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Temporizing as Pyrrhonizing in Marston's The Malcontent.

Critics often allude to the skepticism of John Marston's drama. Robert Ornstein calls Marston the first Jacobean to exploit dramatically the skepticism about Stoic self-sufficiency expressed by Erasmus and Montaigne and implicit in the moral philosophy of the Elizabethan age."(1) Jonathan Dollimore interprets the close of Antonio's Revenge (1600-1) as "a subversion of providentialist orthodoxy."(2) And Keith Sturgess argues that The Dutch Courtesan (1605) is informed throughout by "Montaigne's skepticism and moral realism," thereby encouraging Marston "to explode any simple moral structures of right/wrong, black/white by engaging with the genuine complexity of human experience."(3) The Malcontent (1603), however, despite its status as Marston's best known play, has received virtually no attention along these lines; rather, critics have generally focused on its brilliant exploration of role-play and its closely-related doubleness of theme, mood, and structure.(4) Yet given the fin de siecle intellectual milieu in which the play was composed, not to mention Marston's evident familiarity with Pyrrhonism, it seems worthwhile to ask what relations may obtain between, on the one hand, The Malcontent's examination of role-play and duality and, on the other, its participation in the forms of skepticism--henceforth termed "skeptical paradigms"--available to an intellectually curious English poet or playwright at the outset of the seventeenth century.(5)

That Marston had been exposed to the skeptical lexicon and to commonplace skeptical ideas is clear. Both at Oxford, where epistemological quaestiones were commonly posed for disputation,(6) and subsequently at London's Inns of Court, notorious in the 1590s for the cultivation of radical ideas in philosophy and art,(7) Marston would have had access to copies of the Latin translations of Sextus Empiricus published in the 1560s, as well as to other works--French, Italian, Latin, and English--which summarized, applauded, countered, or lampooned the skeptical arguments of Sextus with varying degrees of accuracy and persuasiveness.(8) He would, in addition, during his dozen-year tenure at the Middle Temple (1595-1606), have been acquainted with Sir John Davies, John Webster, John Ford, and possibly Fulke Greville and Sir Walter Ralegh, each of whom played a part in the English dissemination of ancient skeptical thought.(9) And he may well have read the English translation of Sextus mentioned by Thomas Nashe in his 1591 preface to Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, or else The Sceptick (c. 1590-1618), also a translation of Sextus, and often (though probably spuriously) attributed to Ralegh.(10) It thus comes as little surprise that in his satirical Scourge of Villanie (1598), Marston chastises a fictional interlocutor as follows: "Fye Gallus, what, a skeptick Pyrrhomist?"(11) Besides offering the earliest known instance of the word "Pyrrhonist" in English, this speech, in context, demonstrates a relatively accurate understanding of a central Pyrrhonian idea: Marston's satiric persona refuses to withhold belief in the fashion advocated by skeptics. Rather, he assures Gallus that he is a plain speaker--"Ile not faine / Wresting my humor, from his natiue straine"--and intends to stay that way. In contrast, then, to a writer such as Nashe, who also alludes to the "Pironiks" and to Sextus Empiricus in various works of the 1590s,(12) Marston demonstrates a much sharper understanding of Pyrrhonism--an understanding closer to that evinced by John Donne (also an Inns-of-Court student), who asserts in his third "Paradox" that "the Sceptique which doubts all is more contentious then eyther the Dogmatique which affirmes, or Academique which denyes."(13) Unlike Donne, however, Marston did not read Montaigne until after the 1603 publication of John Florio's English translation, and thus his initial understanding of Pyrrhonism depends upon his knowledge of sources other than the Essayes.(14)

But Marston's acquaintance with elements of the skeptical lexicon is only part of the story. He is also familiar, as are many of his contemporaries, with commonplaces of ancient philosophy closely tied to skepticism, among them the Socratic nihil scio and the tactic of arguing in utramque partem. His plays are laced with aphoristic remarks such as "The wisest said: I know I nothing know" (Histriomastix [1599], 1.1.76), "I know I know naught but I naught do know" (What You Will [1601], 2.2.193), and "There's naught that's safe and sweet but ignorance" (The Malcontent, 3.1.32).(15) And his cognizance of the Ciceronian strategy of examining questions from both sides is evident, for instance, in the attitudes of What You Will's Lampatho, a malcontent who, like Vindice, Flamineo, and Bosola of later Jacobean tragedy, laments his fruitless years as a student:
 I was a scholar: seven useful springs
 Did I deflower in quotations
 Of cross'd opinions 'bout the soul of man.
 The more I learnt the more I learnt to doubt:
 Knowledge and wit, faith's foes, turn faith about.

That "cross'd opinions" can lead to terminal doubt is not only the standard conclusion of Pyrrhonian thought with respect to the juxtaposition of opposed beliefs or perceptions, but also a common trajectory of the "vanity of learning" topos so prominent in English philosophical poetry at the turn of the seventeenth century.(17) Finally, it is worth noting one last bit of evidence suggesting Marston's direct acquaintance with the works of Sextus. Late in The Malcontent, when Maquerelle and Malevole debate whether Maria will succumb to Mendoza's marital advances, Maquerelle queries Malevole about the current sign of the zodiac. Malevole mockingly responds by exclaiming "Sign! Why, is there any moment in that?" To which Maquerelle earnestly replies:
 O, believe me, a most secret power. Look ye, a Chaldean or an Assyrian (I
 am sure 'twas a most sweet Jew) told me, court any woman in the right sign,
 you shall not miss. But you must take her in the right vein then; as, when
 the sign is in Pisces, a fishmonger's wife is very sociable; in Cancer, a
 precisian's wife is very flexible; in Capricorn, a merchant's wife hardly
 holds out; in Libra, a lawyer's wife is very tractable, especially if her
 husband be at the term; only in Scorpio `tis very dangerous meddling.

This conjunction of "Chaldean" with ridicule of astrological determinism strongly suggests Marston's familiarity either with Sextus's parallel conjunction in Adversus astrologos, or else with recent allusions to Sextus and Chaldean belief in the heated debate over judicial astrology carried out by John Chamber and Sir Christopher Heydon.(18) Directly or indirectly, then, Marston knows Sextus Empiricus; more significantly, however, he is poised to experiment with skeptical paradigms derived from contemporary English understanding, misundertanding, appropriation and deployment of ancient skeptical ideas. And such experimentation is a prominent feature of the intellectual landscape of Marston's fin de siecle England; one need only look to Donne's adroit treatment of doubt in Satire #3 (c. 1594-95) for corroboration of this claim.(19)

But how, if at all, do the skeptical paradigms available to Marston relate to The Malcontent's doubleness of mood and obsession with role-play, dissimulation, and disguise? One way to approach this question is to examine the assumptions embedded within a recent summary of critical stances toward the play's exploration of whether and how far the adoption of the mask of malcontent/revenger corrupts the adopting subject. Relying upon critical pronouncements by Arthur C. Kirsch and Alvin Kernan, Joan Lord Hall writes that
 If Altofronto/Malevole is felt to be a composite and controlled character,
 the `central intelligence' whose `supreme and dominating role-playing
 crystallizes the whole of the play,' then the play's happy ending is an
 optimistic comment on man's ability to manipulate roles creatively rather
 than becoming `intrapped' in them, to use Montaigne's term. But if the
 audience loses this sense of the controlling consciousness behind the
 scurrilous Malevole, then it will register the malcontent role mainly as an
 insidious manifestation of a warped character in a corrupt society.(20)

The first and most obvious response to this summary is that neither readers nor playgoers are at all likely to lose their sense of a "controlling consciousness" behind Malevole's presence: more than a dozen times during the play we are reminded of such a consciousness through Marston's highly theatrical deployment of soliloquies and asides, combined with his emphasis upon intimate conversations between Altofronto and Celso--conversations often reminiscent of those between Hamlet and Horatio.(21) In only one of these moments does Altofronto register explicit reluctance to play the part of Malevole--"O God, how loathsome this toying is to me! That a duke should be forced to fool it!" (5.2.41-44)--and thus Keith Sturgess's claim that Altofronto must "keep himself insulated from the spoiling, prurient, corruption-loving Malevole" seems extreme in emphasis.(22) On the contrary, Altofronto generally appears to relish the role of malcontent:
 Well, this disguise doth yet afford me that
 Which kings do seldom hear, or great men use--
 Free speech. And though my state's usurped,
 Yet this affected strain gives me a tongue
 As fetterless as is an emperor's. (1.3.154-58)

He clearly values the freedom of expression granted by his disguise, hence there are unquestionably continuities between the inward thought of Altofronto and the outward speech of Malevole: the latter may say what the former may only think. Moreover, to the extent that Altofronto's delight in "free speech" is consonant with the praise for poetic liberty proffered both in the play's Induction ("Why should not we enjoy the ancient freedom of poesy?") and in its preliminary ode ("And once teach all old freedom of a pen,/Which still must write of fools, while'st writes of men"), this delight constitutes a normative attitude within the play and thus validates the speech of Malevole.(23) To "bespurtle" (1.2.11),"tent" (4.5.64), or exercise a "home-thrusting tongue" (3.5.23) is to indulge in the "tartness" appropriate to the "freedom of a satire" ("To the Reader," 24, 26). And if Altofronto's identity, like the dyer's hand, is subdued to what it works in, the subduing is not a corruption but a necessary, creative, even desired, evolution. Tempting as it may seem--and despite G. K. Hunter's claim that Marston's malcontent is "eaten into by the evil he beholds"--Malevole's Altofronto cannot be viewed the same way as Piato's Vindice.(24)

Returning to Hall's summary, I believe the next assumption worthy of interrogation is that the play's ending is "happy" and "optimistic," and that this optimism is inextricably tied to a sense that Altofronto is never "intrapped" in the role of Malevole.(25) First, as I have argued, Altofronto enjoys his role as Malevole, and thus appears to be Malevole in some sense worth considering; and it follows from this that if he is not precisely"intrapped" in the role, the role nonetheless functions as a part of him--an extension or development, perhaps--much in the way that we view Hamlet's "antic disposition" as having been adopted with comparative ease. Second, the play's ending strikes me less as happy or optimistic than as perfunctorily generic--rather like the dose of Measure for Measure. Conventional with a vengeance, it foregrounds genre expectations to an almost ludicrous degree and thereby draws them powerfully into question.(26) Moreover, the providential optimism embedded in several of Altofronto's late-play speeches hangs in curious suspension with the vehement pessimism expressed by Malevole: if the world is morally responsive, averse to allowing one to sink "that close can temporise" (4.5.144), it is nonetheless a world in which temporizing is necessary--a world, in short, where "Mature discretion is the life of state" (4.5.148). Thus Malevole's estimate of earth and its human population--offered to Pietro immediately prior to the revelation of Malevole's"true" identity--amounts in effect to Altofronto's estimate as well:
 Think this:--this earth is the only grave and Golgotha wherein all things
 that live must rot; 'tis but the draught wherein the heavenly bodies
 discharge their corruption, the very muckhill on which the sublunary orbs
 cast their excrements. Man is the slime of this dung-pit, and princes are
 the governors of these men. (4.5.107-12)

The play offers no sense whatsoever that the explicit resumption of Altofronto's ducal role negates or dissipates any of the claims Malevole has made. On the contrary, the world still seems a "dung-pit," and if it is a providential world, it is providential in a way somehow consonant with thoroughgoing corruption, depravity, and Golgotha-like death-stress.(27) One might object that Malevole's pronouncements merely ring a Protestant variation on early modern strains of the contemptus mundi attitude: Erasmus, after all, had claimed in his Praise of Folly(1509) that if viewed from the moon, human activity would seem the commotion of "a swarm of flies or gnats, all struggling, fighting, and betraying one another"; and Montaigne had famously wondered in his Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580, 1588) whether it was "possible to imagine anything more laughable" than that humanity, buried amidst "the mire and shit of the world" and "exposed to shocks on every side," should nonetheless consider itself "Master and Emperor of the universe."(28) But the vehemence of Malevole's remarks, combined with their comic corroboration in the play's narrowly-averted violence and in Ferneze's grotesque "cony-catching" antics during the climactic masque (5.4.83-99), renders thoroughly problematic their easy subsumption within the ideal of a morally responsive universe.(29) Like the Calvinist impasse generated through dual emphasis upon divine benevolence and human depravity, The Malcontent's doubleness presents us with a forceful paradox. But whereas Calvin resorts to Pauline pronouncements, stipulating that it is wicked for humans to question God's will, The Malcontent offers no moral guidance in the face of its paradox.(30)

In short, the collective professions of Altofronto/Malevole constitute a simultaneous assertion of what The Sceptick calls "contrarieties"; they amount to a violation of the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction inasmuch as they insist upon both A and not-A.(31) To be sure, the professions are not as precisely oppositional as Troilus's "This is, and is not, Cressid," or even Vindice's "I'm in doubt / Whether I'm myself or no," but to insist upon such precision is less material than to note the clear emphasis upon contraposition.(32) Rather than eschewing choice among opposites and thus suspending judgment in Pyrrhonian fashion, Altofronto/Malevole in effect practices in utramque partem argumentation but concludes that both sides are true. He thus follows a skeptical trajectory to the extent that he entertains "cross'd opinions" and refuses to choose between them, but he abandons the trajectory in departing from the Pyrrhonian principle of non-assertion. Instead of A, but not-A, therefore neither, he presents us with A, but not-A, therefore both. And this subscription to "bifold authority" (Troilus and Cressida, 5.2.144) is one of several prominent skeptical paradigms available to late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean intellectuals living amidst the flurry of Pyrrhonian and pseudo-Pyrrhonian speculation raised in the wake of the Sextus translations. The paradigm--what might be termed, given the now-fashionable alternate title of Shakespeare's Henry the Eighth, the "All is True syndrome"--allows for the toleration of apparent contradiction without suggesting that we cease our search into vexing metaphysical issues: it promotes provisional acquiescence to inscrutability even while encouraging ongoing investigation into the paradoxes of divine providence, earthly corruption, and God's alleged alignment with virtuous action. As readers or playgoers, then, we are asked both to see ourselves as the "slime" of the world's "muckhill" and to assent without hesitation to the implied answer to Altofronto's rhetorical question: "Who doubts of providence, that sees this change?" (4.5.138-39). We are asked to contemplate the simultaneous truth and falsity of Malevole's remark to Pietro: "I would not trust heaven with my vengeance anything" (1.3.144-45). More generally, we are invited to reflect upon Montaigne's observation, as rendered by Florio, that "I may perhaps gaine-say myself, but truth (as Demades saith) I never gaine-say: Were my mind setled, I would not essay, but resolve myself."(33)

Indeed, a habit of never gainsaying truth seems woven into the verbal fabric of The Malcontent. It manifests itself, for instance, in Malevole's delight in oxymoron: he refers to himself as "an honest villain" (1.3.84) and "an excellent pander" (4.3.88); he calls a cuckold "a thing that's hoodwink'd with kindness" (1.3.91-92); he addresses Mendoza as "friendly damnation" (2.5.135). Other characters participate as well in this verbal corroboration of pervasive dual authority. Maria calls Mendoza a "gracious devil" (5.4.38) and Bilioso praises Maquerelle's self-promotion strategies as "excellent policy" (5.1.32). Even an early stage direction characterizes Malevole's offstage singing as "out-of-tune music" (1.1.s.d.). But in addition to sharp verbal oppositions, Marston clearly favors paradoxical expression as a rhetorical strategy particularly suited to The Malcontent. Bilioso, according to Malevole, is "half a man, half a goat, all a beast" (1.3.34-35), and Malevole, in turn, is "a man, or rather a monster," whose "soul is at variance within herself" and whose "highest delight is to procure others' vexation" (1.2.18, 21-22, 26-27). Maquerelle, who fittingly swears by her "maidenhead" (5.3.113), advises Bianca and Emilia to "Cherish anything saving your husband" (2.4.34), arguing elsewhere that "Honesty is but an art to seem so" (5.2.12). And to the extent that Mendoza believes that "vengeance makes men wise" (1.7.80) and Bilioso testifies that he "had rather stand with wrong, than fall with right" (4.5.90), it is scarcely surprising that Malevole implores God to "deliver me from my friends!" (4.4.19-20).

But the paradoxes exposed by the simultaneous representation of what Celso calls "two tugging factions" (3.3.12) are perhaps even more evident in The Malcontent's skeptical generalizations about human nature. Railing against women, for example, Mendoza misogynistically avers that "these monsters in nature" are "only constant in unconstancy" (1.6.82, 88), and his misogyny is more subtly perpetuated by Pietro, who requests that his entertainers
 Sing of the nature of women, and then the song shall be surely full of
 variety, old crotchets and most sweet closes; it shall be humourous, grave,
 fantastic, amorous, melancholy, sprightly, one in all, and all in one.

Probably the best instance, however, of that allegation of human all-inclusiveness that refuses, in essence, to choose between a given claim and its opposite, lies in another observation by Pietro. Despondent in the aftermath of the supposed murder of Ferneze, Pietro exclaims, with clear Faustian overtones,
 Good God, that men should desire
 To search out that, which being found, kills all
 Their joy of life! To taste the tree of knowledge,
 And then be driven from out paradise. (3.1.15-18)

Though not as intensely bitter in tone as Shakespeare's more famous expression, in Sonnet 147, of the same fundamental sentiment--that "Desire is death" and that we long for "that which longer nurseth the disease, / Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill"--Pietro's exclamation nonetheless captures a sense of the simultaneous exhilaration and peril of human desire, and it serves as well as an indirect and partial indictment of God's choice thus to constitute the human psyche. Perhaps most significant of all, given The Malcontent's cast of characters and the various oscillations of Altofronto/Malevole, the remark tends to add nuance and complexity to our assessments not only of Pietro, but of such figures as Mendoza, Bianca, Maquerelle, and possibly even Bilioso.

In one respect, the skeptical paradigm I have outlined here seems unremarkable inasmuch as it resonates thoroughly with the fundamental premise of the theatrical milieu in which it takes its life. Just as one actor plays both Altofronto and Malevole, thereby effectively engaging in the portrayal both of not-Malevole and not-Altofronto, so the combined Altofronto/Malevole asserts "cross'd opinions" whose reconciliation demands some degree of assent to mystery. But beyond this we must consider that Altofronto is not merely dissembling as Malevole, and thus not merely acting the Machiavel, but "temporizing" in the role, as he twice observes (1.4.28, 4.5.144). An example from Shakespeare may clarify the distinction. When Cressida exclaims to Pandarus that she cannot "temporize with [her] affections" (Troilus and Cressida, 4.4.6), she understands temporizing as moderating; she argues that since her love "admits no qualifying dross, / No more my grief, in such a precious loss" (4.4.9-10). To temporize with her affections would be to ascribe impurity to them, and to the extent that she sees herself as incapable of doing this, she similarly eschews the possibility of moderating her grief and thus acting according to the time. But the transparent illogic of Cressida's argument--her unfounded assumption that alteration of outward appearance necessarily depends upon alteration of inward feeling--throws valuable light on Altofronto's conception of temporizing. For to "temporise," as he suggests to Celso, while indeed to play a role and thus in a broad sense to dissemble, is more specifically to acknowledge that while behavior must often change with circumstance, such change does not imply discontinuity of interior feeling or purpose. Consequently, Philip Finkelpearl's characterization of Altofronto's behavior as "virtuous Machiavellianism" and Keith Sturgess's claim that Altofronto's temporizing amounts to a "Machiavellian compromise with idealism" are both slightly misleading.(34) Mendoza, not Altofronto, is the Machiavel of this play: his ends self-serving, his methods thoroughly secretive, his confidence overweening, his imagination consequently enfeebled by its divorce from human community (4.3.134-41, 5.3.72-79). Altofronto, by contrast, confides first in Celso and then, sequentially, in Ferneze, Pietro, and his wife Maria, thereby suggesting that the ducal restoration he seeks depends upon solidarity and truth-telling, hence upon vulnerability. The very potential for failure here--the inherent dimension of risk--again resonates with the yoking of contraries constitutive of the skeptical paradigm I have presented. Temporizing, for Altofronto, ineluctably amounts to hoping:
 Climb not a falling tower, Celso,
 'Tis well held desperation, no zeal,
 Hopeless to strive with fate. Peace! Temporise.
 Hope, hope, that never forsak'st the wretched'st man,
 Yet bidd'st me live, and lurk in this disguise....
 Some way t'will work--Phewt! I'll not shrink.
 He's resolute who can no longer sink. (1.4.26-30, 41-42)(35)

It amounts, in short, to the assumption of a degree of humility entirely alien to the standard Machiavellian dissimulation with which we are familiar, for instance, from Marlowe's Barabas or, better still, Kyd's Lorenzo. And it thus equates with Pyrrhonizing inasmuch as it reflects the structural form of the pseudo-Pyrrhonian skeptical paradigm I have described, as also in its rejection of dogmatic stances generally.

As one final instance of The Malcontent's underlining of its dual-protagonist's complex form of role-playing, let us consider the play's emphatic but seldom-remarked spotlighting of religious affiliation. Beginning with Malevole's ironic "I'll go to church" (1.2.11) and quickly followed by Pietro's bemused "I wonder what religion thou art off." (1.3.7), this line of interrogation evolves into a sort of refrain; the play is punctuated with queries about religious status that accentuate the radical shifts in commitment and belief exhibited by such characters as Pietro and Bilioso:

What religion wilt thou be of next? (2.3.12)

What, art an infidel still? (4.4.5-6)

Of what faith art now? (4.4.15)

What religion will you be of now? (4.5.91)(36)

It is not of course that Malevole holds genuine interest in these characters' religious affiliations, but rather that the possibility of shifting religious alliance serves metaphorically to underscore the difference between these characters' role-playing and the temporizing practiced by Altofronto. In a world where, as Marston well knows, the conventional answer to the question of what "makes most infidels now?" is "Sects, sects" (1.3.9-11), the employment of pointed queries about religious affiliation serves admirably as a means of stressing the potential for easy drift among mutually-exclusive commitments and alliances. And the punning on sexual infidelity, thoroughly appropriate given the double cuckolding of Pietro by Mendoza and Ferneze, only heightens our attention to questions of loyalty, betrayal, and adulteration.

The Malcontent, then, offers explicit juxtaposition of Mendoza's Machiavellian dissembling with Altofronto's temporizing: both are forms of role-play, but they are clearly meant to be distinguished from one another, as well as from Bilioso's mindless following of favor ("look ye, we must collogue sometimes, forswear sometimes" [5.2.73-74]) and from Aurelia's brazen counterfeiting (4.2.1-28), which of course fools no one. If Mendoza is accurately characterized as one who hypocritically "snibs filth in other men and retains it in himself" (3.3.28-29), we are perhaps justified in understanding Altofronto/Malevole as one who also "snibs filth" as part of his role, but does not "retain" it so much as apprehend it with constant imaginative intensity. His is a "hideous imagination" (1.3.133), as Pietro astutely exclaims. Like Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure, Altofronto/Malevole adheres to the formula "Craft against vice I must apply" (Measure for Measure, 3.2.280), temporizing in a manner that demonstrates both his profound experiential understanding of "vice" and his acknowledgment of the paradox that pervasive human viciousness coexists with pervasive providential supervision. If the world is the theater of God's judgments, it is a theater where actors write substantial portions of the script. And while The Malcontent undoubtedly offers moments of the subversive examination of providentialist orthodoxy that Dollimore, for instance, might seize upon (e.g. 3.3.119-23), the larger movement of the play suggests that its skepticism lies rather in its participation in that skeptical paradigm which assents simultaneously to the need for human temporizing in response to the world's undeniable depravity, and to a vision of the world as ultimately overseen and governed by a just, benign power in whom "all" should invest their "hearty faith" (4.5.139). To the extent that this dual assent both rehearses and interrogates early modern disputes between activity and passivity, works and faith, and the world as "sterile promontory" versus "goodly frame" (Hamlet, 2.2.289-90) its manifestation in The Malcontent resonates profoundly with Pyrrhonism's entry into and shaping of the fin de siecle Elizabethan preoccupation with the mystery of opinions both "cross'd" and "true."


This essay began as a seminar paper for the 1999 meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America. I wish to express my thanks to David Bevington, the seminar leader, to Stuart Adams, Senior Librarian at the Middle Temple in London, and to an anonymous expert reader for Comparative Drama.

(1) Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960) 158; cp. assessments of Marston's anti-Stoic strain by Robert Bennett in "The Royal Ruse: Malcontentedness in John Marston's The Malcontent," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 1, ed. J. Leeds Barroll, III (New York: AMS Press, 1984), 71-72 and by Geoffrey Aggeler in Nobler in the Mind: The Stoic-Skeptic Dialectic in English Renaissance Tragedy (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 92-96. See also Charles R. Forker, Skull Beneath the Skin: The Achievement of John Webster (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986) 52-53, and M. C. Bradbrook, John Webster, Citizen and Dramatist (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980) 41.

(2) Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2nd ed. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993) 38. Similarly, Keith Sturgess claims that in the final scenes of Antonio's Revenge, through a "poised withdrawal of clear-cut judgment," Marston "signals a world of moral relativism and philosophic skepticism" (Introduction, The Malcontent and Other Plays, ed. Sturgess [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997] xviii).

(3) Sturgess, xxii.

(4) See, for instance, T. S. Eliot, "John Marston," in Elizabethan Essays (London: Faber, 1934) 177-95; Anthony Caputi, John Marston, Satirist (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1961) 193-94, 198-99; R. W. Ingram, John Marston (Boston: Twayne, 1978); Brownell Salomon, "The `Doubleness' of The Malcontent and Fairy-tale Form," Connotations 1:2 (1991): 150-63.

(5) For a study of skeptical paradigms as manifested in Elizabethan drama, see William M. Hamlin, "Casting Doubt in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus," SEL 41.2 (2001): 257-75.

(6) Charles B. Schmitt claims that Oxford's academic disputations during the 1580s and 1590s involved "a strikingly large number of epistemological questions which seem to reflect a sceptical threat," ("Philosophy and Science in Sixteenth-Century Universities," The Cultural Context of Medieval Learning, ed. John E. Murdoch and Edith D. Sylla [Dordrecht: Reidel, 1975] 501; cf. Mark H. Curtis, Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, 1558-1642 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959] 233, for further examples of Oxford disputation topics during these years). Schmitt's view is corroborated by additional evidence from the 1570s, most notably the frequent references to Cicero's Academica, Gianfrancesco Pico's Examen, and Vives's De disciplinis in lectures by Oxford's John Rainolds on Aristotle's Rhetoric from 1572-78 (Lawrence D. Green, ed. and trans., John Rainolds's Oxford Lectures on Aristotle's Rhetoric [Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986] 145, 161-65, 169, 205-7, 291-93, 412, 446-48, 453).

(7) Sturgess, vii; cf. Hiram Haydn, The Counter-Renaissance (New York: Scribner's, 1950) 81-82, 93, 107, 110; Forker, 41-56. Marston took his B.A. at Oxford in 1594 (he had matriculated at Brasenose College, 4 February 1591/92), then spent 1595-1606 studying at the Middle Temple, where his father was a prominent barrister.

(8) A copy of the 1562 Henri Estienne translation of Sextus's Pyrrhoniarum hypotyposes (Outlines of Pyrrhonism) was acquired in 1588 by Samuel Burton of Christ Church, Oxford, and given in 1599 to James Weston; this copy ultimately found its way into the library of Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury, and was bequeathed to Salisbury Cathedral at Ward's death in 1689 (Suzanne Eward, Salisbury Cathedral Librarian, personal communication, 1998). A copy of Gentian Hervet's 1569 edition of Sextus's complete works was held by John Rainolds (d. 1607) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford (Mordechai Feingold, The Mathematicians' Apprenticeship [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984] 58; another Hervet folio was held by the Bodleian no later than 1605 (Thomas James, The First Printed Catalogue of the Bodleian Library, 1605 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986] 317). As for the Middle Temple, where Marston resided for more than a decade, I have recently discovered that the Temple's library possesses a copy of the 1569 Hervet folio; this copy, signed "Tobias Matthew Joani Dalabero d.d.," belonged to John Delaber[e], who entered the Middle Temple in 1575/76, was called to the bar in 1583/84, and died as a senior barrister in 1607. Delaber[e] donated his copy of Sextus to the Temple Library, as the abbreviation "d.d." (dono dedit) indicates.

(9) Davies, author of Nosce Teipsum (1599), resided at the Middle Temple from 1588-1626; Webster almost certainly entered in 1598; Ford was admitted in 1602; Greville, author of A Treatie of Humane Learning (c. 1605) and Ralegh, whose library included a copy of The Sceptick, were "passing lodgers" at the Temple, presumably due to the intellectual companionship it offered. See Robert Krueger, introduction to The Poems of Sir John Davies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975) xxviii-xxxi; Philip J. Finkelpearl, John Marston of the Middle Temple (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969) 261-67; Forker, 40-56; Bradbrook, 28-46; and The Works of John Webster, ed. David Gunby et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 1.5-6.

(10) On the lost translation of Sextus, see The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow, 5 vols. (London, 1904-10) 3.332-33, 4.428-29, 5.120. For The Sceptick, see Sir Walter Raleigh's Sceptick (London, 1651) 1-31.

(11) Marston, The Scourge of Villanie (1598), in The Poems of John Marston, ed. Arnold Davenport (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1961) 105.76."Pyrrhomist" (rather than "Pyrrhonist") is probably a printer's error.

(12) Works of Thomas Nashe, 2.116, 2.302, 3.254, 3.332-33.

(13) Donne, "Paradox #3," in Paradoxes and Problems, ed. Helen Peters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980) 5-6; Peters writes that the Paradoxes date from "the early 1590s when Donne was a student at Thavies and Lincoln's Inns" (xv). Donne clearly knew the conventional tripartite division between Pyrrhonists, Academics, and Dogmatists, which suggests that he had access to Sextus's Outlines, where the distinction is originally presented, to Montaigne's Essais, where it is repeated, or possibly to the famous "lost translation" of Sextus. See Sextus, Outlines, 1.1-4; Montaigne, Apologie de Raimond Sebond (Les Essais, ed. Pierre Villey, rev. V. L. Saulnier [Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1992] 2.502). The distinction does not appear, significantly, in Cicero's Academica. On Donne's knowledge of Montaigne, see Louis Bredvold, "The Religious Thought of Donne in Relation to Medieval and Later Traditions," Studies in Shakespeare, Milton and Donne (New York: Macmillan, 1925) 198; Bredvold also claims that "Donne was the earliest of these seventeenth century religious Pyrrhonists in England, ... [he] had studied the same scepticism, in Sextus Empiricus and probably in Montaigne, and cultivated Augustine as his favorite religious teacher" (226); see also Edmund Gosse, Life and Letters of John Donne, 2 vols. (London, 1899), 1.122.

(14) Marston's reliance upon Florio's translation is evident in Poetaster or The Fawn (1604) and The Dutch Courtesan (1605): the latter contains no fewer than 45 borrowings from The Essayes; see Finkelpearl, 198-99; Caputi, 58; Aggeler, 75. Marston seems to have been particularly fascinated by Montaigne's late essay "Upon Some Verses of Virgil" (III.5). As M. P. Tilley long ago demonstrated, Marston also read the poetry of Guillaume Du Bartas in the 1595 and 1598 translations by Joshua Sylvester; Du Bartas several times alludes to Pyrrho and the ancient skeptics ("Charles Lamb, Marston, and Du Bartas," Modern Language Notes 53 [1938]: 494-98).

(15) Quotations from The Malcontent follow the New Mermaid edition prepared by Bernard Harris (New York: Norton, 1967); quotations from other Marston plays are drawn from The Works of John Marston, ed. A. H. Bullen, 3 vols. (London: John C. Nimmo, 1887; rpt. New York: Georg Olms, 1970); cp. Davies's Nosce Teipsum, line 76.

(16) See Forker, 52-53. On in utramque partem argumentation, see Cicero, Academica I, 45-46, Academica II, 7-8, De oratore, 3.107, and Tusculan disputations, 2.9; see also Joel Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978) passim, and Lisa Jardine, "Lorenzo Valla: Academic Skepticism and the New Humanist Dialectic," in Myles Burnyeat, ed., The Skeptical Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 259-65.

(17) See, e.g., Davies's Nosce Teipsum (1599), John Davies of Hereford's Mirum in Modum (1602) and Microcosmos (1603), and Fulke Greville's Treatie of Humane Learning (c. 1605), as well as Marston's Antonio's Revenge, 4.1.38-60. Cf. Haydn, 93, 125; Forker, 53.

(18) Adversus mathematicos, 5.21; Chamber, Treatise Against Judiciall Astrologie (London, 1601) 23; Heydon, Defence of Judiciall Astrologie (Cambridge, 1603), 127, 134, 148.

(19) John Carey writes that "The distrust of received verities was part of the fin de siecle fatigue" (John Donne: Life, Mind and Art [London: Faber, 1981] 220); see Richard Strier's discussion of Donne's Satire #3 in Resistant Structures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) 118-64.

(20) Hall,"`To play the man well and duely': Role-playing in Montaigne and Jacobean Drama," Comparative Literature Studies 22:2 (1985): 173-86; here, 177.

(21) 1.3.148-65 (soliloquy); 1.4.1-42 (with Celso); 1.4.73-78 (aside to Celso); 1.4.87-89 (with Celso); 2.5.135-37 (soliloquy); 2.5.144-59 (with Ferneze-a possible reminder, since he moralizes here, and also speaks of his plots); 3.2.1-14 (essentially a soliloquy: Bilioso is present, but reading a letter); 3.2.51-53 (soliloquy); 3.3.1-37 (with Celso); 3.3.119-23 (with Celso); 4.5.129-48 (with Pietro, Ferneze, Celso); 5.2.41-44 (aside); 5.3.80-90 (with Celso); 5.4.100-01 (with Maria); and 5.4.109-62 (to all present).

(22) Sturgess, xxi; cp. Salomon, 156, who usefully stresses the connection between this aside and the"verbal game-playing" in which Malevole has just been engaged; consider also that Malevole utters this speech immediately after "wooing" his own wife for Mendoza. When Altofronto/ Malevole complains of insomnia at 3.2.1-14, he may be registering additional frustration with the role he plays--or he may simply be limning the role's inevitable side-effects. See also valuable comments by Bennett, 78-80.

(23) Induction, 65-64; ode, 15-16. John Webster wrote the Induction, but the ode is apparently Marston's, as is the preface "To the Reader" (appearing in all three 1604 editions of the play), which approves the "freedom of a satire" (26). See also 1.2.11 ("free liberty"), 1.3.2 ("He is as free as air") and 1.4.31 ("What, play I well the free-breathed discontent?").

(24) Hunter, "English Folly and Italian Vice: The Moral Landscape of John Marston," Jacobean Theatre, ed. John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1960) 101. From the outset, by contrast, Vindice views his impending transformation into the "knave" and "man o' th' time" Piato as a form of corruption: "For to be honest is not to be i' th' world" (The Revenger's Tragedy, in Four Revenge Tragedies, ed. Katharine Eisaman Maus [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995] 1.1.93-96). Hippolito's comment to Lussurioso about Piato, "This our age swims within him" (1.3.24), serves not only as a way of enticing Lussurioso, but also foreshadows a genuine transformation in Vindice--a transformation never witnessed in Altofronto, since his temporizing is a calculated response that preserves his integrity. Vindice, meanwhile, will "forget [his] nature" (1.3.177).

(25) Aggeler offers a similar view, arguing that "the activity of conscience turns an impending revenge tragedy into a comedy of forgiveness" (24).

(26) Lee Bliss writes that The Malcontent "severely tests its tragicomic structure" ("Pastiche, burlesque, tragicomedy," in The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990] 246). See also G. K. Hunter, English Drama 1586-1642 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997) 65,286, 309-10.

(27) It seems worth noting that Sextus explicitly juxtaposes arguments for and against providence in his Outlines (e.g., 1.32, 1.151).

(28) The Praise of Folly and Other Writings, trans. Robert M. Adams (New York: Norton, 1989) 50 (Erasmus relies here upon Lucian's Icaromenippus); Apology (Essays II: 12), trans. M. A. Screech (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), 13, 16 (cp. Les Essais, 2.452).

(29) Eliot famously concludes that Ferneze's words to Bianca in the final scene "seem to indicate that Marston had forgotten" that Bianca was Bilioso's wife (187). Even Aggeler, despite his tidy reading of The Malcontent, admits that Ferneze's attempt to seduce Bianca suggests that Altofronto/Malevole's penchant for character reformation is "not entirely successful" (99).

(30) Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. E T. Battles (London, 1961) e.g., 3.23.2, 3.23.7. On paradox and Renaissance drama, see Michael Neill, "The Defence of Contraries: Skeptical Paradox in A King and No King," SEL 21 (1981): 319-32.

(31) For "contrarieties," see Sir Walter Raleigh's Sceptick, 25.

(32) Revenger's Tragedy, 4.4.24-25; quotations from Shakespeare are drawn from The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. (New York: Norton, 1997); here, Troilus and Cressida, 5.2.143.

(33) The Essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, trans. John Florio (London, 1603; New York: Modern Library, 1933) 726.

(34) Finkelpearl, 178; Sturgess, 329; cp. Aggeler, 97-98; but see Bennett, 76-77. For less complex examples of temporizing in Jacobean drama see D'Amville in The Atheist's Tragedy, 3.4.32, or the Guise (speaking of Clermont D'Ambois) in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, 4.4.25 (both plays included in Maus, ed., Four Revenge Tragedies).

(35) See also 4.5.147. Aggeler, 75, likewise emphasizes Marston's stress on hope in the face of corruption.

(36) See also 1.4.45 and 2.5.118.
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Date:Sep 22, 2000
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