February 9th

Like Robert Greene, John Marston, too, had his reservations about Shakespeare–but not so much with what Shakespeare wrote as with the way Elizabethan theater-goers appreciated his plays. Marston, a poet, playwright, and satirist who was composing his works at the same as Shakespeare, vents his frustrations in The Scourge of Villainy, a satire printed in 1599, which mocks the pedantic habits of a man named Luscus:

Luscus what’s plaid today? Faith now I know
I set thy lips abroach, from whence doth flowe
Naught but pure Juliet and Romeo.
Say, who acts best? Drusus, or Roscio?
Now I have him, that nere of ought did speak
But when of playes or Players he did treate,
H’ath made a common-place booke out of playes,
And speakes in print: at least what ere he saies
Is warranted by Curtaine plaudities,
If ere you heard him courting Lesbrus eyes;
Say (Curteous Sir) speakes he not movingly,
From out some new pathetique Tragedy?
He writes, he railes, he jests, he courts (what not?)
And all from out his huge long scraped stock
Of well penn’d playes.

The play-goer Luscus, in other words, quotes plays by Shakespeare and others to show off his learning; but for a writer like Marston, such quotations were too transparently cribbed from other plays to be commendable displays of wit.

For us today, the value of Marston’s satire is that it offers a notable printed reference to Shakespeare and his works, one that would have appeared during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The Scourge of Villainy, then, stands as one more early testament to Shakespeare’s growth as a playwright; by 1599, he was successful and remarkable enough at least to be mentioned in Marston’s pages.

But perhaps just as remarkable is what Marston chooses to satire in Luscus: the remarkable eloquence of the characters and the plays he pedantically chooses to quote on a daily basis. The habits, while so laughable to Marston, reveal a powerful historical tendency of Elizabethan audiences–for them, Shakespeare, along with that of so many other players and plays, represented first and foremost a wellspring of eloquence, of pithy phrases and fashionable sayings, to use in their day-to-day lives.

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