Article Title

Writing and Revenge: John Marston's Histriomastix


At the turn of the seventeenth century, John Marston and Ben Jonson satirized each other’s poetics and personalities in a series of revenge comedies that Thomas Dekker called the “Poetomachia” or Poets’ War. “He had many quarrels with Marston beat him & took his Pistol from him, wrote his Poetaster on him,” Jonson later informed William Drummond, in whom he confided that “the beginning of ym were that Marston represented him in the stage.” Since the end of the nineteenth century, scholars have speculated that what had initially angered Jonson, and, to his mind, justified his intellectual and physical attacks on Marston was that the latter had mimicked him as a character called “Chrisoganus” in Histriomastix. Recently, however, this account has wrongly been dismissed as a critical fantasy, based entirely on Jonson’s “paranoia,” that unduly privileges conflict over cooperation in early modern theater. This essay provides an historical contextualization of Histriomastix that secures its position in the Poets’ War, by illustrating how these two English dramatists, writing comedies coincident with Hamlet and Antonio’s Revenge, secured and defended their literary reputations in the contentious commercial theater through a witty although somewhat cruel form of comic revenge in drama.

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