Embracing the "Mongrel": John Marston's the Malcontent, Antonio and Mellida, and the Development of English Early Modern Tragicomedy

By Leonard, Nathaniel C. | Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Embracing the "Mongrel": John Marston's the Malcontent, Antonio and Mellida, and the Development of English Early Modern Tragicomedy


Leonard, Nathaniel C., Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies


John Marston's tragicomic works have become a troublesome exception to the prevailing critical understanding of the genre. Nonetheless, Marston's position within the history of English tragicomedy makes him difficult to omit from our discussion of late Elizabethan and Jacobean interpretations of the genre, despite the fact that his work largely defies the critically accepted trajectory of tragicomedy's development in the period. While The Malcontent is the first English play identified in print as a tragicomedy, it is by no means the same variety of tragicomedy that John Fletcher would make popular only a few years later.1 Nor is it the type that has interested so many recent scholars. Instead, many current studies of the genre either marginalize or ignore Marston's contribution to tragicomedy, while the critical studies that do address Marston's work tend to apply the same Guarinian model that Fletcher's The Faithfull Shepheardesse and its highly theoretical introduction, "To the Reader," so directly engage. These discussions of Marston's influence on the genre point to a teleological bias in the existing critical conversation regarding tragicomedy that leads to Marston's work being forced into a framework that overlooks much of the originality of his tragicomic drama. While there is a direct progression from Italianate pastoral tragicomedy to the "unified" tragicomedies that become popular in England during the latter half of the first decade of the seventeenth century, that is not the only form of tragicomedy presented on the early modern London stage. Those plays that either experiment with or selfidentify as participating in the genre but that are not part of that direct progression are either seen as marginal or co-opted into the existing trajectory by the current critical discourse. The strong influence of the Italianate tragicomic tradition on the English stage should not lead modern readers to assume that there is only one model for tragicomedy. Marston's tragicomedies put forth a more distinctly English version of the genre, which emphasizes incompleteness within a constantly shifting structure that blends the vicious tone of Senecan tragedy with the unrestrained comedy to which Guarini objects. This type of tragicomedy, in turn, bears more of a resemblance to the late-sixteenthcentury English dramatic romances that Philip Sidney calls "mongrel" than to the "unified" Italianate tragicomic tradition.2

The standard narrative of tragicomedy's growth into one of the more popular dramatic genres of Jacobean England is rooted in the clear connection between the works of the Italian playwright and theorist Giambattista Guarini and those of John Fletcher. Guarini's best-known work, a pastoral tragicomedy called Il pastor fido (The Faithful Shepherd [1590]), was one of the most successful and most controversial works of printed drama, both domestically and internationally, of the late sixteenth century. Guarini responded to this criticism, which was largely centered on the play's blended genre, in his 1599 treatise, Compendio Della Poesia Tragicomica (The Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry), in which he outlines a series of justifications for tragicomedy's inherent "unity." As R. A. Foakes describes Guarini's position, "[t]ragicomedy, in other words, is controlled by a comic order and is, in effect, a subspecies of comedy" (74). In his interpretation of the tragicomic genre, Guarini describes generic blending as something that is rooted in the plot's execution, and not as something that results from a merging of dissimilar plots:

Since it deals with great persons and heroes, humble diction is unfitting, and since it is not concerned with the terrible and the horrible, but rather avoids it, it abandons the grave and employs the sweet, which modifies the greatness and sublimity that is proper to pure tragedy. (525)

This abandonment of the grave and avoidance of the horrible, as well as Guarini's position that both death and vulgarity are to be avoided at all cost, are mirrored by Fletcher. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Embracing the "Mongrel": John Marston's the Malcontent, Antonio and Mellida, and the Development of English Early Modern Tragicomedy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.