Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 October 2009
It is just four hundred years since Marston embarked on his brief and sensational career as a commercial dramatist for the boys' companies. His first play, Histriomastix (1598) was written, not for a boys' company at all, but for his peers at the Middle Temple, but then, in two brief creative bursts, first for the playhouse at Paul's, then for the Blackfriars, he wrote eight sole-authored plays: for Paul's playhouse, between 1600 (possibly 1599) and 1601, Antonio and Mellida, Jack Drum's Entertainment, Antonio's Revenge, and What You Will; for the Blackfriars, between 1604 and 1606, The Malcontent, The Dutch Courtesan, The Fawn, and Sophonisba. The silent two- or three- year interim marks Marston's virtual obliteration by Jonson in the ‘War of the Theatres’.
Marston's vigorous participation in a literary war was typical. From the start, it is clear that he intended to be noticed, and the means he instinctively used was aggression. His chosen nickname, ‘Kinsayder’, or ‘castrator's song’, is a kind of pun on his own name (‘Mar-stone’), and the literary stones of others were his targets, initially in verse satire, and subsequently in drama. His means of establishing himself in both genres was by attacking, with almost the first words he wrote, their most recognized practitioners; respectively, Joseph Hall and Ben Jonson. He was ‘ready for trouble’, and prepared to ‘enter the literary lists … in the role of challenger’.