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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

II. Chapman, Marston, Dekker

§ 10. End of the quarrel

In yet another play was Jonson made the target of satirical jest, Marston’s What You Will, probably written (1601) before Poetaster and revised later. But, while some investigators identify Jonson with Lampatho and Marston with Quadratus, others reverse the portraits. The evidence is somewhat conflicting; yet, if Marston intended anything but general satire, it would harmonise with all we know of him that he should here introduce his old nom de plume of Kinsayder, and thus present himself as Lampatho. He engages in a hectoring match with Quadratus, who abuses him as “a ragged satirist,” “an envystarved cur,” “a libertine”; but Marston, who “presented his poetry to Detraction,” was indifferent to abuse, and prepared to invent and discharge it against himself with the same zest that he hurled it at others.

  • Then do but rail at me—
  • No greater honour craves my poesy.
  • With this play the famous poetomachia comes to an end. In the same year, we find Marston collaborating with Jonson in Love’s Martyr, and, with Chapman and Jonson, three years later, in Eastward Hoe. He also dedicated to Jonson his Malcontent—Benjamino Jonsonio poetae elegantissimo gravissimo, amico suo, candido et cordato—and, in an equally generous strain, praised his Sejanus in 1605—
  • For never English shall, or hath before
  • Spoke fuller graced.
  • The chief interest to-day of this ancient literary logomachy, waged on the boards of the Elizabethan theatre, lies in the personalities which assist us to envisage men with whose works we are familiar, and the attempt to identify in the plays the authors represented finds its justification in our natural curiosity to know these celebrities in their habits as they lived. Here, as elsewhere, we are baffled by the elusive personality of Shakespeare, for of the man in whom our interest is deepest no certain identification is possible, and the most plausible critical conjectures lack convincing quality. Wellbred in Every Man in His Humour may be Shakespeare, so may Posthast in HistrioMastix, Amorphus in Cynthia’s Revels, Planet in Jacke Drums Entertainment, Ovid or Virgil in Poetaster, William Rufus, “learning’s True Maecenas, poesy’s king,” in Satiro-mastix. But for the passage in the anonymous Returne from Pernassus (1601) we might be spared all speculation with respect to the part played by him in the theatrical wars and conclude that he was never at any time found in either camp. Yet the speech of Kemp to Burbage in that play draws conjectures like a magnet and is encrusted with speculation.

  • Few of the university pen plaies well, they smell too much of that writer Ovid and that writer Metamorphosis, and talke too much of Proserpina and Juppiter. Why heres our fellow Shakespeare puts them all downe, I and Ben Jonson too. And that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow, he brought up Horace giving the Poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespere hath given him a purge that made him beray his credit.
  • The “purge” has been held to be the play of Troilus and Cressida, which would make the characters Thersites and Ajax Marston and Jonson. But, until we understand Troilus and Cressida better, it is wise, perhaps, to regard the “purge” as nothing more than Shakespeare’s triumph as a popular dramatist over the ablest and most celebrated of his contemporaries. Yet, if Shakespeare eludes us, we learn some interesting particulars about others of the dramatic group. Marston’s hair (he is Rufus) and thin legs are a subject of continual mirth; if he desire to be a poet, he is advised “to change his hair”; “he is proud of his gentle birth,” “a gentleman parcel-poet,” “your legs do sufficiently show you are a gentleman born, sir; for a man borne upon little legs is always a gentleman born.” Of Jonson we hear that, as Drummond also tells us, he was a great lover and praiser of himself—“Thou lovest none,” says Tucca, “neither wisemen nor fools but thyself”; Demetrius speaks of his “arrogancy and his impudence in commending his own things”; we hear of his shabby clothes—“that Judas yonder that walks in rug”; his “rocky face,” “a very bad face for a soldier,” a face “puncht full of oylet-holes like the cover of a warming pan,”
  • the most ungodly face … it looks for all the world like a rotten russet-apple, when ’tis bruised. It’s better than a spoonful of cinnamon-water next my heart, for me to hear him speak; he sounds it so i’ th’ nose, and talks and rants … like the poor fellow under Ludgate … its cake and pudding to me to see his face make faces, when he reads his songs and sonnets,
  • his slowness in composition, “Will he bee fifteene weekes about this Cockatrice’s egge too?” Other identifications are very precarious. Of Daniel, if Fastidious Brisk and Hedon be Daniel, as some suppose, we are told that he will “creep and wriggle into acquaintance with all the brave gallants about the town,” “a light voluptuous reveller,” a “rhyme-given” rascal who utters “sonnets by the gross,” and will “overflow you half a score or a dozen at a sitting,” “a neat, spruce, affecting courtier, one that wears clothes well, and in fashion; practiseth by his glass, how to salute,” who “believes rich apparel hath strange virtues” and “had three suits in one year made three great ladies in love” with him,
  • has a rich wrought waistcoat to entertain his visitants in, with a cap almost suitable. His curtain and bedding are thought to be his own; his bathing tub is not suspected. He loves to have a fencer, a pedant and a musician seen in his lodging a-mornings.
  • While some of the satire in these descriptions may have been ill-natured, it is hard to believe that much of it was more than stage exaggeration of the good-humoured banter which passed between rivals at their actual meetings in tavern or ordinary.