3.6.2. Marston, Metamorphosis

 

John Marston, The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image and Certaine Satyres (June/July 1598)

 

Marston's version of the story of Pygmalion's image transforms Ovid's romantic narration into a violently sexual satire against the Platonic conception of love. The female statue becomes a symbol of the conventional Petrarchan beloved and Pygmalion himself embodies the love poet. Hating women's imperfections and fearing love, he models an image of the ideal woman, adapted to his own needs and desires. (Sonia Hernández Santano, Marston’s The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image, The Ovidian Myth Revisited, 2002)

There is nothing in the dedication, “To the World's Mighty Monarch, Good Opinion”, in the Argument of the Poem, or even in the address "To his Mistress" (though that seems to be in a somewhat less serious vein) that would lead one to suspect that Pygmalion was not what it purported to be, a frankly amorous poem, like a dozen of the same kind that had preceded it. It is not until we come to “The Author in praise of his precedent Poem”, placed between the poem and the satires, that we first discover that the author is not taking his work seriously. This is more directly personal, and from its tone is evidently more akin to the satires than to the poem. It is written in heroic couplets, like the satires, while the poem is in six-line stanzas.  (Morse S. Allen, The Satire of John Marston, Diss.1920)

 

The Author in praise of his precedent Poem.

Now, Rufus, by old Glebron’s [Gedeon's ?] fearful mace,
Hath not my muse deserved a Worthy place?
(...)
Hath not my Goddesse in the vanguard place,
The leading of my lines their plumes to grace?
And then ensues my stanzas, like odd bands
Of voluntaries, and mercenarians:
Which like Soldados of our warlike age,
March rich bedight in warlike equipage:
Glittering in daubed lac’d habiliments.
Yet puffy as Dutch hose they are within,
Faint, and white liver’d, as our gallants been;
Patch’d like a beggar’s cloak, and run as sweet
As doth a tumbrel [dung-cart] in the paved street.
And in the end, (the end of love I wot)
Pigmalion hath a jolly boy begot.
So Labeo did complain his love was stone,
Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none[1]

Yet Lynceus knows, that in the end of this,
He wrought as strange a metamorphosis.[2]
Ends not my Poem then surpassing ill?
Come, come, Augustus, crown my laureat quill.
(...)
My lines are froth, my stanzas sapless be.
Thus having rail’d against my self a while,
Ile snarl at those, which do the world beguile
With masked shows. Ye changing Proteans list,
And tremble at a barking Satyrist.

 

John Marston, Scourge of Villanie (Oct./Nov. 1598)

The English formal satire existed because of imitation of the Roman satirists. From them were drawn its form, its style, its obscurity, its use of proper names, and, more important, much if not most of its subject-matter. Most of the Elizabethan satirists abused this natural dependence; Hall, Donne and Lodge, for instance, besides using general classical settings and incidents, translated whole short satires directly from the Romans, without acknowledgment. Among them Marston was singularly independent. He adopted the general form, the proper names, and on some special occasions the obscure style which was theoretically the proper dress for satire. Hall's satires were his starting point, and his work can frequently be referred to them, but he opposes rather than imitates… Aside from a few clever hits at real absurdities, Marston’s savage censure of Hall seem inspired by hatred, envy and malice, for which we can find no just cause.  (Morse S. Allen, The Satire of John Marston, Diss.1920)

 

SATIRE I.

O, packstaff rhymes !
Why not, when court of stars shall see these crimes ?
Rods are in piss [a punishment in store] — ay, for thee, Empirick [charlatan]
That twenty grains of Opium will not stick [hesitate]
To minister to babes. Here's bloody days,
When with plain herbs Mutius more men slays
Than ere third Edward's sword.[3] Sooth, in our age,
Mad Coribantes need not to enrage
The people's minds.

 

SATIRE IX.

Here ‘s a toy to mock an Ape indeed.[4]

Grim-fac’d Reproof, sparkle with threatning eye,
Bend thy sour brows in my tart poesy.
Avant ! yee curs, houl in some cloudy mist,
Quake to behold a sharp-fangd Satyrist.
O how on tip-toes proudly mounts my Muse !
Stalking a loftier gate then Satyres use.
Me thinks some sacred rage warms all my veins,
Making my spright mount up to higher strains.
Then well beseems a rough-tongu’d Satyres part:
But Art curbs Nature, Nature guideth Art.

Come down, yee Apes, or I will strip you quite,
Baring your bald tails to the peoples sight.
Yee mimic slaves, what, are you perch’d so hie ?
Down, Jack an Apes, from thy fain’d royalty.
What furr’d with beard — cast in a Satin suit,
Judicial Jack? [5] How hast thou got repute
Of a sound censure ? O idiot times !
When gaudy Monkeys mow o’re sprightly rimes!
O world of fools, when all men’s judgement ‘s set,
And rest upon some mumping Marmoset !
Yon Athens Ape (that can but simpringly
Yaule Anditores humanissimi,
Bound to some servile imitation,
Can, with much sweat, patch an oration)
Now up he comes, and with his crooked eye
Presumes to squint on some fair Poesy;
And all as thankless as ungrateful Thames,
He slinks away, leaving but reaking steams
Of dungy slime behind. All as ingrate
He useth it as when I satiate
My spaniels paunch, who straight perfumes the room,
With his tail’s filth : so this uncivil groom,
ill-tutor’d pedant, Mortimer’s numbers
With much-pit Esculine filth bescumbers [pollutes] [6].
Now th’ Ape chatters, and is as malcontent
As a bill-patch’d door, whose entrails out have sent
And spewd their tenant.

My soul adores judicial scholarship:
But when to servile imitatorship
Some spruce Athenian pen is prenticed[7],
Tis worse then apish. Fie, be not flattered
With seeming worth. Fond affectation
Befits an Ape, and mumping Babilon.
O what a tricksy, learned, nicking [gambling, cheating] strain
Is this applauded, senseless, modern * vein![8]
* Non laedere, sed ludere: non lanea, sed linea: non ictus, sed nictus potius.
[Not hurting, but playing; not woolen, but linen; not a blow, but rather a wink.]
When late I heard it from sage Mutius lips[9],
How ill, me thought, such wanton jigging skips
Beseem’d his graver speech. Far fly thy fame.
Most, most of me beloved, whose silent name
One letter bounds. Thy true judicial stile
I ever honour ; and, if my love beguile
Not much my hopes, then thy unvalued worth
Shall mount fair place, when Apes are turned forth.[10]

 


[1] “So Labeo did complain his love was stone, / Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none”:  The reference to W: Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis (1593) is clear: John Marston also addresses Shakespeare as “Labeo”.

Ay me, quoth Venus, young, and so unkind! / ... Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel? / Nay, more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth: / Art thou a woman's son, and canst not feel / What 'tis to love? how want of love tormenteth?

Labeo's love seems to be Adonis. (Or Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.)

[2] “Yet Lynceus knows, that in the end of this, / He [Labeo's love ?] wrought as strange a metamórphosis”: ‘Lynceus’ is always used by Marston to indicate the sharp-sighted observer (or the author himself).

[3] “When with plain herbs Mutius more men slays / Than ere third Edward's sword”:  Our curiosity is aroused as to which “Mutius” Marston is referring in his first satire. (Another or the same “Mutius” emerges in Satire IX.) The remark about a Mutius who kills more people with his herbal medicines than did Edward III with his sword is inspired by Juvenal’s satire: “The Vanity of Human Wishes”:  

Besides all this, the little blood in his now chilly frame is never warm except with fever; diseases of every kind dance around him in a body; if you ask of me their names, I could more readily tell you the number of Oppia's paramours, how many patients Themison [of Laodicea]  killed in one season, how many partners were defrauded by Basilus, how many wards corrupted by Hirrus, how many lovers tall Maura wears out in a single season… 

Clearly Marston is joking here, as did his hero, Juvenal. The deeper meaning of this joke will remain a mystery.

***

[4]Here 's a toy to mocke an Ape indeede”: Satire IX concerns itself primarily with Joseph Hall, the “Athens ape,”  i.e. the Cambridge plagiarist; he patches an oration and squints at good poetry, unthankful for its merits. (In calling Hall an ape the author means that Hall copies the works of others just like an ape imitates everything.) See Morse S. Allen, The Satire of John Marston, Diss.1920

[5] “What furr’d with beard — cast in a Satin suit, /Judicial Jack?”: Just like “Yon Athen’s ape” an allusion to Joseph Hall. 

[6] “so this uncivil groom, / ill-tutor’d pedant, Mortimer’s numbers / With much-pit Esculine filth bescumbers”: When we consider the words: “some spruce Athenian [= Oxoniensis] pen is prentized” then we see that Marston may well be referring to Edward Mortimer in 1Henry IV  (see note 7).  “Mortimer’s numbers” would then be referring to Shakespeare’s numbers [verses, songs]. See Joseph Hall, Virgidemiarum: “Small fault in number lies, / Were not the fear from whence it should arise.”

- To bescumber: to evacuate the fæces to s.th. - Esquiliae was one of the Roman hills. Here were thrown the carcasses of malefactors; and here the eagles sought their prey. - See Joseph Hall, Virgidemiarum: “But who conjur'd this bawdy Poggio’s ghost, / From out the stews of his lewd home-bred coast: / Or wicked Rabelais’ drunken revellings, / To grace the mis-rule of our Tavernings?”

[7] “But when to servile imitatorship / Some spruce Athenian pen is prenticed”: “Some spruce Athenian [= Oxoniensis] pen”, bound as an apprentice of Jopseph Hall, is Labeo’s, or Shake-speare’s pen. See Hall’s presumptuous admonition: “For shame write cleanly Labeo, or write none.”

[8] “O what a tricksy, learned, nicking strain / Is this applauded, senseless, modern vein!”: This is a tirade against Hall’s parsimonious attitude. 

[9] “When late I heard it from sage Mutius lips”: At this point we must ask ourselves: “Just what did Mutius say to Marston? One thing is clear, the sage and beloved Mutius is not the inventor of “the senseless modern vein” which the young satirist appears to dislike so much. The printer left a marginal note which was obviously from Mutius: “non laedere, sed ludere, non lanea, sed linea, non ictus, sed nictus potius”: not hurting, but playing; not woolen, but linen; not a blow, but rather a wink. In other words: We shouldn’t take Hall’s satires seriously, we should just have a good laugh.- Marston criticises Mutius for this sentiment saying that such a sentence does not fit in with his “graver speech”. This does not necessarily have to be interpreted as negative criticism. Marston prefers a more rough and tumble style dealing ‘hurting blows’ and ‘getting into a scrap [fight]’ with somebody.

[10]Far fly thy fame. / Most, most of me beloved, whose silent name / One letter bounds. Thy true judicial stile / I ever honour ; and, if my love beguile  / Not much my hopes, then thy unvalued worth / Shall mount fair place, when Apes are turned forth.” : This hymn, which is by no means typical for Marston, is addressed to “sage Mutius”.

In his work The Satire of John Marston, Morse S. Allen says: “‘Silent name’ may mean ‘not here named by Marston’; ‘whose silent name one letter bounds,’ – I can only think of Nicholas Breton whose name is in a sense bounded by one letter.”

 The poet Nicholas Brenton however, cannot be connected with the “spruce Athenian pen” whom Hall wished to reprimand. Neither is there a connection between Breton (whom Hall never used as the brunt of his satires) and “Mortimer’s numbers”, which received some very negative critiscism from Hall. We do however find a reference to Shake-speare’s “Athenian pen”. Marston used a very secretive turn of phrase (whose silent name / One letter bounds) when he described this connection. Only one person can be meant here: Edward de VerE.