Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Borrowings and the Authorial Domain: Gostanzo, Polonius, and Marston's Gonzago

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Borrowings and the Authorial Domain: Gostanzo, Polonius, and Marston's Gonzago

Article excerpt

When we read a Renaissance play, to what extent are we reading the work of a specific Renaissance writer? Viewing an early modern quarto sidesteps the scholarly treatment of a modern editor but does not bypass the various contributions to have circumscribed the creative activity of the dramatist. Compositor, publisher, censor, theater manager, and actor alike may have cut, changed, or expanded the text available to a play's first print readers. So may a collaborating or a revising playwright, even if unacknowledged on any title page. These possibilities certainly do not exhaust the conditioning factors to impinge upon the writing process. The very act of writing for the stage was one of dependence, and writers frequently reached for Holinshed, or Painter, or Florio's Montaigne, as they wrote, or remembered the Seneca of their school days. Not least, playwrights resorted to stock theatrical devices to furnish their plots; and they may have reproduced the very words of speeches first written by others and subsequently heard, read, or even spoken by themselves. This acquisition of the dramatic language of others reveals the composing activity of the playwright to have been far from autonomous even when the resultant text was unmediated by the attentions of the Master of the Revels or the inattentions of compositors A and B. The professional dramatist is a redactive figure, one who pulls together disparate materials into a whole that may or may not be said to be his own vision, and which anyway, for past and present theatergoers alike, is subject to the largely nontextual and necessarily interpretative contributions of actor and director. And beyond all these considerations is the truth that in absorbing the words of a play, each reader or spectator brings to them his or her own set of experiences and assumptions and consequently forms a unique and personal impression of them.

This discussion focuses on one of these conditioning factors: the dramatist's redeployment of words, phrases, and situations used in playtexts composed by other writers. It asks these questions. Is the creative authorial impetus surrendered? Does a residual authorial presence persist? Or may the colonizing activity itself reveal a distinctive authorial presence? The indebtedness to be reviewed, that of Parasitaster; or, The Fawn to both Hamlet and All Fools--an indebtedness substantially confined to the depiction of one character, Gonzago--is not unknown to scholars. Indeed, the two most recent editors of The Fawn have drawn attention to this dependency. (1) The intention here is to understand something of how this operation worked and thereby to throw a little light upon the writing process at a point at which authorial autonomy might be thought least apparent. The limited nature of this borrowing (in which several details of presentation found in two late Elizabethan plays cohere in the actions and speeches of a single character from an early Jacobean comedy) and the clear direction of the debts (several years having passed between the period of the debtor play and that of the two works it quarried) should assist this project.

A few lines from one of Marston's earlier plays illustrate the way in which his habits of composition involved the conflation of a number of disparate elements into a single whole. As Marston's Cambridge editors have observed, much that is spoken by Andrugio, the disempowered duke and father of Antonio, in the third act of Antonio and Mellida echoes the scenes from Richard II in which the king experiences a series of sudden shifts in mood upon his return to England from Ireland. (2) The general debt may be most clearly seen in the way that the father's plea, "For God's sake, call me not Andrugio, / That I may soon forget what I have been," was supplied by Richard's

   O, that I were as great
   As is my grief, or lesser than my name,
   Or that I could forget what I have been,
   Or not remember what I must be now! … 
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