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5 - Insatiate punning in Marston's courtesan plays

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2009

T. F. Wharton
Affiliation:
Augusta State University
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Summary

Examining the critical reception to Marston's dramatic work over the ages, it soon becomes apparent that two points are repeatedly alluded to. Firstly, that the ingenuity and eagerness he applied to extending the English vocabulary have meant that, of all the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, Marston is the one most often accused of lexical histrionics. Frederick Boas commented he had a ‘daring and extravagant vocabulary which might pass within the leaves of a book but which was a provocation to censorious ears when thundered from the stage’. Jonson famously satirized him in Poetaster where, thinly disguised as the character Crispinus, he is forced into vomiting a host of extravagant newly minted words. W. Reavley Gair, writing on Marston's Antonio plays, deduced that ‘by the end of their respective first acts, both plays have introduced a new word to the audience on average every fifteen lines’. Thus we have an image of Marston at the cutting edge of the English language, constantly appropriating newly coined terms and creating his own nonce words to embellish his plays with a daring verbal extravagance. On one level his texts are like linguistic butterfly cases, a place to display exotic words in order to charm and delight his audience. On another, they can be seen as the lexical equivalent of mud-throwing. If enough new words were cast at theatregoers, some would stick and become part of common usage while others would fade into obscurity the moment the play concluded.

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Chapter
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The Drama of John Marston
Critical Re-Visions
, pp. 82 - 99
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2001

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