Temporizing as Pyrrhonizing in The Malcontent
Critics often allude to the scepticism of John Marston’s drama. Robert Ornstein calls Marston ‘the first Jacobean to exploit dramatically the skepticism about Stoic self-sufficiency expressed by Erasmus and Montaigne and implicit in the moral philosophy of the age’. Jonathan Dollimore interprets the close of Antonio’s Revenge (1600–1) as ‘a subversion of providentialist orthodoxy’. And Keith Sturgess argues that The Dutch Courtesan (1605) is informed by ‘Montaigne’s skepticism and moral realism’, thereby encouraging Marston ‘to explode any simple moral structures … by engaging with the genuine complexity of human experience’.1 The Malcontent (1603), however, despite its status as Marston’s best-known play, has received virtually no attention along these lines; rather, critics have generally focused on its brilliant exploration of role-play and its closely related doubleness of theme, mood and structure.2 Yet given the intellectual milieu in which the play was composed, not to mention Marston’s evident familiarity with Pyrrhonism, it seems worthwhile to ask what relations may obtain between, on the one hand, The Malcontent’s examination of role-play and duality and, on the other, its participation in the various sceptical paradigms available to an intellectually curious poet or playwright at the outset of the seventeenth century.
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