Identity in the early works of John Marston, 1575-1634
Among Marston's earliest works are two books of verse satires (Certaine Satyres and The Scourge of Villanie, both 1598) and three plays (Antonio and Mellida, Antonio's Revenge and What You Will, all between 1600-1602) in which he explored the composition of human identity. From the initial premiss that the self is socially constructed and tends always to be dependent on the social and material contexts in which it exists, he developed a conception of existential struggle, in which the individual self either succumbs to the influence of its environment, or else achieves an authentic autonomy by imposing its own reality on the world around it. The thesis is in five main parts. Chapter I reviews theories of identity in the sixteenth century, analyses the Roman verse satires on which Elizabethan satires were modelled, and gives an account of the developments in English society at the end of the sixteenth century that helped to generate a satirical discourse in which anxiety as to the stability of the self was prominent. Chapter II examines these satires, focusing on Marston but paying close attention also to such other authors as Donne, Hall, Guilpin, Lodge and the anonymous author of Micro-Cynicon. Chapters III and IV are a close reading of the three plays named above; it is argued that in them Marston developed the ideas about identity which he had first conceived in the satires into a considered anatomy of the self. Chapter V looks briefly at Marston's later plays, especially Sophonisba (1606) with the same principles in mind. As will be apparent, the emphasis of the thesis is on Marston as a thinker, rather than as a poetic technician or man of the theatre, although these aspects of him are considered where they are relevant.