidently imitated from the characters of Aurelia and Phœnixella in the earliest surviving comedy of Ben Jonson; but the 'comedy daughter,' as Dickens (or Skimpole) would have expressed it, is even more coarsely and roughly drawn than in the early sketch of the more famous dramatist. On the other hand, it must be allowed—though it may not be recognised without a certain sense of surprise—that the nobler and purer type of womanhood or girl-hood which we owe to the hand of Marston is far above comparison with any which has been accomplished or achieved by the studious and vehement elaboration of Ben Jonson's. The servility of subservience which that great dramatist exacts from his typically virtuous women—from the abject and anaemic wife of a Corvino or a Fitzdottrel—is a quality which could not coexist with the noble and loving humility of Marston's Beatrice. The admirable scene in which she is brought face to face with the impudent pretentions of the woman who asserts herself to have been preferred by the betrothed lover of the expectant bride is as pathetic and impressive as it is lifelike and original; and even in the excess of gentleness and modesty which prompts the words—'I will love you the better; I cannot hate what he affected'—there is nothing less noble or less womanly than in the subsequent reply to the harlot's repeated taunts and inventions of insult. 'He did not ill not to love me, but sure he did not well to mock me: gentle minds will pity, though they cannot love; yet peace and my love sleep with him.' The powerful soliloquy which closes the scene expresses no more than the natural emotion of the man who has received so lovely a revelation of his future bride's invincible and single-heartedlove.

Cannot that woman's evil, jealousy,
Despite disgrace, nay, which is worse, contempt,
Once stir thy faith?

Coarse as is often the language of Marston's plays and satires, the man was not coarse-minded—not gross of spirit nor base of nature—who could paint so delicately and simply a figure so beautiful in the tenderness of its purity.

The farcical underplot of this play is worthy of Molière in his broader mood of farce. Hardly any Jourdain or Pourceaugnac, any Georges Dandin or Comtesse d'Escarbagnas of them all, undergoes a more grotesque experience or plays a more ludicrous part than is devised for Mr. and Mrs. Mulligrub by the ingenuity of the indefatigable Cocledemoy—a figure worthy to stand beside any of the tribe of Mascarille as fourbum imperator. The animation and variety of inventive humour which keep the reader's laughing attention awake and amused throughout these adventurous scenes of incident and intrigue are not more admirable than the simplicity and clearness of evolution or composition which recall and rival the classic masterpieces of Latin and French comedy. There is perhaps equal fertility of humour, but there certainly is not equal harmony of structure, in the play which Marston published next year—Parasitaster, or The Fawn; a name probably suggested by that of Ben Jonson's Poetaster, in which the author had himself been the subject of a greater man's rage and ridicule. The wealth and the waste of power displayed and paraded in this comedy are equally admirable and lamentable; for the brilliant effect of its various episodes and interludes is not more obvious than the eclipse of the central interest, the collapse of the serious design, which results from the agglomeration of secondary figures and the alternations of perpetual byplay. Three or four better plays might have been made out of the materials here hurled and huddled together into one. The Isabelle of Molière is not more amusing or more delightful in her audacity of resource, in her combination of loyalty with duplicity, innocence with intrigue, than the daring and singlehearted young heroine of this play; but the École des Maris is not encumbered with such a crowd of minor interests and characters, of subordinate humours and complications, as the reader of Marston's comedy finds interposed and intruded between his attention and the main point of interest. He would fain see more of Dulcimel and Tiberio, the ingenious and enterprising princess, the ingenuous and responsive prince; he is willing to see as much as is shown him of theirfathers, the masquerading philosopher and the self-complacent dupe; Granuffo, the patrician prototype of Captain John Bunsby, may take a seat in the chambers of his memory beside the commander of the Cautious Clara; the humours of a jealous foul-minded fool and a somewhat audaciously virtuous wife may divert him by the inventive and vigorous exposure of their various revolutions and results; but the final impression is one of admiring disappointment and possibly ungrateful regret that so much energetic satire and so much valuable time should have been spent on the somewhat nauseous follies of 'sickly knights' and 'vicious braggarts,' that the really admirable and attractive parts of the design are cramped and crowded out of room for the due development of their just and requisite proportions.

A more eccentric, uneven, and incomposite piece of work than The Insatiate Countess it would be difficult to find in English or in other literature. The opening scene is picturesque and impressive; the closing scene of the serious part is noble and pathetic; but the intervening action is of a kind which too often aims at the tragic and hits the burlesque. The incessant inconstancy of passion which hurries the fantastic heroine through such a miscellaneous multitude of improvised intrigues is rather a comic than a tragic motive for the conduct of a play; and the farcical rapidity with which the puppets revolve makes it impossible for the most susceptible credulity to take any real interest or feel any real belief in the perpetual rotation of their feverish moods and motives, their irrational doings and sufferings. The humour of the underplot constantly verges on horseplay, and is certainly neither delicate nor profound; but there is matter enough for mirth in it to make the reader duly grateful for the patient care and admirable insight which Mr. Bullen has brought to bear upon the really formidable if apparently trivial task of reducing the chaotic corruption and confusion of the text to reasonable form and comprehensible order. William Barkstead, a narrative poet of real merit, and an early minister at the shrine of Shakespeare, has been credited with the authorship of this play: I am inclined to agree with the suggestion of its latest editor—its first editor in any serious sense of the word—that both he and Marston may have had a hand in it. His Myrrha belongs to the same rather morbid class of poems as Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and Marston's Pygmalion's Image. Of the three, Shakespeare's is not more certainly the finest in occasional touches of picturesque poetry than it is incomparably the most offensive to good taste and natural instinct on the score of style and treatment. Marlowe's Hero and Leander can only be classed with these elaborate studies of sensual aberration orexcess by those 'who can see no difference between Titian and French photographs.' (I take leave, for once in a way, to quote from a private letter—long since addressed to the present commentator by the most illustrious of writers on art.)

There are some pretty verses and some ingenious touches in Marston's Entertainment, offered to Lady Derby by her daughter and son-in-law; but the Latinity of his city pageant can scarcely have satisfied the pupil of Buchanan, unless indeed the reputation of King James's tutor as a Latin versifier or master of prosody has been scandalously usurped under the falsest of pretences: a matter on which I am content to accept the verdict of Landor. His contribution to Sir Robert Chester's problematic volume may perhaps claim the singular distinction of being more incomprehensible, more crabbed, more preposterous, and more inexplicable than any other copy of verses among the 'divers poetical essays—done by the best and chiefest of our modern writers, with their names subscribed to their particular works,' in which Marston has the honour to stand next to Shakespeare; and however far he may be from any pretention to rival the incomparable charm of Shakespeare's opening quatrain—incomparable in its peculiar melody and mystery except with other lyrics of Shakespeare's or of Shelley's, it must, I think, be admitted that an impartial student of both effusions will assign to Marston rather than to Shakespeare the palm of distinction on the score of tortuous obscurity and enigmatic verbiage. It may be—as it seems to me—equally difficult to make sense of the greater and the lesser poet's riddles and rhapsodies; but on the whole I cannot think that Shakespeare's will be found so desperately indigestible by the ordinary intelligence of manhood as Marston's. 'The turtles fell to work, and ate each other up,' in a far more comprehensible and reasonable poem of Hood's; and most readers of Chester's poem and the verses appended to it will be inclined to think that it might have been as well—except for a few lines of Shakespeare's and of Jonson's, which we could not willingly spare—if the Phoenix and Turtle had set them the example.

If the apparently apocryphal Mountebank's Masque be really the work of Marston—and it is both coarse enough and clever enough to deserve the attribution of his authorship—there is a singular echo in it from the opening of Jonson's Poetaster, the furious dramatic satire which blasted for upwards of two centuries the fame or the credit of the poet to whose hand this masque has been hitherto assigned. In it, after a full allowance of rough and ribald jocosity, the presence of a poet becomes manifest with the entrance of an allegoric figure whose declamatory address begins with thesewords:—

Light, I salute thee; I, Obscurity,
The son of Darkness and forgetful Lethe;
I, that envy thy brightness, greet thee now,
Enforced by Fate.

Few readers of these lines will forget the verses with which Envy plays prologue to Poetaster, or his Arraignment.

Light, I salute thee, but with wounded nerves,
Wishing thy golden splendour pitchy darkness.

Whoever may be the author of this masque, there are two or three couplets well worth remembrance in one of the two versions of its text.

It is a life is never ill
To lie and sleep in roses still.


Who would not hear the nightingale still sing,
Or who grew ever weary of the spring?
The day must have her night, the spring her fall,
All is divided, none is lord of all.

These verses are worthy of a place in either of Mr. Bullen's two beautiful and delightful volumes of lyrics from Elizabethan songbooks; and higher praise than this no lyrical poet could reasonably desire.

An inoffensive monomaniac, who thought fit to reprint a thing in dramatic or quasi-dramatic form to which I have already referred in passing—Histriomastix, or The Player Whipt,—thought likewise fit to attribute to John Marston, of all men on earth, a share in the concoction of this shapeless and unspeakable piece of nonsense. The fact that one of the puppets in the puppetshow is supposed to represent a sullen scholar, disappointed, impoverished, and virulent, would have suggested to a rational reader that the scribbler who gave vent to the impotence of his rancour in this hopeless ebullition of envious despair had set himself to ape the habitual manner of Jonson and the occasional manner of Marston with about as much success as might be expected from a malignant monkey when attempting to reproduce in his grimaces the expression ofhuman indignation and contempt. But to students of natural or literary history who cannot discern the human from the simious element it suggests that the man thus imitated must needs have been the imitator of himself; and the fact that the whole attempt at satire is directed against dramatic poetry—that all the drivelling venom of a dunce's denunciation, all the virulent slaver of his grovelling insolence, is aimed at the stage for which Marston was employed in writing—weighs nothing in the scales of imbecility against the consideration that Marston's or Jonson's style is here and there more or less closely imitated; that we catch now and then some such echo of his accent, some such savour of his style, as may be discovered or imagined in the very few scattered lines which show any glimmer of capacity for composition or versification. The eternal theme of envy, invented by Jonson and worked to death by its inventor, was taken up again by Marston and treated with a vigorous acerbity not always unworthy of comparison with Jonson's: the same conception inspired with something of eloquence the malignant idiocy of the satirical dunce who has left us, interred and imbedded in a mass of rubbish, a line or two like these which he has put into the mouth of his patron saint or guardian goddess, the incarnate essence of Envy.

Turn, turn, thou lackey to the wingèd time!
I envy thee in that thou art so slow,
And I so swift to mischief.

But the entire affair is obviously an effusion and an example of the same academic sagacity or lucidity of appreciation which found utterance in other contemporary protests of the universities against the universe. In that abyss of dullness The Return from Parnassus, a reader or a diver who persists in his thankless toil will discover this pearl of a fact—that men of culture had no more hesitation in preferring Watson to Shakespeare than they have in preferring Byron to Shelley. The author of the one play deserves to have been the author of the other. Nobody can have been by nature such a fool as to write either: art, education, industry, and study were needful to achieve such composite perfection of elaborate and consummate idiocy.

There is a good deal of bad rubbish, and there is some really brilliant and vigorous writing, in the absurdly named and absurdly constructed comedy of Jack Drum's Entertainment; but in all other points—in plot, incident, and presentation of character—it is so scandalously beneath contempt that I am sorry to recognise the hand of Marston in a play which introduces us to a 'noble father,' themodel of knightly manhood and refined good sense, who on the news of a beloved daughter's disappearance instantly proposes to console himself with a heavy drinking-bout. No graver censure can be passed on the conduct of the drama than the admission that this monstrous absurdity is not out of keeping with the rest of it. There is hardly a single character in all its rabble rout of lunatics who behaves otherwise than would beseem a probationary candidate for Bedlam. Yet I fear there is more serious evidence of a circumstantial kind in favour of the theory which would saddle the fame of Marston with the charge of its authorship than such as depends on peculiarities of metre and eccentricities of phrase. Some other poet—though I know of none such—may have accepted and adopted his theory that 'vengeance' must count in verse as a word of three syllables: I can hardly believe that the fancy would sound sweet in any second man's ear: but this speciality is not more characteristic than other and more important qualities of style—the peculiar abruptness, the peculiar inflation, the peculiar crudity—which denote this comedy as apparently if not evidently Marstonian. On the other hand, if it were indeed his, it is impossible to conjecture why his name should have been withheld from the titlepage; and it must not be forgotten that even our own day is not more fertile than was Marston's in the generation of that slavish cattle which has always since the age of Horace fed ravenously and thievishly on the pasture-land of every poet who has discovered or reclaimed a field or a province of his own.

But our estimate of John Marston's rank or regiment in the noble army of contemporary poets will not be in any way affected by acceptance or rejection of any apocryphal addition to the canon of his writings. For better and for worse, the orthodox and undisputed roll of them will suffice to decide that question beyond all chance of intelligent or rational dispute. His rank is high in his own regiment; and the colonel of that regiment is Ben Jonson. At first sight he may seem rather to belong to that brighter and more famous one which has Webster among its captains, Dekker among its lieutenants, Heywood among its privates and Shakespeare at its head. Nor did he by any means follow the banner of Jonson with such automatic fidelity as that imperious martinet of genius was wont to exact from those who came to be 'sealed of the tribe of Ben.' A rigid critic—a critic who should push rigidity to the verge of injustice—might say that he was one of those recruits in literature whose misfortune it is to fall between two stools—to halt between two courses. It is certain that he never thoroughly mastered either the cavalry drill of Shakespeare or the infantry drill of Jonson. But it is no less certain that the few finest passages which attestthe power and the purity of his genius as a poet are above comparison with any such examples of tragic poetry as can be attributed with certainty or with plausibility to the hand which has left us no acknowledged works in that line except Sejanus his Fall and Catiline his Conspiracy. It is superfluous to add that Volpone was an achievement only less far out of his reach than Hamlet. But this is not to say or to imply that he does not deserve an honourable place among English poets. His savage and unblushing violence or vehemence of satire has no taint of gloating or morbid prurience in the turbid flow of its fitful and furious rhetoric. The restless rage of his invective is as far as human utterance can find itself from the cynical infidelity of an Iago. Of him we may say with more rational confidence what was said of that more potent and more truculent satirist:

An honest man he is, and hates the slime
That sticks on filthy deeds.

We may wish that he had not been so much given to trampling and stamping on that slime as to evoke such malodorous exhalations as infect the lower and shallower reaches of the river down which he proceeds to steer us with so strenuous a hand. But it is in a spirit of healthy disgust, not of hankering delight, that he insists on calling the indignant attention of his readers to the baser and fouler elements of natural or social man as displayed in the vicious exuberance or eccentricity of affectation or of self-indulgence. His real interest and his real sympathies are reserved for the purer and nobler types of womanhood and manhood. In his first extant tragedy, crude and fierce and coarse and awkward as is the general treatment of character and story, the sketch of Mellida is genuinely beautiful in its pathetic and subdued simplicity; though certainly no such tender and gentle figure was ever enchased in a stranger or less attractive setting. There is an odd mixture of care and carelessness in the composition of his plays which is exemplified by the fact that another personage in the first part of the same dramatic poem was announced to reappear in the second part as a more important and elaborate figure; but this second part opens with the appearance of his assassin, red-handed from the murder: and the two parts were published in the same year. And indeed, except in Parasitaster and The Dutch Courtesan, a general defect in his unassisted plays is the headlong confusion of plot, the helterskelter violence of incident, which would hardly have been looked for in the work of a professional and practised hand. What you Will is modestly described as 'a slight-writ play:' but slight and slovenly are notthe same thing; nor is simplicity the equivalent of incoherence. Marston is apt to be heaviest when he aims at being lightest; not, like Ben Jonson, through a laborious and punctilious excess of conscience which is unwilling to let slip any chance of effect, to let pass any detail of presentation; but rather, we are tempted to suspect, through a sardonic sense of scorn for the perfunctory task on which his ambitious and impatient hand is for the time employed. Now and then, however—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say once or twice—a gayer note is struck with a lighter touch than usual: as for instance in the excellent parody of Lyly put into the mouth of an idiot in the first scene of the fifth act of the first part of Antonio and Mellida. 'You know, the stone called lapis, the nearer it comes to the fire, the hotter it is; and the bird which the geometricians call avis, the further it is from the earth, the nearer it is to the heaven; and love, the nigher it is to the flame, the more remote (there's a word, remote!) the more remote it is from the frost.' Shakespeare and Scott have condescended to caricature the style or the manner of the inventor of euphuism: I cannot think their burlesque of his elaborate and sententious triviality so happy, so humorous, or so exact as this. But it is not on his capacity as a satirist or humourist, it is on his occasionally triumphant success as a serious or tragic poet, that the fame of Marston rests assuredly established. His intermittent power to rid himself for awhile of his besetting faults, and to acquire or assume for a moment the very excellences most incompatible with these, is as extraordinary for the completeness as for the transitory nature of its successful effects. The brief fourth act of Antonio and Mellida is the most astonishing and bewildering production of belated human genius that ever distracted or discomfited a student. Verses more delicately beautiful followed by verses more simply majestic than these have rarely if ever given assurance of eternity to the fame of any but a great master in song.

Conceit you me: as having clasped a rose
Within my palm, the rose being ta'en away,
My hand retains a little breath of sweet,
So may man's trunk, his spirit slipped away,
Hold still a faint perfume of his sweet guest.
'Tis so: for when discursive powers fly out,
And roam in progress through the bounds of heaven,
The soul itself gallops along with them
As chieftain of this wingèd troop of thought,
Whilst the dull lodge of spirit standeth waste
Until the soul return.

Then follows a passage of sheer gibberish; then a dialogue of the noblest and most dramatic eloquence; then a chaotic alternation of sense and nonsense, bad Italian and mixed English, abject farce and dignified rheto ric, spirited simplicity and bombastic jargon. It would be more and less than just to take this act as a sample or a symbol of the author's usual way of work; but I cannot imagine that a parallel to it, for evil and for good, could be found in the works of any other writer.

The Muse of this poet is no maiden of such pure and august beauty as enthralls us with admiration of Webster's; she has not the gipsy brightness and vagrant charm of Dekker's, her wild soft glance, and flashing smiles and fading traces of tears; she is no giddy girl, but a strong woman with fine irregular features, large and luminous eyes, broad intelligent forehead, eyebrows so thick and close together that detraction might call her beetle-browed, powerful mouth and chin, fine contralto voice (with an occasional stammer), expression alternately repellent and attractive, but always striking and sincere. No one has ever found her lovely; but there are times when she has a fascination of her own which fairer and more famous singers might envy her; and the friends she makes are as sure to be constant as she, for all her occasional roughness and coarseness, is sure to be loyal in the main to the nobler instincts of her kind and the loftier traditions of her sisterhood.

H. Harvey Wood (essay date 1934)

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SOURCE: An introduction to The Plays of John Marston, Vol. 1, edited by H. Harvey Wood, Oliver and Boyd, 1934, pp. xv-xliv.

[Wood's three-volume edition of Marston's plays was highly influential in bringing about a resurgence of interest in the dramatist during the 1930s. In the following excerpt from his introduction to that edition, Wood stresses the difficulty of evaluating Marston's "worth" as a writer. He adds that Marston is a highly original thinker and concludes that, "with all his faults … Marston had very positive virtues to commend him."]

Marston's plays have probably disappointed more modern readers than those of any other Elizabethan dramatist. Charles Lamb's eloquent praise of Antonio and Mellida, his comparison of Andrugio and Lear, and, above all, his magnificent passage on the Prologue to Antonio's Revenge, would certainly lead the reader to expect a greater satisfaction from these plays than he is likely to experience. And Swinburne's hyperbolical essay [in The Nineteenth Century, 1888], though it is (like most of Swinburne's criticism) much more balanced than it sounds, is, at best, a rather rhapsodical piece of special pleading, illustrated by passages than can hardly be said to be representative of the text from which they are taken. The demerits of a style like Marston's are, indeed, sufficiently obvious; and in reading even the best of his plays—as, for example, The Malcontent or The Dutch Courtesan—one is exasperated and impeded again and again by what appear to be deliberate contortions of speech and affectations of style. It is not a poor style, but rather a pretentious and mannered one. One would almost prefer a modest poverty to the violent profusion, the 'battering-ram of terms' with which Marston assaults his subject and his reader. But this rather flashy opulence is not Marston's only, or his worst, fault, though it is the most obvious and the most vulgar. An apparent and creditable desire to pack his lines with significance, 'to load every rift with ore,' and, perhaps, too intensive a study of the sententious manner of Senecan tragedy, has resulted in a congested, tortuous obscurity. In Elizabethan dramatic poetry, obscurity is commonly enough encountered. There are passages in Chapman, there are, indeed, many passages in Shakespeare, which the labours of the commentator have not finally illuminated. But the compression of phrase and the packing of sense in Chapman have given a gnomic, elevated quality to his most difficult and undramatic verse: and Shakespeare's compression, though it often resulted in difficulties of sense-interpretation, was always dramatically effective, and lucid to these faculties that transcend understanding. The corresponding difficulties of Marston's style can plead no such extenuation. When he most aims at the oracular manner he is most often merely fatuous: his attempts to heighten his style betray him into the most absurd fustian: and, under emotional stress, his expression is not merely unintelligible, it is unintelligent, preposterous gibberish.

Something of the difficulty of estimating the true worth of Marston's work could be gathered (if all other evidence were lost) from the contentious judgments of his critics. Bullen, though he admits the power of certain tragic scenes in Antonio and Sophonisba, reserves his highest praise for Marston's comedy. Swinburne based his admiration, 'not on his capacity as a satirist or humourist … [but] on his occasionally triumphant success as a tragic poet.' Lamb, as far as one can see, found him all good, and Gifford, apparently, found none of him good. It might be helpful, in such a welter of opinion, to admit Marston's own opinion on the matter. Even if a writer's candid opinion of himself is not evidence of accomplishment it may be accepted as anindication of intention. When in the Prologue to Antonio and Mellida, he wrote:

O that our Muse
Had those abstruse and synowy faculties,
That with a straine of fresh invention
She might presse out the raritie of Art;

—he was indicating, in a modest way, the qualities to be looked for in the play. And if his genius proves to be rather more often muscle-bound than sinewy, it is, at any rate, always strenuous. There is no easy writing in Marston, and, it should be admitted, there is very little easy reading. If the 'raritie of Art' is not pressed out, it is not for lack of weight. It will be found, too, I think, that the most constant emphasis in all Marston's work, 'comedy, tragedy, pastoral, moral, nocturnal, or history,' is the satiric emphasis. Feliche in Antonio and Mellida, Malevole in The Malcontent, Hercules in The Fawn, are all, like Marston, professional satirists strayed on to the stage, scourging not the humours, the follies or the affectations of the age, but its vice and corruption. Few passages in the First Part of Antonio carry such conviction as Feliche's soliloquy:

I cannot sleepe: Feliche seldome rests
In these court lodgings. I have walkt all night,
To see if the nocturnall court delights
Could force me envie their felicitie:
And by plaine troth; I will confesse plaine troth:
I envie nothing, but the Travense light.
O, had it eyes, and eares, and tongues, it might
See sport, heare speach of most strange surquedries.
O, if that candle-light were made a Poet,
He would proove a rare firking Satyrist,
And drawe the core forth of impostum'd sin.
Well, I thanke heaven yet, that my content
Can envie nothing, but poore candle-light.

The deservedly famous confession of Lampatho in What You Will is satire of a more equable, but even more deadly, sort. It is one of the little ironies of literature that these lines should have been written by Marston, who does not seem to have acquired his learning (and certainly did not carry it), with too light a hand.

Delight my spaniell slept, whilst I baus'd leaves,
Toss'd ore the dunces, por'd on the old print
Of titled words, and still my spaniell slept.
Whilst I wasted lampe oile, bated my flesh,
Shrunk up my veines, and still my spaniell slept.
And still I held converse with Zabarell
Aquinas, Scotus
, and the musty sawe
Of antick Donate, still my spaniell slept.
Still on went I; first an sit anima,
Then, and it were mortall. O hold, hold!
At that they are at braine buffets, fell by the eares,
A maine pell-mell together—still my spaniell slept.
Then whether twere Corporeall, Locall, Fixt,
Extraduce; but whether't had free will
Or no, ho Philosophers
Stood banding factions, all so strongly propt,
I staggerd, knew not which was firmer part;
But thought, quoted, read, observ'd, and pryed,
Stufft noting Bookes, and still my spaniell slept.
At length he wakt, and yawnd, and by yon skie,
For ought I know he knew as much as I.

Marston began his literary life with satires, gave his comedies and tragedies over to cynical malcontents and firking satirists, and finished, like several more famous satirists, by writing and preaching sermons. Ben Jonson told Drummond that 'Marston wrott his Father in Lawes preachings & his Father in Law his Commedies'—probably a more critical jest than Jonson quite realised at the time. Marston's moral preoccupation was always active. It imparted an asperity to his comedy, and gave to his tragic characters the inhuman, absolute qualities of the morality puppets. It follows that his sense of humour was not of the best; and this defect is responsible for lapses in his tragedy more serious than his failures in comedy. Marston's comedy has, indeed, been unjustly belittled. Shakespeare apart, how many of the Elizabethans succeeded in mingling tragedy and comedy? Marston's most tragic comedians are not as bad as those of Webster, or Massinger, or Ford; he has, even in the middle of his tragic action, scenes of easy, natural, graceful humour, like the passage of wit between Pietro and the singing-boy in The Malcontent, III, iv., and his Cocledemoy and Mulligrub have at least the vitality and profusion of great comic creations. It is rather in his relentless pursuit of a moral issue, presented by incredibly consistent and single-minded characters, conceding nothing to the impediments of chance, and the always incalculable quality of human nature, that Marston's defect proves most vital. Even Cyril Tourneur, a greater poet and a more passionate moralist than Marston, has a more normal and judicial view of human values by which to check his moral conclusions. A comparison of the last scenes of the Revenger's Tragedie and Antonio's Revenge will illustrate the distinction. In both cases, murder and corruption have been paid in kind; Vindice has wiped out his 'nest of Dukes,' and Antonio's monstrous duty of bloodshed and torture is accomplished. The almost high-spirited diablerie of Vindice's assassinations, and Antonio's revolting murder of little Julio, have an equal technical justification. We cannot quarrel with the system on which the Revenge play is built. But there is something shocking in the complacency with which the final butchery of Antonio is accepted:

I Sen. Whose hand presents this gory spectacle?
Anto. Mine.
Pan. No: mine.
Alb. No: mine.
Ant. I will not loose the glorie of the deede,
Were all the tortures of the deepest hell
Fixt to my limbs. I pearc't the monsters heart,
With an undaunted hand.
Pan. By yon bright spangled front of heaven twas I:
Twas I sluc't out his life bloode.
Alb. Tush, to say truth, twas all.
2 Sen. Blest be you all, and may your honours live
Religiously helde sacred, even for ever and ever.
Gal. (To Antonio). Thou art another Hercules to us,
In ridding huge pollution from our State.

And the blood-stained conspirators, having declined 'the cheefest fortunes of the Venice State,' retire, with some dignity, to 'live inclos'd In holy verge of some religious order.' Vindice and Hippolito are equally proud, when all is done, of their judicial murders.

Ant. Just is the Lawe above
But of al things it puts me most to wonder,
How the old Duke came murdred.
Vin. Oh, my Lord.
Ant. It was the strangeliest carried, I not hard of the like.
Hip. Twas all donne for the best my Lord.
Vin. All for your graces good; we may be bould to speake it now,
Twas some-what witty carried tho we say it.
Twas we two murdred him.
Ant. You two?
Vin. None else ifaith my Lord, nay twas well managde.
Ant. Lay hands upon those villaines.
Vin. How? on us?
Ant. Beare 'em to speedy execution.
Vin. Heart, wast not for your good my Lord?
Ant. My good! away with 'em; such an ould man as he,
You that would murder him would murder me.

And the two revengers accept the judgment with a grim, philosophical humour:

Vin. Ist come about?
Hip. Sfoote, brother, you begun.

It is a refinement of art (and justice) beyond the reach of Marston. The situation of Antonio's Revenge is remarkably close to that of Hamlet. Piero and Claudius, Maria and Gertrude, Mellida and Ophelia, and Antonio and Hamlet are (nearly enough) in equivalent situations—'Poyson the father, butcher the son, & marry the mother; ha?'—and Marston's conduct of the action is proper enough to a Revenge Tragedy, of which type, it should be remembered, Shakespeare's Hamlet is a refinement and perversion. Antonio pursues his filial duty of revenge, carries it out without compunction (as did the original Hamlet of Saxo and Belleforest, and, most probably, of the earlier English play), and his father's ghost, satisfied, declaims:

'Tis done, and now my sowle shal sleep in rest.
Sons that revenge their fathers blood, are blest.

Shakespeare and Marston, inheriting the same theme and the same situations (murder and usurpation, the ghost clamorous for vengeance, deferred opportunity, feigned madness and real cunning, unhappy love, and the last, bloody catastrophe) both attempted to heighten and transfigure a crude, barbaric history. Marston's method is one of inflation, his motto, like Antonio's epitaph, is Ne plus ultra. For the whips, the 'scourging Nemesis,' of the Spanish Tragedy, Antonio's Revenge substitutes scorpions. Shakespeare's sophistication of the theme is achieved by a translation into the terms of common life, by his 'common sense of what men were, and are,' to borrow Marston's excellent phrase. Hamlet is a revenger, and Hamlet is a malcontent, but the interest is focussed on the man, not on his function.

Not unnaturally, the sincerity of Marston's satiric attitude has often been called in question. The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion's Image was a bad start in life for a moralist; and the very extravagance of the poet's sardonic rage has led to the belief that his cynicism was affected and his moral indignation merely the cloak for a prurient and perverted interest in the vices he chastised. That any literary satire written in the first years of the seventeenth century was spontaneous and entirely sincere, it would be dangerous to assume. It can only be said that Marston's satirical mouthpieces speak with an accent of conviction sadly lacking in his other characters, and seem, above all his other creations, to be drawn from the life. He was not merely following a satiric fashion. There is little doubt that he was deeply and sincerely interested in the vices and corruptions of his age. Further than that it would be unwise to probe, either in the case of John Marston or many another whipper of vice.

With all his faults, faults of affectation, pedantry, harshness and obscurity, Marston had very positive virtues to commend him. If his verse, by too great and frequent infusion of argument, was often turgid and cramped, he did, on occasion, write with an almost metaphysical heat and vigour.

Conceipt you me. As having clasp't a rose
Within my palme, the rose being tane away,
My hand retaines a little breath of sweete:
So may mans trunke; his spirit slipt awaie,
Hold still a faint perfume of his sweet ghest.
Tis so; for when discursive powers flie out,
And rome in progresse, through the bounds of heaven,
The soule it selfe gallops along with them,
As chiefetaine of this winged troope of thought,
Whilst the dull lodge of spirit standeth waste,
Untill the soule returne …

His power of description, when he is content to write English instead of the absurd jargon he so often affects, is evidence of the same close application and study that saves even his most undramatic verse from being contemptible. The description of the cave of the dreadful enchantress, Erictho, the hermit-duke's description of his sea-vext cave:

My Cell tis Lady, where insteed of Maskes,
Musicke, Tilts, Tournies, and such courtlike shewes,
The hollow murmure of the checklesse windes
Shall groane againe, whilst the unquiet sea
Shakes the whole rocke with foamy battery:
There Usherlesse the ayre comes in and out:
The reumy vault will force your eyes to weepe,
Whilst you behold true desolation:
A rocky barrennesse shall pierce your eyes,
Where all at once one reaches, where he stands,
With browes the roofe, both walles with both his handes.

—and such brief images as occur, for instance, in the Malcontent's invocation to night:

O thou pale sober night,
Thou that in sluggish fumes all sence dost steepe:
Thou that gives all the world full leave to play,
Unbendst the feebled vaines of sweatie labour;
The Gally-slave, that all the toilesome day,
Tugges at his oare against the stubborne wave,
Straining his rugged veines, snores fast.
The stooping Sitheman that doth barbe the field
Thou makest winke sure …

—reveal Marston as a sensitive, observant and imaginative writer. And all former editors of Marston have remarked on the dignified, exalted rhetoric spoken by so many of his characters—Sophonisba, Gelosso, Andrugio and Pandulpho. Andrugio's deservedly famous lines:

Why man, I never was a Prince till now …
[Antonio and Mellida. Act IV, Scene i.]

and the defeated philosophy of Pandulpho:

Man will breake out, despight Philosophie.

Why, all this while I ha but plaid a part,
Like to some boy, that actes a Tragedie,
Speakes burly words, and raves out passion:
But, when he thinks upon his infant weaknesse,
He droopes his eye.
[Antonio's Revenge, Act IV, Scene v.].

—passages like these have an easy, unaffected eloquence and dignity, and do much to atone for Marston's many faults of style, and deficiencies as a constructive dramatist.

The best of Marston's comedies and tragedies, and his great tragi-comedy, The Malcontent, have striking and original qualities. The dramatist who painted the passionate, murderous courtesan, Franceschina, and the humours of Cocledemoy and Mulligrub into the same scene was no contemptible workman. The Malcontent is one of the most original plays of its period, and left its mark on greater plays than itself, Webster's Dutchesse of Malfy for one. If it must be admitted that Marston was, in general, too much of a theorist in his creation of character, and that his situations, in consequence, are too academic and inhuman, yet it should also be admitted that he had original and inventive qualities, a high conception of his dramatic function, and an occasional ability, both in tragedy and comedy, to write eloquent, earnest, passionate and thoughtful verse. His first published work he dedicated 'To everlasting Oblivion,' and, his playwriting and preaching done, he was buried, according to Antony Wood, 'under the Stone which hath written on it Oblivioni sacrum.' That a succession of editors and readers have seen fit to deny him that oblivion is probably the highest testimony to his positive merits as a dramatist and a poet.

Further Reading

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Baker, Susan. "Sex and Marriage in The Dutch Courtesan." In In Another Country: Feminist Perspectives on Renaissance Drama, edited by Dorothea Kehler and Susan Baker, pp. 218-32. Metuchen, N. J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Discusses the "confrontation among competing discourses of marriage" in The Dutch Courtesan.

Bowers, Fredson Thayer. "The School of Kyd." In Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy 1587-1642, pp. 101-53. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1959.

Explores Antonio's Revenge as it fits into the revenge play tradition popularized by Thomas Kyd, venge play tradition popularized by Thomas Kyd, and finds Marston's play important because of the ways in which it departs from revenge conventions.

Bradbrook, M. C. "The Anatomy of Knavery: Jonson, Marston, Middleton." In The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy, rev. ed., pp. 138-64. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Considers Marston an influential writer, whose "very oddity, violence and rankness … freed comedy from traditional limitations."

Colley, John Scott. John Marston's Theatrical Drama. Jacobean Drama Studies, edited by James Hogg, No. 33. Salzburg, Austria, 1974, 202 p.

Explores Marston's dramas as theatrical entities, concluding that he was at his "bold, experimental" best in the Antonio plays.

Foakes, R. A. "The Malcontent, and the Revenger's Tragedy." In The Elizabethan Theatre VI, edited by G. R. Hibbard, pp. 59-75. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1978.

Discusses the plays as "effective theatre"—that is, as texts experienced by readers and plays experienced by audiences, and praises Marston's complex handling of his material in The Malcontent.

Gair, W. Reavley. Introduction to Antonio's Revenge, by John Marston, edited by W. Reavley Gair. Oxford: Manchester University Press, 1978, 160 p.

Overview of the play's editions, sources, critics, and stage history.

Geckle, George L. John Marston's Drama: Themes, Images, Sources. Rutherford, N. J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980, 217 p.

Historical approach to the individual plays, with Geckle stressing that Marston was "a man deeply imbued with the principles of a Christian upbringing, rhetorical education, and humanistic culture."

Gibbons, Brian. Jacobean City Comedy: A Study of Satiric Plays by Jonson, Marston, and Middleton. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968, 223 p.

Probes the social and economic background of Marston's plays.

Home, R. C. "Voices of Alienation: The Moral Significance of Marston's Satiric Strategy." Modern Language Review 81 (January, 1986): 18-33.

Studies the style and intent of Marston's satires, concluding that "they present and sustain a coherent view of the nature of Man, and elaborate a satiric strategy which is an intelligible response to the problem of moral abnegation which he saw as the reason for man's degeneration."

Hunter, G. K. "English Folly and Italian Vice: The Moral Landscape of John Marston." In Jacobean Theatre, pp. 85-111. Stratford-upon-Avon Studies, No. 1. London: Edward Arnold (Publishers), 1960.

Explores the "vision of Italian vice that descends through Antonio and Mellida and The Malcontent to Tourneur and Webster."

——. Introduction to Antonio and Mellida: The First Part, by John Marston, edited by G. K. Hunter. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965, 88 p.

Discusses the text, date, sources, imitations, themes, and criticism of the play.

——. Introduction to Antonio's Revenge: The Second Part of Antonio and Mellida, by John Marston, edited by G. K. Hunter. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965, 94 p.

Overview of the play's structure, sources and influence (particularly the Senecan tradition), meaning, and relationship to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Lyons, Bridget Gellert. "Marston and Melancholy." In Voices of Melancholy: Studies in Literary Treatments of Melancholy in Renaissance England, pp. 58-76. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.

Studies Marston's treatment of melancholy in various plays, noting that "he was continually innovative (if not always successful) in his repre-sentations of it" and that his experiments with the type of the melancholic "extended the range and flexibility of melancholy as a literary subject."

Peter, John. "Marston and the Metamorphosis in Satire." In Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature, pp. 157-86, 1956. Reprinted by The Folcroft Press, 1969.

An important study that treats Marston as a satirist rather than as a dramatist.

Schoenbaum, Samuel. "The Precarious Balance of John Marston." In Elizabethan Drama: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by R. J. Kaufmann, pp. 123-33. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Argues that Marston was divided against himself and that "his ambivalent attitude extends beyond imagery to permeate Marston's view of external reality; it is, in large measure, responsible for the incongruous nature of his art." This essay was first published in 1952.

Wharton, T. F. The Critical Fall and Rise of John

Detailed survey of critical opinion regarding Marston and his works, from his own time to the present.

Additional coverage of Marston's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 58.

T. S. Eliot (essay date 1934)

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SOURCE: "John Marston," in Elizabethan Essays, 1934. Reprint by Haskell House, 1964, pp. 177-95.

[Below, Eliot argues that Marston has been underrated as a dramatist, partly as a result of comparisons between his work and that of Shakespeare. Eliot suggests that Sophonisba is Marston's best play and "the most nearly adequate expression of his distorted and obstructed genius."]

John Marston, the dramatist, has been dead for three hundred years. The date of his death, June 25th, 1634, is one of the few certain facts that we know about him; but the appearance of the first volume of a new edition of his works [The Plays of John Marston, edited by H. Harvey Wood], as well as an edition of his best-known play by itself [The Malcontent, edited by G. B. Harrison], is a more notable event than the arrival of his tercentenary. For Marston has enjoyed less attention, from either scholars or critics, than any of his contemporaries of equal or greater rank; and for both scholars and critics he remains a territory of unexplored riches and risks. The position of most of his contemporaries is pretty well settled; one cannot go very far wrong in one's estimate of the dramatists with whom Marston worked; but about Marston a wide divergency of opinion is still possible. His greater defects are such as anyone can see; his merits are still a matter for controversy.

Little has transpired of the events of Marston's life since Bullen presented in 1887 what has hitherto been the standard edition. The date and place of his birth have been unsettled; but the main facts—that his mother was Italian, that he was educated at Brasenose College and put to the law, that he wrote satires and then plays for a brief period and finally entered the Church—are undisputed. We are left with the unsupported statement of Ben Jonson that he beat Marston and took away his pistol; but, without necessarily impugning the veracity of Jonson, or suggesting that he wished to impress Drummond with his own superiority, having gone such a long journey to talk to him, we may do well to put aside the image of a mean and ridiculous figure which Jonson has left us before considering the value of Marston's work. And before reading the selections of Lamb, or the encomium of Swinburne, we should do better to read the plays of Marston—there are not many—straight through. Did Marston have anything of his own to say or not? Was he really a dramatist, or only a playwright through force of circumstances? And if he was a dramatist, in which of his plays was he at his best? In answering these questions we have, as with no other Elizabethan dramatist, the opportunity to go completely wrong; and that opportunity is an incentive….

Both Dr. Wood and Dr. Harrison seem to be assured on one critical judgment: that The Malcontent is the most important of Marston's plays. Dr. Harrison says forthright: 'The Malcontent is Marston's best play.' Dr. Wood says only:

The best of Marston's comedies and tragedies, and his great tragi-comedy, The Malcontent, have striking and original qualities…. The Malcontent is one of the most original plays of its period…. It is this assumption that we are privileged to examine.

If we read first the two plays with which collected editions, including Dr. Wood's, begin—Antonio and Mellida and Antonio's Revenge—our first impression is likely to be one of bewilderment, that anyone could write plays so bad and that plays so bad could be preserved and reprinted. Yet they are not plays that one wholly forgets; and the second reading, undertaken perhaps out of curiosity to know why such bad plays are remembered, may show that the problem is by no means simple. One at first suspects Marston to have been a poet, with no inclination to the stage, but driven thereto by need, and trying to write to the popular taste; just as a fastidious writer of to-day may produce, under financial pressure, something which he vainly imagines to be a potential best-seller. There is one immediate objection to this theory, even before we have read Marston's later work. It is that there is better poetry in these two plays, both in several passages, quotable and quoted, and in the general atmosphere, than there is in the Satires, The Scourge of Villainy or Pygmalion. The last of these was apparently an attempt to repeat the success of Venus and Adonis, and deserves only the fate of every piece of writing which is an attempt to do again what has already been done by a better man. The first are obviously lacking in personal conviction. The Satire, when all is said and done, is a form which the Elizabethans endeavoured to naturalize with very slight success; it is not until Oldham that a satire appears, sufficiently natural to be something more than a literary exercise. When Donne tries it, he is not any more successful than Marston; but Donne could write in no form without showing that he was a poet, and though his satires are not good satires, there is enough poetry in them, as in his epistles, to make them worth reading. Marston is very competent, and perfectly perfunctory. He wrote satires, as he wrote Pygmalion, in order to succeed; and when he found that the satire was more likely to lead him to the gaol than to success, he seems to have taken up, in the same spirit, the writing of plays. And however laboured the first two tragical plays may be, there is more poetry in them than in anything he had written before. So we cannot say that he was a 'poet', forced by necessity to become a 'dramatist'.

The second observation upon Antonio and Mellida and its sequel, if we may call 'sequel' a play of such different intent, is that theirbadness cannot be explained simply by incapacity, or even by plain carelessness. A blockhead could not have written them; a painstaking blockhead would have done better; and a careless master, or a careless dunce, would not have gone out of his way to produce the effects of nonsensicality which we meet. These two plays give the effect of work done by a man who was so exasperated by having to write in a form which he despised that he deliberately wrote worse than he could have written, in order to relieve his feelings. This may appear an over-ingenious apologetic; but it is difficult to explain, by any natural action of mediocrity, the absurd dialogue in Italian in which Antonio and Mellida suddenly express themselves in Act IV, Sc. i. The versification, such as it is, has for the most part no poetic merit; when it is most intelligible, as in the apostrophes of Andrugio, it is aiming at a conventional noble effect; but it has often, and more interestingly, a peculiar jerkiness and irritability, as of a writer who is, for some obscure reason, wrought to the pitch of exasperation. There are occasional reversions to an earlier vocabulary and movement, difficult to explain at the very end of the sixteenth century, reversions which to Ben Jonson must have seemed simple evidence of technical incompetence. As in the Prologue to Antonio's Revenge:

The rawish dank of clumsy winter ramps
The fluent summer's vein; and drizzling sleet
Chilleth the wan bleak cheek of the numb'd earth,
While snarling gusts nibble the juiceless leaves
From the nak'd shuddering branch….

or the line at the beginning of Act II:

The black jades of swart night trot foggy rings
'Bout heaven's brow….

It is not only in passages such as these that we get the impression of having to do with a personality which is at least unusual and difficult to catalogue. Marston's minor comic characters, in these two plays, are as completely lifeless as the major characters. Whether decent or indecent, their drollery is as far from mirthprovoking as can be: a continuous and tedious rattle of dried peas. And yet something is conveyed, after a time, by the very emptiness and irrelevance of this empty and irrelevant gabble; there is a kind of significant lifelessness in this shadow-show. There is no more unarticulated scarecrow in the whole of Elizabethan drama than Sir Jeffrey Balurdo. Yet Act V, Sc. i ofAntonio's Revenge leaves some impression upon the mind, though what it is we may not be able to say.

'Ho, who's above there, ho? A murrain on all proverbs. They say hunger breaks through stone walls; but I am as gaunt as lean-ribbed famine, yet I can burst through no stone walls. O now, Sir Jeffrey, show thy valour, break prison and be hanged. Nor shall the darkest nook of hell contain the discontented Sir Balurdo's ghost. Well, I am out well; I have put off the prison to put on the rope. O poor shotten herring, what a pickle art thou in! O hunger, how thou domineer'st in my guts! O for a fat leg of ewe mutton in stewed broth, or drunken song to feed on! I could belch rarely, for I am all wind. O cold, cold, cold, cold, cold. O poor knight! O poor Sir Jeffrey, sing like an unicorn before thou dost dip thy horn in the water of death. O cold, O sing, O cold, O poor Sir Jeffrey, sing, sing!'

After this comes a highfalutin speech by Pandulpho, and cries of 'Vindicta!' Balurdo, like the others, is so unreal that to deny his reality is to lend him too much existence; yet we can say of the scene, as of the play, that however bad it is no one but Marston could have written it.

The peculiar quality, which we have not attempted to define, is less evident in most of the plays which follow, just because they are better plays. The most considerable—setting aside his work of collaboration—are The Malcontent, The Dutch Courtesan, The Insatiate Countess, and The Fawn. Of these, the last is a slight but pleasant handling of an artificial situation, a kind of Courtship of Miles Standish in which the princess woos the prince who has come to sue on behalf of his father. The Insatiate Countess is a poor rival of the White Devil; her changes of caprice from lover to lover are rapid to the point of farce; and when the Countess, brought to the block for her sins, exclaims, in reply to the executioner's bidding of 'Madam, put up your hair':

O, these golden nets
That have ensnared so many wanton youths,
Not one but has been held a thread of life,
And superstitiously depended on.
Now to the block we must vail. What else?

we may remark (if these lines are indeed Marston's) that we have known this sort of thing done better by another dramatist, and that it is not worth going to Marston for what Webster can give us. The Dutch Courtesan is a better play than either of these; Freevill and Malheureux behave more naturally than we expect of Marston's heroes; the Courtesan's villainy is not incredible or unmotivated, and her isolation is enhanced by her broken English; and the heroine, Beatrice, has some charming verses to speak and is not, according to the standards of that stage and age, preposterously mild and patient. Yet the play as a whole is not particularly 'signed' by Marston; it is a theme which might have been handled as well, or better, by Dekker or Heywood. We are looking, not for plays of the same kind and in parts almost as good as those done by other dramatists. To prove that Marston is worth the attention of any but the Elizabethan scholar, we must convince the reader that Marston does something that no one else does at all: that there is a Marston tone, like the scent of a flower, which by its peculiarity sharpens our appreciation of the other dramatists as well as bringing appreciation of itself, as experiences of gardenia or zinnia refine our experience of rose or sweetpea. With this purpose in mind, we may agree, with reservations, with the accepted view that The Malcontent is superior to any of the three other plays mentioned in the foregoing paragraph.

The superiority of The Malcontent does not lie altogether in more solid dramatic construction. The construction is hardly as close as that of The Dutch Courtesan, and the lighter passages have hardly the interest of under-plot which, in the other play, we find in the pranks played by Cocledemoy at the expense of Mulligrub. Marston at best is not a careful enough playwright to deserve comparison with his better-known contemporaries on this score. He can commit the grossest carelessness in confusing his own characters. Even in The Malcontent there appears to be one such lapse. Several of the earlier scenes seem to depend for their point upon Bianca being the wife of Bilioso (a sort of prototype of the Country Wife); but she is not so named in the list of characters, and the words of Ferneze to her in the last scene seem to indicate that Marston had forgotten this relationship.

Nor is the character of Malevole really comparable to that of Jacques. In the play of Shakespeare, Jacques is surrounded by characters who by their contrast with him, and sometimes by their explicit remarks, criticize the point of view which he expresses—a point of view which is indeed an almost consciously adopted humour. And while a malcontent drawn by Jonson lacks the depth and the variety which Shakespeare can give by human contrasts, he at least preserves a greater degree of consistency than does Malevole. The whole part is inadequately thought out; Malevole is either tooimportant or not important enough. We may suppose that he has assumed his role primarily as a disguise, and in order to be present at his usurper's court on the easy footing of a tolerated eccentric. But he has the difficult role of being both the detached cynic and the rightful prince biding his time. He takes pity on Ferneze (himself not a very satisfying character, as after his pardon in Act IV he lets the play down badly in Act V, Sc. iii by his unseemly levity with Bianca). Yet Malevole, in his soliloquy in Act III, Sc. i, which is apparently not for the benefit of Bilioso but intended to express his true thoughts and feelings, alludes to himself as suffering from insomnia because he "gainst his fate Repines and quarrels'—not a philosophical role, nor one to be expected of the magnanimous duke whom he has to be at the end. Whether his sarcasms are meant to be affected railing or savage satire, they fail of their effect.

Nor is any of the other characters very much alive. It is possible to find Dr. Harrison's praise of Maria, as a 'virtuous and constant wife who is alive and interesting', to be excessive, and to find even Maquerelle deficient in liveliness. The virtue of The Malcontent, indeed, resides rather in its freedom from the grosser faults to be expected of Marston than from any abundance of positive merits, when we hold it up to the standard, not of Shakespeare, but of the contemporaries of Shakespeare. It has no passages so moving as the confrontation of Beatrice and Franceschina in The Dutch Courtesan, and no comic element so sprightly as the harlequinades of Cocledemoy in the same play. It has, as critics have remarked, a more controlled and even diction. Swinburne does not elevate it to the position of Marston's best play; but he observes that

the brooding anger, the resentful resignation, the impatient spirit of endurance, the bitter passion of disdain, which animate the utterance and direct the action of the hero, are something more than dramatically appropriate; it is as obvious that these are the mainsprings of the poet's own ambitions and dissatisfied intelligence, sullen in its reluctant submission and ardent in its implacable appeal, as that his earlier undramatic satires were the tumultuous and turbid ebullitions of a mood as morbid, as restless and as honest.

We are aware, in short, with this as with Marston's other plays, that we have to do with a positive, powerful and unique personality. His is an original variation of that deep discontent and rebelliousness so frequent among the Elizabethan dramatists. Heis, like some of the greatest of them, occupied in saying something else than appears in the literal actions and characters whom he manipulates.

It is possible that what distinguishes poetic drama from prosaic drama is a kind of doubleness in the action, as if it took place on two planes at once. In this it is different from allegory, in which the abstraction is something conceived, not something differently felt, and from symbolism (as in the plays of Maeterlinck) in which the tangible world is deliberately diminished—both symbolism and allegory being operations of the conscious planning mind. In poetic drama a certain apparent irrelevance may be the symptom of this doubleness; or the drama has an under-pattern, less manifest than the theatrical one. We sometimes feel, in following the words and behaviour of some of the characters of Dostoevsky, that they are living at once on the plane that we know and on some other plane of reality from which we are shut out: their behaviour does not seem crazy, but rather in conformity with the laws of some world that we cannot perceive. More fitfully, and with less power, this doubleness appears here and there in the work of Chapman, especially in the two Bussy D 'Ambois plays. In the work of genius of a lower order, such as that of the author of The Revenger's Tragedy, the characters themselves hardly attain this double reality; we are aware rather of the author, operating perhaps not quite consciously through them, and making use of them to express something of which he himself may not be quite conscious.

It is not by writing quotable 'poetic' passages, but by giving us the sense of something behind, more real than any of his personages and their action, that Marston establishes himself among the writers of genius. There is one among his plays, not so far mentioned, and not, apparently, widely read or highly esteemed, which may be put forward with the claim that it is his best, and that it is the most nearly adequate expression of his distorted and obstructed genius: The Wonder of Women, otherwise The Tragedy of Sophonisba. This is a fairly late play in Marston's brief career, and we have reason to guess that the author himself preferred it to his others. As the 'tragedy which shall boldly abide the most curious perusal', it gives the impression of being the play which Marston wrote most nearly to please himself. Bullen found it 'not impressive', and even Swinburne reserves his praise for a few scenes. Yet the play has a good plot, is well constructed and moves rapidly. There are no irrelevances and no comic passages; it is austere and economical. The rapidity with which the too-scheming Carthaginians transfer their allegiance from Massinissa to Syphax, his rival suitor for Sophonisba, bringing about an alliance between Massinissa and Scipio, is not unplausible, and keeps the reader in a state of continuous excitement over the fortunes of war. The scene in which the witch Erictho takes on the form of Sophonisba in order to induce Syphax to lie with her, is by no means what Bullen would have it, a scene of gratuitous horror, introduced merely to make our flesh creep; it is integral to the plot of the play; and is one of those moments of a double reality, in which Marston is saying something else, which evidence his poetic genius. And the memorable passages are not, as in his earlier plays, plums imbedded in suet; they may be taken as giving a fair taste of the quality of the whole play—e.g.

though Heaven bears
A face far from us, gods have most long ears;
Jove has a hundred marble marble hands.

Nothing in Nature is unserviceable,
No, not even inutility itself.
Is then for nought dishonesty in being?
And if it be sometimes of forced use,
Wherein more urgent than in saving nations?

Our vows, our faith, our oaths, why they're ourselves.

Gods naught foresee, but see, for to their eyes
Naught is to come or past; nor are you vile
Because the gods foresee; for gods, not we
See as things are; things are not as we see.

(This last quotation reminds us of Meredith's line, 'By their great memories the gods are known'; but Marston has the better of it. Swinburne, in spite of his ability to like almost any Elizabethan play that can be tolerated, is less than fair, when he calls Sophonisba 'laboured and ambitious', and speaks of 'jagged barbarisms and exotic monstrosities of metaphor'; and his derogatory quotation of the end of Act II does injustice to a passage which is acceptable enough in its context.)

I do not praise gods' goodness, but adore;
Gods cannot fall, and for their constant goodness
(Which is necessitated) they have a crown

Of never-ending pleasures….

The following has a distinct originality:

Where statues and Jove's acts were vively limned
Boys with black coals draw the veil'd parts of nature,
And lecherous actions of imagin'd lust;
Where tombs and beauteous urns of well-dead men
Stood in assured rest, the shepherd now
Unloads his belly, corruption most abhorr'd
Mingling itself with their renowned ashes.

The following has a fine Senecal ring:

My god's my arm; my life my heaven; my grave
To me all end.

And the last words of Sophonisba,

He that ne'er laughed may with a constant face
Contemn Jove's frown: happiness makes us base.

may be considered as a 'classical' comparison to the 'romantic' vein of Tourneur's

I think man's happiest when he forgets himself.

It is hoped that the reader will see some justification for accumulating quotations from Sophonisba, and leaving the other plays unquoted. The quotations are intended to exhibit the exceptional consistency of texture of this play, and its difference of tone, not only from that of Marston's other plays, but from that of any other Elizabethan dramatist. In spite of the tumultuousness of the action, and the ferocity and horror of certain parts of the play, there is an underlying serenity; and as we familiarize ourselves with the play we perceive a pattern behind the pattern into which the characters deliberately involve themselves; the kind of pattern which we perceive in our own lives only at rare moments of inattention and detachment, drowsing in sunlight. It is the pattern drawn by what the ancient world called Fate; subtilized by Christianity into mazes of delicate theology; and reduced again by the modern world into crudities of psychological or economic necessity.

We may be asked to account, in giving this play such high place, for the fact that neither contemporary popularity nor the criticism of posterity yields any support. Well; it may be modestly suggested that in our judgments of Elizabethan plays in general we are very much influenced by Elizabethan standards. The fact that Shakespearetranscended all other poets and dramatists of the time imposes a Shakespearian standard: whatever is of the same kind of drama as Shakespeare's, whatever may be measured by Shakespeare, however inferior to Shakespeare's it may be, is assumed to be better than whatever is of a different kind. However catholic-minded we may be in general, the moment we enter the Elizabethan period we praise or condemn plays according to the usual Elizabethan criteria. Fulke Greville has never received quite his due; we approach Greville, and Daniel, with the assumption that they are 'not in the main current'. The minor poet who hitches his skiff astern of the great galleon has a better chance of survival than the minor poet who chooses to paddle by himself. Marston, in the one play on which he appears to have prided himself, is Senecal rather than Shakespearian. Had the great ship been that of a Corneille or a Racine, instead of a Shakespeare, Marston might cut a better figure now. He spent nearly the whole of his dramatic career writing a kind of drama against which we feel that he rebelled. In order to enjoy the one play which he seems to have written to please himself, we should read Greville and Daniel, of his affinity with whom he was probably quite unconscious, and we should come to him fresh from Corneille and Racine. He would, no doubt, have shocked the French dramatists by his improprieties, and the English classicists as well: nevertheless, he should be with them, rather than with the Shakespearians.

Frederick S. Boas (essay date 1946)

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SOURCE: "John Marston-Thomas Dekker: Melodrama and Civic Comedy," in An Introduction to Stuart Drama, Oxford University Press, London, 1946, pp. 132-65.

[Here, Boas presents an overview of Marston's career, tracing changes in his style as it developed. He also declares that critical opinions have changed in Marston scholarship.]

… [With] John Marston, recent critical investigation has given a more generous estimate than has been traditional of his contribution to English drama. It has been increasingly realized that Ben Jonson's burlesque of the more vulnerable features of Marston's style in his serious plays has led to an undue depreciation of his distinctive qualities. There has been more appreciative recognition of his aims as a dramatist and of their effect on his technique and his dialogue.

Documentary research has also added to our biographical knowledge. The discovery of the entry of the christening of John Marston on 7 October 1576 in the register of the church of St. Mary Magdalene, Wardington, Oxfordshire, has established the year and place of his birth. At the age of sixteen, in 1591, he entered Brazenose College, Oxford, and took his B.A. in February 1593/4. From 1594 to 1606 he was a member of the Middle Temple, but like many other residents in the Inns of Court he devoted himself to literature instead of law. In May 1598 he published an erotic poem, Pygmalion's Image, and a series of Satires, followed in September by another set of satires, The Scourge of Villany. In the epistle prefixed to this he attacked Jonson under the name of Torquatus and this was followed by 'the war of the theatres' between the playwrights.

It has to be borne in mind therefore that Marston had graduated as a satirist before coming out as a dramatist and that he retained the satirist's temper in his new sphere. He also retained his daring and extravagant vocabulary which might pass within the leaves of a book but which was a provocation to censorious ears when thundered from the stage. And it was unfortunate that Marston's first important venture as a playwright was not in the field of comedy but of tragedy, where his distinctive qualities were put to a severer test. The two-part play, published in 1602 as The History of Antonio and Mellida and Antonio's Revenge, was entered in the Stationers Register in October 1601. The mention in Part I, Act V. i. 8-10 of 'Anno Domini' 1599, and 'Aetatis suae 24' points to 1599 as the date of its composition, and Part II must have soon followed. Both were acted by the Children of Paul's.

No source of the play has been traced, but the introduction into the dialogue of Antonio and Mellida of a number of Italian verse lines suggests southern influence. In any case, the main plot and characterization are in conventional romantic vein. Antonio, son of Andrugio, Duke of Genoa, loves Mellida, daughter of Piero, Doge of Venice, who forbids their union, and favours the suit of Galeazto, son of the Duke of Florence. Venice has just overcome Genoa in a sea fight and Piero has set a price upon the heads of Antonio and his fugitive father. Antonio in the disguise of an Amazon comes to the Venetian Court and arranges with Mellida to fly with him. But the plan miscarries and Antonio has to seek out his father in exile. Thereupon Andrugio boldly determines to present himself at the Venetian Court with the words:

Then here, Piero, is Andrugio's head,
Royally casked in a helm of steel.
Give me thy love, and take it.

Piero at once joyfully assents, but immediately afterwards to sad music a coffin is borne in supposedly containing Antonio's 'breathless trunk'. Piero in his transformed mood offers his life and his daughter's love if they 'would but redeem one minute of his death'. Whereupon Antonio leaps from the coffin, crying, 'I rise from death that never liv'd till now.' This finale, crudely motived though it is, exemplifies Marston's instinct for 'good theatre', which is illustrated also in his detailed stage-directions showing close familiarity with the conditions of the Elizabethan playhouse. He availed himself to the full of the musical accomplishments of the Paul's company. And he recognized the value of a comic underplot even if his satire of some of the courtly affectations of speech and deportment has little to do with the action of the play. It is curious that with his sense of the oddities of Euphuism he should not have realized the incongruous effect on an audience of a number of his chosen epithets and phrases. 'Glibbery', mocked by Jonson, is applied in Antonio and Mellida to love, ice, and an urchin; a wave has a 'sliftered paunch'; earth is bidden to 'chawn' her breast; a suitor asks Mellida to 'erect your gracious symmetry', and a friend urges Antonio to

Buckle thy spirits up, put all thy wits
In wimble action.

And there are passages in the dialogue where Marston flounders in his attempt to realize the aspiration of his prologue:

O! that our Muse
Had those abstruse and sinewy faculties,
That with a strain of fresh invention
She might press out the rarity of art.

Yet at times he succeeds in hitting the mark. There is true nobility in the cry of Antonio's father, conquered, exiled, and bereft (III. i. 59-62):

There's nothing left
Unto Andrugio but Andrugio:
And that nor mischief, force, distress, nor hell-can take,
Fortune my fortunes, not my mind, shall shake.

And there is felicitous imagery in Antonio's utterance in his despair (III. ii. 203-7):

Each man takes hence life, but no man death:
He's a good fellow and keeps open house:
A thousand, thousand ways lead to his gate,
To his wide-mouth'd porch: when niggard life
Hath but one little, little wicket through.

Dramatic surprise was a favourite feature of Marston's technique, but he characteristically gave it undue licence when the gracious Piero at the close of Antonio and Mellida steps on the stage at the beginning of Antonio's Revenge, 'his arms bare, smear'd in blood, a poniard in one arm bloody'. In the interval between the two parts he has poisoned Andrugio and stabbed to death the courtier, Feliche, ostensibly caught in adultery with Mellida. With Marston's flair for piling up the agony the way is thus prepared for a double revenge action. Feliche's father, Pandulpho, is eager like Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy to avenge his son. Antonio, like Hamlet, to avenge his father. But the likeness to Hamlet goes much further and raises the problem of priority. The strong probability is that Marston knew either the pre-Shakespearean Hamlet or an early version (to which Gabriel Harvey seems to refer about 1598) of Shakespeare's play. He keeps the essential features of the Elsinore tragedy but varies the details. Piero reveals that he has poisoned Andrugio that he may marry his widow Maria. But instead of being like Gertrude his sister-in-law, she has been his early love who had preferred his rival to him. Mellida is prevented by her father (in spite of his consent at the end of Part I) from marrying Antonio, not, like Ophelia, because of difference in rank, but because Piero for political ends wishes her to be the bride of the heir to the duchy of Florence. Antonio assumes, like Hamlet, the pose of madness, but in addition he masquerades for a time in a professional fool's garb. His father's ghost appears to urge him to revenge, but it is in the church where he lies entombed not on the castle battlements. The ghost's opening words are in Marston's most incisive style and sum up the whole situation (III. i. 34-42)

Antonio, revenge!
I was impoison'd by Piero's hand:
Revenge my blood; take spirit, gentle boy;
Revenge my blood. Thy Mellida is chaste:
Only to frustrate thy pursuit in love,
Is blaz'd unchaste. Thy mother yields consent
To be his wife, and give his blood a son
That made her husbandless, and doth emplot
To make her sonless.

But with Marston's curious uncertainty of touch he follows this up with lines of overstrained and tasteless imagery:

Thou vigour of my youth, juice of my love,
Seize on revenge, grasp the stern bended front
Of frowning vengeance, with unpraized clutch,
Alarum Nemesis, rouse up thy blood!

It is this incontinence of speech and a corresponding exaggeration in action that hinder much of Marston's intended tragic effect. He alienates the sympathy due to Antonio for his father's murder and Mellida's death, on a false report of his suicide, by making him kill Piero's innocent child, Julio. But there is true pathos in the dialogue between Pandulpho, bearing with him the body of his murdered son, and Antonio in his despair (IV. v. 53-8):

Pan. I am the miserablest soul that breathes.
Ant. S'lid, sir, ye lie; by the heart of grief, thou liest.
I scorn't that any wretched should survive
Outmounting me in that superlative,
Most miserable, most unmatched in woe;
Who dare assume that but Antonio?

The final scene in which the avengers take advantage of the masque in which they are appearing to bring Piero to his doom, while Andrugio's ghost 'placed betwixt the music houses' gloats over the spectacle, is partly reminiscent of the close of The Spanish Tragedy, and doubtless shared a good deal of its popular appeal on the stage. But once again Marston overshoots his mark by a superfluous accumulation of horrific details.

After this tragic surfeit he turned to comedy, though of a bitterly satiric type. The Malcontent was published in three different editions by William Apsley in 1604. The two earlier spoke of it as by John Marston; the third title-page had 'Augmented by Marston. With the Additions played by the King's Majesty's servants. Written by John Webster'. The chief addition by Webster appears to have been the Induction introducing a number of the chief actors in the King's Company, including Burbage. Their frank talk makes it clear that the play had been written for the Children of the Queen's Revels acting at Blackfriars, but that as a retort to the Children's purloining of Jeronimo (probably the First Part) the King's men had adopted the play as their own. And as they could notlike the boys lengthen out the performance with a great deal of music they had found it necessary to have the dialogue supplemented.

It is plain also from the Induction that The Malcontent had given offence to some of its hearers. Sly, the actor, twice calls it 'a bitter play', and Burbage answers, 'Such vices as stand not accountable to law should be cured as men heal tetters by casting ink upon them'. And in his own epistle to the reader Marston says of his 'supposed tartness' that 'unto every worthy mind it will be approved so general and honest as may modestly pass with the freedom of a satire.' But satire and drama have different aims and limits which Marston here confuses, so that the contemporary criticism of the play seems not without justification to-day. Malevole, the malcontent, is the disguised former Duke of Genoa, Altofronto, who has been dispossessed by his successor, Pietro, supported by the Duke of Florence, whose daughter, Aurelia, he has married after imprisoning Altofronto's wife, Maria. As Malevole reminds his sole confidant, Celso, he had played into his supplanter's hands by abjuring all the usual maxims of policy (I. iv. 9-14):

I wanted those old instruments of state,
Dissemblance and suspect: I could not time it, Celso,

My throne stood like a point in midst of a circle,
To all of equal nearness, bore with none;
Rein'd all alike, so slept in fearless virtue,
Suspectless, too suspectless.

In these lines Marston shows again that he is master at times of clear and cogent expression. But when Malevole in his disguise as an observer of Court affairs begins to rail at all men and all things the unmeasured violence of his invective becomes fatiguing and goes far to defeat its own end. Pietro, not knowing who he is, says of him that

his highest delight is to procure others vexation, and therein he thinks he truly serves heaven; for 'tis his position, whosoever in this earth can be contented is a slave and damn'd; therefore does he afflict all in that to which they are most affected.

There is much indeed to move his indignation. Aurelia proves faithless to Pietro with two lovers, Ferneze and Mendoza. The latter has been chosen as his heir by Pietro, and to gain thethrone quickly he suborns Malevole to kill him while hunting. Malevole reveals the plot to Pietro, bids him assume the disguise of a hermit, and announce his own death. Thereupon Mendoza, saluted as Duke, banishes Aurelia, plans to set free and marry Maria, and proposes to Malevole and the 'Hermit' to make away with each other. They join against this new usurper and seize him during a masque which is to celebrate his enthronement. This recalls the close of Antonio's Revenge, but here the villain's life is spared, and Altofronto is restored to his wife and his crown.

In the working out of this complicated action Marston shows his theatrical skill and his capacity for exploiting the resources of his stage. These cannot make their full effect in print, and Marston was fully conscious of this when he lamented in this epistle to the reader: 'Only one thing afflicts me, to think that scenes invented merely to be spoken should be inforcively published to be read.'

By 1604 Marston had composed his quarrel with Jonson, to whom he dedicated The Malcontent in the most cordial terms. This reconciliation bore good fruit, for early in 1605 the two dramatists, together with Chapman, collaborated in one of the most attractive plays of the period, Eastward Ho, acted at the Blackfriars by the Children of the Queen's Revels and published by William Aspley. The comedy included satirical references in Act III. iii to the Scots, and in Act IV. i to the new king's lavish creation of knights. Marston and Chapman were arrested. Jonson, by his own account, joined them voluntarily in prison, from which the efforts of high-placed friends soon procured their release. The other two playwrights ascribed the offending passages to Marston, who had thus to suffer a sharper penalty than the censure provoked in some quarters by The Malcontent. Otherwise there is only internal evidence to suggest the conjectured distribution of the play between its three authors. Seldom has there been such successful fusion of the work of several hands. But it is the commonly accepted view that credit should be given to Marston

for the general conception of the main plot and for the introduction and development of the chief comic characters … Chapman was engaged mainly in the dramatization of the Italian tale which furnished the underplot, while Jonson, in addition no doubt to valuable advice as to the construction of the whole, did little more than revise and finish the work of his collaborators. [T. M Parrott, The Comedies of George Chapman]

An allusion in the prologue makes it clear that the authors of Eastward Ho had in mind Dekker and Webster's Westward Ho recently performed, and in their main plot they were in similar fashion presenting a picture of London city life. But they dealt with it in a different spirit and developed their theme on the lines of the prodigal-son story. Touchstone, the Cheapside goldsmith, with his pride in his craft and his rectitude and shrewdness, is a true civic worthy. He has one apprentice, Golding, of similar character to himself, while his fellow, Quicksilver, spends his time in idleness and debauchery, and has frequently on his lips notorious tags from popular plays that he has seen in the theatre. This pair are matched by Touchstone's two daughters. As he puts it (I. i. 79-83):

As I have two prentices, the one of a boundless prodigality, the other of a most hopeful industry, so have I only two daughters; the eldest of a proud ambition and nice wantonness, the other of a modest humility and comely soberness. The one must be ladyfied, forsooth, and be attired just to the courtcut and long tail.

This daughter, Gertrude, is about to marry a needy knight, Sir Petronel Flash, who is to fulfil her dream of rising into a new social level. As she tells her sister, Mildred, 'though my father be a low-capped tradesman, yet I must be a lady, my mother must call me madam'. Nor does her vulgar-minded mother make any demur to her declaration, 'I must be a lady to-morrow, and by your leave, mother (I speak it not without my duty, but only in the right of my husband), I must take place of you, mother.'

But Sir Petronel's only motive in marrying into the city is to get hold of Gertrude's inheritance to finance a voyage that he has planned to Virginia with a sea-captain, Seagull, and two other adventurers. And there blows for a few moments through this London play a breath from the New World when Seagull gives a fanciful account of the treasures waiting for them in the country of their quest. Sir Petronel intends to leave his bride behind, but to take with him the young wife of the old usurer Security. Here there is skilfully interwoven with the main action an underplot apparently based upon a story in the Novellino of the Italian Masuccio. Security is made an accomplice in his own dishonour, in the belief that the disguised woman who is brought by Quicksilver on board Petronel's ship is not his wife, Winifred, but the wife of his lawyer, Bramble. But the voyagers never get farther than the Thames, for in a fierce storm and with a drunken company their ship is wrecked off Cuckold's Haven. This episode, with the successive landing of all who have been aboard, is vividly portrayed with a masterly employment of the resources of the Blackfriars stage.

Sir Petronel and Quicksilver, after their rescue from the 'rude Thames', are arrested and charged by Touchstone, the one 'on suspicion of felony' and the other as 'being accessory in the receipt of my goods'. And the bitterest drop in their cup is that they have to appear before Golding, now married to Mildred, who has been elected to the civic office of alderman's deputy, and who after a stern examination sends them to the 'Counter' prison. The disillusioned Gertrude bewails that she has been made a lady by a knight 'which is now as good as no knight … and instead of land i' the country all my knight's living lies i' the Counter; there's his castle now'. She has to throw herself upon the charity of her despised sister, whose husband meanwhile comes to the relief of those whom he has sent to jail. By a stratagem he gets Touchstone to visit the Counter, where the hitherto inexorable goldsmith is so affected by the demonstrations of repentance by Quicksilver and Petronel that he forgives them their offences, and a general reconciliation takes place. When penning the realistic prison scenes in the last act the authors of Eastward Ho did not anticipate that they would so soon themselves, in Jonson's words, be 'committed to a vile prison' and have to be delivered by higher authorities than an alderman's deputy.

The Dutch Courtesan was entered in the Stationers' Register on 26 June 1605, and a quarto was published in the same year 'as it was played in the Blackfriars by the Children of her Majesty's Revels. Written by John Marston'. If it followed closely on Eastward Ho, the more genial tone derived from Marston's collaboration with his fellow playwrights was of short duration. For The Dutch Courtesan suffers from the intemperate and fatiguing violence of expression which is his besetting weakness. He claims that 'the difference betwixt the love of a courtesan and a wife is the full scope of the play', but to achieve this he wades through so much mud that we are inclined to apply to him words used by a character in the play: 'In very good truthness, you are the foulest-mouth'd, profane, railing brother, call a woman the most ungodly names'. The courtesan Franceschina is furious because young Freevill is breaking his connexion with her to marry 'a lawful love, my modest Beatrice'. But his place as the courtesan's lover is taken by his friend Malheureux who, hitherto an austere moralist, is inflamed by the sight of her beauty into delirious passion. Franceschina as theprice of her favours insists that Malheureux shall kill Freevill. All this is on conventional lines, but with his customary ingenuity and command of stage resources Marston so develops the plot that Malheureux, though he only pretends to murder his friend, is arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to execution, from which he is saved at the last moment when Freevill, who has been in hiding and disguised, reveals himself. These complications excite more interest than Freevill's courtship of the somewhat colourless Beatrice, who is eclipsed by her spritely sister, Crispinella, who has something in her akin to the other Beatrice of Much Ado about Nothing, but with a far freer tongue. When her sister cries, 'Fie! you speak too broad', she retorts in words which might serve as a justification for Marston's own extreme frankness: 'I consider nature without apparel, without disguising of custom or compliment; I give thoughts words, and words truth, and truth boldness.' How aptly here and elsewhere maxims of Montaigne are made to flow from Crispinella's lively lips!

But there is still a livelier figure in Cocledemoy, the 'knavishly witty companion' who is the centre of the underplot. Here we meet again with city tradesmen, though they make a poorer showing than in Eastward Ho. Cocledemoy, in a series of disguises, outwits and robs a vintner, Mulligrub, and his wife, and finally gets him arrested on a false charge of stealing his cloak by constables as muddle-headed as Dogberry and Verges. Mulligrub, like Malheureux, is led to execution and saved at the last moment, after he has forgiven Cocledemoy, by that worthy's disclosure of himself and confession that all that he has done has been 'for wit's sake'. The parallel entanglements and solutions of the serious and the comic plots are a striking piece of stage craft.

Parasitaster, or The Fawn entered in the Stationers' Register 12 March 1606, was published in two editions in that year, the second being 'corrected of many faults'. Acted first by the Children of the Queen's Revels and afterwards by those of Paul's, it reverted to the Italian background of The Malcontent and to the situation of a duke in disguise watching over the development of the action. But here the widowed Hercules, Duke of Ferrara, has a specific aim—to see how his son Tiberio progresses in the courtship of the Duke of Urbin's daughter, Dulcimel, on behalf of his father, who really wishes his cold-blooded son himself to become enamoured of her. And this is brought about by Dulcimel herself, who artfully makes her purblind father, in his own despite, the agent of her amorous advances to Tiberio and of a midnight marriage in her chamber.

Hercules, in his role of 'fawn' or parasite, makes less impression than Altofronto as the malcontent, and the group of foolish and dissolute courtiers do not arouse strong interest. But once again Marston shows his remarkable faculty of using the resources of a children's company to secure an effective ending to a play. Hercules devises in honour of the Duke of Urbin the sport of 'Cupid's Parliament', produced with dancing, music, and allegorical figures, in which offenders against the love-god's statutes are summoned to the bar, and each courtier in turn has to confess his guilt, and even the Duke himself is convicted.

On 17 March 1606, five days later than The Fawn, another play by Marston, Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women, was entered in the Stationers' Register and published in the same year. With Sophonisba the dramatist breaks, in various ways, new ground. For the first time he draws his plot from classical history, probably using Appian's Roman History as his chief source. But, as he tells 'the general reader', he had not laboured

to tie myself to relate anything as an historian but to enlarge everything as a poet. To transcribe authors, quote authorities, and translate Latin prose orations into English blank verse, hath in this subject been the least aim of my studies.

Here, in spite of their recent collaboration, he seems to be hitting at Jonson, whose Sejanus had been published in the previous year. In any case, Marston's treatment of his classical theme is essentially different from Ben's neo-Senecan method. And it is equally remote from Shakespeare's transfiguring art which gives universal significance to the figures in his Roman plays. It has been truly said by the dramatist's latest editor [H. Harvey Wood, Plays of John Marston], that 'it looks forward to the heroic drama of the age of Dryden, and has more in common with All for Love than with any work of its own period'.

The tragic fortunes of Sophonisba, beautiful daughter of the Carthaginian general, Hasdrubal, provided Marston with a subject suitable to his spectacular stage-technique. Wedded to a Libyan king, Massinissa, she surrenders him on their wedding night to the call of Carthage (I. ii):

Soph. Go, best man,
And make me proud to be a soldier's wife
That values his renown above faint pleasures …
Mass. Wondrous creature, even fit for gods not men,
Nature made all the rest of thy fair sex
As weak essays, to make thee a pattern
Of what can be in woman.

There is a rival for her love in Syphax, another Libyan king, who has joined the Roman general, Scipio, in his campaign against Cathage. To detach him from this allegiance the Carthaginian Senate arranges to have Massinissa treacherously poisoned and his bride and kingdom bestowed upon Syphax. An honest patriot, Gelosso, reveals the plot to Massinissa, who now leagues himself with Scipio. Meanwhile Sophonisba has been sent to the palace of Syphax at Cirta, but she is deaf to his pleading and his threats, and in an ingeniously contrived scene escapes from his chamber through a cave to a forest, where she is followed and again seized by Syphax.

At this point (Act IV. i. 91 ff.) Marston had the unfortunate inspiration of introducing an episode suggested by the invocation to the witch Erictho in Lucan's De Bello Civili, Book VI. Syphax summons her to his aid, and she promises to bring Sophonisba to his bed, but herself assumes the loved one's shape to cheat Syphax. But even this unpleasant superfluous scene had its compensation for the Blackfriars audience and the reader of to-day. The stage-directions show how the musical resources of the boys' company were used to build up the scene. 'Infernal music plays softly whilst Erictho enters, and when she speaks, ceaseth'. A song, 'Hark, hark, now rise, infernal tones', is followed by a treble viol, a bass lute, &c., which 'play softly within the canopy', and after this there is another short song, when 'nuptial hymns enforcèd spirits sing'.

Massinissa defeats Syphax in single combat, but spares his life and hastens to Sophonisba. But Scipio orders him to give her up as 'a Roman prisoner to the Senate's doom. The Libyan king is torn between his love and his oath of allegiance to Rome. Again Sophonisba, as on their marriage night, proves herself to be the wonder of women (V. iii. 83 ff):

Soph. List to her in whose sole heart it rests
To keep thy faith upright.
Mass. Wilt thou be slaved?
Soph. No, free,
Mass. How then keep I my faith?
Soph. My death
Gives help to all. From Rome so rest we free;
So brought to Scipio, faith is kept in thee.

She drinks poisoned wine, and the play ends with the mournful solemnity of Massinissa presenting Sophonisba's body to the Roman general:

Look, Scipio, see what hard shift we make

To keep our vows. Here, take, I yield her thee.
And Sophonisba, I keep vow, thou'rt still free.

In the face of such a moving and finely wrought climax it is a perverse criticism that dismisses the whole play as 'second-rate in both design and execution'. A poetic dramatist of to-day is at any rate nearer the mark when he singles out Sophonisba as the best of Marston's plays. In dealing with his classical theme he has achieved a broad simplicity of plan and, except in the Erictho episode, he has restrained his impetuous torrent of speech within the bounds of pregnant and effective dialogue.

Sophonisba was probably Marston's last extant completed play. In June 1608 he was again in trouble with the government and was committed to Newgate. It has been conjectured that he was the author of a piece acted at the Blackfriars satirising the king's interest in Scottish mines, and known only through contemporary allusions. His imprisonment may have prevented his finishing The Insatiate Countess, published with his name in 1613, anonymously in 1616, and in 1631 in two issues, one of which assigned it to him and the other to William Barksteed. It was not included in the collected edition of his plays in 1633. If Marston had the chief hand in the play it was an astonishing recoil from the picture of the 'wonder of women' to that of the deliriously lustful Countess Isabella, whom he found in Painter's Palace of Pleasure. There is nothing in the treatment, except occasional poetic flashes, to make the theme more plausible or less unpleasant. And an equivocal underplot, also derived from Painter, though it has ingenious complications, is almost swamped in a deluge of gutter-snipe vocabulary.

No work could have been a less fitting prelude to Marston's ordination in 1609, and his presentation in 1616 to the living of Christchurch in Hampshire, which he resigned in 1631, three years before his death in London on 25 June 1634 and his burial in the Temple Church on the following day. There are few strangercontrasts in stage-history than between Marston's feverishly active decade of play-making and the obscurity of his quarter of a century as a parish priest.

Robert Ornstein (essay date 1960)

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SOURCE: "John Marston, Beaumont and Fletcher," in The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1960, pp. 151-69.

[Below, Ornstein describes Marston as a playwright who commercially exploited various philosophical notions without demonstrating an understanding of them.]

Critics who have no taste for Marston's virtues have no charity for his vices, and in truth it is often difficult to distinguish the two. Like most experiments he revels in the "original" stroke; his most reliable weapon is surprise. His lack of propriety is the breach in the wall of convention through which his wit sallies in pursuit of a novel effect. One never feels that Marston's muse was difficult or crabbed as Webster's is reputed to have been. Though his tragic style is labored, it was probably not labored over. Even in his least successful plays he writes with a genuine theatrical instinct, with a knack for racy dialogue of a somewhat unrespectable nature. In his comedies he is avowedly an entertainer, who seeks to delight and not instruct, and whose modest aim is to amuse without offending.

Nevertheless Marston has offended some critics, particularly Professor Harbage, who finds [in Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions, 1952] in his plays the moral and artistic eccentricities characteristic of the "coterie" drama. More recently [in PMLA, Dec. 1952] Samuel Schoenbaum has delineated the "precarious balance" of Marston's mind: his "maladjusted" morbid fascination with sex, disease, bodily functions, and filth. Without denying Marston's linguistic outrages, I would still suggest (if psychological inferences are in order) that Marston was probably one of the more stable personalities who wrote for the Jacobean stage. He accepted the orders of the Church, I imagine, with a relatively clear conscience because his greatest artistic sins were committed in invincible ignorance and often with high seriousness; moreover they were primarily sins against good taste rather than premeditated assaults on moral values.

From a broad cultural viewpoint, taste and morality may be inseparable, but in a specific literary instance, discrimination between the two is possible and necessary because standards ofpropriety vary more widely than do standards of morality. The bawdy puns in Shakespeare offended Victorians, and the Chaucerian fabliaux are no longer suitable for mixed company, even among the disinterested students of literature in coeducational universities. Although the invention of the flush toilet sweetened the literary imagination, a concern with bodily functions has arisen again in the fiction of the twentieth century, and the love of an off-color joke has been from Chaucer to James Joyce a sign of robust literary talent. Marston's bawdry, unfortunately, is neither as witty as Joyce's nor as artistically appropriate as Shakespeare's. It has nothing to recommend it except sheer exuberance and the undeniable accent of truth. Too frequently, moreover, Marston's style is the raw hyperbole of the Elizabethan popular satirist. His intention is quite obviously to shock the sensibilities, to obtain the phrase with the proper "intestinal" effect. And yet his grossness seems wholly naïve and boisterous and utterly free of the calculated prurience which mars Fletcher's far more genteel art. We can well believe that the sophisticated wits who frequented the private theaters enjoyed Marston, because he is a literary curiosity, an "original" who possessed the kind of rough vitality which is patronized even today by some esoteric literary circles. And although his intellectual capacities were negligible, he filled his plays with modish ideas, especially with the newly coined literary gold of Florio's Montaigne.

While Shakespeare's or Webster's imitations of Montaigne are only indirectly illuminating, Marston's wholesale plagiarism of the Essays (which was remarkable even in an age of copybooks) is an immediate revelation of his artistic interests and habits. We cannot say that he was influenced by Montaigne, because there is little evidence that he assimilated intellectually the passages which he copied from the Essays; and like Webster he was attracted to Montaigne's incidental observations, not his philosophical thought. Marston was a merchandiser of Montaigne's ideas, content to take an immediate profit in the flavor that they added to a casual spot of dialogue. His goal was not to enrich his mind with Montaigne's urbane wisdom but to salt the thin vein of his wit with the polished gems of Florio's prose. Without transmuting that prose into poetry, he incorporated it so skillfully in his plays that we are scarcely aware of the use of scissors and paste. He also has a certain skill in reshuffling materials from the Essays to fit a particular dramatic context. An observation on nature is neatly grafted on a discussion of policy. A comment on the social hypocrisies of feminine modesty is cleverly reoriented to apply to a nuptial scene.

Because Marston gathered other men's ideas with a kind of journalistic curiosity, his plays are valuable mirrors of current opinions. But by the same token, it is almost impossible to piece together Marston's own viewpoints by excerpting passages from his plays. By snipping out lines here and there, one can offer a fascinating variety of "Marstons," none of them perhaps true to the total impression of his personality which we derive from the plays. Compared to Webster, of course, Marston seems easily accessible. He does not brood behind the masks of his dramatis personae; he seems to have nothing to hide or nothing that he cares to hide. And yet he is so inured to his literary trade that he can scarcely write without calculated effect and without assuming a professional stance. In the Satires, where he pretends to unpack his heart with words, he creates a dramatic personality which is in some ways as artificial as any of the characters in his plays. He comes before us as the traditional satirist: blunt, outspoken, caustic, contemptuous, a fearless moral critic of the time. His targets—the social follies and vices of London citizenry—are as conventional as his method of attack. He has the popular controversialist's command of invective and finds no subject within his narrow range too petty or vulgar for commentary. At the same time he is acutely conscious of the noble purpose of satire and fiercely defends his high "calling."

Because Marston very slenderly knew his literary purposes, it is difficult to assess the sincerity of his literary attitudes and emotions. Yet even if we assume the worst about the intention of Pygmalion, we need not conclude that the attacks on sexual vices in the Satires and the plays are hypocritical. There is a difference between a poem of the pure (or impure) imagination and a poem or play which deals with "life." A writer who apologizes for his wanton muse—for sophisticated eroticism in art—may be honestly revolted by carnality in the world around him. And Marston's entry into the Church would suggest that the contempt for Precisians expressed in the Satires and the moral passion of The Malcontent (1604) are more than conventional.

Of course, it is all too easy to mistake an effectively wrought line for an outburst of personal feeling because the impression of sincerity depends so largely on aesthetic effect, on the diction and tone of a passage. We must remember that Marston, like Tourneur (and like all successful writers), has the ability to exploit his own feelings for artistic purposes. Indeed one would judge from the totality of Marston's works that he was an "artist" first, a moralist second. The Malcontent is a relatively fine play because Marston's literary purpose is perfectly attuned to his moral sensibility. His melodramatic intention creates so weird a confusion of ethical values in Antonio's Revenge (1601), however, that the ending of the play has served many critics as an illustration of Jacobean obliquity. While Antonio and his fellow assassins pluck out the tongue of Piero, a Senecan tyrant, the ghost of Andrugio exclaims:

Bless'd be thy hand! I taste the joys of heaven,
Viewing my son triumph in his black blood.
(V. ii. 67-68)

And when after a quaint variation of the Thyestian feast, the much tortured Piero is finally killed, the Ghost sighs:

'Tis done, and now my soul shall sleep in rest:
Sons that revenge their father's blood are blest.
(V. ii. 114-15)

The Ghost is not mistaken. Instead of the hangman, Antonio and the other gloating revengers face a group of public-spirited citizens, who laud their achievements and hope that their "honours live / Religiously held sacred, even forever and ever" (V. ii. 127-28). Antonio, who has butchered an innocent child in cold blood, listens modestly and then decides with his companions to continue his pious efforts in "holy verge of some religious order" as "most constant votaries."

If we did not see in Marston's other plays a lack of discipline and a willingness to sacrifice artistic unity for immediate dramatic effect, we might well suspect that the closing scene of Antonio's Revenge is a sardonic travesty of Christian sentiment. A familiarity with Marston's literary methods suggests, however, that the ethical intention of Antonio's Revenge is not confused but rather as peripheral as that of Titus Andronicus. Incapable of Fletcher's frivolity, Marston approached tragedy with as serious a purpose as Chapman, but he aspired to a "Senecan" ideal that was, if anything, less sophisticated than Kyd's and that equated tragic grandeur with rhetorical bombast and gruesome melodrama. The proud boast in Antonio's valedictory speech that "Never more woe in lesser plot was found" indicates the nature of Marston's dramatic intention. It is not the tears in things that he seeks to express; it is the "rarity of Art," "the pur'st elixed juice of rich conceit," which in practice meant an almost grotesque hyperbole. Confusing exaggeration with elevation, he gives his protagonist andvillain heroic proportions by sheer inflation. Since Piero's tyranny is diabolically inhuman, Antonio's revenge must be appropriately fiendish. In a sense Marston's melodramatic instinct was correct; nothing short of the rack would have been a just punishment for Piero. But when Piero has received the appropriate Senecan tortures, Marston, shopping around for the obligatory moral ending, perfumes the butchery with the odor of sanctity. If he intended the monastic decision to symbolize the revengers' unfitness for normal life, then he would have been wiser to allow Antonio to die, unless of course he kept him alive with a vague thought of yet another sequel to Antonio and Mellida.

Had Marston been a more sensitive and disciplined craftsman, he might have chosen a more fitting conclusion for Antonio's Revenge. At the same time, however, he might also have excluded from the play much that is fascinating as well as irrelevant. The intrusion of Stoic philosophy in the Revenge, for example, is strictly speaking fraudulent. It adds a "philosophical" complication that has no organic purpose in Marston's fable. Yet the pitting of Senecan philosophy against Senecan revenge motivation is in itself an inspired innovation which later dramatists (e.g., Chapman and Tourneur) make dramatically and morally significant. As a matter of fact Marston's protagonist has need of Stoic resignation. His father has been murdered by the man who is forcing his mother into marriage. His fiancée has been accused of foul lust. Advised to be patient, he retorts that "Patience is slave to fools." Told that "'tis reason's glory to command affects," he rejects painted comforts. He is passion's slave personified until rebuked by the Stoical Pandulfo, who has mastered similar cause for grief and rage. For a time Marston threatens to write finis to the revenge convention by anticipating Tourneur's and Chapman's "rejection" of its ethic; Pandulfo advises Antonio:

'Tis not true valour's pride
To swagger, quarrel, swear, stamp, rave, and chide,
To stab in fume of blood, to keep loud coils,
To bandy factions in domestic broils,
To dare the act of sins, whose filth excels
The blackest customs of blind infidels.
No, my lov'd youth: he may of valour vaunt
Whom fortune's loudest thunder cannot daunt;
Whom fretful gales of chance, stern fortune's siege,
Makes not his reason slink, the soul's fair liege;
Whose well-pais'd action ever rests upon
Not giddy humours but discretion.
(I. ii. 325-36)

If Pandulfo's philosophy prevails, the mounting atmosphere of Senecan horror and premonition of bloody catastrophe will lead to the most exasperating anticlimax in the annals of drama. Fortunately reason rather than revenge is vanquished. Seeking spiritual "physic" in Seneca, Antonio finds only hackneyed precepts and meretricious platitudes. After a few lines of De Providentia, he exclaims:

Pish, thy mother was not lately widowèd,
Thy dear affièd love lately defam'd
With blemish of foul lust, when thou wrotest thus;
Thou wrapt in furs, beaking thy limbs 'fore fires;
Forbid'st the frozen zone to shudder. Ha, ha! 'tis nought
But foamy bubbling of a fleamy brain,
Nought else but smoke.
(II. ii. 49-55)

Finally Pandulfo breaks down in the very act of delivering a sermon on fortitude and admits that he has merely hidden his natural weaknesses behind a Stoical facade:

Man will break out, despite philosophy.
Why, all this while I ha' but played a part,
Like to some boy that acts a tragedy,
Speaks burly words, and raves out passion;
But, when he thinks upon his infant weakness,
He droops his eye. I spake more than a god,
Yet am less than a man.
I am the miserablest soul that breathes.
(IV. ii. 69-76)

So much for philosophy! With this confession Pandulfo drops his Stoic pose and assumes the more "natural" role of bloodthirsty revenger.

Although one could interpret this "rejection" of reason as an example of the Jacobean belief in psychological determinism, it seems more accurate to describe Pandulfo's reversal as a utilitarian device of plot. Despite the quotation from De Providentia, Marston's concern with Stoic philosophy never rises above the stale libel of Seneca's voluptuousness, repeated in The Malcontent. Indeed, Marston's "unconventional" rejection of Stoic rationality is quite conventional; he is the first Jacobean toexploit dramatically the skepticism about Stoic self-sufficiency expressed by Erasmus and Montaigne and implicit in the moral philosophy of the Elizabethan age.

Marston's treatment of Stoicism is characteristic. It promises at first more than it finally delivers. It presents a current opinion in its lowest common denominator. Elsewhere in his plays there are interesting suggestions of a contemporary weariness with intellectual controversy that faintly adumbrates the more significant "nominalism" of Webster's tragedies. His mockery of philosophy is frequently a conventional attack on pedantry; but now and then Marston's satiric wit cuts below the surface of casual observation. In What You Will (1601) the discontented Lampatho expresses a conventionally Montaignesque disparagement of reason:

In Heaven's handiwork there's naught,
None more vile, accursed, reprobate to bliss,
Than man: and 'mong men a scholar most.
Things only freshly sensitive, an ox or horse,
They live and eat, and sleep, and drink, and die,
And are not touched with recollections
Of things o'er-past, or stagger'd infant doubts
Of things succeeding.
(II. ii. 128-35)

Then he adds a more immediate and pregnant comment on "vain philosophy":

I was a scholar; seven useful springs
Did I deflower in quotations
Of cross'd opinions 'bout the soul of man.
The more I learnt the more I learnt to doubt:
Knowledge and wit, faith's foes, turn faith about.


Stood band[y]ing factions all so strongly propp'd,
I stagger'd, knew not which was firmer part;
But thought, quoted, read, observ'd, and pried,
Stuff's noting-books; and still my spaniel slept.
At length he waked and yawn'd and by yon sky,
For aught I know he knew as much as I.
(II. ii. 151-80)

Lampatho, like Flamineo after him, knows the infinite vexation of thought, of confounding knowledge with knowledge. Having wasted his youth on the idle questions which engrossed the Paduans and the Christian apologists, he at last turned to more fruitful endeavors.

When Marston touches on a significant moral or philosophical question it is, generally speaking, by way of minor characters. In Sophonisba (1605-6), for example, an impressive refutation of Machiavellian doctrine (cribbed from Montaigne) is given to Gelossa, and the servant maid Zanthia argues, like Chapman's Machiavels, that wedlock or virtue "Are courses and varieties of reason, / To use or leave, as they advantage them" (III. i. 83-84). In The Malcontent Maquerelle expresses the libertine argument that honesty is but a fable devised to "wrong our liberty" (V. ii. 108-11). In the first scene of The Fawn (1604-6), Duke Hercules pleads for the "appetite of blood" with a familiar libertine dialectic:

And now, thou ceremonious sovereignty—
Ye proud, severer, stateful compliments,
The secret arts of rule—I put you off;
Nor ever shall these manacles of form
Once more lock up the appetite of blood.


Shall I, because some few may cry, "Light! vain!"
Beat down affection from desirèd rule?
He that doth strive to please the world's a fool.
To have that fellow cry, "O mark him, grave,
See how austerely he doth give example
Of repressed heat and steady life!"
Whilst my forced life against the stream of blood
Is tugg'd along, and all to keep the god
Of fools and women, nice Opinion,
Whose strict preserving makes oft great men fools,
And fools oft great men. No, thou world, know thus,
There's nothing free but it is generous.
(I. i. 40-65)

But a reader who anticipates a torrid portrait of unconfined love will be disappointed, because the Duke casts off the "manacles of form" to become a satiric scourge of villainy.

The Dutch Courtezan (1603-4), Marston's most successful and "philosophical" comedy, offers in the midst of gutter slang and bawdry the first extensive treatment of libertine ideas in Jacobean drama. From its opening a somber note is struck by Malheureux, a puritanical moralist, who is revolted by the casual sensuality of his friend Freevill. Freevill, a libertine more by inclination than by conviction, has sowed his wild oats and is ready to marry and "settle down." As a joke he takes his moralizing friend on a farewell visit to his whore, Franceschina. Doomed by the most venerable cliché of Elizabethan comedy—Cupid's revenge—Malheureux falls promptly in love with her. Only here the venerable cliché takes on a new meaning because Malheureux falls victim to what the moral philosophers of the late Renaissance called "natural passion." Freevill, amused by Malheureux's infatuation, regards it as a vindication of his own incontinence, and he mockingly turns Malheureux's words against him:

Malheureux does not enjoy the joke. Although he cannot easily shrug off his moral habits, his awakened sensuality threatens his puritanical convictions:

Is she unchaste—can such a one be damn'd?
O love and beauty! ye two eldest seeds
Of the vast chaos, what strong right you have
Even in things divine—our very souls!


Are strumpets then such things so delicate?
Can custom spoil what nature made so good?
Or is their custom bad? Beauty's for use—
I never saw a sweet face vicious!
(I. ii. 234-46)

Malheureux's scruples are beginning to waver. Like Ford's lovers he finds Neoplatonic sophistries to justify his lust, but he does not yet abandon the traditional moral view of custom and nature. He still believes that virtue is natural, and vice an "unnatural" product of vicious custom. He is no longer sure that Franceschina is evil, but if she is, it is because evil habits have corrupted her natural goodness. In theory, at least, he is still true to moral philosophy.

Like all romantic agonists he struggles vainly against irresistible passion:

Soul, I must love her! Destiny is weak
To my affection.—A common love!—
Blush not, faint breast!
That which is ever loved of most is best.
Let colder eld the strong'st objections move,
No love's without some lust, no life without some love.
(I. ii. 248-53)

As his desire mounts, his casuistry becomes more subtle and ingenious, until at last, weary of rationalizing, he joins with the libertine naturalists in complaining against the tyranny of custom:

[Birds] have no bawds, no mercenary beds,
No polite restraints, no artificial heats,
No faint dissemblings; no custom makes them blush,
No shame afflicts their name. O you happy beasts!
In whom an inborn heat is not held sin,
How far transcend you wretched, wretched man,
Whom national custom, tyrannous respects
Of slavish order, fetters, lames his power,
Calling that sin in us which in all things else
Is Nature's highest virtue.
O miseri quorum gaudia crimen habent!
Sure Nature against virtue cross doth fall,
Or virtue's self is oft unnatural.
(II. i. 72-84)

No longer convinced of Franceschina's wickedness, Malheureux decides that tyrannical custom has falsely condemned her natural (and, therefore, "good") beauty. Inverting the traditional antithesis of custom and nature, he agrees with the libertines that despite artificial laws, man is still nature's creature, in whom sexual desire is "Nature's highest virtue." Malheureux still believes that virtue exists, but he sees that nature and virtue clash, that man's tragedy is his inability to practice the morality he is capable of idealizing:

O accursed reason,
How many eyes hast thou to see thy shame,
And yet how blind once to prevent defame!
(II. i. 89-91)

Because "raging lust" controls his fate, Malheureux kneels before Franceschina, who demands as the price of her favors Freevill's murder. Proclaiming "there is no hell but love's prolongings," Malheureux agrees, but finds it impossible to rationalize murder by naturalistic arguments:

To kill my friend! O 'tis to kill myself!
Yet man's but man's excrement—man breeding man

As he does worms; or this, to spoil this nothing.
The body of a man is of the self-same mould
As ox or horse; no murder to kill these.
As for that only part which makes us man,
Murder wants power to touch't. O wit, how vile!
How hellish art thou, when thou raisest nature
'Gainst sacred faith! Think more: to kill a friend
To gain a woman! to lose a virtuous self
For appetite and sensual end, whose very having
Loseth all appetite, and gives satiety!
(II. ii. 213-24)

Put to this crucial test Malheureux's libertine philosophy disintegrates, for analogies between men and animals reduce men to worse than brutishness. And even Freevill, who refused to take Malheureux's passion seriously, now sees that lust is a most deadly sin. Overhearing Franceschina's plot, he exclaims:

O, thou unreprievable, beyond all
Measure of grace damn'd irremediably!
That things of beauty created for sweet use,
Soft comfort, as the very music of life,
Custom should make so unutterably hellish!
(V. i. 63-67)

In Freevill's speech the wheel comes full circle. Although there is some recognition that reason and nature have divided, nature and custom neatly return to their traditional places in the moral scheme. When the plot is finally untangled all ends happily. Virtue is preserved, villainy punished, and even the conycatching Cocledemoy is revealed to be an "innocent wag."

If The Dutch Courtezan is a weightier play than Marston's othercomedies, its treatment of libertine naturalism is nevertheless superficial. The illumination which D'Amville obtains through mind-shattering catastrophes comes facilely to Malheureux, whose passion is a temporary quirk in a repressed, Angelolike temperament. The wooden rhetoric and transparent speciosity of Malheureux's arguments make it difficult to take his libertinism seriously or to connect it with any larger or more serious questioning of the traditional moral view of nature. But then we should not expect high seriousness from Marston's comedies, which he dismissed as "slight hasty labours." All in all he strikes an agreeable bargain with the reader; he offers more than he demands in return. And those with a taste for the intellectual gossip of the Jacobean literary world might spend a few profitable though not very edifying hours in his company.

Anthony Caputi (essay date 1961)

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SOURCE: "Sharp-fanged Satirist," in John Marston, Satirist, Cornell, 1961, pp. 232-51.

[In the following excerpt, Caputi examines Marston's style in the various satires, focusing on his use of speeches, types, and exempla, and discussing how he further developed these techniques in his plays.]

John Marston's work in verse satire is, perhaps, as exemplary as anything he was ever to do of the purposes that unified the fashionable poets at the end of the sixteenth century. In taking up the "Satyre's knottie rod" in 1598, he assumed a stance, a voice, and a state of mind ideally suited to a vociferous declaration of his individuality. This gesture was to exert a permanent influence on his literary career. Although he was soon prevented from publishing verse satires by the Order of Conflagration of 1599 andalthough his literary efforts after that year were almost wholly dramatic, once he had turned to satire he never abandoned it. It will be increasingly clear, indeed, that his work in verse satire constituted an apprenticeship in the literary methods and techniques that were to be the foundation of his efforts in the drama.

Unfortunately, the task of clarifying and assessing Marston's accomplishment in verse satire is fraught with problems. Renaissance satire is in many respects the most difficult of the Renaissance genres for modern readers. Frequently it is highly topical and allusive. What is often more perplexing, however, is that it is based on a set of assumptions with which modern readers have almost wholly lost touch. Since the days of Hall, Marston, and Donne, English literature has been enriched by the satire of Dryden, Pope, and Byron, whose work is very different and so much more important that modern readers have been educated to judge satire by the standards implicit in it. Too often, accordingly, Hall, Marston, and Donne fare worse in the hands of critics than they ought to fare largely because they fail to manifest the qualities that Dryden, Pope, and Byron display so abundantly. J. P. Collier, who was rather sympathetic to Marston on the whole, says of him [in Poetical Dec.], for example, that "in all there is a great deal of strength and fire; some heavy blows, but nothing exquisitely keen, indicating a real talent for satire of the best kind." And even a critic as sensitive to Marston's value as Ford Elmore Curtis seems to rely on eighteenth-century criteria when he quotes epigrammatic lines as examples of Marston's best work.

Recently, numerous attempts have been made to recover the assumptions necessary to read Renaissance satire as it was intended to be read, to rehabilitate what M. C. Randolph calls "Renaissance satiric theory." Taken as a unit, these studies have enabled us to see over the peaks of Dryden, Pope, and Byron to the smaller range beyond. Yet they have also proved a little disquieting in that they have shown—what is so often true—that Renaissance satire was no single thing, no single, tidy coherent entity, but a shaggy cluster of things, a cluster held together by obvious and important similarities, yet a cluster nonetheless. Disentangling Marston from this cluster will require some care.

The multiplicity of Renaissance satire is met most conspicuoulsy, perhaps, in the diversity of Renaissance attempts to explain its origins—not to mention modern attempts to explain these explanations. A useful paradigm for this confusion is Thomas Drant's prefatory poem to A Medicinable Moral … Two Books of Horace's Satires, English ed (1566), in which Drant derives the word "satyre" from four distinct sources. Moreover, reasonable explanations for this diversity have not been wanting: Lila Freedman has been thorough in clarifying the differences among the Renaissance authorities drawn on, and John Peter persuasive in arguing a varying medieval residue. In emphasizing these differences, of course, we should avoid the implication that the efforts to write satire at the end of the sixteenth century were anything like anarchic; that would be hopelessly wide of the mark. Despite all the theoretical differences, poets and critics found substantial areas of agreement. Whether Marston and his fellows believed satire derived from the rude satyr figure, as the influential Aelius Donatus, Diomedes, and Puttenham had argued, or from the Latin satura, as others opined, or from the classical figure of Saturn, their differences apparently did not prevent them from general unanimity on so crucial a matter as the authentic satiric style since all these derivations were perfectly consistent with the conviction that satire was characteristically harsh and obscure. Furthermore, their universal acceptance of a coarse, conversational, often elliptical, sometimes scurrile speech for satire rested firmly on the precedent of Juvenal and Persius, their avowed models. A John Marston might quarrel mildly about the degree to which harshness and obscurity were proper, but he did not deny their authenticity. It is only within this area of general agreement that the diversity in theory becomes important. There it led to differences in practice from poet to poet, and there it begins to be of help in the task of setting Marston off.

This diversity is most important in questions concerning satire's function and the persona proper to the satirist. It was universally assumed, of course, that satire was corrective. But it was not clear precisely how it was corrective. When Puttenham described the satirist as one who assailed "common abuses and vice … in rough and bitter speeches," he did not go on to say that the satirist also provided positive exhortations to virtue. Yet there was some precedent for such exhortation in the classical satirists and abundant evidence of it in the complaint tradition that so deviously conditioned Renaissance satire. The Renaissance satirists, accordingly, were far from agreed on the point: some of them contented themselves with invective; some quite selfconsciously tried to balance the railing by arguing constructive moral standards.

The confusion was still greater in the related matter of thepersona proper to the satirist. Perhaps nothing has given modern readers more trouble than this element in Renaissance satire. To be sure, their difficulty proceeds frequently from their failure to recognize that Renaissance satirists deliberately assumed a persona; but it proceeds also—after a satiric pose has been acknowledged—from their failure to apprehend the full complexity of the persona and to grasp firmly the fact that this persona differed from satirist to satirist. The speaker in Hall's Virgidemiarum is by no means the speaker in Marston's Scourge of Villainy or Donne's Satires. To understand their differences as well as their similarities, we must consider not only the various precedents followed, but also certain of the aims animating these poets—aims that they shared as young poets writing under the special conditions of their decade, as well as aims that seem to have been peculiar to them as individuals.

All the Renaissance satirists had before them the precedents of Horace, Juvenal, and Persius, and Lila Freedman has done an admirable job of showing their indebtedness to the personae of these Latin writers and their preference for Juvenal's "angry man." All, moreover, fell heir to the rather recent but common tradition that the satirist was a kind of barber-surgeon who administered bitter medicine, let blood, lanced sores, and flayed away infected flesh, a tradition perhaps first set forth only as recently as Minturno's De Poeta … (1559), but certainly commonplace by the end of the century. And all, of course, were aware of the preacher-persona of the complaint tradition, though, fashionable young sophisticates that they were, they took pains to avoid comparison with the complainant's contemporaneous equivalent, the Puritan zealot, as often as they tried to emulate his moral sincerity. The problem of apprehending the personae of Renaissance satire, at any rate, consists in determining the precise proportions in which these precedents mingle in individual satirists. What is more, in a satirist as ambitious as John Marston, it consists in determining how these precedents mingle with at least one other that has not been sufficiently noticed, that of the Stoic teacher-philosopher as met in Epictetus and others.

In general, the fusion of these strains in Marston's verse satires produced a speaker who is by turns haughty and exclusive, furious to the point of hysteria, amused in the manner of Democritus, grimly hardened to the task of whipping and flaying, and then serious with the earnestness of a dedicated healer of souls. It is useful to think of this persona as a cartoonlike extension of Marston the man, culminating at the outer extremity in the satyr's mask. It is in this mask, of course, that we meet the savage indignation and rude accents of outrage—those features of the persona that are most clearly matters of artifice. At the other extreme, in the voice of the Stoic teacher-philosopher, we meet a voice apparently indistinguishable from Marston's own. For the sake of clarity these multiple attitudes might be seen as parts of a process of extension and recession. At moments Marston speaks noisily through the personality of the mask; at others he retreats along the line of extension to speak much as he would in his own person. Once we grant his right as a poet to move back and forth in this way, to complicate his point of view by this device, we shall have no trouble, I think, with the plural attitudes worked with. Each is perfectly consistent with something that Marston the young poet as satirist was trying to do. Despite the presence of artifice, moreover, each is an integral part of Marston's serio-comic view of the world.

Marston runs the gamut of these attitudes with an ease that has often prompted his critics to accuse him of insincerity. But his shifts are perfectly clear once we recognize that they are shifts. In Certain Satires, which, as we shall see, is conceived structurally to deepen progressively in seriousness, he moves gradually from the irritated but rather jaunty sophisticate who twice invokes Democritus, the laughing philosopher, in Satire I to the raging satirist of Satire III:

Now, Grim Reproof, swell in my rough-hued rhyme,
That thou mayst vex the guilty of our time.
[11. 1-2]

For the most part he holds to this exasperation through Satires IV and V to relinquish it toward the end of V for a tone more suitable to the name "Epictetus," with which he signs the work.

In The Scourge of Villainy his shifts are more numerous and complex, but also clear. The prefatory pieces abound in the haughty exclusiveness of the fashionable poets: the speaker is disdainful of detractors, grudging to expose "to their all-tainting breath, / The issue of his brain," yet confident that however little he is understood by his average reader, he will be understood and appreciated by the "diviner wits," those "free-born minds no kennel-thought controlls." There is little beyond a certain exaggeration to distinguish this voice from Marston's own.

But the transition marked at the beginning of "Proemium in Librum Primum" is perfectly clear: when he opens with

I bear the scourge of just Rhamnusia,
Lashing the lewdness of Britannia,

he has patently assumed the satyr's mask. Here we meet all the notorious scorn, contempt, and abhorrence. The poet leaves his ivory tower to scourge the infected multitude because nothing short of scourging—and not very dignified scourging at that—will suffice. Marston's most extreme cultivation of this attitude follows immediately in the tortured obscurity of Satire I. But he retreats slightly from this extreme in Satire II (he had said in the prefatory letter that the harshness and obscurity of Satire I were excessive), where he adopts the tone that dominates the work.

I cannot hold, I cannot, I endure … :
Let custards quake, my rage must freely run.

My soul is vex'd; what power will resist,
Or dares to stop a sharp-fang'd satirist?
[11. 1-8]


Who would not shake a satire's knotty rod,
When to defile the sacred seat of God
Is but accounted gentlemen's disport?
[11. 38-40]


Who can abstain? What modest brain can hold,
But he must make his shame-faced muse a scold?
[11. 142-143]

He departs from this outrage frequently in the poems that follow: toward the end of Satire IV, for example, where as teacher-philosopher he argues abstract matters of ethical theory; in the "Proemium in Librum Secundum" and "Ad rhythmum," where as fashionable poet-satirist he pronounces on matters of form; or at the beginning of the last satire, where he explicitly bids Grim Reproof to sleep and invokes "sporting merriment." And his departures are sometimes sudden and brief, as, for example, in Satire VIII, where he punctuates passages of denunciation with abstract reflections on sensuality. But however numerous andabruptly introduced, his shifts are always clear, if you are ready for them; indeed, sometimes ("I am too mild. Reach me my scourge again." IX, 364) they are explicit.

Taken together, these attitudes constitute Marston's satiric persona, surely his central device for controlling and directing thought and feeling in the satires. It is a persona quite distinct from Hall's, or Donne's, or even Guilpin's, whose most resembles it. Yet it is only one of several important features of Marston's satires that set them off from his contemporaries'; and it is only a symptom of the wider diversity to be met in the genre.

For the present purpose Marston's distinctness among the Renaissance satirists can be adequately illustrated by comparing him with that contemporary with whom he most frequently crossed swords, Joseph Hall. Both began writing verse satire at roughly the same time (Hall preceded Marston by about a year), and the obvious similarities in their work need hardly be reaffirmed. Despite their similarities and the common assumptions about satire that these similarities reflect, however, they were by no means agreed on all matters. They did not agree, for example, and there was no general agreement, about the precise position of satire in the hierarchy of genres. Sidney had given it a medial position, above "Iambic" and "Comic," but Puttenham had put it at the bottom, below the pastoral. Marston claimed a high place for it, while Hall consistently referred to it as "lowly."

Fortunately, Hall was fairly outspoken about his views. In addition to his random remarks about satire in the Virgidemiarum, he dealt with it at some length in "A Postscript to the Reader," appended to the sixth book. In general, he accepted the stock assumptions about satire's harshness and obscurity. He described the satirist as a porcupine

That shoots sharpe quils out in each angry line,
And wounds the blushing cheeke, and fiery eye,
Of him that heares, and readeth guiltily.

And in the "Postscript" he described satire as "both hard of conceipt, and harsh of stile." But even while recognizing harshness and obscurity as qualities characteristic of satire, he did so with serious reservations. For one thing he suggests at some points that surface roughness was not accidental in authentic satiric utterance. He was nowhere perfectly clear on the point; but in the Prologue of Book III, where he summarized the complaints alreadymade about his satires (apparently circulated in manuscript), he implies that, theoretically, harshness and obscurity should be expressive of "gall," a term that in this context seems to mean angry contempt. He then goes on in the same passage, however, to admit that, whatever their theoretical functions, he was unable to achieve these qualities in his satires:

Some say my Satyrs over-loosely flow,
Nor hide their gall inough from open show:
Not ridle-like, obscuring their intent:
But packe-staffe plaine uttring what thing they ment:
Contrarie to the Roman ancients,
Whose wordes were short, & darkesome was their sence;
Who reads one line of their harsh poesies,
Thrise must he take his winde, & breath him thrise.
My muse would follow them that have forgone,
But cannot with an English pineon.

Both this passage and the "Postscript" show that Hall recognized a true satiric style and admired it but that he felt it irretrievably lost to English writers. Although he tried to imitate it, he openly admitted that his was for the most part a "quiet stile." His fullest discussion of this loss occurs in the "Postscript," where, after introducing his subject with the haughty superiority typical of the fashionable poets, he discursively assembled three reasons for the loss: the ignorance of the age, the age's preference for musical verse, and, most interesting of all, the unsuitability of English for imitating the effects achieved by the Latin satirists.

Marston's refusal to impose any such limitations on satire furnishes us with a valuable index to his behavior as a writer. In this genre, too, he apparently thought of himself as the orphan poet. Of course his feigned contempt for the persons and institutions satirized suggests that he was writing in the genre almost against his will. In the second of the prefatory pieces to The Scourge of Villainy, "In Lectores prorsus indignos," he scorned his public and recoiled from the hand-dirtying that comes from dealing with vice; and at the end of the book he committed it in a manner true to his Stoic convictions about worldly vanity to "Everlasting Oblivion." But these speeches are merely parts of the satiric pose; they tell us little about Marston's serious convictions about satire. The conclusion of "In Lectores" far more accurately represents his considered view of the genre. Here, after deciding to submit to the "dunghill pesants," the Castilios and theGnatos who would abuse his work, he dedicated it to the "diviner wits" who would understand and appreciate what he was about (11. 80-97). Here, as well as elsewhere, his premise is that satire is an important, though a difficult genre. Earlier in Certain Satires he had with assumed humility expressed a fear that he could not attain to the high estate of satirist:

O title, which my judgment doth adore!
But I, dull-sprited fat Boeotian boor,
Do far off honour that censorian seat.
[II, 3-5]

In The Scourge he was not only confident that he had attained to the role but also confident that he was taking the genre to new heights:

O how on tip-toes proudly mounts my muse!
Stalking a loftier gait than satires use.
Methinks some sacred rage warms all my veins,
Making my sprite mount up to higher strains
Than well beseems a rough-tongu'd satire's part.
[IX, 5-9]

As we shall see, this ambition is clearly traceable in the differences between Marston's satires and those of his contemporaries.

But Marston's differences with Hall did not end with the question of the dignity of the genre; he also took a slightly different view of the authentic satiric style. To begin with, Marston held reservations even more serious than Hall's about the popular assumptions concerning satire's harshness and obscurity. Although he frequently described his satires as "sharp-fang'd," "rude," and "rough-hew'd," and although he admitted in the letter prefatory to The Scourge that "there is a seemly decorum to be observed, and peculiar kind of speech for a satire's lips," he argued in the same letter that satire was not as harsh and obscure as his contemporaries claimed. Those who held that it was extremely harsh and obscure, he reasoned, had inferred these qualities from the ancient satirists whom, in fact, they were unable to read properly. For them, he added, he had written the "first satire," "in some places too obscure, in all places misliking me." The authentic satiric style, he apparently thought, was more moderate: "sharp-fang'd," "rude," and "rough-hew'd" to some extent, but not as harsh and obscure as Hall and the others contended. Moreover, atno point did Marston suggest that he felt, as Hall did, that English was unsuitable for the authentic satiric style in either his or Hall's conception of that style.

On the other hand, Marston seems to have shared Hall's view that the best satire should express its gall or angry contempt to a large extent through style, but he differed with him on the question of the extent to which satire should express contempt. Despite the apparent unfairness to Hall, Marston constantly accused him of devoting his satires exclusively to reailing. The following passage from "Reactio," an attack on Hall included in Certain Satires, offers a typical example of the accusation:

Speak, ye that never heard him ought but rail,
Do not his poems bear a glorious sail? …
Who cannot rail, and with a blasting breath
Scorch even the whitest lilies of the earth?
Who cannot stumble in a stuttering style,
And shallow heads with seeming shades beguile?

As his practice reveals, Marston was not content to restrict satire to railing, to derision, or even to reasoned criticism of a destructive sort. One of the specific means by which he sought to elevate the genre was by combining satire with fairly elaborate moral exhortation, and in this he is unique in the gallery of Renaissance satirists.

In view of the critical differences between Marston and Hall, therefore, it is not surprising that they engaged in a literary quarrel, especially since Marston seems to have been anxious to have a whipping boy. Actually, we have no assurance that either these differences or their critical differences concerning the literature of the past caused the quarrel. Ford Elmore Curtis [in "Life"] and Morse Allen [in The Satire of John Marston, 1920] have argued that they did. But other critics have argued for other causes, equally reasonable and equally conjectural. Arnold Davenport ["An Elizabethan Controversy: Harvey and Nashe," NQ, CLXXXII (1942)], for example, has tried not implausibly to link the quarrel with the earlier Harvey-Nashe controversy. And Arnold Stein has argued still more reasonably ["The Second English Satirist," MLR, XXXVIII (1943)] that the cause of the quarrel was probably a combination of causes. Marston probably resented, he contends, that Hall had published first and had achieved popularity before he had broken into print. Then, making the most of the disparity in their temperaments, he had exploited the possibilities for a quarrel, ifonly to have someone to disintegrate. Indeed, despite the contention of the older critics Grosart and Bullen that Hall fomented the quarrel by attacking the unprinted "Pygmalion's Image" in his Virgidemiarum, the one conclusion favored by the known facts is that the quarrel was extremely one-sided, most of the vituperation having come from Marston. As Curtis has pointed out, "there is in Hall no unmistakable reference to Marston." We have only the epigram that Hall supposedly "caused to be pasted to the latter page of every Pygmalion that came to the Stationers of Cambridge" and that Marston reprinted in "Satira Nova," the satire added to the second edition of The Scourge, to represent Hall's contribution to the quarrel; and even the epigram's authenticity has been questioned. Marston, on the other hand, twice attacked Hall at length in Certain Satires, devoting one whole satire of the five to the purpose, and then continued to attack him in The Scourge. In other words, he behaved like a man prompted by resentment and jealousy and determined to make the most of an opportunity for a literary quarrel. All in all, the quarrel was probably not important enough to justify the attention that scholars have given to it; but it does dramatize Marston's distinctness as a young writer of satire. Certainly it had a place among his thoughts when he sat down to work on Certain Satires in 1598.

On March 30, 1598 the second part of Hall's Virgidemiarum, the three books of "Biting Satires," was entered in the Stationers' Register, the first three books of "Toothless Satires" having been entered in March of 1597. Since Marston referred to the "Biting Satires" in his Certain Satires, we may conclude that he did some of the work on Certain Satires between March of 1598 and May 27, 1598, when The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion's Image and Certain Satires was entered in the Stationers' Register. Of course he may have written large parts of Certain Satires before March of 1598 and may have simply added the sections alluding to the "Biting Satires" after their appearance. But if we take March 30, 1598 as the date after which Marston did at least some of the work on Certain Satires and take September 8, 1598, the date on which The Scourge was entered, as a terminal date, we must conclude it likely that Marston did most of his work in verse satire, perhaps all of it (excepting the satire added to the second edition of The Scourge in 1599) during the five months between the end of March and the beginning of September. This work includes the ten satires from the first edition of The Scourge and part, if not all, of the five satires of Certain Satires. In all, this work runs to more than 2,600 lines.

In view of the probable volume of Marston's work during this period, the care and seriousness with which he executed it are significant. At first glance the contents and organization of The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion's Image and Certain Satires suggest that the volume was assembled hastily. Not only is "Pygmalion's Image" different in genre and style from the satires, but the satires themselves do not appear to cohere as a unit beyond the first three. These three satires trace an unmistakable line of development, beginning with the follies described in the epigraph, Quaedam videntur, et non sunt ("Certain things seem to be but are not"), continuing with the more serious offenses of Quaedam sunt, et non videntur ("Certain things are but do not seem to be"), and concluding with the vices of Quaedam et sunt, et videntur ("Certain things both are and seem to be"). Actually, the distinctions declared by these epigraphs are little more than quibbles, though the poems gradually deepen in tone as the speaker works himself into the role of the raging satirist. The fourth poem, however, the "Reactio," is a personal attack on Hall that is only vaguely relevant to the first three; and the final poem, Parva magna, magna nulla ("Petty things are great, great things are nothing"), is hardly a satire at all. It is, instead, a didactic poem in which the thesis set forth in its title is expounded through illustrations from classical story. This heterogeneity has prompted critics to conclude that Marston threw together what he had on hand for the purpose of hurrying into print. The point cannot be settled, of course, with any finality. To the extent that "Pygmalion's Image" and the satires of Certain Satires are dissimilar works, their dissimilarity can be used to support the claim. But the claim accounts for almost nothing; if a more compelling explanation of the structure of Certain Satires can be found, it must take precedence.

Certain features of the structure of Certain Satires suggest that it is neither simple nor carelessly planned. For one thing, the fact that the component poems are different in kind does not necessarily mean that the work lacks design. On the surface, it consists of three easily recognizable types of poems: Satires I through III are general satires; "Reactio" is a personal satire; and the last poem is a didactic poem. As we shall see, these types correspond precisely to the types constituting The Scourge. If by comparing Certain Satires and The Scourge we can infer good reasons for the specific placement of these poems within them, perhaps we shall discern a structural design where none has been suspected.

The Scourge consists of ten satires (eleven in the edition of 1599) and opens with a panoramic survey of satiric types like those found in Juvenal, Satire I, and in Donne, Satire I. This first poem is designed to illustrate its motto Fronti nulla fides ("There is no trusting to appearances"). Rapidly the poet's wrath mounts until he rejects philosophy, promises to tell the whole truth, and protests that humor is now impossible. In Satire II his theme is again the whole of society, but this time he surveys the subjects available to satire, illustrating the motto Difficile est Satyram non scribere ("It is hard not to write satire"). And in Satire III he completes his justification for writing satire by again surveying the satiric types to support the implication of the motto Redde, age, quae deinceps risisti ("Come tell me what did you laugh at next"), that the state of society is no laughing matter. Satire IV, Cras ("Tomorrow"), which completes the first of the three books, advances the moral intention of the work by documenting through exempla the thesis stated at the end of the straightforward harangue of the latter half of the satire, that tomorrow is too late to reform.

The remaining satires in The Scourge, excluding Satire VI, "Satira Nova," which was added in 1599, and Satire XI, which is another panoramic survey of types calculated to parallel Satire I, represent fuller developments of the major vices treated in the surveys of I, II, III. Satire V, Totum in Toto ("All in All"), illustrates the thesis that villainy dominates everything while virtue counts for nothing. Satire VII, "A Cynic Satire," answers the opening cry, "A man, a man, a kingdom for a man," by showing that there is none, that man has lost his distinguishing feature, reason. Satire VIII, Inamorato Curio, first illustrates through the usual exempla the descent of man to sensuality, then in straight exposition describes the loss of reason to sensuality, closing with an appeal to Synderesis, the spark of divinity and reason that once united man with the godhead. And Satire IX, "A Toy to mock an ape indeed," documents the implied thesis that society is a collection of foolish imitators or apes. Satire XI (Satire X in the original) completes the circle and the scourge by summarizing the wickedness of the age in a survey like that of Satire I and by closing on an appeal to young men to rejuvenate their souls, to recall reason, and to recover Synderesis.

Only Satire VI, Hem Nosti 'n ("Ha! Do you know me?"), and "Satira Nova," both of which are personal satires like the "Reactio" of Certain Satires, seem to depart from this scheme of combining systematic scourging with moral exhortation; but even they, perhaps, were once integral in a way that modern readers finddifficult to appreciate. Although in Satire VI the poet turns momentarily to personal injustices, a subject only loosely related to the central concern of the work, its placement at the mid-point in the discourse suggests that it was probably not just an extra poem that somehow had to be worked in but more likely a functional part.

Of all the possible functional parts defined by Renaissance rhetoricians, Satire VI most clearly resembles the structural digression. Quintilian, the source of so much critical theory at this time, had maintained "that this sort of excursion may be advantageously introduced, not only after the statement of the case, but after the different questions in it, all together or sometimes severally, when the speech is by such means greatly set off and embellished; providing that the dissertation aptly follows and adheres to what precedes, and is not forced in like a wedge, separating what was naturally united." In The Foundation of Rhetoric (1563) Richard Rainolde incorporated this principle into his discussion of the oration called a "Commonplace," an oration that, with its purpose to exasperate the hearers against the accused and its characteristic "exaggeracion of reason," is not unlike a Renaissance satire. Rainolde's analysis of the twelve parts of this oration designated part seven as the digression. In The Garden of Eloquence (1577) Henry Peacham repeated Quintilian: "The digressyon oughte alwayes to pertayne and agree to those matters that wee handle, and not to be straunge or farre distaunte from the purpose, also we muste haue a perfecte waye prouyded aforehande, that we maye goe forth aptelye, and making no longe taryaunce out, retourne in agayne cunninglye." And in 1589 Puttenham confirmed that "it is wisdome for a perswader to tarrie conveniently and make his aboad as long as he may without tediousnes to the hearer." Despite the inherent imprecision of this device, it is not improbable that Marston had it in mind here. Clearly Satire VI deals with a subject on which he could "tarrie without tediousnes" and yet which is a sufficiently relevant "excursion" to cohere to what precedes and what follows. And although no such claims of calculation can be made for the "Satira Nova," since when added in 1599 it seems to have been an afterthought, even this addition was not merely tacked on. Instead, it was placed before Satire XI and, according to the technique usual for digressions, at a convenient distance from Satire VI.

If we can assume, then, that Satire VI and, later, the "Satira Nova" were calculated digressions, the structure of The Scourge becomes clear. The constituent poems divide themselves into three sustained attacks, culminating in didactic passages at the end of Satires IV, VIII, and XI. The first of the attacks, from I to III, is general, taking a panoramic view of society and its evils; the second, from V (omitting VI, a digression) to VIII, is more specific, dealing with the weightiest evils; and the third, from IX (omitting the "Satira Nova," another digression) to XI, is again general.

Moreover, if we go back to Certain Satires and assume that the "Reactio" was designed as a digression there, we find that a similar pattern asserts itself: the three satires represent the attack, "Reactio" the digression, and the final poem the didactic peroration. It is clear that these patterns do not perfectly correspond, and obviously they leave much to explain about these poems. But their outlines are sufficiently clear to indicate what Marston was about and to identify one of the ways in which he attempted to vest satire with what he felt to be its appropriate dignity. As satiric structures these poems were unique in his day.

In outline Marston's verse satires established the structural pattern that he was to experiment with in all his subsequent work in the satiric mode. In the main these poems are fashioned to arouse anger, a sense of incongruity, disproportion, and deformity, and a fear of moral chaos—or feelings that I shall designate collectively by the term "moral distress." The pattern of attack and exposure followed by reflection and moral exhortation traces a movement from moral distress to righteous contempt and resolution. Here this movement is rough-hewn and relatively simple, and the passages of reflection and moral exhortation do not so much purge or resolve the feelings of moral distress as direct them to righteous indignation. But Marston apparently saw more in this structural pattern than at first glance meets the eye. In his plays he continued to experiment with it, polishing and enriching it as he acquired skill and sophistication, until in his best plays he achieved with a modified version of it a satiric expression that is impressive by any standards.

But Marston's performance in the verse satires and its relevance to his later work can be traced in even greater detail in the techniques that operate within the structural frames of these works. Like everyone else, Marston reveals himself in little as well as in important things. And in matters of artistic method, frequently the little things tell us as much as the important ones can of the artist that is to be.

The verbal style of the verse satires is, of course, as prominent as the satiric persona. In fact, so intricately are the two related that it is difficult not to see the style as a consequence of the persona's shifting moods. Yet when Marston talked about style, he restricted his remarks entirely—as did his fellow-satirists—to the harshness and obscurity of his persona's most violent speeches; he had nothing to say directly about the style of his philosophic passages. Since recent criticism has done the same, it is necessary, accordingly, to recall that the speaker in the satires is not always violent and that the language is not always harsh and obscure. It is important to recall this, not so that we may argue, finally, the presence of several styles in the satires, but so that we may recognize the considerable range of the style that at one extreme is conspicuously harsh and obscure.

In any of its modulations Marston's verbal style is well calculated to remind us that he was one of a group of young poets in revolt against the sweet, musical, but, in their opinion, vapid poetry of an older generation. Morris Croll has written extensively of this revolt in prose writing to show how its basic intellectual impulse to break out of tradition expressed itself in stylistic departures from the Ciceronian elaborateness so emphatically held a deterrent to thought. In poetry as in prose its most common form is characterized by a striking concentration of language, by statements packed with action and meaning, by the "strong lines" and the masculinity of which Thomas Carew was so appreciative in his poem on Donne. It was a style that stressed, as Bacon put it, matter over copie and that demanded intelligence and cultivation in its readers. Of it Chapman had said, "In my opinion, that which being with a little endevour serched, ads a kinde of maiestie to Poesie; is better then that which euery Cobler may sing to his patch." It is this common form of the style that we meet when Marston's persona is, momentarily, a fashionable young poet or a teacher-philosopher, a style not so harsh and obscure as concentrated, tight, and heavily accented. This example from "Cras" is typical:

If not today (quoth that Nasonian),
Much less to-morrow. "Yes," saith Fabian,
"For ingrain'd habits, dyed with often dips,
Are not so soon discolourèd. Young slips,
New set, are easily mov'd and pluck'd away;
But elder roots clip faster in the clay."
[The Scourge of Villainy, IV, 93-98]

In its extreme form (and satire provided the occasion for that extreme) it is a style that would be called harsh and obscure by any standard. Marston cultivated these qualities in a number of ways. To produce harshness he used long compound nouns, abrupt phrases, catalogues of epithets, elisions, combinations of plosive consonants, and extreme dislocations in the metric pattern. These techniques serve chiefly to pile up accented syllables and juxtapose tortuous combinations of sound. To blur the dramatic surface and the lines of exposition in such a way that they tend to obscurity, he frequently suppressed transitions, shifted from one speaker to another without clearly designating the shift, and used obscure mythological allusions, archaisms, and technical expressions borrowed from alchemy, casuistry, and scholasticism. Of course his conversational idiom justified in part his inconclusiveness and abruptness; but his apparent aim was not so much realism as a style expressive of "gall" and appropriate to the satiric persona at his most violent.

This is the style most widely met in the verse satires. An extreme example of it can be found in The Scourge in Satire I, the satire that Marston admittedly wrote to satisfy those of his readers who thought that satire should be very harsh and obscure:

Marry, God forefend! Martius swears he'll stab:
Phrygio, fear not, thou art no lying drab.
What though dagger-hack'd mouths of his blade swears
It slew as many as figures of years
Aquafortis eat in't, or as many more
As methodist Musus kill'd with hellebore
In autumn last; yet he bears that male lie
With as smooth calm as Mocho rivalry.
[11, 1-8]

But an example more typical of Marston's style throughout the satires can be chosen at random from the other poems. Satire VII, for example, begins

A man, a man, a kingdom for a man!
Why, how now, currish, and Athenian?
Thou Cynic dog, see'st not the streets do swarm
With troops of men? No, no: for Circe's charm
Hath turn'd them all to swine. I never shall
Think those same Samian saws authentical:
But rather, I dare swear, the souls of swine
Do live in men. For that same radiant shine—
That lustre wherewith Nature's nature decked
Our intellectual part—that gloss is soiled

With staining spots of vile impiety,
And muddy dirt of sensuality.
These are no men, but apparitions
Ignes fatui, glowworms, fictions,
Meteors, rats of Nilus, fantasies,
Colosses, pictures, shades, resemblances.
[11. 1-16]

This passage offers a typical expression of the vexation and contempt at the heart of Marston's style. It illustrates how his indignation, however clearly stated, is also implied in the peculiar contortions and exertions of his language. It is this inner animosity that ultimately gives Marston's style at its best its undeniable authority.

To achieve packed, tightly knotted lines capable of ranging from cacophonous snarling to thundering argument he used even the more conventional elements of his verse in an unconventional way. Like his colleagues, he was suspicious of rhyme, if only because intricate rhyme schemes had been so popular with his predecessors. In "Ad rhythmum," a poem preceding Book II of The Scourge, he invites it to take a part in his poem, then characteristically threatens to expel it if it hampers his expression, for, as he says, "know my liberty / Scorns rhyming laws." His use of the decasyllabic couplet, accordingly, is distinctly free. Most of his lines are rhymed; some of them are not; and some of them achieve slightly discordant effects through consonantal or approximate vowel rhymes. His couplets, moreover, are not the basic units of his discourse. They are usually open couplets, at any point in which he begins and ends statements that often run on for several lines. It is not strange, then, that Marston's use of the couplet does not approach in complexity, polish, and subtlety the use to which Dryden and Pope later put it. His aim, clearly, was to sing a very different song. Nor is it strange, on the other hand, that he chose the decasyllabic couplet for his verse satires: even by his time it was a standard feature of satire. Chaucer, Spenser, Donne, Lodge, and Hall had used it before him.

In other respects, too, the originality of Marston's technical performance is sometimes difficult to pin down: frequently it consists in an innovative use of techniques with some kind of precedent in earlier satirists; sometimes it consists in a distinctly new technical strategy. Perhaps no feature of thesatires tells us more about this originality than his aim to exalt the genre and the battery of devices by which he sought to do so. Before him, for example, Donne and Hall had been content to unify their individual satires by organizing them according to a single subject. Marston went after a much tighter unity by organizing each poem in terms of a controlling thesis. Usually, he stated or implied his thesis in the epigraph. Such, for example, is clearly true of The Scourge, Satire I, where the thesis, Fronti nulla fides, is stated, and equally true of Satire III, where the thesis is implied in the epigraph Redde, age, quae deinceps risisti. But often, even after he had introduced the thesis in the epigraph, he restated it at some point in the poem, as he does, for example, in Satire V, Totum in Toto, when he says, "Well plainly thus, Sleight, Force, are mighty things, / From which, much, (if not most) earths glory springs." And when he did not state or imply the thesis in the epigraph, he usually stated it within the poem. Among his satires, only the personal satires and Satire XI depart from the rule of organization by thesis. The material treated in the personal satires was obviously unsuited to such a method of organization, and the function of Satire XI as the concluding poem of the work, serving to draw together its separate strands, favored a unity of another kind.

The techniques by which Marston illustrated these theses, on the other hand, usually had precedents in the work of Gascoigne, Donne, Lodge, and Hall, and his originality consisted in combining them in satires governed by theses and in using them far more extensively than they had been used by his predecessors. Of all the satires written at the end of the sixteenth century, Marston's are easily the most dramatic, and much of their drama and vitality is traceable to his methods of illustrating a thesis through character sketches and exempla.

The more important of these two techniques is that of using character sketches to illustrate the thesis. In its simplest form this did not involve character sketches of any length: frequently he simply referred briefly, as Hall had done, to such known character types as Roscius or Grillus. Sometimes, on the other hand, he followed the example of his predecessors by caricaturing in a few quick strokes types like Sylenus, the old lecher who whispers he'll reform tomorrow (The Scourge of Villainy, IV, 33-38). The satires are peopled with such figures, many of them merely names with historical associations, many of them crudely drawn monstrosities. No doubt much of the difficulty that modern readers have with Marston results from their inability to assimilate them quickly.

In its more elaborate form this method of illustrating a thesis involved character sketches like those of the epigrammatists—sketches of considerable complexity. These sketches vary in manner of treatment: sometimes the characters are drawn in one fairly long passage; sometimes they are drawn bit by bit as they dart in and out of the poem. Martia, for example, the fashionable lady who wears a mask, a painted face, and a loose gown, who rides in a coach with a coat of arms, and who affects an angelic look, but who is no more than clothes and simpering affectation, is fully drawn in Satire VII (SV, 160-179). Martius, the man of war, on the other hand, accumulates characteristics with each appearance in the work. In Satire I (SV, 1-3) we learn that he is always threatening people and that he has a hacked sword attesting to many battles. In Satire IV (SV, 2-8) we learn that he steals from his soldiers' pay and keeps a prostitute in Whitefriars. And in Satire XI (SV, 52-73) we learn that he speaks constantly in the idiom of fencing, even when he is seducing his reluctant sweethearts. In addition to Martia and Martius, there are Castilio the courtier, Tubrio the braggart, Curio the dancing page, Luxurio the sensualist, and Mecho the cuckold, not including the various characters playing the roles of the grave official, the lecherous wife, the Puritan, the debauchee, and the amorist. Taken together, they constitute the dramatis personae dominating the foreground of the satirist's created world and offering him the most conspicuous targets for his criticism.

It is this cast of satiric types, more than any other single feature of the satires, that vests the poems with their dramatic vitality. Marston's cast of satiric types is not just larger than those of his contemporaries; he has moved the types through the satires with narrative and semidramatic techniques that do much to animate them. Anticipating in many ways his later practice in the drama, he frequently employed the frame device of observing the types in action from some undefined point of vantage. Thus situated, the satirist shouts to them, "Come, Briscus, by the soul of compliment" (Certaine Satyres, I, 19), or talks to them as he talks to Tubrio in Satire I (Certaine Satyres) when Tubrio lies to him about just having come from the wars in the Netherlands, when actually he has just come from a brothel. Frequently, too, he used the device of observing the types and talking them over with Lynceus, the keensighted Argonaut, or one of his other confidants. Indeed, he even gave speeches to Lynceus and to the satiric types from time to time. The primary effect of all this interplay among characters is to animate poems, otherwise fairly strictly controlled by a thesis, with energy and movement rare in the satires of Marston's time.

Although less important than his use of satiric types, Marston's use of exempla to illustrate his theses is also symptomatic of the vitality of his satires. For the most part he drew the exempla from contemporary life, using such tales as his visit to the rooms of "inamorato Lucian" (Certaine Satyres, III, 51-74), the heartsick sonneteer, or his account of the backsliding of Luscus (SV, III, 34-52), the debauchee who has forsaken whores at his father's request but taken a Ganymede. But in Satire V (Certaine Satyres,) as well as elsewhere, he drew exempla from classical story. In Satire V (Certaine Satyres) he illustrated the chaos of his age in a series of pictures reflecting the chaos on Olympus. Like the satiric types, these vignettes serve to enliven the discourse. Viewed more generally, they exemplify the purpose Marston never abandoned of integrating drama with didacticism, the texture of experience with reflection.

All in all, Marston's efforts in the verse satires are most profitably seen in the context of an almost pretentious aim to elevate and dignify this "new" genre. His multifaceted persona, his chameleon-like language, his battery of devices for exposing and ridiculing deformity, and his careful articulation of a constructive attitude toward it—all this is subsumed by the purpose of setting forth what Marston believed to be a mature response to the contemporary world. This response is extremely complex, as we shall see when Marston has improved on his means of communicating it. But even here, despite a strikingly roughhewn quality, we must conclude that he knew what he was about. The pieces fit, though they may rattle a bit: the parts cohere, though the coherence is undeniably difficult to grasp and difficult to hold.

At the center of this coherence, of course, is the constructive attitude so frequently developed explicitly in passages of straightforward exposition. Here Marston's ambition is most in evidence. Clearly, he wanted to combine the rigors of satire with the inspiration of moral philosophy, to balance the storm and stress of his destructive criticism with a sane view of it all. To do this, he occasionally modulated his voice from the savage accents permitted by the satyr's mask to the calmer tones of the teacher-philosopher. In The Scourge he interrupted the flow of invective in this fashion at three points: in the latter half of Satire IV and at the end of Satires VIII and XI. At such times he is in every respect the moral philosopher, if a rather impatient one: he cites authorities, he refutes them, and he advances his own views. And, at the same time, he maintains the dominant dramatic character of the work by permitting his opponents to speak for themselves and by refuting them as if they were standing before-him.

Curiously enough, he had a recent precedent for this didacticism in Lodge, who in Satire III of A Fig for Momus discoursed at length on the example that fathers should set for their sons. But where Lodge's plea is practical, Marston's is rigorously theoretical; and the difference is significant. Marston's preference for theoretical argument is perfectly consistent with his view of the exalted function of the satirist. His purpose in all his work in satire was not simply to arouse to action but to represent fully what he and his admirers considered a mature, sophisticated attitude toward their world, an attitude typified by its satirical perspective on the world yet based on a solid theoretical foundation.

It is this purpose, finally, that explains the greater impressiveness of his literary task over those set by his fellow satirists. Literary causes alone cannot give an adequate picture of it. However necessary a study of precedents, decorums, and stylistic debts, such study can only illuminate aspects of this work; it cannot illuminate its coherence. In the same way, the combined roles of orphan poet and sharp-fanged satirist cannot explain all the activity of Marston as satirist. To do justice to the total role he was playing, we must now recognize that these poems, as well as the plays written later, were profoundly influenced by his philosophical convictions. The poems and plays as expressions of a complex way of confronting the world of his time cannot be grasped until we understand his personal version of Neo-Stoicism and its place in the total picture.

Philip J. Finkelpearl (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: "The Malcontent: Virtuous Machiavellianism," in John Marston of the Middle Temple: An Elizabethan Dramatist in His Social Setting, Harvard University Press, 1969, pp. 178-94.

[In the following excerpt, Finkelpearl explores the moral and political dimensions of The Malcontent, emphasizing Marston's use of the doubling motif in the characterization of Malevole/Altofronto.]

Marston modestly admits in the preface to one of his later plays that "above better desert" he has been "fortunate in these stage-pleasings." There is reason to believe that his work was usually well received …, but with The Malcontent in 1604 he momentarily achieved a wider popularity. Three quartos of this playwere required in less than six months, and the King's Men judged it to have a broad enough appeal for production at the Globe. The reasons are not hard to discover. It has an exciting plot with a multitude of surprising twists, and in the Hamlet-like title figure Marston created a fascinating role worthy of the actor who played it, Richard Burbage.

But even with Burbage and the other immortals, a production of The Malcontent in the vast open spaces of the Globe must have been unsatisfactory. The cramped, claustrophobic setting of a private theater is absolutely essential to Marston's purposes. Using techniques prophetic of German Expressionist drama of the 1920's, the play opens with a barrage of olfactory and aural effects. First, the stage direction tells us, we hear the "vilest out of tune Musicke," after which an opening dialogue between two minor characters establishes the atmosphere:

BILIOSO: Why how now? are ye mad? or drunke? or both? or what?

PRAEPASSO. Are ye building Babilon there?

BILI. Heer's a noyse in Court, you thinke you are in a Taverne, do you not?

PRAEP. You thinke you are in a brothell house doe you not? This roome is ill sented. [Enter one with a Perfume]. So; perfume; perfume; some upon me, I pray thee: The Duke is upon instant entrance; so, make place there." (I, 145)

"Heer round about is hell" (I, 204) in a "world … turnde upside downe" (I, 177).

In this heightened version of the world of What You Will, are constantly "bewitched" (I, 157) and "beseld" (I, 165) by their senses. They are helpless before those who would inflame them:

in an Italian lascivious Pallace, a Lady gardianlesse,

Left to the push of all allurement,
The strongest incitements to immodestie,
To have her bound, incensed with wanton sweetes,
Her veines fild hie with heating delicates,
Soft rest, sweete Musick, amorous Masquerers, lascivious banquets, sinne it selfe gilt ore, strong phantasie tricking up strange delights, presenting it dressed pleasingly to sence, sence leadingit unto the soule, confirmed with potent example, impudent custome inticed by that great bawd opportunitie, thus being prepar'd, clap to her easie eare, youth in good clothes, well shapt, rich, faire-spoken, promising-noble, ardent bloud-full, wittie, flattering:

Ulisses absent, O Ithaca, can chastest Penelope, hold out. (I, 179)

Through such speeches and through symbolic actions, Marston takes great pains throughout the play to create an atmosphere of overpowering, nearly irresistible corruption. Life in the palace is imaged by a symbolic dance (IV.ii.) which is far removed from Davies' heavenly ritual of love and harmony. Instead, it is a "brawle"—the pun alludes to a complex French dance—resembling in its meaningless intricacy and confusion a "maze" where "honor" is lost (I, 188).

Atmosphere and action are inextricably intertwined in this play; each infects the other. In the second act, for example, the Duke plans to catch his wife in the arms of her latest lover, having been informed of the tryst by her former lover. What could have occupied one scene is broken into three, with each of these punctuated by scenes in other parts of the palace. First we see the new lover slip into the duchess' chamber while the old lover (the worst villain in the play) exults in his imminent vengeance (II.i.). Then we hear court ladies exchange dirty jokes about cuckolding and aphrodisiacs with the Malcontent, Malevole (II.ii.), after which the scene shifts to the last-minute preparations of the group of courtiers who are to break in upon the lovers (II.iii.). Once more there is a shift to the ladies, who make amoral comments about the necessity of caring for their beauty as they sip a newly concocted "posset," a beautifier and "restorative" (II.iv.). At the end of the scene we hear music emanating from the duchess' chamber to remind us of what is going on there, and only then do we see the violent scene in which the duchess is publicly disgraced and her lover wounded (II.v.). The cause-effect relationship between these apparently disparate activities is clear. Women who have such matters on their minds will fall into such situations. When the speech about the dangers in an "Italian lascivious pallace" (quoted above) is delivered a few scenes later, its truth has already been demonstrated.

The upshot of the action I have just summarized is that the villainous Mendoza regains his position as the Duchess' lover and as the Duke's favorite and successor. Moreover, his cunning plot, concocted at a moment when he seemed to have been outfoxed, leadsto further success. Angered by her public humiliation, the Duchess resolves to revenge herself on her husband. In an instant she invents a plot which reveals her own high competence in the intricacies of Realpolitik:

Ile make thee Duke, we are of Medices,
our friend, in court my faction
Not meanly strength-full; the Duke then dead,
We well prepar'd for change: the multitude
Irresolutely reeling: we in force:
Our partie seconded: the kingdom mazde:
No doubt of swift successe all shall be grac'd.
(I, 171)

The activities just described are normal in the palace. The "unquiet studies " of these discontented creatures, in the words of Marston's preface, "labor innovation, contempt of holy policie, reverent comely superioritie, and establisht unity" (I, 139). Politically, they engage in usurpations, domestically, in cuckolding. In the Duke's palace the two activities are connected. To gratify these linked appetites, one must be able to plot. The Duchess Aurelia's mastery of this art comes to her naturally because she is a Medici, but there are other great technicians of plotting. The form of the play can be described as a structure of progressively cunning plots; through them, the usurping Duke Pietro is usurped, and the successful usurper, Mendoza, is in turn usurped by the rightful Duke, Altofronto, who has been masking as the Malcontent, Malevole. In this atmosphere plotting is as natural as breathing.

In addition to linking atmosphere and action more profoundly than in his previous plays, Marston has also inhabited the palace with a more fully realized set of characters. The villainous Mendoza is a satiric portrait, but Marston endows him with the ability to express his physical pleasure at being a prince's favorite in remarkably vivid images: "to have a generall timerous respect, observe a man, a statefull scilence in his presence: solitarinesse in his absence, a confused hum and busie murmure of obsequious suters trayning him; the cloth held up, and waye proclaimed before him; Petitionary vassailes licking the pavement with their slavish knees, whilst some odde pallace Lampreel's that ingender with Snakes, and are full of eyes on both sides with a kinde of insinuated humblenesse fixe all their delightes upon his browe" (I, 154). In addition to reaching "the Olympus of favor" (I, 154), he is ravished by his role as the Duchess' lover. When his idealsituation is threatened, he defends himself with great cunning because he remembers precisely what it feels like to be a menial:

Shall I whose very humme, strooke all heads bare,
Whose face made scilence: creaking of whose shooe
Forc'd the most private passages flie ope,
Scrape like a servile dog at some latch'd doore?
Learne now to make a leg? and cry beseech ye,
Pray yee, is such a Lord within? be aw'd
At some odde ushers scoft formality?
First seare my braines: Unde cadis non quo refert.(I, 163)

The Senecan tag is not a revenge play cliché. It is an association which naturally springs to the mind of a Machiavellian. Mendoza is frequently a comic figure, but he is fully imagined and credible.

The Duchess Aurelia is a much slighter portrait, but Marston successfully captures the image of a haughty, passionate aristocrat. She reacts with defiance and extravagant indifference to the public exposure of her immoral conduct and with equally extravagant contrition after she is betrayed by her lover. She dances defiantly when her husband's death is announced, but after her conversion she wears a "mourning habit" and interrupts courtly revels by reciting pious poetry (I, 211).

The weak usurper, Duke Pietro, is also conceived with some psychological subtlety. He is a puppet set up by an outside power and manipulated by Mendoza. Inept at politics, he is, fittingly, also a cuckold. It is this predicament which troubles him most, for his repentant wife's words at the end of the play confirm what we have already seen: "As the soule lov'd the body, so lov'd he" (I, 195). When Pietro is finally compelled to take vengeance, Marston does not use the situation as a pretext for stale jokes about cuckoldry. He makes him into a pitiable and sympathetic figure:

I strike but yet like him that gainst stone walles
Directs his shafts, reboundes in his owne face,
My Ladies shame is mine, O God tis mine.
Therefore I doe conjure all secrecie,
Let it be as very little as may be; pray yee, as may be?
Make frightlesse entrance, salute her with soft eyes,
Staine nought with blood—onely Ferneze dies,
But not before her browes: O Gentlemen
God knowes I love her, nothing els, but this,
I am not well.
(I, 166-167)

The request to "salute her with soft eyes" is a delicate touch; it prepares us for Pietro's eventual moral regeneration. He has been living in a fool's paradise, and he eloquently attests to the pain of learning the truth:

I am not unlike to some sickman,
That long desired hurtfull drinke; at last
Swilles in and drinkes his last, ending at once
Both life and thirst: O would I nere had knowne
My owne dishonour: good God, that men should
Desire to search out that, which being found kils all
Their joye of life: to taste the tree of Knowledge,
And then be driven out of Paradice.
(I, 174)

Pietro is a convincing combination of sensitivity and weakness. He provides a subtle contrast to the two other figures who take their turns as Duke. He lacks the passionate intensity of the one and the moral stature of the other.

These are the main ingredients of the world which the hero must set right. Dispossessed of his kingdom and sentenced to exile, the rightful Duke of Genoa, Altofronto, remains at court in the disguise of a "malcontent." This term, which seems to have entered the language in the 1580's, denotes a clearly defined type. A man of some parts, developed by education and foreign travel, the malcontent was poor, usually unemployed, and obsessed by a sense of unrewarded merit; often he was melancholic. Thus he was a prime source of danger to the kingdom since he was readily available for schemes against the established order. In these, he could be relied on to employ special skills acquired in Italy for plotting and murder. As many scholars have pointed out, the malcontent was only in part a literary construction. Economic and political conditions fostered his appearance late in Elizabeth's reign, and, in fact, such men did sow some discord, as Henry Cuffe's role in the Earl of Essex's uprising illustrates. By the time of this play, the malcontent had become a stock figure on the stage. Nevertheless, there must have been special interest attached to a play with this title, written by an author with a reputation for "malcontentedness." The evidence of the preface, the "Prologus," and the Induction indicates that some members of the audienceinterpreted the play "with subtilitie (as deepe as hell)" (I, 139). Marston claimed that it was "over-cunning" (I, 139) to ferret out contemporary allusions, but … a few clear examples have survived.

Even if Marston did not conceive the play as having a specific contemporary application, this play, with its suggestively polittical title, is primarily about the conduct of politics in a world "turnde upside downe" (I, 177). From the first moments it is apparent that the Malcontent is an agent of discord. It is he who produces the "vilest out of tune Musicke" offstage, and his first speech, blurted from the same place, is the verbal equivalent of this discord: "Yaugh, godaman, what do'st thou there: Dukes Ganimed Junoes jealous of thy long stockings: shadowe of a woman, what wouldst Wee-sell? thou lambe a Court: what doost thou bleat for? a you smooth chind Catamite!" (I, 145). This clash of obscene discords seems to mirror a "soule … at variance (within her selfe)" (I, 146), as the Duke says in his character sketch of the Malcontent. Although "his speach is halterworthy at all howers," the Duke has licensed him to speak freely in order to help him to "understand those weakenesses which others flattery palliates" (I, 146). Thus the title figure with the name that means "ill will" appears to be a domesticated malcontent, a Lord of Misrule authorized to castigate the Duke and his courtiers. He goes at it with wild abandon, changing his direction at every moment:

PIETRO. But what's the common newes abroade Malevole, thou dogst rumor still.

MALEVOLE. Common newes? why common wordes are, God save yee, Fare yee well: common actions, Flattery and Cosenage: common things, Women and Cuckolds: and how do's my little Ferrard: a yee lecherous Animal, my little Ferret, he goes sucking up & downe the Pallace into every Hens nest like a Weesell: & to what doost thou addict thy time to now, more then to those Antique painted drabs that are still affected of young Courtiers, Flattery, Pride, & Venery. (I, 147)

This passage has elements of traditional Tudor satire: the abstractions of the Ship of Fools, the use of the beast fable, and moral commonplaces. But the rapid shifts and the colloquial style charge Malevole's satiric prose with a vitality Marston rarely achieved in his verse satires. In these passages, he adopts the manner of a vaudeville entertainer, stringing together a seemingly random series of jests suitable for preservation in a "table-booke," as the character Sly mentions in the Induction (I, 141). But the role of entertainer which Altofronto adopts is part of a more complicated disguise. In an original variation, Marston's figure is a true malcontent posing as a malcontent. As a dispossessed duke, Altofronto has a perfect right to the character of a malcontent. When he describes his malcontented state without his verbal disguise, there is none of Malevole's broad, gross-jawed style:

in night all creatures sleepe,
Only the Malecontent that gainst his fate,
Repines and quarrels, alas hees goodman tellclocke;
His sallow jaw-bones sincke with wasting mone, 2
Whilst others beds are downe, his pillowes stone.
(I, 178)

To regain his kingdom he adopts as his disguise an "affected straine" which allows him to indulge in "Free speach ":

I may speake foolishly, I knavishly,
Alwaies carelesly, yet no one thinkes it fashion
To poize my breath, "for he that laughs and strikes,
Is lightly felt, or seldome strucke againe."
(I, 150-151)

The special quality to Malevole's manner springs from the fact that he is acting: Marston makes us hear the effort it requires for him to sustain his wild and whirling words: "Sir Tristram Trimtram come aloft, Jackea-napes with a whim wham, heres a Knight of the lande of Catito shall play at trap with any Page in Europe; doe the sword daunce, with any Morris-dauncer in Christendome; ride at the Ring till the finne of his eyes looke as blew as the welkin, and runne the wilde-goose chase even with Pompey the huge" (I, 148). Through Pietro's comment, "You runne—" (I, 148), Marston suggests his own attitude toward Malevole's style. It is not the idiosyncratic manner of an amusing character like Tucca, nor the acerb commentary of a "pure" malcontent like Bosola, nor a stage version of madness. It is designed to convey a sense of the pressure on someone who is acting a part which is not natural to him and which he occasionally finds odious: "O God, how loathsome this toying is to mee, that a Duke should be forc'd to foole it: well, Stultorum plena sunt omnia, better play the foole Lord, then be the foole Lord" (I, 204). He resembles the court fool Passarello, a professional comedian who finds his job a "drudgery"(I, 160) in a world of "loose vanities" (I, 162). "Stultorum plena sunt omnia" is a true saying because if you are not a fool naturally, the world will force you to become one.

The strain and wildness of Malevole's language are justified by his personal plight and by his need for a disguise. The language has the further value of providing an ideal medium in which to express a special view of the world. Malevole is a kind of visionary who sees the waking world as a perpetual nightmare. His "dreams" are the reality which others cannot see:

PIETRO. Dreame, what dreamst?

MALEVOLE. Why me thinkes I see that Signior pawn his footcloth: that Metreza her Plate: this madam takes phisick: that that tother Mounsieur may minister to her: here is a Pander Jeweld: there is a fellow in shift of Satten this day, that could not shift a shirt tother night: here a Paris supports that Hellen: theres a Ladie Guinever bears up that sir Lancelot. Dreames, dreames, visions, fantasies, Chimeras, imaginations, trickes, conceits.

(I, 147-148)

Throughout the play, Malevole's goal is to make people see the world as his "dreams" have revealed it to him, to make them see how "strange" (to use his recurrent phrase) and vile and unnatural it is. He wants to convert them to his "faith" that, as Pietro comes to realize, "All is damnation, wickedness extreame, there is no faith in man" (I, 193). Sometimes he shows them the invisible truth by inventing an appropriate visual metaphor: "Muckhill overspread with fresh snow" (I, 147), "pigeon house … smooth, round, and white without, and full of holes and stinke within" (I, 153). Sometimes he makes people "see" by the detailed evocation of a vivid, concrete picture, as when he describes Aurelia's adultery to Pietro. To excerpt one example from a long speech, he says that even when she does yield "Hymeneall sweetes,"

the thaw of her delight
Flowes from lewde heate of apprehension,
Onely from strange imaginations rankenes,
That formes the adulterers presence in her soule,
And makes her thinke she clips the foule knaves loines.
(I, 149)

Pietro reels before Malevole's "Hydeous imagination" (I, 150), but Malevole, in a speech that constitutes one of the most famous expressions of "Jacobean melancholy," forces him to see more and greater horrors:

th' art but in danger to loose a Dukedome, thinke this: this earth is the only grave and Golgotha wherein all thinges that live must rotte: tis but the draught wherein the heavenly bodies discharge their corruption, the very muckhill on which the sublunarie orbes cast their excrement: man is the slime of this dongue-pit, and Princes are the governours of these men: for, for our soules, they are as free as Emperoures, all of one peece, there goes but a paire of sheeres betwixt an Emperoure and the sonne of a bagpiper: only the dying, dressing, pressing, glossing, makes the difference: now, what art thou like to lose?

A jaylers office to keepe men in bonds,
Whilst toyle and treason, all lifes good confounds.
(I, 197)

This is the generality to which every detail in the play has been contributing; it is a moving elaboration of Antonio's realization in Antonio's Revenge that men are "vermine bred of putrifacted slime" (I, 118). Nor do any subsequent events in the play, not even the "happy" ending, modify its force. Nevertheless, for Malevole, the "Golgotha" speech is also a piece of rhetoric designed to induce Pietro to give up his claim to the dukedom. He responds correctly: "I heere renounce for ever Regency: O Altofront, I wrong thee to supplant thy right" (I, 197). Step by step, the Malcontent has educated the usurper to recognize the worthlessness of his office in order that he, Altofronto, may regain it. The only difference between an emperor and a bagpiper is "a paire of sheeres," but Altofronto prefers his own clothes.

Thus the "Golgotha" speech is true, but it is also cunning. It illustrates an art which Altofronto has acquired and mastered. He had lost his dukedom, he explains, because

I wanted those old instruments of state,
Dissemblance and suspect: I could not time it Celso,
My throane stood like a point in midd'st of a circle,
To all of equall neerenesse, bore with none:
Raind all alike, so slept in fearlesse vertue,
Suspectles, too suspectles: till the crowde:
(Still liquerous of untried novelties)
Impatient with severer government:
Made strong with Florence: banisht Altofront.(I, 151)

Since then he has learned to "time it" by waiting for his chance and by prodding his enemies toward their ruin. The experience has taught him that "we are all Philosophicall Monarkes or naturall fooles" (I, 152). Either you stand stiffly aloof from the world, a Stoic sage, speaking sententiously like Altofronto and his impregnable, virtuous wife while your kingdom is stolen away, or you immerse yourself in the world with all its degradation and horror and become nature's fool. To paraphrase, "the Emperor Aurelius may be a model for a Philosophicall Monarke, but don't live in an Italian lascivious pallace without Machiavelli."

Thus it is that Malevole can improve on one of Mendoza's plots so impressively that he inspires the unabashed compliment: "Ô unpeerable invention, rare, Thou God of pollicie! it hunnies me" (I, 183). Malevole has indeed become the "unpeerable" god of policy in a contest with masters. He can exchange aphrodisiac recipes with court ladies and Machiavellian aphorisms with Mendoza, he can convert Pietro and Aurelia, insult Bilioso with obscene jokes, and, most importantly, he can fool Mendoza "most powerfully" (I, 180) with his disguise. But after bragging about this last accomplishment, he betrays an interesting confusion (whether in Marston or in Altofronto, it is impossible to say). He says caustically that Mendoza

Obviously Altofronto is doing the same thing. He is putting on an affected "gracelessness" for a "second cause" which he has shown to be "vilde": the regaining of his "jaylers office" as duke.

Whether or not Marston intended Altofronto's remark to be an unwitting partial self-condemnation, other passages suggest that Altofronto's left hand has different values from his right. After Pietro has relinquished the dukedom, Altofronto comments on his act in a speech which begins with pious platitudes and ends with a Machiavellian sententia:

Who doubts of providence,
That sees this change, a heartie faith to all:
He needes must rise, who can no lower fall,
For still impetuous
Towzeth the world, then let no maze intrude
Upon your spirits: wonder not I rise,
For who can sincke, that close can temporize?
The time growes ripe for action, Ile detect
My privat'st plot, lest ignorance feare suspect:
Let's cloase to counsell, leave the rest to fate,
Mature discretion is the life of state.(I, 198)

Altofronto's position shifts with each sentence. He first claims that Pietro's conversion should buttress faith in a presiding moral order, but then uses his own rise to demonstrate Fortune's continuing influence on events in this world; he was so low that vicissitude had no direction in which to push him but upward! Earlier in the play, speaking in the guise of an amoral malcontent, he had said to Mendoza, "only busie fortune towses, and the provident chaunces blends them together; Ile give you a symilie: did you ere see a Well with 2. buckets, whilst one comes up full to be emptied, another goes downe emptie to be filled; such is the state of all humanitie" (I, 181). One man rises at the expense of another: Pietro up, Altofronto down; Mendoza up, Pietro down; Altofronto up, Mendoza down. "This Genoas last yeares Duke" (I, 151) gets another turn. But more important than the power of Fortune is his own recent acquisition of "mature discretion." He has learned how to "time it."

The morality which Altofronto is forced to adopt sounds like Mendoza's, but the parallel Marston develops more fully is that between Malevole and the most immoral figure in the play, the bawd Maquerelle. After Mendoza has gained power in Act V, Malevole asks her what she thinks of "this transformation of state now" (I, 201). Her reply is the sexual equivalent of his political metaphor of the two buckets: "wee women always note, the falling of the one, is the rising of the other: … as for example, I have two court dogges, the most fawning curres … now I, like lady Fortune, sometimes love this dog, sometimes raise that dog" (I, 201-202). She plays Lady Fortune in sexual matters, having brought an uncountable number of "maidenheads … to the blocke" (I, 203), just as Malevole manipulates political fortunes. She is the "God of pollicie" in her realm, with her cunning advances in the technology of adultery (I, 161), her possets and resoratives, her tricks for seduction. She is a Machiavelli of the bedchamber who constantly counsels "discretion" (for example, I, 186) and mastery of the art of "timing it" (for example, I, 202). As early as the first act, Malevole hints at some kind of relationship between himself and Maquerelle (I, 148), and in the last act he excuses an action bysaying that he did it "as baudes go to Church, for fashion sake" (I, 197). A successful politician, Marston shows, must be something of a bawd.

This parallel makes it clear that the Malcontent is a more complicated figure than he is often thought to be. He is not merely an upholder of virtue whose disguise allows him to satirize everyone at will in an extension of the author's manner. Despite his high moral standards, he has learned the black arts required to manipulate men, as his final plot demonstrates. In an original variant on the formulaic concluding masque of the revenge play, all but one of the masquers whom Malevole employs are apparent murder victims of Mendoza. The villain's response, consistent with the theme Marston has been developing, emphasizes that Altofronto has succeeded in turning dreams into reality:

Are we surprizde? What strange delusions mocke
Our sences, do I dreame? or have I dreamt
This two daies space? where am I?
(I, 213)

The reign of the devil has been overthrown, the good are redeemed, the bad are punished. But it is important to notice that Marston does not make extravagant claims for the effect of the experience on the lascivious palace creatures. The courtier Ferneze had been the first of Mendoza's victims after having succeeded him as the Duchess' lover. Rescued by Malevole, he was treated to a moral sermon on the evil effects of lust. During the masque of the revengers he dances with the dissolute Bianca, and his first act on returning to the court is to try to seduce her. With Maquerelle instantly involving herself in the transaction as she had in his earlier effort at seduction, Ferneze's regeneration is not a conspicous success.

Nevertheless, we are back in the virtuous and rational reign of Duke Altofronto, as we see from his just but merciful meting out of punishment. Turning to the arch-villain, Mendoza, he refuses to kill him, explaining that a true monarch, someone with a "glorious soule," disdains to hurt a peasant "prostrat at my feete" (I, 214). Aside from a few hasty lines to tuck in loose ends, the private theater text concludes on this note of self-satisfied grandeur. However, when Marston lengthened the play for public theater performance, he added thirteen lines to Altofronto's speech. These lines are important because they discuss directly the central political problem of the play, how to be both "good" and a "king."Altofronto begins by moralizing about the action of the play:

O, I have seen strange accidents of state!—
The flatterer like the Ivy clip the Oke,
And wast it to the hart: lust so confirm'd
That the black act of sinne it selfe not shamd
To be termde Courtship.
(I, 214)

Mendoza had made his way by a combination of flattery and lust, as had the courtier Bilioso. But since such activity was not unknown in courts closer than Genoa, Altofronto aims the rest of his oracular speech at the great and sinful rulers of the world:

O they that are as great as be their sinnes,
Let them remember that th' inconstant people,
Love many Princes meerely for their faces,
And outward shewes: and they do covet more
To have a sight of these men then of their vertues,
Yet thus much let the great ones still conceale,
When they observe not Heavens imposed conditions,
They are no Kings, but forfeit their commissions.
(I, 214)

The people are not loyal to a prince because he is virtuous. As Altofronto has learned to his cost, they are "Impatient with severer government" (I, 151) and want "outward shewes," impressive appearances. But a king cannot commit immoral acts with impunity. He must be a moral ruler, or Heaven will see to his fall. The problem is how to square the requirements of Heaven with those of politics. Altofronto's answer is centered on the word "conceale," the crucial importance of which is often obscured by an emendation (to "conceive") for which there is no textual justification. Altofronto has learned that however virtuous you are, you must conceal it. You can be a philosophical monarch only if you act like a natural fool. You must temporize and pretend to play the game even if it means becoming something of a bawd.

In addition to its general political relevance, this passage was apparently understood to have a contemporary political meaning. In the corrected version of the third quarto, the words "Princes" and "Kings" were changed to "men," the censor suppressing what must have been interpreted as a blow at King James. The claim that kings forfeit their commissions when they fail to observe Heaven's conditions would have sounded like a clear rejection of James'scherished doctrine of Divine Right. Marston's attitude must have been nurtured in the nursery of liberty where he was residing; certainly it would have been approved by many in his audience. With this play Marston began to skirmish in very dangerous territory, as a brief passage from the first quarto demonstrates:

BEAN[CHA]. And is not sinnior S. Andrew Iaques a gallant fellow now.

MAQUERELLE. By my maiden-head la, honour and hee agrees aswell together, as a satten sute and wollen stockings.

That this was a hit at James, and a brutal one at that, is confirmed by the elimination of "Iaques" in the second quarto, which thus changed the passage to a general indictment of the Scots. At the same time that "Iaques " was eliminated, Marston inserted verses (after the "Epilogus" in the second quarto and designated as the "Prologue" in the third quarto) which attack "too nice-brained cunning" for wresting "each hurt-lesse thought to private sence" (p. 216). These two revisions of the first quarto suggest that The Malcontent has a place in the series of politically indiscreet plays for which the Children of the Queen's Revels became notorious.

This is not to suggest that The Malcontent was in any important way an attack on the monarch, but its political theme does constitute advice in the "Mirror for Magistrates" tradition to which so many Inns of Court writers had contributed. This political theme did not require the overt statement of the added lines; it is visible in the shorter, private theater version. Early in the first act Malevole mentions the importance of temporizing, and in the world which Marston depicts, only cunning and concealed virtue can survive. Malevole's disguise guards him from real danger, but this does not diminish the insidious nature of the atmosphere he is combating. His role is exemplary. As a satirist and teacher, he shows what the world is; as a god of policy, he shows how to cope with it. It is a joke on the world that an outsider has mastered its tricks, but he can do nothing to eliminate the atmosphere or to regenerate the vermin who pollute it and are in turn polluted by it.

I have been discussing the political and moral implications of The Malcontent, but it was through a theatrical innovation that Marston made these moral complexities appear convincing and relevant. He transformed the convention of the disguised revenger by endowingits separate halves with essentially distinct personalities; Malevole-Altofronto has many of the characteristics of a "double" figure. I do not know how much is gained by describing these two halves as the "superego" and the "id"; nonetheless, some signs of that eternal struggle are perceptible, indeed are exploited as part of the total pattern of the play. Thus Malevole-Altofronto impinges on our consciousness at a deeper level than most of Marston's intellectually conceived characters. A further contribution to the richness of the theatrical experience—particularly apparent with the addition of John Webster's Induction in the third quarto, where Burbage appears onstage before the play begins—results from the employment of Malevole as an actor playing the role of an actor. There is no Pirandello-like metaphysics in this device. Role-playing is shown to be a physical necessity for moral man in an immoral society. The pestilential atmosphere communicated through the charged rhetoric and the "Expressionist" stage techniques constitutes Marston's most successful representation of a morally debilitated world. He had shown a comic version of it in What You Will, but there the characters tend to be mouthpieces of simple ideas. In the Antonio plays, the satiric background is very imperfectly linked to the concerns of the main characters. The Malcontent achieves a meaningful union of these components. It possesses the immediacy and credibility of a nightmare.

Because of the play's symbolic and dreamlike atmosphere, its relationship to Marston's audience is not as clear as usual. For example, his protagonist, for the first time, is not a young man. But its ultimate relevance to this audience is of the same order as in most of his plays because its substructure is that of the initiation ritual. It is a demonstration of what it must cost the morally innocent to participate in a degraded society. In this play, Marston's terms are political, but with some exceptions he confines his treatment to general matters of conduct and ethics. In contrast, when he next wrote a play with a disguised duke in an Italian palace, The Fawne (1606), his aims were far more immediate and specific. As he learned more about "S. Andrew Iaques," his speech became like Malevole's, immediate and specific. As he learned more about "S. Andrew Iaques," his speech became like Malevole's, "halterworthy at al howers."

R. W. Ingram (essay date 1978)

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SOURCE: "Marston's Accomplishment," in John Marston, Twayne Publishers, 1978, pp. 149-59.

[Ingram evaluates Marston's overall place in and contribution to Jacobean dramatic literature, praising his "zest" and theatrical sense.]

In 1633, John Marston, an elderly retired clergyman, may well have felt that twenty-five years' dedication to God's ministry was poorly commemorated by the reissue of six plays of his young manhood, no matter how anxiously their editor proclaimed their moral virtue. Certainly, the plays in Works of John Marston were not the contribution by which Marston wished to be remembered, since he probably wanted little, if anything, to do with the theater. If he did so desire, his wish was frustrated, for his name was removed from the pages of the collection but not from the history of the theater in his era.

Had Marston, in his retirement, visited the theater, he would have glimpsed, even behind the polished surface of Caroline tragedy and tragicomedy, pale ghosts from his plays. The stage history of his plays between 1608 and 1642 belies, however, the extent of his historical dramatic influence. Only one performance of his plays—that of The Malcontent in 1635—is recorded; but our knowledge of the theatrical calendar of those years is fragmentary. Moreover, it is quite unlikely that Marston's distinctive voice was heard only once in over thirty years when its echoes could be heard so frequently in the plays of Webster, Tourneur, Fletcher, Ford, Middleton, Shirley, and others. Instead, the fact that the editor of the collection of 1633 thought it a worthwhile commercial project to reprint six of his plays is a testimony to their vitality; for, at that time, only Jonson and Shakespeare among Marston's old professional colleagues had had such collections of their works published. This factor is not an indication of Marston's place in seventeenth-century drama, but it is a seventeenth-century estimate of Marston's importance.

Force of circumstance made playwrights gregarious, socially and artistically, in Marston's day. They plied their trade in a hard market. Ideas, themes, situations, words, were not private properties: "However jealously individual plays might be guarded by companies, there was no property in the rapidly-developing dramatic art of the writers" [Wood, Plays of Marston]. One aspect of the War of the Theaters is of personal and commercial rivalries, of attack and counterattack; but another aspect is that the same playwrights who fought each other worked in ever-changing collaborations, wrote for different companies and different theaters, and applied what they learned in one place in another. "Both the untalented conventional writers and those with original creative giftsprofited from this situation. They learned from each other, adapting, imitating and absorbing each other's original achievements as they appeared. [Brian Gibbons, Jacobean City Comedy, 1968].

When Marston began writing plays, what he had read and what he had seen acted helped shape what he wrote. He had an educated Elizabethan's knowledge of the Classics: the story of Pigmalion's Image comes from Ovid; his satires prove his acquaintance with Juvenal, Persius, and Horace among the satirists and with Epictetus (who supplies him with mottoes for the first three of the Certaine Satyres), Aristotle, and Seneca among the philosophers. He would have read Plautus and Terence and have had some living knowledge of them because of the translation of their themes, characters, and situations into Elizabethan comedy.

How wide Marston's acquaintance with earlier English drama was, can only be surmised. His plays frequently reflect the form of the morality play, and he could have seen moral civic drama in Coventry, such as the last performance of the Corpus Christi Cycle there in 1579. He was not quite three years old then, but he was the age to be impressed, however, in 1584 and 1591 when the civic authorities at Coventry joined with the guilds and performed the extravagantly and extraordinarily expensively mounted play, The Destruction of Jerusalem. The Marston home faced onto Cross Cheaping, the central market and acting area in the city; and, as an important civic dignitary, John Marston, Sr. might have approved his son's watching an edifying play. Marston, between 1584 and 1592, would also have had opportunity, if not permission, to witness performances by fifty-two companies of touring players paid by the City Council for acting in Coventry.

At Oxford, he could also have seen plays in both Latin and English; but London afforded him the richest variety of plays to see and the most avid playgoers—as he notes in the most cheerful satire, "Humours," in The Scourge of Villanie:

Luscus what's playd to day? faith now I know
I set thy lips abroach, from whence doth flow
Naught but pure Juliat and Romio

H'ath made a common-place booke out of plaies
And speakes in print, at least what ere he sayes
Is warranted by Curtaine plaudeties.

He writes, he railes, he jests, he courts, what not,
And all from out his huge long scraped stock
Of well penn'd playes.
(The Scourge of Villainy, 11.37-51)

Luscus is condemned for the use to which he puts his playgoing, not for frequenting the theaters. Luscus can only parrot what he sees and hears; Marston, however, who was as knowledgeable as Luscus about "what's playd today," had a professional playwright's "common-place booke," but he was no lazy copier. He took notes in order to alter what he witnessed, for what he borrowed he made his own.

He took note of Marlowe's ringing dramatic verse, which was an exciting break from the old-fashioned formal tragic speech. Marlowe's verse inspired many, but Marston is ready to mock its excesses (albeit kindly) in Antonio and Mellida (1.7)—a play whose two-part structure has its model in Marlowe's Tamburlaine. The brash yoking of tragedy and farce in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus was less distasteful to Elizabethan audiences at the Rose than to modern critics, and it struck a responsive chord in Marston's imagination. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy was extraordinarily popular and phrases from it quickly passed into the common mythology of the stage; a recent study lists fifty-nine plays between 1591 and 1638 that refer to Kyd's play. As for Marston, he refers directly to it in Antonio and Mellida and in The Malcontent (and it is also mentioned in Eastward Hoe and Satiromastix), but its influence as a shaper of revenge tragedy is most strongly felt in Antonio's Revenge … in which Marston's own reshaping of given material can be studied.

Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy provides a model for Marston for the court setting, the ruthless intrigues, the violence; Kyd's Hieronimo, the revenger who stood in general Elizabethan dramatic imagination as the great example of outraged fatherhood put in an impossible position, is the pattern for Andrugio in Antonio's Revenge. Hieronimo is the central figure, and it is essentially his tragedy that is presented. Andrugio is not the dominant figure in Marston's play; indeed, for a tragedy, it rather follows the pattern of a comedy and disperses its attention among several characters. It is less the story of Andrugio, or anyone else, than the story or depiction of court corruption and vice. Marston isless interested than Kyd in his narrative and in the opportunities that certain episodes offer for displaying conflicting attitudes and reactions. Revenge tragedy becomes the forum for debate on the themes and motives of the genre.

Whereas Kyd's framework is moral and presents implacable judges promising certain judgment about the issues in the play, Marston's framework is significantly theatrical and has actors sitting in judgment about the artifices of the theater. This concern causes the Induction to part 1 of Antonio and Mellida to cover some aspects of part 2 of Marston's play, but the discussion of acting and theatricality instituted in that Induction is intermittently carried on in the play (Piero's concern with his own feigning, Balurdo's trouble with his beard). Kyd accepts the genre of revenge tragedy and plays it to the hilt; Marston, characteristically, takes up revenge tragedy to discuss it: his play might almost have been called Antonio's Revenge Discussed. He both accepts and examines the themes and techniques of the genre; he also plays his revenge tragedy to the hilt, but pauses occasionally to remark about that fact.

Marston, who was familiar with Shakespeare's plays, referred to them frequently throughout his career. A Cynicke Satyre (SV, 7) begins with the paraphrase: "A man, a man, a kingdome for a man." Richard III was a favorite play, and Richard's ability to play many roles like a fine actor made him a partner to Piero, Altofronto, Cocledemoy, and Hercules in their various ways. Romeo and Juliet was another play Marston could not get out of his mind. Such is the strength and memorability of Shakespeare's characters that some of Marston's reflect them. Malevole smacks not only of Hamlet in his corrosive vein but also more than a little of the Thersites of Troilus and Cressida. Mamon, in Jacke Drum's Entertainment, occasionally recalls Shylock. The dull constabulary of The Dutch Curtezan comes from the same precinct station as Dogberry and Verges. In the outburst of satirical drama at the turn of the century, which both helped to start and fuel the quarrels which made up the War of the Theaters, the combatant writers—Marston, Jonson, Dekker, Middleton, Shakespeare, and others—were well aware of what each other was doing. What Marston saw and heard in Shakespeare's excursions in this vein (parts of Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, All's Well That Ends Well, and Measure for Measure) he had no occasion to forget or to ignore. Nonetheless, whatever such a character as Malevole may owe to others of his kind, he has, in the pattern of Marston's work, a perfectly adequate ancestry.

In Antonio's Revenge, the balance is tantalizingly suggested between Marston as taker and giver. The play owes much to Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, but the general theme and a variety of situations and effects are closely connected with Hamlet. The similarities between the two plays seem too close to be merely coincidental: "Poyson the father, butcher the son, & marrie the mother: ha? Strotzo, to bed: snort in securest sleepe" (1.74). There are hardly any close verbal parallels, however, between the two; and Marston was fond of using the language of plays that he took as his models or as his inspiration. Both plays may be based on an earlier version of the same story—a well-known one in any case, probably the mysterious Ur-Hamlet. The similarity in situations between the two plays is, however, obvious; but Marston treats his material very much in his own characteristic manner; and, though at times the reactions of, for example, Antonio and Hamlet, are semblable, the impression given by Marston is not one of a writer who is working directly from Hamlet.

Janet Spens, in Shakespeare's Relation to Tradition, discusses the resemblances not only between Antonio's Revenge and Hamlet but between that play by Marston and Macbeth. Were Marston's play ever "acted in modern times, the likeness of its opening scenes (Act I., Scenes 1, 4, and 5) to those in Macbeth, Act II, could not have been overlooked. Piero's first entry, 'unbraced' and carrying in one hand a bloody dagger, in the other a torch, is very like the scene where Macbeth is on his way to the murder carrying a torch and a dagger…. Each has an attendant with him whom he dismisses, soliloquizing in something the same strain … we have stage situations which, if represented in dumb show, could not be distinguished. In each play a courtier enters announcing that he has found a Sovereign murdered. In both the only woman present faints, and is assisted out." The comparisons need not be pursued, but the visual impact of some of Marston's scenes may have remained with Shakespeare.

Whether Jonson learned anything from his sometime partner, friend, and disciple is another matter, but he certainly had things to teach his apt though independent pupil. It is to Marston's credit that he was willing to be a pupil. Perhaps he began learning from Jonson by noting the dangers of arrogantly lecturing an audience on their shortcomings (it was lesson that he had begun to study while still a verse satirist). The stage quarrel with Jonson must have forced Marston to study his rival's plays even more closely than he might naturally have done. He inevitably learned much about the art of comical satire from the exercise. From The Malcontent on, hisplays were more tightly plotted, his language was more controlled, and his themes more sharply argued than they had been earlier. Obviously, not all this growing mastery of the stage can be attributed to Jonson, but the purge that master applied was clearly more extensive than appeared in Poetaster and affected more than the wilder excrescences of Marston's vocabulary. Inevitably they fell to arguing again after The Malcontent had been dedicated to "his candid and heartfelt friend." But the last record of their "partnership" ought not to be Jonson's irascible criticisms and anecdotes that Drummond noted down in Scotland; rather it should be that, these sharp comments notwithstanding, a copy of Sheares's collection of Marston's plays was found to be in Jonson's library after his death in 1637. Marston wished to forget his theatrical past, but Jonson found it worthy of notice.

Clear debts to Marston are owed by Webster and Tourneur whose Italianate tragedies of revenge descend directly from Antonio's Revenge and The Malcontent. Much in Webster harks back to Marston, whom he had possibly known in the Middle Temple and with whom he worked in adapting The Malcontent to the needs of the King's Men. Marston's sacrificing of structure to the needs of character exploitation and situation and his illustrating moments of tremendous impact at the expense of breaking the continuity of the narrative foreshadow Webster. The fusing of satire and tragedy especially appealed to Webster's imagination, and Tourneur extended Marston's questioning of the ethical drive of revenge tragedy to its brilliant and cynical conclusion in The Revenger's Tragedy (indeed, in The Atheist's Tragedy he wrote what was essentially an anti-revenge tragedy).

The worlds of Marston and Fletcher are remote from each other, yet each is built upon shared foundations: "The rise of tragicomedy, satiric drama and the private theater are related phenomena … Fletcherian tragicomedy, though by no means the exclusive preserve of the private theater, clearly originated there and catered very successfully to its tastes" [Arthur C. Kirsch, Jacobean Dramatic Perspectives, 1972]. Marston's interests and some characteristics of his drama are influences upon, rather than sources for, Fletcher. Marston's mingling of satirical comedy and tragedy—his reliance upon scenes of contrasting emotional mood fitted into the framework of a contrived plot (no matter how cavalier the contriving)—suggests a crude prototype of polished Fletcherian tragicomedy. Fletcher's scenes, of course, are smoothly ordered, and his emotional conflicts are handled with sophistication; he could mingle tragic and comic, but he was careful, unlike Marston, not to let them struggle confusedly together. In particular, he took great care not to disturb the atmosphere of his play; above all, he did not allow himself to poke fun at his grand-opera world.

Fletcher took his stage world seriously, for the artifice of the theater fascinated him as it did Marston. Fletcher, however, translated the drama into a sophisticated delight by the conjury of the stage. His was a brilliant manipulation of character and event that at one and the same time asked of the audience an acceptance of the trickery and a recognition of the cunning of the playwright and the actors who were entertaining them. This acceptance of a special relationship between author, actor, and audience traces part of its ancestry to Marston's brasher excitement in and exercise of the same relationship.

Whatever Marston's place among his contemporaries as receiver and giver, the individual quality of his plays must be judged. This quality may be measured in terms of language, of theme and its argument, and of theatrical effect and dramatic propriety. In regard to his style, Marston tells the reader of The Malcontent: "I am an ill Oratour; and in truth, use to indite more honestly than eloquently, for it is my custome to speake as I thinke, and write as I speake" (1.139). He spoke as he thought, even when he thought rather incoherently or confusedly. One gathers that he also wrote as he spoke, for his satires are furious monologues that ask to be read aloud rather than silently, and the voice heard in them is that which easily cut through the cry of the other satirists in the 1590s and that announced Marston very definitely to his fellows. His own ear for the spoken word served him well, and he commanded a range of styles from the impressive nobility of Andrugio to the light rattle of the idle courtiers, from the harsh power of Malevole to the finely balanced mockery of much of The Fawne. His plays are crowded with people who speak naturally, and they are as liable to rise to a flow of passionate exhortation as to fall to a hesitant nervousness. During Marston's age, the art of the "oratour" was formal, mannered, controlled—the delivery of set pieces. Neither Marston nor his characters used such methods, not even Andrugio at his most eloquent. Marston's characters speak as they think; and they break away, therefore, from the speech patterns of earlier tragedy and comedy. This observation does not indicate, however, that the stress of the moment does not affect their language and style as they express their twisting thoughts and half-thoughts in language that is familiar but image-packed. The model is the speaker of the verse satires who is driven by hisquesting and questioning mind; for he leaps from topic to topic, from point to point, before one is fully developed or made: his is a rushing, allusive, poetically charged speech.

Marston's plays often read more stiffly and awkwardly than they sound, for the speeches lose some of their strangeness when they are heard. Marston, more than any of his contemporaries, was aware of how much of his art might elude the printed word: "If any shall wonder why I print a Comedie, whose life rests much in the Actors voice, Let such know, that it cannot avoid publishing: let it therefore stand with good excuse, that I have been my owne setter out" (2.143). He took care over his plays; and, if they had to be printed, he took care over their printing.

Marston's style is intimately bound up with his presentation of an uneasily questioning, insecure, dangerously deceptive world. Marston's vision of society was by its nature difficult to shape artistically, and his problems were worsened because his own understanding of it was not complete. The solutions and solace he was eventually to find in the church and its ministry were only to be reached after ten years of arduous struggle as a writer. When he turned to playwriting he was still in the early stages of his analysis of society, for he was, after all, just thirty-three when he was ordained. Inevitably, he pursued his work in a Christian framework, but that did not preclude him from testing the stoic philosophies of Seneca and Epictetus, the enlightened skepticism of Montaigne, or more orthodox Christian tenets. In this pursuit, he reflects one of the central spiritual and philosophical occupations of his era. He urges his views on society's ills and the cures they demanded in his satires turbulently and bewilderingly; and he conducted the trials on the stage, especially in his first plays, with hardly more decorum. Conflicting opinions were heard, voices were often raised raucously, laughter was heard in court, not all of which was perhaps anticipated, but the trial itself never became a mockery.

Marston's willingness to talk about acting and dramatic genres before and during his plays is a part not only of his concern about theatricality, but of his views of and preoccupation with the problems of life and thought itself. Probing the appearance of things at large meant, in the theater, investigating the accepted genres and modes of representing and imitating life. Marston accepts nothing at face value; he has an overmastering urge to demonstrate that confusion and paradox inhere in life, that simple dichotomies of good and bad are deceptive, that the sight of sindoes not automatically augment the hatred of vice, that innocence is no shield for a moralist. His court of judgment deals with issues that cannot be decided by a neat "guilty" or "not guilty"; for complexity, uncertainty, and lack of stability deny simple solutions. Revenge is not merely an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; it is not the pursuit of the wicked by implacable men with untarnished noble aspirations. Marston's revengers are not single-minded pursuers of a victim, from the simple view that one is right and the other wrong. Andrugio, Feliche, and Antonio debate not how they should achieve their purpose, but what it is they ought to do—and whether they should do anything. Old-fashioned pursuit of revenge leads only to the bloody and pointless killing of children such as Julio, and, as Duke Pietro discovers, to know that a wife has been unfaithful does not automatically fill one with a holy crusading joy to punish her. Pietro's reaction is Othello's: "But yet the pitty of it, Iago; oh Iago, the pitty of it Iago" (4.1.2580). Marston's anger is not that of a coarse man but of a sensitive one; but he neither parades his sensitivity nor cheapens it into sentimentality. His candid expression of it sustains his best work and results in his most moving scenes.

Naked ambition and revenge are insufficient for tragedy in Marston, and conventional depictions of love do not make a comedy in his theater. One can no more trust that vice will be repulsive on sight than that love will come at first sight, unproblematically, and lead cheerfully to the easy comfort of "they all lived happily ever after." The strength of affection between Altofronto and Maria, Beatrice and Freevill, Tysefew and Crispinella, and Sophonisba and Massinissa cannot be doubted; but it is not presented in any conventional romantic way. This fact recognized, it must be admitted that the force of convention, the usually accepted demands of the genres, and the thrust of Marston's arguments are not always satisfactorily weighted against one another. To entertain doubts is not always to settle them adequately or dramatically, and the ending of Antonio's Revenge is inconclusive because Marston himself had perhaps reached no conclusions firm enough to be mirrored in a convincing ending. Marston was right, however, to tease at the meaning of the genres, for they do not completely contain his arguments. As Madeleine Doran has observed [in Endeavors of Art, 1954], "The difficulty with these plays is that the problems are realistically viewed, the endings are not. Fortuitous solutions do not usually come to moral problems." But a contrived ending does not necessarily invalidate the endeavor of art that led to it.

Marston takes stock characters, puts them into familiar situations, and then surprises expectation by having them behave "out of character" so that it is hard to know them for what they at first were thought to be. Disguise is the center of Marston's art: actors assume a character for a play, and then the character in that play adopts other disguises. Villains and heroes, earnest men and comedians, men and women, are all of them likely to be different persons at different times, shifting their character as easily as they shift clothes.

This device is, of course, common in the Elizabethan theater; but Marston's particular handling of it claims attention. The fact that all his actors were often boys did not make his plays as parodic as some critics believe, but it was a fact of theatrical life for Marston which he proceeded to turn to his advantage. Boys were, after all, actors as were men; and the pretense of the stage world was his image of the real world's deceptiveness. Because he read life as a mixture of comedy and tragedy further confused by the presence of satire, he made his plays reflect those generic confrontations and mixtures. Marston had used such juxtapositions in his satires—not always successfully—and had discovered that, where they had worked in the satires, they emerged on the stage with greatly enhanced impact as a disturbingly accurate comment on man's behavior.

By trial and error, however, Marston learned that the seemingly random collisions and abrupt changes of gear only worked artistically when deliberation and care justified the word "seemingly." The danger of practicing the "absurd" method is that, with only the slightest miscalculation, the end result is merely stupid or pointless. To argue that there are conflicts which are accidental, as it were, and conflicts which are deliberate is not, of course, to assert that it is a simple matter to distinguish which is which when they occur. To expect to be able to do so with any degree of precision is to expect too much. To recognize the principle and to suggest some applications of it is a sanguine enough hope.

Adaptation of satire to the stage occupied stronger and better minds than Marston's at the turn of the sixteenth century, such as those of Jonson and Shakespeare; but none brought more zest and excitement or more natural theatrical gifts to the task than he did. More than many of his fellow playwrights, Marston was directly and unabashedly fascinated by the art of the theater: its essential artifice, its juggling with illusion and reality, its pretense and actuality; the interplay between the author, the actor and hisrole, and the audience; the contrasting patterns of sound and vision provided by the spectacle of the stage, the counterpoint of different voices, the movement of people, the fusing of words, action, music, and other sounds. He delighted in all of these aspects and explored them brilliantly and, at times, recklessly. He was a theatrical man in the baser sense of the word, for he was undeniably a posturing extravagant.

More importantly, Marston was a theatrical man in the richer sense of the word, one whose natural gifts found exciting and spontaneous expression on the stage. He possessed prodigious gifts no matter how much he sometimes abused them. "It is hard to find another instance of a man thus suffered to pass on to the hands of masters the vision he himself could not express, transmitting to them images, phrases, situations which just fail in his hands of becoming poetry and with them become inevitable and immortal. Truly, as the witch said to Banquo, 'Thou shalt get kings though thou be none,' and that in itself is no slight boon" [Una Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama]. Possibly Marston might be called the playwright's playwright. This is a lesser thing than being the dramatist's dramatist, but it was an achievement during the richest period of England's stage history.

Michael Scott (essay date 1978)

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SOURCE: "Dreams, Innovation and Technique," in John Marston's Plays: Theme, Structure and Performance, Barnes & Noble Books, 1978, pp. 84-96.

[Below, Scott discusses Marston's mastery of dramatic technique, focusing on ways in which his plays fuse intellectual and subconscious response in the reader.]

In The Empty Space Peter Brooks writes,

The exchange of impressions through images is our basic language: at the moment when one man expresses an image at that same instant the other man meets him in belief. The shared association is the language: if the association evokes nothing in the second person, if there is no instant of shared illusion, there is no exchange.

Marston was a major figure in moving towards the creation of the total dramatic image: the language not only of words but also of sounds, actions and dreams. It is possible to identify two majorconventions employed in his compositions; the episodic and the linear. The former is exemplified by What You Will; the latter by Sophonisba. But it would be a mistake even to attempt to categorise each play under one or other of these headings. The dramas show that Marston, like Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson, was constantly experimenting with his dramatic form, its conventions and techniques. Elements of Tamburlaine, Volpone, and Hamlet may be seen during the development of his art, but in his most successful plays we discover an innovatory technique which has led Hunter [in his introduction to Antonio and Mellida] to proclaim him as 'the most modern of the Elizabethans'.

At the point of anagnorisis in The Malcontent the dismayed Mendoza, seeing his defeat, cries out,

Are we surprised? What strange delusions mock
Our senses? Do I dream? or have I dreamt
This two days' space? Where am I?
(The Malcontent, V. vi. 117-9)

Similarly Gonzago, recognising Hercules and his own folly in The Fawn, reflects, 'By the Lord, I am asham'd of myself, that's the plain troth. But I know now wherefore this parliament was. What a slumber I have been in!' (The Fawn, V. i. 452-4). Mendoza and Gonzago therefore admit to having been living in a world of illusion. Both men have been deluded into thinking that they controlled the conduct of the narrative, but have finally realised that throughout they did not possess the necessary wisdom or information to have any effect on the proceedings. Their dream worlds have been their illusions of power, or of wisdom. Likewise, as we have seen, Syphax in Sophonisba makes dream fantasy a temporary reality when he sleeps with the witch but awakens to the full horror of his lust:

Thou rotten scum of Hell—
O my abhorred heat! O loath'd delusion!
(Sophonisba, p. 51)

It is from this dream stance that we may look at the satiric drama to see how Marston's dramatic techniques complemented narrative material. The convention of the dream may be seen in two ways. First, there is the idea that the characters involved in the plays are in a dream situation; and, secondly, Marston may have considered that the audience can be regarded as similarly in a dream situation in experiencing a dramatic performance.

It is not merely Mendoza in The Malcontent who is acknowledged to have been a participant in a dream. The satiric language of Malevole emphasises that the conduct of the court is as one long nightmare:

Pietro. How dost spend the night? I hear thou never sleep'st.

Malevole. O, no, but dream the most fantastical … O heaven! O fubbery, fubbery!

Pietro. Dream! what dreamest?

Malevole. Why, methinks I see that signior pawn his footcloth, that metreza her plate; this madam takes physic, that t'other monsieur may minister to her; here is a pander jewelled; there is a fellow in shift of satin this day, that could not shift a shirt t'other night. Here a Paris supports that Helen; there's a Lady Guinever bears up that Sir Lancelot-dreams, visions, fantasies, chimeras, imaginations, tricks, conceits!

(The Malcontent, I. iii. 5-56)

Malevole cannot sleep, as he tells us again in his soliloquy at III. ii. 1-14, but he can still talk of dreams, since the whole courtly world is one of people's illusions and fantasies. They all think that they are fulfilling their lives; but the malcontent, the outsider, can from his objective position see and understand their self-deception. The same is true of Hercules in The Fawn. As we have seen, it is not until he dissociates himself from the court and looks at it objectively that he realises the illusions under which he has lived. Both dukes, by being temporarily divorced from their normal lives, see life itself as being based on fantasy. As outsiders, however, they are the ones who are likened to dreamers. But the characters within their dreams, the characters they are observing, are real people who are themselves in a permanent state of illusion. Thus there is an ironic reversal of illusion and reality. Those describing themselves as 'dreamers' are experiencing a valid vision of life, whilst the supposedly 'awakened' members of society are living in a world of illusion. Both Malevole and Hercules have to attempt to waken the characters of illusion by bringing them into the outside world where the protagonists exist. This they both accomplish during the respective recognition scenes, although, ironically, as we have seen, Malevole through his success enters a new world of illusion. The dream-cycle begins again.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
(The Tempest, IV. i. 156-8)

Prospero's words are acutely relevant. But if the characters within the plays oscillate between illusory and real worlds, what of the audience? For Marston was writing in a tradition which saw the plays themselves as dream situations. Lyly continually described his plays through the metaphor:

There is no needles point so smal, which hath not his cõpasse nor haire so slender, which hath not his shadowe: nor sporte so simple, which hath not his showe. Whatsoeuer we preset, whether it be tedious (which we feare) or toyishe (which we doubt) sweete or sowre, absolute or imperfect, or whatsoeuer, in all humblenesse we all, & I on knee for all, entreate, that your Highnesse imagine your self to be in a deepe dreame, that staying the conclusiõ, in your rising your Maiestie vouchsafe but to saye, And so you awakte.

(Sapho and Phao, Prologue at Court, 9-17)

Similarly in the conclusion of the early play The Taming of A Shrew Slie tells the tapster:

whilst Shakespeare concludes A Midsummer Night's Dream with:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumb'red here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, V. i. 412-19)

Two reasons for Lyly's comparison are given by Muriel Bradbrook [in English Dramatic Form], who tells us that as 'shadows' or 'dreams' the plays reflect the 'dalliance' of the royal court where they were performed, and that 'Lyly, like the nobles for whom he designed his offerings, was in search of reward.' It is not, however, a far step from reflecting dalliance to satirising foolery, but Miss Bradbrook has given a deeper reason for artists' regarding plays in terms of a dream:

Drama may evoke both superficial and deeply buried 'satellite selves', so that internal conflicts may be worked out to a more harmonious adjustment, a regrouping of impulses, a harmonising of partial systems. In this way, participation may correspond to the therapeutic function of a dream, and the final result will not by any means be just a fantasy gratification. The play dynamically frees and flexes relatively fixed and rigid images of the inner society. Therefore, if several roles attract identification, the plot becomes an exercise in the dynamics of adjustment, uniquely assisted by the fact that participation in drama is itself a social act. Conflicts can be projected more directly and more intensively. It cannot be expected that a given play will precisely correspond with the needs of any individual or at least, the odds are against it. Nevertheless, the result will not be fantasy gratification alone; it will be a return, through the release afforded by the exercise of fantasy in a context suggesting reality, to full reality.

Dreams and plays are related. Both are helpful in releasing tensions within us, in acting as an outlet for repressive elements, whether the repression has been caused by civilisation or by its abuse. It is not fortuitous that, to discover the maladjustment of a mentally handicapped child, or that of its parents, psychiatrists study its behaviour in a play ground. Through play the child comes to terms with the nature of its difficulties. What is drama but the playing of adults, the civilised two hours' licence given to the imagination? Peter Brook asserts, 'It is not by chance that in many languages the word for a play and to play is the same' (The Empty Space). Hence drama, in releasing man's inhibitions, has an aim of aiding civilisation, even if the ideas it proposes are alien to that civilisation. Antonin Artaud agrees:

Theatre will never be itself again, that is to say will never be able to form truly illusive means, unless it provides the audience with truthful distillations of dreams where its taste for crime, its erotic obsessions, its savageness, its fantasies, its utopian sense of life and objects, even its cannibalism, do not gush out on an illusory, make-believe, but on an inner level.

This is exactly what some of Marston's plays do. The Thyestean banquet is placed before Piero in Antonio's Revenge, Antonio, Pandulpho and the rest being 'erotically obsessed' by their desire for revenge—a revenge which at first gains the sympathy or at least the full attention of the audience. Likewise, in the same play, Antonio's sensual and climactic killing of Julio is conducted with such frenzied fervency that the emotions of the audience are forced to take an active part in the scene. Their reaction is primarily emotional, leading either to a sensual identification of themselves with the murderer or to a horrific antagonism towards the act. By it they admit the viability of the deed in Antonio, in their neighbour, and ultimately in themselves. On the other hand Andrugio's 'utopian sense of life' in Antonio and Mellida draws a picture which the audience can appreciate as being of more value than the pomp of kings. Marston perhaps may be seen as one of those who gave his theatre the true life which Artaud sees now as having been lost. Artaud again:

If theatre is as bloody and as inhuman as dreams the reason for this is that it perpetuates the metaphysical notions in some Fables in a presentday, tangible manner, whose atrocity and energy are enough to prove their origins and intentions in fundamental first principles rather than to reveal and unforgettably tie down the idea of continual conflict within us, where life is continually lacerated, where everything in creation rises up and attacks our condition as created beings.

Thus image and spectacle naturally affect the subconscious, illustrating, by a direct means, the true realities of existence, the 'fundamental first principles'. It is in this respect that the ideas of Artaud and Bradbrook and the practice of Marston begin to resemble a surrealistic side of art, which, as Breton holds [in the Surrealist Manifesto, 1924], aims 'to resolve the … contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super reality'. This at first may seem very remote from Marston, but it becomes more relevant if in turning to the dramatist we draw a picture in words derived from one of his scenes.

In the centre of the picture is a man wearing a crown. In his hands he holds a skull filled with wine, which he offers to his lips as a toast to a number of other finely dressed yet foppish characters around him. Rushing through this crowd of finery and causing some excitement is a sailor. He appears to be shouting, and the shape of his head resembles somewhat that of the skull in the king's hands. To the left of the picture, just entering, is a feminine-looking page who appears to be starting to dance through the crowd. Above on a gallery is a woman running and shouting in a state of panic. To the right, a cold cynical man leans against a wall summing up the situation and singing sardonically. The king's face has an expression which is changing from delight to bewildered annoyance, whilst the whole scene is caricatured in the extreme and gives a total impression of speed and utter confusion. This fantastic picture is derived from the verbal imagery as well as the rapidity of the action in Antonio and Mellida, III. ii. 223-66. The episode creates an image in our minds of an over-all absurdity and confusion. Yet each aspect of the picture reveals a human actuality. There is pride, viciousness, cynicism, horror, laughter, panic, sycophancy, dance, relief—all mingled into one exaggerated scene which, in its seemingly illogical harmonisation of alien emotions and gross caricature, crystallises a composite vision of life. Here we are close to surrealist theatre.

Earlier in the same play we have experienced a similar scene (II. i) where Antonio, disguised as an Amazon, attends a court dance. Suddenly he falls to the ground, absurdly raving in Italian. The dancers' attitude is to be noted:

Antonio. Ohimè infelice misero, o lamentevol fato.

[Falls on the ground.]

Alberto. What means the lady fall upon the ground?

Rossaline. Belike the falling sickness.

Antonio. I cannot brook this sight; my thoughts grow wild; Here lies a wretch on whom heaven never smil'd.

Rossaline. [To Alberto.] What, servant, ne'er a word, and I here, man?

I would shoot some speech forth to strike the time With pleasing touch of amorous compliment. Say, sweet, what keeps thy mind? What think'st thou on?

Alberto. Nothing.

Rossaline. What's that nothing?

Alberto. A woman's constancy.

Rossaline. Good, why, would'st thou have us sluts, and never shift the vesture of our thoughts? Away for shame!

(Antonio and Mellida, II. i. 200-13)

The characters merely note the fact that a 'woman' has fallen to the ground. They look, comment and ignore. Their precious conversation continues and the 'girl' remains prostrate. The image for the audience is all that is needed to tell them about the society concerned. It is totally inhuman in that it is completely self-centred and self-oriented. Yet we do not forget the comic exaggeration of Antonio in his melodramatic antics and his absurd disguise. A complex satiric vision is being presented, so that the over-all image, rather than 'tying down' or 'revealing' a situation, agrees with what we might today call the Artaud thesis. It 'rises up and attacks our condition as human beings', and thus it laughs at the shadows that people regard as the reality of life. As Marston cried in an early satire, 'Oh hold my sides, that I may breake my spleene, / With laughter at the shadowes I haue seene.'

In the other plays we find similar situations. The Malcontent, Act IV, scene ii, gives a visual and aural image of the total insularity of certain characters, but illustrates this through Marston's clever reversal of an Elizabethan attitude that saw 'Music … as reflecting the nature of the society in which it is produced' and 'harmonious music' as 'a microcosm of a well-ordered body politic'. In The Governor Sir Thomas Elyot asserted,

In euery daunse, of a moste auncient custome, there daunseth to gether a man and a woman, holding eche other by the hande or the arme, whiche betokeneth concorde. Nowe it behouethe the daunsers and also the beholders of them to knowe all qualities incident to a man, and also all qualities to a woman lyke wise appertaynynge…. These qualities, in this wise beinge knitte to gether, and signified in the personages of man and woman daunsinge, do expresse or sette out the figure of very nobilitie; whiche in the higher astate it is contained, the more excellent is the vertue in estimation.

Dancing and music therefore could not only complement but signify to others the noble courtier. Castiglione held that musicwas 'meete to be practised in the presence of women, because those sights sweeten the mindes of the hearers, and make them more apt to bee pierced with the pleasantnesse of musicke, and also they quicken the spirits of the very doers'. Earlier, however, Castiglione mocks the inordinate dancing of youth, and it is from here that in his poetic satires, as Davenport suggests, Marston took his cue to laugh at the ridiculous dancing postures of the fops:

Who euer heard spruce skipping Curio
Ere prate of ought, but of the whirle on toe.
The turne aboue ground, Robrus sprauling kicks,
Fabius caper, Harries tossing tricks?
Did euer any eare, ere heare him speake
Vnlesse his tongue of crosse-poynts did intreate?


His very soule, his intellectuall
Is nothing but a mincing capreall.

By the time Marston was writing The Malcontent, however, he saw that dance could be employed not merely as satire but also as a metaphor of the viciousness of Aurelia and Mendoza's court—the complete reversal therefore of the Elyot premise. In Act IV, scene ii, Aurelia enters from her bedchamber with Mendoza. The audience is aware that they both think that Pietro at this very time is being murdered. Aurelia calls for music: 'We will dance—music! - we will dance.' The dance chosen is Bianca's brawl, which in its description by the dancing-master shows itself to be as circumventing and intricate as the Machiavellianism that is ruling the court:

'tis but two singles on the left, two on the right, three doubles forward, a traverse of six round; to this twice, three singles side, galliard trick of twenty, coranto-space; a figure of eight, three singles broken down, come up, meet, two doubles, fall back, and then honour.

(The Malcontent, IV. ii. 6-11)

Through all the complicated steps will eventually come 'honour'—a dancing term, but the irony is also evident. Following this description there is a great deal of stylised movement on stage, and this places the dance in a sinister grotesque relationship with the news of Pietro's death. Prepasso enters andasks for the duke; Aurelia demands 'Music!'. Equato appears and asks for the duke; Aurelia demands 'Music!'. Celso enters with the pointed remark, 'The duke is either quite invisible, or else is not', and is rebuked for his impertinence. A page enters and tells of where he last saw the duke, but Aurelia again demands 'Music, sound high, as is our heart, sound high'. Malevole immediately enters with the disguised Pietro:

Malevole. The Duke—peace! [The music stops.]—the Duke is dead.

Aurelia. Music!

Malevole. Is't music?

Mendoza. Give proof.

Fernando. How?

Celso. Where?

Prepasso. When?

Malevole. Rest in peace, as the Duke does; quietly sit; for my own part, I beheld him but dead; that's all.

(IV. iii. 1-10)

The whole episode is peppered with abrupt entrances, pointed questions and ejaculations. The dance being played out is not the one to Aurelia's music but the grotesque and yet futile conduct of this depraved and debauched society, of which the Duchess's desired revels are merely another striking, almost surreal, metaphor.

Marston, however, never allows his surrealist images of tension, cruelty, horror and repulsion to affect merely the subconscious or the emotional. His plays have a dream-like quality which we are now inclined to associate with artists such as Artaud, but they also have the intellectual appeal of Brecht. The two designs are not, as is often thought, irreconcilable. On the contrary, Peter Brook holds that their union is the strength of the theatre:

In all communication, illusions materialize and disappear. The Brecht theatre is a rich compound of images appealing for our belief. When Brecht spoke contemptuously of illusion, this was not what he was attacking. He meant the single sustained Picture, thestatement that continued after its purpose had been served—like the painted tree.

(The Empty Space)

So often in Marston's plays we discover that as soon as an illusion is created it is destroyed. Andrugio, in Antonio and Mellida (IV. i), is Stocial in his defeat. He mocks greatness and decides that nature is his kingdom and his comfort. But, as we have seen, this image of the patient humble man is no sooner established than it is shattered by Lucio's reminding the duke of his former position. Andrugio's act fails and he raves like a madman. This juxtaposing of images shocks the audience into an intellectual response, thereby preventing it on this occasion from any form of emotional involvement. The plays rely heavily on these reversal situations. In Antonio's Revenge Maria travels from Genoa to be reunited with her husband, only to find him dead, and Strotzo in the same play finds that support of Piero's lies and deceits brings not safety but death. In Sophonisba Massinissa's trust in the Carthaginian rulers is rewarded by treachery because of the sudden needs of a political solution, and in The Insatiate Countess Isabella's black mourning, which at first seems to be in sorrowful respect for her dead husband, is soon revealed to be only a manifestation of her lascivious and selfish character.

So as to shatter audience empathy, alienation techniques common to the twentieth-century stage—music, mime and commentary—are continually employed. The majority of his songs have been lost, but it is probable that their aim was to aid the intellectual progress of the drama by deliberately halting its narrative flow, or providing a vivid contrast to or commentary on the action on stage. Balurdo's 'My mistress' eye doth oil my joints' succeeds Antonio's murder of Julio. In doing so it refocuses our attention from the horror of the death to the folly of sexual perversion at court:

My mistress' eye doth oil my joints
And makes my fingers nimble;
O love, come on, untruss your points—

My fiddlestick wants rosin.

My lady's dugs are all so smooth
That no flesh must them handle;
Her eyes do shine, for to say sooth,
Like a new-snuffed candle.
(Antonio's Revenge, III. ii. 30-7)

The 'fiddlestick' innuendo is crude in its demand for laughter, but nevertheless our attention has been switched by the comic intrusion. In similar fashion Franceschina's 'Cantat Gallice' in The Dutch Courtesan (II. ii. 54-60) is in contrast both to her anger preceding Freevill's entrance and Malheureux's present melancholia, although the song takes the opportunity, despite the 'frolic', to 'still complain me do her wrong'. Another example is found in The Malcontent, Act II, scene v. Here, whilst a song is being sung, Ferneze flies from Aurelia's bedchamber only to be met by Mendoza's sword. The music is cut short by the tumult, but the contrast between the luxuriousness of the bedchamber probably implied by the song, and the reality of Ferneze's 'death' would have been vivid. The preceding scene is also illustrative of further subtle uses of contrast. Whilst Ferneze is off stage enjoying Aurelia's bed, the audience is aware that he is also endangering his life. Maquerelle, in the meantime, enters with Emilia and Bianca. Her conversation with the two girls concerns the ingredients and sexual properties of a love potion. The old bawd is encouraging them in the arts of lust, whilst off stage we are aware that it is lust which is putting Ferneze in a perilous situation. The contrast between Maquerelle's instruction, together with its enthusiastic acceptance by the girls, and the realities that are about to occur, provides yet another picture of the futility of this lascivious court.

Contrast is evident also in the frequent use of the dumb show. In Antonio and Mellida, for example, occur the stage directions

The cornets sound a sennet. Enter above, Mellida Rossaline and Flavia. Enter below Galeatzo with attendants; Piero [enters,] meeteth him, embraceth; at which the cornets sound a flourish. Piero and Galeatzo exeunt. The rest stand still.

Mellida. What prince was that passed through my father's guard?

Flavia. 'Twas Galeatzo, the young Florentine.

(I. i. 99-100)

The girls continue by criticising the figure of Galeatzo and praising the memory of Antonio. Following this comes another dumb show—with the second suitor, Matzagente—and a similar conversation from the girls. The dumb show, as Dieter Mehl tells us [in The Elizabethan Dumb Show, 1965], is consequently being contrasted with the objective comments of the onlookers:

In both scenes only characters from the play itself take part. The effectiveness of the silent scene lies chiefly in the pointed gestures and the musical accompaniment; it seems likely that the pompous atmosphere of the court was indicated by the presence of servants and the whole style of acting. Piero's triumph … and his intention of marrying Mellida off to some powerful prince are impressively portrayed, and at the same time they are shown in a particular light because of the dramatic method employed. The use of silent action alone for such an incident could, especially if accompanied by exaggerated gestures, give the whole scene an unnatural and slightly comic character. That this was the author's intention is emphasised by the simultaneous conversation in the gallery which reveals Mellida's opinion of her father's schemes quite clearly. The spectator thus sees the scene through Mellida's eyes because she makes her scornful remarks about the two suitors as the events on the stage are explained to her…. The silent scene throws a somewhat sarcastic light upon life at the court and on the two suitors. Mellida's commentary heightens this effect and reveals her own attitude to the events.

Commentary itself acts as a similar alienating agent. We have seen it operative with Feliche, Malevole and Mendoza, but sometimes it is merely a line, rather than a speech, that prevents total empathy. During the scene in which the revengers murder Piero in Antonio's Revenge, they create, as we have seen, an almost ecstatic sensual rhythm of violence as they approach the deed, but the ridiculous presence of Balurdo prevents the audience from losing itself totally in their action. His three lines,

Down to the dungeon with him; I'll dungeon with him; I'll fool you! Sir Jeffery will be Sir Jeffery. I'll tickle you!

(Antonio's Revenge, v. iii. 69-70)

Thou most retort and obtuse rascal!

(Antonio's Revenge, v. iii. 99)

are just enough to alienate the audience, reminding it that it is in a dream situation. Similarly, a possible explanation for the painter's introduction in Antonio and Mellida, Act v, scene i, is in terms of alienation—the author telling us something about himself and the composition of the work:

Balurdo. And are these the workmanship of your hands?

Painter. I did limn them.

Balurdo. 'Limn
them'? a good word, 'limn them.' Whose picture is this? [Reads.] 'Anno Domini 1599.' Believe me, master Anno Domini was of a good settled age when you limn'd him; 1599 years old! Let's see the other. [Reads.] 'Aetatis suae 24.' By'r Lady, he is somewhat younger. Belike master Aetatis suae was Anno Domini's son.

(Antonio & Mellida, v. i. 3-11)

The alienation scene prepares us for the play's conclusion by allowing time for us to recollect our thoughts before we are plunged into the complexities of Andrugio and Antonio's 'deaths'. Although these devices are sometimes crude in exposition, Marston illustrates a mastery in fusing such alienation techniques with the validity of dream involvement. In our role as spectators we watch Marston's plays throughout with a mixed response. We can sympathise with the characters, we can become involved with the action and we can objectively criticise both characters and action; but in having such a mixed response we show an over-all appreciation of Marston's art. He illustrates his ability to combine the essentials of the theatre, appealing to our emotions, our subconscious, our intellect and our reason—often all at the same time and within the one satiric genre. The primary example of this expertise in action is during that almost surrealist scene in Antonio and Mellida (III. ii. 223-62). Our intellect appreciates the word images of Piero in describing how he will drink from Antonio's skull; our emotions are with the young prince as he attempts to escape; our subconscious takes in the vast image of contradictory emotions presented on stage; and our reason (alerted by Feliche's alienating device of the song) evaluates all that has occurred. This is true theatre in illustrating the harmonious combination of so many varying attitudes towards the art. It shows how Marston can claim his art to be 'seriously fantastical'—a phrase which perhaps defines the nature of his satiric dreams.

Coppélia Kahn (essay date 1991)

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SOURCE: "Whores and Wives in Jacobean Drama," in In Another Country: Feminist Perspectives on Renaissance Drama, edited by Dorothea Kehler and Susan Baker, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991, pp. 246-60.

[In the following excerpt, Kahn examines The Dutch Courtesan in the context of the evolving depiction of women's sexuality in Jacobean drama.]

Women as represented in Jacobean drama are queens, thieves, nuns, viragos, mothers, prostitutes, prophets, witches, widows, shopkeepers, servants. Whatever their vocation, social role, or temperament, they are conceived within the framework of one social institution: marriage. The few single independent women without male guardians—Cleopatra, Ursula the pig woman, Moll Cutpurse, for example—are represented as anomalies, freaks, or deviants. Female characters, with few exceptions, are either on their way to the altar or firmly attached to a household provided for and ruled over by their husbands, fathers, or brothers. Woman, generically speaking, is either maid, wife, or widow. Insofar as the basic unit of society in early modern England was the family, men too were expected to marry. Marital and filial allegiances may indeed be central to the construction of male characters. But it is only men, not women, who can be solitary and autonomous in the drama without a point being made of it.

To assert that the basic condition for the representation of women in drama is marriage is to state the obvious, to reiterate a cliché, to return to the starting point of feminist criticism a decade or more ago. But no historicist criticism dealing with the representation of gender and sexuality on the stage in this period can afford to overlook the cultural centrality of marriage. As Ian Maclean states, [in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 1980]:

In all practical philosophy, the female sex is considered in the context of the paradigm of marriage. It is the bridge by which syncretism is made with Judaeo-Christian writings, which add their authority to that of ancient moral philosophy…. Marriage is an immovable obstacle to any improvement in the theoretical or real status of women in law, in theology, in moral and political philosophy.

The categories in which the social identities and psychological makeup of women are conceived derive from the paradigm of marriage, which itself derives from Genesis. But Genesis itself was changing, under pressure of a new Protestant ideology of marriage emerging precisely during the years in which the popular theater flourished. Carol Thomas Neely sums up the crisis neatly: "The Reformation had begun to transform the old ideology without altering the prescribed form of marriage, its traditional functions, or the attitudes that accompanied them" [Broken Nuptuals in Shakespeare's Plays, 1985]. Though marriage continued to be an "immovable obstacle" for real or fictional women, the bulk and shape of the obstacle were shifting.

As both Puritan and Anglican preachers read Genesis, the creation of woman was synonymous with the invention of marriage. In his popular treatise Domesticall Duties (1622), William Gouge identifies Adam and Eve as the first husband and wife because God makes Eve to supply that "help meet for him" which Adam wants. Both woman and marriage are enfolded within the idea that man dominates woman, which is reaffirmed and given an additional rationale in the punishments God decrees for Adam and Eve after the Fall. To Eve, he declares that she will suffer pain in childbirth, that her desire will "yet" be for her husband, and that he will rule over her (Gen. 3:16), which implies that her subordination to Adam in marriage is associated with her sexuality. In medieval traditions, Eve's seduction by the snake, and her seduction of Adam into eating the apple, underpin the notions that woman is sexually seducible and seductive. As Gouge says in the same work, "she who first drew man into sin should now be subject to him, lest by the like weakness she fall again." In sermon after sermon, the preachers insist that "the husband is the head of the woman, as Christ is the head of the Church." The hierarchy of marriage is justified at least in part by the conviction that the problem of desire emanates not from man but from woman.

At the same time, however, they elaborate a new conception of marriage which stresses, in addition to the traditional reasons for marriage—avoiding fornication and legitimate procreation—a third: mutual affection. What historians of the family call companionate marriage, an ideal of married love which comprises sexual and emotional intimacy and stresses compatibility, contends uneasily in the literature on marriage with the old doctrine of wifely subordination. And it by no means crowds out the old notion that it is better to marry than to burn. In a sense, as it now becomes important for men to love their wives, as sexual pleasure now enters explicitly and legitimately into marriage, whoredom becomes an internal threat rather than an external one. Paul's dictum that man and wife should be "one flesh" begins to seem truly a matter of the flesh.

The beginning of this ideological shift can be seen in Erasmus's Epistle in laude and praise of matrimonie (1530), which implies that "sexuality provides not just progeny (the main argument of the epistle) but intrinsic fair pleasure." Forty-five years later, Heinrich Bullinger's Christen State of Matrimony (1575) assures readers that "the work of matrimony is no sin," but goes on to caution them:

Therefore must not we as shameless persons cast away good manners and become like unreasonable beastes. God hath given and ordained marriage to be a remedy and medicine unto our feeble and weak flesh…. But if we rage therewith, and be shameless in our words and deeds, then our mistemperance and excess make it evil that is good, and defile it that is clean.

This passage exemplifies, I think, what Stephen Greenblatt calls [in Renaissance Self Fashioning From More to Shakespeare, 1980] "the colonial power of Christian doctrine over sexuality," its power to endorse sexual pleasure within marriage as legitimate but simultaneously to define it, limit it, and reconstruct it as threatening in a newly orthodox way….

It is the stage that more openly registers the tensions between sexual pleasure and marriage which the preachers seek to resolve, tensions arising from the new expectations of marriage which, from a male point of view (almost exclusively the point of view represented), concern wives as objects of desire. It is the stageed), concern wives as objects of desire. It is the stage that portrays women as creatures of sexual appetite rather than docile helpmates; that makes marriage a matter of seduction and betrayal, cuckoldry and adultery, rather than "due benevolence" mutually rendered. That "whoredom" which the Church would keep out of marriage becomes, on the stage, what makes marriage interesting. David Leverenz argues that in Puritan tracts against the theater, "whoredom becomes the most frequently used code word for worldly taint of any kind. Above all, whoredom connoted mixture … [and] unconscious associations with women, filth, and feeling itself" [The Language of Puritan Feeling, 1980]. "Mixture" in many senses generates English Renaissance drama; mingling kings and clowns, comic and tragic, the stage also mingles whore and wife. In doing so, it runs contrary to the obsessively binary conceptualization of sexual categories in theology, carried over from Scholastic thought to the Renaissance. Ian Maclean comments,

Just as a woman cannot be simultaneously clean and unclean, married and unmarried, so also does the difference of sex in theological terms exclude intermediaries; sex is a polarity rather than something which admits ranges of possibilities to both men and woman which may overlap.

According to Leverenz, in sermons as well as in the antitheatrical tracts, Puritan writers constructed profoundly felt polarities between God and the fathers on the one hand, and "tainted women" on the other; between the separation of the sexes by proper clothing and players dressing as women, between pulpit and stage, sermon and play, God and the devil, out of a "need to polarize ambivalence and to make authority secure." Out of similar needs, perhaps, playwrights frequently fix and unfix, separate and confound the polar oppositions of wife and whore, virgin and whore. Because the theater wantonly, deliberately confuses categories held elsewhere to be clear and firm, it offers fertile ground for exploring the discursive instability of sexual difference in Renaissance culture….

The Dutch Courtesan hinges on the simplistic opposition between Beatrice, Freevill's fiancée, saintly incarnation of the feminine virtues of "unsullen silence, unaffected modesty, and an unignorant shamefastness," and the Dutch prostitute Francischina, whom Freevill has been keeping as his mistress but wishes to abandon now that he is marrying. He defends his liaison with Francischina on the grounds that the lusts she satisfies ought to be indulged only outside marriage: "I would have married men love the stews as Englishmen loved the Low Countries; wish wars would be maintained there lest it should come home to their own doors" (I.i.73-74), he says. It is not only lust that Freevill disowns by displacing it onto his whore; it is passionate feeling—wars—of any sort. Beatrice offers him "constancy" and "content"; "Dear my love, be not so passionate," she cautions. Even when she thinks that Freevill deceived and insulted her, she takes the injury with "a patient, yet oppressed kindness" (IV.iv.85-95). Francischina's vindictive fury, in contrast, knows no bounds; she curses, storms, and plots to have her former gallant killed. "There shall be no God in me but passion," she cries (IV.iv.40-41), while Malheureux asserts, "There is no God in blood, no reason in desire" (IV.ii.13).

Marston keeps pleasure and passion down below, with tradespeople and whores, while his wellborn gallants coolly trap and punish Francischina. In the ambiguous figure of Cocledemoy, however, "a knavishly witty City companion" known by his expletive "Turd in your teeth!" he crosses the boundaries he has drawn. Like Freevill, Cocledemoy delivers an ironic encomium to prostitution as "the trade that sells the best commodities … [such] divine virtues as virginity, modesty, and such rare items" (I.ii.34-35, 39-40). In an epilogue he addresses both the gallants onstage and the audience, "worshipful friends in the middle region," the popular theater where elite and humble mix. Nonetheless, the play's weight falls against the passionate whore, in whom male desire is alienated and despised for the sake of keeping marriage "pure." …

In Jacobean drama, few women are endowed with the sort of sexual desire which in men is presented as normal; even fewer act on such desire, and if they do they slip over into the category of whore. The Duchess of Malfi, for example, in the eyes of her brothers is nothing short of whorish. On the whole, women in these plays are either passionless or possessed by lust. If women seem chaste, they invite suspicion, like Imogen in Cymbeline, for example, on the grounds that underneath, they must be whores, of indiscriminate and boundless lusts, incapable of love or moral awareness. And if they are chaste but desirable, they are also under suspicion. Indeed, women as a sex are often simply defined as whores. "That she whom none can enter," says Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy, "is all male" (II.i.112). When he says it, he is in disguise, bribing his own mother to prostitute her daughter; he does it, of course, to test the chastity of both women.

By these lights, a truly chaste woman isn't really a woman, and the virgin or the faithful wife must be, if "thoroughly tried," whores after all. Vindice's line also reveals a determination to keep the power of defining sexual difference within male hands, and to use the female body as the means of definition. Furthermore, it assumes a male subject whom none can enter—a man who is psychologically and sexually an impregnable fortress. At that level, the line functions as defense against anxiety about women as sexual beings, women as wives whose flesh is supposed to become one with their husbands' flesh, wives who are supposed arousing desire, to lead them to it. When Othello cries to Iago, "Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore!" (III.iii.365), he is expressing not just his peculiar anguish as an aging Moorish general married to a young Venetian beauty, but the contradictions of gender and sexuality as his culture conceives them.

Kenneth J. E. Graham (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: "The Mysterious Plainness of Anger: The Search for Justice in Satire and Revenge Tragedy," in The Performance of Conviction: Plainness and Rhetoric in the Early English Renaissance, Cornell, 1994, pp. 125-67.

[Here, Graham discusses Marston's handling of anger in The Scourge of Villanie, Antonio and Mellida, and Antonio's Revenge, arguing that "his work shows a plainness that questions all values, thus transforming anger from a reflection of some prior reality to pure self-expression."]

The connection of plainness to anger in satire and revenge tragedy is easily demonstrated. For many in the Renaissance, the satirist is a plainspeaker and vice versa, as John Earle illustrates in [Micro-Cosmographie; or, a Piece of the World Discovered in Essayes and Characters] when he says that the blunt or plain man "is as squeazy of his commendations, as his courtesie, and his good word is like an Elogie in a Satyre." Similarly, plainspeaking revengers appear in such important revenge plays as The Spanish Tragedy, Hamlet, The Revenger's Tragedy, The Malcontent, and The Maid's Tragedy. The satirist and the revenger also tend to be malcontents, and the malcontent himself is typically a plainspeaker.

The common denominator here is injustice: the satirist, the revenger, the plainspeaker, and the malcontent share a strong sense of injustice, from which their anger derives. Because plainness represents an opposing legal claim whose epistemological status is unclear, it reveals the legal problem that anger poses. On the one hand, angry people, like Wyatt, tend to seek some degree of public support for their actions. On the other hand, when they despair of public approval and seek justification solely in their own conviction, the justice they claim seems as inexplicable to others as the justice of the tyranny they oppose. Consequently, it may be impossible to tell whether an angry person is motivated by an interest in truth and justice or by self-interest. Anger in this way imposes a limit on mutual understanding, bringing communication between opposing positions to a standstill: what appears plain from one perspective will seem opaque from all others. In one direction, then, anger approaches the openness of rhetorical justice, while in another direction it becomes as secretive and peremptory as the injustice it opposes. A fundamental ambiguity resides in its plainness.

Partly because they display the ambiguity of a mysterious plainness, angry voices remain some of the most compelling and revealing expressions left to us by Renaissance culture. Much more than is sometimes acknowledged, anger is a complicated emotion that is able to register some of the complexity of history. Angry people are often self-divided, pulled in different directions by historical forces of which they may have only a dim understanding. Perhaps as much as anyone, angry people reflect the stresses and strains of historical change, of shifting conceptions of justice, of temporary injustices, of new interests struggling to assert themselves, of old interests threatened by the new. Hence, their psychological condition serves as an index to political conditions….

Anger responds to perceived injustice, but the question of its own justice consistently raises controversy. Critics of anger have always been particularly troubled by the one-sidedness of its judgment. For example, one of the main criticisms leveled against the angry person in the most influential classical work on anger, Seneca's De Ira, is that he leaps to a conclusion and, once there, closes himself to further questioning. Such an action, Seneca stresses, is contrary to reason, which follows the procedures of the argumentum in utramque partem: "Reason grants a hearing to both sides [utrique parti tempus dat], then seeks to postpone action, even its own, in order that it may gain time to sift out the truth; but anger is precipitate [festinat]. Reason wishes the decision that it gives to be just; anger wishes to have the decision which it has given seem the just decision." The just person desires to punish because punishment is just, not because he is angry; but the angry person desires punishment for its own sake, because it is pleasurable. He is therefore tempted to act as both plaintiff and judge. If we wish to resist the temptations of anger, Seneca counsels, "we should plead the cause of the absent person against ourselves" (2.22.2-4), and above all we should force its rash judgment to observe the due process of reason and justice:

require a witness to prove the claim, the witness would have no weight except on oath, you would grant to both parties the right of process, you would allow them time, you would give more than one hearing; for the oftener you come to close quarters with the truth, the more it becomes manifest. Do you condemn a friend on the spot? Will you be angry with him before you hear his side, before you question him, before he has a chance to know either his accuser or the charge? What, have you already heard what is to be said on both sides [utrimque]?

Anger, then, requires a premature belief that one is in possession of the truth and a determination both to act upon that belief and to protect it from further questioning. True justice, in contrast, needs to follow rational standards of evidence and fairness, and consequently requires the law's delay.

Seneca's charges of rash judgment and defensiveness are echoed by Renaissance moralists. Pierre de la Primaudaye, for example, voices the conventional belief that "choler hindereth and troubleth [reason] … in such sort, that an angrie man can not deliberate." He also suggests the angry man's imperviousness to outside influence when he compares him to a man burning in his own house, his soul so full of "trouble, chaffing, and noyse, that heneither seeth nor heareth any thing that would profit him." Pierre Charron provides a more probing examination of the connection of rashness and defensiveness:

Choler first enforceth us to injustice, for it is kindled and sharpned by a just opposition, and by knowledge that a man hath of the little reason hee hath to bee angry. Hee that is moved to anger upon a false occasion, if a man yeeld him any good reason why hee should not be angry, hee is presently more incensed even against the truth and innocensie it selfe…. The iniquity of anger doth make us more stubborne, as if it were an argument and proofe of just anger, to bee grievously angry.

Charron makes an important point here. Not only is anger defensive, but it is persuasive, swaying others by the force of its conviction. Charron continues: "The injustice thereof is likewise in this, that it will be both a Judge and a party, that it will that all take part with it, and growes to defiance with as many as will seeme to contradict it." As a criticism like Charron's illustrates, the need to persuade, to perform conviction, also calls into question the legitimacy of anger's privilege: so one-sided a judgment may be false. Like Seneca, de la Primaudaye and Charron recognize in anger a double desire to act as a one-person legal system and to shield that questionable private system from public questioning by persuasive assertion.

These writers oppose anger to a rhetorical justice, criticizing its antirhetorical character. But in the satires and revenge tragedies written in the quarter-century between roughly 1586 and 1611, anger is rarely portrayed as an alternative to consensual reason. Rather, the context in which anger appears is usually a world governed by a demonstrably corrupt ruling elite. Anger's privilege usually opposes some form of governing prerogative, and anger becomes enmeshed in fundamental conflicts of authority….

[We] face a choice between the antirhetorical justice of anger and the justice, itself antirhetorical, of an oppressive government. Can anger claim the moral high ground in such a situation, or is it, like Greville's peace, indistinguishable from the public order that surrounds it? This is not easily answered. One contemporary view held that there was no justification for anger, which was a form of disobedience. For example, Fletcher makes the opposition between anger and obedience extremely clear in Valentinian. Aecius, though a plain-speaking counselor who tells Valentinian unpleasant truths, refuses to exceed his right to give true counsel. He agreeswith Maximus that Valentinian's crimes "would aske a Reformation," but reminds him that as subjects "obedience / To what is done, and griefe for what is ill done, / Is all we can call ours." We must not "Like desperate and unseason'd fooles let fly / Our killing angers, and forsake our honors." Aecius will join Maximus in "faire allegiance,"

But not in force: For durst mine own soule urge me …
To turn my hand from truth, which is obedience,
And give the helme my vertue holds, to Anger, …
That daring soule, that first taught disobedience,
Should feele the first example.

Aecius unconditionally supports degree and order: his life belongs to those above him, just as the soldiers under his command grant his "great Prerogative" to kill them (2.3.21). However evil he may know the emperor to be, he steadfastly believes that disobedience would bring disaster and that only God may justly punish him (3.3.151-63).

But as there were various justifications for disobedience, so were there a number of perspectives that offered more favorable views of anger. There was, first of all, the Herculean tradition, which considered anger a part of the aggressive, warrior spirit. This tradition found support in classical epic, Senecan tragedy, and, at least as far back as Seneca's De Ira, the belief that anger was praised by Aristotle, whom Seneca quotes to this effect: "Anger … is necessary, and no battle can be won without it—unless it fills the mind and fires the soul" (1.9.2). Second, many, particularly among the aristocracy, still cherished the principle of legal revenge. As Fredson Bowers long ago pointed out [in Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy], Anglo-Saxon freemen enjoyed the privilege of private warfare, and until the end of the fifteenth century it was still customary for suffers of private wrongs and their survivors to appeal to the king for the right to seek the "direct revenge of judicial combat." "In spite of the fact that justice was the sole prerogative of the Elizabethan state," Bowers continues, "with any encroachment on its newly won privilege liable to severe punishment, the spirit of revenge has scarcely declined in Elizabethan times." Finally, there is the Juvenalian Elizabethan times." Finally, there is the Juvenalian satirical tradition of saeva indignatio, legitimated for a Christian culture by the Thomistic ira per zelum. In all of these traditions anger enjoys a special status, a suggestion of divine sanction like that we have seen attaching to conscience. The possibility that anger may be divinely inspired can never be discounted during this period: Hamlet is not alone when he is led by the consequences of his rashness to reflect that "There's a divinity that shapes our ends" (5.2.10).

But the problem of anger is more than legal: it extends as well to the question anger raises about the psyche of the angry person himself. This is most visible as a concern about sanity. Because anger threatens the ideal of stoic content or Christian peace that is also central to plainness, angry people are often assumed to be mad, their reason overwhelmed by their passion. Far from enjoying the "quintessence of passions overthrown" that Greville sees in peace, the angry person is passion's slave, a fact emphasized by anger's opponents. Seneca, for example, writes that anger is

the most hideous and frenzied of all emotions. For the other emotions have in them some element of peace and calm, while this one is wholly violent and has its being in an onrush of resentment, raging with a most inhuman lust for weapons, blood, and punishment, giving no thought to itself if only it can hurt another, hurling itself upon the very point of the dagger, and eager for revenge though it may drag down the avenger along with it. Certain wise men, therefore, have claimed that anger is temporary madness (brevem insaniam). (1.1.1)

This definition (generally with furor in place of insanid) became standard in the Renaissance.

The angry person is also caught between justifications of his passion as "noble fury" or "divine rage" and condemnations of it as "beastly." He feels both in himself, since he inevitably cherishes order as well as the justice he seeks. In the case of the revenger, his conflicting views of himself—as superhuman and subhuman—sometimes lead to talk of confusion, which is a more precise term here than madness. For example, Claudius asks why Hamlet "puts on this confusion, / Grating so harshly all his days of quiet / With turbulent and dangerous lunacy" (3.1.1-4). Hamlet is "turbulent," like an unruly crowd lacking both peace and order: as in Greville, confusion denotes the presence of conflicting voices and the absence of certainty. In The Atheist's Tragedy Charlemont, too, is confused when his father's ghost appears to him and, when the imperative to avenge his death becomes clear, is tortured "between the passion of / My blood and the religion of my soul." The revenger doesn't know whether he is a rebel or a just scourge. Hamlet is a mystery to himself, not just to others. Hisconfusion signifies self-division: like Charlemont, or like Maximus in Valentinian, he is divided between anger and patience (Val. 3.3.90-101), the imperatives of private justice and public order, and he becomes a stranger to himself (Val. 3.3.128-34).

The question of madness, then, repeats the question of justice at the individual level. Like Greville's peace and order, anger and patient obedience are inseparable, but they are also opposed, the opposition being that between an antirhetorical truth known privately and an antirhetorical truth known publicly. The angry person inhabits a space between incompatible roles that yet depend on each other. Complete identification with either one would lead to self-destruction, and does. His madness or confusion reflects the stalemate between public and private authorities, his doomed attempt to forge a middle ground. The psychology and politics of anger are one….

Anger is part of a plainness that yearns for "trouth," even if it finds only truth. To put it another way, Hieronimo as revenger and Ralegh as satirist substitute anger's privilege for public justice reluctantly and believe, at least partly, that in the long run their actions will be supported by the community they still hope to serve. Their plainness can therefore be called moral even though it fails to find a satisfactory moral solution. But when their verbal and physical violence is considered, a case can also be made that they are no better than the corruption they oppose. For such is the ambiguity fundamental to anger's privilege: the conviction on which anger is based may be true, but the manner in which that anger is performed makes the truth as mysterious as it does plain. And there is nothing in the definition of plainness that requires it to be moral. On the contrary, the lack of a moral and rational guarantee is an essential part of the phenomenon. As Braden notes of the stoic precedents, the thymos asserts itself, the hegemonicon rules, and that is all their names mean. The mysterious nature of angry plainness in "The Lie" and The Spanish Tragedy—the uncertain public status of the private conviction that supports it—finally emphasizes the uncertainty of conviction as an ethical criterion. By doing so it suggests the possibility of a skeptical response to the conflict anger signals between antirhetorical authorities. Such a response is illustrated in John Marston's mature satire and early drama, where a relatively low degree of moral concern gives rise to a sometimes whimsical anger and a skeptical emphasis on performance as an end in itself.

Marston claims plainness for The Scourge of Villanie in a context that suggests a rhetorical outlook something like Gascoigne's. In his prefatory letter, "To those that seeme judiciall perusers," Marston quarrels with those who prefer their satire obscure:

Know I hate to affect too much obscuritie, & vices, so that no man can understand them, is as fonde, as the French execution in picture. Yet there are some, (too many) that think nothing good, that is so curteous, as to come within their reach. Tearming all Satyres (bastard) which are not palpable darke, and so rough writ, that the hearing of them read, would set a mans teeth on edge.

Marston mildly censures Persius and Juvenal for being, respectively, "crabby" and "gloomie." Near the end of the letter he mentions plainness in the same context of obscurity and harshness: "I cannot, nay I will not delude your sight with mists; yet I dare defend my plainnes gainst the verivyce face, of the crabbed'st Satyrist that ever stuttered." In this context, "plainnes" suggests the classical plain style of the ancient satirist not censured by Marston—Horace. To readers around the turn of the century, and especially to those who valued him as a model, most notably Ben Jonson and his circle, Horace stood for an urbane, conversational style notable for its familiarity and easy self-revelation. Horace thus offered an alternative to the blunt plainness of anger and stoic withdrawal. As Raman Selden observes [in English Verse Satire, 1590-1765, 1978], "Horace is the master of dialectical reasoning, preferring the interplay of dialogue and the exploration of nuances to the crudeness of blunt assertion and the absolute judgements of the Stoics." In objecting to obscurity and harshness, then, Marston seems to be rejecting the anger and withdrawal of private plainness.

However, Marston's attitude in The Scourge of Villanie has much less in common with Horace's than with Ralegh's or, for that matter, with Juvenal's, which displays an apparently uneasy blend of passionless Stoic withdrawal and furious indignation. Marston's two prefatory poems represent this attitude better than does his prefatory letter. In "To Detraction I present my Poesie, " Marston assumes a hostile stance toward those who would find fault with his poetry. There is no possibility of dialogue with such detractors, for they have only "Opinion" on their side, while Marston has "True judgement" on his (17). Instead, Marston emphasizes his scorn for the opinions of critics and proclaims his superiority to them: "Spight of despight, and rancors villanie, / I am my selfe, so is my poesie" (23-24). These lines end the poem with the stoic idealof a self known fully to itself and unaffected by the uncomprehending world around it. The poem, though, leaves us wondering why the stoical Marston chooses to "expose" the "issue of [his] braine" in the first place (4-5).

The second prefatory poem attempts to answer this question and in so doing emphasizes the importance of anger in Marston's satirical project. Marston imagines a public that includes "mechanick slave[s]"; fashionmongers; stupid law students, who tear satire's rhymes, "quite altering the sence"; and "perfum'd Castilio," who cannot hope to understand "sharpe-fang'd poesie" because he "Nere in his life did other language use, / But, Sweete Lady, faire Mistres, kind hart, deare couse" (1-20). All these readers lack the ability to appreciate Marston's satire—it is anything but plain to them. So, Marston asks, will satire go among them and suffer indignity? It will, satire answers, and, after welcoming the crowd to feast on it, indirectly reveals why: "Welcome I-fayth, but may you nere depart, / Till I have made your gauled hides to smart" (35-36). Here Marston suggests that, whatever may be misunderstood by parts of his audience, they will most certainly understand his fury. Thus Marston embraces the privileged dynamic of anger and withdrawal that defines the satire of "The Lie." The satirist is separate from the world, and speaks a different language from it. The world is corrupt, but the satirist is honest and just. He exposes himself to the world to the extent that he lets it feel his anger, but the measure of his withdrawal is the uncomprehending response he expects:

Nay then come all, I prostitute my Muse,
For all the swarme of Idiots to abuse.
Reade all, view all, even with my full consent,
So you will know that which I never meant;
So you will nere conceive, and yet dispraise,
That which you nere conceiv'd, & laughter raise:
Where I but strive in honest seriousnes,
To scourge some soule-poluting beastliness.

Marston, then, works with an understanding of the privilege, the "honest seriousnes" or "sacred parentage" ("To Detraction," 12), that allows both an involvement with and a separation from the audience, both a rejection of stoic content in favor of the satirist's rage (see Satyre 2) and an embracing of stoic absoluteness.

There is, however, a question about how far Marston's "honest seriousnes" extends. A host of twentieth-century detractors, including C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, A. J. Axelrad, and John Peter, have accused Marston of insincerity and philosophical impurity. Others, such as Arnold Davenport, Anthony Caputi, and R. C. Home, have defended Marston's sincere intention and ideological consistency. Still others have taken a third approach that sees in Marston a rhetorical ambivalence and a willingness to explore. Caputi, for example, while defending Marston's ideas [in John Marston, Satirist, 1961], is more interested in studying "his work as a continuous experiment in satiricomic forms," and R. A. Foakes writes [Marston and Tourneur, 1978] that "Marston was perhaps uncertain of his own criteria, or at any rate had an ambivalent attitude toward the stances he enacted, so that his satires are neither wholly serious, nor wholly fooling, written with a harsh force that at times seems to embody an extremity of passion, yet disclaimed at the outset in his address to the reader." Foakes also suggests that "Marston's satires perhaps provide above all a sense of exploring" the malcontent type. This third line moves toward the argument I wish to make: that Marston's work shows us a plainness largely free from the values of "trouth," and thus able to question all values, even its own. The result is an attitude sometimes skeptical, sometimes comic, but still governed by the anger that can perform its discontents well enough to earn its privilege.

Marston himself calls into question the value of plain virtue in Satire 5. The satirist argues that virtue is not rewarded in the present age; rather, force and guile triumph:

Sleight, Force, are mighty things,
From which, much, (if not most) earths glory springs.
If Vertues self, were clad in humane shape,
Vertue without these, might goe beg and scrape.
The naked truth is, a well clothed lie,
A nimble quick-pate mounts to dignitie.
By force, or fraude, that matters not a jot,
So massie wealth may fall unto thy lot.

The satire is of course critical of this state of affairs, but Marston leaves some doubt about exactly how he intends to proceed in the circumstances. For example, after fifteen lines he replies to an anticipated complaint about his "Harsh lines":

Rude limping lines fits this leud halting age,
Sweet senting Curus, pardon then my rage,
When wisards sweare plaine vertue never thrives,
None but Priapus by plaine dealing wives.

Are "Rude limping lines" the same as "plaine dealing," and is rage consistent with "plaine vertue"? If not, then Marston is saying that he has abandoned plain virtue and plain dealing in order to have some effect on the world through the force of rage and rude lines. If so, how can we reconcile the profession of plain virtue with the lewd play on the idea that "it is a precious jewel to be plain," a favorite joke of Marston's to which he returns later in the same satire? Either way, Marston seems less than fully committed to plain virtue and his own "plainnes."

It is not that Marston has lost the ability to speak the language of "trouth." For example:

Would truth did know I lyde, but truth, and I,
Doe know that fence [i.e., a ward] is borne to miserie.

What, shall law, nature, vertue, be rejected,
Shall these world Arteries be soule infected,
With corrupt blood?

Or one might quote from the longer philosophical passages favored by Marston's apologists. It is rather that he doesn't appear to want to do so exclusively…. Marston prefers instead to speak a language full of obscure allusions, invented vocabulary, abrupt changes of direction, and loose and contorted syntax. Marston's satirical language, far from being corrective or even directed in its rage, seems instead to be controlled only by the author's capricious wit, which in its playfulness is capable of imbuing even ostensibly serious passages with a comic feel. For example:

Civill Socrates,
Clip not the youth of Alcebiades
With unchast armes. Disguised Messaline,
I'le teare thy maske, and bare thee to the eyne
Of hissing boyes, if to the Theaters
I finde thee once more come for lecherers[.]
To satiate? Nay, to tyer thee with the use
Of weakning lust. Yee fainers, leave t'abuse
Our better thoughts with your hipocrisie,
Or by the ever-living Veritie,
I'le stryp you nak'd, and whyp you with my rimes,
Causing your shame to live to after times.

There is a sense of exaggeration and posturing in the passage that is characteristic of The Scourge of Villanie. And although the stripping recalls a line early in the satire, "Come downe yee Apes, or I will strip you quite" (II), and hence the satire's motto, "Here's a toy to mocke an Ape indeede," there is more to the humor than mockery. The "hissing boyes," the parallel bold threats, "I'le teare thy maske" and "I'le stryp you naked," the mouth-filling, Latinate oath, and the rhyming insistence on stripping and whipping all contribute to a comic undertone that laughs not only at the explicit targets but also at the attitude that would confront them with unrelieved seriousness. For in Marston, the convictions of plainness are subject to doubt, skeptical awareness, and comic perspective.

It is this mixture of the rage and withdrawal of plainness with a comic self-consciousness that suggests that the final couplet of Satire II applies to more than just that satire's explicit humorousness: "Here ends my rage, though angry brow was bent, / Yet I have sung in sporting merriment" (239-40). It is this mixture, moreover, that leads to the self-portrait with which Marston begins the "Satyra Nova" that he added to the 1599 edition as Satire 10:

From out the sadnes of my discontent,
Hating my wonted jocund merriment,
(Onely to give dull Time a swifter wing)
Thus scorning scorne of Ideot fooles, I sing.
I dread no bending of an angry brow,
Or rage of fooles that I shall purchase now.
Who'le scorne to sitte in ranke of foolery
When I'le be maister of the company?
For pre-thee Ned, I pre-thee gentle lad,
Is not he frantique, foolish, bedlam mad,
That wastes his spright, that melts his very braine
In deepe designes, in wits darke gloomie straine?
That scourgeth great slaves with a dreadlesse fist,
Playing the rough part of a Satyrist,
To be perus'd by all the dung-scum rable
Of thin-braind Ideots, dull, uncapable?

Though Marston sounds a note of disillusionment here, it is difficult to believe, particularly when savoring the energetic rhythm of the last eight lines, that he regrets his "mad" behavior: he has been consciously playing a part and has enjoyed it, just as he is now enjoying playing the part of the man made wiser by the foolishness of his youth. His "wonted jocund merriment" underlies both postures, enticing us "to sitte in ranke of foolery." It tells us that life is a game, and what matters most is to play it with such skill that others will believe you know the rules.

The Scourge of Villanie in this way reveals Marston's desire to be "maister of the company." He claims a privilege, but not a privilege that serves his conviction in the usual sense. One might say instead that Marston's conviction is that he has a privilege to perform. His performance—as we have seen, largely an angry one—functions like Ralegh's or Wyatt's to persuade us, but because Marston comically undercuts even his own anger, the performance protects his inner self more successfully than Ralegh's pure anger. Much like the author of "I Am as I Am," Marston taunts us with his mystery; he seems to say, "You don't know what I am, but here I am assaulting your senses, forcing myself upon you—or is it me, or just a part I'm playing?" Mystery thus gives way to mastery, a skillful performance that aims to persuade us, not that "trouth" is on the writer's side, but that the writer is so talented and clever that he deserves the freedom to say whatever he likes, even though we are unable to understand or judge him in our own terms. If Marston's satire succeeds, then—and clearly it does not succeed with most twentieth-century readers—it succeeds by persuading us by the virtuosity of its performance that it deserves the privilege to perform freely whatever roles it chooses.

Marston continues to interrogate plainness in the Antonio plays. Probably because it is easier to separate Marston the playwright from his characters than it is to separate Marston the poet from his satirist, W. Kinsayder, and perhaps because the criticism of drama is still generally more aware of the role-playing inherent in rhetorical address than is the criticism of poetry, critical opinion has more easily come to terms with the parodic and metatheatrical aspects of these plays than with the corresponding aspects of the satires. Indeed, some recent critics have moved beyond the study of parody to ask how earnest emotion still manages to sneak into the plays. It is my contention that Marston's skeptical investigation of withdrawal and anger leads him todiscover the potential of improvisational performance to satisfy emotional needs—particularly those of anger—regardless of moral scruples. In Antonio and Mellida it seems that this discovery entails a rejection of plainness, but in Antonio's Revenge. Antonio uses the same discovery to gain partial control of his amoral desire for revenge and to forge a plainness that is less principled but more aware of its own performance than Hieronimo's.

Antonio and Mellida builds a comic denouement on the tragic potential of the revenging rage and stoic withdrawal of plainness. Both Piero and Andrugio are carefully established as would-be revengers, and our knowledge that Andrugio and Antonio are the chief protagonists raises expectations of a bloody death for Piero. But in the end there is no violent revenge; instead, the two parties are reconciled, their vows of revenge forgotten.

This comic deflation of anger is furthered by several overtly comic scenes. At the beginning of the second act, for example, Marston burlesques the anger tradition when Dildo persuades Catzo to share a capon:

Dil. My stomach's up.

Cat. I think thou art hungry.

Dil. The match of fury is lighted, fastened to the linstock of rage, and will presently set fire to the touchhole of intemperance, discharging the double culverin of my incensement in the face of thy opprobrious speech.

Cat. I'll stop the barrel thus [gives him food]; good Dildo, set not fire to the touchhole.

Dil. My rage is stopp'd, and I will eat to the health of the fool thy master, Castilio.

Elsewhere, Marston turns the tradition of the epileptic Herculean warrior into the occasion for a ribald double entendre arising from Antonio's disguise:

Anto. O how impatience cramps my cracked veins,
And cruddles thick my blood with boiling rage.
O eyes, why leap you not like thunderbolts
Or cannon bullets in my rivals' face?
Ohime infelice misera, ï lamentevol fato.
[Falls on the ground.]

Alter. What means the lady fall upon the ground?

Ross. Belike the falling sickness.


Here even Antonio's speech is a parody. A playgoer seeking serious anger with serious consequences would be very disappointed with Antonio and Mellida.

So too would the playgoer in search of a consistent example of stoic withdrawal. The most likely example is the plainspeaking Feliche, a sometime satirist who proclaims his devotion to stoic content and his freedom from envy in a soliloquy notable for its invocations of satire and plain truth. But shortly after Feliche declares himself free from envy, Castillo's boasting throws him into an envious rant (3.2.1-89). Very much the same comedy is played out between Andrugio and his servant, Lucio. Andrugio claims in a ringing speech to be content with his new state, but with one word Lucio bursts his delusion:

Luc. My lord, the Genoese had wont to say—

And. Name not the Genoese; that very word Unkings me quite, makes me vile passion's slave.


Again, the ideal of self-sufficient content is strongly articulated only to be exposed as a lie.

Marston continues to subject the privileged, stoic self to radical scrutiny by denying plainness the tragic seriousness it requires for fulfillment. The pattern of expectation and denial lasts into the final scene, where Andrugio urges Piero to murder him. But Piero does not strike. Similarly, the "tragic spectacle" that Piero then sees is not the "breathless trunk of young Antonio" (5.2.73-75), but Antonio vivens. This pattern is complemented by references in the play to the comedy that the characters feel they are in (e.g., 5.1.66; 5.2.50). The general sense of playacting is increased by the discussion of the actors' roles in the induction, as well as by the difficulty the characters have taking each other seriously. Rossaline, for instance, says of her many suitors that "I love all of them lightly for something, but affect none of them seriously for anything" (5.2.53-55). Hence, Andrugio's declaration that

is less convincing than Antonio's skepticism:

And. Art thou Antonio?

Ant. I think I am.

And. Dost thou but think? What, dost not know thyself?

Ant. He is a fool that thinks he knows himself.


When behavior and identity are so subject to questioning, and especially when characters so often find their sense of certainty one moment compromised by their actions the next, the conviction of plainness disappears as a viable alternative.

The challenge to plainness seems to make the play a rejection of stoic absoluteness in favor of "confusion," of immersion in a varying, uncertain world. Confusion is mentioned several times in the play as a horror feared by those seeking content, as, for example, when Andrugio refers to the "confused din" of the "multitudes" (4.1.51-52). Feliche appeals to the same fear when he tells Piero, who has been playing the Herculean warrior, that "Confusion's train blows up this Babel pride" (1.1.58). Here, however, because Feliche is criticizing the absolute self by equating it with pride, the suggestion is that confusion, God's punishment, may act as an agent of good. And Piero's evil purpose is thwarted by a sort of confusion, the linguistic trick Andrugio and Antonio play with the spirit and letter of Piero's decree by bringing their own heads before him. But confusion reigns supreme when the newly reunited Antonio and Mellida break into Italian, leading the Page to remark: "I think confusion of Babel is fall'n upon these lovers, that they change their language" (4.1.219-20). It is an odd moment: throughout the play, one searches in vain for a moment of pure feeling not comically undercut. The love of the title characters is the most important emotion to stand the test of time, and when they finally come to express it, they change languages, as if to show that their virtuosity as performers who can adjust to the moment proves their love's truth. The scene bears comparison with Hieronimo's "confusion" in The Spanish Tragedy. While Hieronimo's confusion served his anger, Antonio and Mellida's serves their love; while Hieronimo's confusion was entered unwillingly as a necessary evil by the revenger, Antonio and Mellida's is embraced without necessity by the lovers; while Hieronimo's confusion failed to break down the barriers to understanding, Antonio and Mellida's is perhaps the most sincere communication of feeling in the play. Plainness seems a long way off.

Until we realize, that is, that the confusion of Antonio and Mellida's love both proclaims their mastery and protects their mystery. It may be love, but it is unfathomable and unanswerable to the ordinary observer—we may know Italian, but can we know any more of Antonio and Mellida than their mysterious performance reveals? Hence the lovers' flexibility and improvisational skill appear to be an alternative to the plain, stoic self only because we are accustomed to thinking of stoic selves as constant. So they are—in their desire. Antonio and Mellida are as constant in their love as Ralegh is in his anger. But a constant desire may prove very flexible in its expression, and it is consequently the potential of improvisational performance to give mysterious expression to selves, plain or otherwise, that Antonio and Mellida finally suggests.

In doing so, however, Antonio and Mellida temporarily abandons anger, so it is left to the sequel to retrieve it. In Antonio's Revenge, anger and with drawal are initially suspect, but by the end of the play anger has come to fruition in Antonio's masterful performance. The play initially offers us two contrasting responses to tragic loss and two very different perspectives on the utility of angry performance. Pandulpho, first of all, accepts the death of his son Feliche with stoic calm, rejecting anger as a false performance issuing from an ignorant madness:

Wouldst have me cry, run raving up and down
For my son's loss? Wouldst have me turn rank mad,
Or wring my face with mimic action,
Stamp, curse, weep, rage, and then my bosom strike?
Away, 'tis apish action, play-like.
If he is guiltless, why should tears be spent?
Thrice blessed soul that dieth innocent.

However, the triteness of this last couplet foreshadows Pandulpho's eventual realization that his content, too, is an act:

Man will break out, despite philosophy.
Why, all this while I ha' but played a part,
Like to some boy that acts a tragedy,
Speaks burly words and raves out passion;
But when he thinks upon his infant weakness,
He droops his eye. I spake more than a god,
Yet am less than a man.
I am the miserablest soul that breathes.

Pandulpho's experience, then, seems to agree with the suggestion in Antonio and Mellida that anger and content are only roles that fail to touch the core of the self.

Yet the possibility remains that it is not plainness itself, but plainness in Pandulpho's hands, that is the problem. For Pandulpho, performance entails an insincerity from which he has difficulty escaping. For instance, even after he has proclaimed his woe and decided to join in league with Antonio to seek Piero's death, Pandulpho continues to spout Senecan clichés:

Death, exile, plaints and woe,
Are but man's lackeys, not his foe.
No mortal 'scapes from fortune's war
Without a wound, at least a scar.
Many have led these to the grave,
But all shall follow, none shall save.
Blood of my youth, rot and consume;
Virtue, in dirt, doth life assume.
With this old saw close up this dust:
Thrice blessed man that dieth just.

Conventional forms of expression seem limited to lifeless old saws for Pandulpho, and even when he joins wholeheartedly in the plot for revenge he remains essentially a follower. Performance in his hands seems to hamper the conviction of plainness.

Viewed in this light, Pandulpho offers a very interesting comparison with Antonio, whose initial response to the death of his father and dishonoring of his financée is the opposite of Pandulpho's. He argues that content is an unsatisfying response to such loss, and he proclaims his woe:

Alb. Sweet prince, be patient.

Ant. 'Slid, sir, I will not, in despite of thee. Patience is slave to fools, a chain that's fixed Only to posts and senseless log-like dolts.

Alb. Tis reason's glory to command affects.

Ant. Lies thy cold father dead, his glossed eyes New closed up by thy sad mother's hands? Hast thou a love as spotless as the brow Of clearest heaven, blurred with false defames?

Alb. Take comfort.

Ant. Confusion to all comfort! I defy it…. O, now my fate is more than I could fear, My woes more weighty than my soul can bear.


The core of Antonio's argument is that content's claim to control or "command" one's feeling of wellbeing is a false one. Instead Antonio finds his happiness subject to his fate, the "comfort" of his internal order lost to the discontent caused by the "Confusion" of the world outside. To be so controlled, he argues later, is a mark of heroic stature: "Pigmy cares / Can shelter under patience' shield, but giant griefs / Will burst all covert" (2.5.4-6). Only a "dank, marish spirit" would not be "fired with impatience" (55-56) at Antonio's misfortunes; "Let none out-woe me," he concludes, "mine's Herculean woe" (133). With this spirited response, so different from Pandulpho's tentative stoicism, Antonio turns the discontent of woe into a Herculean virtue.

When the visit of Andrugio's Ghost turns the discontent of woe into the discontent of anger, Antonio approaches his new role with equal zeal. Before, he said his "pined heart shall eat on naught but woe" (2.3.8); now he vows to "suck red vengeance / Out of Piero's wounds" (3.2.78-79). His mother, already afraid that he was "stark mad" (2.4.10) in his woe, now finds that he seems "distraught," and pleads with him to "appease / [his] mutining affections" (3.2.23-24). But Antonio continues to embrace the confusion of the emotions that control him and of the world that controls his emotions, and is consequently led to the murder of the innocent Julio. Unable to distinguish the good from the bad, the son from the father, Antonio murders both indiscriminately:

O that I knew which joint, which side, which limb
Were father all, and had no mother in't,
That I might rip it vein by vein and carve revenge
In bleeding rases! But since 'tis mixed together,
Have at adventure, pell-mell, no reverse.

Antonio at this point views his emotion as self-validating: its intensity licenses anything it leads him to. What he fails to see is that by letting his anger control him he is letting Piero, who caused his anger, control him. To be "mixed together" is to be confused, and "pell-mell" is synonymous with confusion: Piero, for instance, exclaims, "Pell mell! Confusion and black murder guides / The organs of my spirit" (2.5.47-48). Uncontrolled confusion, which is to say complete submission to the historical performances surrounding us, is a type of insanity.

While Antonio's uncontrollable anger is thus uncompromised by the conventions of anger, he, too, has a lesson to learn. In contrast to Pandulpho, who comes to see his stoicism as too controlled and theatrical, Antonio eventually realizes that his almost unbearably authentic response to Piero's treachery is self-defeating. In the final speech of act 3, the Ghost tells him to disguise himself, and when Antonio reappears in act 4 he eloquently explains the advantages of dressing one's self as a fool. A fool, he explains, has "a patent of immunities, / Confirmed by custom, sealed by policy, / As large as spacious thought" (4.1.13-15). Antonio also explains that he envies the fool the unshakable content caused by his insensibility to misfortunes such as Antonio's:

Had heaven been kind,
Creating me an honest, senseless dolt,
A good, poor fool, I should not want sense to feel
The stings of anguish shoot through every vein;
I should not know what 'twere to lose a father;
I should be dead of sense to view defame
Blur my bright love; I could not thus run mad
As one confounded in a maze of mischief
Staggered, stark felled with bruising stroke of chance.

This reflection on the fool's lot brings Antonio to the realization that his madness and confusion do not assist his revenge, and he therefore resolves to restrain his anger with foolish content (66-68). He is not renouncing the confusion of anger, but, like Hieronimo, claiming control of it, the ability to use it as his plan requires: "Let's think a plot; then pellmell vengeance!" (4.5.95). The plot demands skilful acting in his fool's costume and in the masque; but the freedom gained by these performances puts Antonio in the position where he can unleash his fury. "Now," he says, "grim fire-eyed rage / Possess us wholly" (5.5.58-60). "Now, pell-mell" (76). Claiming the fool's privilege of free performance has helped him uphold anger's privilege.

Antonio's discovery of the private utility of performance is underscored in the last act by the presence and comments of the Ghost of Andrugio, who becomes a Kydian audience: "Here will I sit, spectator of revenge, / And glad my ghost in anguish of my foe" (5.5.22-23). This reminder of The Spanish Tragedy can be misleading, however, for the status of performance in the two plays is very different. Hieronimo uses performance as a way to achieve the revenge that he is convinced is right. His concern throughout is with justice, even after he loses his trust in public justice, and his long speech after the performance is intended to justify his actions to the public. In contrast, Antonio never cries for justice and seems equally disinterested in legal and moral issues. For example, when his decision to disguise himself as a fool is met with opposition from Alberto and Maria, who argue that "such feigning, known, disgraceth much" (4.1.29), Antonio responds in a very un-Hieronimo-like way, paying tribute to Machiavelli and proclaiming his own moral relativism or even nihilism:

Why, by the genius of that Florentine,
Deep, deep-observing, sound-brained Machiavel,
He is not wise that strives not to seem fool….
Pish! Most things that morally adhere to souls
Wholly exist in drunk opinion,
Whose reeling censure, if I value not,
It values nought.

This is a plainness without the moral concerns of "trouth."

Jonathan Dollimore has argued [in Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 1984] that Antonio's Revenge dramatizes asubculture of revenge that is able to reintegrate the individual revengers into the community damaged by Piero's tyranny, but this strikes me as too optimistic. Antonio's concern at the end of the play is less with restoring a just community than with realizing his self-image through performance. Far from feeling justified when the senators excuse him, Antonio is "amazed" (5.6.28). To the senators and Galeatzo, Antonio is a "poor orphan" (19) and a "Hercules" who has rid the state of "huge pollution" (12-13); but Antonio sees himself as a Hercules in woe and a master revenger who stands "triumphant over Belzebub" (21) because he has fulfilled Atreus's sententia, quoted earlier by Adrugio's Ghost—"Scel era non ulcisceris, nisi vincis" (3.1.51): "Crimes thou dost not avenge, save as thou dost surpass them." His performance has not been aimed at seeing justice done, but at bringing this self-image to fruition. In the final speech of the play, then, Antonio is able to view his recent history as a singularly woeful revenge tragedy:

Sound doleful tunes, a solemn hymn advance,
To close the last act of my vengeance;
And when the subject of your passion's spent,
Sing 'Mellida is dead', all hearts will relent
In sad condolement at that heavy sound;
Never more woe in lesser plot was found.

And he can look forward to the day when his story will grace the stage as a "black tragedy" (63). Instead of viewing performance as a means to an end, then, Antonio sees it as an end in itself, as a choice of ways of being. Whereas Hieronimo's final concern was justice, Antonio's is to write his own part in the performance of discontent.

More consistently than Greville, Marston follows through the logic of a plainness emancipated from the communal concerns of "trouth." Private plainness always walks a line between responsibility to community and freedom from ordinary moral judgment. This is the nature of the privilege of "I Am as I Am," of Greville's peace, and of anger. Kyd shows in Hieronimo the vengeful anger that enforces the penalties determined by private judgment; but because Hieronimo wishes his anger to be publicly justifiable, his anger remains primarily moral. Ralegh strains against the bounds of this moral anger in "The Lie," but remains within them. It is left to Marston to push plainness past the constraints of morality and into an amoral sphere where the privilege earned by performance finally exists only for the sake of private conviction. Conviction is nowfree from the responsibility to correspond to any order, divine or human; it is a belief only in the primacy of self, a primacy extending to the self's command of forms. Marston not only transforms anger, he transforms the performance of conviction by releasing it from the responsibility of reflecting a prior reality: Antonio's plainness is autotelic, a product of his mysterious mastery. Instead of asking if their convictions are true, then, the heroes of Marston's early work might ask, as Malevole does, "What, play I well the free-breath'd discontent?"