1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Dekker

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 160.



At the close of the sixteenth century we find that the theatres, conducted by Henslowe and Alleyn, chiefly depended on Jonson, Heywood, Chettle, and this poet, for composing or retouching their pieces. Marston and Dekker had laboured frequently in conjunction with Jonson, when their well-known hostility with him commenced. What grounds of offence Marston and Dekker alleged, cannot now be told; but Jonson affirms that after the appearance of his comedy, Every Man in his Humour, they began to provoke him on every stage with the "petulant styles," as if they wished to single him out for their adversary. When Jonson's Cynthea's Revels appeared, they appropriated the two characters of Hedon and Anaides to themselves, and were brooding over their revenge when the Poetaster came forth, in which Dekker was recognized as Demetrius. Either that his wrath made him more willing, or that he was chosen the champion of the offended host, for his rapid powers and popularity, he furnished the Satiromastix; not indeed a despicable reply to Jonson, but more full of rage than of ridicule. The little that is known of Dekker's history, independent of his quarrel with Jonson, is unfortunate. His talents were prolific, and not contemptible; but he was goaded on by want to hasty productions — acquainted with spunging-houses, and inmate of the King's Bench prison. Oldys thinks that he was alive in 1638.