§1 One afternoon in 1604 or 1605, a young actor stepped on to the stage at the indoor theatre in the Blackfriars. He uttered eighteen lines of verse. In doing so, he made an appeal to the first spectators to witness a new comedy: The Dutch Courtesan. This is what the actor said:
Slight hasty labours in this easy play
Present not what you would, but what we may.
For this vouchsafe to know, the only end
Of our now study is not to offend.
Yet think not but, like others, rail we could;
Best art presents not what it can but should;
And if our pen in this seem over-slight
We strive not to instruct but to delight.
As for some few we know of purpose here
To tax and scout, know firm art cannot fear
Vain rage; only the highest grace we pray
Is, you’ll not tax until you judge our play.
Think, and then speak; ’tis rashness, and not wit,
To speak what is in passion, and not judgement fit.
Sit, then, with fair expectance, and survey
Nothing but passionate man in his slight play,
Who hath this only ill, to some deemed worst:
A modest diffidence and self-mistrust.1John Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, ed. Keith Sturgess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 179.
This prologue, like all prologues, seeks acceptance for the play. It is full of conventional features. Paradoxically, it is also highly distinctive and could only be the work of its author, John Marston. As with every opening address to the audience, it is a statement on behalf of the playing company; no less, it is a statement suffused with authorial consciousness. As with every prologue, it strikes a pose of deference and modesty. Equally, it exhibits an edgy truculence. And it concludes with an awkward and intriguing claim.
§2 The verses are odd, obscure, and revealing. In one way they constitute a highly stylised and deeply conventional gambit. They also form an example of John Marston’s unique corpus of prologues and epilogues, a corpus that exhibits work of daring brilliance, wilful preening, constipated ungainliness, extraordinary grace, and helpless self-exposure.
§3 Tiffany Stern has set out many features common to the dramatic prologues of the English Renaissance. These were essentially occasional pieces, associated with the first performances of new, revived, or revamped plays. They were detachable; conceptually at a remove from the dramas they prefaced, and physically and textually distinct from them. A printed play text might or might not include a prologue, and one reason for the absence of a prologue might be that the manuscript underlying a first print publication simply lacked one. A prologue need not be written by the same author, or authors, who composed the play proper. The prologue was intimately linked to the power that the spectators of a first performance held: the power to give or withhold approbation of the play that they were about to witness.2Tiffany Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health to his second day”: Playwrights, Prologues, and First Performances in the Early Modern Theatre’, Studies in Philology,101 (2004), 172–99.
§4 Removed from the context of an opening night and placed in a book for a reader to enjoy, the prologue possesses a new life. Like spoken prologues, printed ones are also ‘divided from the script they accompany’.3Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health”’, 180. So it is with the prologue to The Dutch Courtesan, which sits between the title page of the play’s quarto publication in 1605 and its list of ‘Dramatis personae’. The prologue shares its page with a shortstatement headed ‘fabulae argumentum’.4John Marston, The Dutch Courtezan (London: 1605), A2r. In other words, the prologue is part of the prefatory apparatus to the printed text, and it appears in the kind of place in which an address to the reader or a dedication might appear. Such inclusions are often now called ‘paratexts’ and a prologue within a printed play is arguably just such a text.5Gérard Genette, ‘Introduction to the Paratext’, trans. Marie Maclean, New Literary History, 22 (1991), 261–72.
§5 Marston’s prologues frequently exemplify the claims that Stern has made. They exhibit a heightened consciousness of the audience’s capacity to reject or approve the coming play. They cajole those who will watch Antonio and Mellida (‘deign to veil our wants’); they appeal to the discrimination of the playgoers about to see What You Will (‘the fair-proportion’d loves of wit’); and they offer a tribute to the restraint of the spectators at The Fawn (who are ‘benign in censuring’).6Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7; John Marston, What You Will, ed. M.R. Woodhead (Nottingham: Nottingham Drama Texts, 1980), 6; John Marston, The Fawn, ed. David A. Blostein (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1978), 73. Well-intentioned playgoers addressed by the prologues and epilogues to Marston’s plays variously possess ‘Attic judgements’, ‘learnèd ears’, and ‘gentle minds’.7Marston, The Fawn, 73; ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176; What You Will, 6. Those who might spurn the plays, on the other hand, are the ‘envious few’, ‘calumnious rascal[s]’, or even ‘the nice critics of this squeamish age’.8Marston, The Fawn, 240 [5.485], 73; What You Will, 6. Essentially, as before Antonio and Mellida, the appeal is to the ‘authentic censure’ of those who will judge the play.9Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7.
§6 So much is utterly conventional in sentiment, though the language is often rich and flamboyant. Stern also posits a special role for the prologue. The speaker of the prologue is a member of the playing company, and in one sense he is presenting the efforts of himself and his fellow actors to the audience; ‘we shall but falter’, says the prologue to Antonio and Mellida, ‘if you lay / The least sad weight of an unusèd hope / Upon our weakness’.10Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7. At the same time the prologue embodied a kind of archetypal author figure; the prologue ‘represented, and yet was not, the “author” of the text’. He constitutes, for Stern, ‘a theatrical fiction’.11Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health”’, p. 182. Moreover, ‘[t]he actual playwright, though a feature of the Prologues’ address, remains unnamed because of the reauthoring process: the theatrical “author” is more important than the actual author’.12Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health”’, p. 183.
§7 John Marston again offers a vivid illustration of these claims. The prologues and epilogues to his plays circuitously allude to an authorial agent. The epilogue to Sophonisba is spoken by Massinissa, who remains on stage when the other actors depart; and then (in a speech headed in the play’s single quarto publication with ornate italic capitals ‘EPILOGVS’) he declares:
With lighter passion, though with most just fear,
I change my person, and do hither bear
Another’s voice, who with a phrase as weak
As his deserts, now willed me (thus formed) speak.13John Marston, The Wonder of Women Or The Tragedie of Sophonisba (London: John Windet, 1606); Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 294 [Sophonisba, 5.4.60–64].
‘Another’ is clearly the writer of the play.
§8 Marston’s addresses to his audience on behalf of his company and himself may be divided in several ways. First, some are full prologues and epilogues and are named as such; others are unannounced quasi-prologues or half-epilogues. Second, the tragic prologues – that is, the poems fronting Antonio’s Revenge and The Wonder of Women; or, Sophonisba – have a strong generic styling. Most notable of all, however, is the difference between the comic prologues spoken at Paul’s and those prepared for the Children of the Queen’s Revels at Blackfriars.
§9 The conclusion of The Dutch Courtesan presents what I have called a ‘half-epilogue’. Coclodemoy has just told the comedy’s two pairs of lovers, ‘I bid myself most heartily welcome to your merry nuptials and wanton jigga-joggies,—’; thereafter, he shifts into blank verse and his speech continues:
And now, my very fine Heliconian gallants,
And you, my worshipful friends in the middle region,
If with content our hurtless mirth hath been,
Let your pleased minds at our much care be seen;
For he shall find, that slights such trivial wit,
’Tis easier to reprove than better it.
We scorn to fear, and yet, we fear to swell;
We do not hope ’tis best; ’tis all, if well.14Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 239 [The Dutch Courtesan, 5.3.152–54], 240 [5.3.155–62].
§10 In its printed form, The Dutch Courtesan offers no direct statement that an epilogue has begun, even though, like the epilogue in Sophonisba, it is spoken by a named character. The ‘Heliconian gallants’ are spectators sitting aloft – they resemble the Muses on Mount Helicon. The actor had clearly turned away from the other players of the ensemble and towards the audience. Even so, there is nothing in these lines to declare that the boy playing Coclodemoy has changed ‘his person’ (as did Sophonisba‘s ‘Massinissa’) and that he now bears ‘another’s voice’. Indeed, when the actor greets ‘my worshipful friends in the middle region’ (wherever the ‘middle region’ may have been) he cracks just the same kind of bawdy and familiar joke that Coclodemoy has been making throughout the play. We know that the six concluding lines attracted special attention. A recently discovered manuscript epilogue, ‘The Masque being Endid’, reproduced the three couplets almost verbatim, interleaving them with words drawn from Marston’s other Jacobean epilogues.15Tom Lockwood, ‘“The Masque being Endid”: A New Epilogue from British Library MS Add. 22582’, Notes and Queries,60 (2013), 52–54.
§11 The prologue to Antonio’s Revenge is replete with tragic diction. It begins:
The rawish dank of clumsy winter ramps
The fluent summer’s vein, and drizzling sleet
Chilleth the wan bleak cheek of the numbed earth,
Whilst snarling gusts nibble the juiceless leaves
From the naked shudd’ring branch, and peels the skin
From off the soft and delicate aspects.
O now, methinks, a sullen tragic scene
Would suit the time with pleasing congruence.16Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 59.
Marston’s rival and sometime adversary, Ben Jonson, seized on these verses when he wanted to humiliate and correct his fellow poet. ‘Clumsy’ and ‘ramps’ both reappear in the specimen lines of Rufus Laberius Crispinus, the thinly-disguised Marston-figure who is arraigned and purged in Jonson’s Poetaster.17Ben Jonson, Poetaster, ed. Tom Cain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 237 [5.3.269], 240 [5.3.280]. Is the prologue’s poetry good or bad? It is certainly distinctive, and for Jonson it was overwrought as well as deeply characteristic.
§12 The verse of Sophonisba’s prologue takes on the colour of the clipped and spare style Marston used in this late play. The auditor hears that ‘louring Juno, with ill-boding eye, / Sits envious at too forward Venus’, and immediately afterwards comes the terse interjection, ‘Lo, / The instant night’.18Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 243 This is a stand-alone prologue like those of the Blackfriars comedies, The Dutch Courtesan and The Fawn.
§13 In Marston’s early comedies, on the other hand, the appeal to the spectator emerges out of an experimental inductive opening. In Antonio and Mellida the child actors have discussed the coming play, and they conclude with words spoken by the boy playing Feliche: ‘Peace, here comes the Prologue. Clear the stage’.19Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 6 [Antonio and Mellida, Induction, line 132]. Jack Drum’s Entertainment features ‘The Introduction’, and this comprises an apology from the ‘Tyer-man’ – responsible for costumes – who explains that ‘hee that composde the Booke, we should present’ has snatched it back. The consequence of this fiction is that the boy who then appears on stage is ‘Wanting a Prologue’ and therefore needs to improvise as he addresses the audience.20John Marston, The Plays of John Marston, 3 vols, ed. H. Harvey Wood (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934–9), 3:179. What You Will brings three figures on stage before ‘the music sounds for the Act’. These three, Atticus, Doricus, and Philomuse, ‘sit a good while on the stage before the candles are lighted, talking together, and on a sudden Doricus speaks’; the three proceed to discuss how the play’s author and its audience may feel about each other, and this shifts first into a debate about the most fruitful critical stance for onlookers to adopt and then to a brief and downbeat assessment of the coming play. Finally Philomuse says, ‘I have engag’d myself to the author to give a kind of inductive speech to his comedy’, and after a few lines of sparring Philomuse is left alone on stage and he proceeds to speak the ‘Prologus’.21Marston, What You Will, 3–6.
§14 Each of these early comic prologues or prologue-substitutes emerges from a preamble that parades the artifice of the theatrical offering at Paul’s. Hence the emphasis on whether the actors about to play Antonio and Mellida are ‘perfect’ in knowing their lines or on the worries of the ‘Tyer-man’ about the missing prologue in Jack Drum.22Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 3 [Antonio and Mellida, Induction, line 2]; The Plays of John Marston, 3:179. All this fits precisely with Stern’s connection between the prologue and a play’s first staging. Of course, we have to posit that the induction or introduction may itself have been peculiar to the first performance. Behind all these confections, however, lies the consciousness of the author; indeed, the short induction of Jack Drum and the long one of What You Will form highly self-absorbed commentaries that focus on the behaviour, the feelings, and the beliefs of the ‘author’. This figure is clearly fictionalised in Jack Drum’s ‘Introduction’ and it certainly seems to be a heightened notion of ‘the author, the composer, the what you will’ that is discussed by the three speakers in What You Will’s induction.23Marston, What You Will, 4.
§15 The most tantalising allusion to the author takes place as Antonio and Mellida’s induction comes to a close. Hitherto the induction’s concern has been with the young actors of the play and the challenges they face as they present their various parts. And then, in the last speech before ‘Felice’ ushers in the prologue, ‘Antonio’ appears to mention the play’s author. He does so in reply to the comment that ‘it is not possible to limn so many persons in so small a tablet as the compass of our plays afford’. ‘Antonio’ responds in this way:
Right. Therefore I have heard that these persons, as he and you, Felice, that are but slightly drawn in this comedy, should receive more exact accomplishment in a second part, which, if this obtain gracious acceptance, means to try his fortune.24Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 6 [Antonio and Mellida, Induction, lines 126–27, 128–31].
This allusion to a second part, in which Galeazzo and Felice (‘he and you’) would command more extensive roles, forms an intriguing claim. Is ‘Antonio’ referring to Marston, to some vague notion of the play’s author, or to neither? The coming play, and indeed the projected ‘second part’, is the offering of the whole playing company. As ‘Felice’ and ‘Antonio’ turn from speaking about the individual acting tasks that they face and start to think of the opportunities and constraints of the whole troupe as they perform ‘our play’, a company consciousness is certainly present; and when the prologue speaks he mentions ‘our weakness’, ‘our wants’, and ‘our slightness’, again emphasising what is collective.25Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7. However, the dialogue spoken by ‘Antonio’ is strange indeed. The syntax of his sentence is confused. Who is the ‘he’ of ‘his fortune’? The final part of the sentence seems to indicate a single agent who will be responsible for ‘the second part’. This would presumably be its author. However, the subject of this final dependent clause – the person who conditionally (that is, ‘if this obtain gracious acceptance’) ‘means to try his fortune’ – is absent. We might suppose that the final part of the sentence was intended to run ‘. . . though which, if this obtain gracious acceptance, the author means to try his fortune’, or even ‘he means’, which would hold a grammatical shape, even if the ‘he’ lacked any referent. A problem with transmission might be an explanation for this awkwardness. So might a simple and uncorrected oversight in drafting. There does, however, seem to be a kind of incoherent hesitation here, as if the authorial role is present in Marston’s mind and yet he does not wish to parade this role.
§16 All this creates a platform for us to approach The Dutch Courtesan’s prologue. ‘Slight hasty labours in this easy play’ are the first scripted words that The Dutch Courtesan’s spectators hear. These ‘labours’ present ‘not what you would, but what we may’. This is a stylised acknowledgement of the limited capacity of the playing company to meet the expectations of their audience. It fits with the disclaimers of the opening line. The Dutch Courtesan is an ‘easy play’. As is often the case with Marston’s writings, the phrase’s application is hard to gauge. Does the prologue mean to indicate that the experience of watching and hearing the play will be conducive to the spectator’s ease? Or does it suggest that the play has been drafted with ease? Quite possibly, both ideas were present in Marston’s mind as he wrote. Today, a reader might fruitfully think of the phrase easy listening (or easy reading). Certainly, ‘easy’ is part of a careful attempt to depict the coming play as somehow modest in scope, undemanding, and composed without undue effort. Indeed, not only was the play an ‘easy’ one; the work of creating it was a ‘hasty labour’.
§17 It was also a ‘slight’ labour. Now ‘slight’ (placed here at the very start of the prologue) is a word that Marston turned to repeatedly – indeed, compulsively – in his prologues, epilogues, and other paratextual material. Antonio and Mellida (according to its prologue) is the ‘worthless present of slight idleness’.26Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7. This corporate effort of the Children of Paul’s is dubbed ‘our slightness’.27Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7. What You Will variously appears as a ‘slight-writ play’, as ‘a slight toy’, and as ‘[h]is slight composures’.28Marston, What You Will, 68, 5, 3 As The Malcontent draws to its end, the epilogue hopes that ‘too severe an eye’ will not inspect the ‘slighter breaks of our reformèd Muse’.29Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176. In The Fawn’s ‘Epilogus’ the speaker looks to those who ‘with impartial faces’ and ‘with graces / Of sober knowledge have surveyed the frame / Of this slight scene’.30Marston, The Fawn, 240–41 [5.491, 492–94]. ‘Slight’, therefore, is associated not only with the self-assessment of the prologue; it is also linked to the way in which an imagined spectator might characterise the play that he or she is about to watch – or has just seen. This can help us to make sense of the prologue to What You Will. There the company member makes an appeal to those spectators who ‘know the pangs of bringing forth/A perfect feature’ and who can (the prologue declares) ‘as soon slight of, as find a blemish’ in the coming play.31Marston, What You Will, 6. ‘Slight of’ is an odd term, and we may find an analogue for it in the quasi-epilogue of The Dutch Courtesan. There the spectator hears, ‘For he shall find, that slights such trivial wit, / ’Tis easier to reprove than better it’. It is clear that there was a strong authorial inclination to use the term ‘slight’. It also seems that the habit of alluding to his own plays as ‘slight’, and imagining others considering them to be ‘slight’, has for Marston spread into a readiness to conceive his critics as ‘slighting’ what they see on stage. This reflex is a strange, defensive one. The Dutch Courtesan’s prologue shows it at its most intense. Not only does Marston – with all the sprezzatura of a gentleman poet – describe his own labours as ‘slight’, he also hypothesises that his writing (‘our pen’) might ‘seem over-slight’ to others. And the most intriguing of all Marston’s prefatory uses of the term occurs as he invites his spectator to ‘survey / Nothing but passionate man in his slight play’.
§18 That invitation occurs at the end of the prologue, and before we ask who the ‘passionate man’ might be, and whose is the ‘slight play’, we may look at the body of the poem: the line of argument that comes between the self-conscious claim of the opening couplet and the obscure invitation of the final four lines. The argument that the prologue seems to advance is this. The speaker asks the audience to accept that ‘the only end / Of our now study is not to offend’. The audience should be aware that the company could (‘like others’) offer abusive language (‘rail’) if it chose; however, the ‘[b]est art’ does not present merely what it is capable of offering, but what it really ought to provide. And so, if the drama that is about to arrive appears insubstantial (‘if our pen in this seem over-slight’), that is because the company wants to ‘delight’ those who are watching, not to ‘instruct’ them. The prologue then turns to a new line of thought, one that is still conscious of possible criticism. To those who are primed to find fault with the coming play, the prologue declares that ‘firm art cannot fear / Vain rage’. The main favour that the prologue requests, given this prospect of hostility, is that spectators will hold back from criticism until they have been able to ‘judge our play’. The audience is begged to first reflect and then express its view; after all, so the prologue argues, it is intemperate rather than insightful to express thoughts based on ‘passion’ rather than ‘judgement’.
§19 And then the prologue utters his finale:
Sit, then, with fair expectance, and survey
Nothing but passionate man in his slight play,
Who hath this only ill, to some deemed worst:
A modest diffidence and self-mistrust.
At this point the prologue’s verse has blossomed into fluency and gracefulness. In this it is at odds with many of the preceding lines with their angular constructions (‘the only end / Of our now study’) and awkward phrasing (‘think not but, like others, rail we could’). The allusion to ‘others’ seems pointed. There is a general resemblance to The Malcontent’s epilogue. There a seemingly resentful suggestion that it is ‘some men’s labour’ to ‘correct’ the faults of others occurs within an address that opens with the evocative opening, ‘Your modest silence, full of heedy stillness, / Makes me thus speak’, and ends with the eloquent and self-deprecating ‘He that knows most, knows most how much he wanteth’.32Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176.
§20 The prologue to The Dutch Courtesan concludes with the invitation to spectators to sit – the auditorium is all-seated – and to ‘survey/Nothing but passionate man in his slight play’. What exactly is it that the prologue is inviting the spectator to ‘survey’? Is the ‘passionate man’ a character in the drama about to unfold? In this case, Malheureux might be reasonably be meant. ‘Passion’ and its cognate forms recur repeatedly throughout the play. The play’s characters are often critical of the impulse, suggesting that it is best overcome, as when Tysefew advises Sir Lionel Freevill (who believes that his son has died) to ‘be wisely sorry, but not passionate’.33Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 224 [The Dutch Courtesan, 4.4.76]. It is Malheureux, however, the precisian who suddenly develops an intense attraction for the courtesan of the play’s title, who hears with longing how the birds ‘[c]arol their unaffected passions’ and proceeds to declare, ‘Passion, I am thy slave’.34Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 190 [The Dutch Courtesan, 2.1.64–65], 197 [2.2.111]. He ends the second act – the act of his downfall, or perhaps of his own developing self-knowledge – by reflecting that ‘[n]ot he that’s passionless, but he ’bove passion’s wise’.35Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 200 [The Dutch Courtesan, 2.2.226]. If any character in The Dutch Courtesan is the ‘passionate man’, it is Malheureux. But perhaps the prologue means ‘passionate man’ as a kind of archetype, a description of the human lot, so that in any group of believable figures – such as those to feature in The Dutch Courtesan – each is an exemplar of ‘passionate man’, and it is this that the audience is invited to survey.
§21 Assessment is made more complicated by the dependent phrase: ‘in his slight play’. If the ‘passionate man’ is indeed everyman, then perhaps ‘his slight play’ might refer to the insubstantial earthly life of any human. This would be a new and figurative use of ‘play’, but then Marston was a writer who ceaselessly pushed at the boundaries of language. Alternatively, the coming play may emerge here as a drama to feature Malheureux, the ‘passionate man’, with the implication that The Dutch Courtesan is peculiarly Malheureux’s play. For either hypothesis, however, we have to ask why the play is ‘slight’. Perhaps this is merely Marston’s writing reflex, and we may see how (in the case of ‘passionate man’ as everyman) ‘slight’ may accord with a notion of human activity as fleeting and unimportant. However, this reflex seems elsewhere to occur when the drama in question is being considered as the work of its writer: ‘slight idleness’, a ‘slight toy’, our ‘slight-writ play’, the ‘slighter breaks of our reformèd Muse’, even The Dutch Courtesan’s own ‘[s]light hasty labours’: in each case, it is Marston’s own dramatic creation that is ‘slight’. At this point it seems fair to say that the conventional displacement of the real author by Stern’s ’theatrical fiction’ is in these instances at its least evident, and however coy the acknowledgement of the playwright may be, the fact of the allusion is clear.
§22 What we know of Marston’s practice in writing prologues and epilogues strongly suggests, therefore, that in ‘his slight play’, the ‘his’ denotes Marston’s consciousness not merely of the authorial role but of himself as author. (Of course, the spectators who heard the phrase may have understood something quite different.) How then does this fit with ‘passionate man’? Is the speaker of the prologue declaring that it is the author, Marston, who is the ‘passionate man’ and that the play which the audience is about to ‘survey’ is a kind of synecdoche for its writer? This is a possible reading, but it seems to achieve consistency at the expense of reason, for the audience are about to witness the ambush by passion of Malheureux. This might then lead us to think that, notwithstanding Marston’s usual habits, ‘his slight play’ indeed refers to Malheureux, the ‘passionate man’, and that a statement is being made about Malheureux’s importance to the interest and meaning of the play. One problem with this is that the play’s fabulae argumentum states: ‘The difference betwixt the love of a courtesan and a wife is the full scope of the play, which, intermixed with the deceits of a witty city jester, fills up the comedy’.36Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 358. This seems to marginalise Malheureux. Even if it is Malheureux’s love for Franceschina that is alluded to in the fabulae argumentum (and it may be Freevill’s place in a love triangle that is meant), Malheureux’s infatuation merely shares the billing with other features of the play.
§23 More troublesome is the prologue’s final pair of lines. To whom do they relate? If the ‘he’ of ‘his slight play’ is straightforwardly the ‘passionate man’ (whoever the ‘passionate man’ may be), then the sense is clear. It is the same figure who possesses the fault of ‘modest diffidence and self-mistrust’. In some regards this might apply to Malheureux, who is arguably the most reflective of the play’s male characters, but it does not easily fit with the dogmatism of his attitudes both at the play’s start (‘The most odious spectacle the earth can present is a immodest, vulgar woman’) and at its end (‘He that lust rules cannot be virtuous’).37Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 183 [The Dutch Courtesan, 1.1.146–48], 237 [The Dutch Courtesan, 5.3.66]. Even less is this fault one to apply indiscriminately to all humanity; and this decisively prevents us from reading the whole expression – ‘passionate man in his slight play’ – as a glance at the universal human experience. This does push us towards Marston himself, for ‘modest diffidence and self-mistrust’ are qualities that Marston repeatedly links to himself in other prologues and epilogues. He approaches the spectators of Sophonisba with ‘constant modesty’; at the end of The Fawn he seeks pardon from the audience ‘in self-accusing phrase’; as we have seen, the epilogue to The Malcontent concludes by saying, ‘He that knows most, knows most how much he wanteth’; and the prologue to What You Will declares that ‘his best’s too bad’, that he is ‘asham’d’, and that his play presents ‘[a] silly subject too too simply clad’.38Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 294 [Sophonisba, 5.4.75], The Fawn, 241 [5.497], ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176, What You Will, 6.
§24 Each of these is an authorial statement; the prologues and epilogues convey the sentiments of Marston himself through the authorial ‘he’ and they progressively lose sight of the ‘we’ of the playing company. For example, the epilogue to The Fawn opens, ‘And thus in bold yet modest phrase we end’. The speaker is conveying a message from the playing company. Immediately, however, we hear of ‘He whose Thalia with swiftest hand hath penned / This lighter subject’. Thalia is the comic muse, and ‘He’ is the comic playwright who has worked under the direction of the muse. Thereafter, the lines are all about the author, and the spectator hears about ‘his flame’ and is told that ‘he deigns’, ‘he hopes’ and ‘he protests he ever hath aspired’.39Marston, The Fawn, 240–41 [5.482–83, 494, 497, 498, 499].
§25 The Dutch Courtesan’s prologue is altogether less shameless. There ‘we’ and ‘our’ dominate, and the speaker is carefully transmitting sentiments supposed to be those of the whole company. The question is this: just how far does Marston take his customary lurch towards self-promotion during the concluding four lines of this prologue? This is rather more than the matter of decoding an obscure but minor imprecision in the wording of a single sentence. The prologue, and through the prologue John Marston himself, are trying to encapsulate the essence of the drama that the spectators at Blackfriars are about to see. Is this a play about Malheureux or is it the emblematic offering of the stage poet Marston?
§26 Having stated the interpretative problem, I will now attempt to offer an answer. In inviting his audience to ‘survey / Nothing but passionate man in his slight play’, Marston seems to elide himself, or the author, with his character. I would suggest that the best assessment we can make of these lines is to pull together the various and often conflicting indicators of meaning. We may therefore take it that Malheureux is likely to have been foremost in Marston’s mind as he named ‘passionate man’ as the principal object of his audience’s attention. It is Malheureux who comes to recognise his potential thralldom to passion; specifically, to overwhelming sexual desire. There may be a sense in which Malheureux’s situation does indeed encompass the lot of every human – vulnerable to temptation and prone to sin. A rather stronger subsidiary sense of ‘passionate man’ would seem to be Marston himself. The following phrase ‘his slight play’ certainly suggests that Marston’s own projection of himself to the audience he addresses through the prologue is prominent in his mind as he writes. It would be going too far to suggest that this displaces Malheureux as Marston’s focus in commending ‘passionate man’ to the spectators at Blackfriars; nevertheless, it would seem that a consciousness of himself as well as of the character Malheureux eased the shift from ‘passionate man’ to ‘his slight play’ and the odd phrasing, with its appearance of a disconnected ‘his’, may be best understood by positing a mental connection between Malheureux and Marston. Thereafter, the authorial ‘his’ seems to control the sentence, and ‘Who hath this only ill, to some deemed worst: / A modest diffidence and self-mistrust’ continues what is personal in the prologue’s appeal . Indeed, there is a submerged likeness to the formula ‘He who’ deployed in Marston’s epilogues to The Fawn (‘He whose Thalia . . .’) and Sophonisba (“if he whose fires / Envy not others nor himself admires”).40Marston, The Fawn, 240; ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 294 [Sophonisba, 5.4.67-68].
§27 The case for seeing in this passage an overlap between character and author emerges here from the attempt to gauge the internal logic and the suggestiveness of the prologue. In doing this, the word use and phrasing of Marston’s other prologues and his epilogues have yielded analogies that aid the effort. Marston – in his addresses to the audience but also at other points – connects himself with his characters, and this too offers backing for the reading I have suggested. In another Blackfriars comedy, Parasitaster; or, The Fawn, the story is told of the Italian Duke Hercules of Ferrara who adopts a disguise and follows his son to the city of Urbin, where the son is to negotiate on his father’s behalf for the young princess. The Duke wants to see how his undemonstrative son behaves; he also wants to experience life as an ordinary citizen and not a ruler. The role he takes on is that of a parasite and flatterer. His name is ‘Faunus’ or ‘Fawn’, and The Fawn is the name of the play. The Fawn’s prologue begins by disclaiming any intention to offer either personal satire or ‘rank bawdry’. Instead, if the ‘nimble form of comedy’ ‘[m]ay gracefully arrive to your pleased ears’, then the author will be confident in the play’s reception. This assurance derives from the knowledge that
this most fair-filled room
Is loaded with most Attic judgements, ablest spirits,
Than whom there are none more exact, full, strong,
Yet none more soft, benign in censuring.
you are all the very breath of Phoebus:
In your pleased gracings all the true life blood
Of our poor author lives; you are his very graces.
§28 This has gone beyond the careful note of deference to the audience that often appears in the prologues and epilogues of Marston and his peers. Indeed, it seems to have descended into downright obsequiousness. And then comes the twist of the final couplet:
Now if that any wonder why he’s drawn
To such base soothings, know his play’s—The Fawn.41Marston, The Fawn, 73–74.
Quite simply, Marston is at this point using the parasite protagonist of his comedy as an avatar for himself. Marston is like the disguising Duke Hercules as he offers an overly fulsome address to his audience. Excessive though this manoeuvre is, the rhetoric is actually little different from Marston’s prologue writing elsewhere. One reason for this is that all prologues share the same conventions of exaggerated deference; another is that Marston’s writing often teeters on the edge of self-parody. What is quite clear is that Marston is likening his own behaviour to that of his main character.
§29 This is not an isolated example of Marston’s self-identification with his own characters. In Jack Drum’s Entertainment, Marston stages a critic of the repertory at Paul’s, Brabant Senior. This critic responds to an invitation to comment on three writers, Mellidus, Musus, and Decius. Decius may well be Thomas Dekker. Musus is (according to Brabant Senior) ‘as blunt as Pawles’, and it is this that tells us that Brabant Senior’s target is the Children of Paul’s. The first of the writers mentioned is ‘the new Poet Mellidus’. This seems to involve a touch of self-advertisement, for the name is simply a male version of Marston’s heroine in Antonio and Mellida. What confirms the connection is that the scoffing putdown which Brabant Senior levels at ‘Mellidus’ – ‘a slight bubling spirit, a Corke, a Huske’ – features the very term, ‘slight’, that occurs within Marston’s prologues with such obsessive insistency and which seems is largely reserved for Marston’s own writing.42The Plays of John Marston, 3:221. Marston seems, therefore, to be identifying himself through the name of his own title character.
§30 Consequently, when the prologue to The Dutch Courtesan, as it seems to do, equates the dramatist with the play’s ‘passionate man’, we have an authorial gambit that is not only daring but is also recognisable. The address to the play’s first spectators is conventional enough in many regards; in others there is a distinctive authorial consciousness at play. However much the figure of the prologue on the Blackfriars stage embodied a ‘theatrical fiction’, Marston’s verse insistently requires the spectator to be aware of the play’s actual writer. At once awkward and graceful, flaunting and reticent, Marston does and does not present himself as ‘passionate man in his slight play’.
Genette, Gérard, ‘Introduction to the Paratext’, trans. Marie Maclean, New Literary History, 22 (1991), 261–72
Lockwood, Tom, ‘“The Masque being Endid”: A New Epilogue from British Library MS Add. 22582’, Notes and Queries, 60 (2013), 52–54
Marston, John, The Dutch Courtezan (London: John Hodgets, 1605)
Marston, John, The Fawn, ed. David A. Blostein (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1978)
Marston, John, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, ed. Keith Sturgess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)
Marston, John, The Plays of John Marston, 3 vols, ed. H. Harvey Wood (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934–9)
Marston, John, What You Will, ed. M.R. Woodhead (Nottingham: Nottingham Drama Texts, 1980)
Marston, John, The Wonder of Women Or The Tragedie of Sophonisba (London: John Windet, 1606)
Stern, Tiffany, ‘“A Small-Beer Health to his second day”: Playwrights, Prologues, and First Performances in the Early Modern Theatre’, Studies in Philology, 101 (2004), 172–99
- 1John Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, ed. Keith Sturgess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 179.
- 2Tiffany Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health to his second day”: Playwrights, Prologues, and First Performances in the Early Modern Theatre’, Studies in Philology,101 (2004), 172–99.
- 3Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health”’, 180.
- 4John Marston, The Dutch Courtezan (London: 1605), A2r.
- 5Gérard Genette, ‘Introduction to the Paratext’, trans. Marie Maclean, New Literary History, 22 (1991), 261–72.
- 6Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7; John Marston, What You Will, ed. M.R. Woodhead (Nottingham: Nottingham Drama Texts, 1980), 6; John Marston, The Fawn, ed. David A. Blostein (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1978), 73.
- 7Marston, The Fawn, 73; ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176; What You Will, 6.
- 8Marston, The Fawn, 240 [5.485], 73; What You Will, 6.
- 9Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7.
- 10Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7.
- 11Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health”’, p. 182.
- 12Stern, ‘“A Small-Beer Health”’, p. 183.
- 13John Marston, The Wonder of Women Or The Tragedie of Sophonisba (London: John Windet, 1606); Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 294 [Sophonisba, 5.4.60–64].
- 14Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 239 [The Dutch Courtesan, 5.3.152–54], 240 [5.3.155–62].
- 15Tom Lockwood, ‘“The Masque being Endid”: A New Epilogue from British Library MS Add. 22582’, Notes and Queries,60 (2013), 52–54.
- 16Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 59.
- 17Ben Jonson, Poetaster, ed. Tom Cain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 237 [5.3.269], 240 [5.3.280].
- 18Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 243
- 19Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 6 [Antonio and Mellida, Induction, line 132].
- 20John Marston, The Plays of John Marston, 3 vols, ed. H. Harvey Wood (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934–9), 3:179.
- 21Marston, What You Will, 3–6.
- 22Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 3 [Antonio and Mellida, Induction, line 2]; The Plays of John Marston, 3:179.
- 23Marston, What You Will, 4.
- 24Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 6 [Antonio and Mellida, Induction, lines 126–27, 128–31].
- 25Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7.
- 26Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7.
- 27Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 7.
- 28Marston, What You Will, 68, 5, 3
- 29Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176.
- 30Marston, The Fawn, 240–41 [5.491, 492–94].
- 31Marston, What You Will, 6.
- 32Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176.
- 33Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 224 [The Dutch Courtesan, 4.4.76].
- 34Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 190 [The Dutch Courtesan, 2.1.64–65], 197 [2.2.111].
- 35Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 200 [The Dutch Courtesan, 2.2.226].
- 36Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 358.
- 37Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 183 [The Dutch Courtesan, 1.1.146–48], 237 [The Dutch Courtesan, 5.3.66].
- 38Marston, ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 294 [Sophonisba, 5.4.75], The Fawn, 241 [5.497], ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 176, What You Will, 6.
- 39Marston, The Fawn, 240–41 [5.482–83, 494, 497, 498, 499].
- 40Marston, The Fawn, 240; ‘The Malcontent’ and Other Plays, 294 [Sophonisba, 5.4.67-68].
- 41Marston, The Fawn, 73–74.
- 42The Plays of John Marston, 3:221.