Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

John Marston’s satiric bent is apparent in his first publications: The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image and Certaine Satyres (1598) and The Scourge of Villanie (1598). Indeed, the Pigmalion poem, ostensibly in the Ovidian amatory mode fashionable in the 1590’s, is most interesting and effective as a satiric commentary on the very tradition that it purports to embrace. Underlying the familiar romantic paradigm of the sculptor’s infatuation with his creation is the portrayal of an artist beset by what Marston calls a “fond dotage,” a form of insanity. Pigmalion’s inability to separate shade from substance is an obvious target for the unremitting satire that informs nearly all of Marston’s work. Moreover, the poem’s lurching oscillations between the genres of erotic epyllion and verse satire point to the stylistic confusion that mars several of Marston’s plays.

Certaine Satyres and The Scourge of Villanie broaden the field of satire to include an entire world of corruption and decay, of dissolving social ties and religious values. Emotionally forceful, if not always structurally coherent, the satires parade a motley cast of characters representative of the assorted vices and foibles of fallen humanity. This dramatization of moral states, as well as an overriding obsession with sexual depravity and hypocrisy, carries over into Marston’s plays.