antonios revenge blog american shakespeare center
When was the play first performed?

1601.

Where was the play first performed?

The Children of Saint Paul’s, boy actors who were also choirboys for Saint Paul’s Cathedral, probably performed the play at St. Gregory’s by St. Paul’s, a small church that abutted the Cathedral.  As you watch it, keep in mind that Marston wrote all the parts for boys aged 9 to 13.

Who wrote it?

A noted lawyer’s son, John Marston (1576-1634) was an Oxford-educated man of letters who began writing satires – literally against his father’s will – around 1600.  He and Thomas Dekker were the main antagonists against Ben Jonson in the “Poetamachia,” an onstage feud by way of plays written for the boys’ companies that Shakespeare refers to briefly in Hamlet.  Marston abruptly ended his playwriting career in 1608 and went into the Anglican priesthood.  He is buried in Middle Temple Church.

How is this playwright like Shakespeare?

In The Malcontent (produced by the ASC in 2011) Marston features a protagonist who resembles Hamlet in his view of the world.  In Antonio’s Revenge, Marston uses many of the plot elements in Hamlet – an evil stepfather, a questionable mother, an abused girlfriend, a couple of dumb shows, and two vengeful ghosts.

How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?

Marston’s characters leave us thinking about the plot, while Shakespeare’s characters leave us thinking about the world.  Like Shakespeare’s, Marston’s language is inventive, but frequently his inventions sound more like contraptions.

What do scholars think about this play?

They consider it a sensational example of an Elizabethan revenge drama and enjoy wondering about its connection to Hamlet.  They also note that, like Hamlet, the play is fascinated with the idea of plays.

Is there any controversy surrounding the work?

Marston’s delight in satire and the exaggerated plot – two times the gore, two times the villains, two times the dumb shows, two times the ghosts – have led some critics to argue that Marston meant his play to be a comic parody, not a serious revenge tragedy.  It might be both.

What characters should I especially look for?

Strotzo and his performance in court.

What scene should I especially look for?

The banquet scene in the last act.

What is the language like?

Gnarly, chew; savory, not sweet.

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