Urbane John Marston: Obscenity, playfulness, co-operation

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The work of John Marston (1576–1634) has often been treated as if it possessed an almost solipsistic independence from and antagonism to, not just the dramatic establishment of his day, but the world at large. Marston is best known for a hostile attitude to an audience exemplified by the narrator’s declaration, in Certain Satires, that he will only write in the hope of causing offence: If thys displease the worlds wrong-iudging sight It glads my soule, and in some better spright I’le write againe. But if that this doe please Hence, hence, Satyrick Muse, take endlesse ease. This hostility is further exemplified by The Scourge of Villainy (1598), dedicated ‘To everlasting oblivion’, by the dedication of Antonio and Mellida (1602) to ‘the most honorably renowned No-body’, and by the contemporary description of Marston himself in The Parnassus Plays as ‘Monsieur Kinsayder, lifting up [his] leg and pissing against the world’. Such comments have set the tone for much of Marston’s critical history. And yet, as writer, collaborator and theatrical shareholder, the ‘real’ Marston had complex constructive links to the theatrical culture of his day. Indeed, he also wrote for that most public, decorous and community-conscious of forms, the City of London civic entertainment. While aggressive hostility to all and sundry is undeniably part of the persona of what one might call the Marston brand, the factual reality is more complex, as this chapter will explore.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Contemporary Dramatists
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780511994524
ISBN (Print)9780521767545
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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