Printer Friendly

The Insatiate Countess, William Barksted's Hiren, the Fair Greek, and the Children of the King's Revels.

Abstractions such as 'pleasure', 'desire', and 'sense'--together with their cognate forms--abound within the dialogue of The Insatiate Countess. Amongst the resulting lines are these: 'Their pleasure like a sea groundlesse and wide', 'I am loue-sicke for your loue; loue, loue, for louing', 'Ventrous desire past depth it selfe hath drownd', and 'His tongue strikes Musicke rauishing my sense'. (1) John Marston's name appeared on the play's quarto appearances of 1613 and 1631, and the critical conundrum that hovers over so much of Marston's writing--is it good or bad?--certainly applies to The Insatiate Countess. Marston, however, was not the only agent at work in the drafting of the play. In alternative title pages (or second issues) of these two quartos, direct ascriptions to other and more obscure playwrights appear: to William Barksted and Lewis Machin in 1613 and to Barksted alone in 1631. (2)

In this essay I wish to explore the contributions of Barksted and Machin to the writing of The Insatiate Countess. In particular, I shall examine the impact upon this tragedy of Barksted's narrative poem, Hiren, the Fair Greek. I am not concerned here with identifying authorial agency in any part of The Insatiate Countess. Instead, I wish to examine the company context of this impact. I shall argue, first, that the tragic drama which Marston initiated shows a greater debt to Barksted's poem than scholars have previously appreciated; second, that Barksted's non-dramatic writing had a parallel impact upon plays known to have had a staging by the Children of the King's Revels; and third, that Barksted's narrative verse displays a familiarity with Marston's early drama. As I follow through the implications of these arguments, I will suggest that the confluence of Barksted's writing with that of Marston may have made possible the special register of The Insatiate Countess--one of the most strange, distinctive, and appealing of early modern tragedies.

The composition history of The Insatiate Countess is as odd and intriguing as its appeal. When Giorgio Melchiori edited the play he described The Insatiate Countess as 'perhaps the most puzzling play of the Jacobean age'. (3) The surviving early modern texts of the tragedy are untidy and confused. The play's conflicting and unresolved schemes for naming characters are merely the most prominent of its peculiarities. Tracing a history of composing agency, collaboration, company ownership, revision, and print publication is fraught with problems. The play's first print publication in 1613 featured Marston's name. In several surviving copies this name was physically cut out. An alternative title page names William Barksted and Lewis Machin as authors. A similar pair of ascriptions occurred in 1631, for one issue that attributes the play's authorship to Marston coexists with another that credits Barksted. (4) Scholars agree that all three writers--Marston, Barksted, and Machin--contributed to the surviving play-script.

The circumstances of their contributions, however, are unclear. Most commentators think that Marston left the play unfinished when he ceased work as a dramatist. A minority view--one that I share--holds that Marston's work took place earlier in his life as a playwright. (5) In this essay I shall add little to the debate over this matter. I aim instead to clarify when and for which company Barksted and Machin drafted their share of the play's dialogue, for the surviving evidence gives rise to a scholarly puzzle. Title-page allusions to the Whitefriars theatre and (on the 1613 cancel leaf, which names both Machin and Barksted) to 'the Children of the Reuels' may point to either the King's Revels company that played at Whitefriars during 1607 and 1608 or to the reconstituted Queen's Revels that did so from 1609. (6)

Much of the attention given to the agency at play in The Insatiate Countess focuses on John Marston. In a way, this is understandable: Marston is a writer who often confounded the expectations of his readers and spectators, and his work continues to pose a challenge to his critics. The oddities of The Insatiate Countess may seem to be of piece with the extremes of tone, diction, and incident to feature in such works as The Scourge of Villainy, the Antonio plays, or The Wonder of Women. The hypothesis that Marston left off drafting The Insatiate Countess in order to prepare for the priesthood merely encourages its readers to approach the play as a work of mystery. I have myself added to the tendency to view the play as a Marstonian creation, even though I do not consider the play to be a late work; I argued that the comic underplot involving the efforts of two Venetian gentlemen to cuckold one another reflects the rivalry between Marston and Jonson that climaxed in Satiromastix and Poetaster. (7)

Assessing The Insatiate Countess from the perspective of Barksted and Machin presents a different set of difficulties. First, we know of no other item of drama for which Barksted was a composing agent. Mary Bly names him as one amongst a collective who drafted play-texts for the Children of the King's Revels. (8) The Insatiate Countess was indeed unlikely to have been the only play for which Barksted had a scriptwriting role, but no hard evidence has emerged to connect him as a writer with any other theatrical text. On the other hand, two of Barksted's non-dramatic poems survive: Mirrha, the Mother of Adonis and Hiren, the Fair Greek. (9) Moreover, records of Barksted's acting career survive in the folio editions of Ben Jonson's works (1616) and of the plays ascribed to Beaumont and Fletcher (1647). (10) Barksted occasionally features in the records kept by Philip Henslowe. (11) A.B. Grosart connected Barksted with an episode in George Peele's Merry Conceited Jests. (12) Bly developed Grosart's connection as she took forward her thesis that the King's Revels repertory had a strongly homoerotic charge. (13) Melchiori drew upon this whole range of testimony in his account of the activities of Barksted and Machin. (14) In summary, Barksted--whom John Taylor called 'a late well knowne fine Comedian'--had a long and seemingly varied acting career from at least his older teenage years, was memorialized in anecdote, was the composer of two narrative poems, and was named in both 1613 and 1631 as a dramatist involved in the making of The Insatiate Countess. (15)

While Barksted's role in this composing activity is hard to pin down, that of Lewis Machin is more hazy still. For we have access to less writing known to be Machin's, and known only to be Machin's, than we have to Barksted's. Machin was responsible for the three 'eglogs' that form a coda to Barksted's Mirrha. Machin also wrote a six-line poem of commendation to Barksted in the same volume. The 'eglogs' themselves comprise only 268 lines of verse. Beyond this contribution to Barksted's Mirrha, and beyond whatever part of The Insatiate Countess was his, we only know of Machin's part-authorship of The Dumb Knight. The address 'To the vnderstanding Reader' of The Dumb Knight bears Machin's name while that of Markham appears on the title page of the second issue of the play's first quarto in 1608. Martin Wiggins has recently renewed the claim that Machin may have written the anonymous Every Woman in Her Humour. (16) Any effort to isolate Machin's words within the text of The Insatiate Countess must necessarily be speculative: few Jacobean dramatists have left as shadowy a testimony as Machin has done. Even so, Machin remains an intriguing figure, not least because two of his three 'eglogs' depict unusually explicit encounters between male lovers, and this tiny corpus of non-dramatic writing has sparked great interest. (17)

Our knowledge of the playwriting activities of Barksted and Machin is therefore slender, and the pair's role in drafting The Insatiate Countess remains illdefined. (18) The various title pages of The Insatiate Countess do make one matter clear: the Whitefriars theatre was the venue for the play's performances. As already mentioned, however, these title pages are not precise about which Revels company staged the tragedy. In his edition of 1984, Giorgio Melchiori offers extensive evidence of a shared intertextual field between The Insatiate Countess and the attested plays of the King's Revels. Nevertheless, this evidence does not of itself show that 'the performances at the Whitefriars advertised in the title pages of Q1 and Q3 were given by the King's Revels'. In this essay I draw attention to the impact of Barksted's narrative poem, Hiren, the Fair Greek, and I argue that its lines left an impression not only upon The Insatiate Countess but also upon other King's Revels plays.

Hiren and The Insatiate Countess

Roscoe Addison Small, Melchiori, and others have shown that The Insatiate Countess contains many passages that closely echo both Hiren and Barksted's other epyllion, Mirrha, the Mother of Adonis. Indeed, The Insatiate Countess reproduces whole lines verbatim from this pair of poems. (19) Mirrha reached print in 1607 in the volume that also contains Machin's 'Three Eglogs'. Hiren appeared four years later, but because Barksted mentions Hiren's 'maiden Muse' and alludes to this muse's 'virgin sake' scholars have suspected that it was the earlier poem (A2r). I will bring forward evidence to show that this suspicion is correct. Indeed, resolving this matter relates closely to the issue of company provenance; Small was explicit in connecting the publication date of Hiren--1611--with the appropriations of the poem within the play, and he concluded that The Insatiate Countess belonged to 'the second Queen's Revels Company'. (20)

One part of the debt to Hiren is highly concentrated. The episode in which Isabella seduces Gnaica--her third partner since the start of the play--teems with the images and the vocabulary that occur early in the second of Hirens two tomes. Barksted's poem tells of the capture of the Greek Hiren (or Irene) by the Turkish prince Mahomet following the sack of Constantinople. Mahomet feels a deep attraction towards Hiren, and after a long delay she sleeps with him. The two lovers soon become besotted with each other. When Mahomet realizes that his absorption in this affair has compromised his martial identity, however, he publicly executes Hiren, seeking through this callous act to demonstrate his soldierly nature.

The account of Hiren's seduction and the succeeding passage in which the pair make love again the following morning forms the basis for the scenes in The Insatiate Countess that involve Isabella and Gnaica. Small and others have noted many of the overlapping passages, but their concentrated nature has drawn little comment. Both works depict the attempt to attract a partner though an appeal to each of the five senses in turn. The repetition of idea and language is very strong; the debt, essentially, is to the whole episode.

Isabella outlines her request for help in seducing Gnaica immediately before he appears 'like Adonis in his hunting weedes'. She says:
Thou blessed Mercurie,
Prepare a banquet fit to please the Gods;
Let Sphaere-like Musicke breathe delicious tones
Into our mortal eares; perfume the house
With odoriferous sents, sweeter then Myrrhe,
Or all the Spices in Panchaia:
His sight and touching wee will recreate,
That his fiue Senses shall be fiue-fold happy.
His breath like Roses casts out sweete perfume;
Time now with pleasure shall it selfe consume. (Fr)

Isabella's speech parallels Mahomet's seduction of Hiren, for five successive stanzas of Barksted's poem elaborate in turn upon a gratification for Hiren's 'eyes', 'taste', 'hearing', 'smelling', and sense of touch. The overlap of vocabulary between Isabella's lines and Hirens stanza on the 'sence of smelling' is especially strong, with 'Roses' and 'spices' featuring in each. (21) The mention of 'Myrrhe' looks towards Barksted's other narrative poem. Indeed, Mirrha alludes to 'Panchaia' (C6v) in a passage which Small identifies as a further source for Isabella's speech. (22)

The closest match between poem and play involves the developing scene involving Isabella and Gnaica in The Insatiate Countess and the two numbered stanzas in Hiren that follow shortly after the initial seduction of Hiren by Mahomet. Barksted's lovers have just spent the night together and morning has come:
Her sight begot in him a new desire,
For that is restlesse alwaies in extreames,
Nought but saciety can quench loues fire.
Now through the christal casemet Phoebus beames
Dazled those twinckling starres that did aspire,
To gaze vpon his brightnesse being a louer.
Tasting her petulans in waking dreames,
To hide her from the sunne, he doth her couer.

Then sweet breath'd musicke, like the chime of spheares
Did rauish pleasure, till this paire did rise:
More wonder then that sound was to mens eares
Was her rare beauty to the gazers eyes.
Ioy was so violent, the rockes it teares,
The noise and triumphs beates vpon the aire,
And like ambition pierceth through the skies,
That Ioue loo'kt downe on her that was so rare. (Cv)

The first part of stanza 83 holds a correspondence with Isabella's speech immediately prior to her address to Mercury:
Desire, thou quenchlesse flame that burn'st our soules,
Cease to torment me;
The dewe of pleasure shall put out thy fire,
And quite consume thee with satietie. (Fr ) (23)

And the lines spoken by Isabella just after outlining her wish to gratify Gnaica's 'fiue Senses' include this statement: 'My loue was dotage till I loued thee; / For thy soule truely tastes our petulance' (Fv). (24) Her words help to make sense of Hirens mystifying 'Tasting her petulans'. Although not noted by either Small or Melchiori, the second line of stanza 84 has a phrase--'rauish pleasure'--that exactly matches the words with which Gnaica concludes The Insatiate Countess's episode: he declares that he comes 'To force thy bloud to lust, and rauish pleasure' (Fv). The first line of the same stanza, moreover--'Then sweet breath'd musicke, like the chime of spheares'--has its clear echo in the passage already quoted: 'Let Sphaere-like Musicke breathe delicious tones / Into our mortall eares'. This section of Hiren was intimately present in the mind (or to the hand) of the writer as the scene in The Insatiate Countess was being drafted.

This whole cluster, which involves a series of close echoes and rests upon a parallel frame of seduction and consummation, occupies no more than sixty-five lines of dialogue from The Insatiate Countess and eleven stanzas of Hiren. And this pattern of indebtedness has a match in the dialogue of other plays from the repertory of the first Whitefriars company. This match has its basis in the same section of Hiren. In other words, the same appropriative gambit that occurs in The Insatiate Countess is evident also in plays known to have been staged by the Children of the King's Revels. The influence of Barksted's narrative verse not only reveals something about the creative activity that underpinned the drafting of The Insatiate Countess. The debt also casts light upon the corporate environment within which that activity took place.

Hiren, The Dumb Knight, and The Turk

The impact of Hiren on The Insatiate Countess is--so I have claimed--more pervasive than scholars have believed. The whole episode in which Isabella and Gnaica have their sexual encounter draws its shape and dialogue from Barksted's poem. I now wish to argue that two other dramas staged at the Whitefriars theatre--The Dumb Knight and The Turk--also show the impact of Hiren. These plays, moreover, turn towards the very passages that influenced The Insatiate Countess. The Dumb Knight and The Turk belonged to the Children of the King's Revels, and so the trail of indebtedness consequently casts a sharp light upon the company provenance of The Insatiate Countess.

When The Dumb Knights Philocles begins his period of silence--for Philocles is the play's titular dumb knight--the King of Cyprus articulates his distress for 'My best of friends, my deerest Philocles', saying that:
in his words
Found I more musicke then in quires of Angels,
It was as siluer as the chime of spheares
The breath of Lutes, or loues deliciousnesse. (25)

Barksted describes the dawn coupling of his lovers in this way:
Then sweet breath'd musicke, like the chime of spheares,
Did rauish pleasure, till this paire did rise. (Cv)

As we have seen, these lines find an echo in The Insatiate Countess ('Let Sphaere-like Musicke breathe delicious tones / Into our mortall eares'). Barksted's phrase, 'the chime of spheares'--as far as the search engines Literature Online (LION) and Early English Books Online (EEBO) suggest--has no further instances beyond those of Hiren and The Dumb Knight. These search engines, moreover, find just one match for The Dumb Knights 'loues deliciousnesse'. The phrase occurs as 'the true taste of loues deliciousnesse' (Fv), and it appears in the middle of the very dialogue between Isabella and Gnaica that so profusely draws from Barksted's poem. To take a different tack, and as we have also seen, the expression 'ravish pleasure', which follows on from 'The chime of spheares' in Hiren, offers yet another precise and distinctive parallel, again featuring in the Gnaica episode from The Insatiate Countess.

Essentially, the two lines from Hiren supply a seemingly unique parallel with each of The Insatiate Countess and The Dumb Knight, and the two borrowing passages exhibit a further match with one another. This single example, I suggest, demonstrates the close connection between the three texts, but is not the only indication of Hirens impact upon The Dumb Knight. (26)

The Turk also reveals an indebtedness to Barksted, one that again mirrors the dependency shown by The Insatiate Countess. As The Turk draws to a close, Mulleasses is about to consolidate his rise to power in Florence. He aims to secure a marriage with the rightful heir, Julia. In narrative shape this scene replicates the denouement of a different source, for in the final act of Lust's Dominion Eleazar tries to ensure his ascent to the Spanish throne by means of a marriage with the princess Isabella. (27) In rhetoric, The Turk's episode constitutes an attempted seduction, based--like that of The Insatiate Countess--upon Hirens appeal to the senses. Mulleasses concludes his entreaty by suggesting to Julia that a
bed as soft
As downe feathers pluckt from Ledas swannes,
Shall yeeld vnto thy dalliance,
A hundred boyes like winged Cherubins
As faire as Psiches loue shall---(28)

In stanza 79 of Barksted's poem, Hiren gains the offer of
a rich imbroidred bed of downe,
Pluck't from the costant Turtles fethered breast. (Cr)

That stanza addressed the sense of touch and Mohomet's 'bed', 'downe', 'pluck't', and 'fethered' each has its equivalent in the speech of Mulleasses. Two stanzas earlier in Barksted's poem Hiren's sense of hearing receives this inducement:
Downe fals a clowd like a rich diadem,
And showes a hundred naked singing boyes. (B8v)

This striking and distinctive verbal connection presumably accounts for the otherwise jarring response which The Turk's Julia makes to Mulleasses: a request to 'leaue me Mahomet' (Kr). No character called Mahomet has any role within The Turk. The play's editor for the Materialen series, John Quincy Adams, Jr, suggests that the title was 'used, possibly, as a synonym for "Turk"'; but the naming of Mahomet simply demonstrates the impact of Hiren upon this episode in Mason's play. (29)

Again, this single instance, with its various points of connection, gives clear evidence of a debt to Hiren, though--again--the instance is not the only testimony of the link. (30) The Turk, moreover, also appears to echo Barksted's Mirrha, for the poem's lines 'Night like a masque is entred heauens greate hall / With thousand torches ushering the way' (B3r) reappear in the tragedy of 1608 as 'The daies eyes out, a thousand little starres / Spread like so many torches, about the skye' (D2v). This echo indicates with particular sharpness the web between poems and plays because the lines from Mirrha re-emerge--word for word--in the speech that concludes The Insatiate Countess. (31)

Barksted's Narrative Poems and Marston's Early Writings

That the appropriations of Hiren in The Insatiate Countess have a match in borrowings from Barksted's poems by other Whitefriars plays clearly says something about the context in which the accretions to Marston's play took place. Yet the two poems to infuse the dialogue of the play text published in 1613--Hiren and Mirrha--have an independent overlap with Marston's writing.

Whenever it was that Marston drafted his contribution to the text of The Insatiate Countess, he is most unlikely to have done so in partnership with Barksted or Machin; Marston had no known links with the Whitefriars theatre and is likely to have ceased writing for the professional stage by 1606. (32) Nevertheless, Barksted and Marston may have held a prior connection. Marston's The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion's Image was a significant predecessor to Barksted's erotic poems. Barksted must have read Marston's satires too, for Hiren's 'Close as the dew-wormes at the breake of day' (B4r) tightly parallels The Scourge of Villainy's 'cling'd so close, like dew-wormes in the morne'. (33) Marston's early plays, however, seem to have left a still stronger verbal debt. Jack Drum's Entertainment and Mirrha share the phrase 'like a bright diamond'. (34) And the mention in Hiren of 'a Diamond in the dark-dead night' (A4v) matches Rosaline's notion of a wit that 'shines onely in the darke deade night of fooles admiration'. (35) Both The Fawn and Hiren use the expression 'lustfull ease'. (36) Marston's Marlovian grab in Jack Drum, 'And suckes my soule forth with a melting kisse' (D2v), parallels Mellida's lines at the end of the first Antonio play: 'Whil'st I instill the deawe of my sweete blisse, / In the soft pressure of a melting kisse' (I4r). It might be thought that 'melting kiss' was a common phrase, but EEBO-TCP records only one other use prior to 1615, and that is Hirens 'Close as the dew-wormes at the breake of day, / That his soule shew'd, as t'were a melting kisse' (B4r). The Marlovian and Marstonian 'soul' has its reappearance in Hirens verse, and so does 'dew'; and indeed both 'dew' and 'melting kiss' hint at detumescence. (In echoing Hiren, as noted above, The Insatiate Countess mentions the 'dewe of pleasure'.) The occasional dependency of Barksted upon Marston has its most graphic exhibition as Mirrha 'her seruant armes bout her Nurse clasps, / and nuzzels once more twixt those dugs her face' (CV). There is no mistaking the likeness to the prologue to Antonio's Revenge: 'As from his birth, being hugged in the armes, / And nuzzled twixt the breastes of happinesse'. (37) And What You Will's Albano speculates on what might induce 'my coy minx to nussell twixt the breastes / Of her lull'd husband'. (38)

Barksted's verse--perhaps significantly--exhibits a preponderance of echoes from plays staged at Paul's. We know little of Barksted's life before around 1607, when he emerged as a poet and an actor for the King's Revels--nominally a boy but actually a young man. In his DNB entry on Barksted, Melchiori suggested that he might have acted for the Children of the Queen's Revels prior to his connection with the King's Revels. (39) Given Barksted's age--he would have been at least in his late teenage years by the time the King's Revels occupied Whitefriars--he easily could have been a child actor previously, though no evidence has come to light to show that he was. (40) Nevertheless, we can entertain the conjecture that Barksted's familiarity with Marston's early dramatic works for Paul's derived from his having helped to perform them. (41)

Barksted, Machin, and the Children of the King's Revels

At this point I shall turn from examining Hiren, The Insatiate Countess, and the plays with which I have partnered them and assess what the material presented here may tell us. So far in this essay I have set out the evidence on which I advance three linked propositions. The first is that Hiren is not merely an occasional verbal source for The Insatiate Countess but one that shapes the episode between Isabella and Gnaica. The second line of argument proposes that the same passages from Hiren which underpin the Isabella-Gnaica episode also had a verbal impact on two dramas staged by the Children of the King's Revels at Whitefriars: The Dumb Knight and The Turk. And the third suggests that Barksted's narrative verse displays a familiarity with Marston's writings, especially with the plays composed for the theatre at Paul's.

In this part of the essay I wish to explore the consequences of these arguments. Some of these consequences are well-defined and seemingly secure. Others identify new lines of inquiry. In the final section I shall reflect on a different matter: the confluence of Barksted's work with that of Marston. In doing so I will revert to the issue with which I opened this essay, the special register of The Insatiate Countess's verse.

The most straightforward point to make in light of the findings set out above concerns the date of Hiren's composition. Barksted, we may clearly confirm, indeed wrote Hiren several years before its print publication. The Dumb Knight's Stationers' Register entry occurred on 6 October 1608 and that of The Turk on 10 March 1609. (42) The demonstrable verbal impact by Hiren on these plays entails the existence of the poem well before its print publication in 1611. More broadly, Hiren is a more significant source than scholars have hitherto suspected. Indeed, calling Hiren a 'source' underplays the nature of its impact upon The Insatiate Countess. Whilst at times, and especially in the scene of Gnaica's seduction, the language of Hiren suffuses the play's dialogue, at various moments whole lines are lifted from Hiren and Mirrha.

The Dumb Knight and The Turk feature dialogue drafted under the influence of those very passages from Hiren that also permeate the text of The Insatiate Countess. This correspondence points towards a context for the revisions to the tragedy undertaken by Barksted and Machin. The evidence that The Dumb Knight and The Turk are at one with The Insatiate Countess in drawing upon Hiren (and that The Turk and The Insatiate Countess share a dependency upon both Hiren and Mirrha) emphatically suggests a single moment of playwriting activity. In other words, we may rationally assume that the drafting of the scenes between Isabella and Gnaica in The Insatiate Countess occurred as part of the same creative burst that also left its impress on the dialogue of The Dumb Knight and The Turk. (43)

In arguing that the writing contributions of Barksted and Machin to The Insatiate Countess took place on behalf of the Children of the King's Revels, a note of caution is in order. Although it seems clear that this scriptwriting activity took place under the auspices of the King's Revels, we may not declare as a consequence that the Whitefriars performances of The Insatiate Countess mentioned on its title pages were necessarily those of the King's Revels, the first of the two Revels companies to play at the Whitefriars. The performances to which the titlepages allude may conceivably have been stagings by the re-formed Children of the Queen's Revels at some point after they began using the theatre in 1609. Restrictions forced by plague or the break-up of the King's Revels may have precluded playing by that company. The Insatiate Countess may possibly have transferred from one company to another--as did William Barksted himself. Richard Dutton has suggested that the Queen's Revels of 1609 onwards embraced the rights of both Revels companies. (44)

Despite this proviso, the re-emergence of images, phrases, and items of vocabulary from Hiren in The Insatiate Countess, The Dumb Knight, and The Turk indicates a concerted recourse to Barksted's poem, and one that occurred as part of the activities of the first Whitefriars company, the Children of the King's Revels. The likeness of mood, action, and verbal detail between these plays is very strong, and an emphasis upon sensuality lies at the heart of this common ambience. On the face of it, so distinctive a company style marginalizes the authorial role. And yet the agencies of Marston, Barksted, and Machin, for all the difficulty of disentangling them, are intriguing ones, and the very overlap of writing activity is worth attention.

The debts to Hiren that appear in The Dumb Knight and The Turk not only reveal more about the making of The Insatiate Countess. The uses of Barksted's poem also complicate our understanding of the agencies at play in the drafting of The Dumb Knight and The Turk. Bly posits that a collaborative playmaking culture permeated the scriptwriting activity of the Children of the King's Revels. On this reading, the various title pages of dramas written for that company reflect only some of the agents who contributed to the drafting of the published texts. The evidence presented here can only add force to this thesis. We can possibly reason that the Whitefriars shareholder John Mason was a careful reader of both Hiren and Mirrha and that a familiarity with Barksted's narrative poems helped to shape his drafting of The Turk. A more likely hypothesis, I would argue, is that Barksted's involvement in writing dialogue for King's Revels plays can be seen more widely than in The Insatiate Countess and that The Turk formed one outlet for Barksted's work. This role as a King's Revels playwright is something that Bly explicitly entertains, going so far as to name The Turk as a play to which Barksted is likely to have contributed. (45) Bly offers her opinion on grounds that are quite independent of the evidence presented here that Hirens verse had a shaping influence on Whitefriars plays of 1607-8, and this additional evidence supports her view.

The Dumb Knight, which features Machin's address in each issue of its 1608 quarto, constitutes the only occasion on which Machin's writing role has a testimony that does not also identify Barksted's involvement as author. Machin's 'eglogs' and his commendatory poem for Mirrha are self-evidently within Barksted's authorial compass, and the 1613 cancel-leaf in The Insatiate Countess again yokes the two writers. Once again, given that Barksted appears alone in The Insatiate Countess's second issue of 1631 and that the play so profusely redeploys material from Hiren and Mirrha, Machin holds something of a subordinate place. The appearance of 'the chime of spheares' in The Dumb Knight, together with the other indications that Hiren left its impression on The Dumb Knight's dialogue, clearly shows that Barksted's writing intersected for a third time with Machin's attested authorial role. But what was the nature of this intersection? Was The Dumb Knight another site for the collaborative writing activity of these two writers? Or did Machin turn towards his friend's verse to furnish his own contribution? These are not the only possible ways of accounting for this feature of the play's text, but they are perhaps the two most likely explanations.

The impact of Hiren upon Whitefriars plays during 1607 or 1608 is clearly a wide-ranging one. Yet the various appropriations--for all their verbal similarity--work towards differing ends. Hiren is a poem about the seduction of a woman by a man. The setting is highly coercive, of course, and the outcome of the story is grotesque; and yet Barksted represents the actual union as one that is enthusiastic on both sides. In The Insatiate Countess, the seducer is a woman. She recreates the ambience of Mahomet's tent in order to gratify her own desires. In The Dumb Knight, Barksted's highly erotic language--the language that is also shared with The Insatiate Countess--appears within the homosocial context of a man addressing his 'deerest friend'. And what of The Turk? Mason's tragedy also features a scene in which a man is trying to seduce a woman. But Hiren's phrasing has undergone an odd transformation. In place of the 'hundred naked singing boyes' we hear of 'A hundred boyes like winged Cherubins'. Bly conjectures that King's Revels writers 'added red-cheeked boys and bathing boys in pearls' to the early dialogue of Lust's Dominion. (46) And whilst Hiren's bed is made from down plucked from the feathered breast of the constant turtle, The Turk's Mulleasses offers a 'bed as softe as downe feathers pluckt' not from a turtle-dove but 'from Ledas swannes'. This grotesque image appears to acknowledge the dark overlay of violence, seizure, and coercion in Barksted's poem; and it fits with the domineering intimidation of Julia by Mulleasses in The Turk.

Marston, Barksted, and the Verse Register of The Insatiate Countess

In this essay I have examined the light thrown on the making of The Insatiate Countess by the formative presence of echoes of Hiren, the Fair Greek within the play's text. So far, I have done so with an eye upon the institutional context of the play's treatment for its Whitefriars performances: I have claimed for Hiren a substantial role as a source for The Insatiate Countess and presented evidence to suggest that Barksted's poem had a parallel impact upon plays known to have been staged by the Children of the King's Revels. This evidence implies--so I have argued--that the contributions of Barksted and Machin to The Insatiate Countess were carried out on behalf of that company. The same evidence also indicates the likelihood of a more extensive writing role for this pair--again, as part of the first Whitefriars company. I began this essay, however, by drawing attention to what I take to be a distinctive verse register that is present in The Insatiate Countess. Indeed, I suggested that part of the play's attraction--if 'attraction' is the right word--rested on this register. Such terms as 'pleasure', 'delight', and 'delicious' recur within the dialogue shared between Isabella and Gnaica: the very passages on which Hirens language had so powerful an impact. Indeed, 'pleasure' and 'delight', as well as 'sense', 'desire', and 'ravish' are seemingly part of the play's appropriation of Hirens vocabulary.

In this closing section I offer a critical argument: I suggest that the confluence of Marston's phrasing and that of Hiren has created the heightened and unusual style to emerge in the middle part of The Insatiate Countess--the very passages that are so in thrall to Hiren. More precisely, I would argue, an enabling feature of this confluence is that words and phrases used elsewhere by Marston in a spirit of playful excess occur within The Insatiate Countess with that mood altered or diminished. The Insatiate Countess may exhibit not only the direct compositions of Marston, however much overlaid with the supplementary and revising efforts of Barksted and Machin, but also the words and phrases of Marston as channelled through Barksted's pre-existing bias towards Marston's own expressions. Indeed, Melchiori at one point floats exactly this kind of explanation (though without naming Barksted directly) for the echoes of Marston's early non-dramatic verse within The Insatiate Countess. (47) However much an analysis of this kind complicates any effort to identify specific moments of authorial agency or verbal influence, it constitutes a claim that the activities of Marston and Barksted were deeply complementary ones.

The play's verse, of course, has drawn praise, fascination, and disdain both before and after the time of T.S. Eliot. Many collaborative plays--I would name as examples All Is True, Eastward Ho!, and The Changeling--are the fruit of joint working that yields a drama with differing merits from those the contributory authors display when working alone. The Insatiate Countess, however, evinces another kind of complementarity. We seem to possess the conception and writing characteristics of John Marston mediated and expanded by the drafting of a collaborative duo. This confluence of writing agents not only sits together in such a way as to provide a highly distinctive creation. The tragedy's verse is also the result of a handling of one dramatist's characteristic work--that of Marston--by a poet, Barksted, whose own poetic identity was partly shaped by Marston's writing.

This convergence of minds is clearly part of the reason why we find it difficult to disentangle individual moments of writing agency. The first passage of dialogue after Gnaica becomes involved in the play's action illustrates this difficulty. Above, I mentioned the line, 'I am loue-sick for your loue; loue, loue, for louing', as an extreme example of the strange register of The Insatiate Countess. Eight lines later the following exchange of couplets takes place:
[GNAICA:] Loue is not Loue vnlesse Loue doth perseuer,
That loue is perfect loue, that loues for euer.
ISAB. Such loue is mine, beleeue it vvell-shap'd youth,
Though vvomen use to lye, yet I speake truth. (E3v)

Whoever authored this exchange clearly made an effort to deploy the word 'love' to an incantatory effect. The personification of 'Love' tallies with the practice of Barksted, who presents an address to Love ('o loue too deafe, too blinde!'), a description of Love ('How bitter is sweet loue'), and the intervention of Love ('but then loue speakes'), all within the span of three consecutive stanzas of Hiren (A6v-A7r). The repetition of 'love' on the other hand accords with many passages in Jack Drum's Entertainment, where, for instance, 'loue' appears seven times within as many lines of verse (E4r), and with The Dutch Courtesan, in which Frances-china asks Malheureux, 'doe you take mee to be a beast, a creature that for sence onely will entertaine loue, and not only for loue, loue?' and to whom Malheureux replies, 'Why then I pray thee loue, and with thy loue enioy me'. (48) Melchiori sees in 'well-shaped youth' a counterpart to the 'well shapt face' of Machin's second 'eglog'; yet Marston also deployed the adjective on several occasions, even reaching on one occasion for 'well shapt youth'. (49) Such overlapping of verbal preferences contributes to a certain consistency of style. The very difficulty that commentators from Small to Melchiori face in discriminating between the writing contributors is evidence of this stylistic evenness.

The tragedy's dialogue, however, does not merely display the mingled work of two writers with a likeness to their stylistic choices. I drew attention above to Barksted's line, 'Then sweet breath'd musicke, like the chime of spheares'. Not only did this furnish The Dumb Knight with the phrase, 'the chime of spheares'; the line also contributed to the sustained recreation of Mahomet's seduction of Hiren in The Insatiate Countess's dialogue involving Isabella and Gnaica. Isabella invites 'blessed Mercurie' to 'Prepare a banquet fit to please the Gods' and to 'Let Sphaere-like Musicke breathe delicious tones / Into our mortall eares'. I follow Melchiori in making this connection between poem and tragedy, and the context of the banquet of senses, the concentration of debts, and the specific overlap of vocabulary ('breathe', 'music', and 'sphere' linked to 'like') reveal the connection clearly. In the Whitefriars play, however, the sphere-like music breathes 'delicious tones'; and here Isabella's language points towards Marston and less securely to Barksted. Neither 'tone' nor 'tones' occurs anywhere in Hiren. Each does so once in Mirrha where we read of an 'alluring tone' (A6r) and, more intriguingly, Mirrha hears that 'nor Orpheus, nor the spheares / Haue Tones like thee, to rauish mortall eares' (A8r). The use of 'tones', often with a meaning that seems to hover between the literal and the figurative, features frequently in Marston's early plays. In particular, the word has two very pointed deployments. (50) The phrase 'Tones of heauen it selfe' is a part of What You Will's topical satire. Simplicius utters it in fawning praise of Lampatho, and by this time Quadratus has twice alerted the audience to expect this very encomium (B4v--Cr). 'Tones of heauen' clearly emerges as an affected use of language. Yet 'heauens Tones' occurs in Antonio's Revenge as well, spoken by Antonio as he prepares to kill Julio. In the tragedy's quarto of 1602 the phrase appears in italics, suggesting that Marston considered the phrase to be an extravagant one. (51) 'Delicious' also appears in What You Will as a verbal item open to ridicule: 'delicious sweet' is the poetic diction of the versifier Lampatho, and Quadratus witheringly repeats the phrase as he dunks Lampatho's manuscript in wine (F3v). This phrase had been previously deployed by Marston, and 'delicious' itself is a word that often appears in Marston's work, predominantly in Antonio and Mellida and Jack Drum's Entertainment. (52) In contrast, 'delicious' is nowhere present in Barksted's narrative verse (although Hyacinth appears as a 'sweete delicious boy' [Mirrha, E5v] in Machin's second eglog).

The Insatiate Countess admits to playing in a variety of ways. The tragedy has a melodramatic quality that might allow for a comic treatment, an appeal to pathos, or a mixture of the two. I would argue that its mix of composing features includes items of Marstonian diction that appear in The Insatiate Countess without the bias towards parodic excess that they otherwise tend to hold. When Gnaica encapsulates Isabella's qualities he does so by saying 'delightfull pleasure, vnpeer'd excellence' (Fr). 'Delight' and 'pleasure' are among the frequently repeated abstractions that give the tragedy its special register; and they are terms that both Marston and Barksted rely on, if less insistently, in other writings. 'Vnpeer'd excellence' is a much more distinctive phrase. Indeed, EEBO identifies no other usage before 1640 other than that of Piero in Antonio and Mellida (I3r). Piero is there addressing his enemy Andrugio and employing his typically heightened manner as he prepares for the volte-face towards amity which gives the play its improbable comic resolution. In The Insatiate Countess the phrase stands within an otherwise less angular style of discourse; Gnaica's speech, for example, opens with: 'Thou creature made by Loue, compos'd of pleasure'.

Had the play's initial attribution to Marston upon its title page remained unaltered, readers might have presumed that the precise and sometimes verbatim borrowings from Barksted's narrative poems were analogous to the use of Montaigne in Marston's later plays, or even the quotation from Thomas Bastard to appear in The Malcontent. (53) Of course, the clear evidence of Barksted's involvement directs us to his and Machin's agency, and indeed one line of thought has been that the second issue of 1631 (that of 1613 entered scholarly discussion later) corrected an inaccurate ascription to Marston--in short, that Barksted was rightly to be seen as the play's principal or even sole author. (54) Plentiful evidence independent of the title pages, in fact, displays Marston's writing role. (55) Nevertheless, the mix of agencies has yielded a drama that possesses a striking and original style. Many Marstonisms contribute to this style. The Marstonisms themselves may have been residual features of an early draft; alternatively, they may have been introduced by the play's Whitefriars revisers. In either case, the resultant verse dialogue frequently displays a Marstonian diction that is shorn of Marstonian self-consciousness. I suggest that the creation of such dialogue--whatever the process by which it developed--helps to account for the special register of The Insatiate Countess.


(1) The Insatiate Countesse (London, 1613; STC: 17476), G2v, E3v, F2r, E3r. All subsequent references appear in text and cite this edition.

(2) The two issues of 1613 are as follows: The Insatiate Countesse A Tragedie: Acted at VVhite-Fryers. Written by Iohn Marston, cited above; The Insatiate Countesse. A Tragedie, As it was sundry times Acted at the White-Friers, by the Children of the Reuels. Written by Lewis Machin, and William Bacster (London, 1613; STC: 17476.5). Those of 1631 are: The Insatiate Countesse A Tragedie: Acted at White-Fryers. VVritten by Iohn Marston (London, 1631; STC: 17478); [The] Insatiate Countesse A Tragedy: Acted, at White-Friers. Written, by William Barksteed (London, 1631; STC: 17478a). An intervening quarto named no author: The Insatiate Countesse (London, 1616; STC: 17477).

(3) John Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Giorgio Melchiori (Manchester, 1984), 1.

(4) Ibid, 1-5.

(5) Michael Scott, 'Marston's Early Contribution to The Insatiate Countess', Notes and Queries 222 (1977), 116-17; Charles Cathcart, Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson (Aldershot, 2008), 59-67,

(6) Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Melchiori, 37-8.

(7) Cathcart, Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson, 67-76.

(8) Mary Bly, Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage (Oxford, 2000), 121-6.

(9) William Barksted, Mirrha, the Mother of Adonis (London, 1607; STC: 1429) and Hiren, the Fair Greek (London, 1611; STC: 1428). Subsequent references appear in text and cite signature numbers from these volumes.

(10) Giorgio Melchiori, 'Barksted [Backsted, Baxter], William (fl. 1607-1630), actor and poet', Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) (Oxford and New York, 2004-),

(11) Walter W. Greg, ed., Henslowe Papers: Being Documents Supplementary to Henslowe's Diary (London, 1907), 18, 58, 87, 91.

(12) A.B. Grosart, ed., The Poems of William Barksted (Blackburn, 1876), xxiii-iv.

(13) Bly, Queer Virgins, 123-5.

(14) Giorgio Melchiori, 'Attore, dramaturgo e repertorio in una compagnia di ragazzi', Le forme del teatro 2 (1981), 101-37.

(15) John Taylor, Taylors Feast (London, 1638; STC: 23798), A8v.

(16) Martin Wiggins with Catherine Richardson, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, 6 vols (Oxford, 2012-16), 5.374.

(17) See Bly, Queer Virgins, 90-8, and Paul Hammond, Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester (Oxford, 2002), 47-9.

(18) The most recent attempt to clarify the agencies at play in the writing of The Insatiate Countess is Darren Freebury-Jones, Marina Tarlinskaya, and Marcus Dahl, 'The Boundaries of John Marston's Dramatic Canon', Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 31 (2018), 43-77.

(19) Roscoe Addison Small, 'The Authorship and Date of The Insatiate Countess', Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature 5 (1896), 280-1; Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Melchiori, 12.

(20) Small, 'The Authorship and Date of The Insatiate Countess', 282.

(21) Barksted, Hiren, B8v.

(22) Ibid, 281; Melchiori notes the link, too, whilst also pointing to Marston's use of 'Panchaia' in The Scourge of Villainy (Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Melchiori, 12).

(23) Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Melchiori, 130.

(24) Ibid, 132, and Small, 'The Authorship and Date of The Insatiate Countess', 280.

(25) The Dumbe Knight (London, 1608; STC: 17398), D4v.

(26) Barksted's 'And sweare they wil depose him from his throne' (Hiren, C2v) matches The Dumb Knight's 'And mad with rage depose him from his crowne' (G3r). 'Thine eies haue power to such a great mans heart' (Hiren, A5v) corresponds with 'Yet Ladies eies haue power to murder men' (The Dumbe Knight, D2r). The adjective 'loue-wounded' appears in Hiren (A5r), The Dumbe Knight (D2r), and The Insatiate Countesse (Er).

(27) Lust's Dominion; or, The Lascivious Queen, 5.1 and 5.2, in volume 4 of Fredson Bowers, ed., The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1953-61), and F.W. Wadsworth, 'The Relation of Lust's Dominion and John Mason's The Turke', ELH20 (1953), 194-9.

(28) Mason, The Turke (London, 1610; STC: 17617), I4v-Kr. All subsequent references appear in text and cite this edition.

(29) John Quincy Adams, ed., John Mason's 'The Turke', edited from the Quartos of 1610 and 1632 (Louvain, 1913), 97.

(30) The correspondences mentioned in the main text have a match as Mulleasses tells Timoclea that she is 'Worse then a Cammel in her time of lust, / Cruell vnto thy childe' (Mason, The Turke, G4v); Hiren, during the appeal to her sense of sight, is shown a depiction of 'The Camels lust that in his heate is cruell' (Barksted, Hiren, B8r).

(31) The Insatiate Countesse, Kv. The back story of Emilia in Law-Tricks (as with The Insatiate Countess, Law-Tricks appears as the confection of 'the Children of the Reuels') concerns her seizure by invading Turks from the sanctuary of a religious house; this episode closely matches the abduction of Hiren in Barksted's poem, and Law-Tricks may therefore be a further drama to display a dependency on Hiren, the Fair Greek. See John Day, Law-Trickes; or, Who Would Have Thought It? (London, 1608; STC: 6416), B1v-B2r; Barksted, Hiren, A4r-A6v.

(32) See James Knowles, 'Marston, John (bap. 1576, d. 1634)', DNB (Oxford and New York, 2004-),

(33) [Marston], The Scourge of Villainy (London, 1598; STC: 17485), F5r.

(34) See [Marston], Jacke Drums Entertainment: or The Comedie Of Pasquill and Katherine (London, 1601; STC: 7243), A4v (subsequent references cite this edition in text), and Barksted, Mirrha, A7r.

(35) I.M., The History of Antonio and Mellida. The first part (London, 1602; STC: 17473), Iv. Subsequent references appear in text and cite this edition.

(36) Barksted, Hiren, C3r; Marston, Parasitaster, or The Fawne (London, 1606; STC: 17484), D4r.

(37) I.M., Antonio's Reuenge. The second part (London, 1602; STC: 17474), A2r.

(38) Marston, What You Will (London, 1607; STC: 17487), D4v; subsequent references cite this edition.

(39) Melchiori, 'Barksted [Backsted, Baxter], William (fl. 1607-1630), actor and poet'. Melchiori had previously considered it 'probable that Barksted began his career in the King's Revels'; see Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Melchiori, 14.

(40) On Barksted's age, see Mark Eccles, 'Brief Lives: Tudor and Stuart Authors', Studies in Philology 79 (1982), 10-11, and Lucy Munro, The Children of the Queen's Revels: A Jacobean Theatre Repertory (Cambridge, 2005), 41,

(41) I have suggested elsewhere that What You Will--without print publication until 1607, by which year the King's Revels were active--may have been available to the company as Edward Sharpham's Cupid's Whirligig was drafted. Signs of revision in the text of What You Will open the possibility that an agent of the King's Revels may have amended the comedy; conceivably, the company staged the play. If that was indeed the case, then any echoes of What You Will in Hiren or Mirrha may have stemmed from a recent involvement by Barksted with Marston's comedy. See Cathcart, Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson, 49-56. Of course, Barksted's awareness of Marston's plays may have derived from his having read rather than acted them.

(42) Edward Arber, ed., A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1640 AD, 5 vols (London, 1875-94), 3.392, 403.

(43) I have explored the case for a King's Revels inception for The Insatiate Countess previously: see Cathcart, Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson, 59-67. The line of argument advanced there concerns the contexts and dates of Marston's career and of his contributions to The Insatiate Countess and those arguments are essentially independent of the case set out in the present essay. But the two discussions cohere in this regard: if Marston's draft of The Insatiate Countess was available to King's Revels writers in or close to 1607, then Marston's share cannot have been in process of composition at the time of the closure of the Blackfriars theatre in March 1608 or of the possible imprisonment of John Marston in June 1608.

(44) Richard Dutton, 'The Revels Office and the Boy Companies, 1600-1613: New Perspectives', English Literary Renaissance 32 (2002), 324-51,

(45) Bly, Queer Virgins, 6, 103.

(46) Ibid, 112.

(47) Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Melchiori, 30.

(48) Marston, The Dutch Courtezan (London, 1605; STC: 17475), C4r.

(49) Marston, What You Will, F4v and G4r; Marston, The Dutch Courtezan, D4r; and Marston, The Malcontent (London, 1604; STC: 17479), E2r. For Machin, see Barksted, Mirrha, E5r.

(50) Charles Cathcart, '"Heaven's Tones" and "Tones of Heaven" in Antonio's Revenge and What You Will', Notes and Queries (2019), forthcoming.

(51) I.M., Antonio's Reuenge, F2r.

(52) Charles Cathcart, 'Lampatho's "Delicious Sweet" in Marston's What You Will', Notes and Queries 254 (2009), 610-12,

(53) Marston, The Malcontent, ed. George K. Hunter (1975; rpt Manchester, 1999), 5.6.45-66.

(54) Small, 'The Authorship and Date of The Insatiate Countess', 277-82.

(55) Freebury-Jones, Tarlinskaya, and Dahl, 'The Boundaries of John Marston's Dramatic Canon', 70-1.

Charles Cathcart ( is an honorary associate in English at the Open University.
COPYRIGHT 2019 Early Theatre
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cathcart, Charles
Publication:Early Theatre
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jun 1, 2019
Previous Article:'[A]dore my topless villainy': Metatheatrical Rivalry in John Marston's Antonio's Revenge.
Next Article:Reading Drama in Tudor England.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters