General Editors: Professor Martin Butler (University of Leeds) and Professor Matthew Steggle (Sheffield Hallam University) Research Fellow: Dr José A. Pérez Díez (University of Leeds)
John Marston (c. 1576-1634) was a writer of great linguistic audacity and a sharp satirical wit whose plays and poems are at the very heart of the rich literary culture of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The son of a prominent lawyer and a mother of Italian descent, he was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, before being admitted to the Middle Temple. Much to his father’s dismay, his career as a lawyer seems to have been thwarted by his literary aspirations. In 1598 he published his first collection of poems, The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image and Certain Satires, followed by The Scourge of Villainy the following year. The church banned both books in 1599 and ordered all copies to be burnt. He started writing for one of London’s companies of boy players, the Children of Paul’s, for whom he wrote his first plays: Jack Drum’s Entertainment (1600), and the double bill formed by the comedy Antonio and Mellida (autumn of 1599) and its sequel, Antonio’s Revenge (early winter of 1600), one of the most riveting revenge tragedies of the period. Marston’s famous literary rivalry with Ben Jonson exploded in the ‘wars of the theatres’ of 1600-2, when Marston was satirized in Jonson’s Poetaster as Crispinus, a poet of convoluted verbosity who ends up vomiting newly coined words. In 1603 he composed his masterpiece The Malcontent, one of the most powerful political plays of the period, which was premiered by the Children of the Blackfriars and quickly revived by Shakespeare’s own company, the King’s Men. In 1605, Marston wrote with Jonson and George Chapman Eastward Ho!, a play that would attract the attention of the authorities leading to the brief imprisonment of Marston’s collaborators, while he himself seems to have escaped. In 1609, at the age of 33, he abandoned his career as a dramatist to become a priest, leaving his last play, the sex tragedy The Insatiate Countess, unfinished. He lived the rest of his life in obscurity, lobbying in 1633 to have his name removed from the title page of his collected Works.
The Complete Works of John Marston will be the first comprehensive modern edition of the whole corpus of drama and poetry written by this major literary figure of the English Renaissance. The print edition, consisting of four volumes, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2020. It will include all of Marston’s surviving plays, poems, and entertainments, organized chronologically and edited in modern spelling by an international team of 14 scholars working in the UK, the US, and Canada. Several of these texts have not hitherto been published as part of the complete Marston canon, including some works of uncertain attribution. The print edition will also contain introductions, commentaries, and collations for each text, as well as general introductions addressing Marston’s life, reputation, and stage history, and an account of the previous collected editions. Simultaneously with the publication of the print edition, an old-spelling text will be released in digital format, to appear as part of the Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO). A range of supporting materials—images, facsimiles, audio recordings, videos, essays—will be made available on the project website to enhance the reader’s experience. A number of events have also been planned in connection with the project: a conference on authorship and attribution studies, a series of practical workshops on the staging of Marston’s plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and a major academic conference that will bring together the leading scholars working on Marston’s literary works around the globe. This project is a major reappraisal of one of the most unjustifiably neglected authors of this period.
Header photograph © Alastair Muir, by courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe