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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26154

Title: Playwright and Man of God: Religion and Convention in the Comic Plays of John Marston
Authors: Blagoev, Blagomir Georgiev
Advisor: Levenson, Jill L.
Leggatt, Alexander
Department: English
Keywords: Marston, John (1576-1634)
Church of England
Issue Date: 15-Feb-2011
Abstract: John Marston’s literary legacy has inevitably existed in the larger-than-life shadows of his great contemporaries William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. In the last two centuries, his works were hardly taken on their own terms but were perceived instead in overt or implicit comparison to Shakespeare’s or Jonson’s. As a result, Marston’s plays acquired the lasting but unfair image of haphazard concoctions whose cheap sensationalism and personal satire often got them in trouble with the authorities. This was the case until recently, especially with Marston’s comic drama. Following revisionist trends, this study sets out to restore some perspective: it offers a fresh reading of Marston’s comic plays and collaborations—Antonio and Mellida, What You Will, Jack Drum’s Entertainment, The Dutch Courtesan, The Malcontent, Parasitaster, Eastward Ho, and Histrio-Mastix—by pursuing a more nuanced contextualization with regard to religious context and archival evidence. The first central contention here is that instead of undermining political and religious authority, Marston’s comic drama can demonstrate consistent conformist and conservative affinities, which imply a seriously considered agenda. This study’s second main point is that the perceived failures of Marston’s comic plays—such as tragic elements, basic characterization, and sudden final reversals—can be plausibly read as deliberate effects, designed with this agenda in mind. The significance of this analysis lies in its interpretation of Marston’s comedies from the angle of religious and political conformism, which argues for an alternative identity for this playwright. The discussion opens with a presentation of Marston’s early satirical books as texts informed by a moderate Church of England Protestantism, yet coinciding at times with some of Calvin’s writings, and by a distrust of the individualistic tendencies of the English Presbyterian movement as well as the perceived literal ritualism of the old Catholic faith. On this basis, it then proceeds to reveal an identical philosophy behind Marston’s comic plays and collaborations. Antonio and Mellida and What You Will are interpreted to dramatize the human soul’s dependence on God’s favourable grace; Jack Drum’s Entertainment and The Dutch Courtesan to insist on the acknowledgement of God in romantic desire; The Malcontent and Parasitaster to present the dangers of the political immorality; and Eastward Ho and Histrio-Mastix to argue for the necessity of edifying occupations for the wayward human will. In its conclusion, this study further highlights Marston’s bias for political and religious individual obedience to established hierarchies and his suspicion of the early modern forces of change. The conformist identity that emerges from the present discussion is consistently supported by the archival evidence surviving from the playwright’s life. Thus, Marston’s comic drama can be interpreted as the result of carefully considered and skilfully implemented political and religious ideas that have been neglected so far.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26154
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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