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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

§ 8. His prominence in the War of the Theatres

This unedifying duel has been dealt with in a previous chapter of the present work, and need not detain us here. Marston had now achieved something of a reputation. He is mentioned by Meres, in his Palladis Tamia (1598), among the chief English satirists, and, in The Returne from Pernassus (acted in 1601), he is addressed by the title “Kinsayder,” under which he had written a note in The Scourge of Villanie. Here, his portrait is boldly drawn as “a ruffian in his style,” who “backs a proper steed” and “cuts, thrusts and foins at whomsoever he meets.” No sooner had he joined the ranks of the dramatists than he set about him in the same deliberately aggressive fashion, “his shield hung ever in the lists.” In the famous “war of the theatres,” a war in which most of the dramatists of the day were involved, Marston’s name is unceasingly prominent. He aimed an occasional shaft at Shakespeare, as in the parody (in The Scourge of Villanie)

  • A man, a man, a Kingdom for a man,
  • or the line in The Malcontent
  • Illo, ho, ho, ho! arte there, old Truepenny?
  • but his chief violence was directed against Jonson. “He had many quarrels with Marston,” said Jonson, of himself, to Drummond, “beat him and took his pistol from him, wrote his Poetaster on him; the beginning of them were that Marston represented him on the stage.” Jonson represents himself as patiently sustaining the “petulant styles” of his enemies “on every stage” for three years, and, at last, unwillingly forced into rejoinder. It is sometimes argued—on slender evidence, however—that Marston’s first attack on Jonson was made not in a play but in The Scourge of Villanie, under the name “judicial Torquatus.” But Jonson, at least as early as 1598, had expressed some of his literary judgments upon the stage. Daniel, in his opinion, “a good honest man, but no poet,” had been publicly ridiculed in Every Man in His Humour, and the noble parts which Jonson assigned to himself—Asper in Every Man out of His Humour, Crites in Cynthia’s Revels, Horace in Poetaster—no less than his unflattering portraits of enemies, naturally provoked and suggested reprisals. We need not wonder that he was facetiously saluted by Dekker in his “three or four suites of names,” “Asper, Criticus, Quintus, Horatius, Flaccus.” Theatre-goers familiar with the characteristics, literary and personal, of the popular dramatists were, probably, amused by these personal rivalries, assaults and counter assaults, and pleasure to the audience brought profit to the authors. So, at least, we gather from Jonson’s remarks in Poetaster:
  • What they have done ’gainst me,
  • I am not moved with: if it gave them meat,
  • Or got them clothes, it is well: that was their end.
  • Only amongst them, I am sorry for
  • Some better natures, by the rest so drawn
  • To run in that vile line.