1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Marston

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:120-22.



There are few things on record concerning this poet's life. Wood says, that he was a student in Corpus-Christi College, Oxon; but in what country he vas born, or of what family descended, is no where fixed. Mr. Langbain says he can recover no other information of him, than what he learned from the testimony of his bookseller which is, "That he was free from all obscene speeches, which is the chief cause of making plays odious to Virtuous and modest persons; but he abhorred such writers and their works, and professed himself an enemy to all such as stuffed their scenes with ribaldry, and larded their lines with scurrilous taunts, and jests, so that whatsoever even in the spring of his years he presented upon the private and public theatre, in his autumn and declining age he needed not to be ashamed of." He lived in friendship with the famous Ben Johnson, as appears by his addressing to his name a tragi-comedy, called Male-Content; but we afterwards find him reflecting pretty severely on Ben, on account of his Cataline and Sejanus, as the reader will find on the perusal of Marston's Epistle, prefixed to Sophonisba — "Know," says he, "that I have not laboured in this poem, to relate any thing as An historian, but to enlarge every thing as a poet. To transcribe authors, quote authorities, and to translate Latin prose orations into English blank verse, hath in this subject been the least aim of my studies." — Langbain observes, that none who are acquainted with the works of Johnson can doubt that he is meant here, if they will compare the orations in Salust with those in Cataline. On what provocation Marston thus censured his friend is unknown, but the practice has been too frequently pursued, so true is it, as Mr. Gay observes of the wits, that they are oft game cocks to one another, and sometimes verify the couplet.

That they are still prepared to praise or to abhor us,

Satire they have, and panegyric for us—

Marston has contributed eight plays to the stage, which were all acted at the Black Fryers with applause, and one of them called the Dutch Courtezan, was once revived since the Restoration, under the title of the Revenge, or a Match in Newgate. In the year 1633 six of this author's plays were collected and published in one volume, and dedicated to the lady viscountess Faulkland. His dramatic works are these:

Antonio and Melida, a history, acted by the children of St Paul's, printed in 1633.

Antonius's Revenge; or the second put of Antonio and Melida . These two plays were printed in octavo several years before the new edition.

Dutch Courtezan, a comedy frequently played at Black Fryars, by the children of the Queen's Revels, printed in London 1693. It is taken from a French book called Les Contes du Mende. See the same story in English, in a book of Novels, called the Palace of Pleasure in the last Novel.

Insatiate Countess, a Tragedy, acted at White-Fryars, printed in Quarto 1603, under the title of Isabella the insatiable countess of Suevia. It is said that he meant Joan the first queen of Jerusalem, Naples, and Sicily. The life of this queen has employed many pens, both on poetry and novels. Bandello has related her story under the tide of the Inordinate Life of the Countess of Celant. The like story is related in God's Revenge against Adultery, under the name of Anne of Werdenberg, duchess of Ulme.

Male Content, a Tragi-Comedy, dedicated to old Ben, as I have already taken notice, in which he heaps many fine epithets upon him. The first design of this play was laid by Mr. Webster.

Parasitaster; or the Fawn, a comedy, often presented at the Black Fryars, by the children of the queen's Revels, printed in Octavo 1633. This play was formerly printed in quarto, 1606. The Plot of Dulcimel's cozening the Duke by a pretended discovery of Tiberco's love to her, is taken from Boccace's Novels.

What you will, a comedy, printed Octavo, London, 1653. This is said to be one of our author's best plays. The design taken from Plautus's Amphitrion.

Wonder of Women, or Sophonisba, a tragedy, acted at Black Fryars, printed in Octavo, 1633. The English reader will find this story described by Sir Walter Raleigh, in his history of the world. B. 5.

Besides his dramatic poetry he writ three books of Satires, entitled, The Scourge of Villany, printed in Octavo, London 1598. We have no account in what year our author died, but we find that his works were published after his death by the great Shakespear, and it may perhaps be reasonably concluded that it was about the year 1614.