Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Marston, John (1575?-1634)
MARSTON, JOHN (1575?–1634), dramatist and divine, born about 1575 (probably at Coventry), belonged to the old Shropshire family of Marstons. His father, John Marston, sometime lecturer of the Middle Temple, third son of Ralph Marston of Gayton (or Heyton), Shropshire, married Maria, daughter of Andrew Guarsi, an Italian surgeon who had settled in London. On 4 Feb. 1591-2 'John Marston, aged 16, a gentleman's son, of co. Warwick,' was matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford. This John Marston, who was admitted B.A. on 6 Feb. 1593-4 as the t eldest son of an esquire,' is clearly the dramatist, whom Wood wrongly identified with a John Marston, or Marson, of Corpus. From a passage in the elder Marston's will, proved in 1599, it may be gathered that the dramatist was trained for the law, but found legal studies distasteful. In 1598 he had published some satires, and in the following year he was writing for the stage. He seems to have abandoned play-writing about 1607, but the date at which he took holy orders is not known. On 10 Oct. 1616 he was presented to the living of Christchurch, Hampshire, which he resigned (assumably from ill-health) on 13 Sept. 1631. In 1633 a collective edition of his plays was issued by the publisher, William Sheares, who, in a dedicatory address to Lady Elizabeth Carey, viscountess Falkland, speaks of the author as ‘in his autumn and declining age,’ and ‘far distant from this place.’ On 25 June 1634 Marston died in Aldermanbury parish, London, and on the following day he was buried in the Temple Church beside his father. The gravestone was inscribed ‘Oblivioni sacrum,’ and it is curious to note that his early satire, ‘The Scourge of Villainy’ (burned by archiepiscopal order in 1599), was dedicated ‘To everlasting Oblivion.’ Marston's will was proved on 9 July 1634 by his widow, who was buried by his side on 4 July 1657. She was a daughter of the Rev. William Wilkes, chaplain to James I, and rector of St. Martin's, Wiltshire. Ben Jonson told Drummond of Hawthornden that ‘Marston wrote his father-in-law's preachings and his father-in-law his comedies,’ pleasantly contrasting the playwright's asperity with the preacher's urbanity.
Marston's first work was ‘The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image. And certain Satyres,’ 8vo, entered in the Stationers' register 27 May 1598, and issued anonymously in the same year. The dedicatory verses ‘To the World's Mighty Monarch, Good Opinion,’ are subscribed ‘W. K.,’ i.e. W. Kinsayder, a pseudonym assumed by Marston. ‘The Scourge of Villanie. Three Bookes of Satyres,’ 8vo, appeared later in 1598, and was republished with additions in 1599. ‘Pigmalion's Image,’ written in the metre of ‘Venus and Adonis,’ is a somewhat licentious poem. Marston, in the ‘Scourge of Villainie’ (sat. vi.), pretends that it was written with the object of throwing discredit on amatory poetry, but the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1599 ordered both it and ‘Pigmalion’ to be burned (see the ‘Order for Conflagration’ cited in Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xii. 436). It was republished in 1613 and 1628 in a volume containing ‘Alcilia’ and ‘Amos and Laura.’ The satires are vigorous, but rough and obscure. Among the persons attacked was Joseph Hall [q. v.], who had assailed Marston in ‘Virgidemiæ.’ A certain ‘W. I.,’ in ‘The Whipping of the Satire,’ 1601, commented severely on Marston's satires, and in the same year an anonymous rhymester issued ‘The Whipper of the Satire’ in Marston's defence. Meres, in ‘Palladis Tamia,’ 1598, mentions Marston among leading English satirists; John Weever, in his ‘Epigrams,’ 1599, joins him, with Ben Jonson; and Charles Fitzgeoffrey, in ‘Affaniæ,’ 1601, has some Latin verses in his praise. The best criticism on Marston's satires is in ‘The Returne from Parnassus.’
Henslowe records in his ‘Diary,’ 28 Sept. 1599, that he lent ‘unto Mr. Maxton, the new poete, the sum of forty shillings.’ The name ‘Maxton’ is corrected by another hand to ‘Mastone.’ The entry plainly refers to Marston, but he is not mentioned again in the ‘Diary.’ In 1602 came from the press the ‘History of Antonio and Mellida. The First Part,’ 4to, and ‘Antonio's Revenge. The Second Part,’ 4to, both acted by the Children of Paul's. These plays had been entered in the ‘Stationers' Register’ on 21 Oct. 1601, and in the same year had been held up to ridicule by Ben Jonson in the ‘Poetaster.’ The writing is uneven; detached scenes are memorable, but there is an intolerable quantity of fustian. Frequently we are reminded of Seneca's tragedies, which Marston had closely studied. The ‘Malcontent,’ 1604, 4to, reissued in the same year, with additions by Webster, is more skilfully constructed, and shows few traces of the barbarous diction that disfigured ‘Antonio and Mellida.’ It was dedicated to Ben Jonson [q. v.], who told Drummond of Hawthornden that he had many quarrels with Marston, ‘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 in his youth given to venery.’ The original quarrel began about 1598. They had been reconciled in 1604, but other quarrels followed. In 1605 Marston prefixed complimentary verses to Jonson's ‘Sejanus,’ and in the same year was published ‘Eastward Ho,’ 4to, an excellent comedy of city life, written by Jonson and Marston in conjunction with Chapman. Passages in ‘Eastward Ho’ containing satirical reflections on the Scots, and particularly glancing at Sir James Murray, gave offence. The authors were sent to prison, but were quickly released. Hogarth is said to have drawn the plan of his prints, ‘The Industrious and Idle Prentice,’ from ‘Eastward Ho,’ which was revived at Drury Lane on lord mayor's day 1751, under the title of ‘The Prentices,’ and in 1775 as ‘Old City Manners.’ The spirited comedy, ‘The Dutch Courtezan,’ 1605, 4to, originally produced by the Children's company at Blackfriars, and revived by Betterton in 1680 under the title of ‘The Revenge, or a Match in Newgate,’ shows Marston at his best. ‘Parasitaster, or the Fawne,’ 1606, 4to, an entertaining comedy (partly founded on Boccaccio's ‘Tales,’ No. 3 of Day iii.), was followed in the same year by a blood-curdling tragedy, the ‘Wonder of Women, or the Tragedie of Sophonisba,’ 4to. ‘What you will,’ a comedy, 1607, 4to, contains some sarcastic allusions to Ben Jonson. ‘The Insatiate Countess,’ a tragedy, was published in 1613, 4to, with Marston's name on the title-page. It was reprinted in 1631, and in most copies of that edition Marston's name is found; but in one copy (belonging to the Duke of Devonshire) of ed. 1631 the authorship is assigned to the actor, William Barksteed, and the ‘Insatiate Countess’ was not included in the 1633 collective edition of Marston's plays. A couple of lines from this tragedy are found in Barksteed's ‘Myrrha,’ 1607; and there are many passages of graceful poetry that bear no resemblance to Marston's authentic writings. The explanation may be that Marston, when he entered the church, left this work unfinished, and that it was afterwards taken in hand by Barksteed. It is to be regretted that the text of the ‘Insatiate Countess,’ which has much poetry and passion, is frequently corrupt and mutilated. Plot and underplot are taken from the fourth and fifteenth ‘Tales’ of Bandello, pt. i.; both tales are given in Painter's ‘Palace of Pleasure,’ Nos. 24 and 26.
In two indifferent anonymous comedies, ‘Histriomastix,’ 1610, and ‘Jack Drum's Entertainment,’ 1616, Marston's hand is plainly distinguishable. His share in the former may be slight, but for the latter (written about 1600) he was largely responsible. Among ‘Divers Poetical Essays,’ appended to Robert Chester's ‘Love's Martyr,’ 1601, is a poem by Marston. He also wrote some Latin speeches (Royal MSS., 18 A, xxxi. Brit. Mus.) on the occasion of the visit of the king of Denmark to James I in 1606; and an entertainment (Bridgewater House MS.) in honour of a visit paid by the Dowager-countess of Derby to her son-in-law and daughter, Lord and Lady Huntingdon, at Ashby. ‘The Mountebank's Masque’ (first printed in Nichols's Progresses of James I, iii. 466), performed at court in February 1616–17, was assigned by Collier on insufficient authority to Marston. Some of the songs are much in Campion's manner. Portions of the masque are found in Quarles's ‘Virgin Widow,’ 1649. Collier, in ‘Memoirs of Edward Alleyn’ (p. 154), prints a letter of Marston to Henslowe, but Warner (Cat. of Dulwich MSS., p. 49) shows it to be a forgery. The letter of ‘John Marston’ to Lord Kimbolton, printed in Collier's ‘Shakespeare,’ ed. 1858, i. 179, was written in 1641—seven years after the dramatist's death. A wearisome manuscript poem, ‘The New Metamorphosis … Written by J. M., Gent., 1600’ (Addit. MSS. 14824–6), of some thirty thousand lines, has been uncritically assigned to Marston. A mot of Marston is recorded in Manningham's ‘Diary’ under date 21 Nov. 1602, and in Ashmole MS. 36–7 is preserved a couplet by Marston on George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, ‘made some few months before he was murthered.’
Marston's works were collected in 1856, 3 vols. 8vo, by J. O. Halliwell; and by the present writer in 1887, 3 vols. 8vo. The satires and poems, 2 vols. 4to, are included in Grosart's ‘Occasional Issues.’
[Memoirs by Halliwell, Grosart, and Bullen; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 762; Painter's Palace of Pleasure, ed. Jacobs, I. lxxx, lxxxiii, lxxxviii–ix; Fleay's Biog. Chron. of English Drama; art. by A. C. Swinburne, Nineteenth Century, October 1888; K. Deighton's Marston's Works, Conjectural Readings, 1893.]