John Marston: Provoking the Audience

  • Rebecca Yearling


In T.S. Eliot’s influential 1934 essay on John Marston, he writes of his ‘bewilderment’ at Marston’s Antonio plays:

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 with 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.1


Romantic Love Human Desire Happy Ending Virtuous Leader Moral Ambiguity 
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  1. 1.
    T.S. Eliot, ‘John Marston’, Elizabethan Dramatists (London: Faber and Faber, 1963) pp. 155–6.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
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  3. 5.
    Anthony Caputi, John Marston, Satirist (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1961);Google Scholar
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  6. 6.
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  9. 9.
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  10. 13.
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  11. 14.
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  17. 23.
    Jonathan Dollimore notes how several of the characters in the Antonio plays face a similar dilemma to that of Albano: alienated from their societies, their sense of identity (and with it, their sanity) is threatened. ‘Bereaved, dispossessed, and in peril of their lives, they suffer extreme disorientation and are pushed to the very edge of mental collapse. […] Faced with a dislocated world, individual consciousness itself becomes dislocated’. Dollimore , Radical Tragedy (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1984) pp. 29, 31.Google Scholar
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  22. 42.
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  26. 54.
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  27. 55.
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    See, for example, Scott, who complains that Altofronto is ‘impotent in the face of political expediency and judgment … [His failure to execute Mendoza] is an example of his affectation and self-adulation, and is consequently dangerous’, since Mendoza could continue ‘to more Machiavellian schemes’ in future. Michael Scott, John Marston’s Plays: Theme, Structure and Performance (London: Methuen, 1978) pp. 30–1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 57.
    Jason Lawrence, for example, comments that Scott’s reading (quoted in the previous note) ‘misunderstands the generic implications of the denouement […] Death has no part in Guarinian or Marstonian tragicomedy, where the denouement deliberately denies the tragic ending by preventing death from entering the dramatic world’. Jason Lawrence, ‘Re-make/re-model: Marston’s The Malcontent and Guarinian Tragicomedy’, in Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) p. 166.Google Scholar
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    A similar problem arises with the play’s treatment of English responses to ‘foreignness’. Franceschina is a pan-national character — a Dutch woman whose speech involves a ‘helter-skelter of Germanic, French, Italian, as well as pure English, pronunciation’ (Wine, ‘Introduction’ p. xix, note 15) — and in this she may be seen as representative of the growing cosmopolitanism of early modern London. As Jean Howard notes, in rejecting her, Freevill chooses ‘the purity of a good English marriage’ over the dangerous allure of the foreign. However, we are given an alternative perspective to Freevill’s ‘defensive … Englishness’ in the character of Cocledemoy: the loveable rogue of the subplot. Cocledemoy does not retreat from the foreign; instead, he masters it, showing throughout the play his ability to impersonate those of other nationalities, while always remaining essentially himself. Asarsu, ‘Cocledemoy represents an Englishness dependent upon quick wits, libertine sexuality, and the cosmopolitan ability to observe and master otherness without being destroyed by it’. The play thus offers two different types of Englishness in Freevill and Cocledemoy, with Marston, characteristically, making it difficult if not impossible for us to know which of these might be considered the ideal. See Howard , Theatre of a City: The Places of London Comedy 1598–1642 (Philadelphia PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 2007) pp. 151–7.Google Scholar
  33. 67.
    William M. Hamlin, ‘Common Customers in Marston’s Dutch Courtesan and Florio’s Montaigne,’ Studies in English Literature 52.2 (2012) p. 420.Google Scholar
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    Joel Kaplan, ‘John Marston’s Fawn: A Saturnalian Satire’, Studies in English Literature 9.2 (1969) pp. 347–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Jeremy Lopez, Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 150.Google Scholar
  36. 79.
    Douglas Duncan, ‘Ben Jonson’s Lucianic Irony’, ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 1.2 (1970) p. 48.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rebecca Yearling 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca Yearling
    • 1
  1. 1.Keele UniversityUK

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