- Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson
Charles Cathcart's study of the intense rivalry between John Marston and Ben Jonson that became known as the Poet's War expands the scope of the two satirists' feud by identifying other texts that may have played a role in their mutual provocation. These texts —John Weever's epigram praising both writers in 1599, the "Vatum Chorus" verses appended to Robert Chester's Love's Martyr in 1601, among others —have been considered peripheral to the quarrel or overlooked altogether. Weever's epigram is, as poetry, undistinguished, but it is significant because it links Marston and Jonson's names together for the first time in print and compares their reputations early in their careers. Marston is praised as a Horatian satirist and Jonson as a talented writer of tragedies. As Cathcart argues in his close reading of this brief and nondescript poem, Weever probably infuriated Jonson by casting him as Marston's "junior partner" (43) and by visualizing Marston, not Jonson, as a type of Horace, a role Jonson coveted for himself and memorialized in his stage depiction of himself as Horace in Poetaster. The dedicatory verses by Shakespeare, Jonson, and Marston published as a coda to Love's Martyr are preceded by two obscure introductory poems whose authorship has never been conclusively established. Cathcart reviews the evidence on the basis of which these poems could be attributed to either Jonson or Marston, acting in "a quasi-editorial role" (20) in orchestrating this tribute. After carefully considering the evidence on both sides, Cathcart finds it inconclusive, though he does think it most plausible [End Page 1428] that Jonson organized the project. For Cathcart, the overarching point of this investigation is to establish "that the competition between Marston and Jonson was played out in sites where it has not usually been looked for" (34).
Cathcart's book devotes two chapters to a lengthy discussion of The Family of Love, a comedy performed by the Children of the King's Revels, published in quarto form in 1608, and variously attributed to Thomas Middleton, Lording Barry, and Thomas Dekker. In Cathcart's view, Marston had a share in the writing of the play, which has numerous verbal parallels to others of Marston's plays and, like The Dutch Courtesan, focuses on the religious sect called The Family of Love. Cathcart interprets The Family of Love as a "proferred entente" (152) on Marston's part in his quarrel with Jonson, to whom Marston dedicated The Malcontent in 1604, the same year that Marston may have been writing a first draft of The Family of Love. During "the rapprochement of 1602-1604," Cathcart argues, "Marston was the principal conciliator" though his "gestures of friendship were touched with a continuing belligerence" (154-55).
Surprisingly, despite the implications of his book's title, Cathcart has little to say about Jonson's contribution to the Poet's War. In his Ben Jonson: A Life (1989), David Riggs shrewdly described Jonson and Marston as "enemy twins" who wanted to occupy the same space in the literary and social hierarchy and who needed to invent or exaggerate differences in order to rationalize their mutual belligerence. Cathcart focuses on half of the equation here, and his book will principally be of interest to Marston scholars. The virtue of Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson lies in the scrupulous adjudication of various kinds of evidence bearing on the attribution of authorship in the case of the texts Cathcart treats, including The Family of Love, The Insatiate Countess, and the "Vatum Chorus" verses published in Love's Martyr. Readers interested in the broader issues raised by this short-lived but intense rivalry between the two satirists and its major sites of contention in the drama of the period will prefer Matthew Steggle's Wars of the Theaters: The Poetics of Personation in the Age of Jonson (1998).