John Marston's Histriomastix and the Golden Age


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In spite of its title, Histrio-Mastix; Or, The Player whipt is not primarily concerned with either players or the War of the Theaters, as has been frequently argued.1 Rather, as recent scholarship has urged, the play is "about the decay of a commonwealth" and was. "written by Marston for the Middle Temple's Christmas revels of 1598/9."2 It is essentially "a study of the breakdown of an unspecified but clearly English society, and each of its six acts presents one phase of the process: Peace, Plenty, Pride, Envy, War, Poverty. The deterioration is traced and made specific by presenting in each act various scenes which illustrate the theme of the act."3 The play is at the same time an "allegorical dramatization of two Renaissance commonplaces. The first is the idea that the fortunes of society are governed by a continuous cycle. . . . The second thesis offers a way out of the cyclical trap through learning .... "4 My argument, however, is that in his allegory Marston presents a vision of the Golden Age, followed by the stages through which it turns to an Age of Iron, and then a renewal of the Golden Age through the return of Astraea. Further, in each act crucial choric commentary is presented by the key human figure in the drama, the scholar-poet Chrisoganus.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.