Marstonian Authorship: The Poems, Plays, and Masque

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This essay challenges the critical practice of focusing on Marston as principally a playwright. To do so, the essay recalls the mainframe of authorship during the 1590s and early 1600s, when a new breed of author emerges: the poet-playwright. The key figures are Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson. Within this literary circuit, we may place Marston, who redefines the poet-playwright's authorship as a strange liberty at once satiric and sublime. Marston's literary career begins with two printed poems: Pygmalion's Image and Certain Satires and The Scourge of Villainy (1598). After the 1599 Bishops' Ban, Marston turns to theatre, producing 11 plays. Yet Marston does not simply turn from poems to plays. In 1601, he produces Jack Drum's Entertainment and four poems for Love's Martyr. Moreover, in the masque-form of The Entertainment of Alice, Marston combines the poetic and the dramatic. More notably, inside the fictions of his plays, he uses a dual-genre authorship as a structuring device. Hence, in The Malcontent he divides the plot between two poet-playwright figures, Malevole and Mendoza, who compete for what Marston seeks: authorial 'liberty' in a national space that Spenser had romanticized as 'Elizium'. Thus, it is a mistake both to under-privilege Marston's poems and to assume that he left poetry behind after the Bishops' Ban. Rather, Marston's authorship is salient for transposing a distinctive Elysian brand of sublime satire from the poems to the plays and for scripting their generic interpenetration as a new form of English freedom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)648-669
Number of pages22
JournalReview of English Studies
Issue number311
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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